How to keep athletes motivated, with online coaching

In recent years, online coaching has revolutionized the way coaches and athletes communicate and collaborate. Nonetheless, despite the fact that online coaching became very convenient for today’s busy athletes — the pandemic also played a part — the physical absence of the coach has created new challenges. These challenges mainly have to do with how to keep athletes motivated and committed to their training program.

Truth be told, keeping athletes motivated is a hard task. An unexpected injury, inability to reach short-term goals, or just lack of focus are things that can happen to any athlete. Yet, overcoming these hurdles falls mostly into the lap of the coach. That’s why it’s necessary for online coaches to continue to motivate their athletes; and, know when to kick it up a notch, when athletes need it. 

Below, we’ll discuss twelve ways to keep your endurance athletes motivated; and help them keep their heads in the game.

12 ways to keep endurance athletes motivated

Truth be told, it’s your role, as a coach, to guide your athletes to discover what inspires and motivates them. It’s also up to you, to help them feel confident in their athletic abilities. Keep in mind, motivation can be a powerful ally for you; not to mention, an important aspect of successful online coaching.

So, how are you going to keep your athletes motivated, after all? Well, read on to find out!

1. Make endurance training fun

Making your athletes’ training fun is central to helping them see their daily efforts and hard work from a positive viewpoint. Fun is a vital aspect of endurance training and, yet, one of the hardest to achieve; because endurance athletes want — and feel the need — to take their training seriously. However, as humans, we’re programmed to learn more easily through playing and having fun. That said, make sure your athletes are having some fun in their training, to keep them engaged and happy. 

Use gamification

Gamification is, indeed, a means of fun; a great way to make training sessions something your athletes will look forward to, encouraging commitment to their program. When making aspects of their training a game, you essentially urge them to do more work and recover faster, because having fun subdues — or even deactivates — the body’s stress mechanisms. Game-based learning has a profound psychological effect, drawing from the motivation of immediate rewards. Mind-blowing right? Science is like that; and, just like that, we’ve revealed a well-kept secret of the profession 😁✌

Promote group training 

When you’re coaching athletes remotely, it’s important to encourage them to connect with each other and train together; that is if they live close by. This way, they can motivate each other, when one doesn’t feel like training. If they don’t live close by and they can’t find another athlete to train with, have them train with family or friends; at least, for some parts of their training that don’t require a high level of fitness.

2. Communicate with your athletes

Good, frequent communication is essential to keep your athletes motivated; even more so, when it comes to online coaching. As a remote coach, you need to make yourself available to them; otherwise, how do you expect your athletes to commit to their training, if they feel you’re not committed to them? 

Also, remember that communication is a two-way street. Sure, you’ll be guiding them, telling them how to execute their workouts, etc., but you also need to listen to them. That’s how you’ll tap into your athletes’ thoughts and emotions; and also, how you’ll gain their trust. Proper communication will enable you to design the best possible — and most effective — training plans for them.

Find out what makes them “tick”

When it comes to keeping your athletes motivated, bear in mind that this isn’t a one-size-fits-all situation. Each athlete is different, thus, they’re motivated differently. For this reason, try to learn as much as you can about each one of your athletes. Observe, to modify your plan of action, based on the feedback you get from them; both verbal, and non-verbal. Once you get to know what motivates them, you can use this information to develop motivation strategies for each one, separately.

Ensure their commitment

Goal-setting is a proven technique to ensure your athletes’ commitment and dedication to their training. Helping your athletes set realistic, objective goals when you’re creating their training plans, will boost their motivation. This will not only allow your athletes to stay focused, but also committed to attaining these goals, within the timeframe you agreed upon.

Identify their perceived stress levels

Stress is a critical factor in your athletes’ overall well-being. If left unchecked, it can lead to potentially serious injuries, and overtraining syndromes. To avoid these, first, you have to make sure that you increase their training load gradually; then, monitor their state (physical and mental) after every session, to identify their perceived stress levels. This will also help ensure that the body adapts well to the training stimulus. 

