15 November 2020

Part One: What’s what? Understanding the mechanisms of motivation

There are a multitude of ways to approach goal-setting and improving motivation, training ethic, performance, and skills in a sporting context.  This may cause confusion when it comes to deciding which methods are best to use and apply in real life, and what will work best for your athletes in your context and help you get the best out of their performance.

Part one of this article aims to unpack the different types of motivation sources, and explore extrinsic versus intrinsic motivation in terms of goal-setting for sport and performance.

Goals are a vital part of everyday life, and can be used as tools to improve a variety of aspects in pursuit of something new or something objective. Researchers continuously try to understand how goal-setting can impact cognitive and behavioural outcomes, and how different motivational factors affect performance, motivation and mindset. There are also new academic theories being created in order to understand and apply the knowledge of many. Locke and Latham (2002) suggest that goals are able to enhance performance, with the example of sport, through four mechanisms:

Setting goals helps to direct your attention and effort towards activities which are relevant and beneficial to your current goals (and away from irrelevant ones),
Goals can help to energize you within a task, and there will be a need to expend higher effort to achieve more challenging goals,
Goals can positively or negatively impact persistence in tasks relevant to pursuing goals,
Action can be impacted through the adoption of task-relevant strategies and goal-specific knowledge.

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There are a number of ways to approach setting goals in order to make this process effective for performance, well-being, and health, and specific to an individual's way of thinking and processing information. Everyone has an individual way of thinking and of perceiving information, based on the positive or negative outcomes of past experiences. For example if you are competing in a 200m running race against seven other opponents, you all have the same information about the rules and the duration of the race, and you all aim to have the fastest time. However, there will be eight different thought patterns in how this race is approached; you and your competitors all have different ways of thinking, overall goals, and previous experiences within this context. These can all influence your performance as your motivation levels may differ, as will your reasons for being motivated and outcomes of these, whether you succeeded in winning or mastering the skill and this flow-on effect on well-being.

Motivation is the reason behind why we do things and can be seen as various forms on a continuum, from intrinsic (internal) to extrinsic (external) motivation. Intrinsic motivation, simply put, is doing something for the love of it, because you enjoy the process and satisfaction of completing something. Intrinsic motivation is often based on skill improvement or growth. These internal cues keep you coming back to a sport or a skill because you love the process and have developed a passion for it, have increased confidence and self-efficacy and tend to gain greater satisfaction from tasks. Extrinsic motivation, on the other hand, is where rewards and praise are the most sought-after outcomes of completing a task or showing competency and ability in a skill or sport. Extrinsic motivation often comes from social aspects. Often when someone is extrinsically motivated, they are focused on performance or outcome results, and their self-esteem or well-being can be affected if these results are not achieved. This can manifest and become controlled by external rewards such as money, awards, or avoiding punishment or guilt. If someone becomes reliant on extrinsic rewards, it can eventually weaken their intrinsic motivation. However, extrinsic rewards can also improve someone’s intrinsic motivation, through controlling their own behaviours when both verbal and non-verbal positive reinforcements are given, as well as skill success through their own actions. This will help to improve intrinsic motivating factors, and help them feel in control of their actions even when there is an extrinsic reward.

Understanding the behaviours behind motivation and how these can affect performance based on both internal and external rewards, as well as knowing the context of the situation, is vital in gathering momentum with an athlete to help improve performance and build resilience when skills and competence are being learnt or competition is fierce. By establishing foundations that allow for athletes to be self-reliant and internally motivated to become competent in their skill, and to also strive for the external rewards of winning, will help to develop resilient and hard-working athletes. The mindset of these athletes with how they are motivated to train or compete is vital in improving performance and competence; however it is also important to understand the goal-directed behaviours, and how these can be influenced based on the types of goals set. By looking at the “Achievable Goal Theory (AGT)” we can hope to understand goal-setting behaviours and how they relate to intrinsic and extrinsic motivation a little bit more in PART TWO.

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Hackfort, D., & Schinke, R. J. (Eds.). (2020). The Routledge International Encyclopedia of Sport and Exercise Psychology: Volume 1: Theoretical and Methodological Concepts. Routledge.

Hatch, S., Thomsen, D., & Waldron, J. (n.d.). Extrinsic Rewards and Motivation. Retrieved on October 20, 2020 from https://appliedsportpsych.org/resources/resources-for-coaches/extrinsic-rewards-and-motivation/#:~:text=Athletes%20who%20are%20intrinsically%20motivated,reasons%2C%20such%20as%20material%20rewards.&text=Extrinsic%20rewards%2C%20when%20used%20correctly%2C%20can%20be%20beneficial%20to%20athletes.

Healy, L., Tincknell-Smith, A., & Ntoumanis, N. (2018). Goal Setting in Sport and Performance. In Oxford Research Encyclopedia of Psychology.

Locke, E. A., & Latham, G. P. (2002). Building a practically useful theory of goal setting and task motivation: A 35-year odyssey. American psychologist, 57(9), 705.