Saturday, 13 August 2016
The Intrinsic and Extrinsic Motivation of Young Female Soccer Players Transitioning from Youth to Adult
The purpose of this paper is to discuss the differences between intrinsic and extrinsic motivation. My own team, Southampton Saints Ladies Reserves playing in the Women’s Premier League Reserve Division will be used as reference. While motivation will be discussed, other areas will be touched upon to provide insight, perspective, and an overall understanding of the situation, including; mindset, arousal, and anxiety.
The Women’s Premier League requires huge sacrifice and commitment from all concerned with the clubs, yet it provides little in the way of tangible incentive. The players have to give up many ours, pay small fortunes, and travel long distances in order to play the game they love. Tough decisions are made by individuals as it starts to impact work, education, social life, and home life. Is this truly what they wish to do?
It represents the level just before professionalism for females in England, though some competitors do enjoy financial benefits and other incentives for playing. Even those that could be deemed as professional, perhaps playing for some of the most easily recognisable clubs in the world, such as Arsenal, Chelsea, and Manchester City, often have part-time jobs or side projects in order to support their modest wage acquired from being a high performing athlete. It’s now, as the players progress from teenagers into the adult teams, as their eyes are opened to the harsh realities of the real world, and the question is asked; “Do you want it enough?”
The difference between intrinsic and extrinsic motivation, as defined by Weinberg and Gould (2007) is;
“We know that motivation has two sources: extrinsic and intrinsic. With extrinsic rewards, the motivation comes from other people through positive and negative reinforcements. But individuals also participate in sport and physical activity for intrinsic reasons. People who have intrinsic motivation strive inwardly to be competent and self-determining in their quest to master the task at hand. They enjoy competition, like the action and excitement, focus on having fun, and want to learn skills to the best of their ability.”
Intrinsic motivation is associated with high self-determination, and considers the following three constructs; knowledge (learning), accomplishment (new skills), and stimulation (fun and excitement) (Weinberg & Gould, 2007). All three provide sources of pleasure and satisfaction that are internally guided and internally determined by the individual. External motivation is associated with low to medium self-determination, where perhaps the outcome is valued more than the joy of participation.
There is a large amount of sacrifice involved with playing at a club of this level. The team competes in a league that is high up the English pyramid, and teeters on the border of professional and grassroots. Players are selected to play for the club, and trials can be hugely popular, but then those that are successful enough to be offered a position have to pay large sums of money. Not having the backing of a rich owner, or being affiliated with a professional men’s team, nothing can be subsidised, and all the cost falls on the players, or their parents, with minimal additions from sponsorship. The club exists in a realm of professional standards, that are provided by volunteers and high paying members.
Despite the high running costs, the players themselves do not have much option as to where they can play. They are entitled to look for other clubs, but most of these are incredibly far away. Clubs that are closer to their location are of a much lower standard, playing in local, recreational leagues. The club is able to draw in the best talent from a very large area, but is unable to offer any kind of financial incentive to those that wish to play. It is entirely down to the will of the individual, and their love of the game. The player wishes to compete at a high level, and is willing to match the commitment required.
It is the reserve team, which acts mainly as a sieve for the first team, where the friction occurs, as young players come into the team from youth soccer, and are introduced into adult soccer. It’s a big jump, and for many, a step too far. The purpose of the reserve team is to prepare the young players for the intensity of the first team. To many, it can be a shock to the system, from which they never recover, resulting in them leaving the club, and dropping down many leagues, to play at a new club, at a lower level.
The problems lie in the culture change. Below the age of sixteen, the players coming through the club will have played for the best team in the region, with the best players in the region. It becomes easy. They win each week by heavily one-sided score lines, each player gets a turn on the field due to the rolling substitutions rule, and the trophies are aplenty, as they often win every competition in which they enter. Above the age of sixteen, the players now have to compete for a place, as it is no longer given or guaranteed. It also becomes a much more aggressive and cut-throat environment, as opponents are fully prepared to play physical, and resort to name-calling and intimidation. The opponents have changed from the incompetent novices that play with their friends for fun, to highly motivated, highly competitive, driven athletes. The transition from youth to adult has produced a situation where the players have gone from a big fish in a small pond, to now being a minnow in the ocean.
