Online Athlete Motivation

9 Ways to Motivate Online Athletes

BY Mackenzie Madison

Coach Mackenzie Madison walks through nine ways you can better motivate your online athletes to train better and reach their goals faster.

The advent of online coaching has revolutionized the industry by providing opportunities for coaches and athletes that simply did not exist before. While online coaching can be more convenient for today’s busy athletes, the lack of a coach being physically present has created new challenges for coaches, especially when it comes to the ability to provide inspiration and motivation. However, online coaches must continue to motivate their athletes and recognize when to kick it up a notch when an athlete is in need.

Here are nine great ways to help you realize when your athlete needs help and know what to do to motivate them when they do:

1. Recognize motivational shifts

Athlete motivation builds from external sources, while inspiration grows from within the athlete. In general, an individual uses motivation to avoid pain and seek pleasure. Regardless of your athlete’s motivation level, your responsibility as a coach is to motivate your athletes continually; however, the effort you spend providing motivation should match your coaching agreement. Even if you only provide a general training plan, you should still provide motivational tools focused on and accessible to the masses.

Shifts in athlete motivation happen more than you expect, and coaching remotely makes it increasingly hard to identify a discouraged athlete. Motivation changes typically occur after significant life events or extended training periods of the “daily grind,” and often toward the end of the season. Look for cues like a lack of desire to train as much as they should, less than their best effort in training (including shortening and skipping), and a general effort that doesn’t match the level of their goals.

2. Increase communication

The best way to create motivational energy and inspire your athletes is to make them feel that you are just as involved as you would be if you were there in person. Strive to touch base more often to prove you’re not “just another coach behind the computer.” Use as many avenues of communication as possible with your athlete.

Communication opportunities that result in motivational support can include video chats, phone conversations, texts, emails, and social media platforms. Chat with your athletes and ask them what forms of communication help motivate them and connect with you the best. As a coach who began her career at the start of the new age of online coaching, I have found that communicating in every way possible significantly helps build motivational momentum.

3. Be a good role model

Being enthusiastically involved in the sport you coach creates a greater sense of relatability for the athlete. Going to associated events, participating in the sport you coach, and supporting the industry sets you up as a positive role model to your athletes. Your athletes hired you to help them become better athletes, so it makes sense that they want their coach to be highly involved and dedicated.

A good coach role model constantly strives to show compassion, moral courage, humbleness, honor, respect, and integrity. Also, a good coach role model does not pressure athletes excessively, especially in an online coaching situation. Too much pressure can demotivate athletes as they feel they are being controlled. Bribing is also not recommended because once the rewards disappear, so does the athlete’s motivation.

To create an online role model presence, feature your coach involvement through channels such as an educational blog, helpful videos, and Facebook or Instagram posts along with your primary forms of communication. Use these platforms to feature you or your athletes in action, post motivational quotes, inspiring videos, your training adventures, and more.

4. Derive motivation

Motivation is the external force that derives from one’s inspiration. Whenever you can trigger a strong, internal, emotional desire related to your athlete’s training, you capitalize on one of the most powerful motivators for your athlete.

Get to know your athlete’s true “why.” What drives your athlete to train despite failure, pain, and hardships? What feeling is creating their persistence to train? What does your athlete want to ultimately feel from training, racing, and the sport long-term? Emotions that are key for motivating athletes are optimism, self-pride, acceptance, serenity, inspiration, delight, joy, excitement, and ultimately, the hope and belief that they will reach their goals and dreams.

5. Use imagery

Focus on setting a mental state that will work best for your athlete. If the athlete is a novice, focusing on external stimuli will help motivate them. In contrast, experienced athletes should focus more on internal factors, such as how their body feels during the training. Images are everywhere in today’s society and have a more significant influence on us than we would think. Have your athletes follow races online, watch professional clips of their sport, etc. Post or share images with your athletes to inspire you while creating the right mental mindset.

6. Set goals

The association between training and goal outcomes can be muddled if not clarified and communicated continually. Make sure to remind your athlete what their short- and long-term goals are. Put a reminder at the beginning of each week of their training plan. Have your athlete place goal reminders in an obvious location like a mirror, training area, device background, etc. It also helps to share your athlete’s year-long periodization training plan so that they know what to expect. This secures your athlete’s focus on how big-picture goals relate to daily routines.

7. Positive reinforcement

Coaches should always balance their positive and negative feedback. If an athlete lacks motivation, it is essential to overbalance the positive reinforcement slightly. Praise your athlete for their hard work, training bests, a PR, or work ethic. Sport includes both success and failure; success usually does not come without failure. It is your job to normalize failure as something that is to be expected and productive in order to succeed.

When communicating positive and negative feedback with your athlete, mention the positive before discussing ways to improve, as it motivates the athlete to learn and prioritize a change from their failure more than receiving negative feedback first.

8. Team effort

The power of feeling the support and involvement of a team is highly motivational. Whenever your athlete trains with a group, it produces a potent source of motivation. When motivation starts waning, suggest your athlete train with others. When your athlete is surrounded by other athletes who have similar, like-minded goals, it brings out your athlete’s inspiration. Consider creating an athlete team or coaching group that makes athletes feel a part of a collective support squad. Power in numbers creates a snowball effect that helps aid your motivational efforts exponentially.

9. Schedule for success

Every barrier that your athlete experiences use up motivation. The severity of a barrier has an inverse relationship with sports motivation, so you must create a training plan that avoids expected barriers.

Come up with solutions that prevent barriers. For example, create training plans that fit around scheduled events. Doing so will improve compliance, as it is easier to find time to get training in. Work with your athlete to see what factors help them train and make it more enjoyable.

Suggest laying out training items the night before a workout, keeping a spare gym bag of equipment just in case, or carrying doubles for equipment that might require maintenance and prevent a training session.

Breaking out of the training monotony by switching up routines or providing novelty to a plan also helps athletes reignite their passion and excitement for training and racing. When the athlete seems tired and lacks motivation, sometimes rest is needed. Be aware of your athlete’s motivational levels when communicating with them about their training and racing.


In the end, a coach can only provide so much motivation to an athlete; motivation is inspiration plus external action. You can provide external motivation, but the athlete must also provide personal inspiration. Often, athletes hire coaches out of fear instead of inspiration, and, in this case, you shouldn’t blame yourself for not being able to create the motivation they need.

Discussing what helps motivate your athletes to create the most successful relationship is essential. Your program can be world-class, but the communication and support must also be there. Shift your mindset away from being just a training planner and consider yourself a motivator for success. Online coaches can be just as supportive—if not more so—as today’s in-person coach.

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About Mackenzie Madison

Mackenzie Madison is a professional triathlete and USAT certified coach. She has been competing in triathlon for 18 years and coaching for 15 years. Mackenzie acquired her B.S. in Kinesiology & Coaching and Masters in Exercise Physiology. She is also a former D1 runner and elite cyclist. Mackenzie is also an instructor at the University of Oregon. Learn more about Mackenzie at

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