Creating an Inner Desire
Excerpt from the book, Your Performing Edge
JoAnn Dahlkoetter, Ph.D
Look around you, find your passion,
see what makes you whole
To excel as an athlete you must be hungry - hungry for success,
for results - hungry simply to become the best athlete you can be.
It starts with a dream, but somehow you must be inspired, or you
will never be able to reach your goal. We often read about
athletes overcoming physical disabilities. Lance Armstrong survived
testicular cancer and won the Tour de France two times. Marla Runyan
ran in the 1500 meters of the 2000 Olympics while being legally
blind. It is out of these challenges that athletes develop a fierce,
burning desire to succeed. They need to prove to themselves
that they can achieve their goals. Through these kinds of
examples we can begin to understand that desire is sometimes more
important than even talent or a healthy body.
The movie Prefontaine depicts the life of a running
legend who had one leg shorter than the other, and did not necessarily
have the perfect runners body. Yet from a very
early age he developed an insatiable love for running. Through his
drive and determination Steve Prefontaine went on to break the American
record in every distance from 2,000 - 10,000 meters, a feat never
attained by any other American man.
Without a true love for your sport and a burning desire to be the
best you can be, you will never be able to push yourself to do what
has to be done. It will be too easy to skip a workout now and then.
A coach or parent can give you support and guidance, but you have
to supply the rest. Only you can push yourself when youre
tired, or make yourself work out when distractions get in the way.
After Steve Prefontaine had reached the height of his running career,
he lost to Lasse Viren in the Olympic 5,000 meters in Munich. The
loss led him to consider quitting the sport. His coach Bill Bowerman
told him: If youre gonna run, be at the track and Ill
give you the workouts; or if your gonna stop running, then do that.
You decide. I cant coach desire.
So the drive must come from within, regardless of whether youre
a novice, a serious athlete, or competing at the elite level. The
good news is that building and maintaining a high level of self-motivation
is a learned skill that anyone can acquire. Motivation is
energy, and that sense of self-directedness is one of the most powerful
sources of energy available to an athlete. From internal motivation
you gain the willingness to persevere with your training, to endure
discomfort and stress, and to make sacrifices with your time and
energy as you move closer toward realizing your goal.
Profile of the Highly Motivated Athlete
What are the key characteristics of well-motivated athletes?
Through my extensive work with numerous athletes over several years,
I have developed a constellation of traits that defines the champions
mentality. Elite athletes do not possess superhuman powers
or extraordinary qualifications limited to a selected few.
The characteristics that make a champion can be attained and developed
by anyone who wants to excel in a sport.
Enthusiasm and Desire - Love for Your Sport: Top athletes
have a hunger, a fire inside which fuels their passion to achieve
an important goal, regardless of their level of talent or ability.
To accomplish anything of value in life you need to begin with some
kind of vision or dream. The more clearly you can see that
picture in your mind, the more likely it is to become reality.
Wherever you place your attention, your energy will follow.
Courage to Succeed: Once an athlete has the desire,
he or she needs to back it up with courage - the incentive to make
any dream you dare to dream become reality. It takes courage
to sacrifice, to work out when youre tired, to seek out tough
competition when you know youll probably lose. It takes
courage to stick to your game plan and the relentless pursuit of
your goal when you encounter obstacles. It takes courage to
push yourself to places that you have never been before physically
or mentally. It takes courage to test your limits, and to break
Internal motivation and self-direction: Champion athletes
decide early on that they are training and competing for themselves,
not for their parents, their coaches, or for the medals. Direction
and drive need to come from within. The goals must be ones
that you have chosen because thats exactly what you want to
be doing. Ask yourself, what keeps you running? Who are you
doing it for?
Commitment to Excellence: How good do you want to be?
Elite athletes know that to excel at their sport, they must decide
to make it a priority in their life. They make an honest effort
each day to be the best at what they do. At some point you
must say, I want to be really good at this; I want this to work.
To notice significant growth you must live this commitment and regularly
stretch what you perceive to be your current limits.
Discipline, Consistency, Organization: Winning athletes
know how to self-energize and work hard on a daily basis. Because
they love what they do it is easier for them to maintain consistency
in training and in competing. Regardless of personal problems, fatigue,
or difficult circumstances, they can generate the optimal amount
of excitement and energy to do their best.
Being focused and yet relaxed: Champions have the ability
to maintain concentration for long periods of time. They can
tune in whats critical to their performance and tune out whats
not. They can easily let go of distractions and take control
of their attention.
Ability to handle adversity: Top athletes know how
to deal with difficult situations. Adversity builds character.
When elite athletes know the odds are against them they embrace
the chance to explore the outer limits of their potential.
Rather than avoiding pressure they feel challenged by it. They are
calm and relaxed under fire. Setbacks become an opportunity for
learning; they open the way for deep personal growth.
