Winning Motivation to bring the best out of every player
The myriad of reasons why we play sports and relish competition lies deep within an emotional well commonly called ‘commitment,’ ‘drive,’ and ‘motivation.’ For most of us, this motivation stems from a deep passion and love we have for the sport(s) we play. We very rarely ever fall ‘out of love’ with our sport, so why is it that our motivation levels sometime seem to dip a little or even remain very low? The answer to this question is far from easy. It could relate to many different factors, including excessive stress, an excessive amount of self-imposed pressure, a negative shift in our self-image or a combination of these things. Many different factors need to be examined including nutrition, rest levels, stress levels, and the list goes on. The most important point however, is that excessive self-imposed pressure and less than optimal self-image can slowly drain the all important joy and fun components, so important for sustained motivation.
This article will focus on what athletes can do to ensure they maintain a fierce level of intensity and extremely high motivation levels regardless of whether the setting is a 6am practice, or the biggest game of the year. This discussion is not about the traditional coaches’fiery pre-game speech for peak sports performance, but is more about what the athlete can do to get themselves ready. Sports psychology and peak performance concerns so much more than how hard you can grit your teeth, clench your fists and run through the proverbial wall. Mental skills training has stronger links to the ability to sustain tremendous intensity that can co-exist with elite levels of focus and composure. The following exercise will involve the creation of a fun “Motivation Movie” where for a few minutes we will take a temporary ‘vacation’ from any excessive self-imposed pressure and remind ourselves of the champion that always lies within us – just waiting for the chance to produce heroic effort and intensity. We are about to take a great journey into our past, present and future.
“Our Motivation Movie”
Our Motivation Movie will consist of three movies in one. Our first movie will explore the first time we began to play our chosen sport. We shall refer to this as our “Power Start.” Movie #2 will explore a major career moment along our journey, regardless whether the career has so far been relatively long or short. This pivotal career moment shall be referred to as our “Power Time.” Finally, movie #3 will explore a special location in our life that we shall refer to as our “Power Place.”
Movie #1 – Our “Power Start”
Think back to the first moment you picked up that ball or the first time you ever stepped onto that court. The passion that you began to develop for your sport may have been there from the very start, or like a deep love that seemed to develop over time, there was definitely a day that you remember for the first time truly being in your element while playing – experiencing a joy so pure that you wish you could play forever. Remember that special feeling of something deep inside you coming alive. At this moment in time, there was a definite change in you. You may not have talked about it to many people, but you just knew something had clicked. Something remarkable had happened and you just knew that this change would affect your life in a profound way for many years. On this day, you felt as if the sport had chosen you and not the other way around. And, this is why we play sports – the purity of competition, whether a solo or team sport, that basically comes down to a very personal journey of discovery. This incredibly personal journey is one of challenge, of exploration, of pure joy, of reaching for our athletic potential, and for some, reaching for athletic perfection or athletic immortality. Spend a few minutes totally immersing yourself in this special day when you ‘discovered’ your sport. Think back and remember how everything looked and felt. Remember all of your thoughts and feelings. Remember your surroundings, including the weather if you were outside, or the lighting and temperature of the arena or court if you were inside. Relive the sounds, smells, and emotion – all of the pure joy of the moment. Once you have thoroughly relived the moment, and used all of your senses to bask in the warmth and joy of the moment, move on to movie #2.
Movie #2 – Our “Power Time”
We will begin our “Power Time” by thinking back to some major personal achievements in our sport. Begin to run through a mental list of some of these occasions. Perhaps some of these events will include personal bests in performance, major awards, career changing victories, or triumphs in practice that changed you forever. Begin to select your favorite experience – choose carefully. This will be the experience that will have most changed you. It could be an event of recognition around many people, such as a magical career best performance in a huge game or competition, or an MVP award that made you feel as if you could now compete against anyone and that there was no limit to your potential. Or perhaps the event occurred on a lonely practice floor or field with no one else watching. Perhaps you pushed yourself in a way that shocked even you. Perhaps you were working on a particular skill and came closer to perfection than you ever had before. The experience forever changed the way you would view yourself, creating a memory that always seems to provide a never ending supply of confidence or fuel for your competitive fire.
