Coach motivation – an under-discussed topic?

It’s been a year since my last blog post, can you believe it! Only seems like yesterday I was writing up my last post giving a run through off game models. But my break was purposeful, I decided to take a bit of time out from writing and podcasting to focus on my coaching practice, and after a good year I’m ready to return to writing and once again discuss topics within sports coaching.

So, to kickstart my coaching blog, I want to discuss coaching motivation. An under-discussed topic, there are a lot of personal factors for writing this blog. There is often so much pressure on the coach to ‘keep the players motivated‘, as motivation often affects subsequent individual performance and team results. Now as a coach reading this you will be familiar with this concept.

However, I believe that the coaches level of motivation can similarly have a huge impact on player performances and team results. Yet in my experience, this is a rarely discussed area.

I’m now coming up to 10 years in my coaching journey. I’ve had many many roles from working with 18month babies just starting their football journey to heavily experienced 45 year old senior football players. I’ve worked in grassroots football, academy football, senior football. I’ve worked with youth elite players and very talented players, and players just starting the game with very limited tactical/technical ability. My experience has varied over the years, and what I have tended to find through this time is that my levels of motivation for my coaching has varied too.

Motivation – a basic introduction

Motivation is an often discussed topic in CPD and coach education, and no matter your experience level as a coach you have most likely come across the topic area. On a basic level, I like to think on motivation through the self-determination theory by Deci & Ryan (2008).

They conceptualise motivation into 3 parts – that is Autonomy, Competence and Relatedness.

Autonomy relates having some control in what you do, control of your behaviours, actions and goals.

In coaching, autonomy may refer to you as the head coach having control in choosing the players you want for team selection, or being involved in the teams or clubs vision/project. As an assistant coach, autonomy may refer to you being given opporutnies to coach or run team training sessions, or give your input to players during games. Autonomy plays a huge part in coaches feeling ‘self-determined’ to do their role.

Competence relates to an individual’s feeling of ‘mastery’ in their everyday role, and the tasks that come under that role, Individuals must feel they hold the skills that lead to success in their role.

In coaching, this may relate to your perceived success as a coach. Winning games may be that factor that contributes to your perception of competence. Similarly, improving a player and observing their improved performance over time may be another contribution of your competence. The feeling of being competent in your coaching role is a huge factor in coach motivation.

Relatedness relates to an individual feeling attachment, connection or affiliation with other people.

In coaching, relatedness may be feeling a strong connection with the club you represent. Similarly, relatedness may refer to feeling a connection with the players that you are working with. In my personal opinion, this is the biggest contribution to feeling self-determined and motivated in your coaching role.

Now, as the reader, and a coach I emplore you to think about these 3 parts of the STD theory in your past coaching and present coaching experiences, and how each has contributed to your coaching motivation.

What motivates the coach?

I first started thinking about coach motivation on the masters course this time last year. We were tasked with reflecting on our coaching career so far, and more so what did our ‘best coaching’ look like.

What I feel coaching at my best looks like? A presentation apart of the coaching practice module from the MSc sports coaching course at Leeds Beckett University

I found this an interesting proposition, and upon a deeper reflection, realised that my ‘best coaching’ (and subsequent results) had come in moments where I felt highly competent in my practice, felt autonomy in my role, and felt related to the club/coaching company I had worked for. In contrast, I also noted that my worst or poorest coaching experiences had come at a point where I lacked competence in my ability, felt no autonomy and had no relatedness to the club/ company or the people within it.

So what variables contributed to my basic motivation? What contributed to my levels of autonomy, competence and relatedness? Well it probably makes sense to give a real life example from my personal experiences of how my levels of motivations changed over a period of time.

A real life case study

I am going to talk you through my experience coaching in senior football, and how my motivation levels changed over time.

A picture of Sam Holmshaw delivering his coaching practice

My highest level of coach motivation

On reflection of this experience, I can say for the first 6 months I had high levels of autonomy, competence and relatedness and was highly motivated in my coaching role. So why was this the case? Well, let me analyse this period from these 3 areas of the STD theory.


