Excuses And Athletic Performance

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No Excuses!athletic performance

This is often seen in many athletic environments.  It’s seen on the back of t-shirts, sweatshirts, hats and even on the walls of weight rooms.

No Excuses.

These are two simple yet powerful words.

The slogan urges you to maintain focus and to put in the physical and mental work needed to perform at your best.  There are no excuses for doing something that could hold you back from peak performance or avoiding the necessary work that needs to be put in required for optimum athletic performance.

Yet think about how often do we make excuses that impact our training and preparation?

Maybe it is an excuse not to train today or to slack off in the weight room.

Maybe it is an excuse you make in order to justify that second dessert.

Or maybe it is you blaming the weather, or your negative attitude, for your lackluster athletic performance during practice. There is any number of things you could blame for why you’re not prepared to perform your best.

No excuses.

As with many of the mental strength skills I’ve discussed, the idea of making no excuses, of holding yourself accountable for your behavior is easy to understand but much more difficult to implement.

In life you get one of two things:

1. The result you want

2. The excuses for not getting them

The more focus on giving excuses, the more you move away from creating peak athletic performance.

Get rid of excuses and what you are left with are results…they may not be exactly what you wanted…but when you acknowledge that you did get a result, you can now take responsibly and create a different result.

How would you act and think if you believed and acted as if all you get are results and there is no room for excuses?

No excuses.

While the words are powerful, it is the action behind the words that speaks volumes.

Do you back up these words with action?

Looking back, an athlete can easily identify when excuses have been used as a crutch, but then it is too late.  The workout or performance has already been compromised.

Think back on the past few weeks of your training and isolate the situations where you may have allowed excuses to impact your behavior. This will take some mental strength to be honest with yourself, and it will be worth it.

Looking back, were there moments where you thought:

  • “I could have given more”
  • “I should have gotten up early to train even though it was snowing”
  • “I wish I could have that workout to do-over?”
  • Or any other of your favorite and convenient excuses

My guess is you can identify at least one situation where you came up with an excuse to not work as hard as you could have, to not train on a given day, or to explain a less than stellar athletic performance or training behavior.

Awareness of how, when and where you make excuses is important. It’s through this awareness that you can attempt to change your future behavior and reach peak athletic performance.

Besides opening your eyes to the excuses you make, an additional challenge is to figure out how to be pro-active as opposed to reactive. So, instead of identifying excuses after the fact and “kicking yourself” for it, let’s work stopping them before they impact your behavior and athletic performance.  You do this again by identifying your tendencies and patterns. It is a tough challenge and will take mental strength.  Here is an example to help you walk through one way to do this.

Brad, a triathlete, doesn’t miss a single day of training. He has been training hard for years and tends to do decent in races but never quite achieves his athletic performance goals.

When critically analyzing his preparation and training, it becomes apparent that the truly “hard workout days” present a barrier for him. On these hard training days, he has a tendency to back off a bit. He always has a reason for backing off —one day it is the wind in his face on the bike, another it is the slight twinge he felt in his quad earlier that day, another it is thinking about the work that needs to be done back at the office.

But the reasons differ every time so they seem separate, are these excuses, maybe?

For Brad, he tends to come up with seemingly “valid reasons” not to get after it on his hard training days. But in analyzing his preparation, it is interesting how these things only pop up on the hard days.

His training is just where it should be on the lighter days. Analyzing his performance, Brad recognizes that he is making excuses, and just as importantly, he realizes how important those hard days are to reaching his athletic performance goals.

It finally clicks that there is a cause-effect relationship and those excuses are keeping him from performing at his best and reaching his athletic performance goals.

Apply this to yourself, do you have excuse tendencies?

It is important to identify these patterns because then it becomes easier to than avoid them. By knowing the specific situations and factors that seem to bring up the excuses, you can be pro-active in avoiding them.

For some of you, it may also be valuable to dig deeper and take a look below the surface to see what might be going on. Is there a reason why you are coming up with excuses that need to be addressed head on?

