Motivating High School and Collegiate Athletes

May 2, 2013 | John Grace

State Champs

Professional athletes display a mix of personalities, but one commonality between them is that they all get paid to make great plays. Ultimately, their motivation is to consistently play their best for a more lucrative contract.

No one has to tell you that high school and collegiate athletes don't get paid. This makes their motivation different from what drives professional athletes.

Both coaches and athletes need to understand the concept of motivation. Athletes need to understand what motivates them so they can tap into it during practice or competition. Whereas, a coach will find it important to distinguish athletes who are highly motivated from those who need help.

Motivation comes in two forms:

  • Intrinsic— e.g., playing for the love the game
  • Extrinsic—e.g., performing to earn a reward

Motivations can change throughout a career due to the level of play, loss of interest or greater reward. Athletes who possess a higher level of extrinsic motivation often perform better when there is a reward of value.

Value does not necessarily mean monetary gain. Each athlete can have a different definition of "value." To one athlete, it could mean a coach's praise, to another a varsity letter, and to another it could mean a bunch of stickers on their football helmet denoting outstanding performance.

Athletes who possess a high level of intrinsic motivation are generally hard workers and require little outside motivation. They are the first ones in to training and the last to leave. They are the athletes who consistently ask: "What else can I do to get better?" 

Think of these as percentages. There aren't many athletes that will fully operate on just one type of motivation. (Learn more about how athletes stay motivated.) Maybe one athlete is 90 percent extrinsically motivated and 10 percent intrinsically motivated; another is 60/40. The extrinsic factors needed to motivate the first athlete may be greater than those motivating the second athlete, even though they are both extrinsically motivated.

High school and collegiate athletes often possess a greater level of intrinsic motivation; however, some still need a certain level of external motivation. Since high school and collegiate athletes can't be paid for their performances, creativity is important when finding sources of extrinsic motivation. Knowing your athletes on a more personal level is extremely important to help them achieve great performances.


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