Internal motivation – Why it’s important to love the game

Most people believe success in the world of sport comes purely from physical prowess and training. This is simply not the case. The truth is, the best physical athletes aren’t always the most successful. Seemingly every year in college and professional sports we see “the next great thing,” an athlete who comes onto the scene expecting once in a lifetime achievement but somehow lacks the focus to win on the big stage. We are not speaking about those who fall short because of injury, but competitors who seem to have everything they need to carve their niche in the history of their chosen sport but end up as little more than footnotes.

Why does this happen? The secret lies not in the body, but in the mind.

To be successful an athlete must make the most of his or her physical talents and this requires a level of devotion and discipline that can only be achieved with a genuine passion for one’s chosen game. Nowhere is this more true than in the world of golf where so much of the game requires superior mental ability.

Success can be easy when everything goes your way and performing seems effortless. But what about when an athlete starts to experience some adversity and falls into a slump? It happens to everyone; no one is immune. Relying too much on “natural ability” as opposed to effort has a negative effect on motivation. Without internal motivation, the real, true passion for one’s chosen pursuit, many will fall prey to external pressure and suffer stress and self doubt, sometimes even seeking to assign blame to external factors, which is anything but oneself. If one does not properly develop, or loses an internal “locus of control,” he or she will lack the sense that problems can be overcome by personal actions and may feel helpless. This can lead to the athlete becoming timid and trying to “play it safe,” avoiding risks and challenges which can contribute to an overall erosion of ability. When a person truly loves what they are doing they see setbacks as challenges to overcome, a chance to grow and improve. An athlete who always strives to improve is more likely to regard their failures not solely as a negative, a dead end, but as an opportunity for learning. A positive sense of self determination allows more optimism and persistence when faced with adversity. Loving the game and what it takes to excel does not mean someone will enjoy every moment of training and competing; it means he or she will have the heart to keep going when things get tough.

But passion and a sense of self determination is not just about how one handles adversity, it is also a key factor in developing strong competitive character. An elite athlete can set aside their ego and the desire to “prove” something to other people because that is a goal that they can never truly achieve. If you use the game for an end other than the game itself, it can lose its meaning. Driven by love, the athlete seeks do the best that they personally can do to make the game ever more meaningful. A well balanced athlete strives to achieve personal goals and understands that self improvement is a building process, that success does not come all at once. There will always be ups and downs, but surmounting the problems and feeding off of small victories strengthens morale. This routine of positive reinforcement builds upon itself and encourages one to attempt to repeat the behaviors that provided the positive feedback, creating a self-sustaining cycle of success. Quality coaching is a fundamental for ambitious athletes. The best coaches teach their students how to teach themselves and look inward for solutions when they are tested. True passion, self motivation and positive attitude are key to making this happen.

All of this is most important for the young golfer.

Anyone on the college recruitment trail needs to know that coaches have a very difficult job trying to determine the best young athletes to choose to represent their team, school and community. A junior golfer who clearly demonstrates passion and internally focused discipline will appear head and shoulders above others who might have similar or better stats on the course but lack that intangible, that fire. Coaches want complete packages that they can help grow and who will step up when the chips are down, not someone who needs to be coddled and protected. Loving the game you have chosen and developing a mental tenacity based on that passion and inner motivation provides an incredible advantage that will take you far in sports and in life.

Want to learn more about mental training at IJGA? Our Summer Camp is a great introduction to our mind, body, character approach to success.

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