Motivation and emotion/Book/2011/Sport participation

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Sport participation:
What motivates life-long sport participation?
Epiphany-bookmarks.svg This page is part of the Motivation and emotion book. See also: Guidelines.

Overview[edit | edit source]

It is well known that exercise or physical activity is extremely beneficial for physical and psychological health. Sport is a specific component of exercise/physical activity. What motivates people to play sport? Most people play some sort of sport during their childhood, often as a school requirement, but there is a significant drop off in people playing sport at about 25 years of age (ASC 2010). When almost 50% of people drop out of sport participation, why do some people persist in playing sport for longer than others?

Benefits of lifelong physical activity or sport[edit | edit source]

Group exercising on a beach


The physical benefits of lifelong physical activity such as sports participation are well documented. These benefits include decreased risk of coronary heart disease, hypertension, osteoporosis, diabetes, risk of stroke, colon cancer (Mitchell, 1999; Thurston, 2004; Plante et al, 2007). Other benefits are improved health of muscles, bones and joints as well as improved mobility, coordination and balance reducing the risk of falls resulting in injuries such as hip fractures (Thurston, 2004).


Exercise has been shown to have antidepressent and anti-anxiety effects and protects against negative stress outcomes which can lead to enduring resilience against stress (Salmon, 2000; Plante and Rodin, 1990; Fox, 1999) as well as positive mental health outcomes (Biddle et al, 2000 cited in Thurston & Green, 2004), and increased functional capacity (Penedo & Dahn, 2005). Plante and Rodin (1990) undertook an analysis of research into the psychological effects of exercise which showed exercise improves mood, self concept, self esteem, and may improve creativity (Plante & Rodin, 1990; Fox, 1999).

There is evidence that exercise or physical activity can be used effectively as a treatment for depression and anxiety and may improve cognitive function (Fox, 1999). Research has indicated that those who participate regularly in exercise or physical activity are less likely to develop clinical depression (Fox, 1999), specifically for women who do not participate the risk level is twice as high as those who do not (Farmer et al 1988, cited in Fox, 1999).

So the upshot is... exercise, physical activity, and sport are GREAT for you... in fact some form of physical activity is essential for a healthy life.

Theories for physical activity involvement[edit | edit source]

Are you motivated to exercise? Do you want to:

  • Improve physical appearance
  • Control weight
  • Improve cardiovascular and general fitness
  • Relieve tension/stress
  • Centre yourself/have time to be alone
  • Improve mental performance
  • Make new friends/maintain old friendships
  • Compete against others/measure self against others
  • Define yourself as an exerciser
  • Have fun/enjoyment
  • Train for a sport or activity
  • Improve skill level
  • Improve self-esteem
  • Fulfil school requirement

Identifying with four or more of the above motives is associated with undertaking exercise. (Anderson, 2003)

Scientists and health professionals have been seeking to understand what drives people to undertake physical activity or not and whether participation can be predicted. Three theories stand out as direclty relevant to this topic: Personal Investment Theory, Theory of Planned Behaviour, and Self Determination Theory.

Personal Investment Theory has three critical determinants of behaviour: personal incentives, sense of self and perceived options (Maehr and Braskamp 1986 cited in Mitchell and Olds, 1999). When related to an exercise participation context these elements relate to:

  • personal incentives: the identified reasons for involvement such as recognition, mastery, competition, and affiliation;
  • sense of self: perceived competence, self-reliance, and social identity; and
  • perceived options: available alternatives such as television, situational factors perceived as barriers such as time or cost.

According to Azjen and Fishbein's Theory of Planned Behaviour (1980, 2005, cited in Ruby et al 2011), if people expect to enjoy an activity they usually do, however, Ruby et al (2011) found that most people underestimate how much they will enjoy exercise. They concluded that people focus on the beginning of exercise which is usually the unpleasant portion of the activity (Ruby et al 2011). Therefore, if the expected enjoyment can be enhanced by increasing initial positivity about exercise or moving their attention away from the unpleasant beginning, the intention to exercise could be increased.

