Making the Most of Intrinsic Motivation

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Motivation is at the heart of everything an athlete will accomplish. This is the attribute that will decide whether a young player initiates new goals leading to physical, technical, tactical, mental or emotional growth and persists in playing. Intrinsic motivation is more likely to lead to long-term success. 

Understanding Intrinsic versus Extrinsic Motivation

Ever heard of a little game called Fortnite? We know a few Queen City Mutiny players use a tiny bit of their time off the field to battle in this online survival game. So, let’s use this example to help communicate the differences between extrinsic and intrinsic motivation (because, actually, kids are playing for both reasons — and likely due to the great lengths the game makers have gone to to make it psychologically addictive…but that’s another blog).

Ok, so how does Fortnite tap into extrinsic motivation? Well, when a child gets a “W” in a solo or squad battle, he enjoys the feeling of winning (and can even dance in the face of his opponent). There are opportunities to level up, rewards for beating others, and a certain social status associated with being a Level X player. Further, he can expect social approval for joining the hordes online who know the game, have the right “skins,” and can talk at length (and we mean length) about the advantages of one weapon over another.

But, perhaps it’s a bit more surprising to think of Fortnite tapping intrinsic motivation. Still, it ticks several boxes on that side of the motivation spectrum too. It offers pleasure, fun, and a sense of excitement. The players feel challenged by the game’s ever-changing geography and supply drops. They are regularly learning new skills (whether or not you agree that those skills actually have value) and can see the results of skill improvement. Hence, intrinsic motivation.

So, now that we’ve made you feel guilty about hating Fortnite so much, let’s look at what we can do to make the most of our understanding of these differences. After all, parents, educators, and your development academy coaches will see greater success when they foster intrinsic motivation.

#1 Redefine Success

Winning, getting a trophy for the shelf, or a medal to hang on the wall are all extrinsic motivators. For long-term success in intrinsically motivating young players it helps to focus more on skill improvement. We discussed SMARTER goal setting[1]  last month. Setting these kind of specific, measurable, achievable, recorded, time-phased, exciting, and re-evaluated goals can provide safe parameters for a skills focus. We can also redefine success in terms of the importance of trying and having fun. E.g. “Did you and your team work hard?” “Did you learn from the first half and play better in the second?” “Did you have fun playing that new position?”

#2 Understand Confidence Levels

A player with high confidence levels will want to succeed and will embrace opportunities to stretch and potentially win more challenging games. These are the kids who will want to play up, play more, and will often enjoy being evaluated by others.

On the other hand, those who are low on self confidence may well want to win, but they pay more attention to their anxiety about losing or failing. To improve self-confidence, you might work with the athlete to:

•       Observe peer players carefully to see how they fare in the same role or responsibility

•       Persuade verbally with encouraging self talk or encouraging words from you, teammates, coaches.

•       Imagine success by visualizing what winning or skills accomplishment will look and feel like to increase self-belief that it can happen.


#3 Beware Social Loafing

Social loafing is a phenomenon in which a person exerts less effort to achieve a goal because he is working in a group. If the player was working on the same skill or objective alone, his effort would be different. But with the group around as a buffer, an athlete’s slowed progress can go unnoticed.

The tendency to engage in social loafing increases when:

•       Output cannot be measured independently

•       Value of task is low or not apparent

•       Individual personal involvement is low

•       Individual feels his contribution to the collective outcome is negative.


So, how can we tackle social loafing? By providing individual athletes with specific, performance-related feedback (going back to the skills focus in intrinsic motivation), assigning meaningful tasks (intrinsic motivation’s challenges), and making each person feel his task is unique and valuable (intrinsic’s fun, excitement).

Making the most of intrinsic motivators is important to fight through fatigue, boredom, pain, and the distraction of other things (Fortnite?) when it comes to soccer field success as well as school, work, and relationships. So, set the groundwork now to establish positive motivational cues associated with effort and achieving goals.

chris williams