Starting with competence, for that 6 month period I had the highest amount of self-believe and confidence in my coaching ability I think I have ever had. When I first got the role there was a lot of press and social media surrounding my appointment. Initially this made me feel incredibly confident in my ability, and this carried on into the sessions. For 6 months me and my coaching team delivered probably some of the best coaching I have ever been apart off, we took a lot of time undertaking CPD away from the grass and were all aligned to creating a professional environment.

From this, we took a team that we built-up together from initially having no players, and that team progressed from loosing heavily in the initial fixtures to beating teams in the league above, and on several occasions being comebacks. At this point in my coaching practice, I had so much confidence in what I was doing, and why I was doing it. The team was playing well, there was a good atmosphere around the place, and you could probably see that in my general aura at the time.


Regarding autonomy, I Initially felt the club members who had brought me on board supported me, gave me the license to ‘do what I wanted to do’ within club parameters. I was able to bring in my own coaching team and a media team into the club, that all shared a vision to bring much success to that team for years to come. I was able to recruit the players I wanted to bring in, bring in my own philosophy and way of doing things. Ultimately, I felt in control within my role (which from my personal experience is needed for any management role). I was in control of the team, the coaching and media staff, and responsible for setting the vision for the project that we all believed in.


Finally, this brings me to relatedness, at the time I had brought in a lot of staff I knew, and a lot of players I had worked with before. I had a lot of love for these people and felt a strong connection with all of them. Aside from these individuals, I felt related to the club, a sense of what they wanted to achieve and I very much felt apart of that. I found myself being an active part of the clubs progression, and felt a strong feeling with what we were trying to achieve. I’ve often heard Jose Mourinho talk about having a strong feeling with the club, the people within it, the players and how this leads to success, and I must say from my experience I noted this to be the case.

A picture of Sam Holmshaw delivering a team talk during his coaching practice

Overall, during this period I was highly motivated to do my role. I wasn’t getting paid, I was committing about 14 hours a week of volunteer time to the role. But for me that didn’t matter, I felt so much self-determination in doing what I was doing, and can say when I reflect that I had such a high level of motivation at that time.

My lowest level of coach motivation

Towards the end of my time at this club, I began to experience my lowest level of coach motivation. When I reflect back on this time now, this was due to changes in my competence, autonomy, and my general feeling of relatedness at the club. So lets carry on with this real life case study, and explore how my level of motivation changed over time.


I start with autonomy, as towards the end of my time at the club I found I had little or no autonomy at all. So what changed? Well, any coaches reading this will be aware of club politics, and how this can restrict your role within a club, and I certainly found that limiting my autonomy during my lowest period of coach motivation.

What happened? well I believe that the micro-political interactions should stay in the moment and not be reported on. But essentially there became more political resistance from club stakeholders. We were suddenly unable to ‘do what we wanted to do’ with our team. We as a coaching unit had to frequently compromise on our standards, our values and our expectations, and eventually I began running a project that did not reflect my standards, values or expectations at all, due to this resistance. Consequently, over time I found to have less and less control, and less and less autonomy, which as you can imagine started to lower my levels of motivation to coach the team.


Notably, this resistance appeared to reflect player attendance at training. Aside from our 4 or 5 regulars, we found out of our squad of 25 players, we would see at set of 10 players arrive at training one week, and a different 10 the next. Players were regularly turning up late to our sessions, and perhaps not meeting our shared coaching expectations in attitude and standards. Over this period I started to loose my connection and good feeling with the players, and began to loose respect for them. I no longer felt a need or want to help improve them as much as I did months prior.

I also lost my connection with the club and many club members. The support appeared to diminish, I felt we were disrespected by several stakeholders, and I no longer felt any relatedness towards the club. Again, the impact against my level of motivation was huge.


I leave competence last in this case study, as ultimately the two other parts of the SDT theory impacted this. The factors discussed above meant that our players misunderstood our playing philosophy and game model, and we began to loose games (perhaps to no surprise). The fact that we started to loose games had an impact on my competence as a coach. I lost faith in my ability, along with the vision we had for the team and the overall project.

