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Mental Motivation for Athletics Training

Article by Jane Sandwood

Being a competitive athlete involves every area of your life. In other words from your diet to your daily routines. In addition, finding the inner motivation to keep at it is fundamental to success. While Olympic athletes will train for up to 6 hours a day in the run-up to big events. And being motivated by something other than external encouragement is key. So it can be all too easy for athletes to burn themselves out. Or eventually, give up when things get tough.

If motivation is only coming from coaches, friends, and family. Honing your mental motivations for your training is key to maintaining a personal interest in athletics. And this is essential in building a successful sports career.

The Power of Embracing Responsibility

Mental Motivation for Athletics Training

The internal motivation for athletics must begin with accepting personal responsibility for your training, your progress, and your overall performance. Recognizing that the success of each of these is solely up to you will help you pursue your goals. By giving them meaning beyond your own happiness.

By its variable and competitive nature. Athletics is not always going to be enjoyable and you will find yourself at the crucial point where it is tiring and painful rather than fun. Ultimately, you should be participating in athletics for yourself. And yourself alone to be able to push through this. Embracing responsibility begins by taking stock of your day-to-day duties. And examining their individual importance to you before prioritizing them to establish what means the most to you.

Developing Self-Discipline and Determination

Mental Motivation for Athletics Training

Even after embracing responsibility, having excellent self-discipline skills is imperative to maintaining motivation. Essentially, self-discipline involves continuously taking small, consistent actions towards achieving clear objectives. Having self-discipline means more than doing the bare minimum.

It means doing the exercises set by your coach to the best of your physical abilities. After that, It means schooling your actions outside of training sessions to support and protect your athletic progress. As Olympian gymnast Arthur Nory puts it, “Have a big goal and train hard, go for it!”. You can begin developing self-discipline by setting small goals to lead to larger goals within a time frame, which will help keep you accountable. You could also keep a training diary and a system of effort ratings to track both whether you’re sticking to your regime and whether you’re putting enough work in.

Importance of a Positive Mindset

Mental Motivation for Athletics Training

Aside from physical injury or losing personal interest in the sport. And perhaps the biggest threat to building a successful athletic career is experiencing a mental burnout. Hence burnout is most likely to occur if you’re putting too much pressure on yourself. And not allowing for inevitable shortcomings and losses.

Maintaining healthy motivation – and good mental health in general. It depends on being able to forgive yourself when you don’t meet goals. And keeping a positive attitude towards yourself at all times. One of the keys to success for world-renowned boxer Manny Pacquiao is maintaining a positive attitude whether he wins or loses. Rather than becoming disillusioned or angry when failures occur. A positive mindset will allow you to use it as a learning experience and grow stronger from it.

Becoming the best possible athlete you can obviously involve intense physical training. And commitment in every area of your life. Yet ultimately, your success will only go as far as your own inner motivation will allow it. Developing a strong sense of internal, mental motivation through embracing personal responsibility, honing self-discipline skills, and maintaining a positive mindset. Will put you in the best possible position to fulfill your potential as a successful athlete.




A montage of Olympic athletes training accompanied by a talk given by Owen Cook with music by

Clint Mansell “Together We Will Live Forever.”

(Oct 17) The talk does not represent the thoughts, feelings, or attitudes of any of the athletes pictured in the video clip. However, the idea of making such a video is to offer motivation to athletes everywhere, and with that mission in mind, this video is a little rawer than most of the videos you’ll find on youtube. And, well, if you are offended, leave a comment, and if you happen to find some extra motivation, then leave a comment too.

This video really entails the motivation for discipline ‘over and over and over’, sacrifice, self-belief consistent and how several small tasks lead to a dream becoming a goal. You have to enjoy the journey towards the goal not just the goal itself and that means understanding how your training leads to your goal.




Sports psychology: the role of emotion regulation, music and the coach-athlete relationship

How 10 years of sports psychology research can be utilised in your training programme

Sport psychology is a relatively young science but, as Andy Lane and Tracey Devonport explain, the years since the turn of the century have seen some major advances in understanding the role of the mind in sport

Full article can be read here

Motivation and Feedback in Coaching

Dawn Hunter explains why motivation is seen to be a key aspect for most athletes in enabling them to achieve their goals.


