Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Remotivating the Motivated - Dan Wagman

Is Lifting Art?

Remotivating the Motivated
by Dan Wagman, 1997.

In sport, especially in the weight room, motivation is typically associated with trying harder, concentrating more, persisting longer, paying close attention, and choosing to practice longer. All of these behaviors help coaches assess an athlete's level of motivation [Maehr, M., and J. Nicholls. Culture and achievement motivation: A second look. In: Studies in Crosscultural Psychology (Vol 2). N. Warren, ed. New York: Academic Press, 1980.]

and distinguish between someone who is highly motivated and someone who isn't. [Maehr, M., and L. Braskamp. The Motivational Factor: A Theory of Personal Investment. Lexington, MA: Lexington Books, 1986.]

Yet, motivation is sometimes misunderstood in the sport domain because it is often equated with arousal.
[Roberts, G. Motivation in sport: Understanding and enhancing the motivation and achievement of children. In: Handbook of Research on Sport Psychology. R. Singer, M. Murphey, and L. Tennant, eds. New York: MacMillan, 1993. pp. 405-420.]

Pregame pep talks or shouting encouragement in the weight room are used to psych up athletes in an effort to enhance performance. However, arousal and motivation are separate and independent constructs [Roberts, G. (ed.). Motivation in Sport and Exercise. Champaign, IL: Human Kinetics, 1992.] 

and too high a level of arousal can actually decrease performance. 

Another misunderstanding concerns the "positive thinking" that coaches seek from their athletes. it is thought that if you believe you can win, succeed, or execute a perfect hang-snatch, this will increase your level of motivation.

While there is some support for this contention, these expectations must be based on reality and current performance ability. If your athlete's best clean is 120 kg., even positive thinking won't make him get 150. It turns out that unrealistic expectations could actually undermine motivation. [Locke, A., and J. Nation. Sport Psychology: An Introduction. Chicago: Nelson-Hall. 1989.]

A third misconception is that motivation is genetically endowed and innate -- that some people are just naturally motivated and others are not. Hence, if an athlete is judged to be low in motivation, it is often believed that this cannot be changed. Motivation is a learned attribute, however, and one that can be enhanced if the athlete really wants to play a sport. [Ames, C. Competitive, cooperative, and individualistic goal structures: A cognitive-motivational analysis. In: Research on Motivation in Education, Vol 1: Student Motivation. R. Ames and C. Ames, eds. New York: Academic Press, 1984, pp. 177-208]


[Roberts, G. Achievement motivation in children's sport. In: The Development of Achievement Motivation. J. Nicholls, ed. Greenwich, CT: JAI Press, 1984. pp. 251-281.]

The fact that motivation can be learned and enhanced, given a fundamental love for the activity, is an important concept for the strength and conditioning coach to appreciate, especially since many athletes may not see strength and conditioning as a very important activity. An athlete's primary consideration will be his or her chosen sport ('sport' including powerlifting, weightlifting, bodybuilding).

The fact that the strength and conditioning process helps athletes perform their sport tasks more efficiently does not occur to many athletes. They view it as an activity secondary to their sport and one that does not require much motivation. Thus the primary concern for the strength and conditioning professional (or self-coached individual) is to confront these views and instill a sense of purpose into the athlete's (his own) training.


The late and well-known motivational speaker Bob Bale defined motivation as follows:

"Motivation is an idea, emotion, or need from within a person which incites or compels that person to act or not to act." [Hutson, D. Productivity through motivation. In: Insights Into Excellence (4th ed.) Harrisburg, PA. Executive Books, 1992. pp. 170-181.]

3rd Edition

4th Edition

The key term here is "from within," as all motivation is self-motivation. A person must first have drive, desire, and a deep sense of love for the activity. This drive and desire is an internal force that cannot be attained externally from someone else. Although some have had some success in motivating others, this type of motivation generally does not last.

In light of this, you cannot "motivate" your athletes to lift weights. But you can create an environment and an understanding of individual challenges that will induce your athletes to motivate themselves and see the benefits of the strength and conditioning process.

In this sense, then, motivation is a force that propels your athletes into action. This force defines the direction and intensity of their actions. [Silva, J.M., and R.S. Weinberg. Psychological Foundations of Sport. Champaign, IL. Human Kinetics, 1984.]

The direction indicates whether they will approach or avoid a given task. The intensity refers to the degree of effort they will put forth to accomplish the task.

