September 07, 2020

Improve Your Game - How to Stay Motivated

Tom Barber explains how he keeps motivated and shares some tips and guidance to keep your motivation going.

How, in sporting terms, can you best stay motivated and hungry to carry on training, competing, striving for your own version of success?

Of course, success looks different to us all: it could be striving to represent your country at the Olympics, or simply attending your local club to enjoy yourself for a few hours on a weeknight.

I have been asked to reflect on the motivation required to achieve our personal objectives for success, and share some thoughts and advice with the readership that goes beyond recommending listening to "Eye of the Tiger" and developing a mindset like Rocky Balboa!  Drawing upon my own experiences, I will endeavour to share with you and explain some key principles that I have adopted for my own model of motivation.

Motivation is a concept that is unique to every individual. There is likely not a magical, 'one-size-fits-all' answer to the question of sustaining long term motivation, especially when framed in the context of such a restrictive, uncertain period of history that we are all living through at present.

It certainly feels like the opportunities to achieve, network, interact or socialise we previously enjoyed as recently as 6 months ago, have never been so few and far between. And when our choices are limited, the decisions we make become so much more important and personal to us.

It has been well documented within various media outputs that the period of national lockdown served as a significant 'checkpoint' for many individuals within their own lives; a period where they could reflect honestly on the direction they were headed, and the choices they were making or being forced to make, on a daily basis. Subsequently, many have since embarked on a significantly different pathway to the one on which they were previously headed, with their motivation almost certainly changing direction and or/shifting through the gears in parallel to these life decisions.

This example of human behaviour demonstrates my first key principle; that it is 'choice' which comes before being motivated. We 'choose' to consider carrying out an action, making a change, or starting something new in our lives, because it is in our interest to do so at that given moment in time. The actual role that motivation plays is, whilst still an important influence, secondary to that of conscious choice.

In my experience, the day-to-day feeling of motivation can often fluctuate, as can the associated energy you benefit from it. Indeed, when it was announced that the Tokyo Olympics were being postponed by a year, I personally felt like someone had pulled the plug on my pool of motivation and energy, having spent the previous 6 months training hard throughout the winter in preparation for the summer ahead; feelings and emotions of lethargy, despondency and frustration would come and go, all influencing how 'motivated' and energised I felt.

However, I continued to make the choice to train in as best a way I could throughout the lockdown period. For some, this may not have been the choice they would have made, to devote another year towards a world of elite sport that can be as exhausting as it can all-consuming. Ultimately though, my desire to compete in an Olympic Games was of primary interest and ambition for me in life at that moment. So, therefore, I chose to undertake the necessary training load and make the necessary daily decisions to try and shape my route to Tokyo.

I listen to what my body is telling me when appropriate, but generally, I don't rely on how physically or emotionally motivated I feel on any given day, as a means of judgement for how my journey is going. After all, one bad day does not mean you should give up (to quote a successful someone, somewhere, at some moment in history!).

So, I believe our ability to make choices is more important than being guided by what we feel on a daily basis. But how do we know what to choose in the initial instance? How do we find what excites or interests us enough to pursue? And what would we be willing to give in pursuit of it?

This moves into my next key principle; being honest with yourself, and how that defines the goals you set. Maybe you dream of being on an international platform; maybe you want to shoot a six gold end within the next year at a tournament you can claim an award at, or maybe you want to make friends and meet new people at club nights and tournaments, with performance coming secondary to the socialising aspect of the sport.

These are all examples of different personal ambitions and interests within our sport; none of them are right or wrong, but it is important that you ascertain exactly what your own interest in the sport is, and why you are involved in it. Once you have been honest with yourself about what you would like to get out of archery, you can then begin to frame some further questions, and subsequently some choices, around it. Using the example of the 6 gold end from above:

  • How far away from achieving 6 golds are you right now?
  • Are there some 'quick win' technique or bow setup improvements that you can make to help increase the likelihood of getting the 6 gold end?
  • Can you seek out coaching expertise or learn from online resources to educate and help you improve?

First choice - You're unable to take part in a competition due to health/other reasons. Are you still willing to commit to the long term effort, in pursuit of your goal?

Second choice - You don't currently train during the week. To go to the next level, you will have to make time on weeknights, or maybe even weekday mornings before work/school, to train more consistently than you are currently. Are you willing to make time to train, in pursuit of your goal?

Third choice - Are you willing and able to invest in coaching, in pursuit of your goal? Or do you have the facilities to access online materials for free which could help you?

You can see how once the broad objectives have been defined, we can reflect upon these and use the honest questions we ask ourselves to provide the detail of both whether we still want to get there and if that's a yes, how we plan to get there. I would recommend that you continually revisit this process through your pursuit, as I very regularly do with my own objectives. And the more often you reflect like this, the more honest with yourself you will become and the better you will get to know yourself and what is important to you.

After all, it is a lot easier to say you would be willing to train every weekday morning before you've actually experienced your tenth weekday in a row of crawling out of bed at 3:30 am in the depths of winter! If this sacrifice of sleep is too high a price to pay in relation to the interest you have for achieving your goal, that is perfectly okay. Maybe you just need to find an alternative goal, or perhaps an alternative means of getting there if you honestly think one exists.

It may be, that upon reflecting a second time, you actually find that the social aspect of archery is what really holds your interest within the sport, but it took an attempt at trying to succeed in a high-performance realm for you to realise it. In my view, we rarely ever identify exactly what we actually want at the first time of asking, but the more we experience the sport and the more choices we make, the closer we get to learn what it is that we actually want. Of course, if you can keep making the choice to get up and train, then you learn that you are motivated enough to manage this element of adversity in your journey. You can even choose to gain confidence from this, understanding that you are a tiny bit closer to firmly knowing what you want.

In summary, I believe motivation is something deeply personal to everyone. No one can prescribe techniques, training methods or coaching when it comes to finding motivation, and so all I have sought to do is share an insight into what has worked for me personally. Motivation is something other people see in individuals; a by-product of the choices that are made in pursuit of their goals.

It is the desire to achieve a certain task or goal being demonstrated by the decisions these individuals make when faced with choices between doing what is required or doing something else less painful/less risk/more interesting. You need to first determine what motivates you; initially by means of being honest with yourself and ascertaining what interests you about the sport. Your goals and objectives should be formed around this interest.

Secondly endeavour to attempt making the necessary choices associated with your plan for achieving your objective, reviewing them continuously and adapting to them where you feel necessary. These choices are your guide, not how you physically or emotionally feel each day. Time will tell if you have found your real motivation, which may end up being rather different from what you initially believed.

We all do archery for some form of enjoyment, whether that is through the medium of high performance, social, leisure or all three. Lastly, as you are to others, be kind to yourself when reviewing your progress. If there is one thing that people of all backgrounds, ages and situations can relate to, it is that life changes, rapidly, which requires constant review to process this shape-shifting!

As this year has proven, events can unfold extremely quickly, of which we have no control over whatsoever. These can force circumstances and decisions upon you, without much choice in the matter. It can be difficult to stay positive, for some more than others, but the least we can do is be kind to ourselves in acknowledging where we may have to reset our outlook, ambitions, and plans for the future. We can accept what has happened and move forwards with a new plan of action fuelled by our individual passion for our sport. New goals. New choices to make.

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