How Can Motivational Techniques Be Used in School and Youth Sports Coaching?

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After Andy Murray's motivational notes were leaked to the media earlier this month, experts in school and youth sports tours, Tours 4 Sport, examine how motivational techniques can be employed in youth coaching.

Motivational Techniques in Coaching

Motivational Techniques in Coaching

"By having a pre-season [training camp] it encourages pupils to get into the correct mindset. Tours 4 Sport were very helpful in organising and helping run the pre-season camp and I am already planning next year's tour." Milton Abbey School, 2014

The press had a field day earlier this month when Andy Murray’s motivational notes were leaked online after his defeat in Rotterdam by world number 19, Gilles Simon. Some of the notes were strikingly simple (e.g. ‘try your best’), whilst others were somewhat more technical (e.g. ‘try to keep him at the baseline, make him move’). The use of such motivational notes by an elite athlete like Andy Murray raises the questions of how effective they are, as well as how such techniques can be employed in youth coaching.

Murray’s notes are not the only technique used by elite athletes to motivate themselves to produce their best performance. Visualisation is one such technique, famously employed by Wayne Rooney and Johnny Wilkinson – the former having been famous for taking the time to visualise his kicks before taking them.

Visualisation involves the athlete creating memories of success in advance of the competition. The athlete uses prior experiences to both improve confidence and mentally prepare themselves for any pressures they are likely to encounter. This is a technique that can be of real benefit to young sportsmen and women, who are still building their confidence, by encouraging them to think carefully about how they will deal with likely situations, such as the taking of a penalty and the pressure from the watching crowd.

However, in order to use this technique, the athlete also needs to build on their sporting experience. Tours 4 Sports' Director of Sports Tours, Sam Jennings, explains that “this is why practice is so integral to an athlete’s success. By practising their sport on a regular basis, athletes hone their skills and technique, as well as create the experience and memories which will justify the confidence that they can then build on when employing the visualisation technique. Certainly, some of our most popular tours are our professional coaching tours, which focus on teaching and practising technical skills.”

Purposeful practice can be a useful motivational technique in itself. In his acclaimed book, 'Bounce', Matthew Syed, former table tennis star and sports journalist, argues that it takes 10,000 hours of practice to become an elite performer, but that this practice must be purposeful in order to be effective. Athletes need to enjoy what they are doing and they need to be challenged constantly in order to progress. Jennings adds “we are often told by group leaders who have taken their athletes on one of our pre-season training camps that they chose such a tour to provide their group with the type of ‘purposeful practice’ that Syed describes in the book.”

Another technique, popularised by Dr Steve Peters, author of 'The Chimp Paradox', is mind management. Dr Peters describes the part of the human brain that employs emotional thought and is guided by feelings as the ‘Chimp’. This technique involves controlling the ‘inner Chimp’. This theory is useful for youth coaches as it is simple, making it easy for young athletes to comprehend. It encourages them to learn about themselves and how they think, and to use this understanding of themselves to keep calm and composed under pressure, such as when they are in competition.

There certainly is no doubt that motivational techniques do have a place in youth coaching, thanks to the contribution they can make to an athlete’s confidence, positivity and self-understanding. Regular, guided coaching sessions not only nurture an athlete’s talent by providing them with the necessary skills and techniques to succeed in their sport, but also provide the experience and memories on which their confidence is founded. “We are often asked to provide meeting rooms for groups on our sports tours” explains Jennings. “Particularly on pre-season training camps, coaches like to include sessions where their athletes can set team and individual goals, and run sessions introducing them to mental preparation and motivational techniques.”

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Katie Sharkey
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