Maintaining Motivation Through a “Dry Spell”

by Laurel Green

Most riders will experience a “dry spell” at some time in their athletic careers, and I am not referring to Global Warming here.  A dry spell in athletics is a period of time in which you are forced, by circumstance, away from your sport.

The dry spell might be from an illness or injury. It might be connected to overtraining, burnout, or in some cases it might be that spouse or significant other who might think you are spending too much time on the bike or out on the trail. Finances might get tight, to the point where it simply makes no sense to travel to a race.  Or, the one that plagues us all at some point: comparing yourself to others, and feeling as though you are not measuring up; the grind of training might be getting you down and you begin to question “the point of all of this”.


Motivation is the reason you do your sport, it’s the ‘why’ of your actions and behavior. If you can remember why you do your sport, you will likely remain motivated throughout a dry spell. Some folks are externally motivated by competition, prizes, spectators, and other outside (of their own mind) factors. Other people are internally (or intrinsically) motivated by their own encouragement, or inner sense that they are doing well.

Solutions to bring some precipitation to the dry spell

— Perception and attitude are essential pieces to the mental puzzle of staying motivated during a dry spell. If a dry spell is perceived healthily, it can foster strength, mental toughness, and a refreshed mind for competition, or participation in your sport. If your attitude reflects hope, confidence, and a positive mind set, the dry spell is bound to be very useful.

— If you are injured or experience illness, remember there is no such thing as a Vitamin ‘I’ deficiency, so the Ibuprofen will only work for so long. To stay motivated around these issues, it is important to organize a network of resources to foster healing and recovery. Look to your coach first. Do you have a good doctor? Does your doctor listen to your concerns? Chiropractors, acupuncturists, nutritionists, massage therapists, are resources that can help you tap the motivational well.

— When up against financial or family issues, a good bar is in order. Kidding. Ultimately, relationships, and money are going to tax the athlete at some point. Developing clear budgets for time and money are both essential. In relationships, it is very important to communicate clearly, honestly, and compassionately with those you are seeking support from.

— In the area of mental burnout, or discouragement about measuring up, it might make sense to tap into a local Sports Psychology expert (like our very own Michelle Cleere). Sometimes relationships, friendships, coach/athlete partnerships, or good training partners can be sources of renewal for burnout. Making changes in nutrition and eating habits can also foster more energy and a healthy mindset.

Dry Spell? What dry spell?

I was training and racing in my own top form at the start of the 2006 bike racing season. Close to the end of March, I was “doored” from the left side, by a car that was sitting in a line of traffic. I knew, after rolling back to upright from the curb, that my season was likely to look a little different than I had expected. Okay, that’s not really what was going through my mind. It then took another mental effort on my part, to actually accept the reality that the season I was hoping for was not going to happen. I call this ‘mental threshold training’.

Mental thresholds are reached when the mind is offered something so out of the ordinary, it has to adapt to the psychological and emotional work of making things right again. I was able to stay motivated during this time, because I had already accomplished some of my goals for the season, I had a great coach, I had supportive teammates, and some fitness to foster the healing. My needs were being met. As time passed, I found other things to foster my motivation during my dry spell. I coached a few beginning riders. I was able to hone my visualization skills. I practiced taking care of myself in different ways than I had before.

For all the reasons dry spells may happen, recognizing and working on motivation is the key. In working through the dry spell, looking to a coach for motivation helps. The science of coaching is about honing the right combination of cues and techniques for keeping YOU motivated, so remember to keep your coach in the loop. Most of all, keep a healthy perspective, and some good friends around, to moisten up the dry spell. Finally, keep in mind, that all of the proposed solutions here may also be applied readily to the prevention of dry spells. Go to it!!