The Sport Information Resource Centre
The Sport Information Resource Centre

by Trent Weir 
Algonquin College Sport Business Management Intern 

Kieran Behan made his first Olympic appearance at the 2012 London Games as the first gymnast from Ireland to qualify based on his results. While it’s an impressive feat, it is only part of the story. As a young boy, Kieran suffered two major injuries, as a result he was told on both occasions by physicians that he might never walk again. While many people would give up at this point, it did not deter Kieran as he had already decided that he was going to be an Olympian. Even at a young age, he had the determination and motivation to overcome major obstacles and still achieve his goal.

Kieran’s story is a great example of the power of intrinsic motivation. If an athlete is intrinsically motivated it means they are taking part in their activity because they find it interesting, fun, and enjoy the challenges it provides. When an individual is motivated they will be far more persistent in the effort of achieving their performance goals.

A self-motivated athlete will be more willing to make hard choices on their own and complete activities they may not enjoy otherwise. They may work harder at school knowing they need to maintain their grades to play their sport at the university level; they may be willing to get up early because it increases the time they have for training.

So how do we encourage athletes to be more intrinsically motivated?

There are a few things to consider:

  • Be involved in the athlete’s activities.
  • Make sure you encourage the athlete to take initiative.
  • Allow the athlete to make important choices for themselves.
  • Avoid using rewards or punishment as motivation.
  • Try not to put added pressure on the athlete as this can lead to over-training and burn out.
  • Do not put the emphasis on results (winning/losing), instead focus on attainable goals.

By being supportive and encouraging to a young athlete, their coach or parent can help them realize that this is something important to them. As long as the athlete is in a sport they love, they do not need rewards or the fear of punishment to stay committed and work harder.

References from the SIRC Collection:

1. Lukwu, R. M., & Guzman Lujan, J. F. (2011). Sport commitment and adherence: A social-cognitive analysis. Revista Internacional De Ciencias Del Deporte. 7(25), 277-286. 
2. Moreno, J. A., Gonzalez-Cutre, D., Martin-Albo, J., & Cervello, E. (2010). Motivation and performance in physical education: An experimental test. Journal Of Sports Science & Medicine. 9(1), 79-85. 
3. Ngien-Siong, C., Khoo, S., & Wah-Yun, L. (2012). Self-Determination and Goal Orientation in Track and Field. Journal Of Human Kinetics. 33, 151-161. 
4. Roark, M. F. & Ellis, G. D. (2009). Effect of Self-Determination Theory-based Strategies for Staging Recreation Encounters on Intrinsic Motivation of Youth Residential Campers. Journal Of Park & Recreation Administration. 27(4), 1-16. 
5. Seifert, C. M., Chapman, L. S., Hart, J. K., & Perez, P. (2012). Enhancing Intrinsic Motivation in Health Promotion and Wellness. American Journal Of Health Promotion. 26(3), 1-10. 
6. Walker, G. J. (2008). The Effects of Ethnicity and Gender on Facilitating Intrinsic Motivation during Leisure with a Close Friend. Journal Of Leisure Research. 40(2), 209-311.