Motivation and Sport

What makes us (really) run?

(discover the ATLET Motivation questionnaire at the end of the article)

In April, I planned to talk to you about management of the difference in level… in May, the merits of WE shocks… As I write these lines, these subjects seem to me to be quite futile and a little out of place… The horizon seems to me very blocked for the months to come… The gatherings are still prohibited, the races are canceled one after the other… until when this filth of virus will prevent us from hanging a bib? So today rather than talking about outright training, I wanted to talk more about motivation… What makes us (really) run?

1 - During this period of confinement, it seems to me that we were able to distinguish 3 types of runners:
- new runners, those who took advantage of the period to get started or get back to it 
- those who have at all costs continue to go out by adapting their practice to the current restrictions
- and then those who put a big brake on their practice of running. 

And you, has your physical practice evolved?

Containment has profoundly disrupted our lifestyle and these changes may factually explain our training changes:

- For many of us, our time has been completely reorganized: teleworking, home schooling, 24 hours a day with our children, our partner, no lunch break, video clips that follow one another, very busy days for some, idleness for others… But in any case, your training periods have been upset, you had to recreate moments for yourself, for your practice and it is not easy.

- Our space has also been limited, supervised, restricted: to train one km around your home, if you follow the rules to the letter, that limits a bit ... at the beginning it's good, the constraint allows you to reinvent , to break the training routines, but in the long run, it is sometimes a little sad… and can cause weariness and demotivation.

- Our social interactions have also been very severely limited ... We have never experienced so much the “loneliness of the long-distance runner” in this period! But running alone for some is a real punishment! 

- And then we have had no competition to eat for weeks and the shortage of objectives will last! all training plans are collapsing, everything has to be shifted to fall and again, nothing is certain at the time of this writing ... For some, “the taste for effort is to accept a temporary inconvenience to obtain a delayed but increased satisfaction ”(D. Delignières). But if we no longer have a competition in sight, it's dead, there's no point in hurting yourself… right?

2 - After these few factual reflections on what may or may not have led to a change in our practices, here are some more theoretical avenues that underlie the concept of “motivation”.

“The term motivation comes from the Latin motivus, mobile, relating to movement. The desire to move, as opposed to the desire to remain still is the very essence of motivation ”. (R.Cox). This applies so well to our discipline!
You can't just reduce the subject to "am I motivated or not?" ". Motivation is a complex subject studied in psychology and I was inspired by scale, test to offer you a small questionnaire on the motivations that push us to run.

I suggest you approach 2 concepts related to motivation:

2- 1: The theory of achievement goals
What are we motivated by? To put it simply, we are motivated mainly by two central objectives:
- either by the task, by mastery. Our goal is then to understand, to master a particular activity, to progress, to train. We strongly believe that success and progress depend on the effort provided, we experience a feeling of accomplishment through learning and mastering a difficult task (goal of accomplishment which corresponds to propositions 1, 11, 15 , 25).
- or by performance, competition, ego. In this case, it is the social comparison that drives us forward. We wish to demonstrate our performance to others (goal of accomplishment which corresponds to propositions 5, 8, 9, 20). “For an ego-oriented athlete, being successful means winning over the opponent through greater skill and not through effort or progress. "
- You could very well recognize yourselves both in the proposals towards the task and towards the ego: indeed the two orientations are independent. “Studies have shown that in terms of performance, satisfaction and pleasure, the ideal is to be strongly oriented towards the task AND towards the ego but with a high level of perceived skill, with a high level of self-esteem and self-confidence. If this level is low, there is a risk of avoiding competing challenges for fear of failure ”. We are talking about an avoidance strategy, self-handicap, but there is yet another facet that could be interesting to explore.

2-2: 2 main types of intrinsic / extrinsic motivation

Another question: how are we motivated? by internal factors or rather by external factors?

Studies offer a continuum of motivation:

- Amotivation (with A, private suffix): I don't know why I'm running, I don't see any advantage in running? (red propositions of the test). Obviously, if you are at this point in your questioning, it must be complicated to put on the sneakers ...

- extrinsic motivation (green proposals of the test): I run for external reasons: for rewards, trophies, money, praise, social approval, fear of being punished ... If the distribution of "rewards" stops , this athlete will find no reason to continue training… and currently this may be the case for some… If competition is the only engine that keeps you going, the current situation is certainly very difficult to live with and the shoes will stay in the closet for some time yet ...
However, these external sources of motivation can be more and more integrated, internalized by the athlete: for example:

1 - at the beginning, I do weight training because it's the trainer who obliges me or because social norms push me to do so
2 - then, I am not particularly a big fan of bodybuilding but I can see that it is important so I stick to sessions
3 - finally bodybuilding helps me to progress, I do my bodybuilding of my own free will!

- up to intrinsic motivation (blue propositions of the test), which comes from within. The intrinsically motivated launch themselves freely without being pushed by any reward in the activities for different reasons: for knowledge (new techniques for example), for the accomplishment (of this or that new challenge), for the stimulation (for the euphoria at the start of the competition, for example), for pleasure (simply physical expenditure). And these sportsmen, I think they collect the exit authorizations. They have certainly adapted their practice but they continue to accumulate the kilometers!


While waiting to be able to find the back roads a little more freely, this might be the right time to ask yourself the right questions: but why am I really running! These few theoretical data will perhaps help you to make the most objective and sincere point possible ...

Article by Maria SEMERJIAN Associate Professor EPS and Ultra elite trail runner for the site of our partner ATLET

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