Intrinsic motivation can be defined as “engaging in an activity for itself and for the pleasure and satisfaction derived from participation” (Vallerand, 2004). The coach’s ability to intrinsically motivate players is crucial for long term athlete development, in regards to facilitating performance, providing a positive experience, and promoting a healthy lifestyle. The pedagogic setting that a coach creates, and the coaching style a coach holds, is important for athlete development and setting the platform for intrinsic motivation.

The most common pedagogic approach is linear coaching. A linear coach would believe that in order to progress players to a state of expertise, they should partake in repetitive/deliberate technique-based drills (Renshaw, Oldham and Bawden, 2012). This linear coaching approach is found to cause significant motivational problems for not only the athletes, but the coaches too. This is because of the large amounts of repetition, which causes boredom. Linear coaches coaching strategies are very behaviourist, and involve the use of punishment and bribery in attempt to increase motivation. This mainly promotes extrinsic motivation with performers who have low levels of engagement, as they tend to only be practicing due to the presences of a coach or significant other, rather than engaging for personal satisfaction.

Cognitive Evaluation Theory suggests that optimal intrinsic motivation “develops from conditions where the need for competence and autonomy are met” (Deci and Ryan, 1980). This arises in practice game play situations, where players set personal and meaningful goals, and use previous successes and obtained knowledge to achieve them. Using basketball as an example, a coach in training may be working on exploiting a zone defence in order to attack the basket. The players aim is to score, and the players do so by using knowledge from previous experiences to figure out how to accomplish this aim. This shows the importance of setting the pedagogic environment as a place that personally challenges and creates direction and goals for the athletes.

It’s argued that coaches can facilitate the development of intrinsic motivation through non-linear coaching. The non-linear pedagogy philosophy is based on the notion of Ecological Psychology and Dynamical Systems. This involves the coach constraining the environment in order to allow the athletes to facilitate and create meaning of their own knowledge through decision making and goal setting processes, oppose to being told what to do and how to do it (Chow et al, 2008; Hopper, 2011). This coaching approach is athlete-centred, as it involves athletes exploring and finding their own answers to the problems that occur in games. For athletes, their perception of their competence is not threatened by the coach telling them they are wrong. This is because there are no wrong answers, as each player constructs knowledge for a specific scenario which can then be applied in future game situations. Thus instead, their perception of their competence in their performance increases, and the achievement accomplished increases intrinsic motivation and self-efficacy.

Comparing this to the linear approach previously discussed, coaches who create a strict pedagogic environment may diminish athlete’s self-efficacy and intrinsic motivation. In addition, they may prevent a construction of meaningful knowledge, as athlete’s focus is primarily on ensuring they are executing what they have been told to do by the coach.

To conclude, the chaos and variety of non-linear pedagogy can be intrinsically motivating for athletes. Academic theory suggests that athletes become intrinsically motivated during non-linear sessions due to their positive perception of their competence and ability when independently making decisions that influence the game. Coaches who adopt a linear approach to coaching may find that although athletes quickly progress, their intrinsic motives towards the sport rapidly diminish, as their motives are merely extrinsic. Therefore, in order to keep athletes engaged and enthused in sport, non-linear coaching can be perceived as the best method to do so.


Chow, J. Y., Davids, K., Button, C., Shuttleworth, R., Renshaw, I., & Araujo, D. (2006). Nonlinear pedagogy: a constraints-led framework for understanding emergence of game play and movement skills. Nonlinear dynamics, psychology, and life sciences, 10(1), 71.

Deci, E. L., & Ryan, R. M. (1980). The empirical exploration of intrinsic motivational processes. Advances in experimental social psychology, 13(2), 39-80.

Hopper, T. (2011). Game-as-teacher: Modification by adaptation in learning through game-play. Asia-Pacific Journal of Health, Sport and Physical Education, 2(2), 3-21.

Renshaw, I., Oldham, A. R., & Bawden, M. (2012). Nonlinear pedagogy underpins intrinsic motivation in sports coaching. The Open Sports Sciences Journal, 5, 88-99.

Vallerand, R. J. (2004). Intrinsic and extrinsic motivation in sport. Encyclopedia of applied psychology, 2, 427-435.