For the doubters Roger Federer just proved again that he is not going anywhere just yet. Federer's dominant effort at the season-ending world championships is proof that Roger is planning to compete and have a good look at another Slam in 2012. So, why do people write him off? Didn't they learn from Agassi, Connors, Navratilova? I would not be surprised if he won a Slam in 2012. I think the more interesting question is what keeps him motivated to play brilliant tennis at the highest levels at age 30?
Federer has been talking about the importance of winning a singles Olympic gold. With Wimbledon hosting the 2012 Summer Olympics tennis tournament he has seen this as a great opportunity to win the Golden Slam. This has been a consistent theme throughout Federer's career; finding the next record to achieve. And, while he admitted not really knowing sometimes when he sets a record, you know that the 2012 Olympics have been circled in red pen for many years.
Maintaining the motivation to train, compete, and travel is not easy. Roger, though, seems to be able to find the carrot that keeps him going. A big part of that motivation has to be the rivalries with Nadal and Djokovic. When the veteran champion is being pushed he can either go away or dig in and battle. And, Roger has dug in. During his dominant years no one could challenge Federer on anywhere near to a consistent basis. Now, Federer is the underdog in the semis and finals of the Slams. This has to be motivating!
The importance of family support for a veteran player is often understated. While a young player needs the encouragement of his or her family, a married with children touring player has more conflictions about being away from home. Roger may have less of these conflictions however. Mirka seems to travel to most of his tournaments. Being a competitive player herself, Mirka understands what it takes to play at a world-class level and is willing to accept the lifestyle needed to win Slams. When Agassi was having his great run in his 30's Steffi was supportive and allowed Andre to train, travel, and compete without guilt. This helped Andre to play with less stress and burden. When your family understands, accepts, and supports the efforts needed to be a world-class player it helps to keep the player motivated. Federer seems to have this kind of support.
To develop the long-lasting motivation that Federer has demonstrated you should:
1. Think about your long term dream goals and find the next great challenge.
2. When you are challenged look at it as an opportunity to grow and enjoy the battle.
3. Find a balance between training as a competitive player and fulfilling other important needs like relationships with family and friends.
For Parents and Coaches: The intrinsic (internal) motivation that Federer demonstrates is highly related to his experiences as an athlete and tennis player as a young boy. Research on talent development has been clear that lasting motivation first comes from developing a love of the game. A player must establish an emotional investment in tennis that is based on their own goals and desires, not on those of the parents or rewards (extrinsic motivation). If you want a player to reach his or her potential at age 17 or 21 then the parents must do everything they can to help the child realize that the sport is their own which includes choosing to play or not to play. They must also facilitate but not force the child's love of the game in the fun and fundamental years (approximately ages 4-11). How? Take your child to play tennis - I mean play and have fun, not turning it into a lesson. The enjoyment they have of spending time with you learning the game as they have fun will fill the tank of full of motivation to, if they decide to pursue it, excel in tennis for a long time.