Like your “Power Start” Movie, you will spend a few minutes totally immersing yourself in this special event. Again, think back and remember how everything looked and felt. Remember all of your thoughts and feelings. Remember your surroundings, including the weather if you were outside, or the lighting and temperature of the arena or court if you were inside. Relive the sounds, smells, and emotion – all of the pure joy of the moment. Remember any moments of intense effort or perseverance during the event or if you received an award, relive the event or events that the award was presented for. Relive the battle in your own mind – the challenge to persevere vs. wanting to quit. Relive that moment when your own determination and toughness – a toughness that was deep within you – rose to your courageous surface. It was a toughness that said “I will finish this…hang in there…the harder this is, the better I will be,” and remember the incredible moment of joy and elation when your event reached its crowning moment of achievement. Close your eyes now and take three minutes to re-experience this time in your life. At this time, also think about the game or practice you are about to go to. Think about a couple of “zero pressure” goals related to the practice or game then write them down. A couple of examples might be:
- A goal to keep positive body language during the entire pre-game warm-up game and immediately after any game mistakes.
- A goal to powerfully focus in our audio channel during every timeout and then switch to an intense visual channel focus following the timeout so that we get a great look at the rim on every shot attempt.
Notice these goals are not ‘outcome based.’ They are based on activities that you can control, not outcomes, and will have zero pressure attached to them. As you recapture your Power Event, connect any of your goals to the actual event. For example, looking at the first sample goal related to positive body language, during the crowning moment of achievement of your Power Event you probably had exceptional body language. Recall how you held your head, your shoulders, chest, even your eye gaze. Your body language at the time was probably overwhelmingly positive. Do this with each of the goals you have written down. Relive how you might have performed each of these goals during your special Power Event.
Remember to use all of your senses to recapture all of your thoughts, feelings, surroundings and emotion.
Nicole, an 18 year old Senior Point Guard on her High School basketball team, provides us with a great example of a Power Event. Nicole used to practice a great deal at a particular gym on the West side of Chicago. Hour after hour, she had poured over countless drills, tirelessly honing her skills at this particular gym. The gym usually closed at 8pm, and on one particularly cold winter night, after 8pm, Nicole stayed to practice some more on the outside courts at the side of the gym. Nicole shot a couple of shots and became annoyed for missing. She then vowed that she would not leave until she had made 10 shots in a row from the same spot on the court that she had previously missed. The night was bitterly cold, there was snow and ice on the ground, and there was a light wind blowing which quickly caused Nicole to lose most of the feeling in her hands. Nicole knew that if she didn’t leave soon, she might be a few minutes late for her curfew. But her pride and perseverance kept her out there in the cold, continuing to shoot with frozen hands numb from the frost. The gym janitor lived in a house on the edge of the playground, so she knew she had to bounce the ball very softly or she might be told to leave the court. Every time she shot, Nicole had to quickly follow her shot before the ball bounced too loudly for fear of disturbing the janitor. This anxiety only made things more difficult for her. To add to her task, there was very little light on the court and rim. Nicole hit more 9 in a row sequences than she could remember, and then would miss the 10th. The more she missed on the 10th shot, the colder she felt, and the more her thoughts shifted toward the warmth and comfort of home. Nicole continued to shoot, sick with anger and frustration. She was cold, and very tired. She was not sure exactly how long she had been shooting for, but she eventually made 10 in a row. Afterwards Nicole felt something that she had never felt before. She had certainly experienced some feelings of success in her life before, but this time she felt different, and an overwhelming sense of peace and completeness filled her. She just stood there glowing in the moment. It was a bitterly cold night, and she would be a few minutes late for her curfew – but at that moment, everything seemed warm and perfect. Her pride burned bright that night, and it was a feeling that stayed with her on the buses and trains of Chicago as she made her way home. It was a feeling that was still with her when she arrived home. Every time Nicole thought back to that night she realized that if she could perform under those conditions, she could perform under any conditions. The number of shots she made that night was totally irrelevant. During any future moment of agonizing fatigue and desperation, Nicole had found a way to reach deep for the strength, courage, motivation, composure, concentration and confidence to go on. Many years later, even after Nicole had represented her country in junior international competition and had already played the first few years of her professional basketball career, she would continue to recreate the determination and joy of that special winter evening whenever it was needed. It was a “Power Event” in her life that would continue to lead to many others.
