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Proven Strategies to Motivate Your Team for Offseason Workouts

Jeff Janssen, Janssen Sports Leadership Center

Worried that many of your athletes are going to take it too easy and waste your offseason?

Are most of your kids skipping their weight and conditioning workouts?

Are only a handful of kids showing up at your open gyms?

Concerned that too much summer fun is going to make your athletes soft, fat, and lazy?

Worried you are going to need to spend the first several weeks of your season just getting your kids back into shape?

While your athletes certainly need adequate time to rest, recover, and rejuvenate themselves both physically and mentally following a long season, elite coaches and athletes know that champions are made in the offseason.

For example, Notre Dame women's basketball player and Rosenthal Leadership Academy member Natalie Novosel made a full commitment last summer to get the absolute most out of her offseason. She dedicated herself to training six days a week by playing, lifting, and conditioning.

Natalie's compelling work ethic during the offseason was clearly evident in her play this year. She went from averaging just 5 points a game the previous year to 15 points a game and leading the Irish in scoring. She was named the Most Improved Player in the formidable Big East Conference and helped lead Notre Dame all the way to the national championship game, beating behemoths Tennessee and UConn along the way. Natalie also recently made the cut for the USA Basketball World University Games team that will be representing the U.S. in China this summer. All this because Natalie made a full commitment to pushing herself and raising her game during the all-important offseason.

So the all important questions for you and your team are:

Are your athletes motivated to take full advantage of the offseason?

Are they committed to using your offseason as an opportunity to improve themselves by adding and perfecting a new move, minimizing a glaring deficiency, and thereby helping themselves and your team?

If you're like most coaches, you are likely concerned that too many of your athletes are going to mindlessly fritter away and waste the offseason - while some of your rival competitors are going to use it to their full advantage to get better.

Remember the saying that "Hard work beats talent, when talent fails to work hard."

The challenging aspect for many coaches is that there are many rules that prohibit you from organizing and observing offseason workouts. While these rules are typically well-intentioned, they put the onus of motivation, direction, and supervision directly on your athletes and team leaders. The competition in the sports world is now too tough for you to stand idly by and allow your athletes to waste the offseason. But, what can you do?

Here are 4 proven strategies used by various college and high school teams across the country to get and keep your athletes highly motivated during the offseason:

1. Dollar a Day Analogy

This idea provides your athletes with a tangible way to see the value of each day. Have each of your athletes get dollar bills to symbolize each day they will be away for break (or as many days as you would realistically want them to work out).

For example, from June 1 to August 10 there are 71 total days. Assuming that you would want your athletes working out 5 days a week, that would give each of them roughly 50 days to work out from June 1 to mid-August. To symbolize each of these days, have them get a stack of fifty $1 bills to put on their dresser or somewhere they will see them daily. (You can also use quarters or pennies - depending on how many days you will be away and the budgets of your athletes.)

Taken singly, a dollar does not seem like that much. This is just like a day of training over break. Individually it doesn't seem that big of a deal to waste it. But if you add them up over time, especially with the compounded interest of teammates, it means a lot - just like training over break.

Thus, at the end of each day, each of your athletes has to decide if she got the most out of the day by training - or if she wasted it. If she got the most out of the day, she gets to keep the dollar and put it in a designated "investment" pile or bank.

If she wasted the day, she needs to throw the dollar away (or you can anonymously donate your accumulated "wasted" dollars to your rival's booster club).

At the end of break, have each of your athletes bring back the dollars they EARNED and you can have a nice team dinner, donate it to a favorite charity, head to an amusement park, or do something else fun with it.

Obviously, the more quality work your athletes put in over break, the more money they'll have to play with... and the more confident they will be that they earned the right to be successful by putting in the necessary work.

Of course if you do the Dollar a Day Analogy, you will likely need to clarify what a quality training day should look like in order to earn a dollar. Be specific in terms of time invested, reps, exercises, film work, reading, etc. for what constitutes earning a dollar.

The whole exercise is obviously designed to help your athletes become much more aware of the necessity to and benefits of training over break - and what this investment of time and sweat will eventually be worth to you and your team.

2. Performance Clubs and Award Systems

Think about how much you would realistically like your players to practice on a daily basis during their offseason. For example, a basketball coach might wish his players would shoot at least 200 shots a day, 5 days a week during the offseason. At this rate the player would have 1,000 shots each week.

Multiply this number by the number of weeks in the offseason with the consideration of allowing them some time to relax and recuperate. Let's say there are roughly 10 available weeks during your offseason. Thus the goal would be to shoot 10,000 shots in the offseason. Players achieving this level would be awarded a shirt saying the "10,000 Shot Club."

Tell your players that the ones who successfully accomplish this offseason program will be awarded with the "10,000 Shot Club" t-shirt when they return. Have your players send you their number of shots on a weekly basis to promote accountability. Ultimately, they are on the honor system to be honest but the shirt does serve as an incentive and promotes pride in working hard during offseason workouts. (Special thanks to Coach John White for sharing this idea with me!)

3. Dedications

Carolina women's soccer captain and Lowe's Senior Class Award winner Ali Hawkins taught me this one. When having to run grueling sprints or complete tough workouts, dedicate your effort to one of the rival teams you will likely face in competing for a conference, state, or national championship. For example, right before the start of the sprint, Ali would yell to her teammates, "This one is for Stanford!" And the team would feel an extra surge in motivation knowing that their effort in the sprint would give them an edge over the Cardinal.

Similarly, have your athletes picture rival teams and specific opponents when they are working out in the summer. You can even have them put up the logos of the schools or pictures of the opponents as a way to remind your athletes that their effort is going towards something specific and will likely give you the edge the next time you meet.

4. Picture This

Using pictures that tap into the competitive juices of your athletes is also a great way to motivate them. For example, here's a story from former soccer superstar and national team captain Carla Overbeck about competing against their rival Norwegian national team that I relate in my How to Develop Relentless Competitors book.

Norway beat the United States 1-0 in the 1995 World Cup and afterwards paraded around the field in a rambunctious "Norwegian train" that the U.S. team thought was way over the top. The American players were furious and plotted their revenge against the team they called the "Viking Bitches."

For their offseason training, the Americans put up pictures of the Norwegian train celebration to use as motivation before their next meeting. Whenever anyone was tired in workouts or just didn't want to train that day, they looked at the Norwegian train picture and it provided them with instant motivation not to lose to Norway again. Sure enough, the motivated Americans faced Norway again the next year in a semifinal match in the 1996 Olympics. The U.S. team played with extra motivation and beat Norway 2-1 on the way to winning the gold medal.

Current Arkansas baseball coach Dave Van Horn did a similar thing when he was coaching at Nebraska. Stanford had barely beaten Nebraska in the Regional the year before to advance to the College World Series in Omaha. To celebrate the victory, the Stanford players had a huge Dog Pile on the field. Coach Van Horn found a picture of the Dog Pile and blew it up to a poster size and hung it up in the Nebraska locker room the next season as motivation. Each day the players came to practice the picture reminded them of how close they were to going to Omaha - and that bitter taste in their mouths drove them that much harder to get there. The players worked hard all season and advanced to Omaha and the CWS thanks to their extra motivation.

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