Stay motivated – Preventing burnout and staying fresh

Jonathan Males | In the FlowMotivation is a key component in all the paddling disciplines, and the most successful paddlers demonstrate Mastery Motivation – the attitude, determination and commitment to achieve mastery over yourself, your competitors and your environment by performing to the best of your own ability. 

But this alone is not enough. Even committed athletes with strong mastery motivation need to fulfill other human needs in order to stay psychologically healthy. Athletes and coaches who ignore this run the risk of getting stressed and burnt out.  Burn-out occurs when an athlete gets caught in a frustrating downward cycle of over-training and poor performance, leading to a loss of enjoyment, fatigue, injury and at worst abandoning their sport.

What can you do to stay fresh?

A typical high performance environment will reinforce and reward athletes who are serious and apply themselves purposely. It will value being tough and determined, and usually expect you to follow the rules and conform. However remember that for each of these motivational values there are opposite dimensions too.

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So just as it is important to be serious, it’s also important to have fun and be spontaneous.  Just as it’s necessary to be tough and determined, so is it important at times to be caring about others and yourself.  And while conforming and following the rules is needed, so are opportunities to be creative.  These might appear contradictory but true mastery brings with it the confidence and experience to know when to mix things up, to allow a little motivational variety in your training and your life. This means knowing when to rest rather than push through a workout, or when to change a tightly structured session for something more playful. It also means doing activities outside of training that tap into a wider range of motivations.  I know one paddler who enjoyed spending a couple of hours a week volunteering at a charity because she wanted a balance to the self-centeredness of a competitive lifestyle. Clearly these variations need to be done at the right time and in the right way. Going out to a big party might be spontaneous and fun, but it’s not necessarily a good idea the night before a race!

So remember that a psychologically healthy life provides opportunities for:

Striving for and achieving results
Having fun

Building individual competence and strength
Giving and receiving support from others

Conforming to the rules
Freedom to challenge and experiment

Here are some questions to consider about your own training environment and lifestyle.  Are there any small changes that would give you a richer motivation and help you stay fresh?

  • What’s the balance between having fun and being purposeful?
  • How often do you try something creative, to challenge ‘the rules’?
  • How often do you do activities that help other people?

Jonathan Males is a sport psychologist and author of In the Flow, the first book on performance psychology written specifically for paddlesports.

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