Updated 6th October 2019

How’s your motivation? Motivation and setting goals are often discussed in relation to coaching and cycling. People often speak about great cyclists and athletes being very highly motivated.

Athletes clearly must be highly motivated to achieve the great performances and sustain the training loads required for top sporting performances.

However the motivation needs to be directed in a way that achieves success and enjoyment for the athlete. Coaches and parents also require an understanding of motivation to support and guide athletes.

I will focus on one aspect of motivation in this blog. The idea for this particular blog cam from a chapter in one of my favourite books. This is the Winner effect by Trinity College Neuroscientist Professor Ian Robertson.

The winner effect

The WINNER EFFECT  What makes a winner? Why do some people succeed both in life and in business, and others fail?” (the science of success and how to use it} explains the science behind a lot of human behaviour. Much  of it is very relevant to sports people and how they behave and perform.

Setting Goals

There’s a very interesting section in this book where Professor Robertson Discusses the importance of setting goals and how they can impact on achieving success or not.

Too much of a good thing

As I was reading a section of The Winner Effect in the last while I noticed these words in the section “Too much of a good thing”

The Winner Effect page 27 / 28 By Professor Ian Robertson

Professor Robertson spoke about a fellow student he knew when at College

‘Peter’ was talking intensely about how he wanted to make a fundamental discovery in science, one that would change the world. I had heard him say things like that before; it was as if he wanted to be another Darwin. Instead within a year ‘Peter’ had dropped out of university – he seemed suddenly to have lost his motivation.”

Where to Focus your goals

Some more very related quotes from this section.

“If you focus on only on a distant, enormous goal then you will devalue everyday achievements and make them seem worthless.”

“Keeping motivated, therefore, means enjoying the intrinsic satisfaction of mastering day to day challenges”

Note the important words in the second sentence quoted.

“If you focus only on a distant, enormous goal then you will devalue everyday achievements and make them seem worthless.”

Cyclists and athletes dreams of being Pro or the Olympic medal

As I was reading it I thought about the cyclists and athletes who only chase the dream of becoming a professional cyclist or winning an Olympic medal.

How many of them have dropped out of cycling at a young age because of this approach? This has often been years before they reached their full potential.

if they had just followed the goals of  achieving challenging but achievable goals day after day, they may even have progressed to their big goal.“Keeping motivated, therefore, means enjoying the intrinsic satisfaction of mastering day to day challenges”

Imagine that ‘Peter’ was a cyclist/ athlete

If we were to think of ‘Peter’ as an athlete / cyclist what’s the likely outcome when they realise that they will not become a professional cyclist or win the Olympic medal?

If their focus has been only on only on a distant, enormous goal then is it most likely that they will drop out of their sport and maybe chase the dream somewhere else?

However, according to the Winner effect, if they had been getting intrinsic satisfaction of just enjoying their sport and  chasing the smaller goals / challenges they might have been quite successful.

Alongside having the small medium goals they could be working towards the big goal of Professional / Olympic medal. If they have good ability most likely they will achieve some success along the way.and maybe even win the Tour or Olympic medal as part of the journey!

Dream goals and realistic goals

I suppose this is the practical idea of setting a dream goal and then realistic goals. For example what do I need to do now, tomorrow and this year to progress?. The realistic goals are the stepping stones to be dream goal.

Cycling and the marathon

Enjoy your sport

The joy of sports participation

At the end of the day it looks like the best reason for doing any sport is still just for the sheer joy of doing it. This approach will also more likely lead to better and consistent performances if the athlete is supported and guided in the correct manner.

Look around you and notice how many cyclists’, athletes who were very good are still enjoying participation in their sport in some form.

Are there others who have dropped out of Cycling who might come back if they understood how to reshape their goals? Hopefully there are.

Paddy Doran High performance cycling coach.


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Paddy Doran

Coach at Peak Endurance Coaching
I have been consistently the most successful coach in Irish Cycling in the last 30 years, training Olympians and Professional cyclists including a number of Ras Tailtean Winners and medalists at World & European levels. Cycling and coaching is my passion and I specialise in peaking for major events.
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