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UK Coaching Participation Team
Coaching Essentials

Understanding Motivations of the People You Coach

Motivation can be described as the reason for our behaviour. There is always a reason why people do everything. These tips will help you understand the motivations of those you coach.

Some people will include their goals when telling you about what motivates them . It is useful to kow that  motivations and goals are sometimes confused with each other.

How to know the difference:

Goal is a person’s objective, ambition, aim or desired result (eg to run a half marathon or lose 20 pounds).

Motivation is the reason for acting or behaving in a particular way, a stimulus or inspiration (eg to be fitter or more active, or to feel good about themselves).

In order to engage people and keep them involved in sport and physical activity, it is essential to:

  • find out why people turn up to your session
  • plan and deliver sessions to meet motivations
  • recognise when motivations have been fulfilled.

Everyone is different and will therefore have different reasons for taking part based on different experiences, personality and lifestyle factors, including family and friends. People can have more than one motivation at the same time.


Common motivations include:

  • fun and enjoyment

  • feel good

  • spend time with family and friends

  • develop as a person

  • fitness and health

  • relax and unwind

  • look good and improve appearance

  • achieve goals and be successful

  • have a positive self-image

  • develop skills

Internal vs external

Motivations can be internal or external.

  • Internal is when the individual is self-driven by interest in, or enjoyment of, the activity rather than relying on external recognition or reward.
  • External is when the individual is motivated by an external source; for example, to impress a parent or you as the coach, or because they want to win or to be rewarded.

It is important to know that internal motivation actually leads to a ‘stickier’ habit of taking part. If individuals are solely motivated by external sources then they could lapse from activity as soon as the source of their motivation is removed.


Motivations change

Motivation can change or dip over time. A dip in motivation may mean the reason for taking part is less important than it may have been previously. Another likely scenario is that the reason for taking part might have changed.

For example, an individual might have started coming to your session to meet new people, but after a while, when confidence builds, they might want to start getting better and learn new skills. Checking and refreshing people’s motivations and goals for coming to your session makes it more likely that they will continue to be active and attend your session.

Top Tips for Coaches

  • Don't ask "What do you want to achieve?" This is too goal orientated, unless a progress goal emerges as a motivation.
  • Do ask, "What attracted you to the session?", "How did you find out about the session?", followed by, "What were you looking for?"
  • Consider what else you can offer or link to your session, club or environment that helps people satisfy any of their motivations (eg. charity events, social time, celebrations).
  • Create a session plan, focusing only on the reasons why people turn up.

Motivations and Ideas to Try

  • Buddy-up newcomers with someone else who will make them feel welcome.
  • Build in social time before, during or after your session. Help people find something in common as soon as possible.
  • Include lots of group activities and change groups from time to time. Encourage work in pairs where people get a chance to get to know each other one-to-one.
  • Use social media to demonstrate to potential newcomers how social and friendly your session is.
  • Let people choose the intensity they want to take part at – encourage individuals to go at their own pace.
  • Limit the amount of time spent talking when people are being still – sitting, standing or lining up.
  • Some young people might use wearable technology such as a Fitbit or a GPS device – can you use this in the session to help individuals set their own goals?
  • Aspire to a minimum of 30–40 minutes’ moderate activity in total within an hour-long session.This could be made up of 3–4 x 10 minutes.
  • Don’t interrupt activity too often. Having fewer interruptions allows activity to flow, and increases the likelihood of enjoyment.
  • Include games that encourage the development of skills, rather than isolated skill development.
  • Try new ideas and activities in your session regularly to stop people from getting bored.
  • Find out what people would find fun or enjoyable – what is fun to one person might not be fun to someone else.
  • Let people pick their own skills to develop.
  • Consider sharing YouTube or other video clips of a new skill or technique they can practise in their own time.
  • Make time to watch and provide feedback to everyone.

Related Content:

  • What Motivates Young People to be Active?

  • The Champions Club: A Lesson in Motivation

  • What Motivates Young People to be Active?


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UK Coaching Participation Team