With the start of a new year, many of us reflect upon the past year and contemplate our goals for the year ahead.  This fresh canvas offers a new beginning.  With this specific new year 2020, we also enter a new decade of possibility!  A chance to harness the power of pure (intrinsic) motivation and achieve your sporting goals.  

Unfortunately, research shows that for many of us the new year goals we set will not be actualized and others will lose momentum and peter out.  However there are those amongst us that find the motivation that enables them to progress their goals beyond the stages of their consideration (precontemplation and contemplation) to determination (decision), action and maintenance.  What is the secret...

Regardless of where you are in your sporting career MOTIVATION is a key mental skill that is required ALL the way along your journey.  Whether you are at the start of your career, climbing up the ladder of success or holding a senior or elite position, knowing your motivational WHY is vital in sustaining you through the inevitable challenges of developing in your chosen sport.

What motivates you at the start may involve the sense of discovery (the new), the excitement of possibility (hope), the joy of accomplishment( mastery) and the tangible achievements you receive (wins, certificates, accolades from others, team placements etc). 

These motivators can be categorized as intrinsic (the one’s inside of you) and are uniquely yours, yet similarly enjoyed by many of us (sense of satisfaction, thrill of nailing it) and extrinsic (the one’s outside of you) rewards that you can treasure and are often “awarded” to you from others (a coach, parent, spectator, sporting body).

In the uphill climb towards greater and greater performance, intrinsic and extrinsic rewards will muster you along.  For some it will be the extrinsic prizes but for many advancing performers it will be the intrinsic rewards that make the difference.  Eventually the treasure chest of trophies will pale and gather dust. Then that internal WHY needs to be revisited and reactivated to push you through the tight passages of the repetitive daily schedule, the extra hours in the gym, the coaches harsh feedback, the disappointments from deselection rounds or stubborn injuries that require more rehabilitation and the impact of not being part of normal life as you miss out on yet another summer, family wedding, holiday abroad etc.

And what happens when you have reached the dizzying heights of success and hold an elite position in your sport, what will keep you motivated when there is no longer the next logical step to climb? At this point understanding your WHY is even more paramount as extrinsic rewards begin to lose their power.  What intrinsic motivation is needed then? The one that started it all?  The one that you developed along the way as you progress your journey?

Developing intrinsic motivation is something a sport psychologist can help you with.  Others in your journey may have also lent a helping hand – that teacher, coach, mental skills training, parent or interested friend.  But to make a start read on.

From a psychological skill aspect, three driving factors underlie Intrinsic Motivation – competence (that sense of achievement – of something challenging enough), autonomy (that sense of doing it yourself freely not because you have to or someone told you too) and relatedness (that sense of it mattering to YOU and to others who are important to you, which creates a sense of belonging).  At various stages (the beginner, advanced or elite athlete) and ages (child, youth, young adult, adult) these three intrinsic driving factors may change in their proportional relevance to YOU. 

Think about something you already do in your life for its own sake and check in to see which intrinsic driver it serves? As a personal example, I am learning to surf, the drivers are that sense of pure pleasure in the ocean and the thrill of catching that wave – competence and autonomy.

Knowing what your intrinsic motivators are is the beginning step to keeping motivation alive across your lifetime.  It actually applies to all and any area of your life not just sport.

As a beginner athlete – what gives you joy in your sport, what aspects can you control and experiment with right now and who matters to you in this sport (your parents, coach, role model and friends).

As a intermediate athlete – knowing what your next steps are in achievement pathway specifically is vital. Working out how can you tailor these to your own individual style and negotiating this with your coach and team is your next challenge.  Figuring out who is important to you at this present stage e.g. coach, fellow competitors will be a necessary part of that negotiation pathway and forge a support network that allows you to stay motivated, take on board the advice given but maintain your own autonomy.

As an elite athlete – you are there or near the top. Congratulations you made it!  But now what? In order to stay there and keep motivated you will need to now look at how to keep pushing the edges of your personal achievement.  What areas of PB (personal best) are you keen to improve and why this area.   Being at the top affords you the greatest amount of autonomy – but it comes with the (calculated) risk and associated vulnerability of exposing your potential "failures".  These are of course not failures but experimental learning experiences and without risk-taking you may lose your top placing.  Furthermore at the elite level there are plenty of others who will criticize your performance.  .As an elite athlete the relatedness factor may come from the respect you get from your elite peers and/or the relevance of your loved ones may re-emerge and their support cannot be underestimated.

Whatever level you are at, make a fresh new year start and engage your motivational skill set…work out your personal intrinsic motivators and accelerate your progress.

Paula Dennan

When I first made the Black Sticks, I really struggled with anxiety. It became a constant companion of mine and had a huge impact on aspects of everyday life. I was having hour long anxiety attacks; I was emotional and lacked a lot of self-confidence. Seeing Paula was one of the best decisions I could have made,

NZ Blackstick