3 Lessons in Motivation From the Greatest Sports Coaches

 In Blog, Coaching, Leadership, Resources

Leaders understand the importance of intrinsic motivation and cultivate behaviors in their employees that breed passion and drive.

There are plenty of ways to describe what it means to be motivated. You’re driven. You’re passionate. You’re dedicated. Maybe you’ve got that inner “fire” or you just “want it” more than anyone else. No matter how you describe it, when it comes to athletic performance, motivation is an essential part of success. It’s the difference between just showing up and fighting for every last inch. And it’s a coach’s job to make sure athletes are motivated to perform their best.
There are two different kinds of motivation – extrinsic (stemming from external forces) and intrinsic (stemming from internal forces). Great coaches and leaders understand the power of both kinds of motivation to inspire their teams. In the workplace, we often rely on external motivation to drive performance – for example, hit this sales goal and you’ll get a bonus – but these kinds of award-driven incentives can be counterproductive. As famed football coach Homer Rice noted, “You can motivate by fear, and you can motivate by reward. But both those methods are only temporary. The only lasting thing is self- motivation.”
Great workplace leaders understand the importance of internal inspiration and cultivate behaviors in their employees that breed this kind of drive. Legendary football coach Paul “Bear” Bryant may have explained it best. “It’s not the will to win that matters – everyone has that,” he said. “It’s the will to prepare to win that matters.” Here are three ways to inspire your employees to have “the will to prepare to win.”

1) Explain the big picture: The road to a championship is paved with challenging workouts. When a coach assigns a particularly tough practice, players need to understand how it contributes to the training plan and how that plan is designed to maximize their peak performance on game day. It’s hard to go all out on the last 100-meter sprint if you don’t understand how that effort matters to your larger goal. The need to understand the “why” is true in any organization. Employees need to understand how the work they’re asked to do contributes to the company’s larger goals. As a leader, it’s your job to communicate how individual performance impacts the overall bottom line. You may think your employees “get it,” but the next time you assign a project or task, ask, “Do you understand why this is important?” You may be surprised what you hear back.

2. Rethink praise: One thing that stands out about CoachUp partner Stephen Curry’s incredible season in the NBA this year is the humility with which he approaches all his accomplishments. He loves the hard work and doesn’t let the accolades take away from his drive to perfect his game. “Growing up, I was a skinny kid who wasn’t very tall, especially for a basketball player,” wrote Curry. ” ‘Not tall enough,’ they said. ‘Not strong enough,’ they said. ‘Won’t be able to guard bigger, stronger players at the next level,’ they said.” The will to prove his doubters wrong powered Stephen to where he is today–the best player on the NBA’s best team. Today, Stephen is showered with praise, but he doesn’t let it detract from what got him to the top: hard work. This is because he’s focused on the process. The takeaway for the office? Praise employee’s effort. Researchers from the University of Chicago found that children who received more “process praise” – when parents commended them on their effort instead of on their abilities–were more motivated to tackle challenging tasks. Inspire employees to perform their best by encouraging their best work, rather than lauding them as a “rock star.”

3) Lead by example: Great leaders understand that breeding the “will to prepare” in their employees starts with their own actions. Athletes and employees need to see the commitment and passion coming from the top. If you want your teams to go the extra mile, you need to demonstrate your willingness do to the same for them. This doesn’t have to mean staying late or sending emails at all hours, but it does mean taking the time to roll up your sleeves and get things done when a goal is on the line.

Self-motivation is the key to sustained performance and long-term success. As a leader, it’s your job to understand what motivates your employees and how to channel those motivating factors into results. Take a page from the playbook of the greats and help your team discover the will to prepare to win.

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