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Thursday, April 14, 2016

Motivating the Modern Athlete


The best athletes to work with bring their motivation with them.

Below is a very interesting article on motivation. There is no doubt that times have changed and young athletes respond differently and have different goals and aspirations than my generation did. While I can't vouch for the exact breakdown of data the author presents here, I can say that I am in basic agreement with his interpretations. The servant-leader model has always generated the most dedicated responses. I believe that young people are looking for guidance and inspiration as much as ever and a great coach will learn how to supply it in way that is understood and appreciated. I also agree that parents and their role in the process has changed the most over the decades. Intrinsic motivation has always been more powerful than extrinsic rewards or punishments. I'm not sure we can really improve intrinsic motivation for an athlete, but I do know that athletes who bring motivation with them are a joy to coach.

Motivating the Modern Athlete
By: Dr. Marty Durden, Athletic Director - Presbyterian School - Houston, TX


Today's athlete is different from years past. The much-publicized generation Y student-athletes (1980's-1999) have moved through college. Generation Z is presently being recruited to college, are members of high school teams, and number 23 million. These young people are easily bored, are socially connected to their peers, proficient in technology, and desire to be challenged by their teachers. Much about this group remains unknown and will emerge as their generation enters adulthood.

Coaches generally agree that athletes' perceptions of authority have changed in past decades. Years ago the coach was viewed as an authoritarian figure akin to a military leader. Paul "Bear" Bryant and Bobby Knight were able to achieve a high level of success based upon strict discipline and demanding leadership. The modern athlete seems averse to this style of coaching. Generation Z athletes desire much less direction from coaches and have access to the answers online. (Wiedmer, 2015) The culture of athletics continues to change and influences the perceptions that modern athletes have toward competitive athletics, teammates and coaches.

In years past we described the dynamics of coaching as a coach-player relationship. Today we have a "triangular relationship" consisting of coach, player and parent. (Craig, 1994)In a 2010 conference with Bobby Bowden, he responded to the question, "Coach have kids changed? "His answer was, "Kids have not changed as much as parents." (Bowden, 2009) In this changing environment, how does the coach retain his/her influence and relevance? Do coaches need to compromise their core beliefs to be effective in our present world?

In this modern sport climate, the concept of servant-leader coaching remains a relevant model for the contemporary coach. Evidence supports the notion that ethical core values have a significant positive effect on player motivation. Coaches still possess unique standing in our society and are widely viewed with respect. During these changing times, it is important that coaches retain this ethical sense of leading the young people of our nation. Coaches are positive influences in society when their leadership style is based on core values.

I undertook a study to gauge the effectiveness of servant-leadership coaching on the motivational level of high school athletes. The test group was comprised of 302 high school basketball players who were participating in summer camp. The sample contained an equal number of girls and boys. The assessment instrument was a simple survey administered to each of the athletes during summer camp. The survey was designed to determine what coaching traits served to motivate the athletes best. The study was an effort to determine a causal link between servant leadership behaviors and increased player motivation. The seven traits surveyed were: (listed alphabetically)

• Altruism - Giving to others with no motive to gain something in return; kindness.

• Empowering Others - Developing/mentoring others; teaching you how to play the game of basketball.

• Humility - Focusing on other people rather than oneself; meekness.

• Love - Placing unconditional value upon the individual as a person and not what he/she offers to enable the coach to win more games; maternal/paternal affection.

• Service - Willing to assist others; helpfulness.

• Trust - Demonstrating confidence in others to succeed; keeping promises.

• Vision for the Followers - Helping team members to imagine their potential to succeed; helping others to establish goals.

Results of the survey indicate the coaching trait that provides the greatest motivational value is trust (35%). Love (16%), empowering (15%), and vision (13%) form the second tier of motivational power. Service (7%), altruism (6%) and humility (6%) possess the least motivational value. (Durden, 2016)

An interesting conclusion from this study is that young people are motivated by people who they trust, who demonstrate love toward them, and who see their worth and seek to develop them. It comes as no surprise that trust and love remain timeless virtues in the modern world. It is an affirmation of servant-leadership to discover how research confirms that authentic core values are cross-generational constructs that remain relevant motivators for coaching the modern athlete. Servant leadership coaching in the modern sport culture of America remains a viable and compelling style that is proven as an effective tool to motivate athletes.

Works Cited

Bowden, B. (2009 February). FSU Football Coach. (M. Durden, Interviewer) St. Simons Island, Georgia, USA.

Chase, M., • Hammermeister, Jon. (2008). Servant leadership in sport: A new paradigm for effective coach behavior. Physical Education, Health and Recreation Faculty Publications. Paper 3.

Craig, S. C. (1994). Parents and coaches: Expectations, attitudes and communication. Physical Educator, 51 (3), 130-138.

Durden, M. (2016, March 18). The Resultant Motivational Affects of Servant Leadership Coaching on High School Basketball Players , 1-86. Daphne, AL, USA: ProQuest Dissertations.

Wiedmer, T. (2015). Generations Do Differ: Best Practices in Leading Traditionalists, Boomers, and Generations X, Y, and Z. Delta Kappa Gamma Bulletin, 82 (1), 51-58.

Marty Durden - mdurden@pshouston.org - www.linkedin.com/pubmarty-durden

Marty Durden is a career coach who has obtained a unique professional standing as his teams have won multiple state championships in four different sports. Durden's teams have captured state titles in basketball (1980), baseball (1995), golf (2010-2011), and football (1983, 1987, 1988, 1989) over the span of five decades.

Durden espouses the philosophy of DzA Higher Standard than Winningdz that emphasizes effort, teamwork, and improvement above results. He teaches that success is the result of concentrated effort that precedes athletic accomplishments. Durden teaches that servant leadership is the most effective form of leadership for athletic coaches in modern society. Durden conducts research to validate the effectiveness of coaching leadership behaviors as they influence player motivation.

Marty is a lifelong advocate of the Fellowship of Christian Athletes, and has taught Sunday school to young people for 30 plus years. He founded the West Central Georgia FCA Chapter and has hosted numerous FCA camps, clinics and events. He currently serves as Athletic Director for Presbyterian School in Houston, Texas.


Marty is married to Diane. The Durdens have two sons, Chip and Tyler.

It's great to be able to coach athletes who know what they want from it.

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