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Competition Motivation. Canadian Physical Performance Lead - Jamie McCartney

Coach Jamie McCartney made a bit of a name for himself this season, lifting the Canadian crews with his bombastic motivational yelling. So we thought, 'who better to fire up our dormant web content with a piece on competition motivation?'

He was keen, we were grateful and - like the teams he coaches - he's produced a winning article.

Take it away coach...

There are probably better pictures of Jamie (L) but I can't find them

A Coach's Perspective on Developing & Providing Motivation in the Big Moments - Jamie McCartney

Motivation, more specifically competition motivation is an interesting topic. Admittedly, one that I have never formally taken the time to put thoughts to paper on; however, a subject that I spend an inordinate amount of time thinking about, engaging with, learning from and looking to perfect. Oftentimes these concepts, theories, practices, whatever one may call them, come unprovoked, and often at a cost to my sleep, but one thing is certain, I am a firm believer that a significant portion of coaching is continuously and consistently pursuing the development and cultivation of athlete motivation, directly and indirectly, from a chronic long-term perspective, to acute in-competition situations.

There is an old adage in the world of football, the American flavour for my European friends, which states, “it’s not the X’s and the O’s, but the Jimmy and the Joes”. Now, the origin of this little axiom is debatable, but rumour has it attributed to the legendary college football coach Darrel Royal. In this case Royal was stating that having great players can make any coach look good, which in the case of NCAA football, is about as true a statement as one could make, especially regarding the large Division 1 programs, but what other factors are at play?

Why do some coaches continually have more success than others?

Is it coincidence that the New England Patriots have a historic winning percentage and championships with Bill Belichick at the helm (Tom Brady may have just stole Bills thunder down in Tampa)? What about Gregg Popovich of the San Antonio Spurs, or better yet, the New Zealand All Blacks International Rugby program, with every coach, no matter who it may be? What breeds their success? Are they just better at finding talent, or are they superior at cultivating it? If so, what is it that they do to continually get so much out of their players?

Well, through years of investigating these questions, living my own coaching experiences and operating within the constructs of my own developed philosophies that live deep in my heart, I have developed a philosophy which resonates within the bounds of my own character.

I believe the foundations of success to be rooted in the culture of a team and the character of the individuals which it surrounds.

In nearly every sport, business, military outfit, the success of the organism is often rooted in this fundamental foundation. Depending on the constraints of your recruitment pathways (i.e., Drafting in pro sports versus development through ranks to a national program), the growth and nurturing of environment can vary to degrees based on needs and availability, but commonalities exist across the board. Albeit visibly true in team environments, this is not exclusively a team phenomenon and in many cases the culture and character development of an individual is fostered in a far more personal and intimate nature between a coach an athlete. What I hope to do here is illustrate how these concepts lay the foundation for competition motivation of a team, or an individual athlete, and how I have learned to promote and direct these facets of development down to the singular moment, or time period of the competition at hand.

Team Canada's Justin Kripps and Cam Stones. Look how motivated they are!


I began my professional coaching career relatively young and nearly every step of the way I had been on the ‘greener’ side of the expected experience requirements typically instituted. As a result, I often had to ask myself, how do I get athletes to believe, trust, and follow me, of whom may be older and far more accomplished than I? What I found to be most important, and subsequently became the foundation for the growth of my career, was to lead from the front.

In my opinion, it is of necessity to be somewhat proficient in the prescribed tasks, be willing to engage and execute alongside them, and show that I was with them every step of the way, every day, no matter what. One of the greatest motivators is to have a coach or a leader practice what they preach, say what they mean and mean what they say. I was a competitive athlete to reasonably high levels, in both individual and team sports, and I distinctly remember being coached along the way by some who would get in there with you and grind. Conversely, I also had coaches who led with a more authoritative, yet elusive voice and capacity, with no visible ability to show me what they want and expect. I remember questioning whether they really understood what they were asking, or telling me to do.

This always stuck with me, so I developed a rule that I must always lead from the front.

I must maintain my physical capacities to be more than adequate and I must be able to demonstrate to a reasonable degree what it is I am asking of them. Of course, there is a limitation to this as father time always ticks along, but by then I should be well enough established in my knowledge, experience, and reputation to have earned respect in the field. This is not an excuse to fully disengage, but a reality that I must evolve my techniques to remain effective, I must be punctual. I must hold myself accountable, and I must not give myself excuses, or I will run the risk of giving them theirs. When charging into battle, soldiers will rally around a general on the front lines to a far greater degree, than taking orders from someone back on a base.

