Focused with
Unmotivated Athletes
January 7, 2020
Insights from
Lisa Mitzel

Global Education and 2020 Olympics

Hello and Happy New Year! I’m excited because 2019 offered me lots of travel and great opportunities to speak at national clinics, symposiums, and conferences, and I listened closely to the challenges coaches are having. We’ve heard from athletes and coaches across the globe, and the sports world is changing. Athlete Safety and Well-being has become imperative. My work has expanded ten-fold. My Focused books are now with gymnastics national governing bodies and national staff in Great Britain, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, and the USA. I traveled and visited Gymnastics Australia and they’ve inducted new policies for athlete safety and well-being and will start specific coach education this year. Great Britain’s national staff is updating their coach education, they asked for my books to integrate mental training & positive psychology. And after I coached clinics in Auckland last month, Gymnastics New Zealand said they’d like me to assist with their coach education. Wow, what an honor to share ideas globally and help create positive change.

And hey, 2020 is an Olympic Year, a time to unite and support our international teams, and watch athletes break barriers. It’s also a year when the media intensifies its focus on serious and relevant sports issues. On that note, positive psychology is essential for all of us. So let’s work together and continue to learn psychology in sports and make athlete safety a priority. Increase your coach education, and include parents . We are all in this together!
How to Motivate the Unmotivated Teen Athlete

Part of my work is in consulting coaches. Recently, talking with a college coach, I learned that one of her athletes acted unmotivated, resistant, and seemed to not care about the team or training. In Ohio, a young club coach described a group of his gymnasts and asked me, “What do you do when teenagers enter practice slowly, socializing, and totally unfocused?” Both of these coaches felt frustrated with athletes who seemed disrespectful or uncaring.

We are in a unique era of major issues and movements—including #MeToo, March for Our Lives, and Safe Sport rules to protect athletes. Young people are speaking out, which empowers them, yet there is much confusion. Coaches are unsure in training, “ What can I say to this athlete?” and “How do I motivate without pushing too hard or upsetting someone?”

Regarding teenagers, it’s helpful to understand the teenage brain. Science tells us: The teenage brain may be smart, but it’s not rational. Information is processed through the amygdala, the emotional part of the brain. And their brain does not fully develop until approximately age 25.

When coaches and parents believe that teenagers are not trying or being disrespectful, then teens start to feel judged and discouraged: “I’m never good enough.” Teens detach, escape, self-defeat. They even rebel. So let’s take a deeper look.

When you understand the teenage brain functions via emotions, then pause, step out of judgment (they don’t care), and step into their emotional world (their feelings are powerful, and they need care). So think again. Teens seek acceptance and approval. They often doubt themselves: “Nobody likes me,” or “I’m afraid I’m going to fail.” And typically, teens feel that they don’t have any real value… They isolate, get moody, and hold back; they are afraid of getting rejected or being judged.

The best strategy is to connect, and get ‘buy-in’ by engaging in positive communication:
  1. Be curious! Ask what’s happening, respect your athlete’s desires and feelings.
  2. Practice empathy: “I understand,” or “It’s okay, I’ve been nervous, too.”
  3. Be on their side and say, “I’m here for you. What do you want to achieve?”
  4. Focus on their goals, not yours.
  5. Simplify and unify: Give clear steps and make it a partnership: “Here’s a plan. We’ll work together, and you tell me how it’s going.”
  6. Then listen, be positive…and keep checking in. 

Teens will engage more and they will trust. Gradually, they’ll want to put out more effort. They’ll feel valued, accepted in working together, and that leads to self-motivation.

So keep practicing patience. ‘Success' for an athlete is not working to please you, but the everyday desire of wanting to work with you.  
BE PRO-ACTIVE FOR COACHES & CLUBS ~ Educate, Inspire, and Keep Athletes Safe

Buy this book on positive psychology, and read a chapter at a time of Focused and Inspired: Keeping Our Athletes Safe in a Win-at-All-Costs World by Lisa Mitzel . Take notes, highlight, discuss with your staff and parents. We can boost your team, educate parents, and give coaches the tools they need to motivate in a healthy way, be pro-active in preventing abuse, and continue to evolve as a coaching community.

Check out this new Online Course, and Register to earn your certification:

“The practice quiz helped, the test was easy, and the information is very good. We need to develop coaches and this exam provides models and exercises for positive, effective behavior.”
   ~ Cassie Rice, Gymcats owner, coach of U.S. national team members and olympians

I really like the information in Focused and Inspired . Taking the online course made me think about my coaching and how I can handle situations better.”
  ~ Beth Gardner, Heart of Texas Gymnastics owner, coach, & national educator

For my books, Go to my website: or reach me at [email protected] . You are awesome!
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Focused and Inspired is dedicated to every athlete who has ever been hurt by the misuse of power in sports, and especially dedicated to the athlete-survivors of sexual abuse, who are still healing, and who spoke up and shared their stories. You are so brave! Thank you for helping others to speak up and begin to heal.
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