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 athlete, the lack of a coach being physical present has created new challenges for coaches, especially when it comes to the ability to provide inspiration and motivation. However, it is necessary for online coaches to continue to motivate their athletes and 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 continually motivate your athletes; however, the effort you spend providing motivation should match your coaching agreement. Even if you are only providing a general training plan, you should still provide motivational tools that are 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 either 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 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 athlete and ask them what forms of communication help motivate them and connect with you the best. As a coach that 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 to 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 perfect sense that they want their coach to be highly involved and dedicated, as well.

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 place excessive pressure on athletes, especially in an online coaching situation. Too much pressure can demotivate an athlete as they feel that 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 from the sport long-term? Emotions that are key for motivating athletes are optimism, self-pride, acceptance, serenity, inspiration, elation, 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 while 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 greater influence on us than we would think. Have your athletes follow races online, watch professional clips of their sport, etc. Make sure to post or share images with your athletes that will inspire while creating the right mental mindset.

6. Set goals

The association between training and goal outcomes can be muddled if it is not clarified and communicated continually. Make sure to remind your athlete what their short- and long-term goals are. Put a reminder the beginning of each week of their training plan. Have your athlete place goal reminders in a highly visible 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 the day-to-day routine.

7. Positive reinforcement

Coaches should always balance their positive and negative feedback. If an athlete is lacking motivation, it is important to to slightly over balance the positive reinforcement. Make sure to praise your athlete for their hard work, training bests, a PR, or their work ethic. Sport includes both success and failure, and 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 make sure to mention the positive before talking about ways to improve as it motivates the athlete to learn and prioritize a change from their failure more so 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 an extremely powerful source of motivation. When motivation starts waning, suggest your athlete train with others. When your athlete is surrounded by other athletes that have similar, like-minded goals it brings out your athlete’s inspiration. Consider creating an athlete team or coaching group that makes athletes feel apart of a collective support squad. Power in numbers creates a motivational snowball effect that helps aid your motivational efforts exponentially.

9. Schedule for success

Each and every barrier that your athlete experiences uses up motivation. The severity of a barrier has an inverse relationship with sport motivation, so it is imperative that you 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 find what kinds of 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, and, as mentioned, motivation is inspiration plus external action. You can provide the external motivation, but the athlete has to provide personal inspiration, as well. Often, athletes hire coaches out of fear instead of out of inspiration, and, in this case, you shouldn’t blame yourself for not being able to create the motivation they need.

It is important to discuss what helps motivate your athletes to create the most successful relationship. The program you offer can be world class, but the communication and support has to be there, too. Shift your mindset away from being just a training planner and consider yourself also as a motivator for success. It is possible for online coaches to 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