Need Team Inspiration? Call On the Power of Graduated Athletes

Inspiration is not always easy to come by.

Every coach faces practices, games, weeks, and seasons where young athletes lack motivation.

Some kids have a strong internal drive that makes them easy to lead. However, the majority of athletes will regularly struggle with:
  • Boredom
  • Distractions
  • Low-energy
  • Discouragement
  • Shortsightedness
  • Lack of confidence

So how do you EFFECTIVELY keep motivating and pushing athletes to work hard?

Let’s take a look at 5 specific ways to tap into the inspiration that an older graduated athlete can provide.

1) Share a Personal Journey

Everyone loves a story. Add to that the cool-factor that most older athletes have and you’ve got a perfect formula to capture everyone’s attention.

Invite graduated athletes to come to practice and share their personal experience of sports participation. If they went on to compete after graduation, encourage them to be transparent about the struggles and victories involved in collegiate sports.

Prompt them to answer questions like:

  • What is one lesson that was challenging for you to learn
  • Do you have any regrets about your attitude toward participation/skill-learning/work ethic
  • Could you share your favorite high school sports memory
2) Encourage Strugglers

“A word of encouragement during a failure is worth more than an hour of praise during success.”


There is great power in a well-placed word of encouragement. And when it comes from a respected athlete, it can have a tremendous impact on one that is struggling.

Invite a past athlete to come and WATCH a practice. Ask him to specifically encourage any athlete that seems to be struggling with a skill.

Confidence-boosting comments are usually:

  • Specific—addressing one thing in particular
  • Realistic—not gushy or for the sake of flattery
  • Uplifting—focused on a can-do attitude
3) Compliment Skills Executed Well

It’s not only the kids that are struggling that need encouragement. Even those who are winning and improving have moments of self-doubt.

A new set of eyes on an executed skill might catch something that a coach could be taking for granted. And we all know that hearing a compliment from someone other than the coach goes a long way in the self-esteem bank account.

Urge the older athlete to:

  • Be specific about what she acknowledges as being done well
  • Be authentic in her praise
  • Direct her compliment toward 1 athlete—which will hold more weight than if it’s directed at the whole team
4) Give Insider Tips

Who doesn’t want the inside scoop from someone who’s been there and done that? Valuable tips that come from a place of firsthand experience are always more relatable.

Since older athletes have probably dealt with similar challenges as your current athletes let them have time with the whole team to share their “insider tips.” Here are some creative ways to have the graduate athlete do this:

  • Have a question and answer session
  • Communicate best “hacks” for balancing school and sports
  • Give tips and tricks to staying positive in the face of defeat
5) Point to the Future

So much mystery surrounds life after high school. And athletes in their senior year will have many decisions to make in what seems like a short amount of time.

Someone who has graduated and is on “the other side” successfully developing their sports-skills while attending college can be an excellent incentive for those wondering about their own path.

Inspire your team by having a graduate share:

  • The strategies they took to become scholarship-worthy
  • 5 things they love about collegiate sports
  • 10 character traits they think are important for every high school student to work on
A Win-Win Scenario

Calling upon the stars of yesterday to help inspire the stars of tomorrow is a true win-win scenario.

  • Coaches have their message and efforts validated.
  • Current athletes are emboldened to keep working hard.
  • Graduated athletes step into “hero status” for the day and get to give back.

As a coach was this helpful? Take a moment to jot down the names of 3 graduated athletes you could contact to help you inspire your team. Commit to reaching out to them in the next week.

As always remember that Growing Champions For Life is here to help. Message me anytime at

Sport Family Coach at

Founder of Growing Champions for Life, David helps sports parents and coaches incorporate positivity and persistence into their communication with the young athletes who count on their encouragement and guidance. An eight-time national water skiing champion, five-time national record holder in water ski jumping, former World Championship U.S. Water Ski Team coach, and proud professional sports parent, he understands first-hand the challenges and rewards of competition. His extensive experience as a corporate leadership coach for Nextel, Sprint, Allstate, Balfour Beatty, The Villages and other companies provides David with unique insight into the skills needed to excel in sports, business and life. He brings an athlete's discipline, a coach's inspiration, and a parent's practical experience to his mission to grow not just champion young athletes, but holistically well-rounded individuals equipped for lifelong excellence.

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