Creating a Motivational Climate

One theory in sport psychology suggests that athletes may differ in their predisposed goal orientation. Essentially, the aim of setting goals is to achieve “something,” but how do we define achievement? Whether we succeed or fail depends on our perception of whether we have reached our personal goals or not. This being the case, what I consider to be a success may be a total failure to you, depending on how we each define success and failure.

Imagine for a moment that both you and I score a 73 run at a cutting. You maybe disappointed and discouraged because you did not beat Joe Blogg. I, on the other hand, may be over the moon because up until that moment, I had never scored above a 69, and I finally managed to get three clean cuts. This example reflects that as athletes, we define our sense of competence or achievement from either a task-oriented  perspective or an ego-oriented perspective.

Task-oriented athletes tend to see ability as improvable. They strive to develop their competence through increased effort and task completion. Ego-oriented athletes tend to see their ability as fixed and stable. They tend to have the frame of mind that people are either good at something or they are not, regardless of how hard they work at it. These individual’s tend to judge themselves and their successes in relation to others. Their self-perception generally depends on a win-or-loss outcome.

This Achievement Goal Theory suggests that predisposed goal orientations are solid characteristics that largely develop through childhood via our motivational climate and are predominantly set by mid- to late adolescence. However, that is not to say that we are doomed if our orientations tend to be ego-involved. By being aware, we can create a goal plan that encourages development of a task-orientated training program.

Our motivational climate is the environment created by influential people around us during this impressionable stage of our lives. An ego-orientation will develop if achievement is constantly reinforced to us by parents, coaches or peers as “you have to beat the other team or opponent” through statements such as; “if you win, I’ll take you out for an ice cream,” “you can beat this guy” or “you have to win this to make the finals.”

Alternatively, a motivational climate that encourages effort, self-improvement and accomplishment of personal mastery goals will breed a task-orientation.

Some of you may be thinking that self-improvement is all well and good, but losing doesn’t pay very well no matter how warm and fuzzy you feel about yourself. The trick is to find a balance. Ideally, an athlete that adopts a high task/high ego-orientation will maintain a healthy competitive hunger while achieving self-improvement through effort and persistence.

A strong ego-oriented climate is often created by the competition itself. Competitions emphasize a “you vs I” mentality. Often your eye is on the prize money or glory of winning. To counteract the negative effects of too much ego-orientation, you should design your preparation and practice from a task-orientated focus.

As the trainer, how can you help develop a positive motivational climate for your customers? Believe it or not, you as the trainer are immensely influential in your customers’ performance. As a rule, the less experience your customer has, the more dependent they will be on you for advice and evaluation. It is upon these that inexperienced people often base their confidence levels and self-efficacy.

So think about what you say. That flippant remark can sometimes make or break a customer’s confidence. You can use this influence to benefit everybody by providing a positive, task-oriented motivational climate in your training program. Be careful not to make comments that compare one customer with another. Rather, focus on each client’s personal achievements and improvement.

Be involved with your customer’s goal plan. This not only helps to commit the client to their goals (they told someone so now they HAVE to follow through to avoid humiliation), but it will help you have a better understanding of what the customer is hoping to achieve. We regularly see  trainer/customer relationships deteriorate due to lack of understanding about each other’s goals and expectations.

Take the example of a customer who has a really good horse. The trainer may assume that the customer wants to get the very best out of this horse and win the Open in the Futurity. Isn’t that what everyone wants? Not necessarily. The customer may be excited to finally have a shot at making the Amateur Futurity finals, or they may be looking forward to being a tough competitor at the small futurities. Unless these differences are discussed, friction is likely to develop down the road between trainer and customer.

Take some time to develop your trainer/customer relationships. Developing rapport with your customers is critical to establishing mutual goals for a win/win relationship. Talk to your customers. Find out what makes them tick. The more you understand about their goals, ambitions, fears and life circumstances, the easier it will be for both of you to develop an effective training program.

Be aware that each of your customers are different and just like your horses, what works for one may not necessarily work for another. Be prepared to provide a flexible training program rather than adopting the attitude that “they can fit in with me or go elsewhere.”

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