Murray got knocked out of Wimbledon. The Scot, that us English folk made one of our own after his Wimbledon victory last year, is now just another Scot again. But why do champions find it so hard to defend their titles?

The Champions League has not been defended successfully since Milan did it in 1990, Wimbledon since 2007, and The Super Bowl has not been defended since 2005. So what is it about winners that makes them such losers? Professor of Psychology at Curtin University, Martin Hagger, suggests five factors that are active inside the mind of winners. The top of this list is ‘motivation’, which is how an athlete become motivated. Dr Hagger suggests that their goals, or targets, provide motivation. However, when an athlete becomes a champion – in other words, achieve their goal – where can their motivation come from? The motivation to win for a second time can never reach the levels for that original victory. The first title will always contain more meaning than the second. Breaking a record will always mean more than breaking it again and again. It is the nature of success that leaves the winner to wonder ‘…what next?’

Around this time you are probably thinking of all those champions that actually did defend their title. Manchester United defended the Premier League Title for three years in a row – from 2006 to 2009 – and Roger Federer defended Wimbledon for five years running! Well sure, there are always anomalies to a rule. Sometimes sheer talent outweighs the powers one can gain from motivation. Roger Federer was just too good in his prime to be beaten. Therefore, any lack, or lessening, of Federer’s motivation to win did not show up due to his superiority in talent and skill over the rest in the field.

There may be another reason why motivation depletes after a victory: the fear of losing often motivates sportsmen more than the thrill of winning. As David E. Conroy from Pennsylvania State University maintains the ‘fear of failure energizes achievement behaviour’; in other words, the fear of losing motivates sportsmen to try even harder to win. However, once a person has won, they quickly forget the sensation of losing. The pain of losing feels a mile away when a person is experiencing the elation of victory. Therefore, the fear of failure is less motivating as the sportsperson forgets the pain of defeat after a big win. Murray may have just forgotten how badly he hated losing and so lost some motivation for this year’s tournament.

If we take the discussion away from sport, we find that, in all areas of life, once a person has achieved their goal they become at least a little unstuck. It is not just sportsmen that need to be motivated; everyday tasks require a little motivation. I know myself that doing the dishes is no easy task when motivation is lacking. Maybe you can’t be bothered to clean the car this weekend, or take the dog for a walk. We all need motivation. The fear of failure is not exclusive to sportsmen, it motivates us all, and it is far stronger than the motivation of any little victories. The fear of being reprimanded by the boss is far more motivating than a little praise. The pain of losing your £3,000 ring is far more potent than the mild pleasure of having it safely on your finger. The hurt of a messy breakup is far stronger than the slight comfort of a long-term relationship. As Schopenhauer, the great, if not somewhat depressing, philosopher said: ‘We generally find pleasure to be not nearly so pleasant as we expected, and pain very much more painful’. This describes the notion clearly that the fear of losing is far more motivating than any wish to achieve a goal.

Achieving a dream or life goal also seems to have a negative effect on the common man/woman – as well as on the sportsperson.  The singer that dreamed of the world stage achieves that dream, only to turn to drugs or alcohol. The man born into poverty that becomes wealthy soon realises that his wealth hasn’t brought him happiness. The traveller who dreams of seeing the Grand Canyon, upon fulfilment finds that they now have no place to go. As depressing as it sounds, achieving our dreams might be the worst thing for us! As George Moore articulated: ‘We live in our desires rather than in our achievements’… or, for our purposes, ‘we live in our dreams, not in their realization’. Once achieved, a realised dream gives people nothing to strive towards. Life becomes a big meaningless stretch of time during which Scotsmen fail to even hit a tennis ball over a net. But before we all get too sombre, be glad that there’s a solution to our problem… once you’ve achieved your dream, just get a new one!



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