Motivated Female Cyclist

How to Master Your Athletes’ Motivation

BY Jamie Blanchfield

Motivation is a very complex and fluid thing. Find out what motivates your athletes and how to redirect ineffective motivation.

What is motivation? Motivation is broken down into roughly seven types: 

  • Intrinsic (within you)
  • Extrinsic (external rewards)
  • Primary (basic survival needs)
  • Secondary (learned experiences that aid in primary motivation)
  • Initial (what gets you started)
  • Pre-Event (before the goal) 
  • Long Term

As people and athletes, we experience all types of motivation on a daily basis! There is no good or bad type of motivation, but perhaps certain situations require different strategies to positively affect motivation.

What influences our motivation?

Self-Efficacy plays a fundamental role in motivation. The theory of self-efficacy suggests that “previous performance is the biggest predictor of situational confidence.” Essentially, if an athlete believes they will succeed, they are more likely to participate confidently. Athletes with high self-efficacy tend to try harder, choose more difficult tasks and experience their effort more positively. When we consider this theory, self-efficacy should help us overcome motivation-inhibiting self-doubt.

Goal or Achievement Orientation also contribute to motivational states. Sustained motivation hinges three types of goal orientation: task mastery, ego, and achievement. 

Task mastery orientated athletes focus on improving their ability over time rather than focusing on current ability level. These athletes are motivated by the process of improvement i.e. one step at a time. This type of orientation is associated with high levels of competence & ability, thus improving motivation.

Ego orientation is concerned with one’s current ability level—for example, the athlete who focuses on purely outperforming others and not bettering themselves. This athlete experiences a high level of extrinsic motivation which usually isn’t sustainable. The athlete’s perception of their own ability is based on beating others which often leads to inconsistency and disappointment.

Achievement orientation theory is linked to the athlete’s personality. It proposes that athletes can have a high and low need to achieve—those with a high need to achieve typically conform to task mastery, thus increasing motivation.

What enhances motivation?

Goal Setting

Goal setting gives the athlete a map or a guide through which they channel all their motivational energy. Goals are broken down into outcome, performance, and process. Outcome goals include specific results such as winning, performance goals refer to an athlete attaining a personal result, and finally, process goals consist of establishing ‘mini-goals’ along the path to a greater result. Examples of process ‘mini-goals’ include setting a pacing strategy, strategizing positioning in a group, or focusing on fuelling during an event. If an athlete focuses on these types of goals, and the result doesn’t go their way, they can rest assured they did everything in their control to make it happen.

Understanding Why You Take Part

People are motivated to participate in sport for a variety of justifications; personal satisfaction, winning, money, friendship are only a handful of reasons. For example, in youth sport, athletes often just want to have fun in their sporting pursuits. Comparatively, adults may want to not only enjoy themselves but also focus on health & fitness. Why is this important? Well, it helps both the coach and the athlete form effective goals and expectations at the outset. If goals are aligned with your motivation, then your desire to participate goes up.

The Coach’s Role

A coach may heavily influence an athlete’s motivation both negatively and positively. The coach, as previously mentioned, should be involved in the goal-setting process. The coach needs to ensure the goals are attainable first and foremost—unrealistic goals communicated by or to the coach should be altered and readjusted in a manner that makes them challenging but achievable. The coach’s communication style also impacts motivation, so knowing your athlete’s preferences is key. How well do they respond to enthusiasm vs. constructive criticism or perhaps energetic conversation?

Motivation is a very complex and fluid thing. Once athletes the power of self-reflection, you as a coach may then start to implement strategies that positively influence their motivation!


Sage (1977); cited in Weinberg, R. S., Gould, D., & Weinberg, R. (2003). Foundations of sport and exercise psychology.

Bandura, A. (1986). The explanatory and predictive scope of self-efficacy theory. Journal of social and clinical psychology, 4(3), 359-373.

Murphy, S. (2005). Model of Imagery in Sport Psychology: A Review Journal of Mental

Nicholls, J. G. (1984). Achievement motivation: Conceptions of ability, subjective experience, task choice, and performance. Psychological Review, 91(3), 328.5 Moran, A. (2004). Attention and concentration training in sport. Encyclopedia of Applied Psychology, 209-214.

Jamie Blanchfield Premier Endurance
About Jamie Blanchfield

Jamie Blanchfield is the founder and head coach of Premier Endurance – an endurance support provider based in Ireland. Jamie’s main role is a coach to road cyclists from beginner right up to professional while also working in a consultancy role with Cycling Ireland. Jamie possesses a BSc in Sports Coaching and Performance and is a certified Cycling Ireland coach. Premier Endurance’s philosophy of coaching revolves around the development of self-sufficient athletes by aiding and educating them in every way possible along their journey.

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