How To Start A Revolution (Or Motivating Your Team For Success)


Being highly motivated, when you think about it, is a slightly irrational state.  One forgoes comfort now in order to work toward some bigger prospective benefit later on.  It’s not as simple as saying ‘I want X.’  It’s saying something far more complicated: ‘I want X later, so I better do Y like crazy right now.’

The Talent Code

We talked in the previous post about “deep practice”…the state where your athletes challenge themselves to get better through making focused mistakes.  It is the first of three steps to greatness according to Daniel Coyle in his book, The Talent Code.  We’ll discuss the second of the three, “ignition”, in today’s post.  Whereas deep practice was a solo effort, ignition seems to be the lighting of many small flames in order to start a great, big fire of excitement and motivation for some future result.  Coyle talks about many cues that lead to ignition and I’d like to focus on three of them.

3 Cues That Lead To Ignition

The Switch:  Either It’s On or It’s Off
This is the creation of identity, the thing that makes us say “this is who I want to be”.   For us controlling coaches, I hate to say that this is out of our control…but most times we can’t flip the switch on.  It’s something within our athletes that says, “I want to be a lacrosse player” (or whatever sport) that we just can’t instill.  Many times, often at the middle and high school levels, there are tremendous athletes who are good at everything and all of the coaches want that girl to play their sport.  But there’s something within her that is drawn to one sport over the other.  That’s the switch…and we don’t control it.

Motivation:  Identity
Once that switch is flipped, there are two major motivators for our athletes and one is belonging to a group…having an identity as belonging to a bunch of folks with high ambitions.  Or a “team” as we like to call them.  Remember that the focus of The Talent Code is how to create greatness.  We’ve talked about the inward focus of deep practice…ignition is outwardly focused on the group identity:  what we’ll accomplish together.  Teams do this every year without calling it ignition.  We set goals and we spend the rest of the season working hard to accomplish them.  The more focused we are as a team on both the goals and the hard work required to achieve them…the closer we will get to greatness.

Motivation:  Language
Praise-based vs. Effort-based language…which works better?  Praise-based language sounds like this:  You’re the best! Effort-based sounds like this:  Wow…keep working, you’re getting close! While some would assume that the praise-based language would produce athletes with greater confidence, the research doesn’t support that idea.  When your athletes are learning a new skill, or trying to refine their skills through deep practice, they are not “the best”, but are struggling and muddling and fighting through being pretty bad at that skill.  So effort-based language that affirms the struggle is what really works.

The takeaway?  Recruit student-athletes that are fired up about your sport and give them a reason to be fired up about your team.  Talk about your team’s goals and how that motivates them to work hard for each other every day.  And once you have those recruits on campus, giving kudos for effort (and not just existing) are the keys to motivating your team toward greatness.

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