Hutson [Insights Into Excellence, see above] provides a formula of motivation that identifies the multiplicative nature of skill and effort. Hutson explains that individuals with great skill who expend a high degree of effort will produce more and be more motivated than those who have less skill and/or expend less effort.

However, this formula does not account for individual differences. These differences become important when trying to ascertain why a person has the skill but does not put forth the effort, or why a person puts forth the effort but stops short of learning the skills needed to succeed.

In addition, some of your athletes might train with great intensity but expend their energy in the wrong direction (e.g., the wide receiver who devotes a lot of time and effort in increasing his bench press rather than working on his sprint speed, or the strength-seeking lifter who follows a strictly cosmetic routine). Furthermore, the constructs of intensity, direction, skill, and effort do not account for why a given athlete has not been able, lately, to muster his usual degree of motivation.

Theories and Models

Many theories have been proposed to explain motivation and how it is developed. In general these theories can be broken down into behavioral models and cognitive models. The focus is on achievement behaviors of intensity (trying hard), persistence (continuing to try hard), choice of action (playing football rather than tennis), and performance (outcomes). [Handbook of Research on Sport Psychology, see above, pp. 405-420.]

The most noteworthy behavioral model was developed by McClelland and Atkinson and is referred to as the McClelland-Atkinson Motivation Model. [McClellenad, D.D., J.W. Atkinson, R.W. Clark, and E.L. Lowell. The Achievement Motive. New York: Appleton-Century-Crofts, 1953.]

Essentially the model is composed of several mathematical constructs that, when added together, predict whether an individual would be likely to participate in an achievement situation, such as an athletic competition.

Cognitive models have focused on the concept of self-confidence as a motivating force. Arkes and Garske [Arkes, H.R., and J.P. Garske. Psychological Theories of Motivation (2nd ed.). Monterey, CA: Brooks/Cole, 1982.]

noted that the notion of self-confidence is consistent with McClelland and Atkinson's notion of need achievement. They concluded that athletes who are high in motivation also display high levels of self-confidence.

Harter [Harter, S. Effective motivation reconsidered: Towards a developmental model. Human Development. 21:34-64. 1978.]

proposed a theory of motivation based on perceived competence. According to Harter, athletes generally are motivated to achieve success and to become competent in sport related tasks. For example, a linebacker may view his strength in the squat as being an essential component to tackling an opponent.

When the athlete experiences success in the weight room (e.g., by setting a P.R.), he will have feelings of perceived confidence, positive effect, and the desire to train even harder. Unfortunately, unsuccessful attempts in the squat may result in negative emotions and a loss of motivation for this athlete.

Vealey [Vealey, R.S. Conceptualization of sport-confidence and competitive orientation: Preliminary investigation and instrument development. J. Sport Psychology. 8:221-246. 1986.]

proposed a cognitive model purporting that sport confidence and motivation are functions of an athlete's personality trait of confidence, the situation, and his competitive orientation. As these three factors interact, they produce state sport confidence, which in turn influences the quality of an athlete's behavioral response to performance. Once again, success in performance enhances one's self-confidence, satisfaction, and motivation.

Extrinsic and Intrinsic Motivation

Sport psychologists differentiate between extrinsic and intrinsic motivation. Money, praise, medals, trophies, and other rewards are sources of external motivation. Intrinsic motivation, on the other hand, is composed of the degree of competence, self-determination, and feelings of self-worth that participation in a given sport may yield. [Deci, E. Intrinsic Motivation. New York: Plenum, 1975.]


Intrinsic motivation can be either decreased or increased by two external reward characteristics, namely, control and information. [Sport Psychology: An Introduction, see above.]

In regard to control, we are talking about the extent to which the athlete views the rewards of participation as residing internally and being a source of enjoyment. When a player perceives that the sport is no longer played for intrinsic enjoyment but rather for a trophy or medal, his desire to play may decrease, as will his drive in the weight room.

The informational aspect concerns feelings of self-worth and self-determination. When these coveted qualities cannot be realized, external rewards will decrease intrinsic motivation. [Sport Psychology: An Introduction. see above.]

Earning the distinction of being the strongest player on the team sends a powerful message in terms of competence and self-worth that will assuredly increase intrinsic motivation. Conversely, getting recognition for a personal record in the squat, when the athlete knows the record is meaningless because he did not go low enough, sends a different message. In spite of the recognition the athlete gets for the attempt, his self-worth and feelings of competence may suffer as a function of the extrinsic rewards.

