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Intrinsic and Extrinsic Motivation in Sports

“The secret of success is constancy of purpose.” – Benjamin Disraeli

Intrinsic and Extrinsic Motivation Judo PHABRIQ

Motivation is a fundamental aspect of human behavior, driving individuals to pursue goals, engage in activities, and achieve desired outcomes. In the context of sports, understanding the types of motivation that influence athletes' behavior is crucial for enhancing performance, persistence, and overall well-being. Intrinsic and extrinsic motivation are two primary types of motivation that have been extensively studied in psychology. This article explores the core principles, theoretical foundations, practical applications, and case studies of intrinsic and extrinsic motivation in sports, illustrating their significance for athletes, coaches, and sports organizations.

Core Principles of Intrinsic and Extrinsic Motivation

Intrinsic Motivation: Intrinsic motivation refers to engaging in an activity for its inherent enjoyment and satisfaction. Athletes who are intrinsically motivated participate in sports because they find the activity itself rewarding, experiencing pleasure, interest, and a sense of competence.

Extrinsic Motivation: Extrinsic motivation involves engaging in an activity to obtain external rewards or avoid punishments. Athletes who are extrinsically motivated participate in sports to earn rewards such as trophies, medals, scholarships, or social recognition, or to avoid negative consequences.

Continuum of Motivation

Self-Determination Theory (SDT): Developed by Edward Deci and Richard Ryan, Self-Determination Theory posits that motivation exists on a continuum ranging from intrinsic motivation to various forms of extrinsic motivation, with amotivation (lack of motivation) at one end. The continuum includes:

  • Intrinsic Motivation: Engaging in an activity for its own sake.

  • Integrated Regulation: Engaging in an activity because it aligns with one's values and sense of self.

  • Identified Regulation: Engaging in an activity because it is personally important and valued.

  • Introjected Regulation: Engaging in an activity to avoid guilt or anxiety or to enhance ego.

  • External Regulation: Engaging in an activity to obtain external rewards or avoid punishments.

  • Amotivation: Lack of intention to engage in an activity.

Theoretical Foundations

Development of Intrinsic and Extrinsic Motivation Concepts

Edward Deci and Richard Ryan’s Contribution: Edward Deci and Richard Ryan’s research in the 1970s and 1980s laid the foundation for understanding intrinsic and extrinsic motivation. Their work emphasized the importance of autonomy, competence, and relatedness in fostering intrinsic motivation and how external rewards can undermine or enhance motivation depending on their perceived locus of causality.

Cognitive Evaluation Theory (CET): A sub-theory of SDT, CET focuses on how external factors influence intrinsic motivation. According to CET, external rewards and pressures can undermine intrinsic motivation by diminishing perceived autonomy. Conversely, positive feedback that supports autonomy and competence can enhance intrinsic motivation.

Practical Applications in Sports | Enhancing Intrinsic Motivation

Fostering Autonomy: Coaches can enhance intrinsic motivation by providing athletes with choices and opportunities for self-direction. Allowing athletes to have a say in their training plans and goals fosters a sense of ownership and control.

Building Competence: Providing appropriate challenges and opportunities for skill development helps athletes experience mastery and competence. Positive feedback and recognition of effort and improvement reinforce these feelings.

Nurturing Relatedness: Creating a supportive and connected team environment enhances intrinsic motivation. Encouraging positive relationships among teammates and between coaches and athletes fosters a sense of belonging and support.

Utilizing Extrinsic Motivation

Setting External Goals: While intrinsic motivation is ideal, extrinsic rewards can be useful for setting and achieving specific goals. For instance, offering scholarships, trophies, or other rewards can motivate athletes to strive for excellence.

Balancing Rewards and Autonomy: Extrinsic rewards should be used in a way that supports autonomy. Rather than controlling behavior, rewards should acknowledge effort and achievement, enhancing athletes' sense of competence and self-determination.

Managing External Pressures: Coaches should be mindful of the potential negative effects of external pressures. Emphasizing personal growth and effort over winning can help mitigate the adverse impact of external rewards on intrinsic motivation.

Case Studies and Examples | Michael Phelps

Intrinsic Motivation: Michael Phelps' passion for swimming and his intrinsic enjoyment of the sport played a significant role in his success. His love for the water and the thrill of competition kept him motivated throughout his career.

Extrinsic Motivation: Phelps also benefited from extrinsic rewards, such as Olympic medals, sponsorships, and public recognition. These rewards provided additional motivation to maintain his rigorous training regimen and strive for excellence.

Balancing Motivations: Phelps’ ability to balance intrinsic enjoyment with extrinsic rewards contributed to his sustained motivation and success. He remained focused on his love for swimming while also appreciating the external recognition of his achievements.

Example: Youth Sports Programs

Fostering Intrinsic Motivation in Youth Sports: Youth sports programs can enhance intrinsic motivation by creating a fun and engaging environment. Coaches can design practices that emphasize skill development, teamwork, and enjoyment.

Utilizing Extrinsic Rewards: Extrinsic rewards such as trophies, medals, and certificates can be used to recognize effort and achievement. These rewards should be framed in a way that supports autonomy and competence, rather than controlling behavior.

