There is a lot of joy derived from winning in sport. From both an individual and team perspective, there can be a real sense of satisfaction that all of your personal sacrifice has been worthwhile.
However numerous athletes in individual sports have stated that achieving their ultimate goal often gave much less satisfaction than what they would have thought. British cyclist and Olympic gold medallist Victoria Pendleton said that winning the gold medal at the Olympics gave her very little joy. She stated that she felt uncomfortable on the podium and that her feelings experienced weren’t ones of over-riding joy as she expected.
To help us understand this we can look at the two types of motivation; intrinsic and extrinsic. Intrinsic motivation is one that is inherently enjoyable to the individual (Ryan and Deci, 2000) while extrinsic motivation is motivation that is driven by an external outcome such as winning a trophy or adulation from the crowd. Some players are more intrinsically motivated than others and enjoy the sport for sport sake. However, Victoria stated afterwards that she trained extremely hard to prove her value to others (coaches and father) and this was her main motivation; she was never doing it for herself. While almost we all enjoy the extrinsic reward that comes with lifting a trophy and being part of a winning team, Victoria may have been simply emotionally drained from the rigours of the previous months and years exertions and was simply just finally feeling justified that she no longer had to prove anything to anybody.
Other reasons may also explain her absent feelings of joy. Within a team setting there is often more scope for intrinsic enjoyment of the activity due to the social factor and friendships formed throughout the process. While intrinsic motivation can also apply within individual sports, there is less scope for opportunities to share experiences due to the nature of the disciplines. As such, Victoria Pendleton’s perceived lack of joy may be due to a lack of sharing that is very prevalent in team sports where success is shared among friends who have worked hard for each other.
Hence, the nature of the group dynamic is very important in striving towards success and may be very easily influenced by the type of leadership (see leadership articles) elicited by the coach and coaching staff. A weak group dynamic may be generated between athlete / team and coaching staff in both individual or team oriented sports through mismanagement and inappropriate leadership style. Here, athlete’s can feel disenfranchised, impacting negatively on team morale and reducing the chances of team or individual success. This is not to say that criticism should never be used. When used however, it should criticize behaviours and not athletes personally as this can often back fire as players become disillusioned with being criticized and become de-motivated (Keegan et al., 2009).
However, when success is achieved in a team environment, there is certainly a large feel good factor due to the whole socialisation process that occurs in achieving such success. This is often a by-product of good management, and athlete/ player responsibility, where athletes perform their roles to the best of their ability for the good of the group and accordingly, increasing the likelihood of success.
There is no place better to be than in a winners dressing room, sharing your success with a bunch of friends that have set their goals and targets and worked hard to achieve them. Whether it is at local league level or high performance international level, the feelings are the same; joy, elation, relief, celebration and pure satisfaction that you have mastered the challenges set by the opposing teams. It is a fantastic feeling of satisfaction when you finally return victorious to your dressing room when you can look your team-mates in the eye and recognise that they have worked as hard as they can to achieve what they set out to achieve. Isn’t this why we play sport?
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About Keith Begley
I am a performance and mental skills coach based in Ireland. I hold an MSc in Applied Sport and Exercise Psychology from the Institute for Psychology of Elite Performance (IPEP) at University of Wales, Bangor (2012).