Teams are owned by the players. Successful teams self-evaluate and push each other to get better throughout the season. Coaches can motivate players but extrinsic motivation is a fossil fuel that cannot be sustained. The intrinsic motivation that is generated when every player comes to practice focused and ready to work hard is a renewable resource.

Occasionally, there are times when the team must be picked up by the coaches although the key word is “occasionally”. The teams that pick themselves up are the teams that play for national titles year after year.

Intrinsic motivation, supplemented by the extrinsic encouragement from team-mates and coaches, drives athletes to set new personal bests more effectively than any other system. To a certain degree, players improve when they take responsibility for their performance and work ethic, regardless of what the coach does.


One may argue that a coach employing this approach abdicates a duty they have to their team. It is definitely a stark contrast to the coach who micro-manages all that falls within their fiefdom. In that case, when a team’s efforts are directed towards something that falls within the coach’s Ideal Quality World, where do the athletes find significance?

Supporting players as they self-evaluate and follow their own path creates long-term motivation throughout a four or five year university career. When players choose their goals, they will assume greater responsibility towards their accomplishment. In addition, they will develop skills that can be used off the court during the rest of their lives.

It would be conceited and ultimately flawed for a coach to expect a group of student-athletes to automatically adopt this mindset. Making a commitment to never settle is very challenging because the work never stops. However, since all behaviour is incentive based, coaches can create incentives for their athletes to adopt this point of view.

Handling Pressure

When a crisis occurs during the year, the players are ultimately responsible for the resolution. Coaches can recommend actions but players must execute these actions. Sometimes, the players must pull themselves together and move forward on their own. Adversity occurs during every minute of every game and practice: there are always battles between you and an opponent (or you and yourself) that present opportunities to set a personal best. Adversity also occurs every day of your life.

Choices made under pressure in sport will recur under pressure in daily life. Quitting on the pitch leads to quitting off the pitch. Losing one’s composure when thrown a curve leads to losing one’s composure when life throws a curve and actions have meaningful consequences. As Vince Lombardi said: “Truth is knowing that your character is shaped by your everyday choices.”

Personal Bests

The goal of life is self-actualization; the goal of sport is to set a personal best every performance (or as often as possible.) Setting frequent PBs will result in self-actualization over the long run. Personal bests during games are the culmination of a week’s worth of good decisions on and off the court.

Coaches are demanding because they want to see student-athletes develop. The season is fleeting but hopefully the lessons learnt will last much longer. Take the time to ask players about their definition of success and their goals. Players’ actions during games and practices comprise the evidence that they have learnt these lessons.

Incorporating 360º Assessment when evaluating players helps engender this attitude. When coaches ask the team for their input, players are forced to reflect critically, honestly, frankly, and pragmatically. If they take the exercise lightly, players do not improve and their position on the team does not change.


Actions become habits when performed repeatedly. Coaches hope that players develop positive habits, such as work ethic, teamwork, and initiative, by making good choices about how they act. Part of the attraction of sport is that it is a forum to practice decisions under pressure, decisions that players must make for the next fifty years.


Sports teach decision-making; every choice has a consequence. The choice of action or inaction includes the consequence of being accountable or abdicating responsibility. In life, everyone must work for their goals; nothing is handed to anyone. In sports, there are teams that survive due to the help of the coaching staff. However, like the game of Life, there is a time when student-athletes must decide what they want and make it happen.

Sports exist so that student-athletes can play and coaches can coach as hard as possible. Improvement (however incremental) is essential. Athletes begin the season at a certain level and the goal is to become a better player/student/person by the end of the year. Athletes become better people by behaving like a better person as often as possible.

If you choose not to push yourself to get better and decide not to demand that others do the same, you are missing a valuable opportunity. Opportunities to practice in life are rare; a good team practices at least thrice for every game.

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