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Paul P. Baard's Motivation Matters: Motivational set-up time for fall is now

August 10. 2014 9:15PM

Many businesspeople serve as coaches in organized sports leagues for young students. And certainly a whole lot of us are parents. In any event, an informed adult can have a major motivational impact on those under his or her influence. Fall and back-to-school present opportunities for doing things new and different.

I have spoken in the past about a superior type of drive that people sometimes experience: intrinsic or self-motivation. Numerous studies have established that employees in this mind-set produce superior work and enjoy better health.

Well, it turns out the same is true for young people on the playing field and at school. The skills business leaders employ to motivate a work group are also applicable in coaching an athletic team, as well as in helping a daughter or son master school work.

This is a great time of the year to begin establishing the kind of atmosphere where an athlete or student can have a new experience with sports and studies. Taking on the athletic role directly, there are three basic kinds of motivation. Extrinsic motivation is the type of drive where the focus is not so much on the enjoyment of the sport but on something outside of it, such as improving one’s social standing at school, or perhaps earning a scholarship to college (or at least a large trophy). It’s kind of a: “What’s in it for me?” mindset. Amotivation is that state in which we are wondering whether the requirements are doable for us, or even matter: “How little can I get away with doing and not get dropped from the team?” Again, what we are really after is intrinsic motivation: “I love being here, doing this.”

In my work with coaches and athletes, including those at the professional level, I have found there are many ways to enhance individual and team motivation — and performance. Some ideas follow. The key is in setting up an environment in which certain psychological needs get met. It is the satisfaction of these needs that results in self-motivation and psychological flow (athletes call it playing “in the zone”).

The first is the need for autonomy — to have influence over what we do and how we do it. It’s about having a voice in the decision-making process. This is not a call for permissiveness: Rules of conduct and the structure of training and practices are necessary. One way a coach can help satisfy the need for autonomy is by explaining the reasons for the rules and encouraging players to set personal, achievable goals for themselves. Empowering them to shape their individual training programs is another means.

The need for competence pertains to learning, growing, feeling capable, having impact. It’s about experiencing optimal challenge to one’s current abilities. Coaches can help satisfy this need by blending feedback of a positive nature with criticism (which is needed for growth). For your experienced players, consider enlisting them to work with your newer ones in a mentoring role, or encouraging the veterans to give ideas and input to the coaches.

Relatedness is the need to feel connected, to experience mutual respect and trust with teammates. Coaches can support this by not permitting triangulation — the act of talking to one player critically about another (not present) or trying to use a player to get “insight” into what’s being said about the coach in the locker room. How about strengthening the team’s culture by replacing put-down humor with “put ups” — random words of encouragement?

I call this approach the “Motivational ACRE”: Autonomy, Competence, Relatedness — followed by an E for Environment. Though not a psychological need, it serves as a reminder that we cannot motivate another, but we can provide an environment in which the three needs leading to the best type of motivation can be satisfied. (The same is true for setting up a study environment at home.)

Ever heard a coach say “They really played over their heads today!”?

Wrong: They played at the top of their abilities — that’s how good they obviously are capable of being. Enjoy the upset victories that lay ahead this season!

Dr. Paul P. Baard may be reached at He is an organizational and sports psychologist with Fordham University, a former senior line executive in the television industry, and the lead author of a book on leadership and motivation. He and his wife, Veronica, a former managing director (HR) of an international investment bank, head up a consulting firm based in Campton, focusing on motivation, conflict reduction and team building. Questions are welcomed at

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