How to Build True Motivation in Sports

As an athlete

Motivation in sports provides you with the drive to train. It instills in you that hunger to keep pushing, even when everything seems to be against you and you face setback after setback.

There is little success in sports without the motivation to attain such success. But where does this motivation come from? That’s what is truly important to uncover.

You don’t want to adopt the motivation of someone else, if it’s not what drives you to train and compete. If you do, you will find yourself feeling lost and as though you’ve lost your passion to play.

And the motivation I’m talking about goes beyond getting hype before a game. No, this form of motivation goes much deeper than that. You see, it’s lasting. It does not come and go with a speech, but remains within you day in and day out.

To build this type of true motivation as an athlete requires you to not think of it as motivation anymore, but rather, think of it as your purpose.

Finding Your Why as an Athlete

I’ve been working with an athlete who’s felt lost recently. She came to me because she’d been dealing with burnout in her sport. In fact, she was questioning whether she wanted to keep playing at all.

And she isn’t one who lacks talent, either. She’s playing at the professional level.

All outward signs indicate she has a bright future and all is going according to her plan. Except for what she’s been feeling on the inside.

In short, she was demotivated. Training had grown to feel like a drag, and thoughts of quitting sprang into her mind on a daily basis.

Whenever I work with an athlete like this who’s dealing with burnout or the loss of love for their sport, the first place I look are external factors.

Not because these external factors are to blame, but because of the impact they have on the mind.

If there is a lot of pressure being felt by the athlete, or their sport is leading them to feel a lot of sports performance anxiety or fear of failure, then it becomes clear why they’re feeling burnt out.

Once We’ve identified these factors, we can begin working on them.

In the past, I’ve seen strong progress made when we focus on managing anxiety or overcoming fear, for example. And while I did see her make some improvement, it seemed like something was missing.

The more we talked, the more I came to realize what it was. She didn’t have a why!

I finally came to this realization when she explained to me how she used to train a lot harder, waking up at 4:30 in the morning to train and staying late after practice.

That was when she was younger. A lot has changed since then. As she put it, “You wouldn’t catch me doing any of that.”

And she didn’t say this in a proud way, but more in a way of longing. I could tell she wanted to get back to that level of passion she used to have.

But passion is difficult to attain without purpose.

So, we shifted our sights from overcoming anxiety, managing pressure, and reducing fear, and placed them on finding her purpose, also known as her why.

The true reason why she competes!

As we worked on this together, I realized how crucial of an exercise it is for all athletes to do. It’s one I have now incorporated into my training program within one-on-one mental coaching.

When you find your why as an athlete, you are identifying your true purpose. The real reason why you do what you do.

And the best part about this is, your why is specific to you!

You should not try and adopt someone else’s why, unless it truly hits your heart and connects with you.

Otherwise, don’t worry about what anyone else’s purpose is. Your job is to find your own purpose.

What Happens When You Find Your Purpose in Sports

A change comes over you when you identify and accept your purpose in sports. When you understand your why it becomes a powerful guiding light that will take you through even the most troubled times.

As I worked with the athlete I mentioned in the previous section, something became very clear: most of the challenges she was facing could be managed by identifying and focusing on her purpose.

The same will be true for you!

Let’s take a look at some of the main benefits that will occur when you find your purpose in sports:

  • You will train with more focus.
  • Failures will be easier to manage.
  • Challenges won’t be able to stop you.
  • The opinions of others won’t matter as much.
  • You will enjoy training and working hard again and won’t be as likely to face burnout.
  • A new level of meaning and sense of passion will be brought into your sport.

All of this will happen as a result of you identifying your true why in sports.

When your motivation as an athlete is based on a strong purpose, of course it’s going to be easier to bounce back from failure and face any challenge that comes your way.

Because the resistance will be small in comparison to the purpose behind your actions.

And as you train and compete, you will do so with greater focus and commitment than ever before. Why? Because now you aren’t just training to get better. You are training and competing to attain the clear purpose you’ve set for yourself.

