Get & Stay Motivated


by Tami Eggleston, Ph.D. CC-AASP

The following article is by Tami Eggleston, Ph.D. of McKendree University. She’s an Association for Applied Sport Psychology Certified Consultant.

“Ability is what you’re capable of doing. Motivation determines what you do. Attitude determines how well you do it.”
-Lou Holtz

Psychologists know a few things about how to motivate people, that is basically what psychologists try and do for people is to help them get motivated to make a change. One of the basic things about motivation is that there are two main types of motivation: extrinsic and intrinsic. Extrinsic motivation means you are motivated by something outside of yourself. This would be the athlete who really ONLY plays because of the possibility of fame, fortune, or because of how other people treat him or her. Intrinsic motivation, on the other hand, comes largely from within. But which is likely to drive an athlete in both the up and down times?

This would be the athlete who primarily performs because of the internal feelings of accomplishment, satisfaction, they like a challenge, they like competition, or they just love the sport or activity. For most people for most things it is a combination of intrinsic and extrinsic motivation that motivates them. For example, I love to drag race, but if there wasn’t a monetary payout and we were just racing for a trophy, I probably wouldn’t go racing nearly as much. Most psychologists say that having both is fine, but if you want to be active in your sport for the long term you probably need a great deal of intrinsic motivation to keep going. Intrinsic motivation keeps you going during the good times and the difficult times (the losses, the interceptions, the strike outs, the not qualifying, the missed serve, etc.).

Psychologists have also found that sometimes if a person gets too many extrinsic rewards, their intrinsic motivation might actually go down. I know this seems odd for most people, we would think that the more extrinsic rewards you received the more you would start to intrinsically love it. But this is not supported by research. For example, most kids love to read, but if you start to give them grades for their reading or you start to reward them too much for reading they actually start to like reading less! Most psychologists would not support the idea of paying kids to read, to study, etc. or else they might lose the intrinsic motivation to do this. A few extrinsic rewards are fun (certificates, t-shirts, food) on occasion, but the overuse and focus on extrinsic rewards can actually hurt intrinsic motivation!

So what can you do to keep motivated and to keep intrinsic motivation high? Here are a few tips:

1.) Remember why you love your sport. When you start to lose motivation, think back to why you started your sport and the things that make you love it. Think back to those early experiences in your sport that just make you smile. When the going gets tough, remember you love this stuff!

2.) Shake it up! Sometimes you need to change up your activities to keep you motivated. Maybe attend a different event, a different location, with different competitors. A change might help you stay intrinsically motivated.

3.) Add some fun; nothing makes you more motivated than having fun. Lack of fun is a sure fire way to kill motivation! You can be a serious athlete but still have fun. Just look at the Green Bay Packers Quarterback, Brett Favre, he is an elite athlete who still truly is having fun. Maybe you can add fun by having a picnic with your friends and family after an event. Maybe you could make a little vacation out of your next event. Fun won’t make you less committed; fun will just help you stay motivated for the long term. The best athletes can turn on and off their game face and have fun.

He who does not get fun and enjoyment out of every day… needs to reorganize his life. -George M. Adams

4.) WIN! Yeah, this is the hard one, but nothing makes you more motivated than a good win! But here is the chicken/egg problem if you win, you get motivated, but you have to be motivated to win…but you get the point, try to win and get happy, get motivated, and win some more! Celebrate those hard earned wins!

5.) Don’t second guess yourself. Take time to make good decisions, and then once you make a decision don’t go around beating yourself up if it doesn’t work. Nothing will knock out your intrinsic motivation quicker than beating yourself up. Sometimes outstanding athletes are very hard on themselves. It is one thing to make a mistake, learn from it, but then you have to forgive yourself and move on to stay motivated. Take your time making good decisions, learn from bad decisions, and then move on! Too much second guessing doesn’t do anything but make you feel bad. Of course we should think about our decisions, learn from our decisions, but too much second guessing will just make you feel bad and reduce your intrinsic motivation to do things.

“Regret for the things we did can be tempered by time; it is regret for the things we did not do that is inconsolable.”
-Sydney J. Harris, Strictly Personal

6.) Another thing guaranteed to reduce intrinsic motivation is comparing too much with other people. Nothing will get you feeling crappy quicker than comparing with others. Of course in sports you get compared to other people, but spend more mental energy focusing on your strengths and challenges than on the competition. In the world of auto racing, nothing will hurt intrinsic motivation more than always comparing with the person who has the fastest, coolest car with the greatest tow rig, etc. etc. It doesn’t mean you can’t look at nice stuff, be happy for the other person for what they have, or even think of ways that you can work to have that. But being jealous or envious of others will only make you feel bad about yourself. Psychologists call this upward social comparison when you compare to people who have better or more stuff than you do. This will probably just make you feel bad. Now of course you can also downward compare with those who have less than you, it might make you feel better temporarily but in the long run it probably will just make you realize that someone else could be downward comparing with YOU! No matter how fast, how cool, how new, or how good your race car is, there is always going to be somebody with something better (and probably somebody with something worse). The secret is being happy with where you are at and not feeling the need to compare with others. You should work on constantly improving yourself and capitalizing on your own strengths and working on your own challenges.

7.) Pump yourself up! To help you stay motivated you also might want to try getting some motivational music or coming up with some motivational sayings or quotes. Figure out ways to get or keep yourself motivated for your sport and for life!

Well are you feeling motivated? Do you feel ready to practice, ready to perform, ready to capitalize on your strengths, ready to work on your challenges? I hope so! I feel motivated just writing this! Remember that true success is not measured by winning one game or event or even having one winning season. True success is measured by consistently competing and staying motivated over the years. If you have any questions, comments please email me at tegglest (at)

Tami Eggleston, Ph.D. is an associate professor of psychology at McKendree University in Lebanon, Illinois. She received her Ph.D. from Iowa State University in social psychology. She teaches sport psychology and conducts mental training with the volleyball, softball, soccer, and bowling teams at McKendree University. She and her husband, Mike, campaign a rear-engine, big block Chevy dragster at various drag races in the Midwest. She writes a monthly column for Drag News Magazine entitled, Think to Win, and is an invited speaker at the Drag News Expo on the topic of the psychology of drag racing. Her areas of expertise include team dynamics, the psychology of auto racing, women in sports, and commitment.

Email: tegglest (at)

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