The Psychology of Elite Athletes

Motives for participation and ‘Achievement Motivation’ must be fully understood by coaches of elite athletes, in order to maximise performance. Discuss this statement, using examples from your own sporting involvement to illustrate your answer. This subject requires the need to understand certain words, phrases and theories and their meaning. Maslow suggested that individuals have various levels of motivational needs, both physiological and psychological, that must be fulfilled in a specific order.

For example, hunger and thirst are at the bottom, fame and fortune at the top; this is known as Maslow’s hierarchy of needs. In a sporting situation, I had to master the basic skills of tackling, passing and the rules of rugby (and be confident in them) so that I could experience the motivation to explore new challenges. Each person is an individual and needs to be treated as one. Therefore a good coach would know the personality, strengths, and weaknesses of one of their performers and will be able to maximise their performance by prioritising these ‘needs’.

Motives for participation vary for men and women, and vary between age groups. As a young child some of the major motives for sport participation were fun, making and being with friends, thrills, improving skills and fitness etc. When I get older my motives will change as my lifestyle, priorities and responsibilities take into effect. They will include health factors, weight loss, fitness, self-challenge and catharsis (stress relief). Motives are what ‘drive’ many elite performers to success. At an elite level it may be a combination of motives and coaches must ensure that these are the right motives (e.

g. mastery) and that motives do not conflict and hinder performance (e. g. extrinsic rewards act as distraction e. g. money). Achievement motivation was developed by Veroff and suggested that the achievement motivation of a performer develops in 3 stages: Autonomous competence stage, social comparison stage and integrated stage. The autonomous stage occurs in the first five years of life when they master basic skills and is entirely intrinsic, e. g. as a child the repeated throwing and catching of a ball to themselves until competent.

The next stage is social comparison aged 5 and up where your actions are compared to others. I was always very competitive as a child and I continually seeked to improve myself and beat others such as running races (competitive or not). At the 3rd and final stage is the integrated stage, which can occur at any age as it depends on the experiences and development of the individual. The differing situation determines the motivational requirements; it is also based on internal and external standards. I could never settle for 2nd best (who remembers runners up in the 1974 World Cup?

) even though I had the extrinsic rewards such as praise and silver badges. Elite performers are at the 3rd stage (integration) and a coach must have a good knowledge of the personality and motivation of his/her performer to indicate what situations their performer works best in, i. e. if they work better under pressure (competitive trait) then they could be set small training goals during practise and either reinforcement or punishment could follow if they are unsuccessful; to maximise performance. There are two types of motivation – intrinsic and extrinsic.

Intrinsic motivation involves gaining self-satisfaction or pride from achievements; the desire to challenge oneself; or simply the enjoyment of taking part. Extrinsic motivation involves receiving tangible or intangible rewards. The former includes medals, certificates, badges or money, while the latter includes praise from a coach, family or peer group or the media, as well as glory, social approval or achievement records. Different personalities, backgrounds, and other factors will determine which type of motivation is prevalent.

In my experience in rugby I have always been motivated by intrinsic rewards first then extrinsic. I have a need to achieve tendency as described by Atkinson. He suggested an individual’s level of motivation depends on a combination of personality and situational factors. In most situations I display a need to achieve similar to Jonny Wilkinson, i. e. we are both prepared to face a challenge, tough opponent to better our play, test our skills etc. the opposite end of the spectrum is the need to avoid failure.

This tendency occurs very rarely in my sport as I am highly motivated to succeed as I don’t see the point in playing a team I will either win or get beat by 50 points; how will that experience help me in the future? Elite performers can maximise their potential by playing opponents either at the same level or slightly better. You can gain a lot about your own individual performance and yourself as person in both success and in failure. Motivation can change from day to day, month to month, and season to season.

Motivation could diminish due to a number of factors such as boredom with training, conflict with coaches, no real desire to improve, injury, failure, burnout or no goals. These may be the reason for plateaus in performance. These can be overcome with the aid of coaches. New goals may be set, better coaching; variety in training and success may increase motivation. Coaches should discuss their elite players progress on a basis agreed between them to check performance, motivational levels etc so that any dips in motivation and subsequently performance may be prevented.

Motivation is a key element in sports psychology. Investigation into motivation continues to this day and many theorists persist to propose legitimate theories and explorations. Sage (1974) stated that motivation is ‘The internal mechanisms and external stimuli which arouse and …

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