All beings need to meet basic physiological and psychological needs. A need can be defined as that which is necessary for life, growth and well-being (Reeve 2009). Psychological needs can be divided into three categories: autonomy, competence and relatedness. Automony relates to the ability of participates to choose and make decisions; competence relates to the desire to be effective in the environment, to develop skills and to master optimal challenges; relatedness is the need to develop and maintain close relationships or belong to something, to be accepted and valued (Reeve 2009). Self Determination Theory (Deci & Ryan, 2008a) notes that all behaviour towards meeting these needs is influenced by either intrinsic (autonomous) or extrinsic (controlled) motivation. Intrinsic motivation relates to doing something purely for enjoyment and results in feelings of competence and self-determination. It can be divided into three categories - to know or learn; to accomplish or task mastery; and to experience stimulation or excitement/fun (Deci & Ryan, 2008b). Extrinsic motivation has been defined as undertaking something as a means to an end rather than for their on sake. Extrinsic motivation can be divided into four categories - external regulation, introjected regulation, identified regulation, and integrated regulation (Deci & Ryan, 2008b, Pelletier et al, 1995, Vlachopoulos, 2000). In the two least self-determined categories, participants driven by external regulation undertake exercise to obtain reward or to avoid negative consequences such as criticism and those driven by introjected regulation have internalised the driver but not taken owenership of it. The remaining extrinsic motivation categories are far more self-determined as those driven by identified regulation have not only internalised the driver but value and consider it important and those driven by integrated regulation have fully internalised the extrinsic motivation to such a degree that it is now a part of who they are and the behaviours have become autonomous and self-determined (Deci & Ryan, 2008b; Pelletier et al, 1995, Vlachopoulos, 2000).

In essence the answer to what motivates people to do exercise is found in four questions: What's in it for you? What else is there you could be doing? Do you think you will enjoy it? Do you want to do it or is someone or something "making" you do it?

What is sport?[edit | edit source]

There are many definitions of sport. It can range from informal activities such as jogging, walking or cycling for fun or transport through to committed professional or Olympic level athletes. In between there are informal sporting or physical activities where friends get together to play games and be physically active, social competitions organised by clubs and associations, and highly competitive competitions organised by clubs, associations and national sporting organisations.

For the purpose of this chapter, the following definitions from the Australian Sports Commission Participation in Exercise, Recreation and Sport, Annual Report 2010-11 have been used:

Physical activity is defined as exercise, recreation or sport including activities that were organised by a club, association or other type of organisation, and those activities that were non-organised, but excludes those activities that were part of household or garden duties, or were part of work (ASC 2010).

Non-Organised physical activity activity for exercise, recreation or sport that was non-organised in full or in part (that is, not fully organised by a club, association or other type of organisation).

Organised physical activity is physical activity for exercise, recreation or sport that was organised in full or in part by (1) a fitness, leisure or indoor sports centre that required payment for participation, (2) a sport or recreation club or association that required payment of membership, fees or registration, (3) a workplace, (4) a school, or (5) any other type of organisation.

Sport is defined as exercise, recreation or sport that was organised in full or in part by a sport or recreation club or association that required payment of membership, fees or registration. This is distinct from fitness, leisure or sports centres that required payment for participation and excludes all aerobics/fitness participants (ASC 2010).

Sports participation in Australia – are you one in a million?

The regular participation rate (three times a week or more) in any physical activity for exercise, recreation or sport in 2010 was 47.7%. The regular participation (three times a week or more) in club-based sport activities for 2010 was 6.3% or an estimated 1.1 million people (ASC 2010).

For males the regular participation rate in club-based physical activity in 2010 was 7.9% and for females it was 4.8% (ASC 2010). This is unlike non-organised physical activity, where the female rate of regular participation (41.5%) exceeds the male rate (35.3%).

Paticipation in club-based activity is highest among those aged 15-24 years of age (17.7%).

Regular club-based participation among females increased between 2001 and 2010. In 2001, it was 3.6% and in 2010 it was 4.8%. The male regular participation rate in club-based activity was at its highest level ever in 2009, when it was 8.6%, and declined in 2010 to 7.9%.

Why do people participate in sport?[edit | edit source]

Kids playing football

There are many motives for exercise including improving physical appearance, health and controlling weight; reducing stress, improving mood and mental performance; improving self-esteem; for centring or time to be alone; competition and identity as well as fun and friendship; (Anderson 2003). The motives for sport are the same as sport is a component of exercise.

