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Achieving Mental Engagement

There are probably a lot of things you hope to accomplish as a coach, but none of it can happen unless your athletes are engaged and committed to the success of the program. Veteran coach Wayne Goldsmith, of, explains why finding out what makes your athletes tick is a key part of being a successful coach.

Drilling technique and strategy will only take you so far, but complete athlete engagement will help your team realize it’s full potential. Training with high intensity, volume, and frequency are all ways that athletes can improve in their sport and compete at a higher level, and these are often the areas where coaches put all of their focus. But training becomes much more effective and efficient when athletes are truly engaged. This element is often overlooked, even though it can have a major impact on an athlete’s development and long-term success.

According to Goldsmith, there are two different and distinct approaches to coaching: coaching by compliance and coaching with engagement. Compliance coaching is when a coach focuses solely and getting athletes to comply with the expectations of training volume, intensity, and frequency, which Goldsmith calls the “Big Three.” Engagement coaching is when the athlete’s own standards, motivation, personality, and passion are what drive their development.

Goldsmith believes that engagement coaching encourages athletes to add their own value to every training session, which can go beyond any of the external motivations or expectations that a coach provides. This requires coaches to partner with their athletes to get to know what makes them tick, what motivates them, why they compete, and what they hope to accomplish. Getting to know your athletes’ personalities and their interests outside of sports is essential, as this will allow you to build a trusting relationship that fosters engagement.

Gone are the days when coaches could simply tell athletes to do something without providing a reason or purpose. According to Goldsmith, it’s simply not enough to only coach the physical side of a sport. Athletes today need to have a clearly defined purpose behind their actions, and coaches who engage with athletes encourage them define that reason for themselves. Every athlete has a reason for why they compete, whether it’s to have fun or be with friends or make their parents proud or even be the best there ever was, these are all essential when it comes to providing internal motivation. Ask your athletes about what motivates them and encourage them to keep these motivators in mind throughout the ups and downs of a season.

When athletes are motivated and engaged, they are much more likely to get the most out of their athletic experience. Goldsmith uses the example of two athletes during a training session. Athlete A simply completes the task as it was outlined by the coach, giving the minimum standard of compliance to the session. Athlete B, on the other hand, challenges himself to complete the session with technical excellence despite the onset of fatigue, and he encourages his teammates to give their best effort and to work together on achieving the best possible outcome. Since Athlete B is engaged, he is getting a lot more out of the training session, and he is helping his teammates do the same.

Instead of focusing only on the volume, intensity, and frequency of your athletes’ training, assess the level of engagement and make adjustments if it seems to be lacking. When athletes are mentally engaged, they are much more likely to make the physical gains necessary to be successful.  

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