Athletes who play with a drive and purpose in the pool, can be spotted easily simply based on the discretionary effort they put into the little details of the sport. Work ethic goes a long way to helping athletes reach new peaks along their performance journey and water polo is no stranger to hard work. The challenge to playing with a distinct purpose that motivates you over the long term is centered around finding a way to connect it with a passion that serves more than just yourself. Team athletes have the opportunity to play for their teammates, their school, and their organizing club which helps them develop a deeper level of drive when faced with larger challenges. Luckily, water polo is built around team!
When you develop a passion for your team and all its members, you have a cause that drives you to compete a little harder and for a little longer. In terms of motivation, we would call this part of your intrinsic motivation as opposed to extrinsic motivation. The difference between the two can usually be seen in how you develop your goals. If your goals are to win the championship, be voted the best player, or score the most goals then you would be motivated by external rewards and accolades. These types of motivators are important as they provide tangible targets and milestones however they can also present challenges to the longevity of your motivation if not connected to other internal motivators. Intrinsic motivation comes from within and is usually characterized by goals set that focus on improving your ability to execute specific skills or improving your performance overall. You can often think of these as factors that will determine your long-term success and trajectory of improvement on the path towards your sport dream goal.
The Power of “WHY”
At this point, you may be asking how you can develop both of these types of motivation in your game. One of the best methods to discovering these is to follow the power of asking yourself “Why?”. This process allows you to take a deep dive into why you do what you do and perhaps can best be accomplished through reflective journaling. If your reason for competing is to win, ask yourself “Why is that important to me?” Once you arrive at that answer follow it with the same type of exploration until you simply have run out of answers. Hopefully, you arrive at the final decision point that describes your sport mission which supersedes all goals you set in your sport. Identifying your sport mission is important to becoming a self-determined athlete.
The practice of understanding your true motivation is important in connecting your sport knowledge, connection with your team, and understanding how choices you make matter to realizing your potential. You will face adverse situations and circumstances along your journey so developing a deeper level of self-awareness in what truly motivates you to push yourself past those obstacles will help you continue to improve and close the gap from where you are to where you want to be.
What’s your sport dream? What drives and directs you toward realizing that dream? Why is that important to you?
Brian Alexander is a certified consultant with the Association for Applied Sport Psychology (AASP) and former USA water polo national team athlete who works with athletes of all ages and levels on aspects of the mental game. Please contact Brian for one on one or team mental skills sessions.
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