Home Tennis Mental/Emotional The Power of Intrinsic Goals in Tennis: Cultivating True Champions

The Power of Intrinsic Goals in Tennis: Cultivating True Champions

As a tennis coach and practitioner of sports psychology, I have seen firsthand the transformative power of focusing on intrinsic goals in tennis. In a world often captivated by extrinsic rewards like trophies, rankings, and titles, it’s easy to overlook the profound impact of intrinsic motivation on an athlete’s development and long-term success. In this article, I’ll explain what makes an intrinsic approach beneficial and essential for young tennis players. And how prioritizing intrinsic goals in tennis enriches the player’s experience and often leads to the very extrinsic rewards many seek. This approach, emphasizing hard work, effort, and a positive attitude, offers a more holistic and sustainable path to success in tennis.

Understanding Intrinsic vs. Extrinsic Motivation

Extrinsic Motivation is about external rewards: trophies, rankings, and public recognition. These are the visible markers of success in the world of sports.

Intrinsic Motivation, in contrast, is driven by internal desires: personal improvement, the love of the game, and the rewards and satisfaction derived from hard work. It’s about the journey more than the destination.

The Power of an Intrinsic Focus

  1. Long-Term Development: Intrinsic motivation fosters a love for the game that transcends immediate success. Players driven by intrinsic goals are more likely to stick with tennis through ups and downs, leading to long-term development and success.
  2. Reduced Pressure: Focusing on intrinsic goals relieves the intense pressure associated with extrinsic rewards. Players can concentrate on personal growth and enjoyment rather than the stress of winning or losing.
  3. Sustainable Success: Intrinsic motivation promotes long-term engagement and a healthier relationship with the sport, often leading to consistent performances and, consequently, the accumulation of extrinsic rewards like trophies and higher rankings.
  4. Resilience and Grit: When players are motivated by personal goals like improving a backhand or mastering a new strategy, they develop resilience. They learn to see challenges as opportunities for growth, not just obstacles to a trophy.
  5. Emotional Well-Being: Intrinsic goals align closely with emotional health. Players who focus on personal growth and enjoyment are less likely to experience burnout and more likely to maintain a positive relationship with the sport.
  6. True Sportsmanship: An intrinsic approach encourages players to respect the game and their opponents. It’s not just about winning; it’s about playing the game the right way and for the right reasons.
  7. Lifelong Passion: Players who focus on intrinsic rewards often continue to play and enjoy tennis long after their competitive days are over. They play because they love the game, not because they have to win.


In the competitive tennis world, the desire to win is undoubtedly important. However, it’s essential to recognize that the drive to win should stem from a belief in one’s intrinsic efforts and growth rather than solely focusing on the external accolades of victory. This balanced approach allows players to embrace the competitive aspect of tennis while maintaining a healthy and fulfilling relationship with the sport.

When a player’s desire to win is rooted in their belief in the hard work, dedication, and personal development they have invested in, it creates a powerful and positive driving force. This mindset acknowledges that winning is not just about the trophy or ranking but the journey and the effort it represents. It’s a recognition that success is not handed out but is a result of the ongoing process of learning, improving, and overcoming challenges.

In summary, while the desire to win is a natural and important aspect of competitive tennis, it should be viewed as a byproduct of a player’s intrinsic journey. It’s about striving for victory because you know the effort and growth you’ve put in deserve it, not just because of the external reward that comes with it. This balanced perspective leads to a more enjoyable, rewarding, and sustainable path in tennis, where success is measured by the outcome and the effort and personal growth that led to it.

Written by
Everett Teague

Everett is a USPTA Professional Tennis & Pickleball Instructor/Coach (Elite Rated) in Tallahassee, FL. He has over 30 years of teaching and coaching experience with all levels and ages of players. In addition to specializing in sound, sport science-based stroke fundamentals, he specializes in efficient contact movement (footwork) skills, fitness training, and mental toughness strategies. He is also the founder of Racket Sports Media, a digital consulting company that helps racket sports clubs differentiate and thrive through tailored content. www.racketsportsmedia.com

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