November 5, 2009

External and Internal Motivation (Obsession vs. Inspiration)

Indirect or external influences – such as coaches, parents, and peers – are usually prime motivating factors early in a player’s development. Tennis is a difficult game to play, let alone to become proficient at. Many failures and setbacks occur, and every level of completion presents new and more frustrating obstacles. External motivation from parents, coaches and friends is necessary, therefore, to help a player worth through the difficult time.

When an athlete decides to make a commitment, he or she can make it either by obsession or inspiration (externally or internally).

The award-winning movie, Chariots of Fire, told the story of two quite different athletes as the prepared for the 1924 Olympics. One of the athletes’ actions were well planned and goal directed, and he drove himself with one thought in mind – winning the gold. He was so obsessive about winning that when the time came to compete, after all of his planning and training, fear of failure engulfed him. He validated who he was by what he accomplished as an athlete.

The other athlete’s drive came from within. For him, running was not a mechanism for success, but rather, a way of expressing his inner self. Training and competing were joys rather than burdens, and winning and medals were outcomes of his pursuits rather than ends in themselves.

The externally motivated athlete’s victories will bring relief, but may bring about disappointment, as the wins prove to be not as fulfilling as he had hoped. Competition presents anxiety and nervousness – fear of a negative outcome is a constant threat. Defeats and setbacks produce discouragement.

The athlete who is inspired from within, in contrast, is more likely to find satisfaction and happiness in his or her successes. A loss may bring disappointment, but also an eagerness to compete once again.

Process and Product

The only two reward though competition are the Process (the learning and internal rewards of the experience) and the Product (the material or outer rewards from the completion).

The four scenarios are:
1. To give your whole heart and win.
2. To give your whole heart and lose.
3. To not give your whole heart and win.
4. To not give your whole heart and lose.

The rewards from each of these scenarios are listed in the following box.

Of course, all athletes would like to get both the process and the product for their efforts and avoid the “No Product, No Process” scenario. The telling tale of the athlete who will improve and grow though competition is the one who makes the decision to pursue the “Process, No Product” scenario (I will give my best even in a losing cause) over the “Product, No Process” scenario (I want to win, regardless of doing the right long-term things or not.)

The order of the four scenarios (best to worst) should be:
1. Achieve the Process and the Product.
2. Achieve the Process and not cash in on the Product this time.
3. Get the Product but sacrifice the Process in getting it.
4. Get no Product and get no Process.

The athlete can achieve either #1 or #2 every time he or she competes with the correct outlook.

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