Here’s something worth thinking about from the Alex Ferguson book Leading.

There was an occasion when we played Middlesbrough that a group of players went after the referee like a pack of dogs and I went off my head with them. But I also wanted to be careful that I didn’t inadvertently demotivate them. The minute you start intruding too far, you take the drive out of the man. Believe me, it is far easier to do that than to put the drive into someone to whom it does not come naturally.

That last sentence is the one I want to focus on.

I frequently come across coaches asking how they can make their players more competitive, or to otherwise motivate them to want to win, get better, etc. How often do we as coaches think about the flip-side of that – demotivation?

I’m going to say not nearly enough. And arguably our first job as coaches should be to avoid demotivating our players.

As Ferguson observes, it’s really easy to demotivate a player. Yelling can do that. Demonstrating a lack of caring can do it. Not giving enough attention to the player and/or giving too much attention to someone else is on the list. Fatigue is a physiological factor we can induce. The perception of inadequacy (“I suck!”) may not be something directly coach-linked, but a coach can certainly influence that mindset.

And sometimes we simply say or do the wrong thing in the moment without even realizing there’s an underlying issue at work.

This is where relationship-building is such an important factor in good coaching. It’s a lot easier to avoid demotivating your players if you have a sense of who they are and if they know where you’re coming from.

That takes some time, though. When those relationships aren’t available (early in a season, during one-off events like camps and clinics, etc.), self-awareness is important. And that may take having someone observe you in action. We often don’t realize that we’re doing things that demotivate our players.

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John Forman
John Forman

John is currently the Talent Strategy Manager (oversees the national teams) and Indoor Performance Director for Volleyball England, as well as Global Director for Volleyball for Nation Academy. His volleyball coaching experience includes all three NCAA divisions, plus Junior College, in the US; university and club teams in the UK; professional coaching in Sweden; and both coaching and club management at the Juniors level. He's also been a visiting coach at national team, professional club, and juniors programs in several countries. Learn more on his bio page.

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