The theme for this week has been Rewards & Awards. I thought it would be a good follow-up to last week’s theme of Success because how we recognize and reward others for their successful endeavors is an important topic to discuss. And while this post is a long one, there is even more to talk about than what I can cover here. For more analysis of the concept, listen to Episode 152 of the Great Quotes for Coaches Podcast or watch the video No More MVPs! on the SlamDunk Success YouTube Channel.

First of all, we should reward others for their successful endeavors. For those of you who are coaches out there (the majority of you, I presume) this can come in a variety of ways. I will focus on two: Rewards and Team Awards.


Bruce Brown, the Founder and Director of Proactive Coaching says, “One of the greatest motivational principles ever is ‘You get what you reward, and it perpetuates itself.’

I have loved that concept ever since the first time I heard Bruce say it. It is so true.

When you reward people for doing certain things, they will continue to do those things, and oftentimes, they will go above and beyond and do even more than just those things. So if you want certain behaviors and even certain outcomes from your teams and team members, reward them for doing them or for accomplishing them.

Verbal Praise

The simplest and probably most important way you can reward your team members when they have some type of success is through your verbal praise of them.

Everyone likes to hear their name with some type of positive statement attached to it. Kids LOVE it!

This has been a tool in a teachers’ tool belt for as long as they have been teaching. While gold stars and smiley faces on papers are helpful, too, simply acknowledging some successful behavior or accomplishments through their words has worked wonders at helping kids improve and develop.

For coaches, it works the same way. When players make some move or succeed at something that they have been working on, point it out to them! Let them know you recognize their accomplishment.

However, one of the biggest keys to verbal praise working is being specific with it. Don’t just yell out, “Great job!” Sure, when the entire team has accomplished something great, that’s fine. But when specific individuals do specific things worthy of your praise, be specific when you are letting them and their team know it.

First, say the name of the person. This alerts him or her, as well as the rest of the team, who is doing something well. But that is not enough.

You should also say what the behavior or action was that is warranting your praise. “Great job running hard all the way through the lines, Jenny!” tells everyone who and what was done that was praiseworthy.

Praise Behaviors

While it’s okay to recognize and reward outcomes (goals, touchdowns, etc.), the best things to praise are behaviors that kids have control over.

Focus on things like effort, attention, selflessness, discipline, mental toughness and other behavioral characteristics that every player can work on and improve at. These behaviors are the things that will ultimately lead to the results you are seeking.

While it’s okay to yell, “Nice shot!” after a player has scored some type of goal, that is merely acknowledging the result that you and the player were after. But adding, “Way to use your good shot form and finish it properly,” helps reinforce the behavior that produced the result, thereby hopefully leading to more good shots like that in the future.

This is even better when you emphasize some way they handled themselves that led to the success. “Nice shot, James. Way to work hard to get open and get your feet set. All that sprint and agility work you have been doing is paying off!” Now James (and hopefully his teammates) will see the correlation between the conditioning work they do and the results they seek.

Get More of Those Behaviors

Also, consider the concept of “it perpetuates itself” in Bruce Brown’s statement above. This means that whatever it is you are rewarding, it will keep happening the more you reward it. By focusing your praise on behaviors like those I just mentioned—effort, attention, selflessness, discipline, mental toughness—you will get more of these.

First, you will get more of those behaviors from the person you have just praised. S/He will like how it feels to hear that praise, so s/he will want more of it. The way to get more of the praise is to do more of whatever it was s/he did to receive that praise.

Second, you will begin to get more of those behaviors from the other members of your team. When they hear their teammate being praised, they will think, “I would like Coach to say that to me.” They will recognize that if they do what their teammate did to receive that praise, they, too, may get praised for it. Hopefully then, they will work that much harder at doing that thing that you have praised the player for.

Team Awards

While there are certainly other ways to reward and award your players, I would like to focus the rest of our time on the End-of-Season Awards you give out.

The title of this week’s podcast episode, video, and now this post, has been “No More MVPs!” I chose that title because that is exactly what I started doing about 20 years ago as a varsity basketball coach—I stopped giving out an MVP award at our end-of-season banquet.

