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Motivation in Sports

Athletes must develop an appetite for disciplined practice, to achieve greatness. Singer (1984) points out that major athletic stars endorse the importance of hard work and putting in the time, in order to achieve greatness.

What do highly successful athletes say about hard work?

[Quoting Tai Babilonia, two-time Olympic ice-skating champion]: "I had to work at it. I think that most of it is just hard work and knowing what you want out of your sport. I wanted it all."

[Quoting Martina Navratilova, tennis star]: "I didn't really train hard. Then I finally realized I couldn't just rely on what everyone called my natural abilities. I learned to work, and conscientiously and consistently to truly play at my capabilities."

[Quoting basketball player Julius Erving, "Dr. J"]: "I put in an unbelievable amount of time playing basketball as a kid. I played every day of the year, twelve months a year, until I was twenty-three years old."

How does this resemble findings outside the realm of sports?

Excellence comes from "paying your dues" with an investment of time and effort. That insight is not limited to athletics. You might recall from Chapter 7 how chess masters usually start playing intensely during childhood and most play over 10,000 hours of chess before they start winning tournaments.

In general, expertise requires a tremendous investment of time. Even in the realm of business, successful entrepreneurs were those who had an "appetite for work" and a "zest for learning." They did not avoid working hard; they liked it. The same pattern is found in successful athletes.

Many researchers have studied positive aspects of athletic motivation; the desire to win, the perceived benefits of sports participation, and positive effects upon self-esteem from athletic competition. They also study "burn-out" and other cases in which motivation decreases.

Weinberg and Gould (1995) identify these signs of burn-out in athletes:

What are symptoms of "burn-out" in athletes?

1. Depersonalization (dissociating from others, feeling emotionally removed)

2. Decreased feelings of personal accomplishment (feeling that one is no longer making a contribution)

3. Isolation (looking for excuses not to participate)

4. Emotional and physical exhaustion (lack of desire and energy to compete)

When is "burn-out" more likely to occur, in an athlete?

As noted in Chapter 9, burn-out can result from being compelled to do something, like play in a sport, when a person formerly did just for fun. In other words, extrinsic motivation can undermine intrinsic motivation.

Raedeke (1997) found that burn-out was most common in athletes who felt they were playing for "entrap­ment-related reasons" (because they were on a scholarship or had made a verbal commitment). Athletes who still had an attraction to the sport (wanted to be involved) were much less likely to feel burned out.

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