Friday, August 6, 2010

Self-determined to succeed (Part 3 of 3)

Apologies for the silence. I have been busy pursuing my certification in hypnotherapy. And, now that I am qualified to do so, one of these days I’m going to talk about the creative use of hypnosis to achieve sporting and tennis success. But for now, we have some unfinished business about motivation.

I had previously mentioned that current thinking on motivation has moved beyond the crippling limitations implied by Freudian theory. But we also now know that motivation is not just a product of parental rewards and conditioning. Indeed, some very clever research studies have shown that rewards can actually sometimes undermine motivation. People who work hard when they are paid paradoxically often stop working hard when they are either overpaid, or when the money stops flowing.

And if at first this seems counterintuitive, I understand. After all, you’d think that throwing money at people would make them work harder. I certainly know that I would find it easier to deliver on my promised two articles a week if someone was paying me to write this blog. Hint hint.

But then again you have only to look at the long list of obscenely paid but largely dispensable executive CEOs to know that being paid unseemly amounts of money does not always guarantee results. This may explain why some formerly impoverished tennis players lose all motivation to perform once they start making decent money.

Greed has never been a good motivator for hard work; on the contrary, people who are motivated by greed often look for the easy way out. Like via gambling. Or illegal betting.

But current thinking on motivation is best encapsulated by the theory of self-determination. Self-determination theory (SDT) maintains that motivation is often a product of our will in pursuit of goals that we personally find to be meaningful.

SDT researchers like Edward Deci and Richard Ryan, have conducted or reported on countless studies showing that people are motivated to develop their skills and abilities, to act on their own accord, and to connect with others. In other words, we are motivated by a sense of competency, autonomy, and relatedness. We become most engaged and do our most creative work when we feel that we are doing what we want to do for reasons that are personally inspiring to us.

Which all brings me to Federer and why I believe that he is not done with tennis. I can think of few other tennis players who better capture the essence of SDT. Federer has been blessed with a multitude of tennis gifts and abilities. But he has also worked hard to develop his skills. He has always been an independent player, hiring coaches when he wants them, changing coaches to suit his current needs. His recent decision to hire Paul Annacone tells me that Federer is not done with winning. Not even close.

But, as argued by SDT, Federer also seems well-grounded in the world of family. He has had the same romantic partner for eons. While for a moment there Andy Roddick seemed to change blondes with the season, and may be accused of selecting partners more for show than for depth, Federer has remained true to his long-time partner, committing himself to her with the birth of their twins. He is the essence of self-determination.

And yet I believe that SDT aims for too much and sometimes does not recognize its own theoretical limits. For a start, I dislike the subtle implication of narcissistic individualism as a driving force for human behavior. I also note the contradiction between this type of individualism and the notion of people being as motivated for connectedness. I find myself wanting to say, make up your flipping mind already.

I also disagree that people are always motivated by deep meaning. I think that tennis is, for some players, nothing but a job, much like acting is for some actors. I disagree that we always have to have a soul connection to an experience in order to give our best effort. And sometimes the right rewards at the right moment can be tremendously motivating.

But I do agree with SDT’s view that we are motivated best by the right kind of alliances and emotional support. No man is an island. No woman is either. We all need a team of people, rooting for us, believing in us, and yes, even praying for us. And that is what Rafael Nadal has. And Robin Söderling. And the William sisters. And like stars in the dark night sky, watch how beautifully they shine.

31373, PARIS, FRANCE - Sunday May 31, 2009. Robin Soderling (Sweden) beats Rafael Nadal (Spain) in 4 sets, his first defeat at the French Open. Robin's clan, his coach Magnus Norman, his girlfriend and friends, are very happy after the big upset. French Open 2009, Internationaux de France 2009, held at the Roland-Garros stadium in Paris. Photograph: © Juan Soliz,


TennisAce said...

I have read all 3 parts of your synopsis and I have to say that I agree with you. In relation to the athletes that you have named, I think they are all motivated by one thing: achievements. They want to achieve so much in this sport. For Nadal I think his achievement was to be considered as good as, or even better than Federer. For Federer it was all about being the best, for the Williams' sisters it was to show that they could do it and for Soderling, it was to prove to himself and the rest of the tennis world that yes he could beat the top guys.

The others as you have pointed out are a whole different ball game. I do agree that many of the current crop of players do not have the same amount of zeal and passion for the game as do others. Many of them I think are still out other plugging away because of sponsor commitments (Sharapova, Ivanovic to name but a few). Others like Berdych, Djokovic, Murray etc looks like they are there for the money, especially Djokovic (how do you change your equipment when you are such a young player?).

I guess whichever way you slice it all of these professionals do find some motivation, but sometimes it is the wrong one and like you say at the end of the day it is nothing but a pay cheque to them.

Doug Messenger said...

Your comment on Djokovic changing equipment reminded me of Sabatini, who switched to a new framer in late-mid career and rarely won anything after that. Compare that to Sampras, who stuck with what worked for a whole career. Recently, Laura Robson, a promising junior, switched racquets. Since then, she has hit hundreds of balls slightly long. Does her coach NOT see this? The racquet company idiots push players hard to use the latest offering. Not good.