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UK Coaching Research Team
13
Coaching Skills

The Champions Club: A Lesson in Motivation

Exploration of an off-season experiment involving 60 American football players

The Champions Club project attempted to optimise the motivation of an American college football team during the close season.

The non-competitive season was divided into phases, and players had the chance to earn points for a variety of accomplishments (for example, setting a personal best in the weights room). The plan was to keep players motivated despite the lack of league matches. 

The reality proved quite different.

Individual needs

Sixty players took part in the research, completing surveys and being interviewed by the researchers.  What stands out from the results is the idiosyncratic nature of motivation – with people reacting very differently to the programme. 

In particular, players who felt The Champions Club was not meeting their need for autonomy and competence reported it had very little impact.

For many players, The Champions Club came across merely as a way for coaches to control player behaviour. In interviews, a number of players felt it was more about making them conform to certain types of behaviour than giving them information that would develop their football competence.

For a player to be motivated, they have to see a connection between the behaviour and the outcome (the competence mentioned in the theory). From the research, it was clear that players often failed to see a link between activities that earned points and their performance on the field. As such, this seemed to diminish the value the players placed on the programme. However, one thing everyone agreed is that it at least avoided a decrease in motivation.

Social gains

Where the programme did have an impact (on at least half of the players) was in a more social context, through the posting of results each week. Here players were motivated to compete with one another.  As one said:
 

[You] see where you are standing amongst other teammates and your peers. You get a little visualisation, and [it] gives you a little extra motivation to do better.

This was especially true for those on the cusp of making the list of featured players. As one player said:

The only people really trying are the guys around the top 25. Those are the guys that are fighting for it.

Additionally, with off-season training, there may be a temptation to go easy on yourself.  As one player stated:

When you’re only going against yourself, it’s easy to win, but when you compete against everybody else, it’s way harder.

This led the researchers to speculate on whether The Champions Club would work without rewards and could be based purely on standing within the group. However, this was quickly dismissed by players, as summed up by the comment:

That’s like winning the championship with no trophy.

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UK Coaching Research Team