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The Science of Intent: Five Evidence-Based Strategies for Sports Scientists

I’m often asked “what’s the best way to gain buy-in?” The truth is, I am either still searching for the answer myself, or I have concluded that it’s a heady mix of circumstance, trial and error, personality type, context and human motivation. When we’re keen to have our voices heard or our ideas to fly, I wonder if we’re using the full range of known ways to drive motivation? This elusive but critical facet of athlete development offers rich terrain for those willing to venture beyond the numbers or their preferred way of spouting to the world. Here are five approaches you could try to create intent and motivation.

1️⃣ Data-Driven: Metrics Rule

Metrics are more than just performance indicators; they’re a form of language. They articulate an athlete’s prowess, progress, and potential in a way that subjective analysis can’t. As the saying goes, “what gets measured, gets managed.” When athletes see their performance quantified, it can spark a drive to improve those numbers.
Cultivate Curiosity: Ever thought of creating an athlete-specific dashboard? It might offer a way to enhance client accountability and focus.

2️⃣ Emotional: Personal Stories

Behind every athlete is a story of struggle, triumph, or maybe both. Tapping into these personal narratives can serve as a powerful rallying cry. Emotional investment often drives athletes to push harder, not just for themselves but for the collective good of the team.
Cultivate Curiosity: Could incorporating storytelling into your coaching sessions add a unique layer of emotional depth and drive?

3️⃣ Future-View: Show Success

Vision drives action. Giving athletes a tangible sense of what their future could look like can instill a purpose that day-to-day training may not offer. When athletes can envision the glory, the fame, or the personal accomplishment that comes with top-level performance, it can serve as a powerful propellant.
Cultivate Curiosity: How about creating vision boards to make these visualised goals tangible?

4️⃣ Intrinsic: Love the Process

Extrinsic rewards have their limits. Trophies and financial rewards are one side of the coin and transient, intrinsic love for the sport is an enduring motivator to focus on. Athletes motivated by the process itself, rather than just the end result, often show greater resilience and commitment in the face of adversity.
Cultivate Curiosity: During one-on-ones, try to identify the deeper ‘why’ behind each athlete’s involvement in the sport. Then use this to tailor your motivational techniques to align with these inner drives, whether it’s the love of competition, mastery of the skill, or something else entirely.

5️⃣ Tell it Straight: Candid Honesty

There’s a time and place for cheerleading, but there’s also a time for a reality check. When athletes stray off-course or underperform, a dose of candid honesty can serve as the wake-up call needed to create focus and drive. Honest feedback, even when it is hard to hear, can become the catalyst for growth and improvement.
Cultivate Curiosity: Consider scheduling a ‘no holds barred’ feedback session. It may offer the brutal honesty needed to instigate real change.

Adapt your Style

Motivation in sports is a complex beast that can’t be tamed by gut feelings alone. As professionals invested in athlete performance, perhaps we can bring the same scientific curiosity to motivation as we do to other facets of sports science. After all, an athlete motivated is an athlete empowered.

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