Furthermore, this athlete may conclude that hard work and proper technique are not required for participating in the sport or for recognition. For this athlete, then, it may simply be enough to go through the motions of conditioning.

Nevertheless, external rewards should not be denigrated. They are potentially very powerful tools that can, in certain circumstances, increase motivation. Yet if sport can be enjoyed for internal reasons, one can expect an athlete's motivation to be a more enduring quality that will resist the ups and downs so often associated with external rewards.

Increasing Motivation

Weinberg [Weinberg, R.S. The relationship between extrinsic rewards and intrinsic motivation in sport. In: Psychological Foundations of Sport. J.M. Silva and R.S. Weinberg, eds. Champaign, IL: Human Kinetics, 1985, pp. 177-187.] 

identified several ways to increase intrinsic motivation, four of which are discussed here:

1.) Structure the workouts in ways that enable athletes to experience a certain amount of success every day. Even if an athlete improves in only one technical aspect of a lift, this should be enthusiastically recognized.

2.) Give athletes a greater role in goal-setting and decision-making. When the athlete has some control over his sport life, intrinsic motivation is increased. An easy way to increase intrinsic motivation would be to simply ask the athlete (if you coach yourself, that'd be you, pardner) what he sees as some of his performance related challenges. Once these areas have been identified, both coach and athlete (yes, they could both be you!) can determine how to improve them. A bit of a three ring circus in that head, being coach, athlete and mid-level raconteur all at once.

When proper goal setting strategies are followed, this can open the door to long-term motivation in that the athlete's awareness, dedication, and commitment to achieving strength and power have been increased as well. [Psychological Foundations of Sport, see above.]

3.) Give praise for a job well done. If you coach yourself, turn around fast and pat yourself on the back, all the while considering that a telescope with infinite magnification would reflect an image of the back of the viewer's head. For example, on max-out day recognize that the team did well and congratulate all, even those who did not set a new PR. After all, those who did not set a PR are still a vital part of the team.

Recognize that positive and technique oriented praise will increase intrinsic motivation more readily than overly negative feedback. [Vallerand, R.J. Effects of extrinsic reinforcements on intrinsic motivation in sport: Implications for coaches. In: Sport in Perspective. J. Partington, T. Orlick, and J. Salmela, eds. Champaign, IL: Human Kinetics, 1982. pp. 112-140.]

As an example, many an athlete seems to have trouble keeping his weight over the heels while squatting. That is, while performing an actual squat and not simply weakly convincing himself the combination of a poor, partial squat and a semi-good morning with the butt shoved out like a red flag attached to the back of a wide load on a lumber truck is a squat. Unfortunately, a rose is not a rose in this case. Unless a duck walks like a duck and quacks like a duck it is not a duck, no matter how many say it is. But then again, with genetic engineering and cloning what they are today we may be able to graft a good morning onto a squat and, even though the movement (owing to DNA-altered brain deficiency and a general condition of weakened thought) is rarely executed beyond a slightly above parallel position, we could rename it the squat-mourning and carry on from there. Nonetheless, when an athlete's heels pop up off the ground while attempting to mimic an actual squat, his back is near parallel to the ground, and the buttocks barely below the level of his head coming out of the hole something must be thought, said, and done. A 35-lb. dumbbell applied rigorously and repeatedly to the lifter's temple is a possible beginning, but you cannot simply tell an athlete that he is not squatting properly and just sit back while he continues to do so week after week. Likewise, the self-coached athlete cannot simply watch countless videos of proper squats and then continue to perform his own in the same old haphazard manner. He must apply what he studies, manifest this gained knowledge in the physical world and start getting up on tiptoes more and sticking that butt out even farther while leaning forward like a heron on a hotplate dipping for water.

A more efficient approach would be to first point out that what the athlete did well (e.g. showing up to work out, walking the bar out properly, retracting the scapula and racking the bar properly across the upper back, etc.). Then, address the technique aberrations.

Follow up with specific advice on how to achieve a position that will keep the heels on the ground and the weight over them. For example, instruct the athlete (you?) that the first movement should NOT be bending the knees but rather unlocking the hips and pushing the gluteus back, similar to sitting down on a chair. Give these instructions step by step and praise the components that were executed properly.

4.) Avoid boredom (exercise ennui). Performing the same drills or exercises in the same sequence will eventually lead to boredom. Simply reversing the order of exercises or making similar changes can be motivating and will increase the athlete's interest and effort. 

