Theories of Motivation

Motivation is a key aspect of sport and can be used to predict an individual’s behaviour during a performance depending on what is driving them. It can be defined as: ‘the hypothetical construct used to describe the internal and/ or external forces that produce the initiation, direction, intensity and persistence of behaviour’ (Vallerand and Thill, 1993). Motivation is generally broken down into intrinsic and extrinsic which is whether the sport is being performed for enjoyment of the individual or for a reward or social recognition. Sports men and women are intrinsically motivated as the idea of reward is not enough to continuously train without personally wanting it enough. It is only those who want it enough for themselves that will persist and also not allow the pressure of the reward affect their performance (Moran, 2012).

Self- Determination Theory: (Deci and Ryan, 2000)

This theory suggests that each type of motivation is broken down into different sections. Amotivation is a state of lack of intention and the wrong behaviour towards a sport. This is usually a precursor to dropout as the individual is not motivated at all to perform with no response to intrinsic or extrinsic reward.

Extrinsic motivation is divided into four areas in this model with external regulation being the only motivation for an individual coming from external sources such as rewards or praise. Introjected regulation can sometimes be seen as guilt as it combines internal pressures but to perform to impress and external source e.g. impressing significant others. Identified regulation is where the individual understands the value of performance but still may not enjoy it. Integrated regulation is where the individual values the outcome from participation rather than the feeling of enjoyment from participating e.g. raising money for a charity from running 5KM.

Intrinsic motivation is the most sort after as it comes from within the individual and is divided into three. Stimulation is the feeling of enjoyment and excitement an individual gets from participating in a sport. Accomplishment is the individual participating to master a skill. Knowledge is the highest level of intrinsic motivation and will be found in the most elite athletes and is the feeling of learning which accompanies performance.

Achievement Goal Theory: (Nicholls, 1984)

  • Task Orientation
  • Ego Orientation

Task orientation is based around mastering skill whereas ego orientation is based around mastering competition.

Task Ego
Participate for enjoyment Play to win
Like opportunities for self- improvement Choose easy tasks so look good
Measure success on performance not winning Result is everything
Are committed to their sport Think they have natural ability
Have high intrinsic motivation Have high extrinsic motivation

This is important for a coach to understand in order to promote intrinsic motivation and task mastery:

  • Reward hard work
  • Focus and praise correct skill performance
  • Focus on improvement
  • Do not just focus on winning

Attribution Theory: (Weiner, 1985)

External Internal
Unstable Luck Effort
Stable Task Ability

This theory helps explain how an individual will explain success and failure and can increase or decrease levels of motivation accordingly. Unstable factors are changeable and out of the individual’s control whereas stable factors are permanent and non- changing throughout a performance. External factors allow participants to place blame on things outside of their control which is particularly used during failure to help increase the potential drop in motivation whereas internal factors are usually attributed with success and the individual’s performance. When factors are within control motivation is increased whereas when they are out of control motivation is decreased.

Competence Motivation Theory: (Weiss and Chaumeton, 2992)

This theory takes into consideration emotion and its effect on motivation.

  • Feedback and reinforcement – positive or negative
  • Motivational orientation – intrinsic or extrinsic, task or outcome

These then lead to self- esteem, feelings of control or lack of and perceived competence with a given skill. This in turn then has an effect on the emotions of the individual whether good or bad which will then influence the outcome on motivation. Depending on the previous factors and the emotional state of the individual will determine the level of motivation towards a given skill or performance.

Therefore, there are a number of different theories which can be used to both explain and determine motivation. It is clear it can be divided into intrinsic and extrinsic depending on whether the individual is focussed on reward or enjoyment and this determines the elite sports men and women. There are numerous factors which interact to form levels of motivation and all of these must align to promote the highest levels and the best performance.

ReferencesShow all

Deci E and Ryan R, (2000), The What and Why of Goal Pursuits: Human Needs and the Self- Determination of Behaviour, Psychological Enquiry, 11, 227-268

Moran A, (2012), Sport and Exercise Psychology

Nicholls J, (1984), Conceptions of Ability and Achievement Motivation, Research on Motivation in Education, 39-73

Vallerand R and Thill E, (1993), Introduction to Motivation Psychology

Weiner B, (1985), An Attributional Theory of Acheivement Motivation and Emotion, Psychological Review, 548-573

Weiss M and Chaumeton N, (1992), Motivational Orientations in Sport, Advances in Sport Psychology, 61-99