How to Motivate Your Young Athlete to Get Better

What is Self-Motivation?

Athletes who are self-motivated take part in sports for the pure enjoyment of it.  They don't need rewards to participate.  To succeed in sports, it's important that your athletes love to play or perform. It's not a good idea to take part in sports because they want to make others happy—such as parents, coaches or peers, for example.

When athletes have a real passion for the game, they'll have more staying power and feel more committed to sports over time. Dan Coyle, author of the book, "The Talent Code: Greatness isn't born. It's Grown," says passion works in the brain like rocket fuel.

It makes learning fast and fun.

How to Become Self-Motivated

We suggest to parents to stop trying to be the source of motivation for their athletes. Instead, you want athletes to become self-motivated and take control of their sport at about age 12.

The key to being self-motivated is to focus on what excites athletes about playing and performing. They might play sports to be with friends, be part of a group, for the competition or to gain support from others.

One way to help athletes become more self-motivated is to set goals and stay committed to reaching these goals. You can do this by helping them create and sign a commitment contract.

A commitment contract is a written statement or series of statements that athletes promise to follow. For example, athletes might include in the contract, "I want to improve my backhand shot, and will work on this at least two hours a week."

These statements can identify personal or practice goals. A parent or coach can also sign the commitment contract and help monitor their progress. The contract should be placed somewhere athletes can see it--a bedroom or kitchen, for example--so they are reminded of their goals each day.

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Establishing Goal-Setting

Setting goals is critical to success as an athlete in both sports and life.  It's important that athletes stay committed to evaluating and changing their goals when needed. You should help athletes create and monitor separate goals for practice and games/competitions.

Why do you need to evaluate goals? You may find that you've reached one goal, and now need to set a higher goal. Or you may find that the goal you set wasn't reasonable, and you need to aim for something a little easier.

Younger athletes' goals may simply be to have fun, make friends or learn to run faster. As they get older, goals can be more specific and more focused on improving performance.

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It's important to remember that goals should not become expectations that weigh down athletes. In other words, it's one thing to have a goal and work toward it and evaluate it often. In this case, athletes keep in mind that goals can and should change often. It's another thing—and not as healthy—to place high expectations on your athletes, such as "You HAVE to make every shot today" Or "You should not make any mistakes."

Congrats for taking the time to read this and understand how to motivate your athletes. If your athletes enjoy sports, are committed to it, and are eager to establish some goals, they're well on there're way to improving motivation and performance!

More: 3 Sports Psychology Tips for Parents

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About the Author

Award-winning parenting writer Lisa Cohn and youth sports psychology expert Dr. Patrick Cohn are co-founders of The Ultimate Sports Parent. Pick up their free e-book, "Ten Tips to Improve Confidence and Success in Young Athletes."

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