Addressing Individuality

As a coach, it becomes important to recognize and act upon each athlete's psychological make-up. You must realize that will bring his own background experiences, attitudes and opinions, interest and desires, ways of responding to coaching, and unique personal situations. It follows, then, that you cannot expect the same motivational strategies to be equally effective with all athletes. You, as a self-coached individual, can likewise not expect the first motivational method you happen across to be suited to your make-up. No different from training temperament, the approach to motivation you find to work will take some time in discovering, and will, like training itself, have to be altered and adapted to fit the changing you. I'm gonna learn this dance if it takes me all dang day! Maybe longer.

Sports scientists Vernachia et al. [Vernachia, R., R. McGuire, and D. Cook. Coaching Mental Excellence: It Does Matter if You Win or Lose. Carmel, IN: Brown & Benchmark, 1992.]

have summarized six motivational patterns identified through research. A brief discussion of these patterns may shed some light on the dynamics encountered in different people and their motivational challenges. Furthermore, by identifying an athlete's motivational pattern (or your own), one can directly address this particular challenge via pattern-specific interventions.

Learned Helplessness

Characteristics of the learned helpless athlete would include lack of effort, low intensity behavior, and attributing the success to external factors such as luck or the competitor's superior ability. It's as if the athlete believes, "No matter how hard I try, the outcome is out of my control." Thus, whatever the outcome, such a person has learned to attribute it to external factors.

1.) Redefine success. Success really equals improvement in one's own performance. Don't allow the athlete to only measure his strength against that of others on the team.

2.) Arrange of allow for success (albeit ever so small) on a daily basis. Every pound in strength gained spells success. Microload the athletes confidence with small, stated inputs, always being watchful that they do not become repetitive and lose their power.

3.) Chart performance and improvement. Here's where it becomes crucial to allow your athletes to view changes in their progress over the seasons.

 4.) Allow the person to feel that he earned the success. You might indicate that his hard work and commitment paid off.

Fear of Failure

Fear of failure constitutes the pursuit of success in order to avoid failure. This approach eventually takes the fun out of the activity and can be emotionally draining. It is really a type of "negative motivation" that brings with it a constant sense of fear and worry. This in turn will result in overanxiousness and decreased performance.

Such a person makes up excuses for lackluster performance, worries about what others think, is preoccupied with a competitor's reputation, is indecisive, perceives that he has no control, and lacks concentration and the ability to evaluate situations rationally. Also, this person's self-worth is completely dependent on winning or losing.

A cause that has been linked to this motivational pattern is that of conditional rewards (e.g., "you are a good son and I care for you -- if you win." ), and inappropriate use of rewards (e.g., rewarding for a PR even if the technique was abysmal).

1.) Separate identity from performance. The athlete should not feel he is only a good person when his spring drills are done well.

2.) Communicate your approval for a job well done, regardless of whether it was a winning or losing situation. If on PR day the athlete missed his attempts, surely he still did something right. Point that out.

3.) Encourage learning from losses and rationally evaluate what occurred. If the bar moved too far out in front of the athlete while cleaning, systematically analyze it and provide input on how to correct for this.

4.) Point out that success = effort x ability x preparation x will.

5.) Employ goal setting strategies that emphasize the process and personal improvement.

Fear of Success

Preoccupation with the perceived negative aspects of winning is on of the characteristics of fear of success. There can be a fear of the future consequences of succeeding. The overwhelming "baggage" that follow success is just too much for the person who fears success. Having to deal with what one perceives as others' unrealistic expectations, responsibilities as a role model, and others' jealousy and envy become too much of a burden.

This person is comfortable in the No. 2 or 3 position. He doesn't want to be No. 1, even though it is attainable. At the last moment he will do something to avoid success. A mental barrier prevents this person from continuing on the path of mastery and achieving the No. 1 spot.

1.) Advise adherence to personal goals and point out that others' expectations are to be put in perspective. Remind the athlete that they are others' expectations and that he can determine his own.

2.) Prepare the athlete for being No. 1 and help him anticipate what follows.

3.) Expand the athlete's comfort zone. Help him visualize being the best and what goes along with it.

4.) Help the athlete tune in to his own game and not worry about other people.

The Perfectionist

The perfectionist is viewed as the ideal person. He works hard, has high expectations, and is highly intense. However, like the athlete who is motivated by a fear of failure, the perfectionist equates his self-image with performance. He cannot enjoy success and is never satisfied.

