Can You Get A Witness? (Yes, You Can.)

Can You Get A Witness? (Yes, You Can.)

Maybe it's about that time again. You're in transition - one season or training cycle has ended, and you're getting ready to start a new one. Maybe you're excited.

Maybe you're tired. Maybe you're energized by all you've done thus far. Maybe you're frustrated. It's quite possible that you may even be all of the above. Whatever you are feeling, it is information you are going to need when you ask yourself these crucial goal-setting questions: What do I want to do? Why do I want to do it?

These questions require some thought about motivation. You don't have to have studied psychology to have heard the terms intrinsic motivation (motivation that comes from within, e.g. "I love how it feels to play!") and extrinsic motivation (motivation that depends on something external, e.g. "Must have medals!")

Extrinsic motivation is easy to caricature, and intrinsic motivation easy to glorify (I just did it; see sentence above). But the truth is that motivation, like many a Facebook relationship status, is complicated.

And there's good reason for that similarity: motivation has a lot to do with relationships. What you want and why you want it are pretty hard to separate out from the web of relationships and interactions that make up your life and how you understand it.

What does that mean for the season and training cycles ahead? It means that right now is a great time to explore motivation with your team. Asking each other what you want and why you want it can be a way of letting your teammates know that you choose them to see you as you work to be who you want to be. Because people who really see you can build you up.

For that reason, it matters quite a bit what you are asking people to see. Remember our conversation  about performance goals vs. fitness goals (a.k.a. "time goals")? If the primary thing you are asking your teammates to see are times and marks (a.k.a. "outcomes"), then you're asking your team to be a community of statisticians more than a community of athletes.

But athletes you are. Sport requires that you compete and that you do so in public. Which does mean that people will record your marks and keep track of them - making it completely normal to care about what those marks are. But the marks are outcomes, and anyone who watches only the outcome is not seeing the sport.

As athletes, you see and experience the process of the sport - the process for which outcomes represent only one single moment in time. So what is the process you want to undergo as a team? What's it going to look like on a day-to-day basis this season? How are you going to keep each other committed to that process even when it brings with it inevitable feelings of frustration?

How you handle these questions about the season ahead has a powerful impact on your team culture - impacting how each individual member of the team makes sense of what they want to do and why they want to do it. And you the individual athlete play a key role there. You can discuss these questions with your coach and with your teammates. You can engage witnesses ready to see the whole process you're undertaking and not just the outcome - witnesses who can bolster you up in the hard work of letting your actions say what you are all about. Yes, your outcomes will still be watched. But you greet that scrutiny with strength when you invest in the process of building up a community where you can be seen.

Margaret Smith, Ph.D. works with individual athletes and teams of all sports and all levels from elite youth to professional in Birmingham, AL. She has coached and competed in NCAA Division I Cross Country and Track at ACC and Big 10 schools. Now that she's in SEC country, you can reach this TarHeel born and bred at or on Twitter @DrMargaretAS.