When it comes to sport, staying motivated can sometimes be tricky. Niamh Sullivan shares her tips to find that motivation.

It was in year one when I was given a gold star for being the first in my class to finish our assigned chapter book that I decided I liked being good at things. In fact, I liked the feeling of being good at something so much that I simply chose not to do anything that I wasn’t good at ever again.

The main problem with this self-imposed rule was that I was willing to give anything a go, but I never lasted longer than a few months. I tried my hand at netball, touch football, swimming, gymnastics, dancing, hockey and tennis before calling myself too awkward, clumsy or unskilled to continue. And that was all before I finished primary school.

After watching the tennis racquets, hockey shoes, netball skirts, swimming goggles and hordes of other discarded sporting equipment accumulate in my bedroom over the years, I decided there was just one more thing I needed to become good at—finding motivation. Or more specifically, finding the motivation to keep going at something new.

In my search to become really good at finding motivation, I spoke with friends, family, athletes, coaches and psychologists. This is what I discovered:

Set one goal

The problem with wanting to excel at something is that you often fall into the “all or nothing” mindset. Whenever I’ve given up on something new, it’s usually because I’m trying to do too much too quickly. The reality that I always seem to forget is that it’s unlikely I will become a rival to Ash Barty overnight.

Speak to any sports psychologist or coach, and they’ll recommend you set just one goal. If you’ve set your mind to swimming, set yourself a specific time goal for a particular stroke. If you’re trying to learn how to play tennis, focus on getting your serves over the net before you worry about your backhand technique. Only when you reach that goal should you set the next one.

Pick your time

A study published in Health Psychology found that the key to keeping up motivation is what they call an “instigation habit” or a cue that tells your body it’s time to play your sport. For some, that is the sound of their alarm going off in the morning.  For others, it could be watching the sunset on their commute to the playing field.

It may be something you see, hear or even feel, but picking a set time or day of the week will naturally foster your motivation because your body is already anticipating the activity before you even start. This mental association will also get stronger the longer you stick to your schedule. Which means getting yourself onto the court, into the gym or out on the field will get easier and easier every single time.

Keep a journal

When you’re trying something new, it’s easy to look at how far you have to go and forget just how far you’ve already come. The simplest way to keep track of your progress is to write a journal. Whether it’s in the notes section of your phone or in an actual notebook, make time to jot down a few words after every session.  

Did you score your first goal today?

How many times did you serve over the net today?

How long did it take you to run 5km today?

Then, when you’re lacking motivation or feeling like you’re not making any progress at all, read back over your previous entries to remind yourself where you’ve come from.

I’m not promising that you’ll qualify for the Olympics, set a new world record or even overtake the person in the lane next to you. But these simple tips might just help you become really good at finding the motivation you need to stick with your new sport. Even when you don’t feel like you’ve got what it takes!

Niamh Sullivan is a 22-year-old ocean loving and solar powered storyteller. When she’s not chasing her latest yarn as a TV reporter, you’ll find her attempting to catch waves on her malibu, planning her next backpacking adventure or solving any life problem with coconut ice cream.
Don’t take it personally if Niamh forgets your name or stands you up in a coffee shop, two years of chemotherapy treatment and time spent in a coma means her memory is worse than a goldfish. This brain injury may mean she struggles to retain any short-term memories but it’s a good excuse to get out of washing the dishes.

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