Motivation and emotion/Book/2020/Endurance sport motivation

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Endurance sport motivation:
What motivates people to engage in endurance sport training and competition?

Overview[edit | edit source]

There are many attempts to define what actually makes an endurance sport. Some say it is any activity whereby key muscle groups are exercised that[grammar?] sub-maximal intensity for prolonged periods of time[factual?]. Others make note that endurance sport are activities which require a sustained level of physical stress[factual?]. Although the argument can be made that these definitions are extremely subjective and are dependent on the individual engaging in said[awkward expression?] activity. For example, an individual may consider walking up a long flight of stairs to requires [grammar?] a level of physical stress. Therefore, it is important to separate the two terms, endurance and sport in order to present a more conclusive and less subjective definition.


“Endurance can be defined as the ability to continue to endure a stress, hardship or level of suffering.”. Endurance in relation to physical exercise is a multi-faceted concept. Our endurance is primarily influenced by our three main energy systems;

-       Phosphagen System (ATP-PC), this includes highly intense activities lasting 10-30 second in duration.

-       Glycolytic System, activities lasting 1-3 minutes

-        Oxidative System, low-moderate levels of intensity lasting longer than 3 minutes.[factual?]

In essence these factors are what determine an individual’s level of endurance. Although it is important to consider not only the physiological components but the psychological as well.

Limits to Endurance:

Whilst it is widely understood that our physiological factors such as, aerobic capacity, VO2 max, lactate threshold, muscular strength and muscular endurance ultimately decide how capable we are of completing an activity to a certain level our psychology also plays an important role. As we fatigue during an activity and our work rate beings to decrease, the point at which our performance begins to suffer, or our tolerance level can vary from individual. An important quality of all endurance athletes is their ability to resist the sensation of fatigue, leading to prolonged performance. [factual?]

Get Comfortable Being Uncomfortable:

One of the primary influences on performance in endurance sport is the ability to resist fatigue. Alongside the physiological factors, psychology plays a largely significant role in endurance sport, more so than others. This may be due to the extensive length of the activities and mental tax that can have on your body and mind. The phrase “get comfortable being uncomfortable’ is the underlying factor in endurance sport. Essentially, meaning as an athlete in endurance sport, the more comfortable you can get whilst enduring a given level of intensity and fatigue in which we experience throughout competition[grammar?]. [factual?]

[Human Kinetics, 2017]

Personality Traits and Endurance Performance[edit | edit source]

One of the most commonly used conceptual frameworks in personality is the Five Factor Model of personality. This framework comprises of five global constructs which include, conscientiousness, agreeableness, neuroticism, extraversion and openness. The "Big 5" as they are called were developed by Gordon Allport and Henry Odbert, to give a simple blueprint for a better understanding of other's[grammar?] motivation and emotion[factual?].

A study conducted by St. Louis University, examined a potential relationship between personality traits and athletic performance. It was discovered that differences in personality traits explain 20% to 45% of the variance in athletic performance, as well as, the type of motivation present in athletes can be influential in determining outcomes in sport performance. Personality types, extraversion, agreeableness, conscientiousness, and openness personality traits were all significantly and positively correlated with various athletic performance characteristics such as coachability, athletic ability and overall sports performance among athletes.[factual?]


Extraversion is arguably the most common of all five personality traits. Associated with outgoingness, most individuals are able to easily identify themselves as either highly extraverted or as an introvert (low extraversion). Someone who demonstrates high levels of extraversion is sociable, enjoys being around others and will often be referred to as the ‘life of the party’. Oppositely[grammar?], an individual who scores low in extraversion will be more likely to keep to themselves, prefer their own company and will engage in solitary activities.

