March 9, 2021 • Athletic AdministrationCoaching

Iron Sharpens Iron: Motivation They Need to Hear

A very good psychologist friend of mind relates a hard-hitting analogy when speaking of motivation: 

“The lion doesn’t need to be motivated when on the hunt. Motivation courses through his veins – it’s in his DNA. He is self-motivated. He knows that no outside source or entity can or will do it for him. The success or failure of the ensuing task is on him. And too many failures can result in his demise. Knowing this, the lion doesn’t seek outside motivation, doesn’t want it, and never gives it a second thought. The lion is focused, determined, and skilled through his many hunting failures and triumphs. He knows that his very survival, and the survival of the pride, depend on success with every opportunity.” 

athletesYour players need to hear this. More importantly, they need to nurture it and live it. Yes, as coaches, one of our most strident responsibilities is to motivate young people. No argument there – it is part and parcel to the territory. However, beware of those who merely sit with arms and hands extended with the attitude, “Hey coach, here I am…motivate me, please!” 

For that handful of youngsters, they need to hear this: 

God has blessed all of us with our own set of talents, abilities, attributes, strengths, and weaknesses. Yes…weaknesses – areas He expects us to make a concerted effort to improve upon. When we approach all of these inherent characteristics with a positive attitude and unrelenting work ethic, we are more likely to succeed. At worst, we become battle-tested from the effort put forth, which will eventually reap rewards down the line. Conversely, if we choose to ignore the challenge, or put less than our best foot forward, we risk the very real chance of losing the rewards we could have attained.

I’m sure that all the coaches who read this have a culture of family, unity, and a true sense of working together. Your players need to hear these precepts every single day, along with living examples of those who truly live by them. They need to feel that they are an integral part of it. And just as important, they need to live up to their responsibilities to contribute to the cause. They need to be on the hunt. Or, they risk the dilemma of becoming the hunted. It takes strong-willed individuals to be hunters. It doesn’t take much effort to be the hunted. 

The late, great Kobe Bryant said this: “I can’t relate to lazy people. We don’t speak the same language. I don’t understand them – I don’t want to understand them!” 

We all have to take on the responsibility of motivating ourselves at some point. The message is clear; you might as well get ahead of the situation, reach out and grab the opportunity that is waiting for you in the distance, and take full control of it. Otherwise, the situation may eventually take control of you. 

Erik Kapitulik from The Program, a team-building organization, puts it like this: 

  • Be great every day! 
  • You are here to be excellent! And we will strive for sustained excellence. 
  • We will grow tougher through shared adversity. 
  • Mental toughness will always precede our physical toughness. 
  • We will not make excuses for ourselves, or for others. 

Sounds like the road less traveled, doesn’t it? That’s because it is. Not necessarily what some athletes – especially the younger ones – want to hear. But remember, as their coach, you are not there to tell them what they want to hear. Rather, your job is to express to them – in no uncertain terms — what they need to hear. And believe me; though they may initially resist your attempts to steer them right, continue to feel entitled, take shortcuts, etc., your persistence coupled with a caring mindset will eventually win them over. 

Stay strong, stay in the fight, and continue to offer motivation to young people! 

Ken Mannie is the former head strength and conditioning coach for Michigan State University. He worked in the position for 25 years, and following his 45-year tenure, Mannie retired in March 2020.