In order for athletes to demonstrate the type of effort required for strength and conditioning gains in the weightroom and on the track, they must be motivated on a daily basis. In my last article, Key Incentive Systems in Sport I explained how certain basic needs or incentives that your athletes have must be met in order to enhance their intrinsic motivation to train.
For example, making sure that your athletes feel accepted and competent/successful within your program is of paramount importance. In addition, the importance of facilitating control or self-mastery within your athletes was discussed, as was the need for implementing some fun and excitement into your program. A variety of examples were given to enhance the intrinsic motivation of your athletes in accordance with these four incentives systems of sport.
As coaches, we often feel as though we need to "pump our athletes up" or give that motivational "pep talk" at every lift or practice. However, coaches can only do so much to personally motivate each and every one of their athletes on a consistent basis. It is in my opinion, therefore, that our biggest motivational resource lies within our athletes. Within a strength and conditioning setting, I feel it is crucial for athletes to motivate each other to train. This concept is one that I will refer to as positive rivalry.
What Is Positive Rivalry?
My first notion of this concept was taught to me by Dr. Cal Botterill, current professor of sport psychology at the University of Calgary. Cal has also been a sport psyche consultant to numerous teams at the amateur and professional levels, including the Philadelphia Flyers, Chicago Blackhawks, the 1994 Stanley Cup champion New York Rangers and currently, the Calgary Flames.
Simply stated, positive rivalry demands competition between your athletes. That is, the idea that athletes are going to push each other for positions on the team or, within the setting of a strength and conditioning program, competing with each other in the weightroom or on the track/bike when conditioning. However, unlike some competition that may imply negative rivalry, such as the hope that your opponent performs poorly, positive rivalry implies the exact opposite.
That is, athletes who subscribe to the ideal of positive rivalry, motivate each other in order to push each other to higher and higher levels of achievement. The intent, therefore, is not to compete with the hope that one athlete wins at the expense of the other doing poorly, but rather that both push their training intensity level up so that both partners, and thus the team, benefit.
At the 1996 University of North Dakota Strength and Conditioning Clinic, Cal Botterill spoke on the notion of positive rivalry and stated that the ultimate loyalty to a team is for an athlete to take the job of the person in front of him. Or in other words, it is disloyal for a member of a team to not push for a starting job. Without this attitude among team members, team success will not be fully realized.
Basically, what is being said is that everyone must do everything possible to make the team a better functional unit. The idea of positive rivalry is nothing new. However, when it is phrased in such a way as previously stated, it implies that individual athletes should take a much more personalized ownership in the program and thus, the team.
Positive Rivalry In A Strength & Conditioning Program.
It must be realized that as a strength and conditioning coach who may be supervising as many as 60 athletes at once, you cannot personally motivate each and every athlete to effectively perform each and every repetition in a workout. As a result, it is crucial for athletes' training partners to motivate each other in the weightroom. However, it is not enough to just have athletes pair up and train together without conveying your expectations on how you want them to train.
In other words, if you think that athletes will automatically push each other in the weightroom without being facilitated to do so by you as the coach, you are in for some poor team-training efforts. Therefore, the first thing you must do as a strength and conditioning coach is to convey the expectation of team training within your program and clearly explain the ideal of positive rivalry between your athletes. This is something that must be done at the first team meeting or the first time you address your players as outlined in my first article, Setting the Stage for a Productive Year.
At every university I coached, I expected my athletes to push each other on every lift. If the particular set of an exercise is to be performed to concentric failure, then it is the duty of each training partner to ensure that his partner is performing the exercise to this level of effort. If not, then it is the fault of the training partner, not the one doing the exercise that the lift was performed incorrectly. As a result, I will come down hard on the training partner for not busting his partner's butt on the exercise.
In addition to motivating each other to put forth an all-out effort, I expect each training partner to coach each other through lifts, commenting on form, rate of repetition, breathing, etc. Under my training philosophy, athletes are required to look up the exact weights to be used when performing certain exercises such as back squat and bench press.
It is up to the training partners to see to it that the one performing the sets is using the correct weights. I had to instill disciplinary measures at the University of North Dakota because some athletes were not using the exact weights as outlined in the training protocols.
As a result of miscalculating the intensity, both the person performing the lift and his training partner had to run one 400m lap for every 5lbs they were off the exact weight to be used. And finally, training partners are responsible for praising each other and providing quality spots on each exercise.
In addition to conveying your expectations regarding team training, you can further facilitate positive rivalry between your athletes by publicly praising them when your expectations are met. For example, each week, one training team is rewarded with a "Positive Rivalry" award that is printed up on attractive resume paper. I also make a special point of outlining, in front of the whole team and coaches, the importance of this award and exactly what it was that this team did to deserve the honor.
I feel that it is extremely important to highlight the positive aspects of your strength and conditioning program as often as possible, because feedback that is given to athletes is often negative and non-specific. Another thing to recognize about giving such an award, is that you, as a coach, must be attentive and in tune with how your athletes are training.
You simply cannot supervise without knowing what to look for. As with athletes out on the field your head must be on a swivel, watching and coaching as the workout progresses. Far too often, strength coaches supervise, but don't coach. If you can take this approach, then selecting the right training team for the award will be an easy task.
In addition to highlighting the team that won the award, make mention of some other training teams that trained well in the previous week so as to praise as many athletes as possible. There have been weeks, however, in which I did not give out the positive rivalry award because no training team exemplified the expectations that were set out. If this happens, then this is a teachable moment that should be taken advantage of to refocus the team back to the goals and expectations communicated at the beginning of the year.
If your team happens to be performing poorly out on the field, as exemplified by a 3-game losing streak, you must be cognizant of the fact that their attitudes in the weightroom are sure to take a turn for the worse. Therefore, make sure you are prepared with some intervention strategies to keep them motivated through those tough times.
Benefitis Of Instilling Positive Rivalries.
First of all, if you can get your athletes to motivate or push each other in the weightroom, the level of effort will be tremendously enhanced. The ideal of positive rivalry is wanting your training partner to perform just as good as you so as to make yourself work harder.
As a result, you will find athletes training at levels of effort that they never thought possible before. It is important, however, that the senior leaders of the team buy into this concept and take a proactive role in getting on teammates if their level of effort starts to falter. You need respected individuals on the team leading through example in the weightroom.
Secondly, if athletes are there to support and encourage each other, an environment will be set up which fosters affiliation and acceptance among team members. This has tremendous implications for new athletes in the program, be they freshmen or transfers.
Everybody has a basic need to feel accepted and to feel that they are making a positive contribution to the team. If respected members of a team are telling young athletes that they are doing a great job, then those athletes are going to feel tremendous about themselves and the program, thus resulting in even more devoted effort to training. What is being implied here is the enhancement of team cohesion or more specifically, task cohesion.
And finally, by obtaining higher levels of effort from your athletes, be it all-out effort or disciplined effort, the training gains your athletes reap will be that much more enhanced. I have always said, my main objective as a strength and conditioning coach is to get results, period.
If I cannot obtain results with my training methods and coaching, then I serve no useful purpose for any athletic program. As a result, I will do anything it takes to bring out the level of effort that is required for my athletes to make gains, be they strength, power, endurance, agility, etc.
Bottom line, getting athletes to subscribe to the ideal of positive rivalry will make your program more successful and you, as a strength and conditioning coach, more respected and competent in the eyes of the head coaches and athletic community at large. Never forget that coaches need to feel successful and accepted too!