Motivation, Burnout and Passion in Players‏

Last night I watched the movie “Whiplash”. If you haven’t seen it, we highly recommend it. The movie revolves around a promising drummer who enrolls at a music conservatory. It is there where he meets an abusive instructor who will do anything to get his students to reach their potential.

Throughout Whiplash you see the main character, Andrew Nieman, as a individual who is focused on one thing: becoming a great drummer. Some might call it an obsession to be the best and others might call it true passion.

At some point you will coach a compulsive player that wants to be great. They want to become truly extraordinary. To stand out from their peers and their competition. They have dreams and aspirations to be different.

One of my favorite movies is “Pistol” which chronicles “Pistol” Pete Maravich’s seventh grade year in South Carolina. There is a scene of young Pete standing in front of the classroom and reading from an essay he wrote regarding his life long goals. Pete would include that he wanted “to be a professional basketball player” and “to be the first professional basketball player to make a million dollars.” Both remarks would get mocking laughs from his classmates.

Society often times is not too kind to these self-driven individuals. So often they are looked down upon by their peers. Many individuals seek to be average and when a person comes along that wants to be different and extraordinary, they are mocked at, laughed at or excluded from the group.

In a way, mankind can be similar to the Fiddler crabs. If you put a few dozen Fiddler crabs in a bucket (they are the small crabs), there will always be one adventurous crab that tries to crawl out of the bucket. He gets nearly to the top, but eventually gets pulled down by the other crabs. They don’t want him to escape.

So many individuals with aspirations get pulled down by their peers, but also by their coaches and even their parents. We believe coaches need to fuel this fire and not extinguish it. Talk to the player. See what drives him or her. What gives them the passion.


True greatness is all about “THE DRIVE.” In other words, what motivates a player?. Some individuals are self-driven.

A decade ago, I worked with two twin girls. Both basically came out of the womb at the same time (a few minutes apart). Both had the same upbringing. Same parents. Same house. Same schooling and the same coaching.

One of the girls had a great attitude. She was passionate about basketball and had dreams. She practiced hard, listened well and continued to improve.

The other girl had a terrible attitude. She had a sour face all the time, was lackluster in practice and never listened to her coaches. She was a nightmare to coach.

The girl with the great attitude ending up going to Connecticut on a basketball scholarship. Her sister never became more than a role player on a high school team. Your attitude basically becomes your altitude.


One question we get asked often is about burnout. If a player spends a great deal on a sport, will they eventually get burned out? Basketball is almost like a drug because it is such a fast paced game. You get players that literally love this sport and can’t get enough of it. I have been around players that live and breathe 24/7/365 basketball.

These players will never get burnt out. As a coach, you need to give them more because that’s what they want. So when does burnout happen?

I happens to the players that don’t like basketball (or sports) at all or just like it a little bit. Lets face it, some youngsters came into this world burned out. Nothing motivates them. One day of basketball practice for these individuals might give them burn out.

Usually, however, burn out occurs throughout outside sources: the parent or the coach. A parent can be so involved in the athlete’s life that basketball (or any sport) doesn’t become fun anymore. Because the parent is over critical, the youngster soon tunes out the parent and often times the sport.

Coaches can definitely assist in a player’s burnout. Constant negative feedback, screaming and embarrassing a player in front of his or her teammates may allow a player to bur out. For some players, the same dull and predictable practice routine may have that individual dread going to practice. Over time, he or she may start hating the sport.


Players with great passion for the game and for improving their skills can sometimes be hard to find. Sometimes it can be like finding a needle in a haystack. It is important for coaches to help fuel the fire to these players.

It is also crucial for each coach to fully understands what motivates each athlete. The best coaches clinic I ever attended was nearly 20 years ago when Roland Todd (former UNLV coach) spoke about players and motivation.

Coach Todd said, “It doesn’t matter what the parent wants or what the coach wants. Ultimately, it is what the athlete wants. You can’t motivate a player if he or she doesn’t want to be on the team or is happy to sit on the bench. As a coach, you MUST understand what each player wwants.” We 100% agree. It is interestting how many youth and high school coaches verbally attack the weakest player on the team (usually the one who lacks motivation) constantly in practices, but rarely gives the best playert constructive critcsm. Those coaches figure its easier to pick on the defenseless sheep than the hungry wolf.