I just finished my 10th season as a professional beach volleyball player. At the last tournament, a high school player asked me:
"How do you stay motivated during the offseason when your next tournament is more than 6 months away?"
Fans and younger players often ask about how I train, recover, what my diet is, etc. Looking back on my career, I now realize that understanding motivation is the key to learning and improving. That 14 year old high school player asked the right question.
One thing I wish I realized earlier in my career is that motivation comes and goes. Some days you’re jumping out of bed at 5am; others you’re repeatedly hitting snooze. This became especially clear the last two years with COVID.
I’m far from perfect, but I am always looking to learn, improve, and strive to work hard. Here are a few ideas that help me get to work on days I want to snooze.
1. Daily progress and compounding interest
Progress is one of the most satisfying feelings... it's addicting. I’ve found that progress comes slowly over time, and then all at once. I’ve been able to learn and improve the most, in volleyball or life, when I’m focused on showing up consistently to get 1% better each day.
Daily progress and small gains compound over weeks, months, and years. The difficult part is showing up consistently. I learned this the hard way early in my career with an erratic practice and gym schedule.
Once I put a plan and system in place, showing up consistently became easier. Removing the decision fatigue of when and how to train has helped me a lot. I know that I’m training at the beach at 8am and in the gym at 2pm, Monday - Friday.
Adam Grant is an author whose work I love and who summarizes powerful ideas about habits well says:
"Patience is a competitive advantage. In a surprising number of fields, you can find success if you are simply willing to do the reasonable thing longer than most people."
The more I design a great plan/system, the easier it is to show up consistently and do the work. The more consistently I show up, the more the small gains can compound over time.
2. Confidence is credible self talk
Michael Gervais, a world renowned high performance sports psychologist, has worked with the best athletes in the world from the Seattle Seahawks to dozens of Olympians. Gervais defines confidence as "credible self talk," or knowing that you’ve done everything you can to prepare and that you’re ready.
This requires a lot of work, but I’ve found this to be very liberating. It helps to curb doubts that inevitably creep up before big matches and allows me to go for it and play freely.
This also works in reverse. The 2020 season had a lot of uncertainty due to COVID. We ended up having 3 tournaments with only 1 month to prepare after months of quarantine. I definitely was not as prepared as I would have liked, and my confidence was lacking as a result.
3. "Every action is a vote for the person you wish to become."
This may be my favorite idea from James Clear, another fantastic author on habit formation. "The more evidence we have for a belief, the more likely we are to believe it." If you wake up every day and go running, it’s easy to say and believe "I am a runner."
I’m far from perfect, but if I consistently show up to my workouts and practices even on days I’m lacking motivation, I can begin to say I’m the type of athlete that works hard and doesn’t skip training. This also builds daily progress and credible self talk, and has helped me develop confidence throughout my career.
I’ve found this to apply when learning new skills and hobbies, too. I got into photography a few years ago and took my camera everywhere I went. I took thousands of pictures, mostly terrible, but occasionally there was a decent one. I felt a little progress and kept taking my camera. I started to become a photographer. I still take plenty of unusable pictures but have a few of my family and friends that mean the world to me.
4. Take time to rest
Volleyball has been a huge part of my life since I was 14 years old, but I also need time away from training and competing to come back physically and mentally rested. Getting into nature, spending time with family and friends, traveling, or even going for a quick surf before practice (that’s cross training right?) has allowed me to balance the ups and downs of long seasons and come back excited to train and compete.
5. Remember my WHY
I love beach volleyball and feel fortunate to do it for a living, but I realized there are things more important in my life. Yes, I want to become one of the best players in the world at my sport, but my family always comes first. Providing for my family means I have to be a successful athlete.
A former Olympian once told me, "how you prepare and compete as an athlete is also a reflection of who you are as a person." This has stuck with me. My 5 year old son comes to a lot of tournaments, practices at the beach, and workouts in my home gym. Thinking of the example I want to set for him is the single most motivating factor in my career as an athlete. Do I want him to see me giving up during a workout because I am a little tired, or losing at tournaments because I underprepared?
I am still very much a work in progress. I have my tough days like everyone and struggle to implement these ideas. However, they have helped me make those rough days suck a bit less and happen less frequently over the years. I hope one of them may prove useful to you.