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Posted 07/03/2021 in Category 1

How much will power (self-control) do I have?

How much will power (self-control) do I have?

Just think about the last run at training or the last set of sprints or those few crunches to make it 20 in a row. Any time we have a task or set of tasks to complete, we need to manage our physical, mental and emotional resources to last to the end. The trouble with most tasks, however, is that we do not know when the end shall be? And worse still, the end of one session or task might signal the beginning of another task. 

Roy Baumeister and colleagues proposed a model of self-control that functions on a limited resource. What they meant was that our ability to control ourselves has limits. This strength varies among people, and different tasks reduce our level of self-control. If we think about self-control as a muscle getting tired from exertion, we reduce the strength we need for subsequent tasks. This idea of strength is intriguing because we eat, drink, spend money, think, and so on all the time, and these actions depend upon a level of self-control. 

What does this notion of self-control mean for athletes? Athletes are constantly delaying gratification in their lives. They put so many things until later because what they wish to achieve now and in the future depends on a level of self-control for the benefits to enjoy later. Each day we make choices, so how do we come to make helpful choices? With self-control, we alter our responses to fit in with expectations of ourselves and others. Self-control is deliberate, conscious and effortful. We need to exert control to display self-control. To say no to alcohol, for a few months while training, might be the self-controlled action of an athlete preparing for the Olympics.  

So how do we keep or maintain self-control when we need it most? Most people think about self-control as will power. Some people see their ability to change behaviour as a process of will power alone; however, there are more details to consider. If you think about children in school or athletes in sport, you might wonder why on person persists and another falters and withdraws. Will power can appear like a strength in some people, whereas others might not be so fortunate, but this idea of energy is relatively new. But energy is such an appropriate idea because there might just be something in this idea of will power and energy to meet the challenges of everyday. Baumeister recognised that self-control deteriorated over time with repeated exertions. It’s difficult to maintain self-control when your self-control energy is low. Can you imagine trying to make that last tackle at the end of a rugby match or deciding to get up from the ground to keep your position as a hooker? This decision-making process is costly and the more exertions on the field of play, the more demand we place on our self-control energy.  

We need to realise the limits of our self-control. If that case is true, we need to organise our performances to allow for the deterioration in self-control to do the work that we can do efficiently and save the resources we need for the critical moments in the game or competition. 


Baumeister, R. F., Vohs, K. D., and Tice, D. M. (2007). The strength model of self-control. Current Directions in Psychological Science, 16, 351–355. doi: 10.1111/j.1467-8721.2007.00534.x

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