Picture yourself at a competition — Let’s say Level 10 Regionals or The US Secret Classic. Your team started off the season in great shape and won most of the competitions you went to. First event, they’re in the lead as usual and feeling confident, which seems to make them try even harder. They hold their frontrunner status into the third event, but then their motivation flags, they begin to underperform, and they run the risk of blowing their shot at JO Nationals or P&G Championships.
That’s a common mental sequence for competitors of all sorts, according to new research by Szu-chi Huang, an assistant professor of marketing at Stanford Graduate School of Business, and her collaborators Jordan Etkin of Duke University and Liyin Jin of Fudan University. The work, forthcoming in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, shows that in the early phase of competition, being in the lead boosts motivation by convincing the participant that winning is possible, while leading later in the contest actually decreases motivation by reducing the perceived amount of additional effort required to achieve victory.
“Sometimes being ahead boosts our motivation and performance and sometimes it actually hurts,” says Huang.
In the early phases of the competition season you’re uncertain about who you are competing against. You are unsure whether winning is actually a possibility. So when they jump out in the lead early on, their motivation spikes, since they believe winning is attainable. But as the competition season drags on, their motivation wanes, since they believe they need to expend less effort to win.
The best thing you can do to keep their motivation humming along is to get them to look away from themself in the lead, and instead focus on another high standard. Set performance goals at each competition. Have the gymnasts write them down so that they can keep track of their accomplishments.
That way, they’ll be prompted to give the task at hand more effort, since they haven’t yet reached the standards of what they’re comparing themselves to.
The other side of that is when your team doesn’t feel they could possibly win. I have seen many programs fill their gymnasts minds with false hope. Then they go to a competition and get crushed. Or the coach that goes “trophy shopping”. They pick the meets they go to by what meets they can win.
Take care in the planning of your season. Set goals at for each competition. You should have meets where the gymnasts leave hungry. Knowing that their best was ALMOST good enough. Pick a meet where they can throw their big skill routines knowing that they can still win with a mistake or 2. Make sure you schedule is some REST periods.
AND IF YOU ARE LIKE ME IN THE SNOWY NORTHEAST- PICK A WARM WEATHER MEET!
Think about how many football games end with scores pretty close. 1 team dominates the first half. The second 1/2 is much closer because the team in front is “playing not to lose” as opposed to “playing to win”. This years Super Bowl supports this theory,