Coaching Motivation: Clicking “ON” buttons to create a Winning Culture

GAME DAY is every players’ favorite day of the week. It’s like a big day at work where you are pitching a new idea, pursuing a new client, or presenting a new perspective in the classroom. The rush of excitement affects everyone differently.  For some it causes butterflies, others get super focussed, some get really loose, and yet for others it’s the hit of adrenaline that fires them up.

 Many use music to build energy and to help create a consistent path to the start of a game. The process is highly personal and no two people approach it exactly the same way. One thing that is consistent, however, is that everyone is figuring out how to turn it “ON” for the game. 

Click their “On” button –  if you will?

So as coaches (or leaders at work), if every member of the team has a different way of getting motivated how can we help them learn to ask for more from themselves and eliminate barriers so they can have the greatest impact on the game? And how can we help them stay motivated throughout the competition? 


Every player has different physical abilities, strengths, sensibilities, levels of confidence, knowledge of the game (IQ) and ways of handling their emotions. This makes it difficult to figure out the best way to challenge and motivate them individually.

In order to overcome this challenge I encourage you to imagine that each player rather than having just one “ON” button actually has a set of buttons (triggers or switches, if you prefer) and if you pay attention to what they are feeling and what effects those triggers you can help control those buttons and turn them “ON” whenever they are switched off while they are competing.

These buttons are essentially internal triggers that motivate or demotivate players during the game. 

We have all experienced a scene in a movie where a fighter jet pilot readies the jet for take-off and fires up all the systems. Engines ready-check. Guns ready- check. Fuel Systems ready- check. Landing gear tested- check. Finally, it’s all systems “GO” and the fighter jet takes off and everyone feels the rush of adrenaline and the sheer power that is put into action. 

Similar to firing up a jet – I believe there are four systems that need to be fired up prior to every competition. Furthermore, these systems will be battle tested during the game and will take hits as a result. Some systems will be turned off and others will remain strong. We should monitor these systems throughout the game to help each person stay at the top of their game.

In my opinion, we can all do a better job as coaches and leaders in paying attention to these changes and click as many buttons back “ON” as possible during the course of the game. 


System One: Being Physically Ready

Being physically ready can mean you are healthy and free of injury, feeling strong and in shape, you are well rested, and well nourished. Essentially, your body is ready to play. There are a lot of ways we can control feeling this way and we should help our players and teams see the benefit of doing so. Prior to the game each player has to check this system and be ready to go. 

System Challenge: A player can have their physical system challenged by taking a big hit, hurting themselves during the game, having an old injury bother them, feeling dehydrated, over-heating, being physically overpowered by a competitor. 

As coaches, we unfortunately have to sometimes walk out onto the field when one of our players is down. Thankfully, most of the time the player is just shaken up or lost their wind and just needs a caring hand to reassure them that they will be okay. Showing that we care when they are physically thrown off goes along way for a player and can help turn this system back on. 

System Two: Being Mentally Ready

Being mentally ready entails a lot and is the most complex system to ready because it means something different for everyone. It has to do with belief in abilities, confidence, level of preparation and how we regulate our emotions. When most are mentally ready they are feeling like I got this. It is commonly referred to as mental strength.

System Challenge: They are everywhere! A parent yelling on the sideline can turn it off. We have all heard some version of Get in the game! At certain moments that could be the one comment that shuts them down. Coaches can say the wrong thing or shed their frustration on their players and that can shut them off. Negative self-talk or a teammate’s harsh words after a mistake can shut them off. As well as the most common threat “trash-talking.” It has become a strategy players use to get other players to question themselves during a game. 

A well placed complement that is specific to a play and genuinely delivered can make a big difference.  Giving instruction on how to approach a play differently next time and teaching them not to take negative comments personally can be helpful.  

System Three: Focus and IQ 

Being focussed has to do with making good decisions, being smart and following the strategy. Essentially, when we play (or when we are executing at work) we are always driving towards the next best decision to execute on. When we are focussed we are more apt to match our preparation and understanding of the game with our ability to see the best play and make it.

System Challenge: Second guessing yourself and poor messaging from a coach or parent. For high level performance it is important to feel you are confident to deliver what is expected of you. You were put in this position because you showed you are capable of that. One poor decision can derail confidence on certain days so as coaches and teammates we should be aware of those moments and step in to reset them. 

As coaches, we should avoid “what are you doing?” questions and parents should avoid showing their disappointment from the sideline. Throwing your hands in the air as a coach or parent when they force a bad play or throw a ball out of bounds can shut this system down quickly. At work, the equivalent is when a coworker is pitching or presenting and makes a comment that is out of sync. 

Being the person that gives a supportive comment, look or act in those moments is undoubtedly someone that is used to seeing positive outcomes. We can all be better at this. 

System Four: Team alignment

Being on a team comes with a huge responsibility. The impact of our ability is only significant as it relates to how it affects the team and the outcome the team is able to create. As we approach the game we want our personal contributions to matter and to be appreciated. We also want to win the game (or close the deal/deliver the promise). It is essential that we get these concepts aligned before playing or we risk allowing our own priorities to derail the teams. 

System Challenge: Coaches sending conflicted messages. This was a great team effort, but the game ball for MVP goes to Sarah for scoring the most goals. Parents pregame instructions like telling their child to take it themselves and yelling shoot it during the game are prime examples of confusing this system. 

My friend Kylor Berkman, explained this well in a parent meeting recently. He said, the player is thinking one thing, his coach is yelling another and now he is hearing a third voice from his parents. None of whom he wants to let down. Leave him alone from the sideline, he has enough going on in there to keep himself busy. I really liked the way he put that. 

ON THE FIELD, make it a priority to help players as they learn to set aside their fears, doubts and other insecurities and get ready to play. More importantly, pay attention all game so you can have a positive influence on all their systems so they are willing to ask for more and have the greatest impact on the game. 

AT HOME, thinking about it this way can help us abstain from comments that trigger our kids “OFF” buttons whether they are on or off the field.

AT WORK understanding that our colleagues too have “ON” and “OFF” buttons could inspire us as leaders to discover better ways to keep them motivated and remove barriers so they can thrive and have a more meaningful impact on the team and the way they approach their work.

Start Clicking “ON” buttons and transform the way you coach, lead, and build a healthy culture for your teams to thrive in. Go be amazing!

Phil McCarthy 

48 thoughts on “Coaching Motivation: Clicking “ON” buttons to create a Winning Culture”

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      Thanks. Stay Positive. Stay Motivated. Stay Learning. Stay in the Moment looking forward.
      Phil McCarthy

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