Motivating My Athlete
I coach a particular athlete who is very extrinsically motivated. That is, he/she is mainly motivated to train for social, material, or competitive outcomes rather than for the love of the sport itself and its participation benefits. Examples can include family pressure, winning cash/prizes/sponsorship, and winning events. When interviewing them the following reasons were apparent as the key motivators. 1. National representation, 2. Recognition from friends and family, 3. Gaining sponsors. For me personally extrinsic motivation is very powerful and when used in the correct way can significantly improve performance. This is especially apparent in elite athletes or those on the pathway to becoming elite. However, there have been some suggestions it does have drawbacks and can be detrimental when relied on too much.
Over the past few months, this athlete has been prevented from racing for his/her country. With the main motivator now gone the athlete is on a crossroads of giving up triathlon. This must be extremely frustrating for them as it is for me, the coach. The athlete spends many hours each week training with no clear objective or pathway from the federation, as to how to race internationally. Not only that but the athletes ability to make money has also been diminished. This is a prime example of someone perhaps being too extrinsically motivated, in that they are either competing at a high level or not at all. If the athlete was a little more balanced from where they drew their motivation, we would perhaps not be in this situation. However, if he/she were racing elsewhere in the world this scenario would never have occurred, so it could be argued a heavy reliance on extrinsic motivators can be a good strategy in a fair environment.
In any case it would be a disaster for the sport to lose someone for these reasons, especially since we are dealing with a talented individual and a country with very bad development. Knowing the individuals responsible, who are preventing this athlete from racing, may retire or quit at some point, it is important to try and keep this athlete motivated by switching focus in the short term. Since I was the one who encouraged the athlete to take up triathlon to begin with, I feel responsible to put them back on track and get them involved once more.
Using intrinsic factors to motivate this athlete is now my focus to put the athlete in more control of their emotions and bring back the love of the sport. These include, giving the athlete a coaching responsibility, introducing them to new skills and race distances, giving them more positive reinforcement during sessions, and setting new goals that are actually achievable. I think long term this athlete will be a more rounded person and is likely to keep up the sport if we can change their focus point and motivation quickly. It could also improve training performance and persistence as well as keep emotions positive. We also hope the rules change quickly to allow this athlete to race and we will be able to rethink our strategy, incorporating both intrinsic and extrinsic rewards into this athletes training and race plan.
If you have had a similar experience I would love to hear from you and offer any advice I can.