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Understanding Your Motivation as an Athlete

Canceled races, swimming restrictions, essential travel only, and staying at home are just a few changes the triathlon community has experienced recently. It's certainly no challenge compared to the global health threat and what the amazing healthcare practitioners are doing every day, and we thank them so much.

Motivation in Sport

When discussing athlete motivation it is common to consider the differences of intrinsic and extrinsic motivation.

Extrinsic Motivation

This is commonly described as motivation that is driven by external factors. This could be rewards, race results, peer pressure, accountability to a coach, or even social media posts and kudos on Strava (more common than you'd think). Remove all that and how does an athlete at this end of the scale get up in the morning? They'd struggle!

Intrinsic Motivation

This is the motivation that comes from within the athlete. You could describe this type of athlete as self-determined. One that is stimulated by the love of the sport, the learning of the process/skill or even the challenge of competition. That competition can be as simple as proving to yourself that you can climb that hill or beat a certain time. This type of athlete has no desire to promote their workouts or races and will get up early in the morning.

Have a think about where you would sit on this scale.

At this current time, with COVID-19, athlete's motivations have become more obvious. I've noticed some clear markers within myself as an athlete and in others that I coach. What is the most successful? How does it affect your performance? How can you make adjustments to improve your motivation?

What is the most successful position on the scale?

It's a blend of both intrinsic and extrinsic, but as you may have guessed I believe that the pendulum swings closer to the intrinsic end. Here you find an athlete that has the passion and self-determination to set high standards for themselves while enjoying the process of improvement rather than the result. However, result orientated goals (ie. races) are key in giving perspective and drive.

How will your position on the scale affect your performance?

At the extrinsic end of the scale, you may find the overbearing pressure from peers to perform can be debilitating. In some cases, athletes are scared to race or don't want to upload training sessions on social media for fear of being judged. At the other end of the scale if you do it for the love of it you miss out on the opportunity to be competitively driven by others' performances. This, in turn, may stunt your potential growth as an athlete.

Overall, I don't see it as a concern if an athlete is more intrinsic or extrinsic and there is no right answer. But once you understand where you sit on the scale it can help you get the most out of your performance.

How can you make adjustments to improve your motivation?

With no immediate races in the 2020 calendar, logic would suggest this will benefit the more intrinsically motivated athletes. So if you're more extrinsically motivated what can you do? Consider some bite-sized goals such as these:

1. Set a goal of increasing your FTP on the bike and book in testing every 4-6 weeks;

2. Break down your run technique and focus on one improvement. One step back for two steps forward, you've got plenty of time now;

3. Cut out one bad habit in your training routine within the next 4 weeks. Week 1 declare the bad habit; week 2 make the adjustment; week 3 assess the adjustment and be honest with yourself; week 4 give yourself a pat on the back!

4. Learn how to prepare a new nutritious post-training meal or snack to keep you going through the day;

5. Have one week off social media.

Thanks for reading and let me know your thoughts. As always I'm intrigued to learn more from others' experiences and opinions. Stay safe and stick together as a community and hopefully see you at a race soon.

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