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Motivational Orientations in Sport and Exercise

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Photo By tableatny (BXP135671) [CC BY 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

In sports, athletes might face a large number of diverse situations, in which they have to overcome difficult and challenging situations. Therefore, kinesiology professionals like coaches or psychologists have to find ways to achieve behavioral changes of their athletes. The principles of behavior theory and strong interpersonal relationships are the most widely accepted ways of achieving this.

People participate in sports for a host of reasons. For being able to understand achievement behavior, individual differences must be considered carefully. In fact, personality and situational factors have been identified as the most influential factors of achievement. In this context, achievement goals have been basically classified into task orientation, ego orientation, and competitive orientation. Task and competitive orientation have been found to lead to greater motivation than ego orientation.

In contrast to behavioral approaches, which identify past reinforcements and present contingencies as the components of all behavior, cognitive approaches assume that people are active perceivers and interpreters of information. A basic classification of motivation groups intrinsic and extrinsic motivation.

Self-determination theory represents a framework, which analyzes the interplay between extrinsic and intrinsic motives, and needs that affect an individual’s behavior. Needs describe the three dimensions of need for competence, need for autonomy, and need for social relatedness. The critical component of this theory refers to the degree to which individuals fulfill those basic needs. The more they are able to accomplish their needs, the more their behavior is self-determined. Over the years, self-determination theory has been researched and refined by practitioners and researchers around the world, and has become a major component of cognitive evaluation.

In this context, motivational interviewing has become one of the most effective evidence based motivational method in sport and exercise psychology. It was originally developed as a counseling approach for clinical practice, to facilitate change in health-related behaviors. It combines several principles, like expressing empathy, developing discrepancy, and rolling with resistance. The technique tries to use positive motivation to have the patient understanding and articulating the benefits and costs involved. It illustrates, that the change could rather be achieved as a result of positive motivation, than of negative one.

A strong interpersonal relationship, in connection to an open and clear communication, between an athlete and his/her coach or psychologist, remain to be key success factors for achieving behavioral change. Finally, it is all about having detailed knowledge of the athlete’s preferences and individual characteristics, to be able to motivate him/her most effectively. Considering individual differences is an essential component for a successful motivational strategy.

By Philipp Sauer, Ed.D.

Dr. Philipp Sauer is an Alumnus of the United States Sports Academy, the University of Liverpool, UK and the European University of Applied Sciences, Germany.

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