If someone tells us that we are special – how do we feel about it? If someone does something we would really like to be able to do – what do we do? If someone is really dedicated and is really good at something at a higher level – what do we think about them? And, last but not least, what do all these questions have in common?
WE ARE INSPIRED.
Today’s blog post will be about inspiration – what inspires us and what’s the impact on our performance and development. I started climbing at the age of 7 1/2, competing in my first regional competition just half a year later (I was eight by then). I had gone climbing once a month before then and I had always really enjoyed it: playing around with other kids of your age, swinging on ropes and having a lot of fun. So I happened to win that competition (as I will explain later, this win itself could have already been an inspiration for why I didn’t stop climbing afterwards). But what actually inspired me that day – and I still remember that perfectly – was when Kilian Fischhuber, who came from the same region and who was more than twice as old as me, climbed his final route through a roof and someone told me “look at how he climbs – smoothly like a cat. If you ever want to be good at climbing, you learn to climb like this”. That was at the age of eight – that’s when I really wanted to learn how to climb smoothly like a cat. My first ever inspiration.
Inspiration, what’s that?
Inspiration in sports is a driving force that leads us to exceptional, sometimes even surprising accomplishments. Outcomes, where we grow with the challenge and change how we perceive our individual capabilities. This inspirational force functions an external stimulus that becomes personally valuable and important to us. Moreover, being inspired is a very emotional and exciting process which can change our perception of our potential or a specific situation. As a consequence, our motivation to actualizing the inspiring qualities as we were shown by the evocative inspiration increases, such as our focus and effort to reach our goal.
What inspires us most in sports?
Generally there are three main sources of inspiration. We can be inspired by our own unexpected successful performances. Achieving something we would not (or never) have expected makes us become aware of new possibilities, our own capabilities and potential. We suddenly start believing in ourselves and our potential. An image of ourselves – of what we are possibly capable of achieving in the future – becomes present. Think of an experience, event or competition when you were inspired like this – by your own superb performance. When you didn’t expect to do that well at all. When you realised what you were able to do and achieve. What impact did that situation have on you, on your performance and further development?
Another source of inspiration is being motivated by positive traits, devotion, and performances of other athletes competing at a higher level. We for sure all still know our very first role models and inspirations when we were still young and started our sport. What was it that inspired us? Maybe it was the way they climbed, maybe their dedication of winning a certain competition, maybe it was the way they were cheered on by the crowd, maybe it was their humble, generous and lovable personality despite all their medial attention and success.
Indeed, a lot of very successful athletes (“leaders”) serve as role model. And in general, leadership is proven to be the major source of inspiration for athletes. Specifically, verbal (e.g. team talks, personal talks) and nonverbal (e.g. setting a positive example, acting as a role model) communication and behaviour serve as important forces for inspiration. Given that athletes are exposed to numerous “leaders” (e.g., coaches, trainers, and older, successful climbers), enhancing the inspirational potential of leaders may hold numerous benefits for individuals and groups. Setting a positive example can e.g. be that coaches don’t only expect their athletes to be disciplined and hard working themselves, but also perform in this way themselves. A verbal example can be, instead of telling athletes that they couldn’t have done a certain move anyway because they’d be too weak for such kind of moves, they emphasize the positive things on which athletes can build on, they inspire them.
So what is the impact of us being inspired?
Most importantly – as I have mentioned before, inspiration increases our self-determination and motivation. Moreover, we are more efficient and productive. We make more progress towards our goal, have more energy, mental toughness and positive emotions. Even our well-being is proven to be better! Another outcome is that inspiration fosters team effort – especially, team-bond and identification (which is generally important for team sports but also for younger athletes and teams, also in individual sports).
Considering that most of us compete for intrinsic reasons, the benefits of inspirational forces is often underestimated. Individual’s perceived highly intrinsic value is important to further develop (e.g., potential for self-growth) and potentially becoming successful in the long run.