Motivation and emotion/Book/2015/Group sport motivation

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Group sport motivation:
What motivates participation in group sports?


Figure 1. After 51 passes, Liverpool player Raheem Stirling finally scored.

On December 17 2014, Liverpool Football Club from the English Premier League achieved one of the greatest examples of team work in English Premier League history. After a persistent effort of 51 passes, Liverpool forward Raheem Stirling finally scored against Bournemouth in the League Cup. A video highlight of the goal can be seen here. Although throughout the 51 passes, individual players had chances to shoot a goal, all patiently waited for a better opportunity. This event displayed individual players inhibiting their own intentions of self-achievement with the focus on team achievement. This is a great example of team effort that prompts examination into motivations for participation in group sports.

Why do people participate in group sports? What motivates us to achieve over others as a group? From organised sports at the highest elite level, to young children playing on a Saturday morning, what are the basic motivations that propel us to undertake these activities? This book chapter aims to discuss the motivations that drive an individual to participate in group sport activities. The term 'groups' has been used over the word 'team' as an attempt to give a more comprehensive definition of all sports that include a group of individuals who are motivated to achieve the same outcome.

What is motivation?

Throughout history there have been many attempts to define motivation in various pursuits. The word 'motivation' is derived from the Latin term movere or '"to move". According to Reeve (2015) motivation is the internal and external processes that give behaviour certain direction and energy. In regards to sports, this definition of motivation is closely aligned with the purpose of team sports. Team members need to possess a level of energy and specific direction when attempting to collectively achieve their competitive outcomes.

Theories for group sport participation[edit]

This section identifies prominent theories that attempt to explain and identify the internal processes that motivate individuals to participate in group sport activities.

Self-determination theory[edit]

Developed by Ryan and Deci (2000a), self-determination theory (SDT) attempts to explain an individual’s inherent psychological needs and growth tendencies that are the origin of their self-motivated behaviours. Incorporated into their theory, Ryan and Deci (2000b) explain the taxonomy of human motivation. As depicted in Figure 2, human motivation is categorised into three broad motivational factors: amotivation; extrinsic motivation; and intrinsic motivation (Ryan & Deci, 2000b).

Figure 2. The motivation continuum (Ryan & Deci, 2000b)

Amotivation is a lack or absence of any motivation to undertake a task. Past research has attempted to identify factors that could influence the amount of amotivation towards a task. Shen, Wingert, Weidong, Sun and Rukavina (2010) recently examined factors of amotivation in group and individual physical education activities. Out of 655 students completing in group and individual sporting activities, Shen et al. found that four factors accounted for 73.3% of total factor variance. Shen et al. identified these four factors as a student's: ability beliefs; effort beliefs; task value; and task characteristics[explain?].

Extrinsic motivation involves undertaking a behaviour to obtain an external reward or to avoid punishment (Ryan & Deci, 2000b). As this section focuses on internal motivational forces, extrinsic and external factors will be discussed in the next section.

Intrinsic Motivation is behaviour that is vitalised by internal desires for novelty and reward (Ryan & Deci, 2000b). Compared to extrinsic motivation, intrinsic motivation stimulates an individual out of task enjoyment and satisfaction (Ryan & Deci, 2006). Ryan and Deci (2000b) propose three innate psychological needs that humans possess – autonomy, competence, and relatedness. Ryan and Deci (2000b) state that these needs are necessary for facilitating optimal growth, personal well-being, and social development. The three needs of autonomy, competence, and relatedness are necessary for the facilitation of intrinsic motivation to a task (Ryan & Deci, 2006).

