Just about every sport has an off-season, during which a key focus should be on building your fitness that acts as the foundation for all of your other sports efforts. Because all aspects of sports preparation have become so sophisticated in the last decade or so, regardless of your sport, without the necessary strength, agility, and stamina, you have little chance of achieving your athletic goals no matter how good you are technically, tactically, or mentally.
The problem is that, for most young athletes, conditioning isn’t all that fun, in fact, it can be downright tiring, boring, and, yes, painful. Which means that you may not be entirely psyched to work out as much or as hard as you should. I heard this complaint twice recently from young athletes I’m working with. Both knew they should be in the gym regularly, but when it came time to head out the door, they just couldn’t pull the trigger as often as they know they should. Plus, when they got to the gym, they just couldn’t seem to push themselves as hard as they knew they should.
If you feel this way, don’t feel too bad because even the most successful and committed athletes don’t always enjoy their time in the gym. Even for the world’s best athletes, conditioning isn’t always fun and it is usually really painful. But each of them make a choice and you can too.
Pay Now or Pay Later
Before I describe some practical strategies you can use to get and stay motivated for your workout program, I want to share with you a perspective that I hope will be a wake-up call and will act as a kick in the pants for when you’re just not feeling your conditioning mojo. I call it, “You pay now or pay later.” Let me explain.
You’re going to pay for what you do or do not do in your conditioning next season in one way or another. You can pay now in the currency of fatigue and pain by making a daily commitment to your conditioning and putting in your best effort in all of your workouts.
There are several benefits to paying now. First, your ROI (return on investment) will be big because your high level of fitness will result in improved ability to perform your best. Second, all of that suffering will make you feel tough and confident when you walk onto the field, court, or course next season (a former alpine ski racing coach of mine, Chris Jones, told me years after I retired that a lot of the conditioning we did wasn’t physically unnecessary, but he wanted us to believe that we were the strongest and toughest athletes on the hill).
The alternative is to pay later in the currency of emotional pain. I’m talking about the disappointment, frustration, and regret you will surely feel after a competition, a season, or your career because, as you reflect back, you realize that it might have turned out differently if you had paid earlier in physical currency during your workouts.
And here is the kicker that should really convince you that it’s better to pay now than pay later. The physical pain won’t last much longer than the end of the workout. But the emotional pain you will feel from having failed to achieve your goals because you didn’t pay earlier can last a lifetime.
I hope that my discussion of “pay now or pay later” is enough to get you out of bed or off the couch and into the gym with a fanatical determination to put in the time and effort necessary to achieve your athletic goals. But it’s easy to say you want to pay now, but that bed or couch can have a magnetic attraction that can be hard to resist when it’s time to actually get up and head to the gym. So, here are a few practical strategies you can employ to help you start to pay now.
Focus on your long-term goals. To be your best, you have to put a lot of time and effort into your athletic preparations. But, as I noted above, there are going to be times when you don’t feel that motivated.
When you feel this way, focus on your long-term goals. Remind yourself why you’re working so hard. Imagine exactly what you want to accomplish and tell yourself that the only way you’ll be able to reach your goals is to continue to work hard.
Try to generate the feelings of inspiration and pride that you will experience when you reach your goals. This technique will distract you from the discomfort, focus you on what you want to achieve, and generate positive thoughts and emotions that will get you through the tough parts of conditioning.
Also, imagine how you would feel—lousy!—if you didn’t achieve your goals due to lack of effort. That alone should get you off your butt and into the gym!
Make it fun. Conditioning doesn’t have to be repetitive and boring workout routines in the gym. These days, with an emphasis on functional fitness, you can make big physical gains while doing things you love. No, bowling and golf probably won’t cut it when it comes to conditioning, but road cycling, mountain biking, trail running, parkour, motocross, Crossfit, gymnastics, yoga, and martial arts, among others, can allow you to add to your fitness while having a great time. Plus, building variety into your workout program can remove some of the monotony for physical training and actually enable you to look forward to your workout sessions.
Have a training partner. It’s difficult to be highly motivated all of the time on your own. There are going to be some days when you just don’t feel like getting out there. Also, no matter how hard you push yourself, you will work that much harder if you have someone pushing you. That someone can be a coach, personal trainer, or parent. But the best person to have is a regular training partner, someone at about your level of ability with whom you can work together to accomplish your goals. The chances are on any given day that one of you will be motivated. Even if you’re not very psyched to do, say, five sets of power cleans, you will still give a big effort because your partner is pushing you to do those last few really painful reps of each set.
Focus on your greatest competitor. Another way to keep yourself motivated is to think about your greatest competitor. Identify who your biggest competition is and put his or her name or photo where you can see it every day. Ask yourself, “Am I working harder than him/her?” Remind yourself that only by working your hardest will you have a chance to beat your greatest competitor next season.
Motivational cues. A big part of staying motivated involves generating positive emotions associated with your efforts and achieving your goals. A way to keep those feelings is with motivational cues such as inspirational phrases and photographs. If you come across a quote or a picture that moves you, place it where you can see it regularly such as in your bedroom or on your refrigerator door. Look at it periodically and allow yourself to experience the emotions it creates in you. These reminders and the emotions associated with them will inspire and motivate you to continue to work hard toward your athletic goals.
Daily questions. Every day, you should ask yourself two questions. When you get up in the morning, ask, “What can I do today to become the best athlete I can be?” and before you go to sleep, ask, “Did I do everything possible today to become the best athlete I can be?” These two questions will remind you daily of what your goals are and will challenge you to be motivated to become your best.
The heart of motivation. A final point about motivating yourself during conditioning. The techniques I’ve just described are effective in increasing your short-term motivation. Motivation, though, is not something that can be given to you. Rather, motivation must ultimately come from within. Whether you compete in your sport because you want to win an Olympic gold medal or play professionally some day, have fun competing, love being with your friends, or just enjoy seeing what you are capable of, you have to feel it deep inside and then express that feeling every time you work out. You must simply want to be the best athlete you can be. You just have to want it really bad!
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