top of page
Featured Posts


“There are only two powers in the world, the sword and the spirit. In the long run the sword will always be conquered by the spirit” (Napoleon, cited in Carron, 1984, p. 2)

“Motivation must come from the belief that ultimate success lies in giving your personal best.” John Wooden.

MOTIVATION. You hear it all the time, “How can I motivate my players?” “How can we motivate our employees?” “How can I motivate my kids to make better grades?”

If you coach, supervise employees or are a parent (a/k/a lifetime coach), I’m sure that these or similar phrases have been either said or thought by you. Over the 41 years that I’ve been involved in volleyball, I’ve seen all sorts of successes and failures at motivating players. As a player, I really didn’t need motivation. Some folks say that I may be a little competitive (don’t ask my family, please!) and therefore, I don’t need external sources of motivation. There are other temperaments that need that little extra push. As a coach of players at the junior volleyball level (younger than 19), I’ve had my own doubts with my ability to properly motivate players. So many times I’ve watched the same players play their best against a top rated team and then, during the very next match, loose to the lowest seed in their pool! How can they do such a thing! Or, if I’m truthful, how can they embarrass me in front of all these people!!!!! Well, as you can see, I’m over it now and dealing quite well with those memories. Seriously, if you’re a coach, you have probably been there or you will be there.

This article is not going to resolve all the issues regarding MOTIVATION. The focus is on how we, as coaches and for some of us, as parents, can properly motivate the female player, student and/or child to participate or study at their best level.

Please notice that this article is not focused on how to get the player to win. I try my best to focus the players that I’m coaching, on performing at their best and not winning. To me, focusing on winning is a very short-term goal that puts my players at a vulnerable position – allowing the other team to dictate how our team acts and reacts. It is my intention to focus my players on doing their best no matter what happens on the other side of the net. If they do so, winning is a by-product of performing at their best. Helping the players to focus on performing at their best and not allowing the circumstances to control how they react and what they say, will, hopefully, be what they can take with them in other areas of their lives.

In a study by Rychman and Hamel (1992), it was found that some of the main reasons why female adolescents engaged in sports activities were to make friends, keep existing friends, or a combination of both. Motivating the Adolescent Athlete, by Mike Croskery, (1992). Anson Dorrance, coach of North Carolina’s women’s soccer team, stated in a book he co-authored with Tim Nash, Training Soccer Champions (North Carolina: JTC Sports, Inc., 1996), that with women athletes, “your effectiveness is through your ability to relate. They have to feel that you care about them personally or have some kind of connection with them beyond the game”. Coach Dorrance goes on to state that, “I have learned that the women I have coached listen less to what I say than to how I say it. In other words, they listen less to the language and more to the tone. If my tone is negative, it doesn’t matter how positive the words are. They are going to hear negative….Women listen to your tone and watch your body language, regardless of what comes out of your mouth.” Dorance, (Training Soccer Champions, pg. 66.)

Most men compete in sports for the competition, the “in-your-face” one-on-one experience. Most women play sports because they love to play. As Kathy DeBoer puts it, “Properly motivated women are just as competitive as properly motivated men. The difference is in the motivation, not the competitiveness. We’re-all-in-this-together strategies work better with females.” Gender and Competition, How Men and Women Approach Work and Play Differently(Coaches Choice, 2004). Somewhere I learned that men bond together as they compete together against a common foe while females, generally, bond together so they can then compete.

In the Journal of Sport & Exercise Psychology, 1992, Vo. 14, pgs. 309 – 325, a study performed by Jill Black and Maureen R. Weiss of the University of Oregon wrote that, based upon their study to examine the “relationships between perceived coaching behaviors and (a) perceptions of ability and (b) motivation in competitive age-group swimmers”, that in the group of 15 – 18 year-olds, the female swimmers, “who perceived higher frequencies of information, praise, and encouragement plus information, and lower frequencies of criticism, had higher levels of self-perceptions of ability, enjoyment, effort, and challenge motivation.” They concluded that, “[t]hus, coaching responses that were negative, even if they provided information, were detrimental to these swimmers’ self-perceptions of ability and motivation.” These findings are similar to work performed by Smith and Smoll who found that, “coaches who displayed more encouragement, positive reinforcement, and instruction and less criticism had players who enjoyed baseball more and had higher levels of self-esteem…..coaches’ behaviors not only influenced sport enjoyment and self-esteem…but also influenced perceived success, effort, and preference for optimally challenging activities.” Black and Weiss, pg. 321.

