September 5


The Ultimate Guide: Which Motivational View Reigns Supreme in Sports Psychology?

By Joshua Turner

September 5, 2023

Sports psychology is a rapidly growing field that focuses on mental and emotional aspects of athletic performance. Understanding motivation is essential for coaches, trainers, and sports psychologists alike. There are many theories of motivation, but sport psychologists widely endorse the self-determination theory.

According to self-determination theory, three basic psychological needs must be met for individuals to be intrinsically motivated: autonomy, competence, and relatedness. Autonomy refers to the need to feel in control of one’s own actions and decisions.

Competence refers to feeling capable and effective in one’s activities. Relatedness refers to the need to feel connected to others and to have a sense of belonging. When these needs are met, individuals are more likely to be self-motivated and engage in activities for enjoyment and satisfaction.

Key Takeaways

Understanding Motivation

Motivation is a critical factor in sports psychology. It refers to the drive that compels an individual to act in a particular way. The motivation of an athlete can significantly impact their performance and outcomes.

Individuals have different personalities, which can affect their motivation. Athletes who have high achievement motivation tend to strive for excellence and success. Intrinsic motivation, which comes from within, is also essential for athletes, as it drives them to participate in sports for enjoyment.

The need achievement theory suggests that an athlete’s motivation is determined by their perception of the probability of success and the incentive value of success. For example, approval-oriented swimmers tend to be motivated by positive feedback, while rejection-oriented swimmers are motivated by avoiding negative feedback.

The motive to achieve success is essential to an athlete’s motivation. Reinforcement, such as rewards and punishments, can influence an athlete’s motivation.

The interactional view of motivation suggests that a combination of personal and situational factors influences an athlete’s motivation. Competence motivation theory proposes that an athlete’s motivation is driven by their desire to feel competent. Mastery goal orientation, which focuses on learning and improving, and task goal orientation, which emphasizes achieving specific goals, are also important factors in an athlete’s motivation.

Finally, persistence is a critical component of an athlete’s motivation. Athletes who are persistent and continue to work towards their goals, even in the face of challenges and setbacks, are more likely to achieve success.

Factors Affecting Motivation

Motivation is a complex concept that is influenced by a variety of factors. Situational factors, such as the type of sport and the level of competition, can significantly impact an athlete’s motivation. Sport psychologists recognize that personal factors, such as an athlete’s characteristics and coping skills, also influence motivation.

Competitors can strongly impact an athlete’s motivation, and the interactional view of motivation suggests that the interaction between personal and situational factors influences motivation. A study by Sorrentino and Sheppard found that feedback, group situations, individual situations, and relay situations can all impact an athlete’s motivation.


The trait-centered approach to motivation focuses on personality traits, such as self-confidence, anxiety, and concentration, while the situational approach emphasizes the environment and the athlete’s state of anxiety. Imagery, test anxiety, and performance and outcome goals are important motivation factors.

The person and situation interact to influence motivation, and outcome goal orientation and stage of development can impact an athlete’s mental preparation. The catastrophe model suggests that arousal and attentional focus are important motivation factors, while leadership, expectations, confidence, and pride or shame can influence resultant achievement motivation.

Learned helplessness, perfectionism, reliability, trait anxiety, and coachability are other factors that can impact an athlete’s motivation. Goal setting, freedom from worry, situation-specific sports inventory, mastery goals, self-esteem, self-concept, and the athletic coping skills inventory can all be used to improve an athlete’s motivation.

Understanding the many factors that can impact motivation is essential for sports psychologists and coaches. They can develop effective strategies to help athletes achieve their full potential by considering personal and situational factors.

Role of Sport Psychology

Sport psychologists widely endorse it and use scientific research to help athletes and coaches improve performance, manage stress, and enhance well-being.

Sport psychologists provide consulting services to individuals, teams, and organizations, helping them develop mental skills essential for success in sports. They are also vital in educating athletes, coaches, and parents about the motives for sports participation and the benefits of physical activity.

In addition to working with athletes and coaches, sport psychologists may also provide clinical psychology and counseling services to individuals struggling with mental health issues related to their participation in sports. They use quantitative research methodologies to evaluate the effectiveness of their interventions and adhere to ethical standards and competency guidelines in their practice.


In conclusion, the most widely endorsed view of motivation taken by sport psychologists is the self-determination theory (SDT). SDT emphasizes the importance of intrinsic motivation, driven by personal satisfaction and enjoyment rather than external factors such as rewards or punishments.

SDT also highlights the significance of autonomy, competence, and relatedness in motivating individuals. Autonomy refers to the sense of control and choice over one’s actions, competence is the feeling of being capable and effective, and relatedness is the sense of connection and belonging.

Overall, SDT provides a comprehensive framework for understanding motivation in sports and has been supported by numerous studies. Athletes can achieve long-term success and fulfillment in their sports endeavors by focusing on intrinsic motivation and satisfying basic psychological needs.

Frequently Asked Questions

What is the most widely accepted view of motivation in sport psychology?

The most widely accepted view of motivation in sport psychology is the self-determination theory (SDT). SDT suggests people have three basic psychological needs: autonomy, competence, and relatedness. According to SDT, when these needs are met, individuals are more likely to engage in activities willingly and with greater motivation.

What is the difference between task and ego goal orientations in motivation?

Task goal orientation refers to the motivation to improve one’s own performance, whereas ego goal orientation refers to the motivation to outperform others. In sport psychology, task goal orientation is associated with greater enjoyment, effort, and persistence. In contrast, ego goal orientation is associated with anxiety, pressure, and a focus on winning at all costs.

What is the interactional view of motivation and how is it applied in sport psychology?

The interactional view of motivation suggests that motivation results from the interaction between personal and situational factors. In sport psychology, this view is used to understand how individual differences, such as personality and goal orientation, interact with environmental factors, such as coaching style and team dynamics, to influence motivation.

How can undesirable motives of a participant be changed effectively?

One effective way to change the undesirable motives of a participant is through goal setting. By setting specific, challenging, and attainable goals, individuals can shift their focus from extrinsic rewards, such as winning or pleasing others, to intrinsic rewards, such as personal growth and self-improvement.

What is achievement motivation theory and how is it relevant to sport psychology?

Achievement motivation theory suggests that individuals are motivated to succeed and avoid failure. In sport psychology, this theory is used to understand how athletes’ achievement motivation influences their behavior, such as their goal setting, effort, and persistence.

What is the sport-specific form of achievement motivation called in sport psychology?

The sport-specific form of achievement motivation is called competitiveness. Competitiveness refers to an individual’s motivation to outperform others in a sport context. In sport psychology, competitiveness is often studied about other constructs, such as goal orientation and achievement motivation.

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