Motivation: What it is, and how your training environment can impact it
Motivation needs to be managed and channelled in the right direction to elicit the best performance outcomes – so how can coaches and athletes ensure they stay motivated?
Learn about the fundamentals of Agility and even get a practical coaching guide to help you to develop engaging sessions.
By Will Ambler
1st December 2021 | 5 min read
Motivation is what drives people to do things and the satisfaction they feel as a result. Biochemically, motivation stems from chemical reactions in response to a stimulus that drives us to resolve the stimulus, e.g hunger, thirst, and fear.
“Almost everything we do is defined by motivation and dopamine (a neurotransmitter made by your body to send messages to nerve cells). Dopamine gives off a pleasure response in order to reinforce behaviour,” said Head of Performance and Medical at Sydney Kings Basketball Tom Banfield during his Science for Sport presentation titled ‘Growing a Motivating Training Environment’.
Motivation can be perceived as drive, determination, effort, dedication, resilience, focus, persistence, ambition, and eagerness and several theories of motivation have been developed to help us understand the often complicated nature of motivation.
Banfield explained there are three theories of motivation all coaches should know when aiming to create a motivating training environment:
Motivation needs to be managed and channelled in the right direction to elicit the best performance outcomes.
“Motivating training environments get the most out of their athletes, maximise professionalism and long-term athlete growth, channel a team and/or individual’s motivations towards a common goal (unity), and maximise organisational connection,” outlined Banfield.
“Intrinsic motivation [doing an activity for its inherent satisfaction] is highly correlated with performance, but extrinsic motivation [reward-driven behaviour] becomes more effective at higher levels of competency. Where and how motivation is channelled will affect performance. This is particularly true regarding risky or destructive behaviours e.g. overtraining, obsession, addiction, fear of failure etc.”
Goal setting – “Goal setting is an important factor when channelling athlete motivation in the desired direction. It is important to set organisation, team, and personal aims but before setting goals, coaches must understand what motivates the athlete.”
Player education – “Athletes are more likely to be motivated to do things if they understand the ‘why’. Education links back to autonomy – for example, some athletes might not want to wear a GPS monitoring device, but through educating them on the benefits of GPS use, we can improve athlete compliance, enabling them to be more objective, potentially run faster and avoid injury.”
Expectations and values – Expectations and values channel athlete motivation. “It improves accountability, sets clear standards to aim for, rewards positive behaviour and punishes negative ones. It’s also so important to reward the intangible behaviours and those who exude your values. For instance, a player might put their body on the line for the team despite not scoring many points – it is important to identify and support this behaviour for the individual and team.”
Leadership – “Leadership promotes responsibility and motivates those to deliver. Community engagement, helping and growing others, taking on responsibility, and distinct roles are all a way to lead. Providing a platform for your athletes to lead is key for their own commitment to the team.”
Legacy – “Being part of something bigger than yourself is vital for athletes. Often, athletes want to contribute to the team’s legacy, making history in order to be remembered, and this serves to motivate and maximise performance.”
Fun – “Ensuring your athletes and staff enjoy coming to work is essential. There is a fine line between focus and fun but through rituals and games, coaches can ensure there are fun elements found within the often brutal environments sports athletes operate within.”
Physical environment – The area you train (gym and facilities) has a huge impact on athlete motivation. “From the design layout to the words written on the wall, it is important to instil the values and the expectations you set for your athletes and coaches. Regularly investing in your training area can fill the team with pride.”
Investment – Financial, time, and resources are crucial motivating factors. “Underpaid/undervalued athletes are some of the least motivated in a team environment. Set up processes and structures that enable players to contribute to and discuss their ‘investment’.”
Player selection – “Getting enough minutes on the pitch or court is fundamental. The opportunity to prove they can play and perform is key to maintaining squad motivation – the burning question for athletes is ‘have I got the opportunity to grow as an athlete?’.”
Coaching strategies – “Process vs results, training scoreboards, competition between sub-team groups all influence an athlete’s motivation. It is important for a coach to assess their ask of athletes and the style in which their coaching is communicated.”
Toby Banfield is currently the Head of Performance and Medical at Sydney Kings Basketball. Prior to this, he worked as a Strength and Conditioning Coach for the Gallagher Chiefs (Super Rugby) and Rehab Specialist for the Newcastle Falcons (UK Premiership).