Figure 3. Self-determination theory model

Autonomy symbolises an individual’s inherent desire to experience a full sense of choice and psychological independence when undertaking activities and making decisions (Deci & Ryan, 2000). Although it might be thought that a sense of independence would be counter intuitive in team sport environments, research however has focused on autonomy support facilitated by coaches and other players. Autonomy support is obtained when authority figures (coaches) or significant others (other team members) respect the individual, and encourage choice and independent decision making (Aide, Duda, & Ntoumanis, 2008). Reinboth and Duda (2006) examined need satisfaction and participant well-being self-report scores of adolescent male soccer and cricket players within different coach-facilitated environments. Reinboth and Duda found that autonomy support was highly correlated with reported satisfaction of the need for autonomy, and that it was associated with increased intrinsic interest and team spirit. Although autonomy is generally related to independent free choice, this research suggests that an autonomy supporting environment could intrinsically motivate a player and build team quality.


Competence is an individual’s inherent need to feel a sense of mastery within their associations with others and their environment (Aide et al., 2008). The need for competence also incorporates an individual’s eagerness to overcome challenging tasks through persistence and effort (Aide et al., 2008). Individuals who undertake a challenge that is optimally matched to their level of competency can experience flow, which is an activity specific state of concentration in which the individual is fully involved and absorbed in the task at hand. To experience a sense of mastery and competence, activity-related feedback needs to be communicated to an individual as they progress through the task. Competence feedback is the active perception of either a sense of competence or failure that is communicated through the task itself, comparisons of the self with others, and evaluations from others (Reeve, 2015). In the sporting environment, this could be an individual being accepted into a team for their skill, winning or losing as a team, and evaluations from team members.

Figure 4. Human need for relatedness could be satisfied in the team environment

Relatedness is the sense of being strongly affiliated to and respected by others that are of special significance (Baumeister & Leary, 1995). Humans have an inherent need to belong to others (Baumeister & Leary, 1995), which could suggest that group sporting environments could effectively facilitate this need. Starting from a young age, very few individuals choose to undertake a sport that is played on their own (Allen, 2003). Allen explains that group sports provide social opportunities that reward individuals with the development of strong social relationships and feelings of acceptance into specific groups. Compared to sports that are undertaken alone (e.g. surfing, golf), group sports could more readily satisfy an individual's inherent need to belong and be related to others.

Research has supported the assumption that group sports could facilitate the need for relatedness. MacDonald, Côté, Eys, & Deakin (2011) examined how the motivational climate could have a positive or negative influence on individual development in team sports. MacDonald et al. used the Youth Experiences Survey for Sport (YES-S) and included a sample of 510 athletes participating in sports such as soccer, basketball, and team swimming. MacDonald et al. found that the greatest predictor of positive development of personal and social sport skills was affiliation with peers of the same team. MacDonald et al. also argued that affiliation with team members positively influenced participants' personal sporting development regardless of whether the individual displayed mastery or performance goals orientation.

The needs for autonomy, competence, and relatedness are all crucial for an individual to be internally motivated towards a group sport activity. SDT attempts to comprehensively explain the underlying factors needed to motivate an individual towards a specific task. However, this theory does not specifically incorporate the individual's attitudes towards success in their sport participation. Achievement goal theory can assist in explaining individual differences in motivation to succeed.

Achievement goal theory[edit]

Achievement goal theory (AGT) postulates that the basic underlying motives of individuals are to demonstrate their competence and achievements (Sit & Lindner, 2005). Sit and Lindner explain that achievement goals motivate individuals by various perceptions of success. This theory identifies two major orientations that motivate behaviour towards achievement: mastery and performance goals. Originally labelled task (mastery) and ego (performance) goals (Nicholls, 1989), both orientations influence how individuals perceive their definition of success and competence (Sit & Lindner, 2006). The goal orientations of AGT also compliment the tenets of SDT, as mastery and performance goals could influence the motivating potential of an individual's intrinsic and extrinsic motivation. As will be explained, mastery and performance goals could also include the self-evaluative judgements for social appraisal and sporting competence that can be found in the factors of relatedness and competence.

Mastery goals[edit]

Figure 5. Mastery orientated individuals persist through obstacles to self-improve and achieve challenging tasks.

