Why do we get involved in sport?
It’s a question that often is blanketed by busy seasons, grueling road trips, late night practices, and a concentrated, yet often crippling focus on results and winning.
Winning creates a sense of accomplishment, results can lead to opportunities, and intense training can lead to the next generation of talent.
Those are all great, yet are belittled in value if standing alone without a key crux of athletics.
Sport ought to be fun. It ought to bring joy into one’s life.
Joy doesn’t necessarily equate to things always being easy according to Premier’s Dr. Chrissy Holm Haider. More so, it serves as a beacon towards fulfillment as an athlete and human.
“Joy comes through satisfaction of re-engaging in your sport in a way that nourishes you as a person,” Holm Haider says. “Feeling connected with teammates, working towards attainable goals, and feeling yourself progress.”
Let’s face it; sport is rarely easy, oftentimes far from it. Yet in moments of frustration, turmoil, and stress, there are things that you can do to regain the sense of joy that perhaps drew you to sport as a child.
Seeking Motivation in Bleak Times
An athlete searching for joy in sport is likely in that space because for one reason or another, joy has grown afar from them in the athletic arena.
There are many reasons why an athlete may be experiencing a lack of joy. This time of year, that lack of joy often stems from decreased motivation.
“That concept of How do I keep training over break?, it’s cold out, not a lot of daylight, how am I supposed to enjoy continuing to go to the gym and train everyday?, really resonates this time of year,” Holm Haider says.
There’s no denying that the winter months can be the most trying for athletes to find motivation and manufacture productivity…all while enjoying it. The secret to getting back on the horse and reigniting joy lies in re-engaging in the process.
“I like to tell athletes that you can’t wait to feel motivated, you can’t wait to feel confident, you can’t wait to feel excited, the joy actually comes through the action,” Holm Haider says. “Setting process-oriented goals that are specific, measurable, and realistic and work towards what you’re wanting creates an opportunity for fulfillment.”
Setting the goals is the core of the process, yet making sure that they’re attainable and that you’re writing them down and tracking progress is essential.
“Writing things down and journaling your progress is important because it can be so hard to notice when things are going well when we’re solely focused on the overarching mountain in front of us,” Holm Haider says. “Setting those goals and starting to achieve them begins to build momentum and motivation.”
Goals are great, yet are seldom effective when they hone in on things outside of one’s control. Instead of setting a goal outside of your control such as beating a certain opponent, key in on the controllables; things like developing strong habits and routines, attainable new skills, and effort.
“A lot of times the joy gets zapped out of us when we’re focusing on things outside our control,” Holm Haider says. “Let’s focus on the fundamentals. The further you get in your sport the harder it can be to make large jumps. Eliminate that expectation and move the needle forward step by step.”
Constantly Curious…Not Judgmental
Holm Haider recalls an experience working with an elite athlete who was returning from a grueling rib injury. Movement was limited and the athlete was constrained to rehabbing on an exercise bike; a repetitive, monotonous, and difficult task to the naked eye.
Yet instead of approaching the task from a judgmental mantra of this is going to be painful and difficult Holm Haider encouraged the athlete to invite curiosity into the situation.
“Instead of this is going to be really hard, we talked about being mindful and curious, introducing thoughts such as how much can I make this burn?, and how fast can I push?” Holm Haider says.
This athlete began to look forward to her training sessions and was able to recover in time to compete at USA Trials with a newfound confidence that she can push past her limits.
“When we judge ourselves every step of the way, it sucks the joy out of sport. When you push yourself and open the doors of curiosity, the joy comes back because you’re focused on the process, not the outcome,” Holm Haider says.
Inviting curiosity into your life as an athlete not only serves as a distractor from judgment, but as a window for you to learn more about yourself as an athlete. It can lead to the development of new skills and accomplishments, but most importantly, keeps your mind geared toward the process in difficult moments.
For the Love of the Game
Far beyond playbooks, wins, and losses, sports are grounded in human beings. A community.
Remembering that is critical, especially in difficult times.
“We are social creatures, think of when you were a little kid and sports were the time that you got to hang out with friends,” Holm Haider says. “You were having fun and exploring.”
When seeking joy in sport, it’s essential to connect with those around you, in both the good times and bad. In moments of difficulty and frustration, human nature often guides towards isolation. As difficult as it may be, surrounding yourself with members of your sport community in those moments can help reignite joy.
“ If we get too fixated on ourselves, the pressure and judgment builds and joy drains out.” Holm Haider says. “Encourage teammates, Be excited for their success. We see that performance increases and joy increases when we connect with those around us by encouraging others.”
Peak performance in athletics is often associated with a no-nonsense, serious mantra. Yet without fun, many athletes are unable to find what it takes to be their best on the field.
Holm Haider does an exercise with athletes to gauge this, asking them to place themselves on a scale in between serious and fun. Naturally, many athletes who are not enjoying sport will place themselves on the far end of the serious side of the scale.
“Then I ask them where they think peak performance takes place and it’s usually somewhere in the middle,” Holm Haider says. “Parents and coaches tend to operate from the mindset that everyone is too far on the fun side of the scale. (When people on the serious side of the scale) hear that, they just get more serious and it makes playing their sport even less joyful.”
The bottom line? Sport and joy aren’t mutually exclusive and athletes will be able to get the most of their sport by taking back the things that have made them love sport.
“Get curious about the process but recognize that sport is a choice and it’s an opportunity to play a game you love,” Holm Haider says. “It isn’t going to last forever. Be curious about the ways in which you can progress vs. what is not going right, be social and encourage teammates even if you don’t feel like it in the moment, and find moments each day that bring you gratitude in sport to build joy from the inside out.”
Fast Five: Finding Joy in Sport
Set process-oriented goals that are measurable and attainable. Be sure to write your goals done and journal to track progress.
Remember that joy does not always equate to sport being easy. Instead, view joy as the opportunity to find fulfillment in sport, engage with others, and work towards attainable goals.
Replace judgmental thoughts with ones of curiosity. Curiosity allows an athlete to stay committed to the process of progress instead of focusing on negative thoughts in difficult situations.
When the going gets tough, surround yourself with others. Communicate openly about your feels and be sure to support/cheer on others, it will help re-ignite your own joy.
You can strive for peak performance while also having fun and experiencing joy. Peak performance often occurs when athletes are experiencing joy, in opposition to an all-serious, no-fun mantra.