Motivation Versus Inspiration / by James Leath

A great coach knows how to motivate and inspire, but those are two different abilities that require understanding which to use in any given situation.

Motivation is temporary. Like confidence, it best and flows from moment to moment. There are many ways to motivate, and not all are positive. A coach can curse, threaten, and belittle an athlete to motivate in the short term. A quick word—negative or positive—could be the catalyst for a phenomenal performance in the last few minutes of a match when victory is within reach or the final race after a long meet. A coach can whisper, promise, and encourage and often get the same result. Wisdom lies in knowing which to use with each athlete since not all athletes respond to the same verbal stimulus. Also, coaches—even those on the same staff—play different roles for the athlete. On many coaching staffs, there is a “good cop, bad cop” situation going on. Like the criminal at the confession table who needs more of one verbal tactic than the other at times, the athlete on the field has motivational needs that require specific tactics at the right time. The difference lies in the emotional maturity of the coach and the ability to motivate an athlete the way he or she needs at that moment.

Inspiration is long-term. The coach that inspires knows it is not a one-time event. An athlete is inspired by a coach through consistency of character and actions.

She sees her coach reading at her desk.
He sees his coach shaking hands with the ref.
She sees her coach working out before practice so he can keep up with his athletes.
He sees his coach writing encouragement letters to her team to let them know they are valued.

These are ways a coach can be an inspiration, inspiring their athletes to be better people, not just better athletes.

Coach, your athletes are watching you. Your words are motivational, but your actions are what inspire them. Be intentional about what they see, and leave a legacy mark on their character that transcends performance and the scoreboard.