Motivation Isn’t Necessarily What You Think It Is
This is Dan Abrahams‘ 61st article written for our readers. We are so proud to share his wisdom and knowledge. Enjoy. Here is a great new article on how having a tenacious urge for success doesn’t necessarily mean you’re going to high perform often or win all that much. That’s very old school.
The ‘will to win’ is a term oft used in sport to describe someone who is highly competitive.
It’s a term used to lavish praise on those who are deemed in that category – “He/she has a real desire to win” is a comment every MLS or European club will be looking for when their scouts’ file their reports. College coaches across the U.S. are on the lookout for players with character! The translation: players with a will to win.
Now, I’m not going to start ranting and raving that soccer players shouldn’t possess nor exhibit a will to win.
There’s nothing wrong with wanting to hold aloft the trophy or with having a strong desire to finish top of the league standings. There’s nothing wrong with players who are vocal in the changing room prior to a game urging everyone on because the result of the game is so important to them. There’s nothing abnormal about exhibiting certain leadership traits that are driven by a craving to beat the **** out of the opposition.
A Soccer Player’s Need To Achieve
The ‘need to achieve’ is a category of motivation that exists, and one that can positively influence intensity of performance, energy, attitude and effort.
I want soccer players who have big dreams to enjoy those dreams.
I want soccer players to have an inner picture of accomplishment, and then go and attack those pictures. That’s exciting for them and it is exciting for me. It’s part of why I’m a sport and performance psychologist.
The trouble is, the knack of playing competitive sport, just isn’t that simple.
Having a will to win isn’t necessarily positively related to being a great competitor. Having a tenacious urge for success doesn’t necessarily mean you’re going to high perform often or win all that much.
Let me explain…
All of the above falls under the psychological topic of ‘motivation’, and motivation isn’t really what people tend to think it is.
Respectfully, coaches across all sports are a little guilty of defining motivation singularly and in overly simplistic tones.
Motivation comes in many flavours and is so much more than the need to achieve and the will to win. It’s so much more then:
“We gotta win … we gotta kick some **** … we gotta perform … we ca’t give ‘em an inch”
Motivation stretches from extrinsic to intrinsic.
The urge to move and to take action goes deeper than ego and stretches towards enjoyment, experience, mastery, purpose, and values.
- High performance for many players can be more as a consequence of enjoying the experience of playing than wanting to beat the opposition.
- High performance for many players is more likely to be met when they’re directed towards the specific plays they’re trying to master, more so than when their attention is oriented towards the scoreboard.
Coaches communicating only towards the extrinsic level will miss their target often – not always, but often. Some players (perhaps many players) just aren’t motivated by winning, or just aren’t motivated as much by winning as they are other factors.
There’s a fallacy that exists in elite sport and it’s this: because you’re good at a sport, you should have an urge to win.
Why? Having skill in your feet isn’t necessarily synonymous with a need for collecting medals. If a player is good at soccer then she’s good at soccer.
If you want a player to exhibit undoubted qualities, why assume that the best way to do that is by playing on their ego?
Please excuse me but I can say all of this with a bit of confidence. The science demonstrates this (do take some time to Google ‘Achievement Goal Theory’ and ‘Motivational Climate’ to start with. And, that really is just a start!) From my experience, helping players move away from extrinsic goals towards intrinsic goals, this shift rarely fails to improve both well-being and performance.
It’s a strange thing, but it does feel at times that in sport we’ve gotten ourselves a little lost.
We don’t have a very sophisticated relationship with performance and competitiveness.
We’re a little stuck – seduced by the notion of ‘will to win’ and a little ignorant of the power of intrinsic motivation.
That’s not to say extrinsic motivation is bad. But as a coach of soccer players, young and older, you may do well to put it in perspective.
Start exploring enjoyment, experience, mastery, purpose, and values.
Start asking your players why they play and what drives them. I think you may be surprised by their answers.
Achievement goal theory refers to the aim, purpose, or focus of a person’s achievement behavior. The definition: A psychological theory of intrinsic motivation that considers how beliefs and cognitions orient us towards achievement in relation to task/mastery and ego/performance. Source: Google Search
A global sports psychologist and author specializing in soccer, Dan Abrahams is based in England and works with professional soccer players in the English Premier League (EPL). Abrahams has helped hundreds of soccer players – many who play in the English Premier League (EPL). From working with players at Crystal Palace to QPR, Fulham, and West Ham among others, Abrahams makes a huge difference. Abrahams has authored several books and has a Soccer Academy as well.