Martina Navratilova also admitted to manic desire. God, I want to win so bad, I’ll die if I don’t, Martina Navratilova told herself just prior to winning the U.S. Open women’s tennis title for the first time in 1983. But sometimes even that is not powerful enough when an athlete comes up against an opponent with even more desire, as Navratilova found out when she tried to win her ninth Wimbledon title in 1989 against Germany’s Steffi Graf. After winning the match, Graf sobbed in her sideline chair and later confessed: I wanted it so badly that I put a little more pressure on myself than usual. It’s an overwhelming feeling. Graf had won.
Martial arts pioneer Bruce Lee called such intense drive by star athletes who have won time and time again an unquenchable thirst for competition. Lee had it in spades, too, and forged a name for himself in competition and blazed a trail to meld Eastern and Western philosophies into sports.
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Sprinter Donovan Bailey confessed it was not enough to become the world’s fastest man, as he proved in record time in the 100 meters in the Atlanta Olympics, but to keep proving he was over and over again. I guess the more success I get at whatever I do, there’s a craving for more, he said. The drive not only to win but just to compete has compelled many athletes back into sports after serious injuries, like San Francisco 49ers quarterback Steve Young, who suffered three concussions in 10 months and yet made a comeback despite the urgings of his parents and family that he retire and despite the potential for permanent brain damage.
Thomas Tutko, one of the leading sport psychologists and researchers in North America, has done numerous studies of athletes. The first thing he talks about is an elite athlete’s push this want they have to excel. This drive can be the engine behind them improving their game, training hard, planning, and making goals for themselves. It can encourage them to become risk-takers. It can even improve their maturity and allow them to accept responsibility when something goes wrong. And it can give them a humility which allows them to learn from their mistakes, Tutko said.
Motivation can lead to success and subsequently confidence and positive thinking. And it can encourage the athlete to practice hard to develop his game. Strong motivation is what helps them develop their skills, say psychologists Miriam and Otto Ehrenberg in their blog Optimum Brain Power: The skills of an artist or athlete are developed through a strong emotional drive for mastery. Without that motivation, the persistent application required to develop those skills is not possible.
Emotional drive is a good name for it, says John Anderson, a sport psychologist.