Episode 103: Motivation Pillar
Chelsea: Do your dancers get lazy sometimes? Maybe they give 80% effort or when you say, “From the top,” they drag their feet all the way to that first formation? If your dancers are lacking motivation, there is something you can do about it, and today, we’re gonna cover three specific ideas.
Hi, it’s Dr. Chelsea. This is the Passion for Dance podcast where we cover four pillars of mental skills: mindset, motivation, resilience, and community. This particular episode is actually part three of my Framework Series. See, I chose the four podcast pillars because it comes directly from this framework. To be a coach or a dance teacher who makes the biggest possible positive impact, you can teach your dancers how to have these three mental skills: a tough mindset, fierce motivation, and steady resilience. I believe that’s best accomplished when you have a community next to you, hence the four pillars of mindset, motivation, resilience, and community.
Like I said, today is part three, so if you missed part one or two, go back anytime and catch up on those, but the order isn't really important. They just all go together. Part one, I covered the three aspects of building a tough mindset. Last week was the three keys of cultivating steady resilience. Today we’re gonna talk about the three ways you can inspire fierce motivation in your athletes.
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Welcome to the Passion for Dance podcast. I’m Dr. Chelsea, a former professional dancer and dance team coach turned sport psychologist. This podcast focuses on four main pillars: motivation, resilience, mindset, and community. Each week, you’ll learn actionable strategies, mindsets, and tips to teach your dancers more than good technique. This is a podcast where we can all make a lasting impact and share our passion for dance. Let’s do this!
[Motivational Intro Music]
I want to remind you one more time before I get started that there is a visual of this framework, and it’s the one time where this audio format is less than helpful. So, if you like visuals, if that is gonna help you kind of picture how this works, you can see how these pillars and each subcategory all fit together. You can find it on the website for this episode: www.chelseapierotti.com/103. That link is in the notes as well.
Would you agree with me that dance doesn't have seasons? We go 12 months a year 365. It can be really hard to maintain motivation that long, so if you have struggled with unmotivated dancers or dancers who have a really strong drive some days and others they can barely get through one run-through, you are not alone. The good news is, there are tools to help you inspire more motivation in your dancers.
The Goal Isn’t 100% Every Day – 2:51
Before we get into the tools, however, I want to point out something really important. Being driven and motivated 365 days a year isn't possible and shouldn't be the goal. I say this to all the dance teachers and coaches who are listening, and I hope you share it with your dancers, we can't go 100% every day. I don't think that’s a healthy expectation. What is healthy is to have strong drive and big goals and a steady resilience so you can be consistent and the self-awareness to know that you will have off days and that’s okay. Motivation is going to ebb and flow, and when motivation is low, hopefully that’s when discipline kicks in so that the work keeps going. That’s why we need to train our resilience and our mental toughness, so that we can keep going because motivation won’t be at 100% every day.
Steady Motivation – 3:43
The challenge I see the most in our industry is that we try to go at that peak 100% effort for weeks at a time, and then we crash and can barely function for a few days. So, instead of going too hard and then crashing, the goal is more that steady motivation that is more manageable long-term. I think this turns into a self-care conversation that I’ll save for another time. But I don’t like saying, “Give 120% effort.” You can get to 100%. But what I mean is that energy where you give more than you have in reserves. You are expending more energy than you have available, and if you do that for too long, you crash. So, again, with motivation, rather than having that huge swing, we want to stay more steady.
So, in order to do that, today I want to focus on the three skills that will help you inspire that motivation in your athletes when they are having a harder time, because as the coach, there are things in your control that can make a difference in how your dancers show up to classes and practices.
First Skill: Motivation is Rooted in Team Culture – 4:53
The truth about motivation from the coach or the teacher’s perspective, is it’s mostly rooted in culture. Your dancers all have different motivational styles, individual differences, and you want to do your best to reach each of them. The best way to do that is to create a culture in your studio where their internal motivation is inspired. When you establish a culture of trust, then you have those hard-working dancers who are motivated and care about each other. Team culture should be a big focus, especially if you have a brand new team, maybe because you're new to the program or because there was a lot of turnover, but even if you were starting with a new season and have almost all returning dancers or you have a studio company that has been together since they were six, you still have to focus on team culture every year.
Building that positive team culture has to be intentional and something you set aside time for, you talk about it, and intentionally focus on it. There’s actually a lot of research on how to do this, and one theory talks about how you have to go through these four stages of building a strong culture in order to reach that peak performance, and those four stages are forming, storming, norming, and performing. Basically, you have to intentionally come together and find common ground. There will be some storms as you work through your new dynamic, but you work through it and don't ignore the problems. Then you can establish clear team norms and roles, and that allows you to perform at your best.
I talk about this whole process in detail in episode 53, so if you’d like to learn more about the four stages of a positive team culture, go back and check out episode 53. If you're looking for a little inspiration around building a strong team culture, there’s a great interview with all-star coach, Stephanie Westbrook, where she talks about how she builds a great culture when they only practice one hour a week. That’s in episode 65 if you're looking for that dose of inspiration. The point, though, is that motivated athletes start with a positive culture, and we need to focus on it every season.