A mastery goal orientation is characterised by an individual who strives to develop greater competence, overcome challenges with persistence, undertake self-learning, and personal improvement in a specific task (Reeve, 2015). Sit and Lindner (2005) explain that mastery orientations are associated with adaptive achievement behaviours such as exhibiting persistent effort and choosing challenging tasks. Mastery goals have also been found to have a mediating effect between intrinsic motivation and high task performance (Cerasoli & Ford, 2014). Moreover, Cerasoli and Ford explain that individuals possessing a mastery orientation are more likely to be intrinsically motivated towards completing a task.

Figure 6. Performance orientated individuals are motivated to show high competence over others.
Performance goals[edit]

A performance goal orientation is characterised by an individual who seeks to socially demonstrate competence and excellence on a task, and a strong need to outclass others with little apparent effort (Reeve, 2015). Smith, Smoll and Cumming (2009) explain that in team sports, individuals who are performance-orientated place emphasis on social comparisons of themselves and other players. These individuals also possess strong motivation to outperform others attempting to attain status and acknowledgement. Unlike mastery goals which are intrinsically motivated, performance goals are highly extrinsically motivated as the individual attempts to gain recognition and social reward for displayed competence (Smith et al., 2009).

External motivational factors[edit]

External influences also motivate an individual's behaviour. Although intrinsic motivation is crucial to an individual's participation in group sports, external factors are extrinsically motivating as well. Extrinsically motivated factors can be evaluations of ability, peer feedback, sporting context, and self-perceived evaluations. The motivational climate induces external influences onto individual athletes which elicit behavioural responses (Aide et al., 2008). These behavioural responses can lead to social loafing, social compensation, and the Köhler effect.

The motivational climate[edit]

Motivational climate is the socio-environmental context that influences an individual's sporting motivations (Olympiou, Jowett, & Duda, 2008). These external influences can come from coaches, team members, and the sporting environment (practice or competitive). In team sports, Olympiou et al. explain that prevailing motivational intentions by team members are fostered by coach-athlete interactions, and these interactions predominantly form a team's motivational climate. Coaching behaviours also influence team relatedness and competitive performance (Olympiou et al., 2008). In relation to AGT, coaching behaviours that reward athletes for developing mastery goals (e.g., a personal best or team cooperation) as opposed to rewarding performance goals (e.g. comparisons among peers or disappointment in athlete failure), lead to higher results of team performance, relatedness, and satisfaction (Olympiou et al., 2008). This suggests that team motivational effort is significantly influenced by coaching feedback.

In addition to coaching behaviour, environmental context influences performance. Van de Pol and Kavussanu (2011) found that sporting context can significantly influence an individual's goal orientation in team sport athletes. Van der Pol and Kavussanu found that individuals reported higher levels of mastery goal orientation in practice and performance orientation in competitive events. This suggests that although individuals are usually orientated towards either mastery or performance goals (Sit & Lindner, 2005), the sporting context can modify goal orientation. Although external factors, coaching behaviours and sporting context can influence internal motivational components and modify individual and team effort and performance[grammar?].

A significant study grounded in SDT and AGT by Jõesaar, Hein, and Hagger (2012) examined three crucial factors of sport motivation: peer motivational climates, athlete intrinsic motivation, and perceived autonomy support from coaches. Jõesaar et al. hypothesised that autonomy support from coaches and peer motivational climate would have direct and lasting effects on intrinsic motivation for continued sports participation. Participants included 362 young athletes who participated in individual and team sports over a one-year period (Jõesaar et al., 2012). Participants completed the Sport Climate Questionnaire and the Peer Motivational Climate in Youth Sport Questionnaire at the beginning and end of the one-year period (Jõesaar et al., 2012). As predicted, peer climate and perceived coach autonomy support had large positive effects on athlete's continuing motivation towards sporting activities (Jõesaar et al., 2012). Jõesaar et al. argue that their findings are consistent with SDT theory, suggesting that intrinsic motivation towards tasks are strengthened when individuals are encouraged to be task-involved by significant peers and ascribed more control and choice by authority figures. This finding also notes modifying effects of individual achievement goal orientation. Regardless of being mastery or performance orientated, athletes who perceived their coach to be fully supportive of their choices reported higher levels of relatedness and respect amongst their teammates (Jõesaar et al., 2012). Although motivational climates are external experiences, they can substantially influence intrinsic motivation. An individual who perceives high coach support and team relatedness could experience a stronger intrinsic motivation to undertake team sport activity.        

