Achieving a goal, whether short- or long-term, can be a tremendous motivator. Shoot for goals that are attainable and share them with your young players. Setting a combination of individual and team goals can be particularly effective for motivating athletes. In addition to goal-setting, I also use other strategies to motivate. Here are my top 5:


  1. Create Effective Communication with Your Players

One of the best ways to open the lines of communication is to hold a series of open meetings. This type of setting makes it easy to communicate your passion and feelings to your team—and vice versa. Some additional ways to get the conversation started:

  • Send emails/text/social media
  • Schedule one-on-one meetings
  • Create a receptive atmosphere
  • Communicate while training
  • Display confidence and seriousness
  • Use simple words and corresponding visuals


  1. Teach Athletes How to Breathe and De-stress

We all breathe without thinking, but deliberate, balanced breathing is a learned behavior—and one that can have great results for decreased stress and increased sense of calm and wellbeing. To practice, inhale through your nose deep into your diaphragm, count to four, and then slowly blow out through your mouth to the same count. If you’re unsure of whether you’re breathing deeply enough, place your palm against your abdomen. You should feel it push out as you slowly inhale, filling your diaphragm with air. Additional ways to relieve stress:

  • Share anything that may be bothering you with friends, family and colleagues
  • Give your goals a one-day break
  • Reflect on the path you’ve taken
  • Write down your successes and re-read them every day
  • Sleep/mentally rest your mind
  • Thank everyone who has supported you
  • Tweet/share your thoughts with close friends and family


  1. Celebrate Your Failures

Reviewing perceived failures on the field or court will help your players be more invested in making things work next time. When failure is reframed as a learning opportunity, you can learn and grow together.

  1. Recognize When and Why You Lose Focus

There are lots of reasons why athletes lose focus. One of them is pain, which many of us tend to see as a negative experience—avoiding it as much as possible, and understandably so. Unfortunately, pain is an inevitable consequence of life and competition. We have to deal with it, whether we like it or not. When pain eventually does befall you, it’s helpful to try turning it into a positive experience. As they say, what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger. 

Another reason why your players may lose focus is a lack of confidence. As a coach, you can apply focus skills to help improve confidence and composure. Some of the best athletes in the world say that focus is the single most important mental skill an athlete can possess to achieve desired results. Practice is the best time to work on focus and concentration. Coaches can figure out what’s going wrong and make the proper adjustments.

  1. Make Things Fun

Keeping practice fun is extremely important. Coaches often erroneously feel that learning sport skills is incompatible with fun, and that’s when problems arise. We simply need to rethink our definition of “fun”.


The truth is focus and fun are not at all incompatible. You can’t have one without the other. Ideally, players will feel deeply involved and uplifted by an experience. While it’s true you can be deeply involved because of fear, your athletes probably won’t find the experience uplifting. They also won’t find all aspects of an activity pleasurable. In the end, you’ll get more out of your team if you make practice difficult yet rewarding for your team. A true marriage of fun and focus.


About Nancy Lieberman and Nancy Lieberman Charities

Nancy “Lady Magic” Lieberman is a true pioneer in women’s sports. Nancy is a Basketball Hall of Famer, two-time Olympian, former Asst. Coach with the Sacramento Kings and the 1st Female Head Coach in a Men’s Professional League NBA G League TX Legends (Dallas Mavericks affiliate) BIG3 HC Team Power, 2018 Champions and Coach of the Year. In 2009 Nancy Lieberman Charities was established with the mission to provide a healthy physical, emotional and mental environment for young girls and boys to build their self-esteem and confidence so they will be able to make the right choices in the future. Nancy Lieberman is dedicated to expanding and ensuring that educational and mentorship opportunities exist for youth through Educational College Scholarships, Financial Literacy, Dream Court programs with STEM and Civic Engagement, backpack and laptop programs. Find out more online at