One morning while driving to work very early in the morning, Anson Dorrance, head woman’s soccer coach at University of North Carolina, saw one of his players doing extra training on a deserted field. He did not stop and kept driving, but later left a note in her locker that read, “the vision of a champion is someone who is bent over, drenched in sweat, at the point of exhaustion when no one else is watching.” The young woman on the field, Mia Hamm, would later go on to become one of the greatest soccer players of all time.
In general, there are two types of motivation seen in athletics including: intrinsic and extrinsic motivation. Extrinsic motivation is the seeking of awards, admiration, fame, money, and other such accolades or trying to avoid punishments, guilt or shame. Intrinsic motivation comes from deep within an athlete, a true passion and love for the sport. You are participating in the sport purely for the enjoyment of the activity. Mia Hamm is just one good example of a famous athlete who was obviously very intrinsically motivated. It is not uncommon for an athlete to have a mixture of intrinsic and extrinsic motivation and this is not a bad thing; however, it is important that an athlete never looses sight of why he or she came to love the sport in the first place. In fact, according to Hardy, Jones and Gould (1993) elite athletes must have high levels of intrinsic motivation in order to sustain effort through dips in form and confidence. This being said, as an athlete, make sure that you know what fuels that fire deep down inside.
What drives you to participate in your sport? Deep down, what is the BIG WHY behind the countless hours, blood, sweat and tears that are poured into your sport on a daily basis? Understanding your BIG WHY will help you get at your inner motivation. Peggy Fleming, gold medalist Olympic ice skater once said, “The first thing is to love your sport. Never do it to please someone else.” If you are doing something or participating in an event solely to please some one else, it is time to take a break or get out of it. Take a step back to update your goals to find more gratification and personal meaning in what you are doing. For more information about the benefit of taking a break, check out our April blog post.
Rather than having an ego orientation (happy when you receive some type of recognition), take a mastery approach to your game. Here, you strive for personal excellence and are happy with the end result as long as you have given it your all. You are focused on getting better and improving instead of trying to prove that you are good. If you take the mastery approach, you will feel much more satisfied when you are successful because you have fulfilled a personal need. While trophies and money are nice, they are merely icing on the cake. Consider a quote by Russell Wilson, Seattle Seahawks quarterback: “I have this rage to master my craft.” This deep desire is something that makes him successful as a football player. Try taking the same approach when it comes to your sport.
There is nothing like earning a sparkling new trophy or medal to add to your collection. Also, we have all done that extra repeat or drill to avoid looking bad in front of our peers or to avoid the guilt we would feel later and there is nothing wrong with that. In fact, extrinsic rewards can be very motivating. The problem arises when an athlete is only focused on that extrinsic reward because his or her motivation is mostly contingent upon extrinsic factors. There can be an overwhelming sense of emptiness for these types of athletes because they tend to seek happiness in the wrong place. For example, consider a swimmer who just finished his or her race and turns to the coach for a verbal reward. Yet, the coach says nothing. In this situation, the athlete leaves the pool feeling unfulfilled and probably unhappy. In addition, if that external motivation is taken away there is no motivation to participate or to continue to improve. Therefore, external motivation doesn’t tend to last for the long haul. Remember, true long lasting motivation comes from within. Enjoy the spoils of victory, but make participating in your sport itself the biggest reward.
When it comes down to it, motivation plays a huge part of athletics. At the end of the day, you must remember what fuels that inner fire of yours. Make sure you know why you play or compete, take a mastery approach to the game, and only use extrinsic rewards for inner motivation. As Mia Hamm stated years after she was found training alone on the empty field, “Somewhere behind the athlete you’ve become and the hours of practice and the coaches who have pushed you is a little girl who fell in love with the game and never looked back… play for her.”
Let us help you to find your true inner motivation and ways you can leverage that motivation to become a better athlete! Contact us today!