A study analysing psychological traits in sports found that in individual’s[grammar?] in stressful environments, such as a crucial or intense in-game moment, showed that extroverts possess motor advantages in comparison to introverts[factual?]. The same study showed that introverts performed better in less environmentally stimulating sports and activities, such as distance running. Although this area is relatively under researched there can be some conclusions made that introverts will more often perform better in endurance events as opposed to intense and highly stimulating sports. [Dafna Aaronson, 2018]


Agreeableness is essentially an individual’s overall likability and their ability to develop connection with others around them. These individuals, similarly[grammar?], to extraversion are more likely to be sociable and possess easy-going characteristics. There is little evidence to separate athletes and non-athletes who score higher in agreeableness based upon personality questionaries[spelling?]. Although, studies have shown that individuals possess high levels of agreeableness will more likely to prepare better both physically and mentally for a particular event[spelling?]. [Dafna Aaronson, 2018]


Various studies in personality and sport performance have discovered a prominent link between an individual’s openness to experience and athletic performance[factual?]. These individuals have been characterised and measured being able to show “flexibility, creativity, and acceptance of other peoples’ ideas, attitudes and rules.”[factual?] This is particularly important as athletes particularly[particularly is repeated in this sentence - avoid] in endurance sport require to ability to adapt to change. Whether in competition or training, possessing the ability to be flexible is important. Endurance athletes will often encounter unpredictable situations whereby they must alter a particular aspect of their game, or they are required to adapt to a new form of training. Athletes engaging in endurance sport, primarily train solo, therefore being more open to working together as a team rather than as an individual is another crucial ingredient in ensuring success. [Dafna Aaronson, 2018]


“Conscientiousness is related to being task and goal oriented, as well as being able to delay immediate gratification”. Though the area in relation to sport psychology and performance is relatively un researched, it is commonly understood that conscientiousness can relate to “one’s readiness to pursue athletic success”. Personality is a particularly important factor in endurance sport performance and even participation. It is shown that individuals with scoring higher levels of conscientiousness are more likely to train and prepare better and produce greater levels of athletic performance, than those with higher levels of neuroticism. [Dafna Aaronson, 2018]


Neuroticism tends to carry negative connotations in all aspects of life.

An individual with a highly neurotic personality is generally more stressed, and more prone to worrying and anxiety.  They are also more likely to over-analyse situations that majority of individuals would not consider important. Highly neurotic individuals tend to experience negative emotions more easily than those low in neuroticism and this is particularly crucial in sports, more specifically endurance sport[factual?]. Endurance athletes face various setbacks throughout their sport, from injury to the continuous physical and mental strain experienced in daily training and competition. Individuals in these sports require the ability to be fluid and adaptable to change in order to be successful, each of these are less common in neurotic individuals. [Dafna Aaronson, 2018]

Finding Motivation[edit | edit source]


Motivation plays an instrumental role in our everyday lives. It is a source of energy that dictates all of our behaviour, it impacts on how we think, feel and how we interact with others. In sport, motivation is the driving force which enables individuals to reach their full potential. Within motivation there are three key components these are, intrinsic motivation or internal motivation, extrinsic motivation or external motivation and amotivation or the absence or motivation. It is evident that motivation is a complex and multi-faceted phenomenon which varies based on individual goals and motives. [factual?]

Intrinsic Motivation:

Intrinsic Motivation (IM) relates to the participation in an activity based purely on the pleasure or enjoyment derived from doing so. It can be considered most important form of motivation as it reflects an individual’s internal desire to compete regardless out external factors which will be discussed in extrinsic motivation. Endurance athletes require an enormous amount of intrinsic motivation. As a primarily solitary sport, individuals must develop their personal reasons as to their desire to compete. A common reason as to why individuals compete in these sports is to prove to themselves, they are capable of achieving a specific goal they weren’t physically or mentally aware they previously could. This powerful motivating factor is extremely common with individuals attempting to achieve a ‘bucket-list goal. [factual?]

Extrinsic Motivation:

Extrinsic Motivation (EM) is defined as “engaging in behaviour in order to attain external rewards”. There are three primary types of extrinsic motivation which include, identification, introjection, and external regulation. Identification occurs when an athlete assess’ their personal values and judge their behaviour as important, therefore, the behaviour being performed by the individual is for extrinsic reasons, achieving a personal goal, an example of this may be losing X amount of weight. Introjection occurs when the external source of motivation has been internalised, therefore, the behaviours is being controlled by internal emotions, example being guilt or excitement. Lastly, external regulation relates to an athlete performing in order to attain material rewards or praise from others. This specific form of motivation can vary in effectiveness as it based on the significance of the desired reward. An example of this being, athletes competing for prize money only is the prize amount meets their self-perceived level of worth or is considered to be attainable. [factual?]


