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February 2005

February 2005

The Staff Report

Motivation and Your Mental Training for the Off-Season
by: Patrick J. Cohn, Ph.D
© February 2005

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With the football season ending, you and the athletes you coach need to stay motivated in the off-season so your team can come out in spring practice running on all cylinders. In addition to staying motivated in the off-season, you do not have to wait until next season begins to start mental training. In fact, the off-season is a great time to work on your team’s mental skills.

Most coaches will agree that talent alone is not enough for success and other intangibles are necessary to reach the top. The best teams are successful because of a combination of physical talent, desire, mental toughness, knowledge about their sport, and determination to be the best. What fuels their desire or motivation to be the best? Where do determination, desire, and motivation come from?

For athletes and coaches alike, the motivation to excel in one’s sport starts with a person’s dream or mission. For many athletes and coaches, the dream starts early in life when they played peewee football or watched other great athletes play a game they love. For other young athletes, they realized early in life that they had enough talent and potential to be a great football player. And they engrossed themselves in the mission or dream to be the best they could be.

The best athletes in the world have a commitment to greatness that is second to none, which is often fueled by their childhood dreams. 14-year NFL running back, Thurman Thomas, said that he made a promise to his mother that one day he would make it to the NFL and that athletes must dedicate themselves to a life of football to be successful. “My senior year in high school, I made a promise to my Mom that I would make it to the NFL. That was my desire and plan. You have to do whatever it takes to achieve that goal... I dedicated myself to football; that was my whole mindset because that is what I wanted to accomplish. You do make sacrifices. I was just focused on football and I had to sacrifice a little bit and loose contact with some of my friends from high school,” said Thomas.

Motivation is the drive to strive for a goal, to improve daily, to practice hard day after day, and the commitment to be the best one can be. What are some of the tasks you can do in the off-season to foster your motivation and your team’s mental toughness? The first place to start is to assess how well you did with your goals for the previous football season. Here are some questions to ask yourself: What goals did you accomplish? What goals did you fall short of? What areas do you need to improve over the most? What areas do you need to maintain?

Goal setting is an important component of your off-season motivation because it directs your attention to what you want to accomplish. However, goals alone are not effective without the commitment and desire to achieve those goals. I help my students set goals, but more importantly, I help them develop the daily tasks that help achieve those goals. There is a huge difference between goal setting and “goal getting.” What objectives do you want to team members to accomplish? Get specific with these objectives. For example, instead of saying “improve speed in the off-season,” define what speed mean and give each player a personal goal such as to run a 4.6 second 40-yard dash.

Simple tasks like developing a workout routine for your team members are critical to motivation and commitment. Thurman Thomas said he stuck to a daily and weekly routine throughout the season and off-season in order to reach his goals. “I had a routine throughout the season and a routine during the off-season. For 13 years, I did the same weekly routine, workout, and pregame warm up. It never got boring. Every week was a different opponent,” said Thomas. He felt the intense commitment to his routine contributed to his success on the football field. Every coach and team can develop goals, but how committed you are to those goals and what you are willing to do to ultimately accomplish your goals.

Another important area of your off-season motivation is mental preparation, which I wrote about in a previous article. When you feel prepared, you feel confident. An important task in mental preparation is the ability to anticipate challenges you or the team might face in the upcoming season. This is not negative thinking - this is good preparation. However, you want to go beyond anticipating challenges by finding solutions to those challenges you may face. For example, do you have an alternate plan if your star running back gets sidelined due to an injury or poor performance in school? How will you deal with the expectations of others in the community for the upcoming season if you had a good season last year or a poor last season? The ability to think ahead to the challenges you may face and have strategies in place is the best way to be prepared for any situation.

Although you cannot physically hold practice in the off-season, you can have assistant coaches and players mentally practice the playbook. As a coach, you want everyone to know the playbook by heart. To take it a step further, you can have your players mentally practice their assignments by experiencing themselves going through each play. I would suggest that you help your athletes in each position define what they should focus on during a play. This will help train their minds to think about what is relevant to completing their assignments.

Editors Note: Dr. Patrick Cohn is the founder of and a leading sports psychology expert and master mental game coach. Dr. Cohn has created a comprehensive 20-week program known as the Mental Game Coaching Professional (MGCP) certification program. The MGCP teaches coaches and other professionals at all levels in sports Dr. Cohn’s powerful techniques and strategies so coaches can develop championship attitudes among team members. For more information on how you can become a mental game coach and guide your athletes to greater teamwork and confidence, visit: or call 888-742-7225.


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