top of page

Why athletes fail:

Updated: Jul 5, 2023

Athletes need to understand that levels of motivation will fluctuate. It is perfectly human. Great athletes push past lack of motivation and become self-driven, self-accountable and above all self-disciplined.

Coupled with short- and long-term goals – they have intent.

Sporting dreams without goals or intent remain dreams. They lie there in our minds. The bridge to the reality is simply action. Know that just dreaming or having a vision without action will ultimately fuel disappointment.

You've probably heard it before - Dreams without goals… Yearly goals, life goals, daily goals, monthly goals, hourly goals, minute by minute goals. They're just dreams. Do those dreams motivate you enough to take action?

Goals and intent on the road to achievement cannot be achieved without self-discipline and consistency. The journey of daily work is the bridge to your chosen reality of what you accomplish in your sporting life.

Athletes striving for success have to realise that there are simple differences in people.

Those that do and those that say they do. This is the fundamental reason why athletes fail.

You see the fundamental difference between performances for athletes lies in their daily preparation. Within that are daily goals.

So, we know that between GOALS and ACHIEVEMENT are DISCIPLINE and CONSISTENCY.

Discipline. It's not just a word. It’s an action. It's the little thing like going to bed early. It's the extra stretching. It's the extra mile in your run. Know that It's one of the key elements of success in EVERY area of life. Without self-discipline, there is no sustained achievement.

With a lack of discipline, there is a lack of success.

Therefore, your GOALS cannot nor will it be achieved without DISCIPLINE.

Your DREAMS and aspirations will not become REALITY without DISCIPLINE. You need to have a crystal-clear plan on how you are going to get to where you want to go.

Do you want to get to the top? Ask yourself – how are you going to get there? What do you need to do to get there? What is required of me to get there?

This lack of self-awareness coupled with an athlete without discipline will equal a guarantee that there is no greatness. This is not my opinion… this is a fact.

This is a fact that has been proven by numerous scientific tests.

Walter Mischel… a professor at Stanford University developed one of those tests - he developed the now-famous marshmallow experiment.

The marshmallow experiment was a sequence of studies conducted with children to test their self-discipline and delayed gratification.

The children were offered one marshmallow… but with a catch.

They were allowed to eat the marshmallow… but they were told if they waited approximately 15 minutes, they would get a second marshmallow. In follow up studies, the researchers determined the children who showed this discipline, and were able to wait for the delayed but bigger and better reward, went on to have better

a) life outcomes.

b) education

c) health

d) finances

Now, it may be easy to dismiss this test by saying that they're only kids… but think about your life or many adults you might know… maybe even yourself. Think about the times you didn't want to go for a run. Or to the gym or training. Think about the times you said yes to the cookie. …

Our subconscious is about survival and comfort. We will always take the easy option. It's what we are wired to do. Successful people – those on merely another level have learned to master self-discipline.

Think about how many times do most human beings choose the easy or fast option that is available now… rather than waiting for the bigger reward? Think about how many 'convenient stores, or pre-prepared meals, or fast food chains are in our society. Humans want ease, comfort, and speed.

Learn to push past these limits and you will have a successful athletic career.

You see - Delayed gratification is a key ingredient in your athletic journey. Learn to understand your limits and weaknesses and it's the first step in getting your performance to the next level.

Most people will choose the easy option now… never understanding the easy option now almost always leads to a hard life later.

Successful people do whatever it takes now to ensure an easier life later.

Sacrifice now… enjoy later. Discipline now… better life later.

Simply put Delayed gratification is just fancy terminology for "doing something difficult now in the hope that it will prove worth it later on".

On the internet, there are thousands upon thousands of research articles on motivation discipline and delayed gratification. But it is quite simple for the athlete. You see of all the thousands of theories on types of motivation and elite behaviour and performance – many know that delayed gratification is a fundamental pillar of success and probably the most relevant.

One of the primary reasons why so few succeed is because people (athletes) are ignorant). They don't want to get out of their comfort zone. Most athletes and coaches want the easy route. They make excuses with justifications not knowing that they are trying to cut corners and find shortcuts.

They are not clear with themselves regarding an intrinsic motivator. What are they willing to struggle for, what pain they are willing to tolerate to achieve their goals and dreams? Thus, they have and or will throw in the towel when the going gets tough and or the rewards for their effort are not immediate and obvious.

They are the athlete that eats the marshmallow instead of waiting for two.

In their justification as we stated earlier. Ignorance comes into play. They simply don't have the tools to get out of their comfort zone. Our job as sport and performance psychologists comes to the fore here because it's unlikely that anyone has taken the time to explain to them that winning is all about patience, consistency in preparation, doing the hard yards and the one-percenters in training, and for most team sports having an outstanding preseason so the rewards can come during the season. Educating athletes on delayed gratification and discipline is a process. But like anything – it’s an investment.

The kicker of course in sport is the amount of time before being rewarded for one's effort. It is likely to be much, much longer than the 15 minutes used during The Stanford Marshmallow Experiment.

On most occasions the truly meaningful "payoff" for effort and all those long hours in the world training, mastering a skill and performing in elite sport and performing on the big stage might be 10 or even 20 years down the track.

Think about the young athletes who sacrifice time with friends and family whilst they are teenagers only to see the rewards in their twenties and thirties.

"I start early, and I stay late, day after day, year after year. It took me 17 years and 114 days to become an overnight success." The secret to massive success is that there is no secret. You need to grind. Everyday. What we see as overnight success is often the result of almost two decades! This one stands out among all Lionel Messi quotes.

An example most people can relate to is Diet. It's a multi-trillion-dollar industry. Why because most people want the marshmallow.

You might say, but I have no discipline with my diet? What do I do??

Practicing a good diet is all mental.

How to develop that discipline?

Everyone knows if you have a lack of discipline with your diet… that will reflect in your health and physical appearance… in a negative way…

And on the reverse side, if you do have discipline, that will reflect positively in your health, energy and physical appearance. But why do some people seem to be able to easily apply discipline to their food choices and some continually struggle with it?

Dreams without goals are just dreams. They ultimately fuel disappointment.

Key points:

1. Those who lack discipline fail to make their goals a priority.

2. Those who fail to make their goals meaningful will struggle with their intent and goals and will struggle to be motivated.

3. You won't always be motivated – therefore you must learn to be disciplined.

4. With discipline, your results will improve. When your results improve, your desire to grow will rise.

If you can develop SELF-DISCIPLINE, know that you have mastered A KEY INGREDIENT to the success mix. It might well be THE MOST IMPORTANT PIECE.

So, if you conquer yourself, and know what your limits are, then you will be able to rise above laziness, shortcuts, and excuses. Showcase your discipline off the field and be rewarded on it.

Think of your brain as a muscle. Every time you practice discipline – you get mentally stronger and stronger each time you do it.

When you practice consistent acts of discipline you are sending a message to your subconscious that you are in charge.

You are not being run by habit, or by automated activity like most people.

Jim Rohn once said "We must all suffer one of two things: the pain of discipline or the pain of regret or disappointment."

Don't let it be the latter. Suffer the pain of discipline now… so you can enjoy your results… so you can love your life, LATER.


Recent Posts

See All


bottom of page