It is frequently the intrinsically motivated that survive. Those that are fuelled by the almost innate desire to play hard and play well for their own enjoyment. These players do not operate on praise, nor are they concerned with the opinions of others, due to their deep-rooted love of working and competing. The extrinsic rewards of youth soccer no longer exist, such as the trophy, the praise, the prestige (Woods, 2004). The competitions have diminished, and now exist in a tremendously difficult nine month league, and a cup that provides an even slimmer chance of winning. The tangible reward of silverware, that makes for great Facebook photos, and has entire families stating how proud they are, is gone. It will not be happening every week, if it ever does actually happen again in the rest of their career.
The demands of the game increase as the transition is made. Suddenly, players cannot hide or rest, and their flaws are greatly exposed, which massively affects their confidence and self-efficacy. To constantly provide praise and reward is an effective technique at reinforcing certain behaviours, but when taken too far, it can be damaging to motivation and participation (Woods, 2004). This can serve to create a fixed mindset, where players believe that their talent is permanent, and do not wish to risk losing their reputation by being perceived as inferior.
As explained by Dweck (2006), creating this feeling is very damaging to the growth of children:
“After seven experiments with hundreds of children, we had some of the clearest findings I’ve ever seen: Praising children’s intelligence harms their motivation and it harms their performance. How can that be? Don’t children love to be praised? Yes, children love praise. And they especially love to be praised for their intelligence and talent. It really does give them a boost, a special glow—but only for the moment. The minute they hit a snag, their confidence goes out the window and their motivation hits rock bottom. If success means they’re smart, then failure means they’re dumb. That’s the fixed mindset.”
From a chemical standpoint, these young athletes, making the transition from the youth team to reserve team, have become serotonin junkies. They have become so used to the constant praise, and the feeling that comes with being superior, that they then begin to experience a void when the extrinsic rewards significantly drop when playing with adults (Sinek, 2014). Conditioning has taken place that places the emphasis solely on winning, and the feelings associated with feeling superior, meaning that an imminent reality check is about to bring their feelings of self-worth crashing back down to Earth again.
The fixed mindset that is created by wishing to maintain this reputation traps players within their comfort zone. They have never had to work this hard before for so little reward, and they don’t like it. Some, invariably, do come with the right attitude, and can be seen asking questions, staying late after practice, and jumping head first into any opportunity that arises that can challenge them and help them grow. With those stuck in the fixed mindset, unwilling to dip a toe outside of the comfort zone, do not possess the intrinsic desire to succeed. They do not wish to succeed for their own sake, or for the sake of success. It has to be tied into their reputation. With enough players forming a group in a similar situation, it can often reinforce their behaviour and decision making. They care more about the opinions of their friends than they do the opinions of their coaches. This greatly inhibits the amount of effort they are willing to exert, as to be seen to try hard, in the eyes of their peers, is to admit that they have room for improvement, thus requiring a shift to the growth mindset.
Without sustained, repeated effort, growth tactically, technically, physically, psychologically, and socially, just cannot happen. Practicing a little bit is not enough. Practicing with intensity some of the time, is not enough. Deep practice is what is required to continue or accelerate development, and take steps towards achieving one’s potential. As Coyle (2009) wrote; “deep practice is assisted by the attainment of a primal state, one where we are attentive, hungry, and focused, even desperate.” There are no definitions that extend far enough to describe any of these fixed mindset players, locked within their comfort zones, as attentive, hungry, or focussed. Desperate, perhaps, but in a desperate situation, in that they crave the extrinsic reward of praise and acceptance from their peers.
Coyle (2009) explained in more detail, the necessity of making practice difficult:
“Struggle is not optional—it's neurologically required: in order to get your skill circuit to fire optimally, you must by definition fire the circuit sub optimally; you must make mistakes and pay attention to those mistakes; you must slowly teach your circuit. You must also keep firing that circuit—i.e., practising—in order to keep myelin functioning properly. After all, myelin is living tissue.”
Apart from perhaps recovery days, or to break monotony, practice cannot be light-hearted and easy. For those wishing to play soccer for social reasons, with extrinsic motivations, it is possible at this club, but not the primary function. One can become friends with their teammates, certainly, but the bond is built upon sacrifice, determination, and trust, as players work hard to achieve their absolute best, not built upon horseplay and tomfoolery. A player that has never hard to work hard for their place, or compete intensely with a rival, will struggle to grasp the concept of “train how you play”. Their fixed mindset teaches them that practice is only necessary for those that need to improve, and that you only need to try hard in the games, because that’s when it’s important – as people are watching and will judge your talent.
