My players don’t want to be at training”, “They are losing interest”, “There is no motivation in our lot.” From my coaching experiences over the last 10 years these are quite often remarks I hear coaches make and I too have experienced as a novice coach.

In this piece I will look at Sport Psychology theory with cited examples of how they can be utilised in an applied setting across different levels of sports performance.

The Self-Determination Theory (Deci & Ryan 2000) states that three core elements are essential for players having an inner determination or intrinsic motivation to train and compete. These are competence, autonomy and relatedness.

Competence by definition is the feeling of perceived success in something people do.

Within one group of special needs children I had the pleasure of coaching, lay a girl who was on the autistic spectrum. Trying to get her to participate was extremely difficult, she was quite clumsy and was extremely harsh on herself in regard her self-talk. Out of chance she ventured into goals for a game, bravely threw herself in the way of a number of goal bound efforts and essentially carried out the key role of a goal keeper successfully.

This three minute stint had a powerful effect. In the following sessions instead of trying to make excuses not to take part, she was in fact first there. In addition, she purchased herself a pair of goal keeper gloves. Why? Because she was having the associated feelings of success. This sense of competence was a stronger motivating factor than feedback or reinforcement I as a coach could ever give.

Moreover we as coaches have an integral role in developing competence, based upon on how we set up our coaching sessions. With children a key facet in this is the art of differentiation. Essentially setting up your coaching session in such a way that every child is achieving some form of success. This may be the same exercise with each child having a different target relevant to their ability levels. Yet when each child reaches their target this must be celebrated in equal measures.

When an individual/ team is low in confidence, one significant reason for this is a perceived lack of recent competence. e.g. a forward line struggling to get scores. A method to increase their competence could be within a coaching session to overload forwards against defenders in order to give them the opportunity to experience more success.

Autonomy  is where people feel control over their own behaviours.

The use of open-ended questions is a great way of instilling this: e.g. Why was it a good pass? Or what would be a better next time? Often as coaches we are so keen to correct mistakes that we are “commentating” and telling players what to do. By players having to work it out for themselves, they are gaining ownership over their game and a sense of control over their own behaviours. In addition, this is a key step in establishing “thinking players”

With adult teams especially at a high level where more resources are available, video analysis is a powerful way of instilling autonomy.I know of one County GAA senior football team using this to great effect. They give the players clips of themselves in action which they have to view and actually feedback to their team mates. They also give units of the team clips and they feed back on patterns of play and movement. Although this may have elements of risk, if managed properly is an extremely effective way of instilling autonomy and again “thinking players.”

Relatedness is where people feel a sense of belonging or attachment to what they are doing. The following clip shows the power of sport to instil a sense of relatedness in human beings they may not get in other aspects of their lives. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0Ejh_hb15Fc

As a coach I try to increase a sense of relatedness in my players by talking to at least four or five different players each session and actively listening to what they say. This also helps build up a sense of trust and shows your players you care.

Having all your team kitted out in the same training gear, team wrist bands and team buzz words based on your team principles are further examples to help this process. Additionally, further examples may be involving all the players in pre game huddles and not just the starting team, or at half time bringing all players into the changing room as opposed to just the starting team. The last thing a coach wants is two separate teams within one team.

Therefore we can see what the three strands of the Self-Determination Theory are and how by utilising them as coaches we can have more intrinsically motivated players.

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