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Coaches Network: Finding Ways To Motivate the Team

  • Date:
    Jan 3, 2018

Talent and teamwork are the keys to success, but sometimes your players need an extra push. With that in mind, here is this week’s question for the USA Basketball Coaches Network:

Whether it's a drill, a speech, or some other type of incentive, what is your favorite motivational tactic?

Dori Oldaker, head coach, Mt. Lebanon High School (Pa.)

I believe in the saying, “Team will always beat Talent, when Talent doesn’t work hard!” I truly believe in team chemistry and team bonding opportunities.


Almost yearly, our team is given a chosen book (selected by the head coach, me) and we will have book studies as a team. We will discuss and learn as much as we can from these motivational books. These discussions lead to great conversations and teachable moments.


Our staff treats our team like a family. We call it our “Basketball Family!” Families sacrifice for each other and respond to each other when needed. We try to impress upon our team that the team is bigger than themselves, but every person has an important role.


Don Showalter, head coach, Iowa City High School (Iowa)

As the season starts out, the motivation is the excitement of a new season for the players. I find the players are very motivated to show the coaching staff what they can do. As the roles for each player are established and some players understand playing time may not be what they imagined, the excitement and motivation tend to dwindle.

Several motivational techniques we have implemented:
• Every player will get four positive comments (at least) from the coaching staff during practice. I often assign assistant coaches specific players for positive comments.

• A team meeting is held before every practice where we talk about the mind candy – a thought for the day and how it relates to our team.

• One non-starter is a captain, based on effort in practice.

• We assign two players to give a scouting report on an opponent -- one of those being a non-starter.

• Our team has a council made up of several players in each class, which meets for breakfast once a week to discuss team items.

• Plan events that will provide great culture and bonding -- go watch a college game together, have a bowling party or pizza party, volunteer at a community service project.

• Give out a super sub award for each game.

• Give out game awards for non-scoring stats -- charges, rebounds, assists, deflections.


Sue Phillips, head coach, Archbishop Mitty High School (Calif.)

Determining the pulse of your team is a critical component to effective coaching.  Keep in mind that the pulse of your team will vary throughout the year. Your team might be riding high after a big win or struggling with their confidence after a tough loss. As such, your motivational tactics should vary as well. A good rule of thumb is to challenge your team with difficult tasks during the peaks, but to present readily attainable goals during the valleys.

Our goals have associated “carrots” or “consequences.”  Each drill has a time limit and a standard of efficiency. Achieving the gold standard results in a “carrot” (e.g. early water break) or a “consequence” (e.g. one-minute plank). Always keep your feedback real, such as: “Your actions are not in line with your goals. State champs don’t just go through the motions. You either need to change your goals or change your actions.”

And then there are the lulls of the season whereby your team is flat for no explainable reason. That’s the toughest gauge of all. You may need to light a fire under them (i.e. take a charge drill) or build in a random fun activity (i.e. half-court shot for a Gatorade) to enhance mood/energy levels. At the end of the day, your players want to compete, have fun, and maximize their potential. Provide the kind of environment and type of feedback that best meets those needs. 


Brian Robinson, head coach, Bishop McGuinness Catholic High School (N.C.)

Motivation is something we all need in some, shape, form or fashion. Depending on what the situation is, motivation can be competing in a drill for playing time, trying to inspire an individual to fight through some adversarial moments on or off the court, or helping the team reach that final group goal in practice. My motivational speeches typically come when we are up against an opponent that is as good or better than we are or when we are playing an elimination/playoff game late in the season. Motivating is in a way supporting and believing in your team, and your team really needs you most in those types of games. Motivation is reminding the team of what got them to this point in the season, and that if they will just believe in themselves (assuming they put in the time and work beforehand), then they can achieve their goals of trying to win.


Drew Hanlen, NBA Skills Coach & Consultant, Pure Sweat Basketball

The best way to get players motivated is by showing them you care and making them feel good about what they bring to the table. That can be done by applauding something they do well in practice, putting together film work that shows them how well they can play when they are at their best or pulling them to the side and having a heart-to-heart with them. Let them know how valuable they are – players perform best when they are confident!


Are you a youth basketball coach looking for more resources to better yourself and help your players? Join the National Standard and become a licensed coach today! Register now






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