Devaluation of effort in games and especially in practice creates an impasse with the older, more motivated members of the squad. These are intrinsically motivated, highly competitive, growth mindset players, that probably hate training and sweating as much as the next person, but embrace it, for it is the arena in which mistakes can be made, skills can be honed, and attributes improved upon. What absolutely cannot happen is the lowering of standards to appease those that are struggling. By setting the bar low, players will adjust their output accordingly, and performances across the board will decline, as explained by Syed (2010) “Well, it doesn’t work. Lowering standards just leads to poorly educated students who feel entitled to easy work and lavish praise.”
As the demands of the game increase, the fitness demands increase too. The games are longer, the fields are larger, the opponents are stronger, and the pace is faster. As part of the requirements of the team, players have to be able to run 10k in under an hour. It’s amazing how quickly a fixed mindset player can think of some very intricate excuses, and how deftly they can cut corners. Without the extrinsic reward of constant praise or trophies, and no intrinsic desires to fall back on, their output and work rate diminishes to the point where it is non-existent. Lauren Gregg (1999) possesses the mantra that “Fitness is your responsibility.” Whalen (1999) explained that the first time she came to camp for the national team as a college freshman;
“I had no idea what to expect. I thought I was fit, but it was not this level of fitness. I wasted a lot of time that week. From day one, I had no confidence. There are so many points of the game that you should be working on, you shouldn’t be wasting your time in camp trying to get fit. I came in fit next time and did great. I passed everything, and I felt great. I was confident, and I could concentrate on playing.”
At no point did Whalen make excuses, or state how she feels improving fitness is pointless. The waste of time was in regards to believing that you can dramatically improve it to the required level in a training camp, and that it should be a year round pursuit, hence why her performance improved greatly by the next camp. Being fitter makes you feel stronger, knowing that you have the ability to work harder and for longer than your opponents. It provides a valuable edge. As a player that has always relied solely on talent to win games, you may not see any value in fitness. It’s an alien concept, and a burden bestowed purely on those not good enough to compete with their ability.
In this kind of environment, tensions can arise. The groups become more insular, particularly in women’s sport, as the players rely more on social constructs. Infighting can begin, which can lead to all manner of dispute and controversy, which serves absolutely no purpose. The environment becomes toxic, as described by Sinek (2014) “What too many leaders of organizations fail to appreciate is that it’s not the people that are the problem. The people are fine. Rather, it’s the environment in which the people operate that is the problem. Get that right and things just go.”
These conflicts slow the team down, and can even halt and reverse progress. The difficulty lies in creating an environment which is conducive to learning for both intrinsically motivated players and extrinsically motivated players, grouped in either the fixed or growth mindset. Surely the goals are all the same; to win games and improve as players, and thus finding the common ground should not pose too difficult. Female athletes seem to crave more democratic leadership, as the social desires determine that they require to feel listened to and included (De Boer, 2004).
Sinek (2014) states:
“If good people are asked to work in a bad culture, one in which leaders do not relinquish control, then the odds of something bad happening go up. People will be more concerned about following the rules out of fear of getting in trouble or losing their jobs than doing what needs to be done. And when that happens, souls will be lost.”
This alludes to an autocratic culture creating extrinsically motivated players, as they are influenced by fear. They may do the work, but they won’t see the value in it, and they certainly won’t enjoy it, which are two crucial components of success. By shouting, by using threats, by intimidating, the coach appeals to the extrinsic motivation of the athletes, and creates introverted personalities, scared to make mistakes. A supportive, encouraging, but challenging environment, creates intrinsically motivated players, that are determined to do well, regardless of the circumstances surrounding them. These players are willing to work harder, for longer, and dig deeper, always looking to improve. With them, it is possible to build a team for long term, sustained success.
Coyle, D. (2009). The talent code: Greatness isn't born: It's grown, here's how. New York: Bantam Books.
DeBoer, K. J. (2004). Gender and competition: How men and women approach work and play differently. Monterey, CA: Coaches Choice.
Dweck, C. S. (2006). Mindset: The new psychology of success. New York: Random House.
Gregg, L., Nash, T., & Hamm, M. (1999). The champion within: Training for excellence. Burlington, NC: JTC Sports.
Sinek, S. (2013). Leaders eat last: Why some teams pull together and others don't.
Syed, M. (2010). Bounce: Mozart, Federer, Picasso, Beckham, and the science of success. New York: Harper.
Weinberg, R. S., & Gould, D. (2007). Foundations of sport and exercise psychology. Champaign, IL: Human Kinetics.
Woods, B. (1998). Applying psychology to sport. London: Hodder & Stoughton.