After an interesting few weeks training and racing I found myself really wondering what motivates me, why I train/race and what the real motivators are. By just finding the answers these questions you find you can really push yourself to the next level, because you understand what makes you tick.
I’ve also always been driven by self improvement. I’ve always loved sport but there’s something extra about pushing my body and mind to the limits of what I think are possible, and then realising that they’re not actually the limits at all. It’s a never ending cycle of breaking through the ceiling, and falling through the floor – in an endless quest for excellence.
All these questions have been ticking over in my head since the ironman, and though many people see that as almost impossible to achieve – there are so many parallels to be drawn with real life.
Jobs, relationships, sport at any level – all require time, effort and motivation. If it’s not valuable to you, you’re probably not going to be prepared to work for it. But if it truly means something to you – you’ll stop at nothing to make it work. And it’s these kind of motivations that really interest me.
Feeling very under prepared to talk about a lot of these subjects – I decided to bring in a close friend of mine to talk the topic through. I spoke to Sam Courty – an Olympic hopeful who’s been rowing for the GB squad for a number of years.
I was at uni with Sam and she’s been a solid inspiration for me throughout my athletic career – including when she was rowing.
I find the way she conducts herself in and out of sport exceptional – she makes a great role model. So I wanted to know just what makes her tick!
What makes you do sport in the first place?
I have always been a very sporty person and from a young age all my friends have come through different sport clubs and teams, so it has always been my social circle. It probably also helped that my Mum and Dad were still playing sport when I was young, so it was a big part of my life growing up. The main reason why I have continued though is because I absolutely love what I do. The daily challenge, the highs, the lows, life is never boring and that is something I have become addicted to.
It’s clear that sports a huge part of your life, but rowing is a vicious sport. From my short time in the sport I found it amazing just how hard you guys push yourself day in day out. And that clearly takes its toll on you physically and mentally. What motivates you when its hard and you’re really up against it?
The simple answer is: the good days. Those days when finally, everything falls into place. But I strongly believe those days aren’t down to luck but hard work and perseverance. If you put the effort in you will be rewarded at some point.
It might not be as soon as you hope but one day it will be your day. However, that is a very “big picture” way to look at things. To help with motivation day to day I find goal setting really helps me. This was invaluable while I was injured as you can lose a lot of motivation during this time. For the first week my goal was to be able to sit down for 10mins, so I could sit on the plane for take-off and landing. I learnt through this that you must be flexible with your goals as things change and adapt them. Being able to sit down was never a goal at the beginning of the season but it was a vital one, part way through!
Do you think that this can be applied to people at any level? Should people break down a bigger picture into much more manageable chunks and remember just why they’re doing it? I know this definitely works for me – there are always days when I look at my to do list and think “not a chance!” – but just get stuck in step by step.
I think this can apply at any level and also not just in sport. I remember at university when I was writing essays and I really did struggle with motivating myself to get them done. As soon as I stopped looking at the essay as a 2000 word limit and broke it into the intro, method etc suddenly it didn’t seem so daunting. If I wrote 500 words a day then in four days it would be done and that really didn’t seem so bad.
When it’s really tough, and you’re absolutely up against it why do you endure? Why don’t you just stop?
What would I achieve? From memory I can’t ever remember stopping. I’ve slowed down, I’ve had the thoughts about stopping, I’ve most certainly complained but I’ve never put the handle down on the rowing machine or stopped the boat and given in. Training doesn’t just make you physically fitter it also gives you the opportunity to train your mental fitness. At the elite level there is often little that separates athletes physically, there are only so many hours you can train, and most nations now are on similar programmes with similar sport science support. So, when you’re neck and neck with another boat, how is it decided who’s going to win? The crew that stopped once in training when it got hard or the crew that pushed through when everything inside of them was telling them to stop.
Do you think that people often stop too easily? When a few more minutes/days/weeks sticking with it could really help them? I’ve often found that social media adds a rose tinted view to life- it’s easy to take the view that it comes easy to a lot of people – and they barely work for it. I know this is absolutely not the case.
I do think social media and the media in general has a way of portraying many things as ‘perfect’. People who post on social media don’t want to publicise the hard days because you don’t want to give anything away; especially if you think your competition is watching. You want them to believe that it comes so much easier to you than them. I love reading sporting autobiographies as I find this is the next best thing to being able to ask my sporting heroes all the questions I have.
You get a real insight into their lives and the struggles they have faced but more importantly how they overcame them. And I am yet to read one where it has been plain sailing and believe me I have read a few! So coming back to your question of ‘do I think people stop too easily’ then yes, I guess people do but if you’re willing to stop then I guess you have fallen out of love or just not enjoying what you are doing anymore and that is absolutely fine because I couldn’t do something I didn’t love and the most important thing in life is being happy.
What advice would you give to someone that feels like they might give up? Or maybe someone that can’t quite make it past a milestone they’ve been trying to break for a while?
If the feelings are during a hard session or race, then it’s your mind taking over and just finish. It doesn’t matter how or in what state, but the feeling of finishing will be better than the feeling of quitting. If it’s a decision that’s been playing on your mind for a while, then firstly I would write down the positives and negatives of carrying on and the same for giving up. If one clearly outweighs the other, then you know what to do and remember that quitting isn’t always the easy way out, it takes just as much confidence and bravery as carrying on.
When it comes to reaching milestones I’m afraid that is just the nature of sport. If everyone had a perfect linear rate of improvement everyone with a gold medal around their necks would be the same age. However, the youngest Olympic gold medallist is 13 years and 268 days and the oldest is 64 years 258 days so their paths to Olympic success clearly were very different. Your time will come, if you can’t question the effort you are putting in and you have done everything in your control then you have to wait your turn and be patient.
How do you find that extra gear when you’re hurting?
Your head will always tell you stop before your body gives in, its human nature. But have you ever wondered what it takes to make your body stop? I have and its yet to happen, so I guess there are probably more gears than we think, and if everyone is looking for the ‘extra gear’ we should aim to find an extra two…. just to make sure we cross the line first.
If you want to follow Sam you can get her on instagram at: @samcourty93 or twitter @samcourty
It’s definitely worth your time!