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The Basics of Motivation for Multisport Athletes

By Dr. Michelle Cleere

Motivation can be defined as the direction and intensity of your efforts. Direction refers to why a person is involved in certain situations and why a person avoids other situations. Intensity is concerned with how much effort a person gives toward reaching a certain goal.  Motivation questions things like: why we participate; why do people discontinue participation; what intrinsic and extrinsic factors influence participation; and what goals influence participation.  

runMany times when people decide to participate in multisport training, they may appear to be motivated. They hire a coach and sign up for a race but might not follow the training program designed for them. Why do they skip workouts? They are not mentally prepared. Having some knowledge in motivation will help you to stay motivated.

Views of motivation
To have an understanding of motivation it’s important to know the common views of motivation. Most people fit into one of the three views of motivation: trait-centered, situation-centered, or the interactional view.

The trait-centered view of motivation contends that motivation is primarily a function of individual characteristics: personality, needs and goals. Some people have attributes that seem to predispose them to success and high levels of motivation while others are lacking in those areas. The trait-centered view is deemed narrow since it is thought many situations should also include environmental factors. Ignoring environmental influences on motivation is a little unrealistic.

The situation-centered view of motivation states that motivation is determined by the situation. For example, someone might be motivated in an aerobics class but unmotivated in a basketball game. Situation-centered motivation is also deemed narrow since not all negative situations make us respond negatively. For example, you love aerobics and although there happened to be a substitute instructor who wasn’t very good at teaching the class you participate in, you had fun anyway because you love aerobics.

The interactional view is the most widely endorsed view of motivation because it incorporates both trait and situational factors.

Intrinsic versus extrinsic motivation
It is not only important to have an understanding of how you view motivation but it’s also important to have an understanding of whether that view is intrinsic or extrinsic. Some athletes participate in multisport for the sheer fun, pleasure and enjoyment of it. They are motivated by skill improvement, the inherent challenge of the sport and the achievement of personal performance goals. These athletes are motivated intrinsically (internally).  They are involved because they love it. Alternatively, athletes who are extrinsically (externally) motivated may participate for social approval, material rewards and social status.

In extrinsic motivation the theory is, rewarding a behavior increases the probability that the behavior will be repeated and punishing a behavior decreases the possibility that it will be repeated.  However, once a need is satisfied, it is no longer a goal and loses its power to reward.  The more extrinsic rewards a person gets, the less need there is for the same type of reward.

In intrinsic motivation, a person participates for the sheer joy of participating. Experiences that provide fun also provide the motive to continue to participate. People are intrinsically motivated in particular to do something they like. For example, if someone really likes cycling they will be more intrinsically motivated to cycle.

It’s always best for people to participate in activities they enjoy to ensure that they are intrinsically motivated. If you don’t have an intrinsic orientation then it can be helpful to use extrinsic rewards to develop it, but the rewards can not be excessive, controlling or manipulative and should be contingent on accomplishment.

Building motivation
When attempting to enhance motivation it’s important to consider personal and environmental factors because both of these play a large role in determining motivation or lack of it. It’s easier to change the situation than the needs and personalities of the participants.

The following is a list of some things to consider when dealing with motivational challenges:

  • Understand why you are participating
  • Set realistic goals which provides opportunities for success
  • Leaders (coaches) influence motivation.
  • Learn to use positive reinforcement appropriately
  • Be a part of the process of decision making
  • Incorporate a variety of workouts you will really enjoy
  • Place emphasize on the process rather than the outcome
  • Monitor and alter the way feedback is provided
  • Assess and correct inappropriate perceptions
  • Enhance feelings of competence and control

One of the major goals of multisport participation is to determine what factors maximize participation and performance. This is important to help promote the probability that you will sustain your active lifestyle throughout your life.

Your performance hinges on the motivational views discussed but also includes other factors such as, biomechanical, physiological, sociological, medical and technical. It’s important to be able to clarify what are motivational issues versus other issues particularly since many other factors appear to look like motivational factors.

Some motivational factors are more easily influenced than others. For example, as a coach it’s easier to change the way positive reinforcement is given than it is to change the attractiveness of the training facility.

It’s important to take into consideration what motivational factors can realistically be influenced and which cannot and to keep that in mind when you’re training or racing.  

Dr. Michelle Cleere (PhD, USA Triathlon Level I Certified Coach, NASM-CPT) has coached hundreds of amateur and professional athletes who compete in sports that require a high degree of mental endurance, toughness and focus to get more out of their training, obtain better results and lead more balanced lives. For a free initial consultation email