Finding Your Why in Sports

To build lasting motivation in sports, you need to find your why. You must locate your purpose. Or more aptly put, you must create your purpose.

This is the best part about finding your why…it’s something you get to choose.

In fact, for your purpose to truly be your purpose and for it to have a real impact on you, it has to be created by you. It can’t be found looking to other people.

Yes, others may influence your why. But others cannot choose your why for you.

Working with that female athlete, I explained to her very carefully that her why had to come from herself. It was not something I could choose for her, or anyone else, for that matter, could choose for her.

Your parents shouldn’t even be the ones to find your purpose for you. It must come from yourself!

Now, to help you find your true purpose, since this is often a difficult thing to find, there’s an exercise you can use and a set of questions you can answer.

Uncovering Your Purpose in Sports

Sitting and thinking is a difficult task. It’s easy to get caught up in our own thoughts or blown off course by a distraction.

But to uncover your true purpose in sports, you need to spend some time contemplating what this means to you. So what you can do is write, instead.

Self-reflective writing is a great tool for athletes, helping to increase self-awareness.

When you write like this, you allow your thoughts to stream out of your mind. You are putting up no resistance and simply letting your mind flow onto the page.

You can perform this exercise writing by hand in a journal, or typing. It doesn’t matter, just choose whichever you’re more comfortable with.

One important factor is that as you write, you want to do so quickly. Don’t stop and think too much.

The point of this self-reflective writing is to allow your mind to run free, without the inhibition of thinking. This is where your true desires and motivators come to light.

Sometimes this kind of writing can be scary or uncomfortable. That’s okay, and probably a sign you’re uncovering some good stuff about yourself.

Now, you may be wondering what you should write about or how you should start. While I can’t tell you what your purpose is in sports, I can give you a few questions to use as prompts when you’re writing:

  • What would you miss the most if you quit your sport?
  • Think back to when you were younger, why did you commit to playing your sport?
  • Think outside of traditional forms of sports motivation, what is a fun reason why you play your sport?
  • What is the ultimate goal you want to achieve in your sport?
  • If you could only choose one reason why you play, what would it be?

Spend some time on each of these questions and allow your mind to run free. Don’t rush this process, either. Finding your why is not something that has to happen in a single night.

It may, but it also may take some time.

When you find your true purpose in sports, you’ll know.

Once you find your why, your job is to focus on it.

It’s not going to be some magical thing that will make you wake up each morning with a big smile on your face. You’re still going to have moments of doubt.

The whole point of finding your why is so that you have a clear reason behind your actions. But for that reason to keep motivating you forward, you need to remind yourself of it each day.

Write it on a note and read it each day. Put it in your phone. Tape a note to your bathroom mirror. Whatever you need to do to keep yourself reminded of your why each and every day.

Final Thoughts

Building strong motivation is a key piece to your success as an athlete.

You are going to face setbacks, feel pressure, and doubt yourself. In these moments, you need something that will pull you through, no matter what.

What that will be is your purpose. The real reason why you play your sport.

As an athlete, you need to uncover your why. Or better put, you need to create your why. And remember, this purpose needs to come from you. It cannot be decided by anyone else.

By finding your why, you will have a powerful purpose that you can use to keep yourself focused and push through even the toughest of times as an athlete.

Thank you for reading and I wish you the best of success in all that you do.

Contact Success Starts Within Today

Please contact us to learn more about mental coaching and to see how it can improve your mental game and increase your performance. Complete the form below, call (252)-371-1602 or schedule an introductory coaching call here.

Eli Straw

Eli is a sport psychology consultant and mental game coach who works 1-1 with athletes to help them improve their mental skills and overcome any mental barriers keeping them from performing their best. He has an M.S. in psychology and his mission is to help athletes and performers reach their goals through the use of sport psychology & mental training.

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The Mentally Tough Kid course will teach your young athlete tools & techniques to increase self-confidence, improve focus, manage mistakes, increase motivation, and build mental toughness.

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