Jan 29, 2015
Lighting A Fire

richjacobs-head.jpgBy Rich Jacobs, MS, SCCC, CSCS

It’s one thing to design a great strength and conditioning program. But unless you can get your athletes to buy in completely, that program won’t be worth the paper it’s printed on. Xavier University Assistant Strength and Conditioning Coach Rich Jacobs shares his keys for keeping the Musketeers men’s soccer team hungry and motivated during their workouts.

The Xavier University men’s soccer players stepped up to the endline on the gymnasium floor drenched in sweat, some with their hands on their knees and others breathing heavily from their mouths. “Set, go!” In an instant they explode off the line, accelerating down the gym floor, attacking the ground and getting faster with every step. “Great start, Jake! Way to drive the elbows, Sean!”

The team continues to accelerate until the comforting sound of the whistle is heard. They come to a stop, get a quick breath, and are given a 10 count until the next sprint. As they approach the line again, they are reminded that they will dominate their opponents through their conditioning. The players are inspired to put every bit of effort into this next sprint.

As a strength coach, my goal is to create an environment that motivates each athlete to push further than he or she thinks is possible. This soccer team is a great example of how having a plan to motivate can turn an unmotivated team into a dominant force.

During the offseason, Head Men’s Soccer Coach Dave Schureck approached me with a vision to revamp the team and change the conditioning culture. He hoped to produce athletes who require more of each other, who push harder when things get tough, and who have the confidence to hold each other accountable. After discussing the end goals, we laid out a plan that was implemented the following season.

First, we gave the team specific boundaries. We asked them to show up on time, progress with every lift, and coach each other. This clearly defines the expectations and allows for objective evaluation of an athlete if expectations are not met. Consequences were explained on the first day, so there was no potential for confusion down the road. For example, if no progression is shown on any exercise, a demanding lunge circuit is performed instead of that day’s workout. If an athlete is even one second late, an hour of the stair master will be performed after their workout. Athletes tend to be more willing to do what is asked if there are no surprises and when they know what to expect.

Rewards are equally important as consequences. Our lifting sessions start at 6 a.m., which tests who truly wants to be a member of the team. If the entire team shows up on time for one month, players are rewarded by having their workouts moved to a time later in the day. Consistent partner coaching and demonstration of requiring higher standards of each other is also rewarded by giving players a set off at the next lift. Rewards are not given for every positive act, but are spread out enough to demonstrate an appreciation of desirable actions.

Two factors determine motivation in an environment: perceived competence and control. Having a sense of competency motivates athletes because it helps them feel secure in their ability to understand the process. Today’s generation of athletes need to buy in before accepting, which gives them an opportunity to feel competent and aids in this process. For example, during workouts I will stay quiet and give the upperclassmen a chance to correct the form of their younger partners. This helps the underclassman develop trust in the upperclassman’s word, and they both know that I trust their actions. The result is a motivated spotter that pushes his or her teammate, and they hold each other accountable.

Perceived control gives the athletes ownership over the workouts. A sense of ownership may ensure that the workout is performed with maximum effort because they chose the plan. Athletes tend to best attack workouts that they helped develop. For instance, on days that we are not using workout program cards, I ask a few of the athletes to help me design that day’s workout for the team. Guidelines are given based on my expectations, and they pick the exercises from a list that will help them meet those performance goals.

Another example occurs on conditioning days when my goal is to perform sprint work. I give the athletes a choice between 75 minutes of conditioning or 45 minutes of sprinting. They usually choose the lesser time. Those are typically great workouts because they feel like they have control over the workload, and I get what I want because of their effort.

Consistent feedback–positive and negative–is important when building trust between coach and athlete, and athlete and athlete. Being consistent creates an environment where everyone knows what to expect. For example, if a spotter is not doing his job by getting his partner to perform the full range of motion, the spotter is verbally reprimanded by his teammates and me. Then, suddenly, four other players start yelling at their partners to perform the repetitions better because they do not want to be called out in front of the team. Conversely, when an athlete performs perfect repetitions the whole team will know due to my excitement praising both spotter and lifter.

By the end of the year, the soccer team became more disciplined by consistently showing up on time, ready to go on the field and in the weightroom. They require more of each other and push harder than they ever have in the past. On the field, they are no longer satisfied with a good play–they want greatness from their teammates. They invite challenges instead of viewing them as obstacles. Their dominating attitudes are not a result of any one person’s plan; they are a result of their commitment to the plan and the determination to achieve greatness.

I want to thank Tim ‘Red’ Wakeham for teaching me the art of motivation.

Rich Jacobs, MS, SCCC, CSCS is an Assistant Strength & Conditioning Coach at Xavier University. He can be reached at: [email protected].

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