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What motivates athletes?

With the Olympics finally here it seemed fitting to consider what motivates athletes and the correlations we can draw between them and ourselves.


Jennie Marshall | 10 August 2016

With the Olympics finally here and the whole country caught up in the buzz of watching athletes win medals and break records, it seemed fitting to consider what motivates athletes and the correlations we can draw between them and ourselves.

Motivation is the foundation of all athletic effort and accomplishment. Without your desire and determination to improve your sports performances, all of the other mental factors, confidence, intensity, focus, and emotions, are meaningless. To become the best athlete you can be you must be motivated to do what it takes to maximise your ability and achieve your goals.

Motivation, simply defined, is the ability to initiate and persist at a task. To perform your best, you must want to begin the process of developing as an athlete and you must be willing to maintain your efforts until you have achieved your goals. Motivation in sports is so important because you must be willing to work hard in the face of fatigue, boredom, pain, and the desire to do other things. Motivation will impact everything that influences your sports performance: physical conditioning, technical and tactical training, mental preparation, and general lifestyle including sleep, diet, school or work, and relationships.

The reason motivation is so important is that it is the only contributor to sports performance over which you have control. There are three things that affect how well you perform. First, your ability, which includes your physical, technical, tactical, and mental capabilities. Because ability is something you are born with, you can't change your ability so it is outside of your control.

Second, the difficulty of the competition influences performance. Contributors to difficulty include the ability of the opponent and external factors such as an "away game" crowd and weather such as temperature, wind, and sun. You have no control over these factors.

Finally, motivation will impact performance. It is also the only factor over which you have control. Motivation will directly impact the level of success that you ultimately achieve. If you are highly motivated to improve your performances, then you will put in the time and effort necessary to raise your game. Motivation will also influence the level of performance when you begin a competition. If they're competing against someone of nearly equal skill, it will not be ability that will determine the outcome. Rather, it will be the athlete who works the hardest, who doesn't give up, and who performs their best when it counts. In other words, the athlete who is most motivated to win.

Signs of Low Motivation

There are several signs of low motivation:

A lack of desire to practice as much as you should.

  • Less than 100% effort in training.
  • Skipping or shortening training.
  • Effort that is inconsistent with your goals.

 

Three D's: Prime motivation means putting 100% of your time, effort, energy, and focus into all aspects of your sport. It involves doing everything possible to become the best athlete you can be.

Prime motivation begins with what I call the three D's. The first D stands for direction. Before you can attain prime motivation, you must first consider the different directions you can go in your sport. You have three choices: stop participating completely, continue at your current level, or strive to be the best athlete you can be.

The second D represents decision. With these three choices of direction, you must select one direction in which to go. None of these directions are necessarily right or wrong, better or worse, they're simply your options. Your choice will dictate the amount of time and effort you will put into your sport and how good an athlete you will ultimately become.

The third D stands for dedication. Once you've made your decision, you must dedicate yourself to it. If your decision is to become the best athlete you can be, then this last step, dedication, will determine whether you have prime motivation. Your decision to be your best and your dedication to your sport must be a top priority. Only by being completely dedicated to your direction and decision will you ensure that you have prime motivation.

Developing Prime Motivation: Focus on your long-term goals. To be your best, you have to put a lot of time and effort into your sport.

When you feel this way, focus on your long-term goals. Remind yourself why you're working so hard. Imagine exactly what you want to accomplish and tell yourself that the only way you'll be able to reach your goals is to continue to work hard.

Try to generate the feelings of inspiration and pride that you will experience when you reach your goals.

Have a training partner. It's difficult to be highly motivated all of the time on your own. There are going to be some days when you just don't feel like getting out there. Also, no matter how hard you push yourself, you will work that much harder if you have someone pushing you. That someone can be a coach, personal trainer, or friend. But the best person to have is a regular training partner, someone at about your level of ability and with similar goals. You can work together to accomplish your goals. The chances are on any given day that one of you will be motivated. Even if you're not very psyched to practice on a particular day, you will still put in the time and effort because your partner is counting on you.

Focus on your greatest competitor. Another way to keep yourself motivated is to focus on your greatest competitor. Identify who your biggest competition is and put his or her name or photo where you can see it every day. Ask yourself, "Am I working as hard as him/her?" Remember that only by working your hardest will you have a chance to overcome your greatest competitor.

Motivational cues. A big part of staying motivated involves generating positive emotions associated with your efforts and achieving your goals. A way to keep those feelings is with motivational cues such as inspirational phrases and photographs. If you come across a quote or a picture that moves you, place it where you can see it regularly such as in your bedroom, on your refrigerator door, inside your meeting notes folder or in your locker at the gym. Look at it periodically and allow yourself to experience the emotions it creates in you. These reminders and the emotions associated with them will inspire and motivate you to continue to work hard toward your goals.

So having read my thoughts on what motivates athletes, my question for you is simple - how much of what they do, can you adopt in your home and work life?

I can't give the best answer a gold medal, but I can dream of a future that looks brighter when you're motivated.

That in itself will be my gold medal.

If you're looking to take the next step in your lifelong learning journey, take a look at our Business Skills and Leadership and Management training courses.

 

QA Training | Jennie-marshal

Jennie Marshall

Learning Programme Director (Enterprise and Outsource Services)

Jennie Marshall is an award winning learning professional (Winner of the 2016 Learning Performance Institute, Learning Professional of the Year Bronze Award), who joined QA in 2010 as a Learning Consultant in the Leadership, Management and Business Skills team. She has gone on to progress through various positions to her current role of Learning Programme Director where she now designs, develops and manages the delivery of end to end learning programmes. She is an experienced and dedicated learning professional, with expertise including management, leadership and talent, and training and facilitation developed within a variety of environments. Jennie has a proven track record of delivering blended, multi modal learning programmes using Learning Management System platforms and in a more traditional face to face setting, is at home with small and large audiences. She is a proven developer of people and is accredited in the use of a variety of tools including Strength Deployment Inventory®, Emergenetics®, Hogan®, Prism® and Worldsview™ as well as being an NLP (Neuro Linguistic Programming) Master Practitioner and Kirkpatrick Certified Professional (Bronze).
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