Back to our example, Brad identified a tendency to have excuses on hard training days, excuses that gave him a reason to back off or scale down his effort and expectations.

Is it that he’s just lazy and needs to buckle down and not give in to his excuses?

When he analyzed it, Brad realized he puts immense pressure on himself to reach the time goals he set for himself on these training days, but he really does not believe he could run, swim, or cycle that fast.

So, no, he is not being lazy, but rather his lack of confidence is at the forefront of the excuses. His challenge now becomes working to build his self-confidence (perhaps by focusing on different goals, recording his daily successes, and using imagery to experience success) not simply monitor excuses he makes.

Go ahead and apply this to yourself, is there a common thread behind excuses you use?  Or are you going to make an excuse for not doing it?

Whether it is lack of enjoyment, motivation issues, competing priorities, fear of failure, or some other thread, it needs to be identified to truly be tackled

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Achieving Athletic Performance Success In Competition

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In a earlier post, How to Have a Successful Practice Session, I discussed how to set yourself up for success in your athletic performanceathletic practice and training sessions. Today we’ll take a look at how to set yourself up for success in your athletic competition.

Reaching peak athletic performance is far too involved and comprehensive to set specific rules and guidelines that will guarantee success in a competition.  There is always some likelihood, that no matter how much you prepare, that things won’t play out the way you imagined during a competition.

With that, there are things you can do to set yourself up and to position yourself to increase your chance for personal success during a competition.

In the last post, we discussed things you can do to set the stage for successful athletic performance in practice.

These included – setting practice goals, examining your past practices to look for trends, habits and other factors that contributed to a great practice. We talked about keeping baggage from your outside life separate from your training environment.  And we also went over managing your self-talk so it supports your athletic performance in training, as opposed to beating yourself up.

So in today’s post we’re going to look at some ideas to use so that you can create an environment for competitive success and peak personal performance.

Focus On Your Personal Athletic Performance

Just as setting goals in practice can help your practice athletic performance, setting competition goals can help your competition athletic performance.

But these goals are different from what you may think.

If you’re like most athletes, you probably have goals in competition that are more ‘outcome’ orientated.  These include:

  • Make it to the finals
  • Beating your opponent, or
  • Finishing in a specific time

These are outcome goals because they focus on the outcome of the event and are not related to your athletic performance.

Now, take a moment and think about it….how many outcomes goals are really in your complete control?


Sure, you can contribute to or affect the outcome, but you can’t control the outcome.  So, why not put your mental attention to what you can control…you!

Sure you strive to win, but what if you perform at your peak…a new personal record, but your opponent performed just as well, better?  Were you a failure because you hit a new PR but didn’t win the competition, something that was essentially out of your control?

You can set yourself up for competitive success but setting task or process goals (the same as in practice), these are things you have complete control over.  This is something the majority of athletes often fail to do because they don’t understand really what is and is not in their control.

To achieve peak athletic performance in competition you need to focus on the things that will put you in a sate to reach your performance goals and let the outcome goal take care of itself.

Focus on your personal sport performance goals and let the results to care themselves.

As an example, a cyclist might set an outcome goal of winning their age group.  The process or performance goals associated to this event might be to:

  • Explode off the start to get good position
  • Maintain a specific cadence during the race
  • Hold to an aerodynamic position while riding downhill

If the cyclist is able to do these things, they’ll be in a favorable position to reach their outcome goal, i.e. win their age group.

Understand What IS In Your Control

As mentioned above, there are a number of factors that can influence your athletic performance.  It is important to be able to distinguish between those that are in your control and those that are not.  Then focus your attention and energy on the things that you have control over.

So, what are some of the things many athletes tend to waste their energy on that are out of their control?

  • Their opponent(s)
  • Their teammates performance
  • The weather
  • The referee’s
  • The crowd noise, etc

These are all circumstances that are out of your control.  Giving them attention will only rob you of your time, energy and focus.

For your specific sport, take a pad and draw a line down the middle making two columns.  Label one column ‘Not Controllable’ and the other ‘Controllable.’  The under each column make a list of the factors that apply to each.

