In elite sport, motivation is a key psychological trait that is needed to excel. Elite players need high levels of motivation to push themselves to their limits and to be able to deal with the pressures of training and playing constantly each week.
The question that can be asked, is why are these players so motivated and where does this motivation come from. Psychologists distinguish between two types of motivation – intrinsic and extrinsic. Intrinsic motivation is “doing something for its own sake and not for external rewards, whilst extrinsic motivation is defined as doing something as a means to an end” (Mc Neill & Wang, 2005). Self-determination theory is used to understand human motivation and personality. It states that there are three basic psychological needs, which are autonomy, competence and relatedness (Deci & Ryan, 2000). Social determination theory argues that we are active organisms and we are constantly changing and growing to adapt to different environments and situations. However, we need constant social support to keep these tendencies going. Therefore if these needs are thwarted then it can have a detrimental effect on wellness. Social determination theory distinguishes between intrinsic and extrinsic motivation and can help us understand the different reasons for motivation. Extrinsic motivation can vary in relation to its different types: external regulation, introjected regulation, identified regulation and integrated regulation.
External regulation is a form of motivation that is least autonomous and involves a person participating in an activity for rewards. Introjected regulation is when someone will participate in an activity because they are feeling pressured and therefore want to avoid feelings of guilt or anxiety. Therefore a person will try to maintain their pride by taking part in the activity. Identified regulation is a more autonomous form of motivation and this is where a person will behave in a certain way or manner out of choice. Finally integrated regulation is the most autonomous form of motivation and this is where an athlete will “engage in an activity from an extrinsic perspective in a choiceful manner” (Vallerand, 2004). Clifford and Stephanie (2004) studied motivation in elite athletes and found that the athletes were driven by goals, had strong self-belief and revolved their life around their sport. This shows how important intrinsic motivation is for elite athletes and how believing in one’s self can have a very positive effect on performance. Therefore it can be seen that players can be motivated for many different reasons, all which can have an effect on performance.