SportsMedicine of Atlanta




The Key to Motivating Athletes

There is not a sport that I can think of where the more aroused a person is the better he can perform.  Possibly the only sport that this may be true is in competitive heavy weightlifting.  But even the football player who has to make that tackle, the linebacker who must stop his man, or the guard who must block for his quarterback must not be psyched out.  He must be in control of himself to play at a high performance level.  He must have a good deal of flexibility in his muscles.  He cannot be focusing too narrowly, and he must be mentally alert as far as the many moves and formations that the opponent can bring against him.  The following is a picture of the Yerkes-Dodson Law of Behavior.




From the curve, you can see that most group sports in general belong in the middle of the curve; that is, most of the members of the group team should be psyched-up, not psyched-out, and have a moderate degree of arousal.  Of course, within that team there will be certain persons who will be low-mid arousal at their best performance or high-mid arousal at their best performance.  For example, a quarterback should probably be right in the middle, while an end or running back on a football team would be on a low-mid arousal; the tackle, guard, and linebackers may be on a high-mid arousal; the tackle, guard, and linebackers may be on a high-mid arousal.  But clearly, none of them should be under aroused or under psyched, and never should they be psyched-out.


How can you as coaches motivate your athletes without “psyching them out?”  Coaches should treat each athlete as an individual, and each has to be motivated differently.  Some athletes will be very sluggish, slow starters.  These athletes may be at a very under psyched, low arousal state and need a good pumping up or motivational talk to get them to midrange.  However, this is quite unusual.  Most athletes come to a competitive situation at a highly aroused state; therefore, if the coach continues to give them pep talks, threatens them, punishes them, pushes them around, yells at them, demeans them in the name of motivation, then they may go from a high-mid arousal state to a psyched-out state, and therefore their psychological state would be detrimental to their God given or highly practiced and refined athletic skills.  The coach, therefore, must be able to read his athletes very well.  He must be able to read their arousal state.  If   they are under aroused, maybe they need some psyching up through verbal talk, talking with the teammates, or just physical exercise.


The coach must also see the person who is too highly aroused and know how to bring him down to midrange.  This might be done by calling him in individually and talking him down, trying to lower his goals, taking him feel as though he is behind him 100% just as long as he shows a high degree of effort.  It also might be beneficial if you see a person go off in a corner by himself to leave him there.  The athlete is probably there because he is over-psyched and is trying to bring himself down.


When it comes to coaching, this may be the most important function that you have; that is, discriminating as to how to treat each individual athlete in terms of his arousal state.  If the coach can bring each player into a mid arousal state or a state which is the best for him according to his sport and position, then the coach is going to enhance the performance of all his athletes and increase the probability of the team performing on a whole at a very high level.

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