Intrinsic & Extrinsic Motivation For Athletes

What are the factors that motivate an athlete to perform? And not just perform, but consistently perform to the best of their capabilities? Every athlete has different internal and external motivations that push them to dedicate their time to improving themselves. If one wants to excel in the sporting world, the acknowledgment of these motivations is essential to one’s success. 

Intrinsic motivations are driven firmly to the fundamental desire to learn and develop new skills. The need to be in control of one’s behavior, the need to feel efficient and develop meaningful relations with others are some of the psychological factors underlying intrinsic motivation. Such motivation encourages athletes to push themselves harder to become the best in their sports, even if it is while training. 

On the other hand, extrinsic motivation is driven by external sources such as the prospect of receiving college scholarships, financial incentives, or in some cases, not wanting to disappoint your parents. Extrinsic motivation majorly focuses on performance outcomes by winning the game or performing at exceptional levels. Although, in some cases, these external motivators can decrease the internal determination due to their extensive amount used in sports today. For example, an athlete’s thought process returning from injury as early as possible may be affected by the quality of the team they are playing next or the media coverage scheduled for that particular game.

But, how does the relationship between these internal and external factors affect an athlete’s performance? 

The importance of these factors is relative to different athletes. While Intrinsic motivation is crucial for young athletes who are learning a sport, it might not be the case with some professional and elite ones. Research has shown that athletes who have been majorly motivated by extrinsic factors are more likely to become discouraged if they do not perform to expectations, sometimes highly unrealistic. 

These elements can affect each other too. For instance, if an athlete sets a goal of achieving some aim (extrinsic motivation) such as receiving a scholarship to play their sport, but fails to achieve this goal, the motivation to continue in the sport lowers significantly. Conversely, if extrinsic rewards are a confirmation of the athlete’s ability, it can have positive effects on intrinsic motivation. 

A healthy combination of intrinsic and extrinsic motivation is essential to get the best of an athlete. It is the responsibility of trainers and athletes themselves to recognize and develop both these motivations. This allows athletes to perform at the highest level.