The Carrot, The Stick, and the AD

The Christian school athletic director must be an expert in motivation! We’re not saying you need to pursue another degree. However, understanding how to motivate athletes, coaches, and parents is a key part of the job. The most successful ADs have the ability to motivate others. The tough part is that motivation can be a tricky balancing act.

Whether it’s motivating students to participate or motivating the star athlete to break through his or her big-fish-in-a-small-pond athletic ceiling, the athletic director must motivate many people in many different ways to do many different things.

The trick is to apply the proper levels of motivation through various channels. All motivation factors can be broken into two categories: intrinsic and extrinsic.

Today’s post will attempt to define those two areas and help you identify which people in your athletic department are motivated intrinsically, and which ones are more extrinsically motivated.


Extrinsic Motivation

The performing of a task or participation in an activity in order to achieve reward or avoid consequence.

Those in your athletic department who are extrinsically motivated are influenced by outside factors. There is an external reason for their involvement.

They play or coach to win the trophy. There must be a carrot on the end of the stick, or they do not value the competition or task at hand.

If a coach in your athletic department is extrinsically motivated, he or she will value a tournament over a showcase/jamboree.

Extrinsically motivated people play or coach to be identified socially with a certain group. These athletes and coaches participate because of the allure that is socially attached to athletics.

This is usually more true of athletes than it is of coaches; however, there are certainly plenty of coaches who view their position as a social status more than as a position of servant leadership.

They play or coach because there is something in it for them. Participation has been incentivized in some way.

Many assume that amateur athletes are pure competitors since they are not being paid. However, many athletes are motivated by some incentive. Whether it’s making a grade or moving on to the next level of competition, amateur athletes are often extrinsically motivated.

Coaches motivated by incentive usually only participate if there is substantial payment or if the team is extremely talented.

They play or coach because of fear of not participating. Players may play because they don’t want to disappoint their parents who have poured time, money, and resources into the athlete’s development.

Many players are motivated by this fear of failure or consequence. Coaches can also be partial to this extrinsic motivation as well.

Those that are extrinsically motivated are usually not interested in process; they value results.

Here are just a few examples of what extrinsically motivated athletes and coaches would say:

  • What do we get if we win?
  • What happens if we fail to meet our goals?
  • How do people view me/my team?
  • I wouldn’t be doing this if it wasn’t for [pay, credit, parents].
  • Will this be on the test?
  • I might not do it right, but I get the job done.

Extrinsic motivation is not a bad thing. Just like with intrinsic motivation, being extrinsically motivated does subject the athlete or coach to certain pitfalls. However, you need some extrinsic motivation in your athletic department.


Intrinsic Motivation

The performing of a task or participation in an activity because of enjoyment or personal satisfaction.

Those in your athletic department who are motivated intrinsically participate simply because they want to. They don’t look at things like record or results. They just want to be a part of the team.

Intrinsically motivated people play or coach in order to satisfy their desire to be competent. This is a form of achievement, but it’s not a visible achievement like a trophy.

These athletes and coaches are doing it for the experience. They value the ability and want to prove to themselves that they are able.

They play or coach because of the feeling of power. Extrinsically motivated people typically only care about power if it comes with other incentives. Intrinsically motivated athletes and coaches like knowing that they are in control.

They desire the power to be able to do certain things and instruct others as well. This desire for power comes from a desire to see things done in a specific, ideal way.

They play or coach because of their attitude. Intrinsically motivated players and coaches simply enjoy the task. They enjoy the community of athletics.

They are wired to not need outside motivation. It’s what makes the intrinsically motivated athlete or coach easy to work with.

They play or coach because they value growth. Whether it’s improvement in their sport or life experience gained through competition, intrinsically motivated athletes and coaches value how participating in athletics helps them grow as a person.

This outlook helps them handle problems with a more balanced and level-headed approach.

Players and coaches that are motivated intrinsically will typically grasp the big picture. They don’t need immediate results to justify participation.

Having intrinsically motivated athletes and coaches in your athletic department isn’t as rosy as it sounds, though.

Intrinsically motivated people can sometimes be characterized as narcissistic.

Others would suffer from what some would call a “martyr’s complex.”

Intrinsically motivated people sometimes see themselves as the only ones possessing “pure motives.”

They are also capable of holding onto an ideal that just won’t work.


As you can see, there are major differences between those who are motivated intrinsically and those who are extrinsically motivated.

In our (non-clinical psychologist) research, no one is only motivated one way or the other. Intrinsically motivated people sometimes enjoy incentive because it validates their own motivation to themselves.

Also, one form is not more valuable than the other. Both types of personalities are needed to be successful. It’s important to have a good balance of the two.

Identify how people in your athletic department are motivated. Structure your program so that both types of motivation find value.


Are you more intrinsically motivated or are you motivated by external factors? What methods of motivation have you put in place to appeal to each type?

Jeff is the athletic director at Victory Baptist Academy. He is also the founder and administrator of

Please note: I reserve the right to delete comments that are offensive or off-topic.

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