Social loafing[edit]

Social loafing is the tendency for a team member to exert less effort in a team than when competing individually (Høigaard, Säfvenbom, & Tønnessen, 2006). Although motivational factors for social loafing have been extensively researched in the organisational environment, little research has focused on its effects in team sports (Høigaard et al., 2006). Høigaard et al. also explain that a precursor to social loafing is perceived loafing, which is the evaluation of other group members' contributions to a team by an individual member of that team. A study by Høigaard et al. examined group cohesion and perceived loafing among 118 male junior soccer players. Høigaard et al. found a significant three-way interaction between team cohesion, task cohesion, and perceived loafing scores. A combination of low task cohesion, low team norms, and high social cohesion appears to underlie an individual's perceived loafing (Høigaard et al., 2006). The results of this study could suggest that although a team might be highly sociably, poor team standards and task-directed team focus could lead individual team members to evaluate how much effort they should contribute compared to the perceived effort of other members. This could then lead to significantly decreased effort by that individual.

Although research examining social loafing in the sporting environment is a relatively recent topic, SDT could assist in explaining these motivational factors. As explained by Allen (2003), group sports provide social opportunities that reward individuals in the development of strong social relationships. If a player does not have a strong sense of relatedness towards their team, could this decrease the value they place on team success and group inclusion? Eccles (2010) argues that low team cohesion does decrease task value in individual in a team. In his review of the coordination of labour amongst sport teams, Eccles argues that low team cohesion is the predominant factor in decreased effort amongst a team's members. Eccles concludes that developing and encouraging task-oriented team cohesion would discourage social loafing behaviour amongst individuals. This argument could support the role of relatedness in team sports. If an individual is not satisfied in the need for relatedness by their current team membership, the value of sporting success within that team could be an insufficient motivator for that individual. Although research on social loafing in team sports is scarce (Høigaard et al. 2006), it is a significant motivational factor for individual effort towards team performance.

Figure 7. Performance goal orientation could influence social compensation behaviour

Social compensation[edit]

To possibly counter others' social loafing, social compensation occurs when group members who are superior in ability compensate for the lack of effort or ability of less competent team members (Høigaard, Boen, De Cuyper, & Peters, 2013). Achievement goal theory could provide an explanation of social compensation behaviour. Social compensation could be more frequent in individuals that are performance goals orientated. As individuals with a performance goals orientation are motivated to succeed and display superior ability (Sit & Lindner, 2005), a dysfunctional team with members showing little effort could motivate an individual to work harder. A great example of individual effort in ice hockey can be seen here. Further research is needed in the examination of social compensation behaviour and achievement goal theory.

Figure 8. All team members in conjunctive sports must contribute to team success

The Köhler effect[edit]

The Köhler effect occurs when an individual works harder as a member of a group rather than when working alone (Osborn, Irwin, Skogsberg, & Feltz, 2012). In reference to team sports, this mainly occurs in conjunctive tasks (Osborn et al. 2012). According to Osborne et al., conjunctive tasks are tasks in which the performance of the team is based on the the ability of the team's weakest member (sports such as relay races, and pairs tennis) Moreover, the Köhler effect has also been found in additive tasks, or tasks where the outcome is determined by the combined efforts of all team members (Osborne et al., 2012). The Köhler effect has also been found to be a task-dependent behaviour[explain?] (Weber & Hertel, 2007).

