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Motivation toolbox

March 23, 2011 Coaches No Comments

By Julia Negro
Oct 23, 2001, 18:19


Julia Negro

George Gwozdecky, a NCAA Division I Coach of the Year, believes motivation is the key component for a successful season. And motivation and leadership starts with the coach. Try these tips that Gwozdecky, now in his first year with the University of Denver Pioneers, used to lead his Miami (Ohio) team to the CCHA regular season championship in 1993.

Good coaching habits

Gwozdecky feels that the coach’s practice habits add to the motivation and consistency of a team. A coach has to be confident and consistent in team preparation. Go into the season with a general philosophy about how to play. Don’t change your game plan every weekend just because you are facing a new opponent. Make players realize that each game is equally important, no matter who you are playing.

There are days when your team won’t be perfect, and you can’t blow up and send them off the ice. Expect your team to have some bad days. Gwozdecky believes the best thing to do is talk to your players individually. He tries to talk to each player at least once a week, whether it is for 30 seconds or 30 minutes.

As a coach, if you feel your team is taking the opponent too lightly in practice, do something to make them realize that you aren’t happy with their behavior. You can stop practice and skate them, or just pull them off the ice for the rest of practice. The team should quickly realize that their level of practice intensity has to improve.


Accountable players

You also have to hold players accountable for their actions. Gwozdecky finds that one of the quickest ways to motivate players is by using the superstar to set an example. He tells of one of Miami’s star players who didn’t follow the team rules. For a week he made that player change at home or in another part of the ice arena.

The team got a great laugh out of it, but at the same time they knew they were going to be held accountable for certain things. As long as players are held accountable for their actions, they will respect you and understand that you have their best interest in mind.


A time to talk

Another tip is to motivate through timely communication. Gwozdecky recalls a particular game where he feels motivation was a key factor in winning. Miami’s first league series in 1992-93 was at Michigan State. Miami had never won in East Lansing before, and it was one of those rinks where the players are in awe and feel afraid or intimidated. Miami was down 3-1 to MSU after the second period. The players came into the locker room and they weren’t happy.

“Before the players entered the locker room after the period, I wrote ‘You Are Intimidated’ on the blackboard,” Gwozdecky said. I don’t know if you could do that to every team, but I knew this team and the older players, and how they would react to that. I came back into the locker room about five minutes after they had a chance to read the blackboard.”

Gwozdecky told them their focus was on the bright lights and MSU rather than on working hard and playing their game. The coach spewed a few other motivating words and the team went out and rallied for a 4-3 win.

They charged into the locker room after the final buzzer and couldn’t wait to erase the blackboard.

“The team expected to be praised, and at that point I was upset with them. We just made a great comeback in a rink that we had never won in and against a team that had a great winning tradition. I talked with the team and told them we wouldn’t have won if it wasn’t for our goaltender. I told the guys that I wouldn’t expect anything less than what they were capable of.

“We played much better (the next) night and consequently won that game also. This was a situation where communication was timely and probably helped us.”


Motivate with competition

Try to formulate games within drills, one-on-one competitions, and situations that force the players to work hard but have fun at the same time. Gwozdecky comments: “We’ll give an apple, an orange, or a can of fruit juice to the winning player or group. The guys love to compete even for the silliest things. This really helps with morale on the ice because it’s a competition, not just another drill.”


Reinforcement…either way

If positive reinforcement doesn’t work, try negative reinforcement. An example of this would be a player continually making the same mistakes at practice. Gwozdecky says that “every situation is different, so I would approach the problem one step at a time. I would first speak to the captain and let him know that he should inform the player that he needs to pick up his performance in practice. If that doesn’t help, I will speak to the player myself.”

Gwozdecky might say to the player, “You are doing this well, but we need you to start working harder and let’s see you do it. You are capable of this and we expect you to achieve this level of play. If that kind of motivation doesn’t work, then there is nothing wrong with negative reinforcement. For example, I will stop practice and skate the group for 45 seconds. It’s not a long skate but enough for them to get the point.

“Believe me, peer pressure from your teammates is a great motivational tool in itself. I haven’t had to raise my voice at all, but (meanwhile) this player has four of his teammates on his back for the rest of practice. So he works hard.”


Rate the troops

Gwozdecky advocates using a rating system on players in practice. If you have the time and resources, a rating players from one to five can possibly point out the team members who may need some extra motivation. At Miami, this was done on a daily basis by the hockey support staff. If you don’t have the staff, (a youth coach) could take notes after practice. Then after three or four practices you may want to review your evaluations. Look for players who are having problems, or lagging, in practice and may need some extra motivation or a talk from their coach.

George Gwozdecky turned around the Miami program in his five years behind the bench. Hopefully some of these tips can help your program become a winner, too.



Julia Negro is a conditioning instructor at Michigan State University and an Administrator for Huron Hockey School in Traverse City, MI.

This first appeared in the 04/1995 issue of Hockey Player Magazine®
© Copyright 1991-2011 Hockey Player® and Hockey Player Magazine®


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