Motivation is a key characteristic of successful athletes. Coaches and parents often try to help athletes increase or maintain motivation. Some “old-school” ways of increasing motivation can be viewed as punishment (running three miles because you were late to practice) and some “new-school” motivational techniques can appear to be coddly (“Don’t worry, everyone gets a trophy just for showing up!”). It is important to find a balance between internal motivation and external motivation to help athletes succeed in sport. This is helpful for individual athletes and is especially true for teams.
Motivation is athletes’ ability to begin tasks with the purpose of achieving a goal and seeing the task through to the end.
In other words, motivation provides direction and energy to start and maintain a behavior (Anshel, 2012). For example, an athlete who wishes to improve her batting average might spend extra time in the cages, work with a hitting coach and sport psychology consultant, increase strength training, and analyze her tapes more frequently. Others would observe her behavior and think, “Wow, she is really motivated to improve!” The reasons why she is motivated can be complex, but the fact that she dedicated extra time to the mentioned activities are action steps fueled by motivation because she believes the action steps will help her reach her goal (better batting average).
It is easier to maintain motivation when athletes are succeeding in sports – the challenges to maintain motivation often arise when athletes face tough times. So why is it that some athletes can increase motivation during times of adversity (injury recovery, after a bad play, after a loss, after several losses) and others cannot? Knowing about the types of motivation, extrinsic and intrinsic, will help athletes, coaches, and parents understand how to help athletes remain focused on their short-term and long-term goals.
Extrinsic Motivation is when athletes need encouragement from others to succeed. These outside sources can include encouraging words from coaches, the roar of a home field crowd, or the promises of endorsements. Extrinsic motivational factors might provide positive short-term behavioral changes, like increased drive to succeed in one game, but often lack the continued encouragement needed to help athletes maintain long-term behaviors that will result in the ultimate goal. For example, if an athlete is only motivated to succeed when he hears the home field cheers from his fans, he is unlikely to be as successful during away games.
Intrinsic Motivation is when athletes are driven to succeed based on their own desire to excel. Intrinsic motivation tends to have longer-term lasting positive effects and can result in consistent behaviors in practices and games, the ability to manage emotions effectively, and overall feelings of accomplishment. Athletes who are intrinsically motivated draw energy from within themselves to find the dedication to repeat specific behaviors (showing up early to practice, extra time in the weight room, going above and beyond in practice) that ultimately result in success.
Coaches are faced with challenges when learning the communication style and motivational trends of their athletes. It is more feasible to understand these aspects of an individual athlete than to learn about communication and motivation of an entire team (think about getting to know one athlete versus a team of 50!). Additional effort must be taken by coaches who work with teams to find ways to motivate their athletes.
In his book Sport Psychology From Theory To Practice, Mark Anshel provides recommendations for motivating athletes. My favorite 5 recommendations are listed below with specific ways to apply the recommendations to groups of athletes.
Living an athletic lifestyle results in emotional ups and downs. The key to success is managing the ups and downs in a healthy way and learning from both successes and disappointments. Learning how to help athletes and coaches examine extrinsic and intrinsic motivation is a way to improve and maintain motivation in team settings.
Dr. Michele Kerulis, LCPC, CC-AASP is the Director of Sport Psychology & Athletic Enhancement. For more information on motivation please contact IAE Sport Psych.
Reference. Anshel, M. H. (2010). Sport psychology from theory to practice (5th ed). Benjamin Cummings/Pearson, San Francisco, CA.