2021-What motivates young athletes?

Coaches, parents and peers play key role in motivating athletes

Mon, 04 Oct 2021 12:08:00 BST
Dr Bryan McCann
Dr Bryan McCann

Research led by Glasgow Caledonian University (GCU) sport and exercise psychologist Dr Bryan McCann found that coaches, parents and peers all have a huge influence on talented football players’ motivation in a number of ways.

The study ‘A Retrospective Investigation of the Perceived Influence of Coaches, Parents and Peers on Talented Football Players’ Motivation during Development’ has been published in the Journal of Applied Sport Psychology.

Researchers interviewed four talented footballers with an average age of 18 and 1.4 years of footballing experience, and four of their parents, to investigate their perceptions of coach, parent and peers’ influence on motivation across different developmental stages.

Dr McCann said the research will help give anyone working in sport including coaches, sport development officers, and sport psychologists and nutritionists, a real insight into the range of motivational influences that coaches, parents and peers can have on athletes to better develop and maintain motivation.

The research found that the quality of coaches, parents and peers’ relationships with athletes, their positive and negative behaviours, the support they provided players’ development and participation in football, as well as the support they provided footballers to reflect on their experiences influenced their motivation.

The type of support that coaches, parents and peers provided to players changed as players progressed through different developmental stages, with coaches and peers becoming more important as athletes reached higher performance levels, according to Principal Investigator Dr McCann.

Co-authors in the paper were GCU Senior Lecturer in Psychology Dr Paul McCarthy, Robert Gordon University’s Clinical Professor Allied Health Professions Kay Cooper and Lecturer in Psychology Dr Katrina Forbes-McKay, and University of Canberra Assistant Professor in Sport and Exercise Psychology Dr Richard Keegan.

Dr McCann explained: “Previous research has shown that coaches, parents and peers tend to be the most influential on athlete motivation across the entire development as athletes.

“What’s unique and different about this research is that previous researchers have primarily looked at the influence of coaches, parents and peers in isolation - this study looked at them all at the same time. It is important to understand their influence on athletes’ motivation holistically and collectively.

“The key takeaways are that there are a number of ways in which they influence athletes’ motivation during sport across the different developmental stages but we found that coaches, parents and peers are all important at all stages of development, although the way that they are important is slightly different depending on what stage the athletes are at.

“This research will help anyone working in sport – coaches, sport development officers, sport psychologists and nutritionists – all the different people who work in the sporting context who work with coaches, parents and peers. They are all going to find the research useful because they can then better understand the motivational support that the coaches, parents and peers are providing.

“For example, if you’ve got an athlete who’s lacking motivation you would be able to look at this research and ask ‘are they getting the right support from parents, coaches and peers’. They can delve into what they are currently providing and look at any areas of support that they are not providing that might help with the athlete’s motivation.

“We hope coach education programmes will integrate some of the research information so that coaches are better aware of the social influences on motivation beyond themselves and how important parents and peers can be.

“We also looked at the transition and how support changes over time. So coaches tended to become increasingly important for motivation as the players develop towards more professional football and parents become less important from a technical perspective but increasingly from a social support perspective.”