Amotivation (AM) can be described as the absence of motivation. This construct is associated with learned helplessness, such that “athletes who are amotivated do not believe that their actions have an effect on their performance outcomes”, this form of motivation can be found in both amateur and professional athletes. Common feelings of inadequacy, incompetence, and lack of control will often lead to self-questioning as to whether or they should continue to train or even continue their participation in the sport. There are several factors which ultimately lead individuals to experience amotivation. The first being regular and consistent lack of a desired outcome, this may come in the form of regularly losing or not performing to a certain internal or external standard. [factual?]

Motivation is powerful and often over-simplified mechanism in athletic performance. It is extremely complex and varies among individuals. Individuals in endurance sport will often require self-reflection more so than those competing team sports as many endurance sports commonly lack the unity and comradery in which many teams sport culture often possess’. Endurance athletes should incorporate goal setting, which is measurable, specific and realistic to ensure the development of themselves as athletes and more importantly individuals. [factual?]

[Perry et. al, 2017]

Self determination Theory[edit | edit source]

Self Determination Theory:

People are primarily concerned with being able to motivate themselves or others around them. Individuals are most often moved by external motivating factors such as reward systems, relationships and evaluations although just as common, individuals are also internally motivated. The level to which external or internal motivation is used is based on the situation and the extent to which the individual is involved. Self-determination theory (SDT) is a theoretical framework used to understand several components of motivation. Social Determination theory proposes the focus on how social and cultural factors facilitate or challenge individual’s sense of desire and initiative, in addition to their well-being and the quality of their performance. [factual?]


Autonomy is an internal state which refers to an individual’s ability to self-regulate and to fully engage in a chosen behaviour. Autonomy is highly varied and situationally dependent. Autonomy also refers to an individual’s desire to to make decisions and choices within situations and feel authentic and this has been shown to positively correlate with an increase to improvement, persistence and adherence in athletic performance. Autonomy high favours endurance sport in regard to few technical requirements needed to participant in the various sport. As opposed to hierarchal nature of team-sports, endurance sport often rely solely on the individuals willingness to commit their chosen level of input, often favouring the intrinsically motivated individual.

Self Determination Theory Visual .jpg


Competency is feeling being able to effectively operate and seeking to learn from new life experiences. In order for an individual to act effectively in a given situation they must express a level of experience and confidence. As competency increases the level of output also increases. In sport, competence comes for repetition and preparation. The more an individual prepares in accordance to the demands for their chosen activity the greater the outcome will be. Regardless of the activity, confidence stems from preparation. The social environment surrounding the individual also plays a significant role in competency. If Coaches, teammates, friends or parents provide meaningful and positive feedback, feelings of competence are enhanced, and motivation is increased. Conversely, if the individual is constantly surrounded by negative or ongoing critical feedback the feelings of competence and motivation diminish. This ultimately leads to a decrease in performance and potential withdrawal.


The Self-determination theory conveys that a sense of relatedness and connection is essential to well-being and integrity of an individual. The concept refers to the sense of connection within a group of individuals. The theory therefore suggests that with the lack of relatedness within a group and the experience of connection an individual will soon begin to lack motivation and their participation will quickly diminish. In endurance sports, the connection experienced within a group is not as apparent as that in other team sport settings. Individuals are often required to overcome this lack of support, care and involvement from others due to the solitary nature of the sport. In Bargmann’s (2003) study, elite female gymnasts reported greater feelings of relatedness during practices as they were surrounded by fellow gymnasts and like-minded individual’s than if they were to train solo.

[Williams et. al, 2009]

Achievement Goal Theory[edit | edit source]

In essence achievement goals proposes to idea that ‘goal orientations are developed and altered through various socialisation processes. Achievement goals are present in achievement situations where there is a direct evaluation of an individual’s ability to demonstrate their competence. There are two core types of achievement goals in AGT.

Task goals

Task goals relate to an individuals’[grammar?] perceived competence in terms of evaluation standards or task mastery. Task involvement begins when the individual is in intrinsically interested in the activity. Individuals focus on developing their own skill and ability and self-reference their personal perception of competence or incompetence. Task oriented individuals will focus on learning and personal improvement and believe that their hard work and effort lead eventually lead to success.[factual?]

