The agriculture of motivation
Motivational speakers, social media, and inspirational quotes. The common message among all these things are that they say "you can do anything as long as you are motivated enough. If you grind enough. If you push hard enough." But, to be honest, what does that even mean? Do you become motivated by just 'believing' you can do it? Does believing that you can do it alter your brain chemistry, allowing you the unending willpower and fortitude to conquer any task that stands in your way?
And not to be too blunt about it, but no. Motivation isn't something that you can just "willpower to existence." Before we go further, I'm going to have to make a BIG note here. For people already stimulated with motivation, there's the tendency to believe that others should be able to achieve the same state by simply choosing to have the motivation. Think of something like depression or anxiety. Telling someone to stop being depressed or stop being anxious isn't going to actually help them find solutions. Apply that thought to motivation. I wouldn't be a good esports performance coach if I expected my athletes to become magically motivated by telling them that they have to. Imagine if I'm working with a CS:GO team and we're having issues staying focused and motivated. If I went to them and said, "you gotta choose to be motivated! The power lies within you." What good did I just do for them? None. I didn't help them understand anything about their experiences and I certainly didn't help them create an environment that nurtures motivation.
There's a big part of the story that all these motivational videos and posts you see on social media miss. And this is where my argument stands. Motivation isn't the initial driving force that we use to accomplish our goals. Rather, it's something we cultivate through decisions and effective planning. This is where performance coaches can really step in and shine. By building a system that encourages development, achievement, fulfillment, and satisfaction, we can feed the dedication and motivation an athlete has to continue pursuing a goal. That being said, everyone does have different degrees of starting motivation. Certain athletes will find it easier to get over those initial hurdles of starting up the process. Others will find it more difficult and likely fail a time or two at getting going, which is okay - we have to be patient. Our focus should be on how to build a system of motivation nurturing rather than on the immediate levels of motivation.
So this leads me to my main point: motivation is the product, not the starting point. You have to help athletes create the system that feeds their ability to stay focused and determined. Players on a team are going to come and go, and some are going to have higher levels of motivation coming in than others. If your team's success is reliant on having extremely motivated athletes, you're going to be more subjected to the ebb and flow of player movement. However, if you learn effective practices for creating a team culture that nurtures motivation, even when you get a lower motivated athlete on the team, you'll be able to help them develop. That stands to make a more resilient overall team that's not as negatively impacted by players coming and leaving.
"Motivation is the product... make cultures that nurture motivation..." That's all good and well, but that point of mine is still fairly superficial and doesn't actually offer advice or training programs for the athlete to implement. We can do better than that; we need to mobilize those thoughts in order to be effective at creating programs and structures. What does going from superficial advice to effective training look like? Every team and individual will have their own nuances, but here's a start:
1) Clarify goals. A good way to lose motivation is to have vague or generic goals. Wanting to make it to the OWL, CDL, or LEC? That's awesome! Make that push. But, that's pretty vague if we're being honest about it. It's too broad. What specifically do you need to accomplish to make it to those leagues? This is the perfect place for you to chat with your mechanics coach or even connect with professional players or coaches and ask for advice. Aiming for something massive like that is fine IF you understand the process that leads into that goal. To do that, break down that large goal into smaller micro-goals.
The reason why micro-goals should be a priority focus is because they are more accomplish-able than the ultimate goal. If you are aiming at the big leagues and that's your only metric of success, 12 months of hard grinding without having any 'success' is going to be insanely draining. You've had very little positive feedback or motivation nurturing. However, even if you're aiming at that same goal but have micro-goals as well, you can feel the progression. You can start ticking off boxes of things you need to accomplish and get that sense of accomplishment because you're actually completing parts of the process. A focus on these micro-goals is incredible important, while placing a smaller focus on the overall goal. Eventually, the micro-goals will culminate in the big goal and we need to trust that process.
