Motivation: 3 Influential Perspectives on Performance

Various elements come into play when discussing a winning mindset. It’s difficult to pick one as the pillar of success; however, motivation draws a great deal of attention in determining the success of an athlete and a team. There are many aspects of motivation. We will focus on these three aspects: Parent / Coach, Self Efficacy, and Intrinsic and Extrinsic Factors. 

On the surface, one may think Motivation is a fairly basic concept. As the competitive nature of sport reaches new levels for youth athletes, the stakes have raised in how competitive landscapes of our culture including parents, coaches, and athletes are affected. We must understand what drives us and why. The WHY is the emphasis here, we need to understand how motivation plays out so we can use it to help us compete and win with joy and well-being.

What aspects of motivation draw the best results in player performance?

Let’s use 3 perspectives to look at motivation deeper: 

1)  Motivation: Parent/Coach Impact

There is a body of research that looks at motivation through the lens of Achievement Goal Theory (AGT). In this theory, there are two states of goal involvement (mastery and ego), and two corresponding motivational climates that reinforce behaviors consistent with their relevant goal involvement. “A mastery climate involves a focus on learning from mistakes, enjoyment, and self-referenced success criteria (Ames, 1992). Conversely, an ego climate involves an emphasis on winning, punishing mistakes, and encouraging normative comparisons. A wealth of evidence indicates that athletes performing under a mastery climate respond with more adaptive psychological outcomes when compared to an ego climate (Smith et al., 2007; Smoll et al.,)”

A research study involving competitive youth swimmers found that the most notable feature from their research study was that parent-initiated motivational climate was a significant predictor of self-esteem, trait anxiety (referring to one’s personal characteristics) and autonomous regulation (goals reflected by one’s personal interests). 

The relationship between a parent and child differs in important ways from that of a coach and athlete. Parents interact with their children individually, at home, and are engaged in multiple aspects of sport such as travel, financial support, and emotional support. They operate not only within a sports context but also within a larger framework that significantly shapes their child’s physical and psychological development. ( D.J. O’rourke Et Al. 2012).

Further research indicates that coaches most influenced children’s motivation during their instruction and assessment roles, whereas parents most influenced motivation during their support in the child’s participation and learning. ( D.J. O’rourke Et Al. 2011) In conclusion, we find research supports that a coach-initiated mastery climate is associated with higher self-esteem higher intrinsic motivation, and lower levels of anxiety. Similarly, research from   (Daniel J. O’Rourke, Ronald E. Smith, Frank L. Smoll & Sean P. Cumming 2014) has found that mastery climate from parents creates a more well rounded healthier athlete when specifically looking at youth sports.  

Key Takeaway: An extensive body of research shows that when working with athletes a mastery climate that teaches learning from mistakes, creating joy, and positive encouragement creates a more well-rounded athlete with greater positive outcomes. This approach was proven over an “ego climate” that teaches, winning, punishing mistakes, and comparisons to others.” (Daniel J. O’Rourke, Ronald E. Smith, Frank L. Smoll & Sean P. Cumming 2014)

The parents dynamic has given rise to further knowledge that parents are instrumental in many other ways then coaches, such as providing transportation, emotional support, and financial support. The research on these factors shows that when parents step into the coach’s dynamic or role it may flood the athlete and diminish the power of their own mastery climate that can benefit youth athletes.

2)  Self Efficacy and Motivation

Simply put self-efficacy involves one’s beliefs in accomplishing a task or executing a skill. Research shows that self-efficacy predicts such outcomes as cognitive skill learning, smoking cessation, pain tolerance, athletic performance, career choices, assertiveness, coping with feared events, recovery from heart attack, and sales performance (Bandura, 1986; Maddux, 1993; Schunk,1989).

Self Efficacy is built upon three factors: personal experiences, prior experiences, and social support (coaches, parents, and peers) and there are three types of interventions designed to influence self-efficacy: models, goal setting, feedback. Research has shown us that goal-setting positively influence self-efficacy, motivation, and performance. Secondly, the feedback has been proven to support individuals’ perceptions of their progress, increase self-efficacy, and sustain motivation (Schunk, 1989). The type of feedback that creates the most influence on self-efficacy and motivation is attributional feedback (feedback on effort concerning performance). Specific feedback that shows an athlete how their performance has improved is likely to raise self-efficacy and motivation. Secondly, goal feedback (progress towards goals) has been evidenced to have a direct impact on self-efficacy and motivation, which leads to increases in performance.

