January 13, 2014 • From the BenchWinning Hoops

Motivational strategies must go beyond words

by Kevin Hoffman, Managing Editor

There’s a scene from the movie “Remember the Titans” where coach Herman Boone, played by Denzel Washington, leads his team on a grueling morning run. They maneuver through forests and splash through creeks before arriving at Gettysburg, where thousands of soldiers were killed during the Civil War.

The movie takes place in the wake of the Civil Rights Movement, and Boone’s players are struggling to coexist. It’s here where they’re united.

“You listen, take a lesson from the dead,” Boone said. “If we don’t come together right now on this hallowed ground, we too will be destroyed just like they were.”

It’s a powerful scene — not to mention an excellent film — and I was reminded of it after reading about Mike Krzyzewski and his motivational techniques with USA Basketball. To get his superstar, millionaire athletes charged up for international competition, he created what he refers to as “feel-it” moments. It was a way to get his players emotionally invested and sentimental about wearing America’s colors.

“When it’s time to change the culture of a team, your players have to hear it, see it and understand what you’re trying to do,” Krzyzewski said in a Wall Street Journal article. “But to really make change stick … they have to feel it.

“To do that, you have to create moments.”

Those moments included visits to military bases and cemeteries, delivering a greater sense of patriotism among his players. It’s an unconventional approach, but one that many coaches already use in their programs. Rah-rah speeches are a thing of the past, and to reach today’s young athlete, you have to be different.

Krzyzewski’s battle is on a different front, but the challenges and goals are the same. The Duke coach is trying to overcome egos, while those of you at high schools and colleges are adjusting to the unique characteristics and personalities of a new generation. It’s certainly something Krzyzewski experiences back in Durham, North Carolina.

Take some time to learn about “Millennials” and you’ll discover they’re visual learners with relatively short attention spans. Pep talks can still fire up your players, but this generation is accustomed to televisions, laptops, tablets and smartphones. Visual stimulation increases your odds of capturing their attention and delivering a message that resonates through the next game or season.

Coach K only scratched the surface of what’s possible. Teams out there are visiting historical sites and taking players to local nursing homes or elementary schools, where many kids look up to varsity athletes as if they were the superstars we see on television.

This strategy is effective in team building as well. Just look at what Texas men’s basketball coach Shaka Smart accomplishes each year by having his team participate in Navy SEAL training. Players grow closer and learn first hand what it means to fight and endure side by side with one another. Sure, you can gather your players in a huddle and verbalize that message, but chances are it’s not going to have the same effect.

Give it a try with your team. Whether you’re overhauling your team culture or lighting a fire under your players before the next game, visualize your message. Chances are, you’ll notice a difference.