Be careful here…really think about what you can and can’t control.  You may end up either think you have too much control or not enough.  This is a subtle process.

Again, be wary of falling into the trap of focusing on things out of your control.  Your time and energy are better spent on things that you can do control or influence.  Doing so will set you up for personal performance success.

Condition Your Mind

Researchers have tried to identify the factors that have a positive and negative impact on the performance of Olympic athletes (1).  Based on the findings of this research, one of the factors that differentiate the athletes that performed well from those that did not perform well was the development and adherence to a physical and mental training plan.

Successful athletes had pre-competition physical and mental routine that they stuck to.

In preparation for competition, most successful athletes have a specific warm up they go through to get their body ready to compete.  Normally this is very systematic and structured in that the athlete knows exactly what they need to do to be physically ready to compete.

A similar approach should be taken with regard to mental preparation.  Some things to consider in developing your own pre-competition mental training program are:

  • Use specific empowering thoughts, words, images, and feelings to optimally prepare your mind to compete.
  • Review successful past athletic performances to help determine how you need to think, feel, and focus to perform at your best.

Then, develop a preparation plan that will mentally prime you for the challenge ahead.

The key here is to be purposeful about preparing your mind and your body for the competition ahead.

Sure, all of these things may seem small when you look at then individually.  But think about this…what distinguishes the gold medal winner from the silver finisher?

What’s the difference between the Bronze finisher’s and the “also ran’s?

Many times it comes down to the six inches between the ears, how the mentally prepared for the competition.

The best athletes in the world have strategies and tactics that support them to perform at their best.

Now use these successful athletic and model your own mental training program and you will enhance your athletic performance.


  1. Gould D, Guinan D, Greenleaf C, Medbery R, Scrickland M, Lauer L, Chuung V, Peterson K, (1998).  Positive and negative factors influencing U.S. Olympic athletes and coaches: Atlanta Games assessment.  USOC Sport Science & Technology Grant Project Final Report. Colorado Springs, CO: USOC

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Improving Athletic Performance Through Self-Evaluation

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Has your athletic performance leveled off?self-evaluation

Do you find yourself doing the same ‘ole same ‘ole workout?

Or worse yet, are you even unaware of how you are doing, good or bad, or if you are making the progress toward your personal goals?

Maybe you are working-out on a consistent basis, but you’re simply going through the motions instead of training with purpose and intensity.

It’s time to get you back on a track.

To improve your athletic performance as well as getting yourself out of a training rut and to facilitate a more focused, purposeful workout, it is extremely productive to take a good long look at what you are doing.  One of the best ways to accomplish this is through a frank self- self-evaluation.  This will include assessing specifically what you are doing and if you’re taking the steps necessary to meet your performance goals.

Many times, athletes get caught up in the day to day “drudgery” of putting in the required miles, minutes, kilos, and repetitions and forgetting about the big picture of “why” and where they’re heading and how they are going to get there. They often lose sight of their performance and personal goals and what needs to be done to reach them.

Where Are You Going?

I have discussed over and over again the importance of setting personal and performance goals. So, it should come as no surprise to you that a first step in your self-evaluation is to identify, clarify and re-commit to your goal.

  • What do you want to accomplish?
  • What milestone do you want to achieve in the next 6- 12 months?

Right now, take a moment to think about where you are going or what you are trying to accomplish as an athlete. Write it down and post it somewhere so you will see it everyday….go on…do it, no one is watching.

By seeing and reading this goal everyday it will serve to motivate and direct you in your training activities.

Take Look At Yourself

Another step to this self-evaluation is to spot the attributes and skills that are crucial for you to achieve your personal and performance goals. Be sure to think beyond the physical, that is, include other aspects that affect your performance or reaching your goal.  These can include technical execution, nutritional, lifestyle, and mental attributes. To break it down further consider, power, flexibility, good nutrition, proper hydration, high confidence, dealing with pressure, and game management. These all are attributes that an athlete can identify as being important for achieving their performance and athletic goals.

