In October, Andorra’s national soccer team finally recorded their first ever European Championship qualifying win.
They had lost every single one of their previous 56 qualifiers – a run of defeats stretching back to September 1998 – before edging to a 1-0 victory over 10-man Moldova. Outside of the Euros, Els Tricolors were on a 15-match winless streak.
Every Director of Coaching (DOC) who has endured a lengthy run of bad results should feel delighted for Koldo Alvarez, Andorra’s manager for the past nine years. His side may be ranked 139th in the world, but they battled through their poor form and came out the other side (albeit temporarily – they lost their next match 2-0 to Iceland). He kept his players and coaches motivated when many managers would have simply through in the towel.
Why DOCs should strive to keep coaches and players motivated
“Form is temporary, class is permanent.”
It’s a cliche that’s often trotted out to explain a string of unsatisfactory performances and results.
As with so many cliches, there’s a kernel of truth to it. Good players and coaches don’t become bad overnight. But when you’re standing in a losing dressing room, this message is easily forgotten.
Defeat can become contagious. All too often, one team’s poor form can have a knock-on effect that damages confidence throughout a club or academy.
For the DOC, fighting through a winless streak requires a calm head and the ability to motivate coaches and players. They need to believe that if they concentrate on doing the right things – choosing the right passes, moving into the right spaces, shooting at the right time – the results will come.
5 creative ways to motivate soccer teams
Your job would be much easier if everyone was motivated by the same things.
Unfortunately, that’s not the case. Some players need an arm round the shoulder; others need to be fired up by criticism. Some need to be left to their own devices; others thrive within a structured environment.
However, if you’re struggling to motivate your club following a disappointing run, the following techniques are a good starting point:
Create a positive environment
It’s far easier to motivate players and coaches if the environment at your club is positive and supportive.
In a positive environment, everyone at the club will naturally rally round and battle through a string of poor results. There’ll be no pointed fingers, just honest conversations designed to improve performance.
None of this is possible in a negative environment. Scapegoating becomes the norm, which makes it far more challenging to drag your way out of a slump in form.
Plan engaging, varied training sessions
Even the best, most carefully planned training sessions lose their effectiveness over time. Players can easily lapse into “cruise control” or switch off completely if they already know what’s coming next. If you end every training session with a series of sprint drills, players may start to unconsciously “hold something back” to make the sprints easier.
At worst, over-repetition of training sessions can be demotivating to players. And it’s unlikely to motivate coaches either – after all, no one wants to give the same instructions over and over again.
The Coaching Manual can help you keep your training sessions fresh. We have a vast catalogue of professional-quality training sessions for your coaches to tap into, whatever age group they’re working with or level they’re coaching at. Check out our 1v1 pressing masterclass, led by former Manchester United manager David Moyes, for an example of the content available to our subscribers.
Set clear objectives
Particularly when you’re working with coaches and older players, realistic and achievable targets can be a major motivator. Best of all, these objectives can help to keep their minds focused on the bigger picture rather than fixating on a couple of poor performances.
Be sure to set goals that are easily understood and relevant to the entire team. Maybe you’ll challenge them to keep a certain number of clean sheets over the course of a season, or to finish in or above a certain league position.
Whatever objective you choose, use it to inform future training sessions. For instance, if you’re challenging your team to defend more effectively as a unit, you’ll need to run plenty of drills around closing down the opposition, marking key players, and defending set pieces.
Recognise and reward positive behaviour
Having identified your objectives, it’s up to you and your coaches to ensure they remain at the front of your players’ minds. One of the most effective ways to do this is by recognising and rewarding behaviour that’s in line with these objectives.
Let’s continue the example about clean sheets. This objective gives you an opportunity to applaud players for making a standout contribution to their team’s defensive efforts.
Maybe a winger tracked back, closed down their opposite number, won the ball and started a counter-attack. Or maybe a defensive midfielder shut down the threat of the opposition’s most creative player. Contributions such as these should be applauded, reminding the team of your objective and motivating individual players to raise their game.
Remember to make it fun
Perhaps most importantly of all, never forget that soccer is meant to be fun. Losing a succession of games can seem like the worst thing in the world to your young players, but it really isn’t.
Be sure to keep training sessions entertaining and interactive. Remind teams of their past successes, and continue to celebrate positive behaviours, even if they didn’t produce results on the pitch.
And look at it this way: when times are hard, you have the best opportunity to build a strong, supportive, positive club culture. If there are improvements to be made, you’ll be able to identify them far easier during a losing streak.
Conclusion: Context plays a key part in effective motivation
Any and all of the above techniques can be effective, but context is key. What works for one group of players may not work for another. And you wouldn’t use the same approach to motivate your under-9s and your over-13s. Your players are individuals, after all, and you’ll never be able to get through to them unless you take the time to understand what motivates them.