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Why Identifying Player Motivation Is  Critical

Why Identifying Player Motivation Is Critical


As professional coaches, we understand that player motivation is what drives athletes to choose what sport they want to tryout for and what desired position they want to play. But how many coaches genuinely understand what motivates their players and how it affects their game?

We understand that personality, situational motivation, and “life domain” motivations are impacted by several factors that can lead to differing outcomes; however, the challenging part for any coach is narrowing down precisely what those factors are. 

At SkillShark, the cornerstone of our philosophy is to empower coaches to reach their full potential.  A vital part of achieving that goal and becoming a successful coach is understanding what motivates your athletes and why. 

Let’s further explore the types of motivation—intrinsic and extrinsic motivation—and how these both play a role in sports.

Intrinsic Motivation in Athletes

When athletes are intrinsically motivated, they play the game for the love and enjoyment of the sport. Intrinsically motivated athletes tend to be task-involved instead of ego-orientated; their goal is to make progress in a specific skill and gain new knowledge in their sport.

In sports, where practice and hard work are critical for improvement, especially in the early stages of junior development, the conviction that “effort leads to success” is necessary for maintaining perseverance.

However, if a task or activity is boring or unappealing, intrinsic motivation may not be enough to lead the athlete to perform the task to their maximum ability. This is where the coach’s role in delivering the correct message is critical.

Praise, for example, can be a powerful message for any athlete, and depending on the scope in which the message is accepted, an increase in intrinsic motivation should follow. But delivering praise itself is not the concern; it’s the degree to which the athlete “perceives” the message to be sincere. It’s important to note that a considerable drop in performance may occur if the athlete perceives the message as disingenuous.

The program’s structure can also play an integral role in fostering higher levels of intrinsic motivation. For example, if a coach repeatedly highlights the importance of self-improvement instead of outcome, athletes are more likely to show increased levels of intrinsic self-regulation, leading to improved performance.

Intrinsic motivation behaviours in athletes

  • Task-involved and focused solely on performing the task to the best of their ability.
  • Display self-determination and self-regulation. 
  • Exhibit respect for the rules and regulations of the sport.
  • Display less stress and anxiety when compared to players who are extrinsically motivated athletes.
  • Demonstrate confidence in their abilities and are more likely to “bounce back” quicker. 

By utilizing SkillShark’s evaluation software to understand what motivates players, coaches can mitigate and reduce the chance of poor performance by delivering an individualized message that boosts morale.

Individual player development report

Individual development report

Extrinsic Motivation in Athletes

As the name suggests, extrinsic motivation stems from sources external to the athlete and refers to performing the activity as a “means to an end” rather than its own sake. You could say, “They play the sport, not for its enjoyment, but because they have to.”

Extrinsically motivated athletes place a much greater emphasis on the outcome rather than performing to the best of their ability; this leads to the idea that extrinsic rewards are their driving force. 

There are four types of extrinsic motivation that are generally accepted:

1. External regulation

An athlete may choose to participate in practice solely because they hope the coach lets them play in an upcoming game.

2. Introjected regulation

The athlete participates in training because they don’t want to feel guilty about being absent.

3. Identified regulation

An athlete who doesn’t like training days that consist of long-distance running, but does so knowing it improves their cardiovascular capacity and, in turn, their overall performance.

4. Integrated regulation 

This involves athletes performing a task because they have to; however, with integrated regulation, the choice is made with other parts of one’s harmonious self. E.g., The athlete chooses to stay home rather than go out, ensuring they perform at their best the next day.

Coaches may also encounter athletes who are “amotivated,” which refers to the athlete having little to no intentionality. These athletes display sentiments of incompetence and fear of the unexpected. One might say they are without purpose and, as such, show no sign of either intrinsic or extrinsic motivation. 


When delivering a message to an athlete, the coach must consider several key factors. In particular, the justification of the message needs to consider the athlete’s feelings while providing some sort of choice in a non-controlling manner. 

For example, the coach might say, “The drills we’re working on will help you get the most out of your game.” [rationale] “I understand you don’t necessarily enjoy performing them.” [acknowledgment of feelings] ” But, I’ll leave it up to you if you’d like to give them a go.” [choice]

Track and field athletes

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FAQ — Player Motivation

Athletes who are driven by intrinsic motivation engage in the game out of sheer love and enjoyment for the sport. Such athletes typically prioritize task involvement over ego orientation, focusing on advancing specific skills and acquiring fresh insights within their sport.

Extrinsic motivation originates from external factors outside the athlete and involves engaging in the activity as a means to achieve a certain goal rather than for its inherent enjoyment. In essence, these athletes participate in the sport not for the pleasure it brings, but out of obligation. Athletes driven by extrinsic motivation prioritize outcomes over maximizing their performance.

When coaches offer self-improvement advice, athletes become self-motivated and self-determined to become better players on their own terms. By internalizing this feedback, athletes will become intrinsically motivated to practice more often, ask questions, or refer to instructional videos.

An example of self-improvement feedback a coach can provide would be: “When dribbling the soccer ball, keep the ball close to your feet while maintaining gentle contact the whole time. If you work on this, your dribbling will improve at each game!”

When coaches score athletes through their mobile devices, there is an option to add a comment to any skill that is evaluated.

When it comes time to provide feedback, SkillShark’s individual reports are pre-populated with any comments a coach adds during an evaluation. Players will not only gain insight into their skill performance but also receive guidance through comments on areas requiring improvement to enhance their athleticism.

Brenton Barker

Brenton Barker: Former Professional Sports Coach/Manager // Brenton is an Australian with 20 years of experience working with professional athletes. These athletes have combined to win more than ten international events. He holds a Degree in Sports Coaching and was the former Head Advisor to the Japanese Government Sports Institute.