(July 29) Motivation and Feedback in Coaching The definition of motivation can be divided into two main camps.


1) That of enthusiasm for something; when athletes are highly motivated they are often really enjoying their training and are really keen to do their sessions.

2) The other camp is that of the need or reason for doing something, i.e. the motivation behind what is being done. So, an athlete may not be enthusiastic about getting up at 6 am to do a long bike ride in preparation for an Ironman triathlon, but they are motivated as they know that if they do the training now they will be more likely to do better in the race.

When planning a season and defining SMARTER goals, the motivation to achieve those goals should be assessed by the coach as it will have a direct impact on the amount and intensity of any training set and the success of any training program.

Knowing any barriers to train and also the athletes’ training likes and dislikes will help in future motivation lapses.



Source of motivation

The motivation that relies solely on something or someone external to the athlete should be noted. An athlete’s goals need to be self-governed otherwise the motivation to take the steps to achieve those goals may be lacking. For example, an athlete may want to do well at a particular race because friends and family will be watching.


  1. Generally, this is unlikely to be a good source of motivation as it comes from outside the athlete and when the going gets tough the athlete may decide that they don’t care what anyone else thinks and give up on their goal.
  2. Sometimes an athlete can be too motivated – this usually ends in them not taking appropriate rest days, as they just want to train all the time. It is important that your athletes appreciate that rest is as important as training and will allow the body to adapt to the training load.


One aspect of being a successful coach is getting useful  feedback from your athletes as to how they find your sessions.

Scientific methods of feedback, such as heart rates, etc. are useful, but in order to assess your athletes’ motivation levels, you need to be able to understand how they feel a session went as much as how their body responded physiologically.  Based on this feedback you can alter and adapt their training accordingly. If the aim of your sessions is not being achieved then you can look for another way to achieve the same aim.


The feedback from your athletes is likely to come in 3 main types – visual, verbal and written.



Visual Feedback

Visual feedback – beyond the sweat, red faces and heaving chests, does the athlete look pleased or do they look a little dejected? Perhaps they look as if they could/should have gone that bit harder or paced themselves better. Verbal feedback – athletes frequently talk themselves and their performances up and to a certain extent this is to be encouraged.

A  positive mental attitude will go a long way to help to produce a good performance, but inside they may still feel that things could have gone better. It is important to listen to what the athlete says and then look for the things they didn’t say. For example, ‘The session went really well. I couldn’t have done it any better today. Chris was going really well today’.

The athlete doesn’t say why they couldn’t have done any better today or why they felt it went well. Was this despite whatever was holding them back? Or did the session go well, but maybe on a less windy day it could have gone better? Did Chris do better in some way? Is the athlete concerned that Chris is doing something to make him/herself faster than the athlete?


Verbal Feedback

If the verbal feedback is given over the phone. It is often difficult to get full and frank answers. As there is no visual feedback available from either coach or athlete. For feedback, via phone, both athletes and coaches need to be comfortable communicating over the telephone. The difficulty with both visual and verbal feedback is keeping a record of it. Visual feedback can be written down fairly easily: “the athlete looked really pleased with him/herself at the end of the session”.

Verbal feedback is more difficult as you are likely to write down the content of the feedback. Rather than how it was delivered and phrased.



Written Feedback

Written feedback – where an athlete does sessions without the coach’s presence, feedback may also be given via email or text. Although expansive, email can frequently hide an athlete’s true view on performance.

Written feedback can vary from a list of what was done, with heart rates and times to a long and involved written piece. The type of email feedback seems to vary depending on whether the athlete concerned treats email as another form of verbal communication or a form of written communication.

Also, the latter athlete is likely to provide a more formal, data-filled email than the former who will frequently hold a single-sided conversation that can run to several hundred words. It is the more verbose athlete who is more helpful to the coach as you are likely to be able to pick up things they haven’t noticed,  even themselves.

For example, you may get athletes who have a long winter of colds and/or injury who by the spring can’t understand why they are not going as well as the previous spring. By going back over their feedback you can establish and point out to them exactly how much time they have lost through such things. It can be surprising how much training can be missed which is forgotten by the athlete only a month or so later.



Both great motivation and a lack of motivation can produce lots or no feedback. While athletes who are highly motivated and are just getting on with the training frequently fail to feedback unprompted as it doesn’t occur to them. As long as nothing is going wrong they will just carry on regardless. And it is worth trying to pin these athletes down weekly.

