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The Ultimate Sport Motivation - All you have to do is ask!

I love talking to people about the sport they love and uncovering all those hidden moments of joy that provide people with the desire they have for their sport. However, sometimes it can take a lot of careful questioning before I am able to break through the barriers people mention which prevent them from improving. Lack of time, lack of practice, lack of natural talent, lack of money are all reasons cited for a loss of motivation or failure to improve. However, what I consistently find at the centre of the beating heart of the most motivated sportspeople (irrespective of skill level), is the ability to ask the right questions. This is fundamentally different from the ability to provide the right answers to the wrong questions.


The Wrong Question

To illustrate this more effectively, I have noted a recent increase in the number of newspaper and internet articles focussing on young sports people's development. The main question being considered is whether it is a good idea for a young sports person to play in a higher age group? For example, in order for a 13 year old to play in the Under 16 category rather than the Under 14 category. No matter what answer is provided to this question, it will be insufficient. That is because the wrong question is being asked.

So, what are the right questions? These obviously vary throughout any player's development from age 5 to 95. However, there are two questions that are always appropriate in any sport (no matter what level or when these are asked). These two questions are:

1. What is the most important thing I need to work on to develop my game and my enjoyment of it?

2. Who is best qualified to provide me with help and guidance to improve this area of my game?

  Once you have answered these two questions, you are in a very strong position to identify the relevant action you need to take to develop your game. In addition, because you have answered these questions, there is a strong motivation for you to take responsibility for taking committed action to improve your game. I would now like to give some examples of how getting the answers to these 'right questions' elevates your development and enjoyment of your game.

What are the Right Questions?

Example 1

Tony, a 13 year old tennis player, has noticed that he is able to win matches easily in the U14 age group but consistently struggles to finish off matches when playing in the U16 age group. This failure to finish off matches results in Tony losing motivation. Tony's parents ask themselves: "Should Tony stop playing in the U16 age group?"

In this instance, the wrong question is being asked. Playing up an age group has led to the discovery of a barrier, or hurdle, to Tony's development - namely an inability to finish a match against older, potentially stronger, players. Therefore the question they should be asking is "What is the most important thing Tony needs to work on to develop his game?" And then: 'Who is best qualified to provide Tony with help and guidance to improve this area of his game?'

This scenario suggests that 'the most important thing Tony needs to work on' is his mental game. The person best qualified to help Tony develop his mental game is a sport psychologist (namely someone who has spent years learning and practicing the theory of the mind and how that theory can be applied to improve performance in a sport setting).

 Example 2 

Peter, a 56 year old golfer has noticed that his golf handicap has not changed for the past seven years. It has consistently remained at 19. He has thought about having lessons with a golf pro but believes this would be a waste of money because he does not have the time to practice as much as he feels he needs to in order to get better.

Peter asks himself the question: "Why should I spend money on a lesson when I don't have the time to practice?" However, the question Peter should be asking is: "What is the most important thing I need to work on to develop my game?". In the above scenario, Peter needs to identify a committed practice routine that he can commit to. Pete then asks: "who is best qualified to help me improve this aspect of my game?". The answer here is a sport psychologist. Peter feels that he is unable to devote practice time to his game due to his other commitments - evidenced through a lack of time. This is impacting his levels of motivation to practice due to a perceived helplessness. A sport psychologist has an in-depth understanding of motivation along with the knowledge of how to influence it. One session with a sport psychologist is likely to lead to enhanced motivation to practice by the identification of an effective practice regime that Peter could commit to.

Example 3

Mary, a 46 year old masters level swimmer, notices that she is narrowly losing freestyle races over 400m. She has noticed that this season her tumble turns have not been as accurate as they used to be. Mary asks herself "Am I too old to keep competing?"

Once again, the wrong question is being asked. The question for Mary to answer is "what is the most important thing I need to work on to develop my game?" Mary's answer would highlight a need to improve her tumble-turn technique.  And the subsequent question, "who is best qualified to help me improve this aspect of my game?" would be answered by approaching a swimming coach with the knowledge and technical expertise to help Mary develop this particular skill.

 In all the scenarios above, it can be seen that once the appropriate, or right, questions have been asked and answered, new goals can then be identified to motivate the individual to achieve the improvement/enjoyment sought through the development of committed behaviours.

Happy Questioning!

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