Athletes who feed off the motivational junk food of performing to increase their personal ego risk missing out on the positive health, psychological and social benefits of sports.

Ego-oriented athletes are less likely to have the energy it takes to achieve their goals – and even if they do – most are not likely to experience the positive energy, vitality, or sense of well-being required to sustain their performance over time.

While we all are motivated by ego at some level. The problem comes when athletes allow ego to become their main source of motivation.  When athletes chase external validation, they lose focus of purpose, personal growth, team goals and the joy and fun of competing.

As coaches it is our job to understand “why” our players are motivated and connect that “why” to a better understanding of feelings, beliefs, and intentions of each player’s behavior.  When we discover a player is ego-oriented versus task-oriented we have some work to do.

Ego-driven athletes tend to be the ones that find the least amount of joy in what they are doing.  They also tend to have the most trouble “getting back in the saddle” and staying focused after a loss, failure, or when they encounter an obstacle. Instead of identifying the lessons that could be learned, they spend most of their energy comparing themselves to others and blaming things outside of their control for their shortcomings.

The most common characteristics of an ego-driven athlete include the following:

  • Competes to beat other people and show that they are better than everyone else.
  • Feels the need to prove something to their friends, coaches, parents, etc.
  • Enjoys competition only if they win
  • Views failures as setbacks or disasters and likes to blame others
  • Feels envy, jealousy, or anger when others are successful
  • Believes athletic abilities are a key component of their identity and self-worth
  • Most, if not all, actions are self-serving and selfish in nature
  • Tends to be narcissistic, egocentric and lacks selflessness
  • Values significance, approval of others and external motivators above all else.

    Coaching ego-oriented players who are self-absorbed can be a challenge, especially when team cohesiveness is not part of the athlete’s goals or objectives.  Inflated egos seek glory for themselves and tend to put “Me” before anyone else.

    In addition to the previously mentioned characteristics ego-oriented players make coaching them very difficult.

    They tend to be un-coachable and have difficulty listening. Psychologist, Carl Jung, famously said, “An inflated consciousness is hypnotized by itself and therefore can’t be argued with” – we’ve probably all dealt with such players.

    They tend to take credit for team accomplishments and focus on individual statistics.

    And . . .

    They tend to refuse to accept mistakes – which only exposes their insecurity and false pride.  This becomes further problematic when they impose their concept of perfectionism onto their teammates and become highly critical and vocal about any weakness or mistake by others. Verbally attacking others is a method of making themselves feel better about themselves by putting others down.

    Lastly, ego-oriented players often grossly underestimate challenges – Like General Custer who was quoted as saying, “There are not enough Indians in the world to defeat the 7th Calvary” – ego-oriented players tend to think their ability alone can carry them to victory without truly buying into the hard work and practice necessary to succeed over the long-term.

    This often leads to why some of the most talented players sink into the lowest motivational level of becoming disinterested. Disinterest results when the ego-centered player is faced with defeat or an opponent that threatens their perception of their own ability. This in turn damages their ego and thereby their motivation.

    If an athlete begins to believe they do not have the ability to reach their personal goals they either must change their goals or improve their ability. This cycle in turn can create situations in which the athlete reduces effort and becomes disinterested, sometimes called “tanking,” in order to avoid direct comparison of ability to others.

    As coaches, we must wean our players, even our most talented players, off the motivational junk food of ego. Sustainable energy, enthusiasm and team chemistry requires all our players are motivated by higher levels of motivation such as learning & improving new skills, team goals above personal accolades and the joy & fun from competing.

    The good news is most coaches, with the right tools, can help their players who have become addicted to the motivational junk food of ego. To learn more consider taking our new E-course coming soon:  Coaching and Motivating Today’s Student Athlete.

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