March 2, 2015 • Athletic AdministrationCoaching

Motivating players with the missile analogy

Competitiveness is the most powerful weapon you can have in your team’s arsenal. And a big part of your responsibility as a coach is to teach your athletes what it means to compete and to help bring out the competitor inside of them.

As with most important things in life, this is much easier said than done. It is hard enough to get your athletes to fully comprehend exactly what it means to compete, let alone teach them how to do it consistently.

football tackle

Analogies are often helpful in teaching challenging concepts because they relate the known to the unknown, so I have developed this analogy to help your athletes learn exactly what it means to compete. It not only provides you with a simple process to use, but also a strong visual image and symbol that will be helpful for your athletes.

Of course, I don’t want to equate war with the games of athletics. The two are obviously far different in some critical ways, most notably real lives are at risk in war situations. In no way do I want minimize or demean the extreme sacrifices that are made by military personnel and their families. My goal with this analogy is to simply help coaches and athletes create an aggressive, attacking and competitive mindset by presenting an analogy that people can easily relate to and benefit from.

Competitiveness is like purposeful, powerful, planned, precise and persistent missile strikes, and that’s how we use the missile analogy. Competitiveness is one of the most powerful weapons your team has in its arsenal. So have your athletes imagine the concept of competitiveness as a series of purposeful, powerful, planned, precise and persistent missile strikes against your opponent.

An effective missile attack is designed to overwhelm, confuse, intimidate, disrupt, disable and demoralize the opposition, which is very much the same thing your team is trying to do to your opponent by being fiercely competitive.

Like competitiveness, effective missile strikes share five key components of the attack.


To be maximally effective, a war must have a compelling purpose to motivate the troops and justify the sacrifices being made. There must be solid reasons and motivations to warrant the extreme effort that goes into preparing for, fighting and maintaining a war. Those who are fighting must passionately believe in the purpose of the war to sufficiently summon the courage and resolve to fight it. The cause must be so important and vital that it rallies the troops and people behind it.

Determining a compelling purpose for the war is what generates the passion necessary for fighting fiercely. The more compelling the purpose, the stronger the passion for fighting.

Passion is the motivational rocket fuel that propels the missile to supersonically speed toward its target. Without enough purpose and passion, the missile will not have the force necessary to reach its target. 


Missiles symbolize the destructive force of power, which is analogous to the strong motivation and force of the competitor. Competitiveness is, in essence, the harnessing of the explosive power of passion, desire, rage and fury into a single streamlined, powerful and destructive force, like a missile. The power is packed in the explosive warhead of controlled intensity that the athlete brings to competition.

Photo: Kevin Hoffman

Whenever possible, you want your athletes to overwhelm and devastate your competition with the intensity, power and explosiveness of your strikes. Known as “shock and awe” or rapid dominance in the military world, the more powerful your initial strikes, the more you intimidate the opponent, hopefully causing them to back down, perhaps retreat, or in some cases, surrender early.


Since competitiveness is much more than just brute force, your athletes must also make intelligent choices on when, where and how they are going to strike the opponents.

Strategic planning is also a critical part of an effective attack. Your team should have a variety of missiles in your arsenal (tomahawk, stinger, cruise, minuteman) depending on the particular challenge at hand. You and your athletes must take a strategic approach and know when to use each kind of missile and how best to deploy it.

This part of the missile analogy is similar to the intelligence and planning skills that athletes must compete with. Instead of relying solely on power to take down an opponent, especially one who has just as much or more firepower, they must develop a calculated and coordinated plan of attack designed to take out your opponent’s strengths and target its weaknesses.


A missile attack can only be successful if it hits the mark. Your athletes need to know exactly when, where and how to strike your opponents to best weaken and disable them. They need to identify and then hone in on the target.

Like smart bombs and heat-seeking missiles that can adjust to moving and ever-changing targets, your athletes must make split-second decisions and accurate course corrections during the heat of battle. It’s often their decision-making skills and the adjustments they need to make within the battle that determine the ultimate winner and loser, especially when the teams are equally matched. How precisely your athletes are able to execute and adapt their game plan will have a large bearing on the outcome.


Just as a lone missile is rarely enough to win a war, so too is a one-shot burst of competitiveness seldom sufficient to win the competition. True competitiveness is often a progressive and persistent onslaught of strategic force over time that eventually wears down the opponent. Your goal is to bombard your opponents with wave after wave of missile strikes to disorient, disrupt, disable and demoralize them.

Remember that your opponents are launching their own attacks and counterattacks, so your team must also have the persistence and mental toughness to survive the setbacks, casualties and damages during the battle. However, your athletes must believe that their relentless and persistent approach sooner or later may break the will of your opponent and result in a hard-fought victory.

Over time, this combination of a purposeful, powerful, planned, precise and persistent approach to competition is usually enough to eventually destroy most teams and force them to retreat or surrender.

I encourage you to share this missile analogy with your athletes to help them better understand that true competitiveness is not just sheer force but a combination of purpose, power, planning, precision and persistence.

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