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Inspiring Your Athletes

Some teams may never reach their full potential even if they appear to have all the necessary talent. What’s often lacking is a little inspiration. For coaches that want to get the most out of their team, consider these three ways to inspire confidence and purpose in athletes.

With over two decades of coaching experience, John O’Sullivan has learned how important it is to build a team culture that makes every player feel important. “Every athlete, whether a star player or the last one off the bench, needs three things from a coaching staff,” he writes in an article on the Changing The Game Project website.

Coaches should ask themselves: “Does your presence make your athletes day a better one?  Do you recognize each and every one of them for their unique gifts and contributions to the team? Or do you only spend time with a few of your players, likely the starters and/or upperclassmen. Have you ever wondered why you had a roster full of talent, but no team?” writes O’Sullivan.

Here are his three methods for inspiring athletes:


It is easy to recognize the most talented players because their efforts usually decide the outcome of a game, but every player has something to contribute to a team and they should be recognized for it. Even athletes that don’t participate in games or competition could still be contributing during practice. Take the time to talk to each player on your team about the value of their hard work so that they know you recognize their efforts.

Small gestures like these can go a long way in terms of keeping athletes motivated and interested in the sport. “No matter how much they love a sport, eventually they will grow to hate it if they do not get recognized for contributing something to the effort,” O’Sullivan writes.


Every member of a team needs to have a role. It may be easy to pick out the shot taker or the scorer, but even those who spend most of their time sitting on the bench need to feel relevant to the team’s success. “Some can be leaders, some can be supporters, some can be the smart guy, others the funny guy,” O’Sullivan writes. “But most importantly, every player must be something. Players without a role feel irrelevant. They feel like their hard work and effort don’t matter.”

At practice, make sure that you spend time working with the reserves as well as the starters. Some players can be easily overlooked, but coaches need to make sure that every member of their team has a way to positively contribute. By ensuring that supporting players are treated with the same respect as top players, coaches can strengthen their team’s culture.

A Way to Measure Their Contribution:

Not every contribution shows up on the stat sheet. For example, a defender on a soccer team may consistently be stopping the opposing team’s offense, but there aren’t any statistics to show it. That’s why coaches should come up with creative ways to measure what each player contributes to the team. 

“You can have players measure free throws made, or juggling in soccer, and chart progress over a season,” O’Sullivan write. “You can measure who shows up first or leaves last, and give recognition for that. You can also find tangible ways to measure your team core values. If your team values effort, you can give out hustle points in practice. If you value positivity, you can measure how often a player makes a teammate smile, or gives an encouraging word to a player who is struggling.”

Every sport is different, but finding things to measure provides a tangible way to show players that you value their hard work. This is also another goal for athletes to strive for. Every time that an athlete tries to improve, they know their efforts are being recognized.

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