Youth Basketball Motivational Tricks That Work!

Motivating youth basketball players is something youth coaches should not overlook. All players at every age are motivated in different ways. The former great NFL coach Bill Parcells was considered a master motivator. Once he told one of his offensive lineman to pick a fight in practice with Lawrence Taylor the great linebacker to help get him psyched up for the upcoming game. Another time while coaching the New York Jets he left an empty gasoline can near the locker of linebacker Bryan Cox with a note:

“Some say there isn’t any gas left in Cox’s tank. Is this true?”

Both episodes worked as Parcells seemed to know the exact buttons to push for each of his players. A lot of experts will tell you that head coaches at the highest level have be like a psychologist knowing how to motivate their players. The most successful professional and college coaches from the late Vince Lombardi to Duke’s Mike Krzyzewski used motivation to get the most out of their players. But can a youth basketball coach motivate ten twelve year olds through a six-month youth basketball season?  I say the answer is a definite yes! But first you really have to break down your own goals as a youth basketball coach and define what motivation really is. Is motivation getting the most out of your individual and team talent? Or is motivation giving your team the proper direction through practices and games? Motivation is probably a combination of both and more. In a championship game with equal talent on both sides motivation may be the deciding factor to determine who will win. There is extrinsic and intrinsic motivation. Extrinsic motivation comes from external sources. An example is the winner’s share for a professional athlete is an extrinsic motivating factor. And if a player knows that if his team loses the game, his coach will make them run twenty wind sprints the next day, this is also considered extrinsic motivation. These two examples are showing a desire for reward and a fear of punishment.  There is also intrinsic motivation in sports when the player plays for the love of the game. Athletes who are motivated intrinsically tend to feel less pressure. Some studies suggest this is the way to go for coaches at all levels. I actually think that a combination of both extrinsic and intrinsic motivation is the way to go as a coach. And I really believe there is nothing wrong with sprinkling in a little bit of fear as a motivator. I really believe that coaches should demand and mold some toughness in kids. Some may take issue with this but it is up to us coaches to recognize which type of motivation will work with the individual player and the team as a whole. I always tell my parents at my yearly “Parents Meeting” that I treat 11 and 12 year olds like 13 and 14 year olds. I have gotten excellent results demanding more from my teams. Here are a few motivators I have used with my basketball teams:

  1. I remember ending our basketball practice once with three games going on at the same time of one-on-one-on one ( one on one with three players). This particular year and I don’t know why, my team just loved this game. I used this as a motivating factor telling them during halftime of one of our games that if we win, we will end every practice the upcoming week with a game of one-on-one-on-one. We were down by five at half but when I said this, the team actually let out a cheer. And yes we did go on to win this game. This little story will never compare to the great Bill Parcells stories but it worked with my team as a motivating factor for this particular game. Now if I said if we lose we are gong to run ten “gassers” (running and touching each line in the gym) I might have gotten the same results but which sounds as the better way to go?

  2. At another close game I really wanted to win, I was searching for a motivational goal when during one time out in the second half one of my players blurted out,” Hey coach how about if we win we go to “Cups N’ Cones” (our local ice cream parlor) for ice cream?” The whole team lit up and I said sure. The team seemed to gain a lot more hustle in the second half and we won the game. Sometimes your own players will give the team the motivator that gets them over the top.

  3. Once I was coaching my daughter’s basketball team under some extreme conditions. It was only a recreational league but three members of our team were sick and another came to the game with a hurt foot. So we had only five players and our two best weren’t there. Halfway into the first half we were down 10-0 and we finally scored on a foul shot. Then the girl who hurt her foot had to come out of the game. We were down to four players and the league rules stated that we could continue though I know the parents of the four on the court and my own wife wished they would end the torture. By midway through the second half we were down 29-3. I called time out and this was probably my shining moment as a motivator. I told my team there are about nine minutes left in the game. In those nine minutes I told them I don’t care anything about the score but I want to out rebound them. I told them one parent, will keep track of each and every rebound. And if we do out rebound them, I’m buying each girl a trophy. It worked! We lost the game something like 37-7 but somehow four girls out rebounded five girls by two and when I got them together to tell them, they let out such a huge scream you would have thought we won the state championship. I got each a small trophy and each girl felt great even though they lost by a huge score.

Dealing with young kids coaches must challenge themselves to fine the best way to motivate their team. My experience when I coached youth basketball is that when you are consistent as a coach in practices and games, the kids will respond and be motivated. Coaches need to recognize what buttons to push for the team and for each individual player.

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