Track and field offers young athletes a unique opportunity to challenge themselves both physically and mentally while developing lifelong skills. As these athletes prepare for competitions, it’s essential to understand what drives their motivation and how to effectively support it. This short Beagle Bites will explore the importance of motivation in young track and field athletes, discuss proven strategies to increase motivation, and present some additional references that support these findings.
The Role of Motivation in Track and Field
Motivation plays a very important role in helping young athletes succeed. It influences their performance, commitment to the sport and overall enjoyment (Fraser-Thomas et al., 2021). In track and field, motivation pushes athletes to train consistently, set and achieve goals and overcome the challenges that come with being an athlete (Curran et al., 2015). Motivation also helps young athletes build mental resilience, allowing them to cope with the pressures of competition and maintain a healthy outlook on their athletic pursuits (Crust & Clough, 2011).
Types of Motivation
According to Self-Determination Theory (Ryan et al., 2019), there are two main types of motivation: intrinsic and extrinsic. Intrinsic motivation is when an athlete participates in an activity for the pure enjoyment and satisfaction they get from it. Extrinsic motivation is driven by external factors, such as rewards, praise, or fear of punishment. It’s important for young track and field athletes to have a healthy balance of both types of motivation, as relying too much on external rewards can weaken their intrinsic motivation and reduce their long-term commitment to the sport (Vansteenkiste et al., 2020).
Ways to Improve Motivation
- Goal Setting: Encouraging young athletes to set realistic, achievable goals is essential for increasing their motivation and commitment to the sport (Weinberg & Gould, 2014). According to research, the utilisation of SMART (specific, measurable, achievable, relevant, and time-bound) goals has proven effective in fostering an athlete’s success (Doran, 1981). Coaches and parents should collaborate with young athletes to establish both short-term and long-term SMART goals that are tailored to their individual needs and aspirations, ensuring that they remain engaged and motivated. More on SMART and SMARTER Goals can be seen here in the Session Coach Mark recently presented.
- Focus on Improvement: Researchers have found that emphasising personal growth and improvement, as opposed to comparing oneself to others, aids young athletes in developing a growth mindset, which is crucial for maintaining motivation (Yeager et al., 2019). Coaches can foster this mindset by encouraging athletes to concentrate on their own progress and emphasising that success in track and field is about becoming the best version of oneself, rather than simply outperforming others (Dweck, 2006).
- Supporting Independence: Providing young athletes with the opportunity to make choices and take responsibility for their actions has been shown to enhance motivation and foster a sense of ownership in their athletic journey (Reeve, 2018). To create an environment that supports autonomy, coaches should offer choices, actively listen to athletes’ opinions, and encourage self-directed learning. This approach aligns with the Self-Determination Theory (SDT), which posits that autonomy is a key factor in motivating individuals to engage in and persist at a task (Deci & Ryan, 2000).
- Positive Reinforcement: Offering praise for effort, improvement, and sportsmanship can help young athletes feel more motivated and confident in their abilities (Horn & Hasbrook, 2015). It is important for coaches and parents to strike the right balance between praise and constructive feedback, ensuring that young athletes are encouraged while also understanding areas for growth. This approach aligns with Bandura’s (1977) Social Learning Theory, which emphasises the role of reinforcement in shaping behaviour and fostering motivation.
Motivation is a key factor in the success of young track and field athletes. Understanding the different aspects of motivation and implementing strategies that promote intrinsic motivation, goal-setting, personal improvement, independence, and positive reinforcement helps coaches and parents to help athletes reach their full potential and enjoy a rewarding athletic experience.
If you’re an U11 Athlete and want a little extra help with motivation – listen to this recording here from one of our Young Athlete Leaders in the Club:
If you’re older and want some additional motivation, you can listen to this audio recording from one of our Coaches to help you prepare for your event:
Remember to let us know of other subjects you’d like us to add to our library.
- Crust, L., & Clough, P. J. (2011). Developing mental toughness: From research to practice. Journal of Sport Psychology in Action, 2(1), 21-32.
- Curran, T., Hill, A. P., & Niemiec, C. P. (2015). A conditional process model of children’s behavioral engagement and behavioral disaffection in sport based on self-determination theory. Journal of Sport and Exercise Psychology, 37(1), 23-36.
- Fraser-Thomas, J., Strachan, L., & Jeffery-Tosoni, S. (2021). Youth sport: Friend or foe? Examining contemporary issues in sport participation. In T. S. Horn & A. L. Smith (Eds.), Advances in Sport and Exercise Psychology (4th ed., pp. 375-394). Human Kinetics.
- Horn, T. S., & Hasbrook, C. A. (2015). Psychological characteristics of children in youth sport. In J. Duda (Ed.), Advances in Sport and Exercise Psychology Measurement (pp. 47-62). Fitness Information Technology.
- Reeve, J. (2018). Understanding motivation and emotion (7th ed.). Wiley.
- Ryan, R. M., Deci, E. L., & Vansteenkiste, M. (2019). Autonomy and autonomy disturbances in self‐development and psychopathology: Research on motivation, attachment, and clinical process. In D. Cicchetti (Ed.), Developmental psychopathology: Maladaptation and psychopathology (Vol. 3, 3rd ed., pp. 795-849). Wiley.
- Vansteenkiste, M., Ryan, R. M., & Soenens, B. (2020). Basic psychological need theory: Advancements, critical themes, and future directions. Motivation and Emotion, 44(1), 1-31.
- Weinberg, R. S., & Gould, D. (2014). Foundations of sport and exercise psychology (6th ed.). Human Kinetics.
- Yeager, D. S., Hanselman, P., Walton, G. M., Murray, J. S., Crosnoe, R., Muller, C., … & Dweck, C. S. (2019). A national experiment reveals where a growth mindset improves achievement. Nature, 573(7774), 364-369.
- Further reading: How can coaches influence players and motivate athletes? | University of Denver (du.edu)