Motivation involves the biological, emotional, social and cognitive forces that activate our behaviour. In simpler terms, motivation is used to describe why we do something. Motivation is a big topic of conversation in all sports. Whether it is amongst pundits, fans or academics, it always provides a strong debate on how and why athletes are motivated to play. If we take football as an example, many believe that the players are motivated by money and that is all that drives them. However there are some pursuits out there who believe some players are motivated by doing well for their club and improving themselves as a player.

To help us understand this we can look at the two types of motivation; intrinsic and extrinsic. Intrinsic motivation is something that is inherently enjoyable to the individual (Ryan and Deci, 2000). This means that people’s motivation comes from within themselves and they do things for themselves. They often find tasks personally rewarding and they are willing and eager to learn and develop themselves. For example, in football, a player who is intrinsically motivated would be driven to improve themselves and would find this personally rewarding. The benefits of this e.g. money and fame would be of secondary importance to them.

Extrinsically motivated athletes on the other hand are driven by things that are external to them. This means that their motivations are not related to them personally and they often see tasks as having a means to an end. For example, in football, an extrinsically motivated player may see the end goal of making lots of money as their motivator so they need to improve as a player and get signed. They are often motivated by goods, rewards and recognition.

Everyone would prefer that people are motivated intrinsically as seeing them ‘play for the jersey’ and wanting to improve themselves would likely gain more support and possibly respect. Unfortunately, in the football, we have seen all too often the case of a player wanting to leave their club for money or saying that they want to leave in order to force the club to improve their contract. With football being a results driven business and fans all wanting success, it has become more and more common place that extrinsically motivated players call the shots. The motivators of the business, the managers, are not exempt from this either. We have seen Sunderland manager, Paulo Di Canio, lose his job last week. One of the reasons cited for his dismissal where his man management methods and his unsuccessful attempts to motivate his players. There was often criticism of players publically and reports of various arguments amongst Di Canio and senior players. Criticism can sometimes motivate players more as they feel that they have to prove their coach wrong but it can often back fire as players become disillusioned with being criticised and become de-motivated (Keegan et al., 2009).

When trying to motivate your players, you have to understand that each person is different and are motivated if different ways. For intrinsically motivated players, it is important to ensure that there are opportunities for them to develop and that they are enjoying their sport. Providing feedback and praise increases player’s motivation and also boosts self esteem and confidence. For extrinsically motivated players, it would be difficult to stay motivated during periods of their career where they are not winning trophies or getting recognition. Ensuring that extrinsically motivated players are challenged to succeed is important and for them, playing in a winning team is key. This is a difficult situation to provide but ensuring that they are given the opportunity to succeed is important and will motivate them.

Studies have shown that it is actually important for an athlete to have a mix of intrinsic and extrinsic motivation. This is because intrinsic motivation will push the athlete to better themselves and enjoy their sport whilst extrinsic motivation will ensure that they want to win and have a strong competitive streak (Karageorghis and Terry, 2011).

Therefore, when coaching, managing or teaching, it is important to understand how people are motivated in different ways and will respond to different types of motivators. Motivation is a very powerful attribute and when harnessed in the correct way, can provide great results.