Updated: Jan 8, 2020
Toughest thing to teach has nothing to do with basketball.
Anybody that has coached or been in a leadership role business wise will speak for days on how vastly different each individual in their organisation is with respect to effort levels. I have been coaching basketball for a while now and at all kinds of levels. I can sincerely say, that I have only coached a handful of players that get after it as hard as they can every single day no matter if we are talking about a practice, a game or a workout. The majority of the players I have coached, needed to be motivated on a daily basis to exert the maximum amount of effort. This situation is the norm. Case in point, see quote by Steve Nash below. Anybody that claims that it is not the norm, to me, are ignoring their role in developing the skill. Or maybe they think developing the skill is not part of their role as a coach?
I hear it all the time: "I shouldn't need to coach effort!" or "We don't deal with players that don't bring it everyday". Truth is, for a coach to be able to say those things, one has to look at the body of work to get to the point of being able to say these things. Maximum effort is a skill and this skill, so far as I am concerned, it best taught through culture! The players that exert maximum effort 100% of the time have been taught to do this at some point in their lives and it has become a part of them. It has become the way they do things. Someone or something has instilled this trait in that player or person. It did not magically happen. All humans are born with a psychological self defense mechanism (cognitive dissonance) that tells our brain to take the path of least resistance. To change that requires focused intent and specific goal setting. Not to mention a heightened awareness to stave off the idea of coasting or taking it easy.
Here are my thoughts on how to best motivate your athlete. You will notice that I try to stay away from extrinsic motivation (although it does have its role) and focus much more on creating intrinsic motivation (change the mindset).
1- It's all about the culture This is where strong leadership comes in. Having a reputation set as the type of leader you are will greatly facilitate establishing your norm of maximum effort every single day to your players. But regardless of how great the reputation and how great the leader, it will be a slow and frustrating process unless you have players that already have maximum effort trait in them. These players must be your captains. And it must be well understood to the group as to why they are the team captains. Don't declare them as the hardest working of the bunch. Rather, declare them as the best mirror image of you, the leader. Common language that would be heard in this culture should be: "we don't do it that way here", " insert team name here way" or a player holding another player accountable for lack of effort (not for making a mistake or missing a shot). Once this type of thing starts happening on your team, you have set the culture to maximum effort standards across the board.
2- Mindset Getting better every single day in the pursuit of constant and regular success, fully understanding that failures will happen just as constantly and regularly and should be embraced when it does, is the only way a hard working team thinks. No such thing as failing. Failing is learning. Learning is getting better. When the effort is on a maximum scale, that is the only way to maximize the learning. When your players or your people can buy into this very powerful way of thinking, great things happen. The group has a strong sense of mission. A strong sense of togetherness. The focus is always optimal. The athlete becomes world class in his approach to his craft. The leader, simply needs to sit back and make sure the emotional state of his players or people is balanced so that they can continue to be what they have become to be.
And to me, it really is two things. Maybe other coaches or leaders see it as a much more complex predicament. Sometimes the culture set happens quickly and sometimes it takes time. Sometimes the culture falls apart (seen it first hand and it's not pretty). At the end of the day, if your player leadership is strong, vocal, consistent and the mindset is there, maximum effort on a daily basis should remain to be the norm.
As usual, share your thoughts on the topic in the comment section if you have anything at all to add.