How to Develop Intrinsic Motivation

Motivation is the impulse that mobilizes athletes to give the best of themselves. By boosting an athlete’s intrinsic motivation, you’ll positively influence all aspects related to sports performance.
How to Develop Intrinsic Motivation

Last update: 19 August, 2020

The development of intrinsic motivation can boost an athlete’s performance. This is because motivation positively influences other psychological variables, such as concentration, self-confidence, and commitment. But how can you develop it?

Intrinsic motivation is linked to the pleasure you experience by doing an activity and doesn’t depend on external factors. Intrinsically motivated athletes train with a positive frame of mind, are willing to face challenges, and seek to improve their own abilities.

Given how important it is for an athlete to be motivated while they’re training and competing, we decided to share the following guidelines on how to develop intrinsic motivation. Don’t miss them!

How to boost intrinsic motivation in athletes

Although this type of motivation is long-lasting and more stable, its disadvantage is that it takes a lot of effort to develop. Thus, you must be persistent. Nevertheless, don’t let yourself become discouraged, as effective strategies can help to boost motivation in athletes.

1. Intrinsic motivation: set joint goals

When it comes to setting goals, it’s best for the coach to take the athlete’s opinion into consideration, instead of doing it in an authoritarian way. The athlete’s participation in goal setting boosts their commitment to any activity.

This is because the athlete perceives the goal as important to them. Thus, they identify with the need to achieve those goals to improve their performance.

2. Promote a variety of activities

On many occasions, low motivation occurs because the activities the athlete does aren’t consistent with their personal tastes. It’s very difficult for a person to develop high intrinsic motivation levels if they have to do an activity that they don’t enjoy.

An unmotivated athlete at the gym.

In this regard, the solution would be to offer different activities that have the same purpose, so that the person can choose the one they enjoy the most. For example, to enhance aerobic capacity, coaches can offer activities that the athletes can do in pairs, such as running, rope jumping, or circuits.

3. Explain the purpose of the activity

Coaches have to be very careful with how they explain the exercises to athletes. If they do so with certain aspects in mind, explanations can be a powerful source of intrinsic motivation.

For example, when it comes to introducing a new exercise, it’s best to refer to aspects the athletes previously worked on or know and inspire confidence in athletes by encouraging their participation. In addition, it’s also very important to explain the purpose of the activity, meaning why it’s beneficial for performance.

4. Create a motivational climate that encourages a sense of control

A very effective way to boost intrinsic motivation is to boost an athlete’s perception of control. This means that you should be aware that you’re in control of the process and that your actions have consequences that affect it.

For this purpose, it’s very useful for the athlete to become aware of the relationship between their efforts and the achievement of goals. If achieving goals depends on the person’s efforts, this means that they have control over the process and influence it. Finally, a sense of control conveys peace of mind and security.

5. Intrinsic motivation: provide constant verbal reinforcements

Verbal reinforcements greatly impact behavior. Words of encouragement, highlighting progress, or encouraging athletes to make an effort are examples of verbal reinforcements that coaches can easily use.

A man working out with his trainer.

Reinforcing behaviors means that you want them to repeat in the future. Few things fuel an athlete’s motivation more than their coach recognizing their progress and feeling appreciated by them. The power of reinforcement is that it’s completely inexpensive and has a huge impact on people.

Develop intrinsic motivation to achieve your goals

Boosting your intrinsic motivation will positively influence your performance and personal well-being. Motivation is the fuel that moves, maintains, and directs an athlete’s behavior.

From a practical standpoint, it’s true that it’s easier to boost an athlete’s external motivation through prizes and material rewards. However, this type of motivation is more unstable and doesn’t cause changes in a person’s behavior or values.

In short, an intrinsically motivated athlete identifies with the activity until it becomes ingrained in their life. Therefore, they’ll want to work hard and give the best of themselves because they feel that this activity makes them grow as a person.

All cited sources were thoroughly reviewed by our team to ensure their quality, reliability, currency, and validity. The bibliography of this article was considered reliable and of academic or scientific accuracy.

  • Moreno-Murcia, J. A., Joseph, P., y Hernández, E. H. (2013). Cómo aumentar la motivación intrínseca en clases de educación física. Revista de Educación, Motricidad e Investigación, (1), 30-39.

This text is provided for informational purposes only and does not replace consultation with a professional. If in doubt, consult your specialist.