Participation in sport can meet the psychological need for for autonomy, competence and relatedness. Participants can choose what sport they play, who they play with, how often they play, and what level of competition they play. Skill development and mastery is encouraged and facilitated through training and competition participation. The social aspect is also very important in the sporting arena. Obviously team sports encourage socialisation but even individual sportspeople have interactions with trainers, officials and other competitors.

Most people start participating in sport as children through school physical education and school sport and through community based sport clubs. Parents are the primary influencers for children playing sport. They are role models, facilitators and interpreters (Dixon et al 2008). If parents demonstrate and promote life-long participation, it will be more likely that children will follow their example (Pelletier, 1995).

Within self-determination theory, all three needs are relevant to participation in sport.

But what if your parents don't participate in sport, what might motivate you to do so? Duda (2007) proposed a Goal Perspective Approach which has two components - task involvement and ego involvement. Task involvement relates to playing sport for the mastery of tasks or skills or "can I do it or can I learn it?". Ego involvement relates to perceived competence or "how good am I at it or am I better than others?" Essentially, people play sport because they enjoy learning the appropriate skills to play their chosen sport or because they feel an appropriate level of competence.

This correlates well with Self-Determination theory which relates to intrinsic and extrinsic motivation. Vlachopoulos et al (2000) note that prolonged involvement in sport is most likely to come from self-determined or intrinsic motivation. Pelletier et al (1995) noted that intrinsic and extrinsic integrated motivation are major drivers for persistence with participation in sport and are related to satisfaction, enjoyment and persistence among other positive affective experiences among athletes (Tsorbatzoudis et al, 2006). Learning skills and then mastering them for the pure enjoyment of it is intrinsically motivated (Deci & Ryan 2008, Pelletier 1995) and as athletes perceive themselves as increasingly competent, they display more self-determined forms of motivation (Pelletier 1995).

Meeting the psychological need for relatedness through socialisation is also an important intrinsic motivation for sport participation.

Click here Sport Motivation Scale to use the Sport Motivation Scale developed by Pelletier et al (1995) to determine your motivation for participating in sport

Why do some people continue to play sport for their lifetime?[edit | edit source]

Bowls: a game for a lifetime

Research has shown that the drop out rate for sport participation is about 50% (Dishman 2001 cited in Zahariadis et al. 2002). So, what motivates the other 50%?

Scanlan et al (1993) posited the Sport Commitment Model based on the definition of sport committment as "a psychological state representing the desire and resolve to continue sport participation" (Scanlan et al. 1993 pg 1). The model proposes the following as determinants for continued sport participation:

  • sport enjoyment (intrinsic motivation) - increases commitment to sport for both children and elite athletes;
  • involvement alternatives - may lower sport commitment if more attractive alternatives are available;
  • personal investments (intrinsic motivation) - the more time, effort, money invested into a sport will increase the likelihood of greater commitment;
  • social contraints (external or introjected extrinsic motivation) - social pressures, actual or perceived, from others to remain committed to the sport; and
  • involvement opportunities - opportunities available only through continued participation which may be actual (task mastery, social interaction with friends) or virtual (the belief that sport participation is the only way to remain fit) (Scanlan et al 1993).

Deci & Ryan's (2008) self-determination theory suggests that autonomous motivation can predict persistence and adherence to sport particiaption.

Duda's (2007) Goal Perspective Approach indicates that ego involved people i.e. those who are driven by being better than others, will persist with a sport for as long as they feel confident of their ability. Once they begin to doubt their ability they often:

  • choose tasks that are too hard, so they fail and it is not worth doing
  • choose tasks that are too easy, so it is not worth doing;
  • put less effort into the task because it is not worth doing;
  • devalue the task so that it is not worth doing.

Conversely, those people participating in sport who are task oriented i.e. focused on task mastery or are more likely to have an ongoing involvement in sport (Duda 1988 cited in Duda 2001).

In addition to this, the desire to repeat satisfying experiences can also lead to ongoing persistance and participation in sport. Thurston and Green (2004) note that people become 'locked-in' to playing sport not just through enjoyment and being good at sport but through the satisfaction and skills generated, through habitualised behaviour, through being bound by organisational membership and social committment all of which are mutually reinforcing of the desire to continue sport participation (Thurston & Green 2004).

