Motivation & Arousal In Sports Psychology

Motivation is thought to be a combination of the drive within us to achieve our aims and the outside factors which affect it. With this in mind, motivation has the following two forms, intrinsic motivation, and extrinsic motivation.

Intrinsic motivation

This is motivation from within. A desire to perform well and succeed. The following will be true:

  • Desire to overcome the problem or task
  • Development of skills and habits to overcome that problem
  • Rehearsal of successful habits until they are perfect
  • A feeling of pride and enjoyment in performing the skill
  • Repeated goal setting in order to progress and maintain motivation

Goals must be all of the following in order to be attainable:

  • Smart
  • Measurable
  • Agreed
  • Realistic
  • Time -related
  • Exciting
  • Recorded

Extrinsic motivation

Extrinsic motivation comes from a source outside of the performer. These are things which can encourage the athlete to perform and fall into two groups:

Tangible rewards: Physical rewards such as medals and money. These should be used sparingly with young athletes to avoid a situation where winning a prize is more important than competing well

Intangible rewards: Praise, recognition, and achievements. These should be used on a regular basis to encourage the athlete to repeat the behaviour which earned the praise.

Motivation, Arousal, and Performance

Motivation is related to the intensity and direction of behaviour. That is the level of arousal and the way in which we behave affect our motivation and hence performance. There are currently two theories which try to explain this link:

Hull’s Drive Theory:

This demonstrates a linear relationship between performance and arousal. This means at low levels of arousal, performance is low and performance increases in line with an increase in arousal. This is shown in the graph below.

This theory also explains that novices to the sport often do not perform well under pressure and their skill level decreases due to poor habits and ill- learned techniques. Habits are described as the performance which is dominant within each person. Experienced athletes tend to perform better under pressure due to their superior skills and the use of stress management techniques. This theory can be expressed using the following equation:

Performance = habit x drive (arousal)

Inverted U Law:

This law states that arousal improves performance up to an optimal point. Past this point, performance begins to decrease. When drawn on a graph this appears as an upside-down U shape.

There are three rules which surround this theory:

  • Activity: Some sports are better performed at low arousal, mainly those which require small, precision movements and control, e.g. shooting
  • Skill level: Beginners to a sport require all of their attention to be focused on the task in hand and so do not cope as well with over-arousal. Highly skilled individuals have the skill well practiced and so do not require such high levels of concentration meaning they can deal better with the arousal level.
  • Personality: Extroverts perform better in high-pressure, high arousal situations. Introverts tend to do better in a state of low arousal. This is thought to be connected to a part of the brain called the RAS or reticular activating system. This controls the level of arousal. Introverts have a highly stimulated RAS and so avoid stressful situations, whereas extroverts need high arousal situations to stimulate the RAS

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