Learning about Motivation from Sport

I love watching the Olympics and sharing in the emotions of the athletes as they put their years of hard work to the test in events that may only take a few minutes.  

In the last few days there has been both joy and despair for Team GB:  despair when Geraint Thomas crashed out of the road race, Jade Jones – former gold medallist and world champion – was defeated in taekwando, and Jonny Brownlee struggled to come fifth in the triathlon.  Joy for Chelsie Giles winning Team GB’s first medal of the Olympics in judo, for swimmer Adam Peaty winning Olympic gold again, and for Alex Yee getting silver in triathlon.

There seems to be such a thin line between success and failure, joy and despair.  The line is not quite so stark in organisations, but many of the lessons about motivation are the same in sport and organisations: to be motivated you need to have a sense of purpose and be persistent and resilient

In sport we hear the sense of purpose, persistence and resilience when athletes talk about the mental and emotional side of performance.  Jade Jones said she “stayed in scared” and talked about not having her family present, “to push me out of that fear zone.  Chelsie Giles said “I believed I could do it, my coach has always believed I could”.  Adam Peaty talked about “the amount of emotion it has taken to get here”. 

Success in sport is clearly about mental and emotional strength as well as physical ability.  Being able to manage their thoughts and feelings enables athletes to sustain their motivation and overcome setbacks. 

The question for organisations is how can we apply the lessons from sport to keep ourselves and our teams motivated? 

  • What is the sense of purpose – for the organisation or for individuals – that motivates them? 
  • How well do we build positive thoughts and feelings through our HR policies and management style to enable people to persist
  • How well do we support people to overcome setbacks and be resilient

Plenty of food for thought …….meanwhile, there’s more sport to watch!

See Chapter 17 of my book for top tips and tools to build your resilience.