Balancing Motivations: Programs that balance intrinsic and extrinsic motivators can help young athletes develop a love for the sport while striving for excellence. Encouraging personal growth and celebrating progress fosters long-term engagement and motivation.

Philosophical Debates and Criticisms

Intrinsic vs. Extrinsic Motivation

Balance and Integration: One philosophical debate centers on the balance between intrinsic and extrinsic motivation. While intrinsic motivation is associated with long-term engagement and well-being, extrinsic rewards can also be powerful motivators.

Undermining Effect: Critics argue that extrinsic rewards can undermine intrinsic motivation by shifting the focus from enjoyment to external validation. Research by Deci, Ryan, and colleagues supports this view, emphasizing the importance of using extrinsic rewards judiciously.

Contextual Factors: The impact of intrinsic and extrinsic motivation can vary based on contextual factors such as the type of sport, level of competition, and individual differences among athletes. Understanding these factors is crucial for developing effective motivational strategies.

Future Directions in Research and Practice

Integrating Intrinsic and Extrinsic Motivation Theories

Self-Determination Theory (SDT): Integrating intrinsic and extrinsic motivation concepts within the framework of Self-Determination Theory provides a comprehensive understanding of how different types of motivation interact and influence behavior.

Achievement Goal Theory (AGT): Combining intrinsic and extrinsic motivation concepts with Achievement Goal Theory can enhance our understanding of how goal orientations influence motivation. Understanding the interplay between task and ego orientations and intrinsic and extrinsic motivators can help develop more effective coaching strategies.

Technology and Motivation

Wearable Technology: The use of wearable technology in sports, such as fitness trackers and performance monitors, can provide athletes with real-time data on their progress and performance. These technologies can enhance motivation by allowing athletes to track and celebrate their achievements.

Virtual Coaching: Virtual coaching platforms that provide personalized feedback and support can enhance athletes’ motivation. These platforms can offer autonomy-supportive guidance, track progress, and create a sense of relatedness through online communities and peer support.

Mental Health and Well-Being

Addressing Mental Health in Athletes: Understanding the role of intrinsic and extrinsic motivation in athletes' mental health is crucial. By fostering intrinsic motivation and using extrinsic rewards judiciously, coaches and sports organizations can promote mental well-being and reduce the risk of burnout, anxiety, and depression.

Integrating Mental Health Support: Integrating mental health support into sports programs and providing resources such as counseling, mindfulness training, and stress management techniques can enhance athletes’ overall well-being and performance. These interventions can help athletes develop resilience and cope with the pressures of competitive sports.

Practical Examples and Case Studies

Implementing Motivation Principles in Coaching

Case Study: Competitive Tennis Program

Enhancing Intrinsic Motivation: A competitive tennis program implemented strategies to enhance intrinsic motivation among athletes. Coaches designed training sessions that emphasized skill development, enjoyment, and personal growth.

Utilizing Extrinsic Rewards: The program used extrinsic rewards such as trophies and recognition to motivate athletes. These rewards were framed in a way that supported autonomy and competence, enhancing motivation without undermining intrinsic enjoyment.

Balancing Motivations: The balanced approach to intrinsic and extrinsic motivation contributed to the athletes’ sustained engagement and performance. Athletes reported higher levels of motivation, enjoyment, and satisfaction.

Case Study: High School Basketball Team

Fostering Intrinsic Enjoyment: A high school basketball team implemented strategies to foster intrinsic enjoyment among players. Coaches focused on creating a fun and supportive environment that emphasized teamwork and skill development.

Using Extrinsic Rewards Judiciously: The team used extrinsic rewards such as awards and recognition to motivate players. These rewards were presented in a way that acknowledged effort and improvement, supporting intrinsic motivation.

Positive Outcomes: The balanced approach to motivation contributed to the team’s success, with players exhibiting higher levels of motivation, resilience, and performance. The supportive environment also enhanced players’ overall well-being and satisfaction.


Intrinsic and extrinsic motivation are fundamental aspects of human behavior that significantly influence athletes' performance, persistence, and overall well-being. Understanding the interplay between intrinsic and extrinsic motivators is crucial for developing effective motivational strategies in sports.

In sports, intrinsic motivation involves engaging in activities for their inherent enjoyment and satisfaction, while extrinsic motivation involves engaging in activities to obtain external rewards or avoid punishments. Both types of motivation play a role in driving behavior and achieving desired outcomes.

Practical applications of intrinsic and extrinsic motivation in sports include fostering autonomy, building competence, nurturing relatedness, setting external goals, balancing rewards and autonomy, and managing external pressures. Case studies and practical examples demonstrate the effectiveness of these strategies in enhancing motivation, performance, and well-being.

Philosophical debates and criticisms surrounding intrinsic and extrinsic motivation include discussions on the balance between these motivators, the undermining effect of extrinsic rewards, and the impact of contextual factors. Integrating intrinsic and extrinsic motivation concepts with other theories, such as Self-Determination Theory and Achievement Goal Theory, can provide a more comprehensive understanding of motivation in sports.

As we continue to explore and expand our understanding of intrinsic and extrinsic motivation in sports, this concept provides valuable insights and practical guidance for addressing the challenges and opportunities of modern sports environments. By recognizing the importance of both intrinsic and extrinsic motivators, we can cultivate more motivated, engaged, and fulfilled athletes and sports communities.


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