Even more practically, you may also use some method to develop a habit for them to have you know how hard they found their workout session; which, in turn, will help identify their perceived stress levels, as well. You can use Endogusto to do it, too!

Identify changes in their motivation and reinforce it

There will certainly come a time when you’ll notice changes in your athletes’ motivation. And although online coaching will make it harder to identify these changes, you can always be prepared to face and address them, after either a significant life event or an extended training period; usually, toward the end of the season. To identify a shift in their motivation, look for cues like:

  • lack of desire to train as much as they would — and should
  • not putting much effort in training — they may be shortening or skipping workouts
  • a general attitude that doesn’t fit them, and it certainly doesn’t serve their goals
Extrinsic motivation

As we’ve discussed in a previous article on athletic motivation, in the extrinsic model of motivation, external factors (rewards) are mainly at play. Coaches use them to keep athletes motivated, to perform in the way they want them to. When done right, this type of motivation can have positive results. But, if you’re looking for a safer way to do it, it would usually be wiser for you to use the intrinsic motivation model.

Intrinsic motivation

Intrinsic motivation, on the other hand, is the spark within the athlete that makes them want to improve, and succeed in their athletic goals; for the sake of good sportsmanship and personal excellence, not some reward. As a coach, it’s your job to help inflame that spark in your athletes, by challenging them to become better every day. In all truthfulness, the best coaches out there use intrinsic motivation to inspire their athletes.

Be there for them

We’ve already mentioned that you need to be there for your athletes, just as you would in person. If you want your athletes to want to work hard, let them know that they’re not alone in this; that you’ll always have their back. Now, if you want them to believe you, take the time to develop an intimate, honest and trusting relationship with them. A strong coach-athlete relationship will help keep your athletes motivated and committed to achieving their goals.

How are you going to build a strong coach-athlete relationship? Well, simply by keeping in touch with your athletes often; using as many avenues of communication as possible. Luckily, there are many ways you can touch base with them; for example, through telephone or video calls, text, email, and social media. 

Even better, you can keep your interaction with your athletes strong, by utilizing an online coaching platform, like Endogusto. In our platform, we’ve integrated comment boxes under each workout, to help streamline communication and build motivational momentum with your athlete.

Point out the importance of “family time”

You know what they say, ‘all work and no play makes Jack a dull boy’. If your athletes train non-stop, it’s only natural for them to get sick and tired of it, eventually. Overtraining syndromes and demotivation will probably follow, increasing the possibilities of them quitting. Hence, you have to make sure they get enough time off from training, to do something else, for a change, with the people they love. Rest assured, they’ll come back with more desire to train after that!

Explain “why”

Generally speaking, people aren’t willing to start (or finish) a task that seems vague and confusing. The same happens with athletes. When coaching online, make sure that you answer any questions and remove any doubts that your athletes may have, by communicating your expectations and intentions, clearly and consistently. Be specific as to ‘when’, ‘where’, ‘how’ and, most importantly, ‘why’. Everybody needs to know why they’re being asked to do something; it’s how humans work, they need a reason that will justify the time and effort they put into something.

3. Become a role model for your athletes: Inspire them

That’s a simple one, really; everything you say and do, as a coach, will set you up as a positive role model for your athletes. If you’re passionate about the sport you coach, this will greatly inspire your athletes. Besides, every athlete needs their coach to be someone to look up to, a role model; someone who’s as enthusiastically involved and dedicated as them — if not more. 

4. Instruct your athletes as to what to do

First, we should clarify that, before you start instructing your athletes, you should lay the right foundations. What does that mean? You need to show your athletes that you care about them; and that you care about their success, as well. Athletes who feel cared-about are more “coachable”; because they feel safe. 

Furthermore, let them know that you’re there to help them improve their skills and performance. This implies that you’ll have to work through their weaknesses — and often mistakes — during training. Assure them that they’re part of the learning process. Then, instruct them on how to transform those weaknesses into strengths; and the mistakes, into insights. And remember, always explain ‘why’, to get your athletes motivated to execute your instructions to the letter.

