Over and over, we, as students, hear that motivation is one of the keys to unlocking consistently excellent performances. In fact, I’m pretty sure the word motivation has come up in every single one of our classes so far this year. ‘How can we motivate our athletes?’ is a question we hear all the time. Most of us even have motivation in our Theories of Performance Excellence somewhere. However, recently I have been having a few issues with motivation. Is motivation all that it’s cracked up to be?

The foundation for my problem with motivation lies in the fact that it can (but not should) be achieved through fear, threats, and manipulations. This is not what we want. However, through these negative tactics, motivation is present, even if it’s temporary and fleeting. I think our goal should be to instill a greater sense of purpose in our athletes. The question is, How?

What I’m looking to do with those I work with is not to motivate, but to inspire. This might seem like a fine line, but to me, it makes all the difference. A few definitions for motivation are ‘giving someone a reason for doing something’ or ‘to provide with an incentive’. This is hardly energizing. The literal translation for inspiration, on the other hand, is ‘to breathe life into’. This seems much more appropriate for the type of work I want to do. When performers do the things that are inherently unpleasant but absolutely necessary for achieving excellence, we want them to do so not because of fear or threats, but because they understand that it is part of both their process and their purpose. We want them to relish these unpleasant and often painful parts of training. Those who are inspired will do so. Those who are motivated….who knows?