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  • rebeccachidley

Exploring motivation for teenagers and adolescents

During my time working with adolescents and teenagers it has become clear that there are often discrepancies between individuals and their parents or coaches in terms of ‘perceived effort.’ This seems like a great opportunity for us to explore this from the angle of motivation and the role that plays in an individual’s effort levels in sport environments.

People tend to become happier when pursuing things that are intrinsically motivated and aligned with their own goals. It not only makes them feel more responsible about the outcomes, but it also helps them to really focus their time on what they want to be doing.

We know that competence, relatedness and autonomy all play a huge part in motivation to go and achieve those goals. We will explore these in more detail below.


Competence links to whether or not an individual feels they have sufficient qualities to perform a given task. Or, on a broader level do they have the intellectual knowledge to complete the homework they have been set? Do they have the judgment skills to make the right decisions? Do they have the physical strength to lift the weights they are being asked to? Or do they have the technical skill to execute certain parts of their game that you want them to improve on?

Think about the differences for you when you feel competent or not. When an individual feels competent, they feel they have the skillset needed to successfully complete the task and take steps towards their goals. A competent person feels a sense of mastery over their environment. Feelings of competence are enhanced when we perceive our skillset to match the task we are faced with, or when positive feedback is received. Alternatively, if tasks are too challenging or a person receives negative feedback, feelings of competence can decrease.


Relatedness is hugely important in the world of sport as it involves feelings of closeness and belonging to a social group. It can mean that an individual has the ability to feel a sense of attachment to other people and a sense of belonging amongst other people. This relatedness provides an individual with the help and support that they perceive they need to work towards their goals.

We can go a step further with this by understanding that our feelings of relatedness are enhanced when individuals are respected and cared for by others and are part of an inclusive environment. Alternatively, feelings of relatedness can often be undermined by competition with others, cliques, and criticism.


Autonomy is the ability to feel in control of one’s behaviour and destiny and involves self-initiation and self-regulation of one’s own behaviour. It is important (particularly through the teenage and adolescent years) that we give individuals voice and choice this will allow them to make their own decisions and is associated with feelings of independence which are huge for this age group.

Feelings of autonomy are enhanced when individuals are given choice and are able to govern their own behaviour, and when other people acknowledge their feelings. Alternatively, the individual lacks autonomy if they feel controlled or threatened by others or have to operate according to deadlines.

Be mindful of the impact of tangible rewards on feelings of autonomy. - If one were to give someone an extrinsic reward for already intrinsically motivated behaviour, then the likelihood that autonomy is undermined (given that the extrinsic reward is likely to draw attention away from autonomy) is fairly large.

Inspiration, motivation and discipline…

Fostering a sense of motivation is one of the many things that can inspire certain individuals to excel – this is especially true in competitive settings where the stakes are sometimes so high.

The more we learn about young people in sport environments the more we understand that they will be driven to perform better if they are working towards their own personal goals and have the competence, autonomy, and relatedness elements to help them overcome the setbacks they will inevitably face.

We also know that motivation comes and goes, so ensuring that we also have a focus on Discipline is key. Discipline refers to training yourself to behave and work in a controlled and regular way or building healthy habits.​


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