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What Motivates Athlete’s?

Motivation is actually not that important in elite sport. Nonetheless, There should be several sources of Motivation for Athletes

Whether you're an individual or part of a team, this question is super important because your source of motivation will define everything about you as a person.

Some athletes I know are motivated by receiving fame and fortune, or by getting publicity in the newspaper. Some athletes in team sports just want individual accolades and don't care about team success.

These sources of motivation are referred to as extrinsic motivation.

Extrinsic motivation signifies the calls to action that are motivated by external rewards. These can be things like gifts, publicity, praise, awards, money, sponsorship, trophies, acclaim, the list goes on.

Extrinsic rewards no doubt can increase motivation initially, but over time, the sole use for the athlete of extrinsic rewards and motivation to do so tends to actually decrease motivation.

Moreover, when your motivation is solely dependent upon external validation such as awards, trophies, and accolades, the ability to sustain the pro quo once those rewards are no longer received see that motivation will decrease dramatically.

An example is a young male swimmer who at state level gets their name in the newspaper each week. This swimmer usually gets first place medals for practically every event they swim in and sees this repeatedly. She gets used to winning and likes the acclaim.

As the swimmer gets older and competes in higher level competition, the swimmer after a while see’s that teammates start beating him to the point he no longer places in events. He does receive medals or trophies or any other external validation like he used to.

Many juniors and young athletes that do well early in their careers face this issue. Soon, this swimmer may lose his motivation to keep training really hard for five days a week at 6am. The swimmer will lose the drive to do the extra’s, known as the 1%ers and the extra effort in recovery etc. He may even think, “What’s the point now” …."Why even swim if I am not longer winning at meets?"

I’ve heard this all too often in all sports, from all athletes.

If you have a look at the best, most successful athletes from all sports, its easy to tell that there is something special about them. They’re a unique breed, it’s what sets them apart.

What you find is the intrinsic motivation that is sound.

This motivation, referred to as intrinsic motivation is vital. What is it?

Intrinsic motivation is defined as acting or performing an action, because you simply enjoy the sport itself and or the challenges of your sport. The Athlete embraces the journey and struggle of the challenge. The awards, accolades, money, fame etc are bi-products of this process.

Intrinsic sources are simply internal motivational characteristics that include a love of competing, being part of a team, learning new skills, improving your game, flow and most importantly having fun and happiness, etc. You play the sport because you love it.

Check out Rafael Nadal’s interview here on this subject.

Take the time and reflect on the level of desire you have for your sport. If you are playing a sport that you feel that you are deeply passionate about and find it intrinsically rewarding, you are more than likely to persist and go above and beyond to find a way when faced with challenges.

So let's revisit the example of the swimmer…take the time to see a different perspective in the face of struggle.

If he was primarily motivated by achieving personal bests and jist wanted to be the best wimmer she could possibly be – what would be the approach? After a couple of bad races, or some poor performances, he may look for new ways to improve his times, see it as an opportunity to change things or even work harder like; work harder in the gym, review how he practices, tries to improve and adapt technique, review his diet and or learn to relax, hire a sport psychologist before lining up behind the blocks. His approach becomes – How do I improve? How do I get the best out of myself?

Research suggests that a healthy approach is by having mixture of both sources of motivation. Being aware of levels of intrinsic and extrinsic drive is fundamental to knowing one’s self, and is often the best method to keep an athlete moving forward and developing language, training and mindset approaches and methodologies around – How do I get better daily?

It’s important to note that even professional athletes need to feed their motivation. Daily.

Motivation is a key ingredient to long term success and helps an athlete persist through the tough times, the unforeseen challenges, and rise to the occasion when necessary and achieve more out of your potential.

Its especially important that motivation is also there to keep you grounded in the good times when things are going well.

For an athlete, recognise that its vital to feed yourself a daily dose of motivation. Get people around you to help motivate you and guide you to become the athlete and person you want to become.

Tap into and Fuel Your Motivation:

1. Ask good quality questions about your vision.

2. Develop both realistic and farfetched goals

3. Believe in yourself that you are good enough

4. Think of sources of intrinsic and extrinsic rewards that best fuel your motivation and commitment.

5. Remind yourself as much as you can why you are here, why you are passionate about your sport. Why you compete

6. What do you enjoy about practice and competition?

7. Ask yourself; Why do you do what you do? What's the end game with your participation in sports? What your definition of success?

These questions will help you stay in check. Stay on course and assist you will the daily struggle of elite sports.

Athlete IQ Tip:

· You won’t always be motivated; therefore, you must learn to always be disciplined:

Knowing what motivates you will help you continue to excel and reach your goals.

If you're an athlete who is frequently distracted, loses focus in competition, or wants to learn more about how to focus better under pressure, contact Athlete IQ at


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