Caption competition on this one. Something funny about being motivated.


You will get more out of the ‘what’, if someone understands the ‘how’ and ‘why’. Engaging in the education of how and why athletes are doing things, fosters an intrinsic belief in self, through ownership of their process and an understanding of their progress. In doing so, self-belief and process engagement feeds a continual positive feedback mechanism, thus leading to stronger foundations for long term, continual motivation.

For example, any coach can create a plan, but what are the criteria that they are employing to develop it?

If this is not shared with those who are expected to execute it, how effective could one expect it to be? Well, in order to successfully share the criteria, or philosophies being employed in a plan to achieve an identified outcome, I firmly believe it is upon the coach to engage in educating the athlete through the layers of planning, the justifications behind choices, the language being used, expectations of outcomes and potential barriers that may occur. In doing so, the athlete truly begins to own their process and it becomes a joint venture in defining what success is and how we plan to get there, TOGETHER.

An extremely important aspect of this collaborative approach with an athlete is, and I cannot stress this enough:

to possess and express the ability to say, “I don’t know”, or admit when you are wrong.

However, simply communicating you do not know is incomplete without declaring a willingness to investigate further and come up with a solution that adheres to the criteria of agreeance, and application, established with the athlete. It sounds like a lot of work because it is. Sincerely developing the faculty and ownership of one’s own success, thus alleviating any unknowns surrounding the what, why, when, and how things are expected to help or hurt them, the athlete may now fully engage in their motivation freely, through every aspect of their process, with less capacity for contradictory information and self-doubt to seep into their psyche, which inevitably generates conscious and subconscious barriers. It does not allow much room for excuses and when someone can look in the mirror and sincerely know they have done everything they needed to do; they are now free to engage with what is directly in front of them.

Stick your thumb up if you're pumped to do bobsleigh


Getting to know someone beyond standard engagements in a coach-athlete relationship is critical and allowing them to get to know you in the same fashion is immeasurable in value. There is a fine line to tow here as it is imperative to establish and maintain professional boundaries; however, I will contend that developing a deeper personal understanding of each other opens the door for more meaningful dialogue, conflict resolution, mutually beneficial agreements, and motivational needs. Everyone marches to the beat of a different drum and imposing a one-size-fits-all model will inherently lead to miscues, miscommunication, and missed opportunities.

We are all fallible creatures, well established in making mistakes, allowing our emotions and ego override logic. By taking the time to understand where our own weak points are and sharing some of our mistakes with one another, the ego is now depressed, and both parties can operate freely to find solutions. In doing so, understanding what each individual’s motivations are will help foster the positive aspects of motivation and depress any negative obstructions that may become present, especially in the face of adversity. I can feed the beast so to speak, but also assure the athlete that I have their back, and they can know and trust this to be true because I have exposed my own frailty and proven to them that I truly have their best interest at heart, understand them, and respect who they are as a person.

Motivate your athletes well and you might find yourself with a flying crew like this one


Putting this all together, the goal is that on the day, in the moment, the motivation is present, and any fear or doubt has been extinguished by the ongoing cultivation of self-belief and an unwavering knowledge that I stand right there with them. Does this mean it is foolproof? Does this mean that self-doubt, or motivational obstructions cannot arise? Absolutely not and an argument can be made that these cases are nearly inevitable.

However, if these processes have been continually observed, the athlete and I will have a tool belt to access an established dialogue to address what is in front of us.

With mutual trust and an understanding that if they need help digging deep, they can come to me openly and we can work through it together, without judgement, without fear, and with nothing but good intention for their success and wellbeing. They will know for certain I will go to battle with them. Then, once the dust settles and the competitions are over, based on the learned experiences, we can then evaluate and adjust; but that is only truly accessible with the preceding foundations being established.

General George S. Patton stated, “a good plan violently executed right now is far better than a perfect plan executed next week”. So, we execute what stands before us, evaluate together after, and adjust moving into the next battle.


Perseverance Fund (click me!)

We're really grateful to Jamie for providing this excellent piece on competition motivation.

We're also really pleased to help provide coverage for his Perseverance Fund venture. This fantastic crowdfunder is Jamie's piece of 'giving back'. He wants to help all of those suffering with their mental health in this challenging climate.

So far the fund has raised $3200 with around $1200 having already been sent out to do good. Please, if you're looking for something to donate to at this time and you're a supporter of our platform, check out the Perseverance Fund.

Instagram (Link in bio)


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