For my entire career, I have tried to instill in my players the importance and value of them being committed 100% to the concept of TEAM. Each season, that would be my biggest mantra for them—“It’s not about you; it’s about us.”

Then, at the end of the season, one of the premium awards I would hand out was an MVP—Most Valuable Player—award. This award was recognizing the most valuable individual performer on the team. Most often, it went to the player who scored the most points. That award just did not fit in with what I was saying was most important in our program—TEAM.

Once again, enter Bruce Brown. Bruce told me that he had had that same dilemma earlier in his career.

So he did something about it.

He changed his award from MVP—Most Valuable Player, to MVT—Most Valuable Teammate. He focused the attention for one of his most important awards on the aspect of being a great teammate. “If you want to win one of the most prestigious awards in our program, be the best teammate on the team.” I liked that idea a lot, and I adopted it with my team the next year.

Reward Your Team’s Values

A couple of years after making that change, I changed it even more. Our teams had started creating Core Covenants for our team. These were the values that we wanted to live by and be known for. We said, “Here’s what we want to be known for, so here are the behaviors that we need to focus on and live by in order to become the team we want to be.” Then we focused on those behaviors all season long. (For more on Core Covenants check out Bruce Brown’s booklet “First Steps to Creating a Successful Team” at the Proactive Coaching website.)

I started basing our end-of-season team awards on our Core Covenants. At the beginning of each year, when we would talk about what our Core Covenants for the year were, I would tell them that, not only are these the behaviors we need to live by to be the team we want to be, but also, these will determine our end-of-season awards.

For example, in the year that our Covenants were Team-First Attitude, Work Habits, Toughness, & Love, our kids voted for their teammates based on those covenants. The winners received a plaque with the following words inscribed on them: Best Teammate, Hardest Worker, Toughest Player, Most Passionate.

I also had two other awards that I gave out.

The first one was one that I had given out ever since my first years as a coach—Most Improved Player. One of our goals every year was to get better every day. I wanted to reward the player who put the most into becoming the best player s/he could become. That concept never changed, and that award stayed with my programs every year.

The other award is one I started giving out when I made the change to base our awards on our Core Covenants. I started giving out an Ultimate Spartan/Ranger award. (Those were the two mascots at the two different schools where I was the varsity basketball coach.)

This award was given to the player who best exemplified all of our Core Covenants. It was truly the Ultimate Award a player could receive in our program because it was earned by the player who committed himself/herself fully to being the best example of what we stood for as a program. There was no greater honor that a player could receive in our program, and I made sure everyone knew it.

Many Positives

There were so many great results from going to this type of system for our awards. One was that we could focus our kids attention and effort on doing what we felt were the most important elements to becoming the best team we could become.  Therefore, we started seeing more of those concepts being lived by our team members.

But one of the greatest elements of this system was that now, every player on the team could win one of the coveted prime team awards. They were not reserved only for the players who played a lot and contributed a lot statistically. Every single player had an equal opportunity to win an award because the awards were based totally on things within every player’s control.

The result of that was having many more players nominated for certain awards. Also, players who were “at the end of the bench” often won these awards. In fact, there were years that our most talented player did not win an award. (Of course, that prompted a conversation with me about why that player with so much talent was not recognized for the behaviors we wanted to see from our team members. But that’s a topic for a different post!)

How about you? How do you reward your players verbally? How do you choose your team awards? Do you do something similar to the things described above? If not, could you see yourself switching to something like this? Let us know in the comments below.

If you aren’t currently doing the things I talk about above, I highly recommend you consider doing it. You will love the results that you see.

More importantly, your players will love it. They will love playing in a program that rewards their hard work and positive attitude. They will love knowing that they have control over what is most important in your program, and they will be rewarded for it when they handle themselves the right way.

What a great way to build your TEAM!


**If you are looking for a great reward to give to your senior athletes at your awards nights, Senior Salute is for you! Right now, it is on sale, along with my other gift book for graduating seniors, Inspiration for the Graduate. Go to to check them out.