After having inventoried the skills that are important to accomplishing your goal, rank yourself on each of these skills on a scale of 1 – 10 with 1 being low and 10 being high.

How well are you doing the things you need to become great in your sport? Look at the evaluation based on your honest assessment of where you are today. If possible, it can also be a great help to get input from a coach or training partner, someone who knows you well, so they can provide a different perspective.

Maybe you think you’re great or OK at some areas, but your coach may have a different point of view. From this self-rating, you can get a sense of your strengths and weaknesses as they relate to attaining your athletic goals.

Using The Self-Evaluation Information

After finishing this self-assessment, you’ll have a list of attributes that you feel are important in achieving your performance goals, as well as a self-ranking for each of the attributes.

Now you can use this information to affect your performance and goal attainment. A side benefit of going through this is the increase of your awareness, which, by itself, will have an impact on your day to day training and performance.

Areas Of Improvement

Those areas that you have identified as “weaknesses” need to be decisively addressed in your training. While there are more immediate rewards for focusing on strengths in training, both intrinsically and extrinsically, gratification will come down the road by addressing the areas of improvement today.

By addressing these areas it will give purpose and direction to your training by working to improve your weakest attributes. Set daily goals that focus on addressing these areas that need improvement.

Areas of Strength

The areas that are your “strengths” need to be continually cultivated, don’t assume they are always going to be there and they don’t need to be trained. You may be flexible today, but neglecting flexibility training for a period of time could have a negative impact in the future.

As the Saucony commercial says “Is it muscle? Or is it something more? Is it measured in miles or milliseconds? Is it your best time or your worst day? Maybe strong is just what you have left when you’ve used up all your weak…”

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The Take Home Message

The steps to improving any area of your life, including training and sport performance, start with being honest with yourself and identifying the areas where you are weak. Only then can you truly begin to make progress and take your training and performance to the next level.

Consider the words of Dick Williams, Major League Baseball manager: “Nothing comes easy in life, but if you believe in yourself, are honest in your self-appraisal, are able to take constructive criticism, and are prepared to give 100% total effort—you will always be able to hold your head high”.

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The Faces of Motivation For Personal Success – Part IV

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Welcome back to this series on motivation.  Over the past few weeks we’ve been taking a look at the many aspects, goalsor faces, of motivation and how you can use it to reach your personal goals and personal success.

We left off with Part III with goal system approach.  Today we’ll discuss:

Attribution and Achievement Goal Perspective’s


Yea I know, it seem like I’ve gone off the deep end…hang in there I promise it will make sense.

We’re going to look at goals and motivation in a somewhat different way this week, by checking out two additional goal/motivation philosophies; ‘attribution’ and ‘achievement’. These theories supply yet a third way of considering the “why” question of motivation that is “why am I pursuing this particular target?”

Causal Attribution: How We Explain the Past Affects the Future

We’re all naturally inclined to want to explain events that happen to us, especially unusual success or failure events.  This explanation helps with the desire that we can gain better control over those events in the future.

The ‘Causal attribution’ perspective categorizes the various types of explanations we use. For example, do you think your failure was caused by something internal in you, such as a lack of effort or preparation, or by something about the external situation that you couldn’t control, such as poor team effort, bad weather, or faulty equipment?

Was it caused by an unstable and likely temporary factor, i.e. bad weather, or by something more stable and likely to persist over time, i.e. a character flaw in a teammate?

Combining these concepts leads to four basic types of attribution:

  • Internal-stable, i.e. attributing the outcome to our traits or abilities.
  • Internal-unstable, i.e. attributing the outcome to our effort or our temporary sickness.
  • External-stable, i.e. attributing the outcome to societal prejudice against our
  • Ethnicity.
  • External-unstable, i.e. attributing the outcome to luck or chance.

These are four basic types of reason people use to explain why things happen.

Why Does it Matter?

Because, explanations for our past successes or failures influence our motivations and expectations for the future.

Suppose you thought your failure was due to a stable internal factor, i.e. I’m dumb; I’m uncoordinated; I’m boring. This means it’s you who is at fault, so it really hurts on a personal level; and it is stable, so you believe you can’t do anything about it. Imagine the devastating impact this could have on your future motivation!