Research has predominantly focused on task-dependent Köhler effects, and individual personality factors have not been sufficiently taken into account thus far (Weber & Hertel, 2007). In a study using archival data, Hüffmeier and Hertel (2011) examined the swim times of 64 athletes who competed in both individual and relay swim races at the 2008 Olympic games. Hüffmeier and Hertel hypothesised that the last, and usually weakest, swimmer in relay teams would have the largest gain in swim times between the individual and relay race compared to the stronger swimmers. Consistent with their hypothesis, Hüffmeier and Hertel found that the weaker swimmers produced the largest differences in swim times between the individual and relay events; stronger swimmers had similar swim times between the individual and relay events. A notable finding of this study is that all of the weakest athlete swim times were significantly greater in the relay event compared to the individual races (Hüffmeier & Hertel, 2011). Although this study is difficult to generalise as all participants were elite athletes, the method included a broad range of individuals from 21 different counties. This could suggest that regardless the Köhler effect is a broad motivational factor that might not be restricted to an individual's achievement goal orientation.

Applied value of group sports[edit]

Participation in group sports can be a satisfying pursuit for all people. To get the most out of your next group sport activity, attempt to use the 'TEAM' formula listed below.

1. 'T'eamwork[edit]

Team cohesiveness is essential to an individual's intrinsic motivation to participate in team sports. What are your team's goals and aspirations?

2. 'E'ffort[edit]

What one team member does affects the whole team, especially in conjunctive sports. Examples of this can be found in the effects of social loafing, and social compensation. Make sure you strive as hard as you can in your role!

3. 'A'utonomy[edit]

Coach and team support is crucial for enjoyment in team sports. Make sure you are a supportive and encouraging teammate.

4. 'M'embership[edit]

Team sports teach responsibility and expectations. As an individual team member, be accountable to the rest of your team.


Motivation is the internal and external processes that give us direction and energy. In group sports, team energy and focus are needed for sporting achievement. The SDT components of autonomy, competence, and relatedness are crucial for intrinsic motivation towards group sports. The mastery and performance goal orientations of AGT also explain an individual's perceptions of success. External factors also influence individual motivations. The motivational climate can nurture an individual's effort towards group sports; coaches, team members, and context all contribute to this climate. Social loafing, social compensation, and the Köhler effect are three behavioural results from individual motivational strength. In summary, a key-take home message of this chapter is that if positively nurtured, the internal and external influences on an individual's group sport motivation can produce lifelong satisfaction of sporting participation. In extension to this, the social skills and team relatedness that is developed as a team can flow to all facets of life.

Test your understanding of this chapter by completing the central questions quiz here.

See also[edit]


Adie, J. W., Duda, J. L., & Ntoumanis, N. (2008). Autonomy support, basic need satisfaction and the optimal functioning of adult male and female sport participants: A test of basic needs theory. Motivation and Emotion, 32, 189-199. doi:10.1007/s11031-008-9095-z

Allen, J. B. (2003). Social motivation in youth sport. Journal of Sport & Exercise Psychology, 25, 551-567. Retrieved from

Baumeister, R., & Leary, M. R. (1995). The need to belong: Desire for interpersonal attachments as a fundamental human motivation. Psychological Bulletin, 117, 497- 529. doi:10.1037/0033-2909.117.3.497

Cerasoli, C. P., & Ford, M. T. (2014). Intrinsic motivation, performance, and the mediating role of mastery goal orientation: A test of self-determination theory. The Journal of Psychology148(3), 267-286. doi:10.1080/00223980.2013.783778

Deci, E. L., & Ryan, R. M. (2000). The ‘what’ and ‘why’ of goal pursuits: Human needs and the self-determination of behaviour. Psychological Inquiry, 11, 319–338. doi:10.1207/S15327965PLI1104_01

Eccles, D. (2010). The coordination of labour in sports teams. International Review of Sport and Exercise Psychology, 3(2), 154-170. do:10.1080/1750984X.2010.519400

