Keep on running: How champions stay motivated

As the whole country shares in the elation of athletes enjoying Olympic success, people understand that these achievements represent the culmination of years of training.

Maintaining motivation through periods of failure, fatigue, and boredom is crucial if an athlete is to be successful.  It is generally estimated that 10,000 hours of deliberate practice are required to become elite, and much of this will be repetitive and exhausting, with no immediate reward.

Psychologists have identified strategies that enhance interest and motivation during training. These include creating challenges, making sure athletes have a clear rationale for drills or activities and seeking wider stimulation from teammates or training partners.

We also know that certain types of environments or events are inherently motivating, such as those that allow the athlete choices or input and those that provide clear feedback and structure for progression. Forming close and secure relationships with coaches and teammates is also likely to enhance long-term persistence.

Interestingly, research is now emerging which suggests that how athletes think and talk to themselves during training could also be critical in terms of staying motivated. Informational self-talk, that helps an athlete feel in control, is likely help maintain intrinsic motivation and persist for longer, whereas controlling or pressurising self-talk may undermine enjoyment.

Chartered Psychologist Dr Jim Golby commented earlier this year on new research that showed even having a virtual training partner can help you exercise.

Our Going for Gold portal has information about sport and exercise psychology. It includes a video interview with Dr John Kremer CPsychol explaining the importance of teams and teamwork.