Set tangible goals

Setting goals and achieving them — whether short- or long-term — can get your athletes highly motivated. Yet, goal setting can backfire if they aren’t tangible. On that account, help your athletes set goals that can be realistic, and achievable. This will not only ensure that your athletes are focused on their goals, but also that they can relate them to their daily routine.

Break goals into small bits, with visible outcomes

Sometimes, goals might seem like a terrifying bulk, hovering over your athletes’ heads. In that case, breaking goals into smaller bits for them can help reduce their anxiety and feelings of uncertainty. Only, make sure that these bite-sized goals are S.M.A.R.T. enough to make your athletes understand them and feel confident to pull them off. So what does S.M.A.R.T. mean? 

  • Specific
  • Measurable
  • Achievable
  • Realistic, and 
  • Timely

S.M.A.R.T. goals should outline visible outcomes that your athletes can actually work on, through their daily program.

Establish training habits

When you’re coaching online, establishing training habits for your athletes can add to the feeling of security; and consistency. The reason is simple: Training habits create a structure, upon which your athletes can gradually grow stronger. It’s a great way to keep your athlete motivated, in the long run (pun intended 😄); even though, they may find them tiresome, after a while. Again, make sure they understand ‘why’ they should stick to these — ‘tiresome and annoying’ — training habits.

Point out the importance of rest periods

Oftentimes, athletes get fixated on their goals; and they feel like they need to train to the point of passing out, to achieve them. You know what may happen, eventually, in such cases, huh? Yes, exhaustion, burnout syndromes, injuries, demotivation and resignation. Hence, in your online coaching practice, you should always point out the importance of rest days; and how they can help the body properly adapt to training stimuli.

5. Praise their efforts

Needless to say, this can go a long way in keeping your athletes motivated. Don’t think, even for a minute, that praising your athletes’ efforts will make them rest on their laurels. You should encourage your athletes to think about how much they’ve evolved and improved through training. 

Praising their efforts will allow them to focus on the positive aspects of their training and feel proud of themselves. They’ll know that their hard work pays off. With time, they’ll grow (mentally) strong and more confident in their abilities. And, who can stop a strong, confident athlete? They’re virtually a force of nature! 

Measure performance at regular intervals

As a coach, you know that progress, too, can be a powerful motivator for athletes. By measuring your athletes’ performance and progress regularly, you’ll be able to celebrate the little victories, along the way. If that doesn’t get your athletes motivated, I don’t know what will…

Remind them of their achievements, so far: Show them their growth

Apart from praising their efforts, as we mentioned earlier, it’s also important to remind them of what they’ve achieved so far. This will give them an idea of what they can do if they put their mind to it. 

Develop a reward system

Developing a reward does the trick; all the more so, in an online coaching situation. Mind you, that reward system doesn’t have to be much, just a simple ‘way to go’; or occasional digital high-fives (emojis, and whatnot — be playful), always within context. If you want to take it a step further, you can send them a package full of snacks or energy drinks; that will also help them before and after practice.

Model positive behaviors

As discussed, you are the best role model for your athletes. You have the power to instill strong values in your athletes, just by being you. If you want your athletes to work hard, you should be working hard. If you want them to go the extra mile, you better go the extra mile, first. In other words, you can’t keep your athletes motivated if you can’t keep yourself motivated. Lead by example, and promote a climate of inspiration, and motivation. Your athletes look to you for guidance, walk the talk.

6. Nurture victory — AND failure

Nurturing both victory and failure is of utmost importance in helping your athletes become balanced individuals; and then, balanced athletes. Let’s face it, they’re not going to achieve every goal at the first attempt; nor win every race. Thus, prepare them to expect failure, simply because failure is always on the agenda. If anything, failure can be a great teacher. At the same time, teach them to strive for victory, but not get too ahead of themselves when they succeed.

7. Use relatable imagery, just as a marketer would

Another great way to keep your athletes motivated is to set a mental state that will work best for them. This will particularly work if you coach novice athletes, who need external stimuli more than experienced athletes do. And how are you going to set this mental state? Through relatable images. Imagery has a great influence on people — marketers know that very well; people say ‘a picture is worth a thousand words’ for a reason. Therefore, share online videos and images of drills and races that will inspire your athletes; while creating the right mental mindset.