Ego goals

Ego oriented individuals will reflect their competence of a giving activity relative to the performance of others. A key example of an ego goal-oriented individual is an amateur or social runner comparing their weekend 5km time to that of an elite world-class runner. Individuals with ego-oriented goal mind-set will often reference their own ability based on their perception of others and focus on social comparison to justify or nullify results in a given area. Unlike task-oriented individuals, ego-oriented believe that by impressing the right people will ultimately lead to their own personal success.[factual?]

File:AGT .jpg
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These two goal orientations determine different consequences and results in achievement context. In general, it is shown that task orientation is regarded as more adaptive and flexible. Task orientation can be related to selection of challenging tasks, effective study strategies, positive attitudes toward learning and positive emotions. This can be especially significant in endurance sport as unlike team sport, individuals who compete in endurance sport will seldom compete in events, there are often months in between competition, therefore task-oriented goal setting is crucial in maintaining motivation.[factual?]

Oppositely[grammar?], Ego orientation can be commonly associated with selection of easier tasks, trivial learning strategies and deep concern for social status and most significantly behavioural withdrawal when difficulties are encountered. Therefore as an endurance athlete, is it crucial to orientate themselves with task goals to ensure continual prolonged satisfaction within the sport.

[Maehr, 2009]

Case Study: Courtney Dauwalter: The Motivation Behind Running 500 Miles[edit | edit source]

In the extreme world of ultra-endurance sport, few compare to Courtney Daulwater[Add inter-wiki link to the Wikipedia page about her]. In 2017, Courtney competed in the Moab 240 Endurance Race. This event is renowned in the ultra-running community as one of the most devastating and difficult running events. 240.3 miles (386km) through the Utah desert with extreme weather variations and highly technical terrain. It would ordinarily take the average competitor between three and five days for an athlete to cross the finish line, but Courtney managed it in just two days, nine hours and 59 minutes. This place Courtney 1st overall, 10 hours ahead of second place, a male.

Despite her countless, inspiring victories and superhuman performances, Courtney Daultwalter believes it is her mental strength that separates her from the rest of the field. “tapping into my brain and using it to overcome the physical discomfort, is the main goal of doing an ultra for me.” Courtney defies human potential and with it the ability to train your mind to overcome physical barriers is one of the many secrets to her success.

Staying Present:

In endurance sport, there is a lot of time to think and comprehend the environment and ruminate through the crevices of our mind. Courtney believes that ‘staying in the moment’, to simply focus on the task at hand and not anticipate too far ahead of the moment is crucial.

Flip the script

Flipping the mental script in your mind is another component to Courtneys success. “it’s important to not panic about how awful you are feeling… instead flip the script and tell yourself you're feeling fine”.

Acknowledge it’s tough

It’s undoubtably[spelling?] assumed that all sport is demanding to some extent. For Courtney, she finds {{gr} important to not downplay or neglect the magnitude of the event she is competing in. “If the negativity keeps knocking I’ll acknowledge how awful I’m feeling and acknowledge it lets me move past it to the next thing”

References[edit | edit source]

Aaronson, D., 2020. AGREEABLENESS Relevance In Sports — Dafna Aaronson.

Aaronson, D., 2020. Does EXTROVERSION Impact Sport Performance? — Dafna Aaronson.

Aaronson, D., 2020. Representing OPENNESS In Sport Performance — Dafna Aaronson. 2020. Achievement Goal Theory.

Explore the Limits. 2020. Self Determination Theory And Meeting Our Physiological Needs - Explore The Limits.

Explore the Limits. 2020. What Is The 'Self-Determination Theory'? - Explore The Limits.

Joanne Perry, Michael Ross, Jeremiah Weinstock and Jeffrey Gfeller, 2017. Examining the Interrelationships between Motivation, Conscientiousness, and Individual Endurance Sport Performance. Journal of Sports Science, 5(3). Key Concepts in Sport Psychology, n.d. Achievement Goal Theory. pp.80-85.

Niemiec, C. and Ryan, R., 2009. Autonomy, competence, and relatedness in the classroom. Theory and Research in Education, 7(2), pp.133-144.

Peak Performance. 2020. Motivation In Sports Psychology. 2020. APA Psycnet. <> 2020. The Influence Of Intrinsic Motivation On An Endurance Field Test - Proquest. 2020. Sportlyzer Academy. 2020. Achievement Goal Theory - Sportlyzer Academy Suunto. 2020. Ultra Champ Courtney Dauwalter’S 6 Tips For Mental Strength.