The coach of a young female athlete has a great deal of affect upon the sometimes fragile self-esteem of a young female athlete. There are always exceptions. In my own family, my oldest daughter was All-District in soccer at Rowlett High School and played DS (this is before the Libero came to high school volleyball) on her high school volleyball teams that went undefeated during her Junior and Senior years. She also played setter in a 5-1 offensive scheme on a team that won the MLK tournament in San Antonio. However, all it took to bring her to tears and to doubt herself was to look at her in a stern manner. She hated to displease and pushed herself to never be in that position to displease her coach. My middle daughter, on the other hand, responded best to a coach who would get up in her face. She responded by playing better. She took the aggressive stance of the coach as a challenge and worked to prove the coach wrong. She went on to be All State in volleyball and basketball.

From the above research, we can conclude that at least one source of motivation of the female athlete is the positive reinforcement from the coach. The well informed coach will realize that she or he has a great deal of influence on the performance of the athletes that they coach. A coach who is negative, sarcastic in a negative manner, berating and demeaning to their players is going to end up with female athletes who can’t wait until the season is over and who will most likely quit on the coach long before the end of the season. In contrast to the negative coach there is the positive coach who reinforces the good and spends as little time as possible on the negative. This sounds easy but we as coaches have so many subtle opportunities to be positive but somehow we miss it.

Take for instance when the other team calls a time out to “cool” your server. Have you ever said, “Whatever you do, don’t serve it into the net.” “Don’t serve into the net.”? How many coaches are aware that our minds do not register the spoken word “don’t”? Right now, whatever you do, don’t think about a pink elephant! Remember don’t think about the pink elephant. Well, what are you thinking about? What is the player thinking as she leaves your huddle? Answer: “serve into the net”. If you ever had little children in your house and you asked them “not” to do something, how long until they do what you just asked them not to do?! The same is true with our volleyball players. We should use those timeouts to build up and encourage (if my players are reading this, please realize that I make many mistakes and unfortunately, you are the victims of those mistakes). Instead of focusing on the net, focus your server’s attention on such things as, in which zone to serve the ball, what type of serve to hit, encourage her by talking about how well she is serving.

Another opportunity to motivate and to really show how to deal with a negative result is right after a loss. How many times do we as coaches say, “I can’t believe you played that way!”? Or, “Get over here, now!” Do those words sound encouraging? I’m not saying that we can’t get upset, but it is how we conduct ourselves when we are upset that our players are watching in us. Dean Smith, the retired coach at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill said, “I learned early on, if I didn’t have anything good to say, I wait 24 hours.” What did he learn? He learned that after berating the players on a loss, who is the only person who feels justified about their actions? You. While you are getting it off your chest and feeling better by releasing all the negative feelings you have because of the loss, at the same time you are vilifying your players.

Therefore, when we consider the issue of motivation, and how to motivate our players, we need to look at ourselves and see what type of person we are as a coach. Do we jump at the chance to put down a player or, are we patient to give the same instruction over and over again when the player or team just isn’t getting it? Yes, there is a time to raise the voice, but I say that it is only when you are trying to “shock” the players in such a way that they forget what they just did, so the muscle memory doesn’t remain in their minds. This also helps them to refocus. However, there is a fine line between one stern comment and constantly shouting and clanging that tongue of ours.

The Coach has a great deal of influence on how to get the player properly motivated. The Coach is in a unique position to not only motivate the player but to teach the player how to motivate themselves.

In conclusion, we as coaches and parents should remember to ask ourselves, “What are we trying to teach?” Are we coaching for the here and now? Are we just concerned for the short-term results or are we trying to nurture and build confidence in a person who is precious in God’s sight?

It is interesting that in Paul’s letter to the Corinthians, he didn’t mention the gift of criticism, or the gift of demeaning as spiritual gifts (I Cor. 12). However, in Romans 12:8, Paul asks that those who have the gift of “encouraging, let him encourage”.

If you don’t have the gift of encouraging, you may want to think about another career. But even if you do stay in coaching, please take to heart what Paul says in Ephesians 4:29: “Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen.”

Sorry, I didn’t see any exception that said if you were a volleyball coach this didn’t apply to you.

If you read this, please post a comment so others can benefit from your knowledge and so that I know someone other than my family reads this.

Recent Posts
bottom of page