Dan OBrien, Olympic gold medalist in the decathlon, knows
about handling adversity. During my interview with him he recalls:
When I didnt make the opening height for the pole vault
in the 1992 Olympic Trials, there was no doubt in my mind where
I was going. Sure I was upset, but I dealt with it and quickly moved
on. That event set the pace for the next four years of my training.
I was driven. I knew I could be the best. I surrounded myself with
people who shared that same vision. I wrote my goals down on paper
so I could see them every day.
Only six weeks after the Olympic Trials Dan shattered the world
record in the decathlon at the Deca Star Meet in Tolance, France.
He went on to become the 1996 Olympic Decathlon Champion in Atlanta.
Adversity fueled his vision. Dan says: If you can see it you
can achieve it.
Guidelines for Building Motivation
and Maximizing Your Potential
The people who develop these qualities and practice these skills
regularly have the best chance of excelling in athletics as well
as personally and professionally. Each of us begins at a different
starting point physically and mentally. We all have strengths that
we can build upon. Now that you have an idea of the constellation
of traits that successful athletes possess, how do you begin to
build them into your life? How do you turn these qualities
into useful behaviors that will make a difference in the way you
train and race? Numerous researchers in the sports psychology field
have reported on the critical skills and behaviors of successful
athletes. Below I have offered suggestions that have helped
many of my own clients tremendously toward excelling in their sport.
Generate a positive outlook: Direct your focus to what
is possible, to what can happen, toward success. Rather than
complaining about the weather or criticizing the competition, the
mentally trained athlete attends to only those things that he or
she can control. You have control over your thoughts, your emotions,
your training form, and how you perceive each situation. You
have a choice in what you believe about yourself. Positive
energy makes peak performances possible.
Visualize your goals daily: Put yourself in a relaxed state
through deep abdominal breathing. Then, as vividly as possible,
create an image in your mind, of what you want to achieve in your
sport. You can produce a replay of one of your best performances
in the past. Then use all those positive feelings of self-confidence,
energy, and strength in your mental rehearsal of an upcoming event.
See yourself doing it right. Then use your imagery during the event
¨ Practice being focused and yet
relaxed: Develop the ability to maintain concentration for longer
periods of time. You can tune in whats critical to your
performance and tune out whats not. You can easily let
go of distractions and take control of your attention. As
you focus more on the task at hand (e.g. your training form, how
youre feeling) there will be less room for the negative thoughts
to enter your mind.
Build a balanced lifestyle: Create a broad-based lifestyle
with a variety of interests; strive for a balance between work and
fun, social time, personal quiet time, and time to be creative.
Develop patterns of healthy behavior. Eat regularly,
get a consistent amount of sleep each night, reduce your work load
at times if possible, and allow time to relax and reflect between
activities. Develop a social support network of close friends and
family, some who are sports oriented, and some with other interests.
Learn to communicate openly; resolve personal conflicts as they
occur, so they dont build to a crisis on the night before
an important race.
Vary your workouts: Train at a new, scenic place at least
once a week. Change your normal training schedule, even if
only for two days. Try active rest by doing a
different sport for a few days (e.g. hiking, swimming, inline skating,
cycling, or cross-country skiing). Youll get a tremendous
psychological boost and probably not lose any of your fitness level.
Put new spark in your training schedule by doing interval work,
tempo work (fast 20-30 minute training), varying your speed and
doing endurance work, rather than slogging along at the same old
Enjoy and take the pressure off: Make a deliberate effort
each day to create enjoyment in your sport, renewing your enthusiasm
and excitement for training. Dont try to force your physical
improvement. Lighten up on your rigid training schedule and
exercise according to your feelings each day. Remove the strict
deadlines and race dates which have been cast in stone. Let
your next breakthrough occur naturally, at its own pace, when the
internal conditions are right. Use setbacks as learning opportunities.
Do the best that you can do, draw out the constructive lessons from
every workout and race, and then move on. Look for advantages
in every situation, even if the conditions are less than ideal.
Sport offers a wonderful chance to free ourselves for short periods
and experience intensity and excitement not readily available elsewhere
in our lives. In endurance sports we can live out our quest
for personal control by seeking out and continuously meeting challenges
that are within our capability. To develop an inner desire and maximize
your true potential, make the most of the talents you have, and
stretch the limits of your abilities, both physically and psychologically.
Athletics can become a means to personal growth and enjoyment of
the pursuit of your goals. Try incorporating the profile above into
your mental preparation, and you can learn to live more fully, train
more healthfully, and feel exactly the way you want to feel.
JoAnn Dahlkoetter, Ph.D., author of YOUR PERFORMING EDGE, is an
internationally recognized sports psychologist, past winner of the
San Francisco Marathon and 2nd in the Hawaii Ironman Triathlon.
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Dr. Dahlkoetter provides coaching by phone for optimal mind-body
performance. For information, Email email@example.com,
or call 650-654-5500.