Motivation: How to motivate and handle the talented but Difficult player on YOUR team:


I recently received this question from a coach who provided the following background info:

The most talented player on my college team is habitually late to practice and other team sessions. Though he is usually a selfless player on the court and usually treats his teammates with respect, I think his lateness sets a bad tone for the team, especially since he is a senior and is not setting a good example to the younger players. I have tried to talk to him about the level of disrespect he is actually showing his teammates, but this approach and form of motivation has not had the effect I thought it would. I know there may be many coaches out there who would suggest I bench him, cut him, or use a similar type of motivation, but the team will most likely lose a number of games this year that were otherwise winnable with him on the floor. I almost think I would be hurting the team even more by NOT playing him. I am interested in any ‘out of the box’ ideas you may have.

Dear Coach:

Whenever dealing with a player who is not executing a request, team rule, skill, or play, I always divide the issues at hand into ‘can’t do’ and won’t do’ issues. Can’t do issues are usually a physical skill deficiency or mental skill deficiency, or both, and are usually the easiest to deal with – they just take additional training. However, ‘won’t do’ issues usually involve attitude and motivation, and in some cases, these adjustments can be more difficult to make. Finding the balance between benching the player without unduly hurting the team from a win/loss perspective is a very tough line to walk.

Though some would say that the player’s attitude is hurting the team regardless of win/loss results (which certainly may be true), I would tend to use your star player’s respect for his teammates to possibly manipulate a behavioral change. Let me explain. At a recent coaching clinic I heard of a similar situation that a college coach was going through and this particular coach shared some of the success that was achieved with the following motivation strategy…The coach mentioned that he had publicly assigned the star player’s best friend on the team the responsibility of making sure the star player arrived on time. In the event the star player did not show up on time for practice, after the star player arrived, the coach took the first few minutes of practice to publicly ride the best friend for his inability to get the star player to practice on time. On one occasion, the coach even made the best friend run in front of the team as punishment.


I am not usually a supporter of punishment to encourage compliance, but this innovative approach forced the star player to begin to view his own behavior/lateness as something that truly affects his teammates (in this instance his best friend) vs. a behavior that is a just a simple deficiency that just affects him. While this strategy may not work with every player, it is a strategy worth attempting, especially if you are in a similar situation and are running short on options and only the most drastic ‘cut the player’ type of motivation options remain.

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