Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Results happen naturally when motivation is pure

By: Brad Kearns

The title conveys the most important lesson I learned competing as a professional triathlete for nine years.

A pure motivation means you enjoy the experience of athletics (or your career, studies or any other passion) regardless of the end result. In contrast, what we see often in the modern world are motivations that are impure - a focus on superficial results (making money or winning in sports) or an otherwise negative approach such as disregarding health or good sportsmanship in pursuit of success.

In the past few decades as a kid and now a parent, I have seen many examples of impure motivations from parents, coaches and other leaders. While all parents want "what's best for our kids," this is interpreted by some to mean ensuring your kid excels in something so you can look good and be proud of them. Personal achievement is certainly important, but unless motivations are pure, the value is severely compromised.

Most red-blooded American parents would not mind if their kid was a superstar athlete or high school valedictorian. It's great to support, encourage and facilitate your kid's participation in sports, school, music, art or any other endeavors.

However, there is a line that must not be crossed or negative consequences will be suffered. The extremely successful athletes I have had the pleasure of associating with in my life have certain common qualities. Chief among them is a pure love for their activities and an excellent support team of coaches, parents and other positive role models.

The important thing is for your kid to explore and enjoy the experience of his or her life. If your kid is destined to be a superstar athlete, top level student, or award winning actor, don't worry - this path will run its course naturally with your support.

If something is not meant to be, the forcing, criticism, and additional pressure applied will all be bad news.

When I entered high school at age 14, I found myself too small for the football team, quickly cut from the basketball team and thereby relegated to the cross country team. While a naturally talented runner, I lacked passion for this difficult sport at that time in my life.

When we departed campus for our training runs, I would duck into the gas station bathroom a quarter mile from school, wait till everyone passed and then head home to jump on the trampoline or shoot baskets. I was not subject to ridicule or punishment from my parents nor pressured by a militant coach (not that they knew anyway!).

Instead, I was merely given the freedom to find my own way in a giant new high school.

Two years later, I won a city championship, set a school record and finished 12th in the National Junior Olympics 1500 meters Championships in Lincoln, Nebraska.

What happened was that a switch flicked on for me and I became an extremely competitive and driven distance runner. Only the individual can flip that switch.

Understanding this will hopefully help parents relax and enjoy the experience of your kid growing up. With a supportive, non-pressurized approach, maybe the switchboard can light up for more kids in more areas and everyone can realize the highest expression of their talents as kids and as parent or coach role models.

There are some shining examples of coaches and organizations with pure motivations here in Auburn.

The Auburn Youth Soccer Club is devoted to the promotion of fun, fair play and a de-emphasis on the negative elements of competition.

I've enjoyed reading character-revealing quotes from local high school football coaches in the Journal, lauding the great play of their teams regardless of the final score. Anyone who has seen the daily giant smile on Coach Fee's face (Placer Cross Country), running side by side with his kids, or on Coach Foley's face (Placer Track) as he tirelessly conducts summer community track meets can understand how the right messages are delivered to the kids under their tutelage.

Brad Kearns, a former No. 3 world-ranked professional triathlete, produces the Auburn International Triathlon and operates a healthy nutritional products Web site at


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