The Relationship Between Mental Training and Motivation in Collegiate Athletics

The relationship between athlete mental training and motivation is a necessary topic to consider due to the importance of motivation for athletes

The relationship between athlete mental training and motivation is a necessary topic to consider due to the importance of motivation for athletes, especially at the collegiate level.

Motivation is a product of the mind. Therefore, one place to look when examining how motivation is influenced is mental training.

This is the practice of using sport psychology tools and techniques to build mental skills.

Now, to determine a direct relationship would require performing a thorough research project. After reading through some studies that were already conducted, the only conclusion they came to was that more research is needed. I agree.

However, I can say from research gathered through real-world experience (working with college athletes), that there is a definite relationship between motivation and athlete mental training.

And so, in this article, I am going to break down the way I have seen mental training used to directly impact an athlete’s level of motivation.

What Lowers Motivation in College Athletes

Collegiate athletes will likely have high levels of motivation. That’s one of the reasons they landed themselves on a college team. For one, they had the motivation to train throughout high school to get their skills to their current level.

In addition, they had the motivation to commit to putting in even more effort once they get to campus.

So, what happens that can lead to a decrease in motivation?

Well, something appears that begins to work against their desire to play. This is where I have seen a direct correlation between mental training and motivation. The mental training is used to build mental skills that work against what is lowering motivation.

But we will get into that in the next section. First, let’s examine the main factors that lower motivation in athletes.

Pressure and Expectations

As an athlete moves from high school to college, there seems to be an overload of additional pressure.

This may come from the athlete themselves, holding on to the expectation that they must start as a freshman. Or it may come from coaches who expect them to compete at a higher level.

No matter where it comes from, pressure, and the expectations that follow, have a tendency to work against an athlete’s motivation.

Now, sometimes pressure and expectations can increase motivation because the athlete is determined to rise above the pressure and meet what is expected of them.

However, it can also decrease their motivation as focus shifts from what they used to enjoy about the game, and now onto something that makes it feel more like a job.

Another way pressure and expectations lower motivation is if an athlete fails to reach them. Continually feeling as though they’re not good enough or capable, will cause them to have less motivation to keep training.

Low Confidence

Sometimes confidence can vanish.

Back in high school, an athlete may have had no problems believing in themselves. But now, as they’ve moved onto a higher level, doubts have begun to creep into their mind.

Lacking confidence lowers motivation because they don’t truly believe they are capable of success. Let’s say they’ve set a goal for themselves that normally they’d have a strong motivation to work towards.

Except, they don’t have the confidence that they can achieve the goal. Do you think the athlete will have much motivation to put in the effort each day? Probably not.

Another way confidence lowers motivation is because it’s tiring to constantly be wondering where all your self-belief has gone. They may feel as though they’ll never be able to get it back and so what’s the point of even trying?

Performance Anxiety & Fear of Failure

I pair these two together because one is seldom seen without the other.

Performance anxiety is caused by worries about the future. Fear of failure happens when an athlete is afraid of making a mistake.

The more this consumes the mind, the less motivation one tends to feel.

If an athlete shows up to each game full of anxiety, do you think they’re going to have an increased motivation to keep playing? Probably not…unless the anxiety were to go away. The same is true of fear.

Both performance anxiety and fear of failure are awful feelings. They are terrible to experience and avoidance tends to be an easy solution. As avoidance grows more attractive, motivation to play will drop.

How Mental Training is Used to Increase Motivation

As we examine the three main factors leading to a decrease in motivation among college athletes, it’s clear that they are mental.

Nothing has changed physically within their sport. What has changed is their mindset. Now, an additional factor I did not mention is when an athlete gets injured. However, that can also be solved through athlete mental training, by improving their mental approach.

To use mental training in a way that improves motivation requires a set system. One that, if followed, can be of great help to any college athlete who is struggling with motivation and wants to find a way to improve.

That’s a key word…want.

No mental training technique will help unless the athlete truly wants it to. But if that want is there, the results can be extraordinary.

Step #1: Identify Why Motivation is Lacking

Mental training works best when it is directed specifically. Therefore, the first step that must be taken is one of awareness.

You first must uncover what is causing the drop in motivation. It may be one of the three factors from above, a recent injury, or another mental game challenge that has not been mentioned.

From experience, I can say that a typical response to this question will be a loss of love. It is that there is not as much joy present in their sport that causes the athlete to lose motivation.

However, that is only a surface-level answer. The cause of the loss of love will be directly related to a drop in motivation. Typically the true cause will be the same.

Step #2: Apply Mental Training Tools

Once the cause of the drop in motivation is identified, it’s time to apply athlete mental training tools.

These will be specific to the problem faced, but some of the main ones include:

  • Self-talk
  • Visualization
  • Performance Objectives
  • Mindfulness
  • Gratitude
  • Writing
  • Breath Work
  • Reframing

These mental training tools are aimed at improving mental skills. As mental skills are developed, the cause of the drop in motivation will be reduced, and the desire to compete and train will return.

Step #3: Make it Routine

Athlete mental training is not something performed one day and then forgotten. Not if you want it to have an impact, that is.

Just as with anything, to make the most of mental training tools, consistency is required. To gain such consistency, I’ve found it best to generate a routine.

Athletes are used to training routines, so applying on to the mental game is a familiar concept.

There are two types of routines that work best: daily routines and pregame routines. A daily routine will be exercises performed each day that work to continually build mental skills. A pregame routine will be done the day before and the day of a game to create an optimal mindset.

Final Thoughts

The relationship between mental training and motivation in collegiate athletes is an important one because all athletes need motivation.

They must have that desire to train, compete, and push past adversity.

Yet, it’s easy to see such motivation drop, especially once an athlete reaches college. An increase in pressure, decrease in confidence, and addition of anxiety and fear can all result in lower levels of motivation.

Through the use of athlete mental training, these challenges can be overcome and motivation will be increased. Thank you for reading and I wish you the best of success in all that you do.

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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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