“I keep telling them to… but they don’t want to listen!”
“I’ve been telling them that all season, and here it is again, when it counts, and they’re still doing the same thing.”
“I just have a team that does not want to listen! I keep telling them to do things and they aren’t doing it.”

We’ve all been here. These phrases, and all of their variations, are commonplace with each coach and each team year after year. Ultimately coaches end up settling for, “it will take time for them to understand.” While this sentiment can be true as we at least plant the seeds for our athletes to understand deeper concepts when they are further in their development, it does not have to always be where we settle. If we can identify how ‘ready’ our athletes are to change, we can meet them there and encourage development through more appropriate expectations.

When we consider how ‘ready’ our athletes are to change, we can utilize the widely popular transtheoretical model of behavior change (Norcross, Krebs, & Prochaska, 2011). The model consists of 6 stages with strategies in each stage that help 1) to reduce resistance to future change and challenges, 2) increase athlete participation, 3) reduce athlete dropout, and 4) increase athlete’s buy-in to overall team change.

The 6 stages of change within this model are:
  1. Pre-contemplation: the stage of change wherein the athlete has no intention to take action or make change.
  2. Contemplation: the stage of change wherein the athlete intends to change in the near future but does not yet know how.
  3. Preparation: the stage of change where the athlete intends to change soon, due to the creation of a plan in which to execute.
  4. Action: the stage in which the athlete executes their plan to change.
  5. Maintenance: the athlete has engaged in sustained action and is working to continue making appropriate actions to prevent a relapse
  6. Termination: Athletes have zero temptation and are sure they will not return to their old unhealthy habit as a way of coping.

Relapse: Athletes revert back to their original behavior, often within situations they find extremely stressful and/or overwhelming. Relapse is part of the process, and can be treated as inevitable. It is important to recognize that this is “when” not an “if” and needs to be met with compassion towards how tough it can be to maintain new, more desirable behaviors.

Here are coaching strategies to implement within each stage:

1. Pre-contemplation
Create and maintain a relationship through empathy and rapport. Use reflective listening. If the athlete is reluctant to change, present evidence of the athlete’s behaviors. If there is a lack of belief that they cannot change, instill your belief in their ability to change through encouragement. If they give reasons for not changing, explore wider values, beliefs, and the impact of their behavior on others.

Example: the athlete that does not know why they keep hitting into the block/out of bounds may need to watch video or need to understand how body movements affect the trajectory of the ball.

2. Contemplation
Explore the problem through decisional balance exercises. Explore the most important aspects and goals of the athlete’s life. Then, reflect back to their discrepancies between goals/values and what they are currently doing. Explore their confidence to change. Furthermore, explore their barriers to change. Reflect back to them their desire to change and any statements they use regarding their confidence.

Example: the athlete that knows their swing needs to change may also need to explore the positive and negative outcomes to a higher/harder swing.

HERE is a handout you can use with your athletes to explore the possibilities that result from making a change.

3. Planning/Preparation
Check for congruence in change talk. Explore their confidence to change. Clarify and refine their goals. Review their options and allow them to choose which options to consider. Identify allies to support their change efforts. Use visualization to build confidence.

Example: This same athlete now needs a check-list of options to consider when swinging, as well as some consistent video/coach feedback.

4. Action
Monitor and affirm the small steps they take towards their overall change. Explore their next steps to keep them moving towards further change. Explore the barriers they have encountered. Plan actions to overcome those barriers!

Example: This same athlete who is swinging at the ball higher is now figuring out how to do it based on how the set looks/where the set is coming from, differentiating between transition and serve receive, and based on how many blockers are in front of them.

5. Maintenance
Provide positive feedback on success. Plan for coping if slipped back. Reinforce long term goals if it fits with their values. Encourage use of allies to continue positive progress.

Example: This same athlete has the proper approach and every time they hit past the block they are reinforced.

6. Termination
Plan for the next behaviors we need to change!

Example: Now this athlete is working on hitting certain shots based on how the defenders are positioned.

If relapse occurs, empathize with the athlete and normalize the existence of a relapse. Explore the reasons for relapsing. Generate preventative measures for the future. Explore successes and affirm the athlete’s ability to change. Reflect back positive statements of the athlete’s desire to change. Return to contemplation stage so that we can move through a new plan of action.


Norcross, J. C., Krebs, P. M., & Prochaska, J. O. (2011). Stages of change. Journal of Clinical Psychology, 67(2), 143–154

Passmore, J. (2011). Motivational interviewing: A model for coaching psychology practice. Coaching Psychologist, 7(1), 36–40.

Additional Coaching Mental Performance Resources:

Effective Feedback During Training

Developing Rapport

The Neurobiology of Development

Motivational Interviewing Techniques for Resistant Athletes

View more mental training resources

About the Author

Rob Samp is the Mental Performance Coach for MOD Volleyball, a JVA member club in Chicago, Illinois. He currently holds the title of LPC within the State of Illinois, utilizing EMDR and Brainspotting to work with complex PTSD, Depression, and Anxiety around Cook County, IL.  Samp has nearly a decade of coaching experience at the junior and collegiate level. He is grateful to be continuing his pursuit for facilitating performance excellence within MOD, as well as the universities around the Chicagoland area. Click here for Samp’s contact information and website.