Filling a Young Athlete’s Emotional Tank – A Coach’s Responsibility

Many athletes (especially really young athletes) who try but do not succeed will eventually lose motivation and quit the sport, or even worse, may refuse to try any other sport.

As a coach, it is your job to prepare your players for success by giving them the proper skills and knowledge to effectively execute what is demanded of them. Because many young athletes associate feelings of self-worth with winning and losing, it also the coach’s responsibility to put their players in positions where they can be successful. As a coach, do not ask your players to do something they are not physically or mentally prepared to do.

A loss in self-confidence and self-esteem leads to an athlete’s reluctance to take risks. Success in sports requires taking risks. Athletes who are accustomed to failure may have the tendency to not take as many risks as the athlete who expects to be successful. A confident athlete who expects to be successful will put themselves out there, risk everything, and try their hardest. An athlete with low self-confidence will be more reluctant to take risks and not try at all (this is especially true for the younger athletes).

Think about two gamblers sitting at a poker table. The gambler with the most poker chips is willing to take risks because he has a history of winning and being successful. The gambler with fewer poker chips may not take the same risks because he has a history of losing and being unsuccessful. Ultimately, an athlete’s emotional tank functions in a similar fashion as these poker chips.

Consider the following example: For Billy, one of the least talented players on the team, trying to field a ground ball during a low-key practice session can be a risk. “What happens if I miss it again?” “I really don’t think I am cut out to be a baseball player.” “If I miss this one, I might as well stop trying – it’s easier to not try and fail than it is to try and fail!” “I am tired – I want to go home.”

Billy has low self-confidence and is on the verge of losing all motivation. As a result, Billy is ready to stop taking the risk of trying. Maybe Billy is ready to give up athletics entirely. An effective coach recognizes this and intervenes long before an athlete gets to this point.

The problem is that Billy’s emotional tank is empty. It is not that he lacks motivation or he is lazy. While many coaches may fall back on the old cliché, “practice makes perfect,” Billy’s inability to field a ground ball in this particular case has nothing do to with the fact that he is not working hard enough.

What Billy needs is for one of his coaches to pull him aside and work with him one-on-one. Go over the fundamentals again and slowly roll ground balls to him instead of hitting them. Put Billy in an athletic situation where he can be successful. Give Billy positive reinforcement and praise his work habits in front of his teammates. Once Billy feels comfortable with fielding slow rollers, roll them a little harder, and eventually build him back up to taking ground balls on the field.

This is what motivation is all about – recognizing when the emotional tank is empty and giving an athlete the right opportunities to fill that tank back up. The same Billy who could not field a ground ball at age 8 may grow up to be a varsity team starter at age 16. If it was not for that coach who took the time to work with him and fill his emotional tank, none of this would have been possible.