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Motivating Young Athletes

Every one wants to feel skilled and valued. The best way to motivate some one is to make them feel skilled and valued. This is especially important for young athletes who are just learning the skills and strategies of a sport.

The key to motivating young athletes is to point out their successes, encourage them to improve, and teach them needed skills. The following are strategies coaches can use to create an ideal atmosphere to motivate athletes:

1. Monitor your feedback to athletes

  • Let athletes know what they do well as well as what needs improvement (e.g., good hustle, nice effort, good catch, way to be in the right place).
  • Minimize punishment or criticism – this does not mean to ignore mistakes; rather use instruction and encouragement to help athletes improve.

2. Individualize athlete feedback

  • Respond to mistakes based on the athlete’s current ability. In youth sport, skills may vary widely. Not all athletes should be held to the same standard. Instead, expect all athletes to show effort and improvement.
  • Reward athletes when you see improvement
  • Reward athletes who are trying hard and who are hustling

3. Encourage teamwork.

  • Use drills where athletes have to work together to meet your goals.
  • Reward athletes for encouraging and helping each other.

Benefits of using these Strategies

  • Athletes will be motivated to continue improving and trying hard
  • Athletes will be more confident as the coach points out their improvements and successes
  • Team cohesion will improve
  • Athletes won’t be afraid of making mistakes (which may make them tentative or lead to making mistakes)
  • Practices and games will be more fun
  • Athletes’ skills will improve as they get more instruction