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Motivational strategies.


1. Motivation Concept

To be motivated, it is necessary to have clear objectives (as well as the necessary means of work to achieve such goals) and, moreover, to do everything in my power to achieve them (pay their full price).

The combination of clarity in objectives and commitment to the means results in motivation.

2. Indicators of Motivation

Fulfilment and initiative are the main indicators of motivation. Fulfilment of any task, rule, instruction, or guideline that helps accelerate the student's learning process.

As an example, during team concentration, every time the team gathers for a group activity (training, group session, video session, or social event), I observe the punctuality with which athletes attend the appointment. I note how many arrive before the established time, how many between the hour and the next 5 minutes, and how many after five minutes. With this data, I calculate punctuality percentages. Few indices tell me as much about the group's motivation evolution as the progression of punctuality throughout the concentration.

Initiative is shown when a student, without being asked, decides to do something to accelerate their learning process. Seeking a solution to a problem, trying a particular resource, proposing an activity, or doing anything with the goal of learning more and faster.

I once knew a student who, every time I presented a problem, before I said anything, proposed a solution to the problem he was telling me about. I never asked him to do it, but he always did. Many times, his proposed solution was ultimately rejected, but I have never known someone who progressed so quickly... Coincidence? No, psychology.

If both indicators, fulfilment, and initiative are combined, motivation is assured. Similarly, the absence of these indicators may be a warning of a decrease in motivation.

3. How Not to Demotivate Students?

Before considering what to do to motivate our students, it would be advisable to be clear about what to do to maintain the motivation they already have, whether it is a lot or a little...

3.1. Do Not Confuse Needs

Do not confuse the needs of students with those of teachers. Many times, perhaps without realizing it, educators provide a lot of information to students. They do not do it because their students need all that information to make the best decisions. They do it to feel at ease. They do it so that no one can say, "you didn't tell them this..." and thus escape their responsibility as educators. They do it to demonstrate that they know a lot about their subject. But the goal is not to avoid responsibility, feel at ease, or gain self-esteem. The goal is to help students.

3.2. Demand According to Students' Abilities

If a parent demands performance levels from a child that the child's evolutionary state, maturation, and level do not yet allow, a series of reactions will occur that will end up demotivating the child.

First, the child will not achieve the goals the parent set, with the consequent frustration of not achieving what they are striving for. Moreover, they will not even consider that they did not achieve the goal because it was unrealistic. Instead, they will attribute the failure to their lack of competence. Their self-esteem will be damaged.

All this will subtract credibility. They will believe less that the parent is the best person to bring out the best in them and will believe less that they have something good to offer as a person.

In summary, and if I may make a comparison, they will have made the jump of their life. They will have jumped two meters, an all-time personal best, but will leave disappointed because the parent asked for 2.20.

Being an educator implies knowing how much your student can jump at any given time and making them understand it. Without giving up a certain level of madness, a certain margin for surprise, without falling into excessive realism, without limiting enthusiasm.

3.3. Vary the Leadership Style

If we agree that there are three basic leadership styles (directive, democratic, and permissive), we will emphasize that none is valid for every situation. Therefore, the educator who best leads their students will be the one who best knows how to combine styles based on the situation, the objective, and the individual differences within the group.

To guide this management, the limits of the mentioned styles are presented below.

a) The limit of the directive style is the real possibilities of the students. If they are demanded beyond their capabilities, the students are likely not to be able to meet the demands; therefore, they may "burn out" and lose confidence in their educator.

Those students who do not yet know enough should be directed using this style. In situations of extreme need, where a decision must be made quickly, and for mechanical and routine tasks that do not require decisions, a directive leadership style should be adopted.

b) The limit of the democratic style is the degree of autonomy of the students. If the students are delegated more responsibility than they can handle, they will misuse it.

This style is especially indicated when the teacher seeks the involvement of the student in their education. Students who already know a lot but are not fully motivated respond particularly well to this style.

c) The limit of the permissive style is exceeded when the teacher loses control over the group. No matter how much students decide for themselves, they must always be clear that they do so under the supervision of the teacher.

This style of leadership should be adopted predominantly with students who already know a lot and demonstrate the desire and motivation to continue progressing. When a break is needed for the group or to prepare it for a period of high demand, using a permissive leadership style is indicated.

