How Coaches Can Help Athletes Take the Lead

athletes_take_the_lead_postCreating players with drive and motivation is not an easy job.  There are many things that coaches can do to encourage a youth athlete to become self directed, however, a lot of this determination comes from within the athlete.  Here are five characteristics of a self-directed athlete and tips to bringing them out in your players.

Have you ever wondered why some athletes never quite seem to fulfill their potential?  The answer is often a lack of self direction. Self direction is the ability to lead ourselves toward a goal.  It is a critical life skill which we can and should teach through sports.  Athletes who have self direction are able to get the most out of their talent.  Athletes who lack self direction never quite fulfill their promise.

Coaches and parents can teach self direction through sports if the athlete is willing to learn.  A good first step is to explicitly coach the winning practices of self directed athletes.  Here are five to start with.

1. Motivation. Self-directed athletes bring their own motivation to the team.  They don’t wait for a coach or someone else to pump them up.  Teach your athletes that self motivation is essential if they want to succeed in athletics and beyond.  Challenge your athletes to motivate themselves by thinking about what they want to accomplish before every workout, practice, and competition.

2. Initiative. Self-directed athletes take the initiative to improve without being told.  Even some highly motivated athletes have trouble taking initiative on their own.  They are so used to being told what to do, they seem to forget that they have the power to workout, seek coaching, read books, watch instructional videos, etc. all by themselves.  Teach your athletes that self initiative is essential for getting the absolute most out of their talent.  Challenge your athletes to show self initiative by taking steps to improve without being told.  Be sure to give them positive reinforcement when they do.

3. Focus. Self directed athletes have the ability to set goals and stick with them.  This focus on goals keeps them motivated and moving forward.  Being goal driven can also keep athletes out of trouble because they are less likely to be derailed by negative distractions.  Teach your athletes that focusing on goals can help them succeed in athletics and beyond.  Challenge them to set very specific short- and long-term goals.  Follow up periodically to ask them how they are doing - and always reinforce their goal-setting behaviors.

4. Discipline. Self directed athletes have the discipline to set priorities and manage time - especially for academics.  There are many athletes with self motivation, self initiative, and focus who end up falling short because they lack the discipline to follow through consistently.  Teach your athletes that self discipline is a powerful sign of personal strength and maturity.  Challenge them to set priorities and manage their time on a weekly and daily basis.  Support and advise them, but try not to do it for them.  Even if they occasionally fall short, the experience of practicing discipline will help them tremendously.

5. Learning. Self directed athletes bring a learning mentality every day.  They seek and accept coaching.  They take what they learned yesterday, and apply it to what they are doing today.  A learning mentality is one of the most important qualities our young athletes are going to need as they enter the complex world of work and adult responsibility.  Constantly challenge your athletes to be learners in their sport and every other area of their life.

Editor’s Note: A special thanks to for this article.

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