High School Sports


Danny Desin: Motivation and unplugging lead common questions from athletes

Averi Parker
Posted at 10:25 AM, May 14, 2020

(Editor’s note: This is an ongoing series focused on the mental aspect of athletics as reported by Danny Desin, M.S., www.desinsportpsych.com.)

I’d like to thank those of you who reached out with comments and questionsabout sport and performance psychology and how it applies to this situation. I noticed a few themes in the responses, and I’d like to cover those topics one at a time.

When we look back on this pandemic and the cancellations that come with it, motivation is going to be one of the issues that people struggled with the most. I also believe that it will be the main difference between those who thrived and improved during this time and those who didn’t. The main question is, how do we maintain high motivation levels when there is no proving ground in clear sight?

To some extent, all of the strategies that I’ve mentioned so far are at least partially aimed at maintaining motivation while sports are away.

Creating a purpose statement should help drive your day-by-day actions, changing and writing down your goals should give you a road map and the feeling of accomplishment on the way, and knowing your strengths should push you to use what you’re naturally good at. The most elite athletes are intrinsically motivated, meaning that they are motivated simply by the internal rewards of playing the game and improving. Take a look at Michael Jordan, who was a master at creating motivation for improvement. If a motive didn’t clearly present itself, he could conjure one up and convince himself that it was important.

Sleep Schedules
I’ve heard a lot of talk about sleep schedules being thrown off during this time of no school and no sports activities. Young athletes often don’t realize the impact that sleep has on all mental skills and components of a healthy mindset. This includes mental toughness, which is an ability that can be developed over time and includes an optimistic and determined attitude in the face of adversity, along with a belief in one’s abilities and a focus on the controllable factors of performance. That applies very well to our current situation, in my opinion.

The main components of sleep are duration, quality, and timing. Various research suggest between 8 and 10 hours for young athletes, with other recommendations for quality and timing:

- Choose a time to start the process: If you are falling asleep at midnight or later on a regular basis, you aren’t modeling the normal competition schedule.
- Get in the right frame of mind: Looking at screens and making your mind busy late at night will mess with your natural rhythms and quality of sleep. Have the self-control to put it all away when you need to and relax yourself.
- Choose a time to wake up: Again, you want to practice like you play. If you woke up at a certain time pre COVID-19, you should try to do that again.

Unplugging Yourself
The last recommendation I have is to step away from all of the noise for a while. It seems hypocritical to give you all of these tasks to complete and then tell you to do nothing, but I promise that doing nothing is a skill in itself. We live in a world of changing emotions. One day there’s hope, the next day something else is canceled. The best way to live with it is to create your own world to escape to and make it as consistent as possible. This world doesn’t include social media or video games or breaking news, but just you and your thoughts. Consider trying out an app like Headspace or Calm to allow for just a few minutes of concentrated focus during a day (the apps aren’t a requirement for this, though). We will look into this subject a little more in the future.

Thanks again for sending me your questions and comments about sports during the COVID-19 crisis. Please continue to reach out and tell me where you’re at and what you’re doing. Visit desinsportpsych.com, email me at desinsportpsych@gmail.com, or message me to get in touch.

About Danny Desin: Danny Desin has been around the Billings sports community all of his life — as a spectator, player, and coach. Desin received a Bachelors of Science in Psychology from MSU Billings and played college basketball for both Montana State University and MSU-Billings. Has has graduate level education at both Boise State University and California Southern University, where he finished a Master’s of Science in Psychology with a specialization in Sport Psychology. He is a member of the Association for Applied Sport Psychology and a Certified Mental Performance Consultant (CMPC).