Beltman and Volet (2006) also note that individual participants are constantly weighing up the personal and contextual circumstances over time. This includes things like enjoyment and competence as well as changes in the organisation eg coach, their family, work, or financial situation (Beltman and Volet (2006).

Conclusion[edit | edit source]

What motivates life-long participation in sport? The answer is found in a few simple questions: What's in it for you? What else is there you could be doing? Do you enjoy it? Do you want to do it or is someone or something "making" you do it? How much have you invested in it? Withdrawal from sport is linked to low perceived competence and less enjoyment of the sporting experience. Intrinsic motivation or integrated regulation extrinsic motivation and a task orientation will make a positive contribution to extended participation in sport.

See also[edit | edit source]

References[edit | edit source]

Anderson, B. (2003). When more is better: number of motives and reasons for quitting as correlates of physical activity in women, Health Education Research Theory and Practice, 18, 525-537.

Beltman, S., & Volet, S. (2007). Exploring the Complex and Dynamic Nature of Sustained Motivation, European Psychologist, 12, 314-323.

Deci, E. L., & Ryan, R. M. (2008a). Facilitating optimal motivation and psychological well-being across life's domains, Canadian Psychology, 49, 14-23.

Deci, E. L., & Ryan, R. M. (2008b). Self-determination theory: A macrotheory of human motivation, development, and health, Canadian Psychology, 49, 182-185.

Dixon, M. A., Warner, S. M., & Bruening, J. E. (2008). More than just letting them play: Parental influence on women's liftime sport involvement, Sociology of Sport Journal, 25, 538-559.

Duda, J. L., Motivation in Sport Setting: A Goal Perspective Approach. In Smith, D. and Bar-Eli, M. (Eds). Essential Reading in Sport and Exercise Psychology (pp. 78-93). Champaign: Human Kinetics.

Fox, K. R. (1999). The influence of physical activity on mental well-being. Public Health Nutrition, 2, 411-418.

Mitchell, S. A., & Olds R. S. (1999). Pyschological and perceived situational predictors of physical activity: A cross-sectional analysis. Health Education Research Theory and Practice, 14, 305-313.

Pelletier, L. G., Fortier, M. S., Vallerand, R. J., Tuson, K. M., Brière, N. M., & Blais, M. R. (1995). Toward a new measure of intrinsic motivation, extrinsic motivation, and amotivation in sports: The Sport Motivation Scale (SMS). Journal of Sport & Exercise Psychology, 17, 35-53.

Penedo, F. J., & Dahn, J. R. (2005). Exercise and well-being: A review of mental and physical health benefits associated with physical activity. Current Opinion in Psychiatry, 18, 189-193.

Plante, T. G., Gores, C., Brecht, C., Carrow, J., Imbs, A., & Willemsen, E. (2007). Does exercise environment enhance the psychological benefits of exercise for women? International Journal of Stress Management, 14, 88-98.

Plante, T. G., & Rodin, J. (1990). Physical fitness and enhanced psychological health, Current Psychology, 9, 1-22.

Reeve, J. (2009). Understanding motivation and emotion (5th ed.). Hoboken, NJ: Wiley.

Ruby, M. B., Dunn, E. W., Perrino, A., Gillis, R., & Viel, S. (2011). The invisible benefits of exercise. Health Psychology, 30, 67-74.

Salmon, P. (2000). Effects of physical exercise on anxiety, depression, and sensitivity to stress: A unifying theory. Clinical Exercise Review, 21, 33-61.

Scanlan, T. K., Carpenter, P. J., Schmidt, G. W., Simons, J. P., & Keeler, B. (1993). An introduction to the sport commitment model. Journal of Sport and Exercise Psychology, 15, 1-15.

Thurston, M., & Green, K. (2004). Adherence to exercise in later life: How can exercise on prescription programmes be made more effective? Health Promotion International, 19, 379-387.

Tsorbatzoudis, H., Alexandris, K., Zahariadis, P., & Groiuos, G. (2006). Examining the relationship between recreational sport participation and intrinsic and extrinsic motivation and amotivation. Perceptual and Motor Skills, 103, 363-374.

Vlachopoulos, S. P., Karageorghis, C. I., & Terry, P. C. (2000). Motivation profiles in sport: A self-determination theory perspective. Research Quarterly for Exercise and Sport, 71, 387-397.