8. Encourage competition 

Creating athletic 1:1 competitions that you can coordinate online is, surely, another way to motivate your athletes. As you get to know your athletes better, you’ll see that some are motivated by challenge, recognition or appreciation; and, some, by the quality of performance. This information will help you set up competitions that allow for challenge, recognition, appreciation and quality, to keep the competitive juices flowing.

9. Have them work out in pairs or small groups — Promote team effort

When you notice that motivation starts waning in your athletes, have them work out in pairs; or in small groups. As a result, they’ll be a part of a team, where they feel supported and inspired. Power in numbers can be highly motivational for your athletes. You’ll see how much this will aid your online coaching practice, if done right.

10. Use positive feedback

If, at some point, you spot an athlete lacking motivation, it’s important to use more positive reinforcement; until they start gathering momentum again. Additionally, make sure to praise them for everything they’ve achieved so far, and for their hard work. We clarified already that, as a coach, you should nurture both victory and failure. If they feel like they’ve failed somehow, tell them that it’s only natural to feel like that; and that, when they get up again, they’ll be so much stronger than they would be if they had never fallen, in the first place.

Use the Positive-Negative-Positive scheme: Sandwiched feedback

Nonetheless, in your online coaching, you should always balance your positive and negative feedback to motivate your athletes to overcome themselves. That’s where sandwiched feedback comes in. What’s that, I hear you ask. Well, dear coach, it’s exactly what it says it is. It’s a verbal sandwich, where the two slices of bread are the positive feedback, and the negative feedback — the constructive criticism —  is the stuffing. 

This means, you have to start with positive comments; then, squeeze in the negative ones, before you offer some positive, appreciative feedback again. This tactic will make criticism more ‘digestible’ for them’; and the conversation will also be less awkward for both of you. Only make sure that the negative feedback reaches them properly, and that it’s completely understood.

11. Set goals for everything

We’ve highlighted the importance of setting goals for helping increase motivation in your athletes. But when we say set goals for everything, we mean it. Don’t let their milestones pass by, without any solid ground to measure their achievements. Goal setting will allow you to understand where your athletes stand; this, in turn, will help you create motivational strategies for each one of them, separately.

12. Create training plans for success

You’ve probably already observed, in your daily online coaching efforts, that each and every setback your athlete experiences lowers their motivation levels. These two work in inverse proportion; meaning, the more serious a setback is, the lower their motivation will get. 

Thus, it’s imperative that you create a training plan that increases the chances of success. These would be, for example, training plans that fit around scheduled races; or similar sports events. Doing so will increase their focus and improve compliance, as it will be easier for them to make room for training in their daily agenda. 


The online coaching services you offer can be world-class, but the communication and support have to be there, too. It’s never too late to shift your mindset away from being just an online coach; and, also, become a motivator for success. Without a doubt, online coaches can be just as supportive — if not more so — as in-person coaches are.

Still, at the end of the day, a coach can only provide so much motivation to their athlete; besides, motivation is inspiration followed by action. Through coaching, you can certainly provide motivation, but your athletes have to be open and willing to get inspired; and then, of course, take action. To that end, it’s important to discuss with them what could help motivate them. In addition, you can put the tips we offered here into practice; and you’ll soon see their passion ignite. 

Nonetheless, should you need a strong ally to help keep your athletes motivated, know that you’ve got one, in Endogusto. As we always like to say, Endogusto is an online coaching platform built by coaches, for coaches. We know how challenging it is to juggle a thousand coaching tasks every day; and, on top of that, to try to be there for your athletes, emotionally. That’s how Endogusto started; to help make our own lives, as coaches, easier. And while at it, help make other coaches’ lives easier!
Don’t think about it twice, try Endogusto today, for free and see what it can do for you, and your athletes! No credit card required!

Try Endogusto, for free!

How to keep athletes motivated, with online coaching was last modified: July 27th, 2022 by Eleni Konstantinidou