When expectations are great, excess pressure and stress increase and this person will work harder, longer, and more intensely. He is a prime candidate for overtraining syndrome. To this person, hard work = success. Period. Physical and mental fatigue set in and the result is diminished returns. The response is even harder, longer, and more intense work. This leads to further failure, decreased performance, frustration, and hopelessness -- a never ending cycle.

1.) Point out the importance of physical and mental rest and describe this as something positive. After all, a tired body cannot be a strong and powerful body.

2.) Encourage the athlete to take the time to enjoy success. If he did well in the weight room, give him a break for a day.

3.) Focus on the process rather than the outcome of competition and training. If the athlete can learn to enjoy getting better in the technical aspects of the lifts, there need not be much emphasis on pounds lifted -- that will come along by itself.

4.) Teach this athlete how to enjoy the process.

5.) Avoid overtraining.

The Underachiever

The underachiever has enjoyed tremendous success without hard work and self-discipline. He was the star in high school, and was always praised for his talent and genetics. As a result, he has not developed an appreciation for hard work and has never experienced the sense of pride one feels after working hard and then succeeding. This person dwells on past successes. The competitive nature of achievement will catch up with him and he will never realize his potential.

1.) Get the athlete to verbally commit to change.

2.) Educate him about the effort-to-success ratio. The weight room especially lends itself to this.

3.) Set goals and chart progress. Explain the principles of periodization and develop a chart.

4.) Stress self-improvement. If the the athlete gets stronger, bigger, faster, he has done a great job.

5.) Expand the athlete's time orientation to include past, present, and future.

Learned Effectiveness

The learned effective pattern [Rotella, R. Learned helplessness: A model for maximizing potential. In: Sport Psychological Considerations in Maximizing Sport Performance. L. Bunker and R. Rotella, eds. Charlottesville: University of Virginia Press, 1981. pp. 93-123.]

is ideal in terms of motivation and performance. It is characterized by the following 10 traits:

1.) Making no excuses and blaming no one else.

2.) Accepting responsibility.

3.) Seeing weakness as a challenge.

4.) Having a healthy sense of pride.

5.) Employing proper preparation, fostering a high degree of confidence.

6.) Recognizing that performance, process, and personal goals form the basis to a well thought-out plan.

7.) Seeing internal factors as the basis for success.

8.) Working smart, not just hard.

9.) Recognizing that the job does not equal who one is.

10.) Valuing rest after a job well done.

Concluding Remarks

It is often up to the strength and conditioning coach to instill a sense of purpose and increase athletes' motivation in the weight room. It is always up to you yourself as a lifter to instill a sense of purpose and instill motivation in the weight room. At some point in your life there will be no one there to buoy you up and pat your back. In the gym it is on you and up to you.

It is important to recognize that motivation can be learned and enhanced depending on various individual factors. With this realization in mind, the strength and conditioning coach has a good chance of getting his athletes in the right frame of mind to reap maximum benefits from the strength and conditioning process.

By attending to individual motivational needs, the strength and conditioning coach can create a positive and performance enhancing environment that fosters success and high levels of motivation. But first, the coach must derive an understanding of each athlete's individuality, an ambitious undertaking. Yet this can be achieved by attending to the following:

-- When interacting with athletes,  be authentic, nondefensive, and genuine.

-- Do not attach any conditions to personal regard.

-- Try to provide accurate reinforcement for a given situation.

-- Ascertain what attracts the athlete to the sport (intrinsic vs. extrinsic factors) so you can provide the proper incentives.

-- Ascertain what repels the athlete (fear of injury, lack of success, pressure to perform, fear of failure) so you can decrease the likelihood of such occurrences.

Once you have this information, help each athlete understand why he or she needs to follow a strength and conditioning program. Explain how strength and conditioning benefits are derived (e.g., why one does plyometrics and how this affects power output).

By developing a complete profile of each athlete's motivational pattern, you are obtaining valuable information. This information should be recorded and become part of the athlete's training file. It will help the strength and conditioning staff in case they need to intervene to address an athlete's lack of motivation. (The objective lifter observes himself from a slight distance periodically and performs a self-intervention when needed. There is more to progress than poundages written on paper.) Moreover, in deriving an understanding of each athlete's individuality, one provides the athlete with a learning experience as well.


Homer Simpson 

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