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Defining success in sport, retaining a personal sense of success in an outcome driven industry.


Changing one’s perception of success , Beth Mead & David Beckham - Separating outcomes from success & sustaining motivation within sport through process goals.


The Nature of Sport


Sport is an overtly competitive industry, whereby, the success of individuals and teams can be judged on metrics such as statistics and trophies won, giving way to external measures of success which can sometimes undermine an athletes personal sense of achievement and motivation, potentially creating a lot of pressure and self-doubt for the athlete.


Whilst this is typically seen as just being the nature of the sport and the norm from an outside perspective “go big or go home”, it’s important to consider that success within sport for the athlete can often look very different, going beyond just the trophies and statistics.


Within Sport and other domains we all know what we want to achieve (outcome) but in doing so we may overlook the steps and journey required to achieve the goal, known as process goals (Locke & Latham, 2013).


We so often hear the phrase “it’s not the destination, it’s the journey” but why is this particularly important in outcome driven industries?


Embracing the journey with examples from David Beckham and Beth Mead


In an interview by Adidas with David Beckham said “Personally I measure success on have I had a good time, have I had a fun, have I reached the goals I wanted to reach when I was 8-9 years old."


Beckham describes success in an internal manner, whereby, success is personal to him with an appreciation for the journey and process as opposed to just the outcomes.


Beth Mead recently played a key role in helping England win the Euros, claiming the golden boot along the way. Whilst this is seen as the ultimate goal for many, it’s important to understand that it’s the steps Beth took in spite of adversity which put her in the position she is in today. Last year Beth failed to make the GB Olympic squad which brought lots of disappointment and this could have easily steered her off course if she let the outcome and feelings of disappointment regulate her behaviour going forward.


“Last July I was at the point where I was a little bit disappointed with everything, I was putting a lot of pressure on myself and overthinking a lot of things.” “I had a few good conversations with some legends”. They told me to get my head down, work hard and get enjoyment back in my play again.


A bit of frustration can be normal and apart of the competitive, win/loose nature of sport but it can start to be detrimental for the athlete when their overall perception of themselves as an athlete shifts based on the outcome and they start to overlook the smaller things (the process goals) and the steps they need to take in order to get to their desired outcome. In Beth’s case she was able to separate herself from the disappointment of failing to make the Olympic squad and focus on enjoying her football again.


It's clear that by putting the process ahead of the outcome, Beth has been able to thrive and enjoy the journey along the way as she states “It’s been a journey but being involved in the Euros is a dream come true after the disappointment of last year. I’m just loving every moment.”


Satisfaction & Enjoyment


Satisfaction and a sense of enjoyment are integral to sustaining high levels of performance and motivation, when these personal motives are present for the athlete their behaviour and attitude becomes less dependent on the outcome and more associated with the process. Focusing in on the process not only prevents us from becoming dependent on the outcome but it allows us to appreciate the smaller things, giving us the reinforcement from achieving these smaller goals which we can overlook in pursuit of the ultimate reward or accolade.


If success and motivation is always determined by the criteria of win or lose, statistics etc then it can be easy for motivation to become dependent on these metrics, making room for negative psychological consequences on the athlete when things aren’t going their way, impacting training behaviours and performances in matches.


It all comes down to how we engage with the process even when the outcomes aren’t as we desire. When we put the journey and process ahead of the outcome, we are likely to be more focused in doing the right things, which will then eventually lead us to our bigger goals and achievements.


If you have any questions or would like additional support, please email

sawansportspsych@gmail.com or fill out the contact form at the bottom of the page.


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