Tuesday, October 15, 2013

#029 Motivating Your Student-Athlete

In the next couple of weeks, I have been given the honor of guest writing on another coaching website: www.coachgray.com.  It is an excellent site for parents and young coaches.  Coach Gray's focus is helping parents understand the gravity of team sports from a coach's perspective.  I will be writing a 3-part series for Coach Gray entitled "The Parent Plan," and I will be giving advice to parents who have children with aspirations of playing sports in college.  The three points of emphasis for the series will be:
  1. Preparing financially for college
  2. Developing your student-athlete's potential
  3. Understanding the complexity of college recruiting
I will make sure to link those articles to my blog when they are published.
In the meantime, with college basketball practice beginning across the country today, I thought it was a good time to write a pre-article to the aforementioned series that speaks specifically to parents in regard to motivating their student-athlete.
This is the time of year where motivation is not hard to come by.  Players are trying to make the team and have high hopes for a new season.  Everyone is excited about the opportunity and the freshness of a new season or experience; especially college freshmen.  It's an easy time for mom and dad to get their son and daughter pumped about the upcoming season.  No one has been yelled at and no games have been lost yet.
I think most parents do a great job of encouraging their child this time of year with great advice:
Do your best and work hard.  Listen to your coach, and do your best to execute what he or she tells you.  Believe in yourself.  Stay positive.  Be a great teammate.  Don't let a bad day deter you from working to be better.  Just be the best you can be.
All of these statements are great advice.  Not only are they great advice for day one, but they are great advice for day 1-100.
It is when rosters are determined and players are cut and starting line-ups are announced for first scrimmages and games when that advice starts to leak away from daily conversation.  That advice starts to be replaced with:
What's the problem?  Why are you not starting?  Why are you not playing more?  Are you asking enough questions?  Are you listening?  Are you doing what you're told?  Your coach said what?
Even with my four-year old, I can quickly assume that she is not doing her best when she comes home sad or frustrated from pre-school.  It is easy for me to fall out of that positive reinforcement and into questioning her commitment and attitude and the thoughts of her teachers.  That only makes her feel worse about something that would have probably been quickly forgotten if I had not made a bigger deal out of it and just stayed positive
For teenagers and college-aged students alike, that positive reinforcement is just as important.  Encouragement that supports a team-first attitude and positive characteristics like humility, perseverance, commitment and desire cannot be reiterated enough over the course of a long-season.
The biggest problem I have faced over the years is very similar to the situation described above with my four-year old.  A player has a bad day:  gets yelled at, makes more mistakes than usual, disagrees with the coach's perspective (right or wrong), and then brings all of those problems home with him or her.
The key for any parent is to not minimalize those problems in any way because they will be serious and important issues  in the eyes of your child...even if they are 22.  Instead, focus on what they know to be true...even if they are doubting it right now.
You have always been a good shooter, don't forget that.  You're nervous.  Time will eliminate that.  The game is faster now.  The talent around you is better.  That doesn't mean that you won't rise to that level.  Keep trying.  Keep listening to your coach.  Don't forget that they put you on the team OR Don't forget that they recruited you for a reason.  You signed up for a marathon, not a sprint.
For high school freshmen, sophomores, and juniors and college freshmen, it is this type of motivation that may be needed for an entire season.  Playing time is designated priority-one by coaches for those upperclassmen who have put the time in and committed themselves to the program and personal improvement.  That doesn't mean your underclassmen won't prove to be more valuable and end up playing more, but most coaches will almost always defer to upperclassmen until it affects winning and losing.  It is imperative that parents not only preach that fact, but remind their child of what the future holds:
Think about when you are a junior and senior.  Will you want coach playing a freshman in front of you who has not proven themselves but maybe has more athleticism and potential?  Of course you won't.
From a college coach's perspective, the players who I deem to have been most successful in my tenure are the young men and women who played for me for four years and got progressively better each and every season.  Those kids left an indelible mark on me because they not only grew as players, but they grew exponentially more as people.  For the most part, their parents held firm to the advice "believe in your coach" for the entire four years.  With any good advice, those players began to believe that advice without having to be told it.  Their careers took off when they built a relationship with me that was important to them.  They chose to see me as a part of their solution and not a part of their problem.
In the end, a parent's consistent positivity is the key to a long-term athletic career.  Coaches must be firm, challenging, critical, and they often need to raise their voices.  It is our job to make the game real.  College sports can be brutal.  Players swear, yell, say bad things to each other and their opponents.  They are taught to be warriors and gladiators.  With that comes aggression, physicality, and extreme pressure.  Coaches cannot afford to pamper and be positive and sweet all of the time, or they wouldn't be preparing their teams for the reality of the challenge ahead.
So when motivating your child, remember that it is a game of good cop/bad cop.  The coach will often play the role of bad cop, and it is very helpful when mom and dad are the super positive cops.  In the end, even though coaches play the role of bad cop, our hope is that our dual motivation leads to conviction, confidence, courage, and an unbreakable self-worth.  That should be more important than any start or any championship.
Have a great season!  I wish you all a fantastic experience.
Matt Rogers
Twitter:  @madcoachdiary