10 Motivational Tips from Sports Gurus

If you’ve ever taken part in sport, at any level, you’ll know how important it is to stay motivated. Motivation is key to achievement, whether you’re taking your first tentative steps on a beginner’s running programme, or training for your tenth marathon. Motivation defines your desires and refines your goals. Without it, you’re nowhere.

We’ve put together this list of motivational tips from top sportspeople, coaches, and sports psychologists to help you do just that.

1) Remember your goal

Jamaican sprinter, 100- and 200-metre world-record holder and fastest man in the world, Usain Bolt, knows a thing or two about setting and meeting sports goals. He talks about the importance of remembering what your goal is when you’re struggling to push through pain. When training gets tough, keep going by reminding yourself that without the painful training, you can’t achieve your goal.

2) Listen to music

British Olympic rowing champion Tom James uses music to keep him motivated while training. He advises having a playlist for training of your favourite songs that you listen to every time you train. This will give you a sense of progress, as you know you can keep on training and working for as long as the playlist lasts.

3) Learn to let go of the outcome

Top NBA coach, ex-player, and author Phil Jackson has plenty to say on sports motivation in his book Eleven Rings: The soul of success. His coaching career was defined by his commitment to the importance of personal values as the basis of motivation, earning him the nickname ‘zen master.’ It also earned him plenty of success, as he won more championships than any other sports coach. One of the many useful pieces of advice in his book is: “The most we can hope for is to create the best possible conditions for success, then let go of the outcome. The ride is a lot more fun that way.” That is, do your best, but don’t stress about whether you’ll win. If you’re doing your best, you’re doing all you can.

4) Pain is effort

There’s no way around it. Training hard will hurt. And it’s the pain that puts many people off sport or stops them from progressing. To be one of those who keeps going through the pain, sports psychologist JoAnn Dahlkoetter says you should understand that the pain is simply a symptom of the effort you’re making. It’s a productive pain, rather than a warning pain, like toothache. Pain tells you you’re doing something right.

5) If you hate it, don’t do it

Brandonn S. Harris, PhD, sports expert at Georgia Southern University, has some simple but often-ignored advice. It’s fine to not like a particular sport, and to stop doing something that you’re just not enjoying any more. Don’t get caught up in exercise fashions. Your friends may love CrossFit, but if you just want to go running, do that instead.

6) Have a training partner

Most successful athletes will train alone some of the time, but they’ll always train with others too—even if they do an individual sport such as running, swimming, or cycling. According to sports psychologist Jim Taylor of the University of San Francisco, a training partner can be key to motivation. They’ll help you get out there on days when you’d rather not, and they’ll give you someone to try and beat.

7) Don’t let obstacles stop you

Basketball legend Michael Jordan said “If you run into a wall, don’t turn around and give up. Figure out how to climb it, go through it, or work around it.” You’ll always hit obstacles as you train; that’s the nature of the beast. Successful sportspeople don’t give up when faced with obstacles, they just find another way.

8) Be good to yourself

British tennis champion Andy Murray keeps a list of motivational tips to read during breaks in play and keep him focused. Among tips on how to refine his game, he reminds himself “Be good to yourself.” This is important: recognise that while you need the ability to be tough and push yourself, you also need to know when to be your own friend.

9) Identify negative thoughts

Sports psychologist to Olympians, Alison Arnold, cautions that negative thoughts can sneak in even for even the most positive of people. And when they do, they can have a devastating impact on performance. If you find yourself thinking, ‘I’ll be bad today because it’s hot’, you’ve sunk your chances before you’ve set a foot on the floor. If you can learn to identify negative thoughts as they happen, you’ll be much better able to combat them.

10) Take risks

Those who stay in their comfort zone don’t achieve their goals. Achievement in any sphere, by its nature, means taking risks, experimenting, being willing to fail. Muhammad Ali knew this, saying “He who is not courageous enough to take risks will accomplish nothing in life.”