Fall 2014 Blog – Post # 9
Oct 24 HOLD YOUR ACES
I have one particular men’s team of mine from the ‘90’s in mind with the title this week. The back story goes something like this – without the team knowing it, all season long as a weekly voter on the national poll; I was using my first place vote on our team, since we were unbeaten in Division III. There was also another unbeaten team, ranked 1st all year, and we were on a collision course to see them at championship time. Long story short (not my strength), I made a big deal of our #2 ranking all year, especially the fact that they always had only one single first place vote. I reminded them constantly that apparently, they had a lot to prove.
My topic this week is MOTIVATION. That mystical methodology that maybe we get right one day, and then probably get all wrong the next. If I had kept a running log of all the questions asked of me in directing coaching clinics in the last thirty years, one of the top 2 questions would be this one: “How do I motivate my players?” That is a loaded question, and over time I guess my stock response has been this – “well, tell me about your practice culture – how often do you use a scoreboard”? I briefly mentioned “competitive cauldron” last week. Popularized by Anson Dorrance when he was coaching the likes of Mia Hamm at the University of North Carolina, the essence of this approach when taken to its extreme in practice is that everything is scored. If we want to impact the motivational levels of our players, then make sure they are competing for something on a regular basis.
No matter where you are in your season, it is likely that the individuals on your team are by now, exhibiting different external cues as to their levels of motivation when they walk in the door for practice, or jump on the bus for a mid-week road match. The challenge for us as coaches, is that we are trying to both gauge the motivational level of our players, and also somehow feel obligated to be sure we are continuously saying just the right thing to get our group busting down the locker room door to “win one for the Gipper”. Have I mentioned “less is more” at all? This might be a good time to consider that principle.
If this is your first week reading one of my blogs, understand that I am simply sharing some experiences in hopes that, in some way, it is useful to you. I do not believe that I have the secret to motivating players, but I did try a lot of things with a lot of teams and individuals. More than anything, I wanted players to compete with confidence, and I tried to press buttons or create scenarios that might feel powerful to them.
Borrowing from long time radio broadcaster, Paul Harvey, here is “the rest of the story”. So, sure enough, that particular team of mine is sitting in a meeting room hundreds of miles away from our home court, preparing for the long-awaited show down between the nation’s top two undefeated teams. Now, it’s not like my team needed motivation – they were a highly motivated group. It was however, a very interesting match-up of two very successful teams that were built quite differently based on significant differences in personnel. Simply put, our success on the court would be determined by our tempo, and truly we just needed to play our game, and trust all the parts. With that in mind, it was time to pull out all the aces I had been holding. We gathered around for our routine pre-match scouting report, mixed with a few points of emphasis in terms of the tactics we favored in this match-up, and then I pulled out a folder, and said “oh by the way, I guess I never mentioned to you that I was one of the national poll voters this season, and I thought you might like to see a copy of my votes”. So, around the room went the copies of my weekly votes and of course they discovered where that one single first place vote came from each and every week.
I would not attribute the 3-0 win that day to a motivational trick – not at all. I had a team full of future college coaches on that squad (no less than 5 of that group have coached at that level), and we had a lot going for us. On the other hand, there is something to be said for “timing”, and I had hoped all season that perhaps having all the aces up my sleeve would be helpful to this bunch. In that moment, it was sort of the ultimate “us” against them. It was my way of saying – “I never doubted you, so from top to bottom, we just need to believe that we have what it takes to perform at our level right now.”
Funny how easy it is to recall a time when maybe a motivational tactic worked, but I have way more stories of when I got it wrong, and that leads me to this caution for you. I think we would agree that internal or intrinsic motivation is what we really hope for. A team full of highly motivated individuals who compete with self-confidence and are able to stay in the moment don’t need a lot of motivational coaching. If nothing else, as you have been reading my comments, it has enabled you to have a few minutes to think about where you think your team’s motivational level is right now. You may be mentally reviewing some recent motivational tactics you have attempted. Perhaps odd to be passing on advice in a coaching blog from singer/songwriter Kenny Rogers, but here you go – “know when to hold ‘em”. This might be a good time to hold back and collect your own aces to use a few weeks from now – don’t use them all up before the big show-downs.
Oh by the way, the second most common coaching clinic question will not surprise you at all – “how do I get my setter to play defense?” Perhaps I need to start an outline for my next blog series just for that topic. J
Next week > SENIORS