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Extrinsic Rewards and Motivation

Stephanie Hatch, Danielle Thomsen, Jennifer J. Waldron
University of Northern Iowa, Cedar Falls, IA

Athletes compete in and practice sport for a variety of reasons. These reasons fall into the two major categories of intrinsic and extrinsic motivation. Athletes who are intrinsically motivated participate in sports for internal reasons, such as enjoyment, whereas athletes who are extrinsically motivated participate in sports for external reasons, such as material rewards.
Extrinsic rewards are central to competitive sports; athletes receive publicity, awards, and money, among other things, and college level athletes obtain scholarships for their talents. Extrinsic rewards, when used correctly, can be beneficial to athletes. However, athletes in highly competitive levels of sport may experience decreases in their intrinsic motivation because of the increasing use of extrinsic rewards offered by the media, coaches, and parents.  As a coach, you can help increase or maintain the intrinsic motivation of college athletes even with the presence of extrinsic rewards, such as scholarships.

Intrinsic Motivation
Intrinsically motivated athletes participate in sport for internal reasons, particularly pure enjoyment and satisfaction, and intrinsically motivated athletes typically concentrate on skill improvement and growth.
Behaviors Related to Intrinsic Motivation

  • Better task-relevant focus
  • Fewer changes (ups and downs) in motivation
  • Less distraction
  • Less stress when mistakes are made
  • Increased confidence and self-efficacy
  • Greater satisfaction

Extrinsic Motivation
Extrinsic motivation may come from social sources, such as not wanting to disappoint a parent, or material rewards, such as trophies and college scholarships. Extrinsically motivated athletes tend to focus on the competitive or performance outcome. An over-emphasis on extrinsic motivation may lead athletes to feel like their behavior is controlled by the extrinsic rewards.  On the other hand, athletes may continue to feel like they control their own behavior even with the presence of extrinsic rewards. These two major types of extrinsic motivation are highlighted here.

Behavior controlled by the extrinsic rewards

  • Motivation Based on
    • Extrinsic rewards
    • Avoiding punishment or guilt
    • “Should” do something
  • Behaviors
    • Less interest, value, and effort towards achievement
    • Anxiety
    • Difficulty coping with failure

Behavior controlled by the athlete

  • Motivation based on
    • Internal control of behaviors
    • Choice to participate even with extrinsic rewards
  • Behaviors (Similar to intrinsic motivation)
    • Greater interest, enjoyment, and effort towards achievement
    • Desire to learn new skills or strategies
    • Positive coping styles

Extrinsic Rewards: Weakening or Strengthening Intrinsic Motivation
Based on the two types of extrinsic motivation, extrinsic rewards may weaken or strengthen the intrinsic motivation of athletes. Under the following situations, it is likely that extrinsic rewards will weaken intrinsic motivation.

  1. The extrinsic reward controls the behaviors of the athlete (e.g.., I’m playing to keep my college scholarship).
  2. The extrinsic reward provides negative information about the athlete’s ability. (e.g., there is only one reward and I didn’t get it)
  3. The extrinsic reward is not directly connected to a specific behavior or performance level
  4. The extrinsic reward is given for a behavior that is already intrinsically rewarding.

Extrinsic rewards can also be used to maintain or strengthen intrinsic motivation. If a reward is viewed as informing athletes about their ability in a positive manner, then the rewards will likely foster internal satisfaction and intrinsic motivation.
What Can You Do To Maintain Or Increase Intrinsic Motivation?
Your behaviors, as a coach, can influence the intrinsic motivation of your athletes and helping athletes feel like they control their own behavior even with the presence of extrinsic rewards.
Following are some tips:
Give nonverbal and verbal positive reinforcement based on the specific behaviors of your athletes.
Recognize athletes’ specific contribution to practice or the team; you will be positively informing athletes about their ability.
Work together with your athletes to set individual and team goals that are challenging and realistic.
The more athletes experience competence and success due to their own actions and skills, the great their intrinsic motivation. Even with extrinsic rewards, athletes who feel like they are in control of their behaviors, will be more satisfied and more likely to continue participating.