3.4. Treat Students Individually

Having rules and applying them to all students equally does not address the needs of the students. Treating everyone equally does not motivate (not even the teacher). Motivation means addressing needs. Needs that will be different for each student and needs that may change over time (what this student needs today may be different from what this same student needs the day after tomorrow).

To keep students motivated, you must treat them based on their needs. But a good team leader does not stop there. In addition to treating each person based on their needs, they make the rest of the team understand that this differential treatment is not only the best for that person but will ultimately benefit the entire team.

In a sports selection, I met a veteran athlete, happily married and a father. We were preparing for an important competition with a rigorous training regimen. If the veteran strictly followed the training schedule, by the time he got home, his new-born daughter would already be sleeping. If he left half an hour before the last training of the day, then he could see her. I think you can imagine the importance this half-hour had for this dad to see his little girl before bedtime, which is why I will spare you the details.

We agreed to exempt him from the last half-hour of training and explained to the team the reasons for our decision. Despite all this, in the first few days, there were malicious comments from the younger players when the veteran left. After a few months, we all understood the importance of that half-hour for our libero. He performed better, and his happiness infected us all. He seemed like a different athlete since becoming a father.

4. How to Motivate Students? Motivation, a VIP

4.1. Vary (V)

Vary not only the objectives but also the means necessary to achieve those objectives. Vary exercises, the location of exercise execution, and the order in which they are carried out. Vary the tone of voice, the location of meetings, the examples used to illustrate concepts, the reasons for giving our best efforts, and vary who takes the lead in the talk.

Thanks to the psychological phenomenon of habituation, the mere variation of any aspect involved in the activity has a motivating effect.

4.2. Involve (I)

What motivates us is not to obey, do exactly what is ordered, or follow instructions. What motivates us is to make decisions ourselves or at least feel part of that decision, that achievement, that project.

Remember here the example of the chicken and the pig that we mentioned above to define the difference between involvement and commitment.

4.3. Reward (P)

Below are the criteria to effectively use reinforcement or reward, punishment, and extinction or ignoring.


What is it for?

  • To learn new desirable behaviours
  • To maintain already learned desirable behaviour

When to use it?

  • A lot at the beginning and shortly after new learning
  • Often when the athlete's character is weak and requires it

How to use it?

  • Right after the student exhibits the desirable behaviour
  • Reinforce also the approximations to the desirable behaviour


What is it for?

  • To eliminate undesirable behaviours

When to use it?

  • When the behaviour cannot be tolerated

How to use it?

  • Warn of the punishment
  • Readmit the punished
  • Do not punish with physical exercises
  • Do not harm the team


What is it for?

  • To eliminate behaviours

When to use it?

  • When the behaviour can be tolerated

How to use it?

  • Completely do without the student

4.4. Manage the Individual Role of the Student within the Collective

In a high-performance team, the coach was advised to, during the pre-game technical meeting, in addition to setting group goals, set a couple of goals for each player. This aimed to clarify the individual role for the upcoming match.

Secondly, taking advantage of the time interval between the end of the meeting and the start of warm-up, athletes were asked to, in line with what the coach established, set two objectives for the game, saying in their own words what the coach noted or adding some nuance to the suggestions. In this way, it was believed that the acceptance of the individual role by the athlete was facilitated.

After the game, players were asked to assess the level of achievement of the established objectives. This assessment was reviewed by the technical staff. If there was any mismatch between the two assessments, the coaching staff interviewed the athlete to better define the achievement criteria. This procedure aimed to promote the perception of fulfilling the individual role within the team.

This methodology proved effective in fostering cohesion among team members and contributed to the achievement of group goals (Marí and Font, 1993).


Marí, J. and Font. J. (1993). Cohesion in sports teams: An approach to its evaluation and intervention. In Proceedings of the X Conference of the Catalan Association of Sports Psychology. Lleida, November 19-20.

Smoll, F.L. (1984). Parent-coach relationships: Improving the quality of the sports experience. In Applied Sports Psychology, Williams, J.M. (Ed.). Madrid: Biblioteca Nueva.

Williams, J.M. (1991). Applied Sports Psychology. Biblioteca Nueva: Madrid.