A few years ago I heard a coach talk about the importance of desire and determination applied toward mental toughness and athletic success, and how the two appear to mean the same thing but are actually different. The coach defined desire as a strong feeling of wanting to have something (i.e. a championship), while determination was defined as a firm intention to achieve a desired end, or goal. I can appreciate the nuance the coach was identifying between desire and determination, as I have witnessed the same characteristics with athletes I have worked with over the years. Some athletes desire to be successful, while others are so convicted and determined to be successful that failure isn’t an option. This difference in mindset, ironically, is not limited to sports as most of us can identify a time in our lives that a future goal was not just a desire, but much stronger and meaningful to the point where we went “all in” toward our future success.
Intrinsic motivation & sport success
When it comes to motivation, there are times that we are extrinsically motivated (i.e. working at a job in order to earn money), and intrinsically motivated (to complete a half-marathon to prove to yourself you can do it). Both types of motivation can make people move, but in my experience intrinsic motivation is usually stronger, more resilient, and longer-lasting compared to extrinsic motivation. For many athletes the motivation for team success is extrinsic (i.e. to win a trophy and related cash earnings), but the motivation to be the best is intrinsic (i.e. going beyond everyone else with your level of training and commitment). To desire to be successful is one thing, but to be determined to be successful is a much stronger focus and dedication.
To drive this point home even further, I recall a discussion I once had with former boxing champion Ray “Boom Boom” Mancini when I asked him about advice he would give to kids who wanted to go into boxing. His brief reply explained his entire career (many will recall how tough and committed Mancini was to win the championship for his dad) and he answered me with the following advice: If a kid wants to go into boxing for fame & fortune, don’t do it. If, however, he wants to box in order to one day be a champion, then go for it! While Ray did not couch his remarks within the framework of desire and determination, it is quite clear the impact intrinsic motivation had on his career (Ray won the lightweight boxing championship in 1981).
To go above and beyond the competition takes more than a “kinda want to do it” attitude, and requires the mindset of going beyond what the competition is willing to do. You might “kinda” want to go to a new restaurant tonight, but you can’t “kinda” your way toward being the best in whatever it is you choose to do in life. Developing the mindset where failure is not an option takes bravery and fearlessness, as this type of thinking is anything but casual and passive. Kids can learn the power of conviction, and with adult encouragement and support they can also experience the joys of success as a byproduct of this kind of positive energy.
Having a desire to be successful is one thing, but being determined to reach your full potential is an entirely different mindset. When kids find their thing that makes them go, it is important that we adults help them apply their determination in safe and productive ways so that they can reach their full potential. Determined athletes, like determined people, often go above what others think they are capable of and ultimately reach levels never previously thought possible.