One of the most prominent issues I hear from coaches is that their team needs to be more “mentally tough” or “resilient.” They will say, “my team just can’t win long rallies,” or “they just can’t seem to kill the ball when it matters,” or even something to the tune of, “they just don’t seem to get it; the hard work needed to really compete and win.” So far, I have seen these diagnoses lead to changes in drills, long speeches about how to grind it out, and/or changes in practice structure like hustling to get water, taking a certain amount of time for water, lining up in certain ways during drill demos, speaking to coaches in certain manners (yes coach, no coach), warming up and peppering in ways that are said to “encourage intensity and build better habits”, all in an attempt to hopefully teach the athlete how to win those hard fought rallies in the last five points of game.

What I want to offer today is a model I have come to know and love: TARGET, that coaches can use as a framework for how they develop their team’s culture that can naturally help team’s seem more “mentally tough/resilient”and ultimately intrinsically motivated to improve. Joyce Epstein’s TARGET framework was initially designed to provide alterable variables to produce more positive effects on student learning and development in the school and classroom setting (Epstein, 1987). TARGET refers to task, authority, reward, grouping, evaluation, and timing. The task structure involved what the students were asked to learn and the assignments they were asked to complete. Authority involved how the students were to interact with their teachers, administrators, parents, and others in the school community. Reward revolves around how students were to be motivated and recognized for their progress and achievement. The grouping structure concerned how students were brought together or kept apart for instruction and social activities. The evaluation structure involved the comparative or individual standards that were set for the teachers to monitor their students’ academic, social, or personal skills. Timing made sure that the pace of instruction was dynamic based on the students’ needs.


The framework has since caught traction in the realm of Applied Sport Psychology. Duda & Balaguer (2007) wrote a chapter in the Handbook of Applied Sport Psychology titled “Coach-Created Motivational Climate” stating that the TARGET framework was often used by coaches to provide some clarity and organization to the variety of moving parts typically involved in creating a successful mastery-oriented climate; a culture centered around supporting effort, cooperation and placing emphasis on individual and team development, learning and mastery of tasks. Further applying this framework to the realm of sports coaching, Cecchini et al. (2014) conducted a study of the long-term effects that a TARGET framework can produce on social factors, psychological mediators, motivation, and behavioral consequences of student-athletes. The researchers found significant positive effects most notably in autonomy, levels of decision/election, and their improvement of cooperative learning; supporting the use of the TARGET framework to facilitate intrinsic motivation (getting better for the sake of getting better) as opposed to being extrinsically motivated (getting better only to achieve a specific, external result i.e. winning).

Structuring your Team and Practices

In applying this to the culture of a Volleyball team we can structure the dimension of authority by initially establishing expectations for the season (how to warm up, etiquette in practice and at tournaments, what to expect from the coach, etc.), then allowing the team to establish their own seasonal expectations, team values, and gym/practice culture. To keep athletes on task, coaches can utilize task lists that help athletes stay on track with their progress during their training sessions and work towards their individual and team goals. “Tasks” you assign can be manipulated based on individual and team needs. “Needs” are a part of the timing dimension. Everyone learns in their own way and at their own unique pace. Grouping is handled through the athlete’s understanding of their specialized positions and their formal and informal leadership roles. During training they can utilize friendly inter-squad competition (splitting up and pitting the team against each other) and inter-club competition between other teams, as well as position specific and small group training sessions. Doing this can instill a sense of club camaraderie and facilitate a cooperative learning environment.

Be Intentional in Evaluating Success

Progress can be evaluated through 1-on-1 check-ins, team check-ins, and observations based on the coach’s personal task list as well as the progress athletes are making on their individual task lists. These evaluations can happen on a per-practice basis so that they are making incremental improvement. They can also happen on a per-week basis so that the team stays on track with how they need to perform leading into tournaments and monthly to make sure they peak appropriately. These check-ins can also be a way for the coach to find out how they can tailor their feedback towards what they want to get out of their training. The reward dimension uses feedback to highlight an athlete’s progress and the team’s improvements based on what and how
they need it. Doing this can instill a sense of club camaraderie and facilitates a cooperative learning environment. “Rewards” can also be material (i.e. bringing in treats to the team who scores the most ‘real points’ per serve during each tournament to encourage service runs during tournaments).

Get started

Use this TARGET Framework Handout for your team


Cecchini, J. A., Fernandez-Rio, J., Mendez-Gimenez, A., Cecchini, C., & Martins, L. (2014).
Epstein’s TARGET Framework and Motivational Climate in Sport: Effects of a Field Based, Long-Term Intervention Program. International Journal of Sports Science & Coaching, 9(6), 1325-1340.

Duda, J.L., & Balaguer, I. (2007). The coach-created motivational climate. In S. Jowett & D.
Lavalee (Eds.), Handbook of Applied Sport Psychology Research (pp.159-181). Morgantown, WV: Fitness Information Technology.

Epstein, J. L., & Center for Research on Elementary and Middle Schools, B., MD. (1987).
TARGET: An examination of parallel school and family structures that promote student motivation and achievement (Report No. 6). Baltimore, MD: Center for Research on Elementary and Middle Schools Report.

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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.  He is a Certified Mental Performance Consultant”, CMPC through AASP.

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.