Motivation in Sport: The Psychology Behind Competition

motivation in sportImagine yourself running down the court. All you can focus on is making that shot. Your adrenaline is pumping, your eyes are on the hoop, and you’ve blocked out all sounds of the cheering crowd around you. You’re dribbling the ball, weaving through the opposite team, jump up and *swoosh*! You’ve just made the winning shot. Joy floods through your body; you’re beaming as your teammates all run up to congratulate you.

What is it that motivates athletes to work so hard towards their goals? What is it that causes people to wake up at 4 am to start their training, abstain from unhealthy foods and never stop exercising? Motivation in sport, whether it be running, swimming or basketball, comes from within. There’s something about pushing yourself to the limit that appeals to many athletes, and it certainly shows. Read on for ways to develop that essential inner drive.

The Backbone of Success

Without motivation, there would be no driving force to succeed. Without the desire to succeed, why begin in the first place? Why use up all of your energy, day after day, focusing on a goal that you don’t even care about? Athletes need to be motivated in order to deal with the long, grueling days necessary for success. Sometimes it’s going to be painful, sometimes it’s going to be boring, and sometimes you’ll feel as though you can’t bear to go on, yet you keep pushing through it.

Your level of motivation directly correlates to your level of success. While there are plenty of outside factors – your physical ability as well as the level of competition – if you want it, you can achieve it. Let’s say you’re competing against someone who has the exact same physical abilities as you. When it comes down to it, it’ll truly be the athlete with the most motivation and determination that will come out on top.

How Big Are Your Goals?

Hand held medal against a stormy skyDo you wish to run a mile in under 6 minutes, or do you wish to hold the world record for the fastest time? The difference between these two goals is immense, and the difference between the motivation it takes to achieve these two goals is equally as large. If your goal is to run a mile in under 6 minutes, you’re competing against yourself. This means that you have no outside sources to compare yourself to and no motivation to beat others. All of your motivation is focused on your own personal achievement. This is by no means a bad thing! But consider trying to hold the world record for the fastest mile. While you are certainly competing against yourself by trying to constantly beat your best time, you are also competing against hundreds of thousands of other runners who are all focusing on the same goal. Which goal do you think will require more time and effort? Which goal will require more motivation? If your goals are big, your motivation will be bigger.

Do You Have Enough Motivation?

Do you have big goals in your athletic career, but aren’t driven enough to really focus on achieving them? Maybe you woke up one morning and decided that sleeping an extra hour was a better choice than hitting the gym. Or maybe you decided to eat an extra slice of pizza instead of an apple just because you were craving it. Whatever the slip-up, it’s affecting your motivation negatively. I’m not saying everyone has to be perfect (I’m certainly not), but every time you do something that goes against your goal, you are only hurting yourself. Motivation needs to be nurtured. If you constantly put the minimum amount of effort into achieving athletic success, you’re diminishing the amount of motivation you have.

The Desire to Win

motivationinsportMany athletes live for the feeling of victory. The feeling of beating their competition, giving it their all and feeling their adrenaline take over their body. Sports are almost like a drug – exercise releases endorphins and reduces stress, causing feelings of euphoria in many athletes. If you’ve ever been a part of a team, how did it feel when you won? Did you feel as though you were on the top of the world? Were you jumping out of your skin with excitement waiting for the next time you could experience that feeling again? The feeling of victory is a sweet one indeed, and many athletes are addicted to it. The feeling of victory alone is enough to inspire motivation.

How to Gain Motivation

Even if you know you want to achieve in sports, you may not know where to begin. You may not even know what sport you want to become a part of! If this is the case, you should search around until you find something that feels right to you. Something that you have the desire to work towards, something that gets your blood pumping and your endorphins flowing. Once that happens, you are already on the right track.

You’re going to hit low points, but it’s important to power through them. Whenever you feel as though you want to give up, remember your goals. Remember how it felt when you won, remember the feeling of achieving smaller goals before this. If you still can’t motivate yourself, grab a friend! If you’re part of a team, chances are one of your teammates is feeling the exact same way you are. If you two decide to work together, you can help motivate each other. After all, training is a lot more fun when you’re not doing it alone. And it’s a lot easier to get up and exercise when someone is pestering you to do just that. No matter how hard you push yourself, your partner will be there to push you even harder. When you feel as though you can’t go any longer, your partner will be there to give you the pep talk you need to keep going.

Focus on your competition. How hard do you think they’re training? Do you think they’ve decided to skip a day of training to sit around and watch television? By assuming your competition is training harder than you are, you’ll subconsciously give yourself the motivation you need to continue to push yourself.

Set smaller goals that all lead towards your bigger goal. When you’re focusing on a goal that seems very far off in the distance, it can be hard to gain the motivation necessary to achieve it. The trick is setting ‘stepping stone’ goals that will help lead you to that final goal. This breaks the goal up into smaller, easier to achieve chunks. Instead of training and practicing and feeling as though you’re not getting any closer to your goal, you can gauge your success based on the smaller goals that you are achieving along the way. The more small goals you achieve, the more confident you will become!

Most importantly? Don’t wear yourself out – too much. While you do need to be consistently working towards your goals, it’s important to focus on other aspects of your life as well. If you get too wrapped up in constantly training and constantly trying to succeed, you can lose sight of everything else you want out of life. Are you ready to get out there and beat your competition? Set a goal, envision yourself achieving that goal, and let’s get training!