Suppose instead you thought your failure was due to an unstable external factor, i.e. the test covered unexpected material; the wet turf made you slip; the audience was burnt out from the long day prior. This failing really wasn’t due to anything related to you, it was a fluke, and next time could be better. Not so bad — you can bounce back from that!

So, explaining failures via an external-unstable attribution seems more motivational and emotionally beneficial than explaining failure via an internal-stable attribution doesn’t it?

On the other hand, explaining successes via an internal-stable attribution, i.e. I’m smart!…coordinated!…interesting! also seems more beneficial than explaining them via an external-unstable attribution such as I made lucky guesses! My opponent fell! I looked good compared to the terrible speaker before me! Internal-stable attributions for success in a personal achievement can help us to feel good about that personal achievement, and to want to take on more of the same because of the high level of expectations for personal success.

If you’re like me you are probably a bit suspicious about this aren’t you?

You may be asking yourself: so, all I have to do is make some blame-deflecting excuse after failure, and always take the credit after success? As the saying goes “That was easy.”

Both of these perspectives reflect “self-serving biases,” that let us feel good, or at least, not too bad about ourselves, but they also hide the true causes of the outcome.

When we “fail”, (and remember, there is no “failure” only feedback), maybe it was in part something about us, which we should take a look at and perhaps try to change! And when we succeed, maybe there was a “luck” factor involved, that we should recognize so we don’t rely on it next time.

In other words, before making any self-serving attributions, we should be sure not to distance ourselves from reality.

On the other hand, we saw last week post that “positive illusions” can be beneficial, sometimes acting as self-fulfilling prophecies. So, what determines when illusions are too “pie in the sky”, so that they turn into a negative? This is a very difficult question to answer and basically comes down to you…do these perspectives support in moving closer to your personal goal?

Entity vs. Incremental and Self Ability

An “entity” type person is someone who thinks a person’s is stable – you either have it or you don’t. ‘Entity’ type people hope they have it, and try to demonstrate to themselves and others that they have it.

For example, an ‘entity-oriented’ salesman might think that the ability to win others over is just something you are born with, some have it, and others don’t. This is an important point because, to some degree, all of us make these types of absolute character judgments.

An “incremental” person, by contrast, is somebody who thinks that ability is dynamic and can be developed, bit by bit, with effort. Incremental individuals hope to develop their ability, and are not so concerned with showing themselves and others that they already have it. For example, an incremental salesperson might think that sales ability can always be improved and sharpened.

Entity Theory

  • “You have a certain amount of intelligence, and you can’t really do much to change it.”
  • “Your intelligence is something about you that stays the same.”

Incremental Theory

  • “Intelligence is something that we develop over time, through effort.”
  • “People can learn to be more intelligent in their lives.”

Take a moment and think about which of these statements sounds like you.

Performance vs.  Mastery Goals

Looking at various physiology studies on goals there emerges a distinction between “performance” goals and “mastery” (or learning) goals.

I’ve talked about outcome goals and performance goals in other posts and this very much the same with a different name, but more importantly how the different goal effects motivation.

In physiology terms, when we have a performance goal, we are trying to do well relative to others, or relative to some external standard or norm of success. We are trying to win the competition or make the grade.

When we have a mastery goal, we are trying to do well relative to our own past performance, or relative to some internal standard of success. We are trying to learn and improve.

Lots of research shows that mastery goals do in fact lead to more improvement, as well as deeper learning and knowledge. Mastery goals though do not necessarily lead to better performance, because mastery-oriented people are often more concerned with learning what is interesting, rather than “winning.” However, this new learning usually pays off later.

Performance goals tend to be associated with more anxiety and less enjoyment, although they can also be associated with great concentration and persistence, since the ego is on the line. Take a minute to reflect, which better describes your approach to achievement situations, performance or mastery?

Approach vs. Avoidance

If you’ve been reading my posts for a while you know that I (and NLP) talk about “moving towards” or “moving away from” motivation, this is the same thing.

