Performance-based vs. purpose-based athletes

by | Sep 5, 2017 | Blog

Love the process and you’ll always win

We all want to win. However, when the compulsion to win becomes an unhealthy obsession, it can be insidious. A performance-based mindset in athletics is endemic, and truthfully, it comes with the territory. After all, it’s about competition. We train, we condition, we strive to be the best we can be. We play to win.

But what happens when winning becomes all there is?

Performance-based athletes are so focused on winning that nothing else matters. They tend to push everything out of their lives including their most important relationships, just so they can pursue this ideal of gold/fame/fortune – perfection – whatever they associate as being their “reward” for winning. They’ve pushed themselves so far away from the truly good and enduring things in their lives that they’ve lost sight of the process.

Performance-based identity is especially concerning in youth sports. If not curtailed, it could create a myriad of issues and very real, often permanent, psychological scars. Some of the most immediately visible fallout from performance-based identity includes:

  • Self-description only relates to their identity as an athlete
  • Overwhelming pre-competition anxiety
  • Expressed desire to quit or pull out of a competition
  • Lower self-worth if performance lags
  • Jealousy or envy towards those who do better
  • Fear of failure overcomes the excitement of competition
  • Obsession over mistakes
  • Unhealthy focus on working harder to overcome failures

[i]Benjamin Houltberg, Moving from performance to purpose in youth sports. Fuller Magazine, 7, (2016): 44-46.

Finding purpose in the process

Purpose-based athletes are those who find purpose in the process and not in the end result. They are grateful for each day, they are grateful that they are able to train, and they value their relationships because they realize that is what has allowed them to get to where they are today.

They see beyond the accomplishments, the medals, and the numbers, and put a lot of stock into the people and the processes that have enabled them to reach their milestones. When tough times come their way, they are able to adapt and withstand the pressure because they have a strong foundation to stand on.

This stands in stark contrast to the performance-based athlete, for whom an injury becomes a major disruption. Their identity is so wrapped up in their ability to perform that they may not be able to cope very well if anything goes even slightly awry.

The disparity is easy to see, but when you’re in it, it might not be so easy to recognize. Given the same variables, the same odds, and the same results, the purpose-based athlete is able to bounce back faster. Even if they are not selected for the team, they will be able to withstand the disappointment because their happiness is not so completely wrapped up in their performance.



“We all want to win. However, when the compulsion to win becomes an unhealthy obsession, it can be insidious”

In reality, true joy and satisfaction can only be realized by embracing the process

What winning really means

In reality, true joy and satisfaction can only be realized by embracing the process. Without that joy, the win is little more than an empty promise that will never live up to its illusion.

A purpose-based athlete will almost always perform better than a performance-based athlete over the long term because they are more balanced in their lives and have a broader perspective. Those that are focused on their training and performance with such machine-like single-mindedness never take into account the emotional and spiritual component that is so integral to a happy, balanced existence. In the end, if you’re not enjoying your life and what you do with your time, what, exactly, are you hoping to accomplish?

Engage your gratitude

This may end up being your greatest challenge, but it will be well worth it. Set a goal for yourself to become more grateful for the process, for the opportunity to live, to love, and be loved … to embrace the little things that make the world a better place to be.

Ask yourself: what five things are you grateful for today? Start a purpose-based gratitude journal. Every morning as you enjoy your coffee, write down 5 things you are grateful for. Fill your heart and it will always be nourished.

This blog is based on the research and Hope Sports presentations of Drs. Ben Houltberg and Ashley Null.

by | Sep 5, 2017 | Blog | 1 comment

©2017 Hope Sports. All rights reserved.

Shopping cart

Shipping and discount codes are added at checkout.