Reaching elite performance takes time. Years, in fact.
Such time, while diffused with the satisfaction of improvement in skill and application, also comes with an abundance of challenges, set-backs and failures.
Such a commitment requires a deep-seated drive from within and a sense of control over our actions.
Funnily enough, this is not where most sporting experiences begin.
Instead, external factors motivate us to start out. For instance, because my parents think it’s a good idea and I like making them happy, because it will build my status amongst my peers, or because it’s the only way of making the team.
It’s not that extrinsically motivated behaviours aren’t that interesting on their own, but that they are prompted, modeled or valued by significant others to whom we feel (or want to feel) attached.
The thing is, external motivation doesn’t last. At least at the level that fuels long-term fulfillment.
What’s most important is that our reasons for acting are internalised over time. In other words, we need to ‘take in’ external value or regulation so that it emulates from our sense of self.
While this is a complex problem, here are two important things to keep in mind.
First, pushing a young athlete to do something, before they feel like they have the skills to succeed, will drive motivation the wrong way. So be sure to know how competent an athlete perceives herself to be before challenging her.
And second, it’s the experience of choice that facilitates our ability to take in external regulation and make it our own. Often, we persevere at something for a while because we keep getting rewarded for being good, or because we seek connection with our friends.
However, to remain engaged long-term, and persist through certain difficulty, a sense of autonomy over our actions is critical.