And You Will Never See it in a Sports Film

It’s halftime! But my team is losing. Maybe it’s because we didn’t execute the game plan properly. Maybe we lacked the hustle and effort. Or maybe the players didn’t believe they were good enough to win this game.

Either way, my first instinct is to get in that locker room and coach them up. Do my job. I am the coach, right?

Our experience of “good” coaching leads us to believe it is our job to motivate. To coach them up and make the changes necessary to win the big game, either with a chewing out or a fiery motivational speech and a powerful quote about “wanting it bad enough.”

The reality, however, is that while these tactics can be effective some of the time, like all other attempts to motivate externally, they will eventually lose their effect. In the long run, they are not beneficial.

Motivational talks rely on emotions and feelings to get others to act. We want to develop a mentally tough team that gives their best, regardless of the circumstances or how they feel. We want a team that gives their best every game, practice, drill, and play, even in the absence of motivation. We want a team that is laser-focused on what is within their control at all times, even when the chips are down.

So, what is the most motivational talk a coach can give?

First, I have the team form a circle (players included). I turn to all of them, really looking each of them in the eyes. And then I start asking questions:

  • “What do you see out there?”

  • “What is going well?”

  • “What are you feeling?”

  • “What can we do to improve?”

I work to listen to the players. I help them take a step back and see the good and the bad.

I encourage them to set some actionable goals, both as a team and individually, to manage the controllables. In this way, I am empowering them to be leaders and take ownership of the team. I am developing basketball intelligence and creating buy-in.

It is not easy doing this, because I like to be an answer man. I love to dream up fiery halftime talks that will motivate them to run out of the locker room like I just unleashed a cage of tigers. But I know I have to be more concerned with the needs of the team than with what I want.

Do you empower players to increase motivation, self-awareness, and self-responsibility?

Praise when it is deserved.

Criticize when it is needed.

Most importantly, watch and listen.

Empower them and give them what they truly want: The opportunity to be seen and heard.

-J.P. Nerbun

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