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The Combustion Theory: What goes on in an athletes head to cause motivation.

How Do We Access An Athletes Inner Fire?

“That athlete has all of the potential in the world he just doesn’t seem to want it”

“He just had an edge to him, physically he shouldn’t have been out there but mentally he was just different”

“That guy is just lazy”

“If only he was as motivated as him, he could be such a special athlete”

Over the past couple years of being a coach these are things I hear from sport and strength and conditioning coaches weekly. Either there’s something mentally that holds an athlete back from their potential or mentally allows them to surpass this set potential. Is this factor predetermined before you get your athlete or are you able to change it? I break this into two parts.

1) Has it been engrained for many years by their parents, peers and previous coaches? My answer is yes of course.

2) and this is the real question “Can it be changed?”

My answer is also yes, and this is where my theory of combustion comes in.

Theory of Combustion:

“Every single athlete has a set amount of fuel in their mind and a certain pathway to this fuel. Your job as a coach is to not only find a way to access this fuel but to find a way to allow them to access this fuel”

With this is mind we can make sense of the highly motivated athlete, they have a highly accessible pathway to this fuel and can set it on fire at will. (Whether this be because of genetics or repeated training we will never know for sure, but I tend to lean towards the later) These athletes are the overachievers, the true greats and the athletes we want. As a coach these athletes are easy to work with, this is not our problem. What this theory truly helps us with is the athletes that don’t have or don’t know how to access this fuel source. Everyone has those athletes, the ones that could be great, but they don’t want it. A lot of coaches give up on these athletes or resort to one pathway to try and access this fuel, which usually involves them screaming. (Which may give us access for a slight amount of time but never last) Neither of these work in a team sport setting, where a lot of times these athletes are so talented the team relies on them and not to mention the fact that as a coach you should be trying to create the best version of your athletes and without access to this fuel you’re not doing this.

So how do we do it if yelling isn’t the answer? Well if I had that golden answer for every athlete, I would be living the high life in California somewhere instead of the basement of some house I rent in the middle of MN Lol. No, the point of this article isn’t to give all the clear-cut answers on how to access this fuel, its to investigate the fact that this fuel is there in every single athlete and your job is to learn how to access it and to teach your athletes ways they can access it themselves. To go away from the path of yelling at your athlete until you give up on them or you get a spurt of this fuel for ten seconds. With some athletes I work with, the way to their fuel is indeed tough loving, they need and respond well to yelling and typical motivation techniques. However, some athletes crawl into a shell when you do this. Some athletes respond well when you bring up competition and some crawl into a shell. Some athletes respond well when you take them to the side and give them some soft motivation and some athletes will walk all over you if you’re soft the entire time. You must learn the ins and outs of who your athletes are and why they are that way, if you truly want to get the best out of them. To go along with this, once you find the best pathway to their fuel, you must start to find a way to give them this power. As a coach you’re not going to be there for every second of their entire life and we already know a better human is the better athlete (all things equal) so you must find a way to train this athlete to access this fuel by themselves.

Four Very Different Athletes; Four Very Different Motivation Methods

Give them tools, teach them how to use these tools and then step back and let them use these tools. It doesn’t do you any good to teach them how to use a hammer, if you’re the one always banging in all the nails.

If you found this article interesting or have any other questions you want answered, let me know at and follow me on Instagram (@austinjochum)

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