Turning Up Motivation in the Dog Days of Augustby: Jared WoodSport Psychology Consultant
© Vol VI 2015
If your team is like most teams, you will start August with excitement, enthusiasm, and a drive to get better every single day. Inevitably, your players will tire of doing boring drills against their own teammates, effort will slacken, and practices will get stale. Coaches who can prevent the downturns or nip them in the bud have a great advantage over opponents who stay stuck for longer periods of time. Here are three recommendations for turning up the motivation and effort in the dog days of August.
Goals are a great way to increase motivation. I’ve seen very simple goal setting techniques change lackadaisical drills into excellent ones. To take advantage of the motivational effect of goal setting, simply set a goal for a player, unit, or team. For example, rather than simply warming up with QBs throwing to receivers, challenge them to complete as many consecutive passes as they can. You could keep a record and have the entire crew challenge the record. Or set an impressive, challenging number and have the players try to achieve it. You can even put a small consequence or reward on it. The consequence shouldn’t be a punishment, just a little extra incentive.
A great way to do this is to weave multiple conditioning segments into practice, and if players achieve the goal, they earn the reward of skipping that particular segment of conditioning. The effort a little extra incentive will produce is amazing, and the benefit will outweigh the missed conditioning. If you really want to turn up the heat, have coaches (or a particular coach) perform the conditioning drill if players meet the goal. They will love it and turn up the intensity on the drill accordingly, and it will be great for your team’s fitness.
Examples of Goals -
• Consecutive passes or pass percentage.
• Consecutive passes defended or low pass percentage.
• FG’s or PAT’s made.
• Ball security.
• Forced turnovers such as strips.
• Pass protection goals.
• Sack/pressure goals.
Another great way to turn up the intensity is to have two groups compete against each other. This could be accomplished easily by having an offensive unit compete against a defensive unit, for example, by having QBs and receivers compete against defensive backs. You could simply set a standard, such as 6 out of 10 completions, and make it a competition. If the offense meets or exceeds 6 out of 10 completions, they win. If the defense holds them under it, they win. O-line vs. D-line pass protection drills work well for this, as do many tackling, blocking, and passing drills pitting offense vs. defense. A unit can also be broken into groups allowing competition within a unit. For example, QBs and receivers can be split into two or more groups so that they can compete against each other for consecutive passes completed. Again, placing a little consequence or reward on the outcome can also turn up the intensity.
Examples of Competitions –
• Skelly competition (keep a competitive score with completion percentages, first downs, or scores).
• Inside drill competition (yardages, ball security vs. turnovers, short yard pickups vs. stops).
• Tackling vs. broken tackles during tackling drills.
• Pass protection vs. sacks in line drills.
• Special drills that challenge kick blocks vs. successful kicks/punts or holding the opponent to a certain yard line vs. gaining past a certain yard line.
Simulation is the act of creating game-like conditions in practice. Often this will involve elements of goals and competition, but simulation goes a step further by adding elements of the game such as a clock, score, or specific situation. Players often get bored of running play after play without having a specific game-like challenge, so create it for them. For example, pit one-on-one against each other for one series and challenge the offense to score for the win while challenging the defense to stop them for the win. Add a timing element by turning on the game and play clocks. Move coaches to the sideline as in games, and designate some coaches as referees.
Specials are a great phase of the game to simulate. You can easily simulate situations in which you need a game winning field, onside kick recovery, or blocked punt or a big return.
Simulation doesn’t always have to be as formal as the previous examples. My college coaches used to simulate in practice by telling the defensive unit we were down by 6 and had three plays to force a turnover to give our offense a chance to score and win the game. This type of situation is a goal, competition, and simulation all in one.
Another great way to use simulation is to simulate conditions the team must overcome. Tell the team you’ve just had a terrible call and they must overcome the outcome of that call to succeed. Or put the team in a sudden change situation after a turnover and challenge the defense to force a three-and-out to get the ball back.
Examples of Simulations –
• Any down and distance situation.
• Elements of time, such as a two-minute drill, play clock, or end of game.
• Referee call elements, including the need to overcome bad calls.
• Sudden change turnover situations.
• Special situations such as game winning kicks, onside recoveries.
• Third down situations: defense needs to get a stop while the offense needs to get a first down to continue the drive.
• Fourth and short, especially a late goal line situation for the win.
Remember, the reason behind goals, competition, and simulation is to create motivation, which will translate into great effort. Players love to play, and they will play hard for you when you create situations that help them play rather than just trudge through practice grudgingly. Create challenges, competitions, and simulations and you will help create a mindset for playing to win and playing with effort and enthusiasm.
About the Author: Dr. Jared Wood has been an educator for the past 19 years and a sport psychology coach for the past 14 years. He co-founded Champion Mindset Group (champmindset.com), the premiere sport psychology coaching firm in Southeast Michigan, in 2011. He recently completed and published a sport psychology training manual for players and coaches called “It’s Only Cold On One Sideline.” Visit his website, 1sideline.com to find free articles and training plans or to purchase the manual and other training materials. You can contact Dr. Wood at firstname.lastname@example.org or 248-535-5358. Follow him on Twitter: @1sideline & @woodjared.