Høigaard, R., Säfvenbom, R., & Tønnessen, F. E. (2006). The relationship between group cohesion, group norms, and perceived social loafing in soccer teams. Small Group Research37, 217-232. doi:10.1177/1046496406287311

Høigaard, R., Boen, F., De Cuyper, B., & Peters, D. M. (2013). Team identification reduces social loafing and promotes social laboring in cycling. International Journal of Applied Sports Sciences25, 33-40. Retrieved from

Hüffmeier, J., & Hertel, G. (2011). When the whole is more than the sum of its parts: Group motivation gains in the wild. Journal of Experimental Social Psychology47(2), 455-459. doi:10.1016/j.jesp.2010.12.004

Jõesaar, H., Hein, V., & Hagger, M. S. (2012). Youth athletes’ perception of autonomy support from the coach, peer motivational climate and intrinsic motivation in sport setting: One-year effects. Psychology of Sport and Exercise13, 257-262. doi:10.1016/j.psychsport.2011.12.001

MacDonald, D. J., Côté, J., Eys, M., & Deakin, J. (2011). The role of enjoyment and motivational climate in relation to the personal development of team sport athletes. Sport Psychologist25(1), 32-46. Retrieved from

Nicholls, J. G. (1989). The competitive ethos and democratic education. Harvard University Press.

Olympiou, A., Jowett, S., & Duda, J. L. (2008). The psychological interface between the coach-created motivational climate and the coach-athlete relationship in team sports. The Sport Psychologist22(4), 423-438. Retrieved from

Osborn, K. A., Irwin, B. C., Skogsberg, N. J., & Feltz, D. L. (2012). The Köhler effect: Motivation gains and losses in real sports groups. Sport, Exercise, and Performance Psychology1(4), 242-253. doi:10.1037/a0026887

Reeve, J. (2015). Understanding motivation and emotion (6th ed.). Hoboken, NJ: Wiley.

Reinboth, M., & Duda, J. L. (2006). Perceived motivational climate, need satisfaction and indices of well-being in team sports: A longitudinal perspective. Psychology of Sport and Exercise, 7, 269-286. doi:10.1016/j.psychsport.2005.06.002

Ryan, R. M., & Deci, E. L. (2000a). Self-determination theory and the facilitation of intrinsic motivation, social development, and well-being. American Psychologist, 55, 68-78. doi:10.1037110003-066X.55.1.68

Ryan, R. M., & Deci, E. L. (2000b). Intrinsic and extrinsic motivations: Classic definitions and new directions. Contemporary Educational Psychology25(1), 54-67. doi:10.1006/ceps.1999.1020

Ryan, R. M., & Deci, E. L. (2006). Self‐regulation and the problem of human autonomy: Does psychology need choice, self‐determination, and will?. Journal of Personality, 74, 1557-1586. doi:10.1111/j.1467-6494.2006.00420.x

Shen, B., Wingert, R. K., Li, W., Sun, H., & Rukavina, P. B. (2010). An amotivation model in physical education. Journal of Teaching in Physical Education29(1), 72-84. Retrieved from:

Sit, C. H., & Lindner, K. J. (2005). Motivational orientations in youth sport participation: Using achievement goal theory and reversal theory. Personality and Individual Differences38, 605-618. doi:10.1016/j.paid.2004.05.015

Smith, R. E., Smoll, F. L., & Cumming, S. P. (2009). Motivational climate and changes in young athletes’ achievement goal orientations. Motivation and Emotion33(2), 173-183. doi:10.1007/s11031-009-9126-4

Weber, B., & Hertel, G. (2007). Motivation gains of inferior group members: A meta-analytical review. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology93(6), 973-993. doi:10.1037/0022-3514.93.6.973

Van de Pol, P. K., & Kavussanu, M. (2012). Achievement motivation across training and competition in individual and team sports. Sport, Exercise, and Performance Psychology1(2), 91-105. doi:10.1037/a0025967