2) Breakdown those micro-goals into plans of action. The classic "plans without action is bound to fail" situation here. Having identified all your micro-goals is the first step, but simply going after it without a plan is likely to make you spin your tires. Each micro-goal will have extremely specific criteria to complete it. By creating a plan of action to accomplish those micro-goals, you'll set yourself up a higher likelihood of success. Additionally, having a plan of action gives you specific work structure to do everyday. There won't be mindlessness or pointless training, and mindlessness is the curse of motivation. It's very easy to become mindless and, when you're mindless, motivation cannot thrive.
3) Create a supportive team culture. A toxic team culture where everyone is constantly blaming, flaming, and being overall negative is going to make it very difficult to be motivated. Motivation takes energy. That's why not everyone is mega motivated because it's tough to maintain it. If a lot of your energy is being drained from a toxic team culture, you're going to struggle to devote sufficient energy to creating motivation.
Think of the flip side though. What happens when a team is exceptionally supportive of each other and pushes each other to be better in a constructive manner? Athletes can grow because they are in an environment that helps them actualize their goals. When you have a team of people standing behind you to help you, motivation is significantly easier to maintain because you're feeding off all the energy and support your team mates are giving you. If you're a coach or manager of a team, make this area a priority. It's okay and necessary for athletes to feel negative emotions, but negative emotions don't need to lead to toxic environments. Lead them by example, be supportive, and show them the importance of it. People want to be successful and when they feel like you are helping them reach their goals, they'll start mimicking your actions and help others as well.
4) Spend time becoming a good leader. Coaches and leaders have an undeniable impact on the motivation of an athlete. We often expect that athletes 'should' be motivated, but we have to acknowledge how much of an impact a good/bad coach can have on that motivation. Think of your highschool classes. When you had just an awful, boring, or frustrating teacher, how motivated were you to do well in that class? What about when a teacher was extremely engaging and passionate about helping you achieve while also making the subject interested? Motivation pops right off the steamcharts. Same goes for esports.
This is more of a generic learning area than a specific set of instructions. Spend time watching coaching videos or materials, connect with coaching experts and learn from their experiences, or even take coaching courses (loads are available). Expecting your team to have high motivation when you aren't motivated to become a better coach is unfair. Make it a priority to become the most effective coach possible and you'll be able to see the change in motivation of your athletes.
5) Teach confidence and self-efficacy. Have you ever talked to someone who doesn't believe they have what it takes to win a competition, reach a certain rank, or even break into the pro's? There's a massive sense of self-defeat and absolutely no motivation because, at the core, they don't believe it's possible. If it's not possible, what's the point of being motivated? There's honestly not much point. Pushing towards something that is not achievable is pretty much destined to lead to burnout. But sometimes that "not achievable" belief is just that - a belief.
Part of the responsibility of the coach is to teach the players how to believe in themselves and coach confidence within the athletes. Two ways this can be done is through positive self-dialogue and celebrating the strengths of that player. Positive self-dialogue essentially boils down to showing the athlete how to frame things in their mind so that their actions or results aren't always seen as negative. Showing them the importance of thinking positive about their abilities is going to do wonders for their belief in what they can achieve. Likewise, praising a player for when they do things is going to also help with their belief in themselves. And it doesn't always have to be insane clutch moments that you praise. Sometimes it's simple things like thanking them for having such great communication, appreciating how positive they are on the team, acknowledging how they support their team mates when things get rough, and so on. When you only criticize things they need to work on, you defeat their mindset and kill motivation. When you praise them and celebrate their strengths/wins, you're encouraging their self-efficacy, which leads to a boost in motivation.
Motivation isn't as elusive as it may seem. It's not about waiting until you feel that spike in urgency to get something done. It's about creating a process that feeds into your goals while giving you a sense of accomplishment and fulfillment. Motivation will find you after you create an environment that focuses on the process and commit to it - not before that. Don't wait around hoping it'll energize you, go create it.
Please Note: This is an opinion piece based on my experiences and knowledge within the esport industry. If you are wanting to get materials, resources, or articles with a more in-depth and academic breakdown of motivation in sport, feel free to contact me and I'm happy to share.