The word “determination” has multiple meanings depending on the context of it’s usage but, for the purposes of sports, the dictionary says:
“The quality of being determined to do or achieve something.”
In simpler terms, it means how much of yourself you will put into making a goal a reality.
It’s always inspiring to observe a young athlete who is very determined. This athlete can take failures, setbacks, and adversity and just does not give up on getting that goal which is usually getting to the next level of competition in the sport.
To underscore the importance:
Nothing in this world can take the place of persistence. Talent will not: nothing is more common than unsuccessful men with talent. Genius will not; unrewarded genius is almost a proverb. Education will not: the world is full of educated derelicts. Persistence and determination alone are omnipotent.
So how do you develop a strong determination?
There are 3 things that have to be in place for a strong determination to blossom and power an athlete to their success.
1. A specific, strong decision has to be made.
This is probably the easy part for most athletes. You hear it all of the time when young people are asked what they want to do when they grow up:
“I want to be a varsity baseball player (or whatever the peak of their sport is called).”
Semi-serious young athletes have no problem voicing this and a decision is necessary to start any journey, but it’s not enough.
It is a fact that teens and preteens brains are about 80% formed (some scientists say it’s not done until their late 20’s!) The part of the teen brain not yet fully developed is called the frontal lobe, which is the part of the brain that manages impulse control, judgment, insight, and emotional control. This comes as no surprise to most parents!
In other words, teens are very susceptible to being thrown off the track to achieving their goal, especially when they experience difficult emotions. You can see why just making a decision is not enough to develop strong determination. The kid makes a “decision” and then makes another one totally opposing the first one, sometimes the very next day. (This is what drives parents mad).
To develop determination, you need more…
2. There has to be an emotional “why” that fuels the action.
Dr. Victor Frankl wrote a book about his experiences as a psychiatrist who barely survived the World War II concentration camps. The book is called: “Man’s search for meaning.”
He tried to understand what was it that caused some men to suffer and survive through unspeakable horrors while other men gave up and often tried to kill themselves to end their suffering. He came to the conclusion that the difference was whether or not they had a reason (Why) to survive. For example, those that believed they had family waiting for them somewhere showed superhuman determination to survive while many who had no family left, did not.
Athletes need to find their “why” and then regularly visit that in their mind in order to condition the mind to connecting their actions today to the emotional benefits of achieving their goal tomorrow.
A parent can ask a child “Why do you want to play Varsity?” and then periodically remind the child of how they responded. Hopefully, eventually, the athlete will be able to do this for themselves but given the teen brain, it’s common for a parent to help bridge this gap, up to a point.
One problem with this is when the child gives a vague, no-benefit answer like: “I want to reach my goal” or some other meaningless response. It’s up to the adult to help find something that triggers an emotional benefit for the child.
“I want to play on Varsity someday so that I can get the respect of my peers and feel proud of myself.”
Now that’s a good answer that supplies the WHY and will develop determination to get back up on the horse when an athlete falls off!
3. Fears and internal conflicts must not be present.
This is the biggie and it’s effects are often underestimated by coaches and parents. I operate with all of my athlete clients under this formula:
Performance = Potential – Interference
And when talking about “Interference,” we are referring to beliefs, programs, and values at the subconscious level of the mind that cause fear.
Clearing this for young athletes is primarily what my Mental Toughness Academy is about and a huge segment of everything I teach.
From the outside, it might look like athletes are just naturally gifted or not with a determined attitude. While that is true for some, everyone can learn how to be more determined. Everyone can be more courageous. Everyone can make mental habit changes that are in line with their goals. I help kids as young as 7 years old do just that. The process is the same as working on and improving your physical skills through learning, effort and repetition.