6 Tips for Motivating Young Athletes

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Young soccer players


In order for any team or individual to thrive in athletics, motivation has to be in place. Without the desire to improve and be the best that you can be, it’s unlikely that you will achieve your goals and find success. As a coach, you understand how important motivation is, but how do you instill it in the athletes that you train? Here are six tips for motivating young athletes.

1. Acknowledge the Importance of Motivation

Motivation of your athletes is one of your key responsibilities as a coach, and communicating its importance is vital. Though conditioning, mental preparedness and training help children become better athletes, without motivation, an individual will put less than optimal effort into these processes.

Encourage and motivate the young athletes that you work with so that they can enjoy their sport more and appreciate the benefits of doing well. Winning games or getting awards is a motivator for some, but simply getting better and gaining skills will motivate many. Give positive feedback and encourage continual growth even if that means rewarding small steps along the way.

2. Discover each Athlete’s Unique Motivators

Each athlete is motivated differently, so learning as much as you can about each of your individual players will help you to keep them focused and moving in the right direction. The love of a game, seeing individual improvement, receiving praise or winning a trophy can all be factors that encourage individual athletes to perform.

Unfortunately, one size does not fit all when it comes to motivation, so you’ll have to invest some effort to diversify your tactics. Once you know what motivates each athlete, you can use this information to develop your motivational strategies. While one player might like being praised in front of the group, it could make another feel uncomfortable. Watch for reactions and try to modify your actions based on verbal and non-verbal feedback.

3. Explain the “Why”

Any good motivator can answer this question. Why are we doing this? In order to get players to do what needs to be done, in order to succeed, sometimes you have to sell the benefits.
To young athletes, drills can feel repetitive. This can cause a drop in motivation if a young person doesn’t understand how the drill will help them achieve success. Don’t assume that all players understand why practice is important. This, like any concept, must be taught in such a way that is understandable to all young athletes.

When you’ve explained why something works, it’s easier to point out how hard work has paid off down the line. Once an athlete sees the results of their actions, they’re often motivated to listen better to instruction and work hard in practice.

4. Encourage Teamwork

As humans, we naturally seek out relationships, and forming positive ones through athletic competitions can be extremely motivating. For teammates, this feeling of connection can encourage them to put in the extra effort to benefit the team. Even when you are coaching athletes in individual sports, encouraging connections between individuals is important for motivation.

Encourage athletes to get to know one another and engage in team-building activities. Celebrate the accomplishments of the team or competing unit as a whole, and allow the young people that you work with to build strong relationships and motivate each other.

5. Commend Successes No Matter the Size

Young people want to feel successful and have fun. Pointing out how they’ve improved will only encourage them to keep striving for more. Celebrating successes shouldn’t just happen during a game or competition. If players finish a tough drill, or stick out an activity longer than they ever have, use these opportunities to acknowledge an athlete.

It can be really hard to keep a loss from bringing young athletes down. This is why it’s so important to keep an eye out for improvements and bring them to light at the right moment. When working with young athletes it’s important to point out their minor achievements since many may not recognize them on their own.

6. Set Achievable Goals

Achieving a goal, whether short- or long-term can be a tremendous motivator. Keep in mind that goal setting can backfire, however, if the goals are not achievable and tangible. Shoot for goals that can be accomplished, and share these goals with your young athletes. Setting a combination of individual and team goals can be particularly effective for motivating children.

Setting goals for improvement in certain aspects of a sport can be a more effective tactic than setting statistical or win-based goals for a youth sports team. Goals can even be practice-related in terms of attendance, drill performance, and motivation of teammates.

As a coach, how you choose to motivate the athletes that you work with will depend on the sport, the age and ability level of your players. It team sports, it’s important to motivate athletes on the individual level as well as the team level. With appropriate motivation and practice, you can coach young athletes to overcome obstacles while reaching their goals on their way to a rewarding athletic career.

About Ohio University’s Online Master of Athletic Administration Degree

Ohio University’s online MAA program is designed to teach professionals how to manage the many changes in interscholastic sports. The university launched the nation’s first academic program in sports administration in 1966 and continues to be a leader in sports business education.

Ohio University’s online MAA program is housed within the university’s College of Business, underscoring the university’s dedication to providing world-class sports business education.

The program works in collaboration with the National Intercollegiate Athletic Administrators Association (NIAAA) to prepare graduates for certification and is accredited by the Commission on Sport Management Accreditation (COSMA). For more information, contact an enrollment advisor at Ohio University.


Applied Sports Psychology