The Heart of Motivation

The role of every coach is to motivate his or her players to perform their best.   In professional sports, this can become very challenging as the season wears on and teams are tired.    With the NFC conference championship game looming,  San Francisco 49ers coach Jim Harbaugh had his staff find pictures – the high school recruiting photo – of  his players and had them posted above each player’s locker.  As is Coach Harbaugh’s style, he didn’t pronounce the pictures or their purpose and left the players to figure it out for themselves.

49ers coach Harbaugh aims for the heart when motivating his team

Those pictures brought lots of laughter into the locker room, helping to lighten the intensity of preparation for a championship game.  At a deeper level, they served as a reminder to all his players

of the dream each one had in high school… of one day playing professional football along with the ultimate wish – to play in the Super Bowl.

Well, most of you know what happened.  The next Sunday, San Francisco came from behind to defeat the Atlanta Falcons by a score of 28-24 on the road.  Down 17-0 in the first half, it was the greatest comeback in playoff history and came against tremendous odds (except for the Vegas odds makers, who spotted the Falcons 3 ½ points and then moved it to 4 ½ points a few days before the game – how on earth do they know??).


This story illustrates  a profound truth about motivating human behavior:  You are far more effective when you aim for the heart rather than the head. 


Think about these pro athletes.  Their salaries average $1.5 million per year.  By society’s standards, these guys are rich.  They work hard at their craft or lose their job.   If money were a sufficient motivator, there would be no need for speeches, awards, or high school photos.  But Coach Harbaugh recognizes that money, while necessary, isn’t enough.  His motivation needed to reach past the head and into the heart.

49ers and Ravens battle it out in the Big Easy

What are you doing to remind those who work with you or for you about their dreams and ability to achieve them?  Everybody has their own personal “Super Bowl” like dream, and tapping into that vision can unleash an individual’s power in a way that does indeed make dreams come true.


Coach Harbaugh is a master at finding unique ways to motivate his players.  Let’s see what he comes up with for the Super Bowl matchup in New Orleans this weekend against the Ravens.   Go Niners!

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