Four Basic Types of Achievement Goals

So in looking at Mastery and Performance goals it would seem that are performance goals always “bad” right?

Well performance goals aren’t necessarily a “bad”, what research has found is that it depends on whether they involve approach or avoidance motivation.

In his “2 x 2 Achievement Goal matrix,” there are four basic types of achievement motivation:

  • Mastery approach.
  • Performance approach.
  • Non-performance avoidance.
  • Non-mastery avoidance.

These are the four basic “whys” of achievement behavior.

For example, in business, performance-approach goals orient people towards the bottom line or objective production targets; performance-avoidance goals orient people towards not screwing up in the eyes of others; mastery-approach goals orient people towards skill-development workshops and improving on past performance; and mastery avoidance goals orient people towards maintaining their skills, a concern sometimes seen in older workers who are compensating for cognitive declines.

Research shows that performance approach goals actually do produce greater performance, and it is only when fear of failure enters the picture that difficulties come up.

This makes sense, and is actually reassuring — it would be awkward to have to conclude that competing against others, or trying to reach objective performance standards, is “bad” by definition!

So, what does all this mean for those who want to positively motivate themselves and others?

  1. First, even in the most objective performance condition, try to focus yourself and others on what can be learned and developed in the situation, rather than focusing on the final outcome (success/failure) and its implications.
  2. It is OK, and sometimes even necessary, to also have objective performance goals. However, don’t over-emphasize such goals, if at all possible!
  3. When failures and set-backs occur, be sure not to interpret them as failures of the self or others’ selves (remember only feedback). Instead, keep on thinking of achievement as a process, which takes continued effort and skill-development.

By following this point you will produce the most benefit for yourself and others in the long run.

Let’s Review

  • In this post, we looked at how we explain past events affects our motivation for the future: internal-stable attributions for success and external-unstable attributions for failure provide the greatest emotional benefits and perhaps subsequent motivation. However, we have to be careful to avoid “self-serving biases” that keep us from learning what needs to be learned!
  • We also compared “entity” and “incremental” styles of personal ability. Entity type people believe ability is fixed, and are concerned with proving their ability; incremental type people believe ability is changeable, and are concerned with improving their ability.
  • Entity perspectives are vulnerable when failure occurs, because they tend to make internal-stable attributions for failure and withdraw effort – or, they self-handicap and set up the conditions for further failure (by not sleeping, preparing, etc., for the next achievement situation).
  • Incremental perspectives can better handle failure — since their true goal is to learn and develop, failure provides valuable information about where they need to focus effort.
  • Finally, we compared “performance” and “mastery” achievement goals, which go along with entity and incremental self-theories. We looked at performance goals and how they are generally beneficial, as long as they involving approaching success rather than avoiding failure. It is only in the latter case that failing at performance goals produces the “helpless” motivational pattern.

Key References

    1. 1 Dweck, C. S. (1999) Self-theories: Their role in motivation, personality, and development. New York: Psychology Press.
    2. 2 Dweck, C. S. (2002). Beliefs that make smart people dumb. In R. J. Sternberg (Ed), Why smart people can be so stupid (pp. 24-41). New Haven, CT: Yale University Press.
    3. 3 Dweck, C. S., & Leggett, E. L. (1988). A social-cognitive approach to motivation and personality. Psychological Review, 95(2), 256-273.
    4. 4 Dweck, C. S. (1999) Self-theories: Their role in motivation, personality, and development. New York: Psychology Press.
    5. 5 Elliott, A. J. Shell, M. M., Henry, K. B., & Maier, M. A. (2005). Achievement goals, performance contingencies, and performance attainment: An experimental test Journal of Educational Psychology, 97(4), 630-640.
    6. 6 Elliot, A. J. (2006). The hierarchical model of approach-avoidance motivation. Motivation and Emotion, 30(2), 111-116.
    7. 7 Elliot, A. J. (2006). The hierarchical model of approach-avoidance motivation. Motivation and Emotion, 30(2), 111-116.

Please let me know your thoughts on this post in the comments below

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