I remember my last game as manager at the club. We had driven 2 hours to an away game, but I remember having to really force myself to attend, as it had gotten to a point where I just had no motivation to continue in the role. In the warm up the players were (to coin an English phrase) ‘messing around’, and I can remember feeling no desire to correct this, even thought it was so against my standards.

I remember standing on the touchline and just not shouting at all, I can remember thinking “I’ve gone here – what am I doing here”. Funnily enough, on the journey home my assistant coach said to me ‘Sam, what are you doing – you’ve gone – get out’. It was a low moment in my career for sure, but it had gotten to a point where I just had no motivation to continue in the role.

A picture of Sam Holmshaw and Ethan Holmshaw on the touchline

Lessons learnt for club officials and employers?

I think my biggest frustration during the end of my time at this club in particular was the apparent lack of understanding of my own motivation to carry on as the manager. In football, stakeholders often focus on players motivation when things are going wrong, but in my experience give little thought to the motivation from the coach. In this example, had there have been more understanding and support from the club, then perhaps I would still be in this role now. This isn’t my only experience in employers or officials not considering my motivation to coach, I’ve spoken before on my podcast about how coaches often work for little pay and have to travel all across the country for opportunities. Now don’t get me wrong – Players or Athletes may do this too, but from personal experience there is usually more limelight on their situations to help them out.

However, I think if this personal experience highlights anything, its that the topic of coach motivation needs to be considered by club officials or employers within sports coaching. Club officials/ employers need to ensure that their coaches are motivated in their role, otherwise they will not get the best out of that coach. From my experience, a little bit more consideration is needed to help understand what each coach wants to achieve in their role. From a clubs perspective, the more motivated the coach, the better service they will get for their players.

Lessons learnt for coaches?

Good question! For me, beginning to understand the theory of motivation, and how this has impacted my coaching (and its perceived effectiveness, or if I am a good or bad coach) is huge and I emplore any coach reading this to begin to understand what motivates them as a coach. I am lucky in my current roles in both coaching and consultancy. I have autonomy in the roles, feel relatedness to the people involved in these organisations, and as a result feel highly competent in what I do.

At this stage of my career with almost 10 years experience in coaching, I am now able to choose what I want to do. I recently moved away from a coaching role after only 6 weeks. Why? Well quite simply I just wasn’t enjoying this role, it wasn’t right for me and I had no motivation to carry on in the role. I am able to do that as an experienced coach with a reputation and a strong CV that I have built over years (my personal opinion!). Not all coaches (particularly those just starting out) are able to do this, and may have to stay in roles that don’t motivate them to gain experience.

However, my advice to all coaches is figure out what motivates you. Is it coaching practice on the grass?, is it analysis?, is it 1:1 sessions?, it is psychology? If you understand what motivates you, once you have the experience and a reputation behind you, you can begin to find a role out there that matches this motivation. For me, I am motivated to be a professional, and conduct/perform my role as professional as possible. I want to emulate elitism in every project I undertake in coaching. As you can probably guess through this case study, the constraints presented in this role prevented me from doing so, as have many roles in the past!

A picture of Sam Holmshaw delivering a football coaching sessions

Lessons learnt for players?

I don’t get many players read my blogs, however there are a few lessons to be learnt here too. Players are usually at fault for not considering the amount of effort the coach or manager gives to the role, yet may be quick to complain when a sessions does not meet their own personal motivational needs or wants, or when they are left out of the team etc etc. I do not intent to criticise players here, but I emplore players to think about what motivates their coach. What is it that gets them up in the morning to spend hours driving, planning and giving their time up to fulfil the coaching role? One can never understand the entirety of the coaches role and duties until they take up such a role for themselves. Yet, if players can begin to understand their coaches motivations a little bit more, then they will help the coach to deliver better sessions, better practice, and better support you in their role.

A picture of Ethan Holmshaw Coaching


Coach motivation – it exists, its important, and it should be talked about more! Perhaps it already has and I’m unaware of any media surrounding this topic. But for me as a coach myself, I think its an under-considered topic, and one that needs more awareness from those at the top, the players, and the coaches themselves.

What are you thoughts about coach motivation? Let me know your thoughts below

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