Extrinsic motivation is ‘external’: people – in this case athletes – are driven to succeed by factors from outside i.e. money, prizes, acclaim, status, praise. Intrinsic motivation comes from within i.e. an athlete driven by a need to succeed because they want to be the best and are not overly concerned by financial or ego boosts. According to Hardy, Jones and Gould (1993) elite athletes must  have high levels of intrinsic motivation in order to sustain effort through dips in form and confidence. A well-known football (soccer) manager (Martin O’Neill) said recently that the best players to work with were the ones that were unconcerned about how much they earn. Rio Ferdinand has recently tweeted that he would still be a footballer even if he was on the average wage. Another example is Damien Duff – who apparently when he first signed as a pro – was completely unaware of how much he was being paid and had to ask a family member to look after his finances as he did not know what to with his money. Or on a more extreme level, there was Roy Keane expressing how disappointed he was with the United players celebrating winning the treble – three of the biggest prizes in domestic football – the FA Cup, the English Premier League and the Champions’ League. You would think that this would be a reason for reasonable celebration at least, but not Keano. He was left asking, “what about next year? And the year after?” Contrast this to recent stories of the England Rugby Union team after the 2011 World Cup, one of whom allegedly said after being knocked out of the tournament:

England rugby report shows England players cared about money, not World Cup | Mail Online

Perhaps the professionalisation of rugby has ruined it. Before the game changed to full-time in 1995 the players had other jobs too and there would be no doubt that this would mean that they would really have needed to love playing to effectively combine two careers. I also recall tales from the pre-lottery days of athletes having to train twice a day around their full-time jobs. Maybe this intrinsic motivation has declined due to the huge riches potentially available in some sports nowadays. I recently overheard two academy players talking about an older friend who had signed his first pro contract and it was massive disappointment that the first question was not: ” have they played yet”, but instead “how much are they on a week?”. It is refreshing to see that some of the older values still exist – hard work and effort. For example, Jonny Wilkinson having to be locked out of Newcastle’s training ground on Christmas day to stop him training (although there are other issues surrounding his perfectionism/OCD). Too much cash may make athletes too comfortable. Although fiction, Rocky III demonstrates this in his training sequence before his first fight with Clubber Lang:

Rocky III – Training 1 “Pushin” in High Definition (HD) **WOW** – YouTube

Another good example of intrinsic motivation and not letting success make you ‘soft’ is Joe Calzaghe who always trained in the same run-down and delapidated gym throughout his career when it would’ve been easy for him to invest his money in something more comfortable and contemporary. In the Talent Code Dan Coyle notes his surprise that the talent hotbeds he visited were pretty much of the same ilk and not the high-tech, plush facilities that might be associated with success.

So how can you affect motivation – especially intrinsic? As a player only you can decide to what level you want to do something, but this can be influenced by others. The best motivation for anyone is success – if you achieve at something it is a positive reinforcement and you are more likely to attempt to repeat the behaviour.  As a coach you can have an effect on this by reinforcing desirable behaviours (such as effort and near misses) with praise and positive feedback. However, recent trends have indicated that too much praise o the wrong kind of praise can have a negative effect on motivation: praising ‘natural ability’ more than effort. Psychologist Carol Dweck has been leading the field in research. Dweck distinguishes two types of mindsets that people hold about the nature of our abilities. Those with a fixed mindset regard abilities, including intelligence, as unchangeable traits. Those with a growth mindset believe that our abilities can improve with effort. When we have a fixed mindset, every challenge presented to us feels as if it were a test of how smart or  talented we are. A fixed mindset creates a feeling of anxiety and urgency, and an inclination to avoid, rather than seek,  risks and challenges. When stressed, people with a fixed mindset are more likely to feel anxious and depressed. They are also more likely to become defensive, to cheat, and to lie. In contrast, when a growth mindset exists, they are more likely to regard their failures not as a judgment but as an opportunity for learning. A growth mindset therefore allows more optimism and persistence when faced with setbacks. Praising intelligence fosters a fixed mindset. Praising effort promotes a growth mindset. Dweck and her colleagues have also shown that changing mindsets enhances effort, achievement and ability to respond adaptively to stress. The premise is that praise is not bad, but the wrong time of praise is. Dweck concludes that “Praising intelligence harms motivation and harms performance.”

Therefore, failure in sporting competition should not be attributed to factors such as ability, but to less stable factors such as luck, effort, poor officiating or lack of form, see below:

Attribution theory


Giving athletes an input into training/tactics may also boost their motivation as giving them this ‘ownership’ makes them feel that they have a say in determining their performance, for example consulting them about possible areas to work on or tactical ideas for the next competition. Ego should also be played down in favour of emphasising team success (where relevant). Focusing on ‘process’ goals more than ‘outcome’ goals is also important – concentrate on the journey rather than the destination and the result will take care of itself. Positive self-talk and being able to re-structure negativity are also essential items in the psychological toolbox. Use of imagery can also help to correct mistakes and rehearse all possible scenarios that may occur during competition and training.