“Spark Belief”

I was recently presenting at a youth coaches clinic, and one of the coaches of a younger team asked me, how do we get our players to want to focus and work harder so they get better?

This is a really important question.


I said, From my experience, the best way is to help your players fall in love with playing and then help them figure how to use that love so they are internally motivated to play their best and feel good about themselves.   

They said, how do we do that?

With younger players, I try to tie a feeling to the way they play. Essentially, I help them first figure out the reward or what they get for playing their best so they constantly focus and work hard to get that reward.

Here is one way I have started that conversation. I have asked them these questions.

Can any of you remember the time where you felt you had your best game ever?

You will quickly see smiles on every players face as they nod their heads.

How did that game make you feel?

“Great!” they yell with enthusiasm.

Then, give each player a moment to soak that in.

Has anyone ever had a game where you just weren’t yourself and you didn’t play your best for whatever reason?

They nod and shake their head as they work through the memory.

How did that game make you feel?

Not so great, they say. Reflecting back is vital when communicating with kids, make sure they feel heard and acknowledge what they’re feeling. Don’t try and change their minds, it’s okay for them to feel however they feel.

I say, I get that. With the intention of normalizing that feeling.

I then follow up with,  So can we agree then that everything we do and the way we do it will be to help you get to that great feeling of when you played your best game ever?

This comes off more as a statement than a question.

They nod with enthusiasm.

Great, I say, then that’s what we will agree to do and then we start the season.

For older kids the questions can be different but the idea is the same.

You can ask, what’s your goal for yourself this season?

Hopefully, the answer has to do with getting better and having fun.

I then come back with, I like that, is it more fun when you play well or when you don’t?

You can take it from there.

You can also ask about a team goal, what’s your goal for our team this season? They will probably say something to the effect of, We want to win.  

Here I like to challenge, isn’t it really that you want the feelings that come from winning?

They sometimes stare back with hesitation. So I add, How does winning make you feel? And then, How do you feel after you lose?

You can use the answers to those questions the same way as I mentioned above. Winning and losing are outcomes so we should try to steer them away from focusing on that and instead get them to focus on what they are giving so they have the greatest impact on the outcome.

By teaching them how to set an internal reward system first, we can get them to act in a way that drives them towards that reward, which they defined as feeling great, and to fight for constant improvement.


I think we have all experienced this. I recently bought a new shirt and was excited to wear it for the first time. I was a little hesitant even though I had taken my time deciding on whether or not to purchase it. Then, somebody said, “Hey, I really like your shirt, it looks good on you”  If you are anything like me, you immediately smiled and said, Thank you and perhaps walked with a little more confidence for the rest of the day. That simple comment that led to that feeling can be a spark.


I reminded the coaches that coaching and parenting athletes presents multiple opportunities to be the person who by being genuine and picking the right moments to share a complement or appreciation for the way they played can be a spark and make a huge difference in the way a kid feels about playing. That Spark can ignite a sensation that can change the way they approach the game permanently.

Look for specific moments where you can “Spark Belief.” This is a moment where a player has made a contribution that has had a real impact and it undoubtedly felt great.  

When you find that moment try saying something like, That was impressive, keep shooting like that (fill in the blank) your hard work is definitely paying off and it is making a big difference for our team.

By helping to Spark a defining moment you can help your players start to believe, I have what it takes and I am capable of more than I thought.

What do you think this player will be willing to do when they continue to get his type of feedback and feel this way?

I closed the discussion with the coaches by concluding, Once they begin to feel that way, they will take it from there, and all that is left for us to do is to teach them the skills and a better understanding of how to play the game.

We spent the rest of the time in the clinic discussing the best ways to do that.


I think we can easily draw parallels to performance in the workplace. If we pay attention to the people we work with and “Spark Belief” for them, I think we will find that this behavior becomes infectious and that it will help draw all of us toward constant improvement so we have more to give which affects greater outcomes for our teams.

I wish you well. Make it count.

Phil McCarthy


40 thoughts on ““Spark Belief””

  1. Phil – Seems so simple when you describe it. But like most things, simple does not mean easy. Thanks for laying out and describing the steps as well. Great stuff for sports and for life! Joe

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  3. Spot on with this write-up, I really think this site needs a great deal more attention. I’ll probably be returning to read more, thanks for the

  4. You could definitely see your enthusiasm in the article you write. The world hopes for more passionate writers like you who are not afraid to mention how they believe. At all times go after your heart.|

    1. I really appreciate you reading this article. But I value more than anything that you would take the time to share your thoughtful and kind perspective. It is really encouraging and we all need that. You are Kind.

      Stay Positive. Stay Motivated. Stay Learning. Stay in the Moment looking forward.

      Phil McCarthy

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