How to use enjoyment over achievement for better performance

enjoyment over achievement

Why can solely focussing on achievement be a potential pitfall? Let’s start by defining what I mean when I use the word enjoyment. For me, it means loving the game of football and having a real interest in the sport. Enjoyment is crucial for better performance, because it can motivate you to continue pushing through when the game becomes challenging, when you feel like you’ve reached your plateau, or when you’ve had one hard knock-back after the other. There are ups and downs in football, as in life.

enjoyment over achievement

It’s vital for academies to create environments that are conducive to skill development – but also to pure enjoyment, especially for those just starting out. Growing a love for football when players are young is key to their career development.

Yet, ‘fun’ and enjoyment are not often spoken about for older players. It’s almost as though coaches, parents and players easily seem to acknowledge the necessity for the younger guys and girls to focus on fun, but once they pass a certain age (around 12), it can all very quickly turn into a focus on achievement.

Achievement (by winning each game) is not consistent. If you rely on achievement to find happiness, your time on the field, and off the field, will be as changeable as the weather.

A player’s mental performance determines how well they do on and off the field. If a player’s mindset is in a good place, he/she can truly live out their full potential. Science has shown the important link between your emotions and mental state. If a player is in an emotionally positive and stable place, they will respond better on the field. A negative mindset limits an athletes performance.

Simply put, athletes who focus on enjoyment over achievement are more likely to be more successful.

So how can a coach help to provide an environment that keeps harnessing enjoyment over achievement? Through gratitude!

Studies have shown that the emotion of gratitude is linked to better mental, emotional and physical health, as well as overall performance. This in turn means that players sleep better, eat better and are less likely to give up when times get tough.

By asking players what they are grateful for, you are asking their minds to focus on something positive. When an athlete makes a shift from a negative thought to a positive one, they’re helping their cognitive processes; they will be able to move into a higher level of concentration and deep thinking, both of which is needed for deliberate, and deep practice. Put simply, when you’re in a better emotional state you’re not limiting your performance.

Players who are grateful find things to appreciate, which means they will treasure opportunities. When you’re grateful, your brain, using your reticular activating system (more about this in another article), is looking for ways to confirm your gratitude. If something doesn’t go the way you expected it to go on the field, you’ll be grateful for the opportunity to grow. If you’ve had a bad game and lost, you’ll be in a growth mindset and will look to what could be learnt. If your competitors are better than you, you’ll be grateful for the ‘wake-up call’ to test your limits and take your performance to the next level.

Maybe one of the most important aspects of gratitude, is its ability to keep you humble. Entitlement is an enemy to performance. Entitlement robs you of gratitude and enjoyment, it robs your team of a team player and it robs your ability to grow. Entitlement is a breeding ground for stagnation, don’t allow it in your life.

Finally, Theodore Roosevelt said, “Comparison is the thief of joy”. Gratitude is the antidote to comparison. When you think a player is better than you or has more money than you to buy better football boots, or receive more opportunities, become the person who refuses to let those facts get you down and practice gratitude for what you have.

The lack of talent, money or position never stopped the highest performing athletes in the world to get where they are today. Luka Modric grew up in a war-stricken country. He struggled  with his family as refugees in a run-down hotel. He overcame the troubles he faced and his lack of confidence. Luka was recognised as the best footballer on the planet in 2018, winning the Ballon d’Or.

When you find reasons why you can’t do something, you probably won’t. Don’t prove yourself right by providing justifications for your beliefs.

Work hard, appreciate what you have now and your performance will only improve.

So in summary, start practising gratitude; pursue enjoyment over achievement. There are many players who love the game of football and just never got to play it. You’re privileged to be playing a sport that you love. Whether you want to hear this or not, there is always a reason to be grateful. Sometimes, in life on and off the field, you’ll find one situation that it’s easier to be grateful for, and at other times it will be so hard to switch to gratitude that it might take you days to get there. But start now, whether you’re a player whose in a tough or enjoyable season.

Players who make sure their love for the game doesn’t die, while being deeply committed to a standard of excellence, are players who go far.

Brain-boosting tips, Brain-centred Training, Children, enjoyment over achievement, Football, gratitude, Growth Mindset, improve your performance, IQ Football, Mindset, physical fitness and health, skill development, Soccer, Soccer Academy, theodore roosevelt


Sean Szabo

Recognised as a leading brain-centred football coach in Gauteng, Sean Szabo is an English FA qualified coach who has worked internationally assisting player’s motor and technical football skills, as well as their cognitive development on and off the field. IQ Football was founded in 2015 by Sean as an amalgamation of his passion for football coaching, mentoring, and brain-centred research.

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