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Enhance Your Athlete's Connection To Their Sport

By Katarina Miller - June 25, 2018

More on Relatedness
            In our final entry discussing self-determination theory we will explore relatedness further. Relatedness is the need to feel as if you belong and the need to feel connected to people in your life in a meaningful way. This might seem like common sense, and that’s probably because evolutionary psychology tells us that centuries of evolving has designed the human brain to quite literally need human interaction. We all know what it feels like to desire to fit in and belong, and most coaches intuitively understand to some extent that they should promote social cohesion amongst their athletes. But what I want to emphasize is that by being intentional in promoting strong social bonds amongst your athletes, you can truly capitalize on this relatedness principle in a way that can lead to higher motivation and performance.
            I want you to think of relatedness and its impact on motivation as being related in part to peer accountability. When you are able to create a strong sense of community- a community in which each individual feels valuable to the whole and in which individuals feel supported by one another- it can lead to your athletes feeling comfortable taking the reigns to contribute their part and to support the team when in need. For example, understanding exactly what skills you contribute to your team’s success can heighten the motivation to cultivate said skill. Or, a team going through a losing streak may be more effective in bouncing back when there is genuine care for one another. Creating that strong community from the start is what can help you weather the storms that will inevitably arrive throughout the course of a season.
Promoting Relatedness:
            Do not feel pressure to force your team into intimate bonding moments; i.e., don’t force your athletes to sit in a circle and expose their deepest secrets. Instead, look for the little moments where you can promote positive social-bonding.
  • Role clarity: be intentional in defining what each athlete contributes to the team, not only in physical skill but in social support (humor, leadership, persistence, etc.)
  • Expressing gratitude: encourage a culture of expressing gratitude. Bus-rides home from competition and cool-downs/stretching are great times for this. Knowing why your peers appreciate you, even the face of a loss, can be incredibly powerful     
  • Organic-moments: if you notice moments where your athletes organically bond with one another, capitalize on those moments. For example, if you notice that your athletes tend to bond on their bus-rides home from competitions create a culture of team-games and activities on those rides. Not only can it allow the athletes to shake off a hard-loss, but it can create those important bonding moments
  • Coach’s role: don’t forget that as a coach, you are a part of the social community of the team. Participate in warm-ups and cool-downs, participate in group-bonding activities, share good news from your life with your athletes, etc. 
  • Be prepared: even the closest groups of people experience conflict, and being prepared for that inevitable part of life can be advantageous for your team. Create a conflict management plan at the beginning of the season that promotes social bonds
Relatedness in Individual Sports
            I think its important when discussing relatedness that we don’t leave out those performers that work without a team. While many athletic competitions are comprised of teams, there are also many athletes and other performers that compete alone; and these principles can apply to them just as well.
            In terms of relatedness with an individual performer, the role of the coach or trainer becomes even more important. In times of stress or adversity, the coach may take on the role of the entire support system for an individual performer. Whereas an athlete in a team sport may have a multitude of people to rely on during trying times, the individual athlete may only have their coach. Keeping this in mind is incredibly important in promoting relatedness for this type of performer.
            I also encourage individual performers to seek out a community of like-minded peers in order to facilitate a sense of relatedness. Whether it be reaching out to other individual athletes within your greater sporting organization, or through your public school system, or through an online community, there are a multitude of ways to create a support-system outside of what is immediately in front of you.
Final thoughts on Self-Determination Theory
            Motivation is what I consider a “hot-button” in the work I do; clients and coaches and parents are constantly asking how they can create motivation and how they can sustain it. Instead of starting by analyzing each individual athlete and where they are lacking, start by looking at the greater environment they’re a part of. Self-determination theory and its individual components can guide us in understanding how to improve that environment. Motivation doesn’t have to be a sudden light-bulb moment; its often the culmination of little changes over time that lead to the right environment, skills, and mindset for any individual to thrive.