The Mental Side of Freestyle, Part III: Finding a Way to Get and Stay Motivated

Pro freestyler and sporting mental performance coach Stephen Gray has shared his expertise in both fields as part of our Mental Side of Freestyle series. Part III of the series explores how freestylers can not only find ways to get motivated, but to stay motivated as well. 

It goes without saying that motivation plays a massive part in our lives, perhaps more than what we consciously realize at times. As an example, freestyle football is one of the biggest parts of my life, and I am able to say that it gives me a strong source of motivation. However, the relationship between motivation and other outside factors can be complex, which can lead to different outcomes for different people.

Just like anything else in life, motivation plays a key role in success in freestyle. Whether it’s training a style that you may not like but will help you improve your overall technique, pushing through aches and pains, or even braving inclement weather to get to your training spot, remaining motivated as a freestyler isn’t easy at times, but it is necessary for success.

If we look a little deeper at our understanding of motivation today, we’ll see why it is one of the most researched and discussed topics within psychology, and not just in the sport and exercise setting that we will further discuss.

Younger freestylers often look to their older counterparts for motivation. (Photo by Sebastian Ramirez)

Motivation is literally defined as the desire to do certain things. While the environment we are surrounded by can play a crucial factor in setting and attaining goals, research has shown that we are capable of influencing our levels of motivation and self-control on our own.

It’s important to note that motivation can be seen as being multi-dimensional. This means that in your mind you can have coexisting messages battling and conflicting against each other that motivate you to do different things. You can be just as motivated to go outside and whack out some combos just as much as you can be motivated to stay indoors and binge-watch a series on Netflix.

Intrinsic vs. Extrinsic

Before we go any further, we should distinguish some of the basic differences between intrinsic and extrinsic motivation.

Intrinsic motivation comes from within. We are intrinsically motivated to do things we are passionate about. The satisfaction we receive from doing whatever it is we are passionate about is enough to keep us motivated, and no outside factors are neccessary.

A freestyle example would be the desire to land your first PATW because of the feeling you’d get after landing such a milestone trick for the first time.

On the other hand, extrinsic motivation comes from, yep, you guessed it, things from outside of the individual. These are things like awards, trophies, followers, likes —anything that is external and not the actual feeling of the action/behavior itself. The freestyle example this time would be wanting to land a PATW because it would probably get more likes than your other clips, or you want to do it because your best friend has done it and you want to match him.

The general consensus is that it is healthier to consistently be intrinsically motivated. Not to take away from any sources of extrinsic motivation — of course trophies and motivation from competition can push you past your previously established limits — but it comes down to the reasoning and feeling behind your motivation coming from within.

UK freestyler Jak Gregory has some of the most innovative sits in the freestyle game.

For example, tolerating training sits to brush up on your all around to help win a national championship is not the same as wanting to improve your sits because you actually want to become a better freestyler. Therefore, extrinsic motivation can be seen as compliance, which isn’t actually direct motivation in itself strictly speaking.

Remaining Motivated

They say when you feel like giving up on something, remember why you started it in the first place. However, your situation can change drastically from when you started. The reason you started freestyle may be completely different than why you are freestyling now, and therefore the source of motivation has changed with you throughout the years. Because of this, it is important to identify your sources of motivation for when you’re feeling down in the dumps.

Of course, everyone is an individual and different things will motivate different people — not everyone can resonate with the Instagram posts and accompanying motivational quotes. This is just as much as an individual difference as the tricks we do or music we listen to or food we eat. By the way, all of those things can have an impact on our motivation too!

Maintaining motivation is a common concern that I’m sure everyone to a degree experiences regularly. One of the things I like about freestyle that keeps me motivated is the fact that the level and tricks are always constantly evolving. Even though I am seeing this from others, I am able to turn this extrinsic motivation into intrinsic motivation by asking myself, “Ok, what do I want to do freestyle-wise today?”

This is why the freestyle community can be a great source of a motivational boost. Positive encouragement and constructive criticism from peers have the power to nudge us in the desired direction.

Better than just watching other people’s videos is actually meeting up with other freestylers to pick their brain. This is not only a great way to learn new tricks and tips, but it quite possibly the most effective source of motivation and inspiration.

Another key tip is clarity and goal setting. If you are struggling with landing a particular combo, there is no shame in bringing the bar a tiny bit lower to reinforce that confidence before raising the bar again. Steady progression has been proven to be one of the most fundamental and purest forms of motivation that is long lasting to the individual, even through bad spells.

However, even with all of these tips, there is still one massive underlying problem —motivation doesn’t always lead to grounded action.

That’s right, you may have all the intent to eat healthy and go to bed early, but for whatever reason, these things still don’t happen. This is by far one of the biggest problems that is attempting to be bridged in psychology. Those that are able to remain as disciplined as motivated often rise above the rest. There is a noticeable difference between being motivated to train for hours and actually completing that training.

Overall, motivation can be seen as a crucial part of a freestyler’s journey, and how you wish to source, sustain and act upon your motivation is up to you. Despite maybe going through some rocky patches and abysmal training sessions, it isn’t the end of the world. Don’t be afraid to switch things up, try new methods and seek new ways to get that same buzz of motivation for whatever it is you are going for.