What is motivation? Motivation is the driving force behind actions. For example a car will not move without gasoline and humans will not act without motivation. There are many different levels of motivation and ideally we want to teach our gymnasts how to self motivate. As coaches we want the best for our athletes but at the end of the day they need to want it for themselves.
Understanding the different levels of motivation will help with your coaching approach.
- Level one is rewards and consequences. If you perform your giants I will bring you ice cream. This is a short-term form of motivation and usually works well with younger children.
- Level two is guilt, plain and simple. Gymnasts will perform because they’ll feel guilty if they don’t.
- Level three is to do something for a better future. A gymnast understands that in order to perform their best they need to complete their conditioning. They understand why they’re doing the activity and they choose to do it.
- Level four is you choose to do something because it’s just what you do. This is a form of habit and a high level of intrinsic motivation. Some people go to the gym each day, they’re not looking for a reward, it’s just what they do.
- The last and most important level of motivation is doing something because you love it. Ask your athletes why they come to the gym each day, hopefully you will receive positive answers like: because it’s fun! Invite them to remember these reasons when the going gets tough.
Progression is a great motivator; athletes want to see they are progressing in the sport they love. Sit down with your gymnasts, measure progress and access goals. You want to help them see their growth. The better they get the more enjoyable the sport becomes. Visual training aids are great tools. I worked with a young gymnast who was nervous about connecting her round off back handspring on floor but she could complete the connection on tumble track. Each time she made the connection on the tumble track she would have to add a marble into a jar. At the end of a few weeks she had over 100 marbles in the jar, which made her feel confident in her abilities. A week later she had her connection on floor.
Control is also a big factor in motivation. When athletes feel a sense of control their motivation is enhanced. The moment they feel a loss, motivation is diminished. As coaches we need to help our athletes with what they can control such as attitude and effort in practice. Helping them understand the whys behind each activity will also help them feel more in control. Have your gymnasts create a list with two columns: “Love to do” and “Have to do”.
Teaching these mental skills will help gymnasts succeed in school, sports, and life. The more opportunities they have to practice self motivation the easier it will be for them to stay positive and determined when faced with different obstacles. We have to remember, each gymnast is unique in what motivates him or her. As coaches, we want to identify how we can encourage and bring out the best in each of gymnasts so he or she can reach their fullest potential.