In addition an unmotivated athlete will avoid providing feedback as they will see their non-attendance at sessions as a failure. With these athletes, it is worth re-establishing the reasons for their goals. And to push whichever buttons you know will work for them.

For example, for some athletes. It is enough to know that their greatest rival is training to get their motivation back in harness. For others, it may be that other factors, such as moving house, getting married, a  new job, etc., take precedence at the moment and it may be that their goals should be reassessed accordingly to allow for some time to address these other aspects.

Ways of dealing with an unmotivated athlete will depend quite a lot on whether their sport is effectively recreational, or they are an age group or elite athlete. For some, pulling out of a race or giving up for a season is not as big a deal as it is for others. Knowing your athletes well and knowing why they do their sport is a key factor in helping them to get their motivation back.

Some motivated athletes will provide lots of feedback because they are so enthusiastic about their training and will want to share that with you. The more feedback you receive from an athlete, motivated or otherwise, the better you will get to know them and the better the coach-athlete relationship is likely to be.

One ideal coach-athlete relationship would be where the athlete and coach come to a consensus about the training rather than the coach ‘setting’ the training for the athlete. This will not always work, but a highly motivated athlete is likely to have read around the subject of training for their sport and in general and based on their experience of doing the training is likely to have a really useful viewpoint on what is likely to work for them.

Unmotivated athletes can also provide lots of feedback. And this is where you can often get to the root of the problem. Email works well for ‘baring of the soul’ as there is a sense of anonymity. Despite knowing where the email is going. Sometimes an athlete will start the email not knowing why they are unmotivated. And by the time they get to the end, they will have worked it out for themselves.

Texts are not ideal for feedback as they are quite short. But for race results and facts and figures regarding a session they can be useful.  Particularly if an athlete is racing or training abroad. A text is definitely better than no feedback at all. And is another way of having communication with your athletes.

For some athletes, having a coach is helpful to motivation. The fact that there is someone they have to ‘report’ to can frequently persuade a  reluctant athlete to do a session. Unfortunately, it is usually the case that the sessions an athlete dislike the most are those that work to their weaknesses. Once that weakness is overcome it is likely that those very sessions, which were unpopular before, are suddenly a favorite.

The best way to get feedback from an athlete. Is to allow them to do it in the way that works best for them. If the athlete has chosen the medium and method they are likely to be much more communicative. I have pages and pages of messenger conversations with one athlete who seemed to communicate well that way. The key thing is to keep good records of the feedback.

This will help you to develop training programs. And motivate that athlete specifically. But what you learn from it can be applied to other athletes you coach now and in the future.


Article Reference

This article first appeared in:

  • HUNTER, D.  (2006) Motivation and Feedback in Coaching. Brian Mackenzie’s Successful Coaching, (ISSN 1745-7513/ 34/ July-August), p. 1-3

Page Reference

The reference for this page is:

  • HUNTER, D. (2006) Motivation and Feedback in Coaching [WWW] Available from: [Accessed

About the Author

Dawn Hunter, a British Triathlon Association Club Coach. Has been coaching individual triathletes and a triathlon club for over 3 years. She also competes in triathlons up to half ironman distance.

Sporting Body Sporting Mind – Book Review

sporting mind

While I lent this book Sporting Mind to one of my athletes. Also, she was very impressed with the book. For instance when it was returned full of bookmarks and notes (pictured). While Obviously from a very keen young mind. Yet luckily not penning and highlighting.

While everyone experiences the changing relationship between body and mind in his or her daily life. Hence for sportsmen and sportswomen, the relationship is especially important. Yet this book presents a program of mental training techniques for competitive sport.

All to often, a great deal of time is spent on physical training, whilst mental and emotional preparation are neglected — but the best performances happen when all aspects are focused on the same goal This book provides a complete program of mental training techniques, and, as such, will be invaluable for the athlete or coach intent on attaining optimal performance.

Christopher Connolly and John Syer have distilled their vast experience, much of it acquired through work with their Sporting Endymion consultancy, to perfect an approach which has already been widely acclaimed.


The Book is available on Amazon for $7.95 USD

Paperback – July 26, 1984

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