A key life lesson responsible coaches can teach their youth athletes is the value of effort. Throughout their lives – in sports, school, family and friendship and career – success requires effort.
Ideally, youth and high school athletes come to view effort as its own reward. They learn to enjoy the exhaustion of training runs or the comfort of knowing that rote repetition of skills has prepared their minds and muscles to perform at game-time.
Until they learn that effort is its own reward, youth athletes may need to be coaxed into putting their all into conditioning. Here are a few approaches:
Introduce Competition: Nothing relieves the drain of drills like a competitive challenge. Players simply ordered to run sprints, for example, may just go through the motions, but once there is something at stake, they will expend extra effort.
Targeted Symbolic Rewards: Establish an award for the player who exerts the greatest effort…something that is value-less except for its symbolic recognition of the recipient’s effort. For example, at the end of a sprint session that day’s award winner could receive a worn-out running shoe. Consider rewarding not just the players who finish first, but those who advance a few places during that practice due to additional effort.
Beyond the "Magic Ratio"
that keeps a player’s emotional tank full -- five specific, truthful praises for each specific, constructive correction -- getting players to go all out in drills and conditioning sometimes calls for an even higher level of positive reinforcement.
Your players may just be running, and not executing some complicated skill, but they will appreciate hearing, "Wow, look at Johnny! He’s picking up the pace today!" If you sound as excited about effort during drills as you do about results in a game, players are more likely to feel that same excitement for the task at hand.
Provide Continual Inspiration: Players should understand the equation S=E/T (success equals effort over time). Remind them that drills and conditioning build toward longer-term results. If possible, share examples of local athletes, close in age to your players, who succeeded through effort.
That makes your players’ long-term goals seem more achievable and teaches the life lesson of how to persist in the pursuit of a seemingly distant goal and how to accept and enjoy delayed gratification. When your players start to see results from their efforts, they will catch on and improve as athletes and as people.
In an effort to benefit millions of youth athletes, parents and coaches, this article is among a series created exclusively for partners in the Liberty Mutual Responsible Insurance Sports ProgramTM