After you have fully recaptured the joy of your own Power Event moment you are ready to move on to the final movie, your “Power Place.”
Movie #3 – Our “Power Place”
Our last movie, our “Power Place,” will be associated with a very special physical place in our past. Begin to run through a mental list of practice, game or competition locations that are special to you. These places may be locations where you have spent countless hours of practice or competition time or they may be a place that you have only visited once or twice. Regardless, these places hold special power for you. As you ponder your list, begin to narrow the list to one very special location. It is a place that may even be linked to your Power Start or Power Event. This location holds significant meaning for you – a place that you may have learned something unique and very special about yourself. Perhaps you developed something special at this location – learning a physical skill or one of the 4 C’s of Peak Performance i.e. your first real taste of Peak Performance Composure, Concentration, Confidence and Commitment. And perhaps you developed one or more of these things at great expense – a single great emotional and physical effort at this special location, or honing your skills over countless hours, weeks, months, or even years.
Take three minutes right now to imagine yourself back in your Power Place. Relax, close your eyes and breathe in this wonderful place. See yourself there alone, comfortable and content. Absorb every detail about the place, the colors, the aroma, the atmosphere. Now take some time to remember exactly why this place is special to you. Recall the time or occasions that you practiced or competed here. Relive these moments by actually putting yourself back there. What were you thinking? What were you feeling? Again, use all of your senses to recall every detail.
Remember that excessive self-imposed pressure and less than optimal self-image can slowly drain our intensity levels and the all-important joy of competition, so important for sustained motivation. The Three Motivation Movies were designed to remove much of this unnecessary pressure and provide a brief reminder of the reasons why we play the sport that we do, the great success and achievements we’ve enjoyed along the way, and the deep motivation, intensity and champion that lies within us all.
Additional information for coaches:
The pre-game talk will always be a critical component of motivation and overall preparation. However, as we discussed, athletes also have an important role to play in their own intensity levels and overall motivation. The 3 Motivation Movies can be added to any pre-game routine either before or after the pre-game talk. Implementation is easy. Take the last few minutes of your next practice to ensure each of your players understand the information and instructions, and know how to re-create their Motivation Movies. Once each player has created their 3 Movies, challenge each player to ‘play’ each movie in their mind for just 30 seconds per movie – recreating the experience with all of their senses as vividly as possible. Let them know when each block of 30 seconds has finished and remind them of the next movie to visualize for the next 30 seconds. In the space of 90 seconds you are now able to significantly add to their motivation and intensity levels at any pre-game or pre-practice time of your choosing!
This article is a small excerpt of a CD from a Multi-CD training pack called icebox - The Ultimate Mental Skills & Toughness Training System. icebox is the Preferred Mental Skills & Toughness Training Provider of the WBCA. For more information, or to order a copy, visit www.iceboxathlete.com and learn how icebox has helped countless championship teams and athletes.
About the author and founder of the icebox Training System:
Spencer Wood MS, BA, BS, CSCS, PES, Member AAASP, is an internationally renowned speaker and dynamic trainer of athletes and coaches in the area of Winning Mental Skills & Toughness Training. Spencer continues to use his unique blend of passion for athletic excellence to impact the lives and careers of 1000’s of athletes and coaches of all ages from middle school to the professional ranks. www.iceboxathlete.com
No portion of this article may be copied or reproduced in any form without the expressed written consent of the Icebox Athlete National Marketing Director.
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