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Understand motivation for sport participation

This is an excerpt from Foundations of Sport and Exercise Psychology, Fifth Edition with Web Study Guide, by Robert S. Weinberg, PhD, and Daniel Gould, PhD.

What motivates you to participate in sport and physical activity? As you think about what motivates you and others, remember these points:

  • People participate for more than one reason. Most people have multiple motives for participation. For example, you may lift weights because you want to tone your body. Yet lifting weights also makes you feel good, plus you enjoy the camaraderie of your lifting partners. Thus, you lift for more than one reason.
  • People have competing motives for involvement. At times people have competing motives. For instance, a person may want to exercise at the club after work and also to be with his family. As a coach, teacher, or exercise leader, you should be aware of such conflicting interests because they can affect participation.
  • People have both shared and unique motives. Although it is possible to identify why people usually participate in sport and exercise, motives for participation vary greatly and can be unique to each individual. For example, Dwyer (1992) assessed college students’ motives for participation and obtained results similar to those for young athletes: The most important motives for participation were fitness, fun, excitement and challenge, and improving skills. However, the college students rated friendship, achievement status, and team factors as less important—findings that vary from those in the youth sport literature. Thus, many of us would cite physical fitness, fun, and friendship as major motives for sport participation. However, some of us might have motives that are more individual, such as parental pressure or needing something to do. Still others might have highly idiosyncratic motives, such as the need to physically dominate others or the experience of calmness they actually derive from competition. Hence, people have both shared and unique motives for participation.
  • Gender differences in motivation. Some gender differences exist in motivations for involvement. For example, Sirard, Pfeiffer, and Pate (2006) studied motivational factors associated with sport participation in over 1600 middle school children. Findings showed that having fun was the highest-rated motive for all the children. When motives were compared across genders, girls cited social and skill benefits, competition, and fitness as major motives while boys emphasized competition, social benefits, and fitness most often. The authors concluded that middle school boys have a greater attraction to the competitive aspects of sports while girls have a greater attraction to the social aspects. The conclusions of this study are restricted to the age group sampled; but they do emphasize the importance of recognizing that while males and females may have many common motives for sport and physical activity involvement, important differences may be evident.
  • Cultural emphasis affects motives. Although many motives for sport and physical activity involvement are common across cultures, some are given more emphasis. Kim, Williams, and Gill (2003), for example, found that U.S. and Korean middle school students differed in their motivation, with U.S. youngsters being more intrinsically motivated than their Korean counterparts. It was also suggested that participants from Asian countries are more interdependence oriented whereas North Americans are more independence oriented. In another recent study, Yan and McCullagh (2004) found that American, Chinese, and Chinese American youth differed in their motives for sport and physical activity participation. Specifically, American youth were motivated primarily by competition and the need to improve; Chinese youth were more involved for social affiliation and wellness; and Chinese American youth participated because of travel, equipment use, and having fun. With most contemporary societies becoming much more culturally diverse, coaches, exercise leaders, and physical educators must become familiar with and recognize important cultural differences in participant motives.

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