Second Skill: Rewards and Punishments – 7:05
The second key to inspiring motivation in your athletes has to do with rewards and punishments, which feed into the larger culture. This is a topic I’ve also covered extensively, but it’s so important. If you want dancers who work hard because they are driven and inspired, rather than dancers who work hard out of fear, consider how you use rewards and punishments. There is a lot of research on this in sport, and I’ve certainly tested it with my own dancers. So, here’s the core of it. Focus on positive reinforcement or rewarding the behaviors you want to see, and reserve punishment for conduct issues only, not for dance skills or performances.
This is a challenge for a lot of coaches because, for many of us, it’s not how we were taught, and the truth is, punishments (like demerit systems or running when you're late) work in the sense that they change the athletes behavior, and that’s the goal of punishments (we want to reduce an undesired behavior). If you’re late and I make you go run, you probably won't be late next time. So, they work in the short run, but the bigger issue is the psychological consequences that are happening beneath the surface that dancers will often learn to execute their skills and perform out of fear, and that will always backfire and cause a breakdown on stage or burnout and quitting.
To be clear on this, it’s the question I always get, though. I’m not saying you never use punishments. There are definitely occasions when punishment is necessary, and I’m a big advocate for clear rules, boundaries, and enforcing those rules. But a culture that focuses on punishment will create a group of scared dancers who don't give you full effort, or if they do, they're only doing it so they don't get in trouble, and, again, that will backfire. It’s really hard to be excited for practice or work really hard in ballet if you're constantly worried about getting in trouble. So instead, we want to focus on positive reinforcement or rewarding the good behaviors you want to see more of.
There’s actually a coach in my Relevé Membership who agreed with this approach and really implemented it with her team, and this is what Coach Erin saw happen to her dancers. She said:
“When you focus on growth over punishment, dancers will stick with you. I’ve seen dancers join the high school team with little to no training but a lot of heart. A system that punishes them for every small misstep as they learn this dance-team world would destroy that natural love, and instead, we focus on measuring personal growth, setting goals, monitoring progress, and reaching that goal. This has created a team of disciplined, hard-working dancers who have exceeded everyone’s expectations.”
I could go down a rabbit hole here, so I’m gonna leave it at that. But if you're wondering more about using positive reinforcements, getting rid of things like running when you're late and physical punishments, all of this will help you increase motivation. So, you can check out more about this in episodes 4, 23, and 94.
Third Skill: Setting Clear Goals and Tracking Them – 10:14
The third way that coaches can inspire motivation in their athletes is by setting clear goals and tracking them. Goal setting is the foundation of many other mental skills, but it’s often done wrong or just without the support it should have. Many dancers set goals and forget about them, or maybe there’s a big inspiring goal-setting meeting in the summer and then no follow-through. That’s why I actually spend a lot of time in the summer doing goal-setting workshops with dancers in studios because it’s easy to get it wrong. But when it’s done well, goal setting can have immediate positive impact on motivation.
If goals are set clearly using research-based principles, you can help your dancers focus on their own improvement, get away from comparison, notice when they're actually making progress, and to really briefly summarize some of this goal-setting research, here are some guidelines if you're going to set goals:
- Set short-term and long-term goals.
- Set some goals about practice and class, and set some goals about how you want to perform (not necessarily how you want to compete or rank, but how you want to perform onstage).
- Get the dancers involved – don't just give them their goals, let them be a part of the process.
- Make sure you set up a method to track the progress and revisit your goals regularly.
If you want more about this goal-setting process, check out episode 21. In that episode, I share my seven steps to a successful goal-setting meeting.
Lastly, one of the big reasons goal setting works so well is that it allows you to pause and celebrate the small wins. If you’ve set goals and tracked them, you and your dancers will see the growth and be inspired to keep fighting for those dreams. There is another really popular episode about celebrating the small wins that you can listen to in episode 81.
Inspiring Fierce Motivation Summary – 12:12
I’ll wrap this up with a little summary. Keep in mind that there are three pillars to being a positive coach or being that dance teacher who makes a huge positive impact: teaching a tough mindset, steady resilience, and fierce motivation. Today, we covered the three mental skills of inspiring that fierce motivation, which you achieve through positive team culture, reinforcement, and good goal setting.
If you’d like support with any of this, I just want to mention that my mental skills workshops are designed specifically to help you set the foundation of a positive culture. I promise you will see more motivated dancers in your very next practice. You can find out more at www.chelseapierotti.com/workshop, and you’ll see the link below in the show notes.
Overall, these three areas of mental skills (your mindset, your resilience, and your motivation) come together to help you be the most impactful dance teacher you can be. It’s both your personal mindset, resilience, and motivation, and how you teach those skills to your dancers. We don't just teach dance. We teach them how to have that mental toughness, how to be steady and resilient through life’s challenges, and how to fight for their dreams. That’s why I teach, and I bet it’s the same for you.
So, I want to say you are making a difference in your dancers’ lives. So, thank you. Keep sharing your passion for dance with the world!
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