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Medals or money, what motivates you?

January 20, 2011

An recent article raised some interesting points in both sport and business about whether people are motivated by the ‘will to win’ or performance bonus  (The Road to 2012, Owen Slot, Saturday Times, 15 Jan 2011).  In Beijing there were some very large Olympic Medal reward purses.   All the Russian athletes and coaches got €100,000 and medallists the added bonus of a BMW, for the Americans and Germans  it was about £15,000/gold medal,  for the Chinese a massive $1 million/medal and the  Greeks and Thais about £200,000.  And yet motivated by their ‘will to win’ and underpinned by the team GBR values the fantastic athletes that made up team GBR exceeded expectations coming 4th in the medal table.

This got me reflecting on my own sporting motivation.  I competed at World Class level in paragliding from 1992 – 1997, a minority sport, with little media interest and the stars of the sport aren’t known outside the sport.  I was sponsored (with equipment  and travel expenses) and there was a small bonus for good results (pocket money compared to the sponsorship deals of mainstream sports stars).  I won World and European Championship Medals and set 3 World Records.  Like the majority of performers I wasn’t doing it for the money……I was addicted to and loved my sport and I loved it even more when I did well.   This is intrinsic motivation at it’s best and it is a very powerful form of motivation.  If we enjoy what we are doing, we want to do more of it, and the more we do, the better we are likely to be whether in sport, business, performing arts,  hobbies, etc – the best form of motivation is doing what you love to do.   

For me the financial performance bonus was a ‘nice to have’ whereas paragliding became an addictive ‘must have’ and I suspect this is the same for the majority of competitors, not least because you need to experience that enjoyment to put in the years of dedication to get to the point where financial rewards might become motivational competition.

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