Motivation is one of the most researched topics in the field of sport psychology and also one of the most complex. It’s complex because not only do people have various underlying motivations for why they choose to participate in their sport and how driven they are, but it’s also complex because your motivation can change over time.
There are so many factors involved in the ebb and flow of an athlete’s motivation. Whether you’re an age grouper triathlete, a college soccer player, or professional baseball player – at some point in your athletic career – you may lose touch with the joy that your sport once brought you. You may find yourself simply going through the motions or feel like you HAVE to go to practice or HAVE to get your training in versus WANT to. But motivation isn’t the only factor that drives you to accomplish a goal. Motivation and commitment leap frog each other throughout the process of working towards a mission or goal.
When I think of motivation I think of words like desire and drive. When I think of commitment I think of words like determination, and dedication. Commitment without motivation means you are determined to take the necessary steps to work towards your goal, but you’re doing so without any joy. You’ll do it because you feel you have to, because you need to, but not necessarily because you want to. Motivation without commitment means you have the desire and the joy, but do you have what it takes to continue when the road gets long and difficult? Without commitment, the first obstacle you run into might be your last.
Commitment is what will keep you moving when you have a dip in your motivation. Commitment to a goal means that the challenges you face along the way won’t cause you to veer off of your path – they are just temporary setbacks you have to deal with. Commitment to your team means that even when your performance is low, you still support your teammates and want to see your team succeed.
Commitment without motivation is a sure path to burnout. If you are committed to the success of your team, but not motivated – you will come to resent your teammates and devalue your role on the team. If you are committed to accomplishing your goal, but not motivated to do so – you may get to the end of the road and feel anger, loss, or even feel nothing instead of being proud of yourself and in awe of the work it took to reach your destination.
Commitment is the decision to act on what motivates you. Motivation is the drive that fuels the commitment. Commitment makes it happen, but motivation can make it a lot more fun!
Are you feeling frustrated or stuck with your sport or level of performance? Do you have some goal that seems to be eluding you? Have you repeated the phrase “I really want to (enter wish here)” countless times, but haven’t seen it come to fruition? Accomplishing a goal depends on your actions, not your wishes. If you’re feeling stuck, it’s time to ask yourself whether you’re suffering from a lack of motivation or lack of commitment. Motivation is what starts you off on your path and commitment is what sees you through to the end.
What do you think is the difference between motivation and commitment? How do you know when you only have one versus the other? Share your comments here!
I coached first time marathoners for over five years with Team In Training. A frequent question at signup meetings was “Coach, I can’t even walk a mile right now. Are you sure you can help me run a marathon just 24 weeks from now?” I would always respond with a statement like “I know I can tell you what to do; how often to do it; when and how; what I cannot tell you is WHY. If you do not have a strong enough WHY, you won’t succeed.”
The desire to honor a loved one (or their memory) who was, or who had battled cancer, overwhelmingly propelled these new runners to reach their goal. Maybe if we could analyze the components involved in supporting an ailing loved one; perhaps one even fighting for their life, we would know how to create both the level of motivation and commitment to reach any self-imposed goal.
Epilogue – I never had a runner quit once they had committed to a marathon event, and in every case they reached their goal. The encouragement and help they received by participating in a group, but as an individual, always sustained them in their quest to succeed. Even with a support group, I believe any success depends on the strength of an individual’s “WHY.”
Thanks for sharing your thoughts Mark! Wow. This is such a powerful example of witnessing where motivation meets commitment. These athletes had a very strong connection to their “why” and I think sometimes athletes lose touch with that. And I think there is incredible strength in having the support system as well – to have people you know that believe in you in those moments when you’re having a hard time believing in yourself, and to know how much your loved one has had to fight and endure, can have tremendous power in getting you through those tough moments when you want to stop running or you don’t want to get up early and train. That’s a pretty amazing track record you had as a coach too! It sounds like those athletes were lucky to have you as their coach 🙂
I really enjoyed reading this sentence: “Motivation is what starts you off on your path and commitment is what sees you through to the end.” I coach junior mountain bikers and have enjoyed their excitement and overwhelming motivation to train. One of the obstacles I have come across is the “why” that Mark mentioned above. I have some athletes who are focused purely on the end-goal. This often influences their motivation to re-start their training after a race. If they do not win, then they feel worthless. I can see that they enjoy mountain biking, and want them to enjoy the process of training while reaching their goals. I have other athletes who love to train, and are committed to the improvement of themselves. Winning a race is a bonus at the end of a great training block. They strive to be the best that they can be, which in the long run elongates their commitment to the sport. How would you attempt to motivate a youngster who is purely end-goal orientated and often places enormous expectations on themselves? Some races she may come top 5, but that’s top 5 is versus the best in the country! I want her to recognize her worth, and the incredible pay-off of being committed. I want her to look back on her months of training and feel proud of the progress (as I’m sure you know, junior athletes improve exponentially!).
This is such great timing for your question Sarah! I was actually just working on this with one of my young clients yesterday. We are working on brainstorming a list of other ways he can “win” in his sport. Oftentimes the only way an athlete gauges his/her feelings of success and self-worth is based on the outcome of the event. Instead of the thought-process being, “I won today which means I was prepared, I raced well, and I made good tactical decisions” or “I lost which means I need to figure out what I did well and what changes I need to make to do better in the next race” it is “I won, that means I AM GOOD” or “I lost that means I AM BAD”. As you know, there are SO MANY factors in a bike race (or any competition) that are out of your control. If your only means of gauging success is based on the outcome, it can been extremely detrimental to your confidence, you carry a tremendous amount of pressure into each race, and eventually you are going to burnout on your sport. You might check out the book “Mindset”, by Carol Dweck. You can help your athlete develop a growth-mindset versus a fixed-mindset so that they aren’t afraid of failing and instead see failures as opportunities to improve. You can help her open up her definition of success.