Motivation and mastery

Q: "I am seeking your opinion on a dilemma that I face with my 12 year old son, whom I coach. He loves the game of basketball and has said that someday he would like to play in the NBA. Of course I don't discourage him because I believe it is good to have big dreams. My problem is trying to motivate him to do what it takes to get there. He does not want to put in the effort that is required. We have had many talks and he will be enthusiastic for awhile but then he gets lazy again. How much should I push him or should I back off? Your opinion would be appreciated.

A: As to your son, I'm not much of an expert in child motivation, as I've not had kids nor coached a team in a season. My only advice is to determine with him what the key physical/mental things are that he needs to master to reach his goals, whatever they are, and then find some way to rate them over time. And, of course, mostly focus on the short term goals, like making his junior high team, etc.

For example, if shooting is a skill that he realizes he needs to master, then ask him to rate for himself and for you, if he's willing to have you coach him on this, (1) how skilled he is at it now, and (2) how hard he's working at it to learn new things [asking for and following coaching would be part of that], and (3) how motivated he is to get better, to practice, to work at it, etc. Add your own things to rate...

If he is honest with himself, he'll notice that he's not putting in the time and effort necessary to achieve his goals and he'll either change his goals or change his motivation and effort. If the goals are unrealistic, he'll see very early on that he's not going to make them. I know kids today want instant results and are probably prone to quitting once they look realistically at what's happening.

There are many skills, both mental and physical, that he would need to master to reach the NBA, or even to make the starting five on his high school team. They include shooting, defense, passing, dribbling, rebounding and blocking out, conditioning, quickness, jumping, movement without the ball, working off picks and screens, setting picks and screens, penetrating, concentration, focus, court awareness, etc. He'll have to work hard at all of them if he wants to make it to a high level.

The key, I guess I'm saying, is for him to get involved in observing and managing himself. If it's just you or a friend or the culture trying to motivate him, he'll not succeed. He has to take responsibility for his actions and non-actions. When he does, he'll see who he is "being" in this whole thing, and that will lead to change of some kind, either in the goals or in his actions. Awareness is the key, always. Self awareness.

I hope this helps. It must be frustrating to you wanting him to succeed but helpless to coach him. Get the book "Mastery," by George Leonard. It's in paperback, ~$10. It is a short, fascinating book on what it takes to master anything and how the culture is against Mastery. If he reads it, you will have a common language to use to discuss this whole area of learning and development to a high level.