Key Takeaways: Long-standing research shows us one of the most vital aspects of longevity and increases in performance is tied to an athlete’s sense of self-efficacy. This concept is tied to belief in an athletes ability to overcome and achieve. This concept of self-efficacy is grown and produced through one’s efforts that are tied to goals and credible feedback to one’s progress. This can be interrupted to show us that support systems should be focused on driving self-efficacy in athletic pursuits.

3)  Extrinsic and Intrinsic Factors in Motivation

Athletes face a variety of factors on their journey to athletic pursuits. They must face adversity, rebound from athletic injuries, train for hours, and manage anxiety and pressures in competitive landscapes. Rising to these challenges requires mental strength and flexibility. Motivation to absorb these aspects is crucial. 

Research reveals that athletes may find motivation in two ways: intrinsic motivation and extrinsic motivation. Athletes find motivation from pure joy, fun, and seeing their advances in their skills (intrinsic) or by attaining rewards, trophies, and accolades from their environment (extrinsic motivation). To date, Self Determination Theory (SDT) has most comprehensively explained motivation. SDT states three psychological needs that are most crucial in the energization of human action and success: the needs for autonomy, competence, and relatedness (Deci, 1992,Deci & Ryan.). The need for autonomy is the ability to self initiate one’s actions by discovering their level of control and choice. Competence implies the athletes knowledge, desire and want to interact effectively within their sport. Finally, relatedness relates to the desire and need to feel connected with others in their sport. These three elements show us what is needed to elevate and actualize an athletes’ performance through intrinsic motivation. (Ryan, 1993.) 

Intrinsic motivation can drive task focus, ability to recover from mistakes, and increase in self-efficacy and confidence. Intrinsic motivation in its greatest form can be viewed as the flow state or the zone which is characterized by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi who described it as a complete immersion in an activity where nothing else matters (wins, losses, rewards). Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi was a pioneer in explaining flow state. Extrinsic motivation when not supported with intrinsic drive can increase negative attitudes, decrease focus, and decrease interest in sports. There is a wealth of research in this area and at the root, we know that intrinsic motivation carries the greatest weight in performance; however, the combination of the two factors when fully supported and balanced has proven to create the greatest outcomes in a competitive environment.

Key Takeaways: Extrinsic and Intrinsic motivation are foundational in understanding motivation. Intrinsic motivation comes from pure joy, fun, and confidence in increasing your abilities, carries the greatest longevity and impact in sports and can stand on its own in regards to motivation to play. Extrinsic motivation has relevance and when coupled with intrinsic motivation creates the best outcomes in competition when appropriately balanced. However, when competition is forged through extrinsic motivation alone (driven by external outcomes, rewards, and accolades) it can create decreases in one’s overall confidence, ability to recover from failure, increases in anxiety, and can degrade overall joy and fun. As we know, joy and fun in sports is crucial for motivation and drive and directly affects performance. 

Motivation: Three perspective recap.

1) Coaches and Parents should approach youth sports from a Mastery Climate perspective of learning from mistakes, creating joy, and positive encouragement.

2) Build motivation through building self-efficacy (the belief in oneself to complete tasks and achieve). Self Efficacy is built through positive modeling, goal-setting, and specific feedback.

3) Intrinsic and Extrinsic factors affect motivation. Intrinsic motivation (joy, fun, seeing one’s improvement), can stand on its own to drive motivation. Extrinsic motivation in isolation can have a negative effect on performance. When extrinsic motivation is coupled in a balanced fashion with intrinsic motivation it creates a winning formula and increases outcomes and performance. 


[1] O’Rourke, D. J., Smith, R. E., Smoll, F. L., & Cumming, S. P. (2011). Trait anxiety in young athletes as a function of parental pressure and motivational climate: Is parental pressure always harmful? Journal of Applied Sport Psychology, Psychology, 23, 398–412.

[2] O’Rourke, D. J., Smith, R. E., Smoll, F. L., & Cumming, S. P. (2012). Parent-initiated motivation climate, self-esteem, and autonomous motivation in young athletes: Testing propositions from achievement goal and self-determination theories. Child Development Research, Article ID 393914. doi:10.1155/2012/393914

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