Your Ambition and Motivation
By Dr. Jim Taylor
Ambition and 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 maximize 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. My 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.
In training and competitions, you arrive at a point at which it is no longer fun. I call this the Grind, which starts when it gets tiring, painful, and tedious. the Grind is also the point at which it really counts. The Grind is what separates successful athletes from those who don’t achieve their goals. Many athletes when they reach this point either ease up or give up because it’s just too darned hard. But truly motivated athletes reach the Grind and keep on going.
Many sport psychologists will say that you have to love the Grind. I say that, except for a very few hyper-motivated athletes, love isn’t in the cards because there’s not much to love. But how you respond to the Grind lies along a continuum. As I just mentioned, loving the Grind is rare. At the other end of the continuum is “I hate the Grind.” If you feel this way, you are not likely to stay motivated. I suggest that you neither love nor hate the Grind; you just accept it as part of the deal in striving toward your goals. The Grind may not be very enjoyable, but what does feel good is seeing your hard work pay off with success.
Effort = Goals?
When I speak to groups of young athletes, I always ask how many have big goals, like going to the Olympics or playing pro ball. About 90% raise their hands. I then ask how many are doing everything they can to achieve their goals. Only one or two tentative hands go up. What this tells me is that there is often a big gap between the goals athletes have and the effort they are putting into those goals. It’s easy to say that you want to be a successful athlete. It is much more difficult to actually make it happen. If you have this kind of disconnect, you have two choices. You can either lower goals to match your effort or you can raise your effort to match your goals. There is no right answer. But if you’re truly motivated to be successful, you better make sure you’re doing the work necessary to achieve your goals.
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.
Congratulations to Emily Hughes, former US figure skating champion, for graduating from Harvard University. “For me I learned so much from sports that initially I didn’t think were obviously transferable,” said Hughes, now 26. “And there were a lot of transferable skills. You have to learn how to set goals, and how do you accomplish a big goal? You have to break it up. And it’s the same in the workplace. How do you reach that next milestone? It’s the same thing: You have to reach those steps in between. You have to take feedback and figure out how to get better.” She is currently now working at Google. Nice job Emily!
In Another’s Words
“Big results require big ambitions”
– Heraclitus (Philosopher)