Marlon Devonish Elite Performance A to Z: Motivation-marlon-devonish-elite-performance-a-to-z-motivation-Nord Anglia Education
Nord Anglia
13 February, 2020

Marlon Devonish Elite Performance A to Z: Motivation

Marlon Devonish Elite Performance A to Z: Motivation-marlon-devonish-elite-performance-a-to-z-motivation-Marlon motivation feature pic
Marlon Devonish Elite Performance A to Z: Motivation Olympic Gold Medalist and BISS Puxi Elite Performance Coach Marlon Devonish, talks about motivation. There are times for all of us where we need to dig deep and find some motivation from somewhere to achieve our goals.  Marlon shares some of what he learnt on his journey in understanding motivation.

Motivation is a personal journey. Whilst I might enjoy a gruelling training session, I understand others may be slightly horrified at the thought of flogging yourself to death on the track for the best part of a day. So there is no point looking to others for inspiration, unless at the same time you can look inside yourself, and understand what is going on inside you. 

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Elite performers can draw upon their own internal resources to find motivation in tough times, when you are faced with activities you don’t want to do, It might be past hard core training session, or more often than not, the mundane adminstation work that we all know is really important but for some reason we always leave to the last moment. 

Connecting with the biggest picture


To truly understand motivation you need to understand yourself. One of the elements of working at BISS Puxi that I really love is getting to know the students more deeply, scratching under the surface and challenging them to become clearer as to what their ‘biggest picture is, 

The schools ‘Be Ambitious’ philosophy is about helping children become the best that they can be – part of my job is helping the children understand what that looks like through sport. Each child’s ‘biggest picture’ is what success looks like to them. It acts as an anchor in tough times and gives them their own power to achieve.

In modern sport, elite athletes have direct access to psychologist’s that help them get clarity on their goals and motivations. I had access to these resources later in my career, and whilst I believe understanding the psychology of sport gives athletes a massive edge, I also believe that learning about your own motivation organically, experimentally and learning by doing, also has huge concrete benefits.

Whilst my journey to understanding my own motivation may have been slower than the modern day athlete, I believe I gained a deeper understanding and empathy with what I wanted by trying, failing and learning from my mistakes. I also believe that practicing and taking actions creates a strong connection between what you are doing day to day, and to your own Biggest Picture.

To be honest, whilst I loved the 100m and 200m training, I really despised the 400m training! For me, to keep that maintenance of power, form and speed over 400m just seemed like an eternity. I knew logically that the stamina that I would build by practicing the 400 meter sessions, would benefit my 200m running, but for some reason I was not reaching 100% motivation and thus not peak performing. I needed to make a stronger connection between my “Bigger Picture’ and the specific action, in this case the 400m endurance training.


Marlon Devonish Elite Performance A to Z: Motivation-marlon-devonish-elite-performance-a-to-z-motivation-169577paddedw780h585of1ffffffdsc05455

Emotional and mental clarity


Motivation is in the mind, it’s an emotional muscle that needs to be trained as diligently as the legs, core and upper body physical strength to reach peak performance.  Firstly, I needed real clarity about ‘the why’ of what I was doing and ‘the what’ of how success looked like. I then needed to make strong associations between my motivation and the action, in this case the 400m.  The question is how do you do this?

For some extroverts, they can create clarity from being with others and feeding from energy in the room.  For this, I always tried to fill the room with positive people who were better then me in some way. I was lucky to have mentors that I respected that challenged my preconceptions and guided me forward in a positive way.    

Introverts get clarity and energy from having their own space and an opportunity to formulate ideas in their mind.  An introvert’s mind can be so vivid and powerful if given space to breath and find its own truth.  This is why there is no silver bullet for motivation you need to try, fail, learn and find your own way.

One of the reasons I entered into education was a hope that I too, could be a mentor to others. I very much enjoy working with the different types of people and personalities that come through the school and finding ways to help them unlock their potential.  As parents, teachers and coaches, helping children formulate their own ‘Biggest Picture’ helps them to internalise it and develops them to call upon their own motivation and power when they need it.

I was first introduced to the early days of psychologists coaches when Roger Black (1996 Olympic 400m Silver medalist) and Mark Richardson (1996 Olympic 4x400m relay Silver medalist) introduced me to Paul McKenna.  I did not know a lot about Paul, but I knew and respected Roger and Mark enough to take his suggestion seriously and give it a try.

Paul took me though some great visualisation techniques asking me to create a visions of success in my mind and see what I can see, hear what I can hear, and feel what I can feel.  We fined tuned the ‘Biggest Picture’ so that it was visually bright and bold in my mind.  

We looked at techniques to make the biggest picture more accessible.  This included meditation techniques such as kinesthetic anchors to ‘fire’ my motivation.  It’s important to recognise every athlete is different and I too found my own way.  I created the Marlon Devonish dorsiflex cue where I would curl my toes up right before a race in my set block position and this would fire triggers within me that made me both physically, technically and mentally at peak level before a race. All this was practiced during training months before competition.  



Motivation needs action to stay sharp


Like any muscle, motivation needs to be regularly exercised to stay sharp.  Whenever, I worked on the emotional motivational part of my game I swiftly took action to test and build my strengths. I threw myself into the 400m training to test and challenge myself and see where the opportunities and limits were. I then resolved to take them to the next level.

When I work with the students that really love sports at the school we work on the physical, technical and the emotional combined.  On the surface, it’s a lot of fun but underneath I am always seeking to understand more, to challenge, to push them to excel because I can see that they are all, like I was, on a journey to find motivation and to create their own biggest picture.

Next week I am looking at N for Never Give Up.