Exercise is important if you want to be healthy, feel good, and look good;
however, many people do not do it. Lack of motivation is one reason given for not
participating in sports and exercise. Motivation, while used in vague ways in informal
conversation, can be best understood as the combination of direction and intensity of
effort – what situations one seeks out and how much effort is put forth in a specific
situation. As fitness professionals, whether coaches, teachers, or exercise leaders, we can
have an impact on the motivation levels of our clients and understanding theoretical
models of motivation can help us understand our clients better.
Motivation is best understood by taking an interactional perspective considering
both trait factors of the individual and the role of the situation rather than either in
isolation. Trait factors could include the needs, interests, and personality factors of the
individual and situational factors could be the leadership style of the coach, specific
factors of the sport such as equipment available or team records, or factors outside of the
sport altogether, such as the client’s relationships and work-life. Motivation can also be
thought of in terms of being intrinsic or extrinsic. Other factors do of course affect
exercise and sport involvement but motivation certainly plays a large role.
Four major theories of achievement motivation greatly influence how we in the exercise
and sport community can approach understanding motivation and applying what we
know to our roles as leaders. All are interactional views that factor in both the person and
the situation.
Need achievement theory (Atkinson, 1974; McClelland, 1961) has provided a
framework that other research has built upon that focuses on the five factors that affect if
a person strives for success, persists in the face of failure, and how people experience
pride and shame. The five factors in this model are personality factors and motives,
situational factors, resultant tendencies (whether the person is likely to approach or avoid
similar situations), emotional reactions such as shame or pride, and achievement
behaviors such as seeking or avoiding opportunities of achievement, looking for
challenge/avoiding risks, and performance improving declining. This model is important
because it presents motivation as a dynamic, multidimensional process. The ongoing
interaction of a client’s personality, how the situation is set up, and emotional responses
create motivation and so we can leaders can help foster motivation. This model also helps
us understand why people chose the tasks they do, if they are motivated initially to avoid
failure, the approach is very different than if a person is motivated to achieve.
Attribution theory is concerned primarily with how people explain their successes
and failures (Heider, 1958; Weiner, 1985, 1986). These explanations, under this model,
can be divided into three categories: stability, stable or unstable; causality, internal or
external; control, in control or out of control. For example if a personal wins a
weightlifting competition feeling like they won because they put in the hard work and are
talented (in control, internal, stable) their experience will be different to another person
winning a similar competition who thinks that they won because the competition was
easy, they were just lucky that time, and that they aren’t that talented in general (unstable,
external, out of control). This perception of a success or failure has been shown to have
an impact on the future successes and failures of an athlete (Biddle, Hanrahan, & Sellars,
2001). As a coach, this is important because feedback and emotional climate can affect
the way an athlete labels their successes and failures, which in turn affects future success
and motivation.
Achievement Goal Theory focuses on what success or failure means to a
particular person. This is affected by the achievement goals, whether the goal is outcome
or task oriented; the perceived ability of the individual; and their achievement behavior,
performance, effort, persistence, and task choice (Duda and Hall, 2001). As a coach, we
help create an environment that is either focused on mastery of skills and doing one’s
best or outcomes such as winning, so understanding the impact of this climate on
motivation is very important.
Competence Motivation Theory is based on the idea that people are motivated to
feel worthy and competent and therefore that these feelings are central to motivation
(Weiss & Chaumeton, 1992). As a coach, realizing that motivation isn’t just about telling
people to work harder, that it has a lot to do with participants’ feelings and their
perceptions of control should affect the way training plans are structured.
Intrinsic and extrinsic motivation is a way to organize the factors that motivate a
person. The previously discussed theories recognize both intrinsic factors such as
feelings of competence, perceived ability, and responses to success or failure, and
extrinsic factors such as coaching style, motivational climate being task or outcome
oriented, and the competitive or cooperational focus. Extrinsic factors can also include
rewards or incentives for participation such as money or prizes. Positive feedback has
been shown to result in higher levels of intrinsic motivation than negative or no feedback
(Vallerand & Reid, 1984). Both social and psychological factors affect intrinsic
motivation and being aware of the factors can help foster it. Appropriate rewards can
motivate people but focusing on only extrinsic factors can undermine the intrinsic
Flow is a special type of intrinsic motivation where there is a balance of challenge
and skill, the participant is completely absorbed in the task, there are clear goals, action
and awareness merge, total concentration on the task is experienced, there is a loss of
self-consciousness, there is a sense of control, there are no extrinsic rewards, time is
transformed, and movements feel effortless (Jackson & Csikzentmihalyi, 1999). In this
state, performance and intrinsic motivation are both at their highest. The balance of
challenge and skill is key and as fitness leaders, trying to facilitate that balance as best as
possible would be a good idea.
Passion is another factor that has been related to sustained motivation because
one’s identity is related to the activity and therefore direction is focused and intensity is
high (Vallerand et al., 2003). Passion can be encouraged by a coach perhaps by
encouraging people to relate one’s identity to the activity in a positive way.
Enjoying an activity or involvement on a team is related to intrinsic motivation
because we all have a need to belong; therefore, within groups, cohesion is strongly
connected to satisfaction and thus motivates us to continue (Widmeyer & Williams,
1991). Coaching behaviors and styles are also connected to intrinsic motivation (Horn,
2002). So the team dynamic, and relationships both between the members and the coach
and between the members themselves affect motivation.
In summation, motivation is complex, dynamic, and multi-dimensional. It can be
understood through a variety of models that take into account both the person and the
situation. The continuum of intrinsic and extrinsic motivation helps us understand the
types of motivation, and the factors in each model can be broken down into their
composite parts to give us a glimpse of the inner workings of what gives a person
direction and intensity of focus on a task or activity. The feedback and reinforcement
from a coach, the motivational climate, experiences of stress, perception of control,
feelings of self-esteem, enjoyment, and pride or shame can all affect motivation. As
coaches, we play a critical role in creating a motivational climate and care must be taken
to structure situations to meet our participant’s individual needs and understand the
internal and situational motives for their involvement.
Category : Wellness Coaching