Lack of Motivation in High School Athletes: How Can Coaches or Mentors Encourage Motivation and Dedication? (by Kayla Moore)

images-4Since March 2nd of this year, I remember it so distinctly because it was my birthday, I have had the opportunity to be an assistant coach of my former high school cross country team, the Tualatin Timberwolves. I didn’t have much experience with being accountable for a group of children, aside from teaching vacation bible school and babysitting. Now, I was not only responsible for their safety, but had the power to influence their actions and mentality in regards to their sport; I took this responsibility very seriously. I wanted the team to not only be excited about going to practice and working with one another, but to continue to help them improve their racing careers, and potentially have to opportunity to race at the collegiate level. Now, the goal of most athletic teams is to master a specific skill set in order to win, and to constantly strive towards improvement. For this to be possible the athletes of the team must have various skills to accomplish this task, though one that is frequently overlooked is the importance of motivation.

When it comes to long distance running the grueling miles and intense workouts can really be a challenge for athletes both physically and mentally. The head coach of the team, Chris McIssac, is well aware of this issue. One of his main focuses is to keep athletes motivated and excited about racing. I know from experience that in such a physically tiring sport it can be difficult to maintain the same level of motivation consistently, which brings me to my research question: what causes a lack of motivation in high school athletes, and how can we, as coaches or mentors, encourage motivation and dedication?

Before delving too far into my research question, I wanted to know more about motivation itself. How is it defined and why is it important? Sports Performance Bulletin posted an article titled Motivation in Sports Psychology which answered several of my basic questions. They define motivation as “an internal energy force that determines all aspects of our behavior; it also impacts ho we think, feel, and interact with others”. The article goes on to explain that motivation is important because it acts as an “essential prerequisite in getting athletes to their full potential”. So, to summarize these points in regards to my research question, motivation can be more narrowly defined as a feeling or behavior which allows an athlete to perform to the best of their abilities.

This article also led me to some information I hadn’t considered; there are different types of motivation. Some of them included amotivation, external motivation, identified and integrated motivation, and intrinsic motivation. Amotivation is described as “a lack of intention to engage in a behavior… accompanied by feelings of incompetence and a lack of connection between one’s behavior and expected outcome”. External motivation is driven by the goal of attaining some form of an award, whether it is in the form of a physical prize or recognition. Identified motivation represents “engagement in a behavior that is highly valued”, whereas integrated motivation represents “when a behavior is in harmony with one’s sense of self and almost entirely self-determined”. These types of motivation emphasize repetition because the athlete believes that through devoting hundreds of hours to the same activity, they will ultimately improve. Finally, intrinsic motivation, which is defined as “fully self – determined and characterized by interest in, and enjoyment derived from, sports participation”. This is probably the most well-known perception of what motivation is defined as, and is also considered the healthiest type of motivation because it represents “an athlete’s motivation to perform an activity simply for the reward inherent in their participation”. After learning more about motivation itself and the different types of motivation I was ready to move on to the next portion of my research question in applying this information to: how this can help coaches and mentors to encourage motivation and dedication in their athletes?

I came across a case study titled: Exploring the Independent and Interactive Effects of Autonomy Supportive and Controlling Coaching Behaviors on Adolescent Athletes’ Motivation for Sport. The study was conducted by Anthony J. Amorose from the School of Kinesiology and Recreation at Illinois State University and Dawn Anderson-Butcher from the College of Social Work at Ohio State University. In this case study Amorose and Anderson-Butcher sought to understand, “which coaching behaviors promote positive behaviors, experiences, and psychological functioning on the part of the athletes, as well as those that minimize maladaptive outcomes”. The study tested two different styles of coaching, autonomy-supportive and controlling behaviors, to see which rendered the outcome previously stated. The difference between these two behaviors is that autonomy supportive behavior allows for children to feel that their actions are fully self-determined and that they find enjoyment in their sport, whereas controlling behaviors sets expectations of athletes making them subjected to external pressures or demands. The results of the study concluded that positive motivational responses increased as perceptions of autonomy support increased, and that the most positive motivational outcomes were associated with the perceptions of higher autonomy support and lower controlling behaviors. Knowing that children will not only be more motivated but more satisfied in their work through coaches who encourage their actions and performance rather than try to control it, gives us more insight to how we can better support athletes in reaching their full potential.

With this idea in mind, I found an article posted by the Women’s Sports Foundation listing the ’10 Commandments for Parents and Coaches’. The goal of this article is to inform coaches and parents of how to allow their athletes to have the best experience possible through participation on an athletic team. The Commandments are as follows: sports must be fun, keep competition in perspective, skill is a function of repetition and a key to having fun, help your child find a sport just right for them, you can and should coach your child, lead by example as a spectator and a cheerleader, deliver value messages over and over again, there are many ways you can encourage your child to participate in sport without forcing it, get involved with their sport experience, and select coaches who you respect, admire, and trust. I found that these ’10 Commandments’ express similar views as those found from the results of Amorose and Anderson-Butcher’s case study. Both suggest that for an athlete to experience intrinsic motivation, the healthiest type of motivation, and an athletes actions should be encouraged but not forced.

As mentors and coaches it is still crucial to provide support and direction, though perhaps the simplest way to encourage motivation and dedication is to allow athletes to perform simply for the reward they feel through their participation. It is important to ensure children are learning valuable lessons through athletics instead of focusing on winning as the main source of motivation. So to answer my research question, how can we as coaches and mentors encourage motivation and dedication in high school athletes, they should be allowed to set their own goals and what they hope to attain from their sport. By determining their own goals they will feel greater success when they are reached, and have a greater chance of maintaining motivation, versus having their goals and actions determined for them.


“Women’s Sports Foundation.” Women’s Sports Foundation. Women’s Sports Foundation, 23 June 2011. Web. 11 Aug. 2015.

“Motivation in Sports Psychology.” Sports Performance Bulletin. Web. 11 Aug. 2015.

Amorose, Anthony J, and Dawn Anderson-Butcher. “Exploring the Independent and Interactive Effects of Autonomy-Supportive and Controlling Coaching Behaviors on Adolescent Athletes’ Motivation for Sport.” U.S Educational Publishing Foundation, 1 Aug. 2015. Web. 11 Aug. 2015.



  1. Megan O'Mara

    I loved your blog post! It is so common with so many people. I definitely had a lack of motivation some days in high school during sports! You are just so drained of energy and don’t want to do anything! I definitely found that I succeeded the most when my coach was providing encouragement and pushing us to our best ability. You really got straight to the point with this blog post and I think it would be a good read for all athletes!
    Your sources were great and definitely contributed to your blog post. You had great organization and your transitions were very smooth. I hope you are proud of this piece because you should be!

  2. Anna

    Great essay, Kayla!! I connected with everything you had to say, for I had both good and bad coaches during high school. I always found coaches that stayed positive and energetic through the long days and hard times were the most effective. Your use of sources tied in fantastically with your essay and you used them seamlessly. Great conclusion as well! I loved reading it!

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