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posted Apr 15, 2016, 11:51 AM by Pat Windschitl   [ updated Apr 15, 2016, 11:51 AM ]

BY AIMEE KIMBALL, PhD//Correspondent
This article focuses on types of motivation that can keep you pursuing your goals and some motivational tricks to keep your intensity up even when desire might be down.

Types of Motivation
Not everyone is motivated for the same reasons. Some people swim for a scholarship, others swim because they love the sport, some do it because their friends are on the team, others because their parents signed them up, some simply for exercise. Your motivation for swimming is actually very important to understand, because when the going gets tough, this is what will keep you going.

The two main types of motivation are extrinsic and intrinsic.

Extrinsic is external motivation. you swim as a means to an end, to get something out of it. For example, you swim to get your name in the paper or to keep a scholarship.

Intrinsic is internal motivation and is often associated with a true enjoyment of the sport, meaning you swim because you find pleasure in improving or simply just have fun being in the water.

While neither type is necessarily “better” than the other, research suggests that when faced with major obstacles, swimmers who have more intrinsic motivation tend to persevere.

Think of it this way, if you are externally motivated, you feel like you HAVE to swim for one reason or another. If you are internally motivated, you feel like you WANT to swim for whatever reason. These small words-want to versus have to-make a big difference because if swimming isn’t going well, (ex: you are working hard but not seeing results in competition) and you feel you have to swim well to get a scholarship, not only are you going to feel more pressure, but over time, it’s easier to give up and say to yourself, “I’m not good enough to get a scholarship, so I might as well quit.”

However, if you’re intrinsically motivated and things aren’t going well, you might still be upset, but you’re less likely to quit since you’re not swimming only for results, you’re swimming because you enjoy it. 

On the flip side, sometimes we need extrinsic motivation to enhance performance. If swimming is only about having fun and enjoying the sport, the sheer exhaustion that two-a-day practices bring isn’t always enjoyable. So while we might be having fun with teammates, the actual act of swimming early in the morning may not be fun. So for some people, what motivates them on these days is extrinsic. You have to work hard at these practices so you can improve or so your coach doesn’t kick you off of the team.

Overall, make sure you have a strong intrinsic desire because this is a necessity for long-term commitment to any activity. Also, make sure you know what extrinsically motivates you and what you can use as incentives for those days you just really don’t want to be at the pool or don’t want to be working hard.

Enhancing Intrinsic Motivation
The higher your level of competition, the more external motivation becomes a part of your life. It’s hard to avoid the drive for medals, for attention, or if you’re really good, endorsements.

However, if we focus only on these external forces, it’s easy to forget that, at the heart of it all, we swim because we love it. So how do we keep our intrinsic drive stronger than our external motivators?

First, by reminding ourselves daily why we want to swim and what we enjoy. If you keep a swimming journal (which I always suggest people do), each day before you go to sleep write down what you are looking forward to the next day at practice. By doing this you keep your focus positive and on what you find enjoyable.

Second, at the end of practice, you can write down what you actually liked about practice or why it was a good day. You could even include a story about something funny that happened at practice or how much you’re looking forward to having a spaghetti dinner with your team.

Something else to remind you that you love the sport is to put a picture in your notebook from when you were really young, maybe one of your first swimming memories, so you always can re-connect with the enjoyment of just splashing around on a summer day. 

Using Extrinsic Incentives to Enhance Performance
You don’t want to overemphasize external rewards, but on the days when you need an extra mental push to keep you working hard, here are some quick motivators that you can use:

1)    Reward yourself for attaining goals, rather than using punishment for falling short. This goes for practice, not just competition.
2)    Know what you are working towards. Whether it’s an Olympic medal or a specific time barrier you want to break, post this goal somewhere you will see it on a daily basis.
3)    Tell a teammate (or coach) when you are feeling a bit lazy and ask them to really push you hard and not let you get away with this.
4)    Let your parents or roommates know your practice goals so when you get home they can hold you accountable and ask you if you achieved them.
5)    Have a “Worker of the Week” award and at the end of each practice week, have the coach or team captain acknowledge who really went above and beyond. Depending on the nature of the team, maybe this person gets to pick one event they want to swim (or not swim) at the next meet.
6)    Compete in practice. Challenge teammates to try to keep up with you.
7)    Have specific goals for competition, ideally focused on swimming a specific time rather than just on winning.

Be creative, think about what has gotten you through tough days in the past and know what you can use to motivate you now.

Know what motivates you. Everyone is a little bit different not only in what gets them started, but what keeps them going and what helps them to exert maximum effort. Always stay connected with what you enjoy about the sport, not just what you get out of it. Finally, remember it’s up to you to motivate yourself; you can’t always rely on others.

On that note, I’ll leave you with one of my favorite quotes:

“Success is not the result of spontaneous combustion. You must first set yourself on fire.”

Make it great!

Dr. Aimee

About Aimee C. Kimball, PhD:
Dr. Kimball is the Director of Mental Training for the UPMC Center for Sports Medicine. She is an Association of Applied Sport Psychology Certified Consultant, and is a member of the American Psychological Association, the United States Olympic Committee’s Sport Psychology Registry, the USA Swimming Sports Medicine Network, and the NCAA Speakers Bureau. She works with athletes, coaches, and parents to help them achieve success in sport and life.
For more information contact: kimballac@upmc.edu, 412-432-3777, http://sportsmedicine.upmc.com/MentalTrainingProgram.htm