The Path to Mastery: Part 2
Posted by: Hollis Lyman | University of Denver Sports Psychology
So, you’ve figured out that you’re currently on an obsessive path in soccer and you’d like to be on the path of mastery? You’ve realized that your athlete is more of a dabbler and you’d like to encourage them to change paths?
A path change first starts with energy and motivation.
Motivation in this sense is the proper inspiration for why you are seeking a path change. As we said in the last blog, no path is inherently better than another. Nor can you be master of all. The path of mastery is not only time consuming, but it also requires a significant amount of energy. If you are going to commit to the path of mastery, your commitment level must exceed the demands of the path. This motivation can be intrinsic or extrinsic—though these articles are meant to inform you and hopefully facilitate path change, this information alone should not inspire the path of mastery. For intrinsic motivation, one example is pursuing the path of mastery in soccer because you love soccer and want to be able to play for the rest of your life. This commitment most definitely is high energy and demands time, so your motivation must surpass the high demands of this goal.
Extrinsic motivation tends to be less stable, yet it can be equally effective. For example, as an elite athlete you may stay motivated by the money you earn in your career as a means to care for your family. The goal to stay in top shape may keep you on the path of mastery even when motivated by external forces. The broad question here is: What motivates me to do _________? Once you can honestly answer this question, the proper path may be clearer.
Dabblers tend to be more motivated by experiences and by completing short-term goals. These athletes enjoy the experience, participate to their fullest for a season, a race, or an event, but may not stay long term. If you are more motivated by accumulating many different life experiences and the idea of completion over winning, this path may serve you best.
Hackers are often most motivated by external forces to participate. Many hackers start in a sport because their friends are in the sport. Occasionally a player on the hacker path may participate because they are being encouraged to do so by a parent or coach, and to appease this relationship, they play. If you are not usually concerned with high performance and your primary motivator is fun, friends, or even money, this path may serve you well.
Obsessive athletes look quite like athletes on the path of mastery. The most distinct differences are level of enjoyment, injury, and attitude. The obsessive path encourages us to pursue a goal at the expense of our health, our relationships, and our psyche. Some athletes on their way to the Olympics ride this path, and some athletes with addictive personalities find this path helpful. If you are extremely motivated to eat, sleep, and breathe a particular sport or skill and have short-term goals that may help you avoid injury problems, the path of the obsessive may serve you best.
The path of Mastery is often taken by athletes motivated to excel in performance and to live to fight another day. Their motivation is patient and able to withstand losses, injuries, and bad performances knowing that there is a lesson to be learned and capitalized on next time. If you are goal oriented yet dedicated to rest days and have a long term, perhaps life-long goal, the path of mastery may serve you well.
As a coach or parent, how do you recognize and encourage the proper path for your athlete? Sport psychologists and mental performance consultants are often client-centered, meaning we honor the knowledge that the athlete has about themselves in addition to the sport psychology knowledge we bring. Your athlete knows themselves best—start by asking them why they chose this sport. Once you hear their answer, ask yourself whether that aligns with an internally or externally motivated goal. Are their goals long term or short term? How do they talk about their friends on the team versus the drills at practice? How do they talk about Connor Casey versus their siblings who play soccer? If their motivation is walking one path and their behavior is displaying another, this is a great opportunity to guide them into a more adaptive path.
Gently encouraging the positive aspects of the path that may serve them better and letting them know that path is ok tends to elevate performance. When you match goals with a similar motivation level, performance is enhanced. If you combine these while pursuing the proper path, performance excels exponentially. Matching our dream goals to the reality of pursuing them creates a wonderful synergy of energy. If an athlete is not wasting energy wandering around on the wrong path for attaining their goal, they can put that energy into performing!
If you’re interested in getting to know your motivation and path a bit better, start here:
- What are my top five values?
- What are my top three priorities?
- Where do my values fit into these priorities?
- What goals do I have associated with these priorities?
- Are these goals long term or short term?
- Is there someone who can help me with these goals?
If your values fit into your priorities, that’s a great start towards matching your path and motivation! If they do not, ask yourself why you value those priorities. Are those values important to you overall?
If your goals are long term, look at how you are behaving in the short term. Is your behavior now supporting the long-term goal? If your goal is short term, look at the long-term repercussions of that goal. Is that short-term goal aiding you in living your values five years from now?
Lastly, if you have a coach, an instructor, or a mentor, you have an essential ingredient in pursuing any type of goal. Seek out this person and ask for their advice, their insight, and aim to avoid mistakes they’ve already made. Try to discover what path this teacher took to get where they are today, what their motivations are, and how it has served them well.
As a coach or mentor, these are great questions to go over with your athletes. Help them better understand themselves while gaining insight into how best to support them.
Our next “Path to Mastery” post will start to cover the research on developmental levels of play and sport in regard to the different paths. We will also offer some tips from mental performance consultants on how to excel in each path as the athlete, and what these paths look like for coaches. The path to mastery as a coach is equally complex and should be deliberately chosen. Can you find what path you are currently on and identify if it is the best path for you?