Often this time of year is spent worrying about signing up for races or finding a training plan to suit your needs. Though this is exciting, it’s common for athletes to get distracted by the next “what” and lose sight of their “why” when it comes to sport.
As coaches, we often see new athletes coming onboard looking for new accountability. Some will find their experience positive and motivating, while others will find it stressful and negative. For those athletes, it is rarely because they didn’t have dreams or ambitions but rather they didn’t have a belief or motivation behind thir goals. In other, words, a bad season often has nothing to do with what they are doing, but rather why they are doing it.
The psychologist Martin Seligman (1) suggests five key areas for positive well-being in his PERMA approach (positive emotions, engagement, positive relationships, meaning and achievement). In this article we will look at each in a bit more detail.
Engagement and Meaning
The first two of these areas that athletes should pay attention to are engagement and meaning. There are several connections between exercise and positive well-being (2), but when we focus on performance these two key areas (engagement and meaning) can get forgotten. Rather than seeing your sport as a measure of wroth, focus on engaging with the process and finding meaning in it. Once you do that, it is easy to have positive emotions around your sport (there could be a further study into how much triathletes enjoy pushing themselves)!
Relationship and Connection
The same should be true with having positive relationships. Seeking out training buddies and social communities, as well as working with a coach, can create positive relationships. Not only will this make your training feel more connected and meaninful (see above!) but it will improve your performance by giving you context for your efforts.
Finally, if we look at the achievement as a factor in well-being, it must be understood that achieving in a sport is based upon the athlete’s individual goals. Believe it or not, not everyone wants to win! The important point is that they are achieving their goals and therefore achieving their “why”.
Really understanding why you do your sport will allow you to find a more fulfilling relationship it. People spend a lot of time telling each other about what they are doing (training hours, training sessions, hard sessions, races, achievements etc.) but they rarely discuss why they are doing it. And it is that “why” that is more interesting to coaches, and more useful for athletes—because it’s ultimately what gives you a sense of meaning, engagement, and achievement in your sport.
So, as you sign up for the next seasons races and put together the plan, take some time to understand why you have chosen those races and this yearly structure. You may find that reflection actually steers you towards community or the events you find most inspiring. Finding your “why” will help you keep loving the sport, which will lead to a long and enjoyable career.
Flourish: A Visionary New Understanding of Happiness and Well-being By Martin E. P. Seligman, 2012
Martin Rasmussen & Karin Laumann (2014) The role of exercise during adolescence on adult happiness and mood, Leisure Studies, 33:4, 341-356, DOI: 10.1080/02614367.2013.798347