It was a while ago, when I was discussing with a trainer about the importance of a good team in youth sports – independently whether individual or team sports. The trainer was of the opinion that, in individual sports, higher concurrence within a team keeps the motivation and determination among the athletes high. 

So which factors really keep young athletes' intrinsically motivated? Is the team important? Or are there other factors?

Coaches can involve their young athletes in two different ways. They can either focus on tasks, such as putting emphasise on learning new processes, improve their skills and focus on the effort, or focus on the individual athlete ("ego involving") – which means focussing on competitions, winning and comparing the athletes to each other. 

If you're a coach, where do you see yourself?

We know studies that a task-involving climate among young athletes leads to more satisfaction. As the focus is put on the personal progress – how do they develop, what do they improve instead of being constantly compared to their peers, their actions are associated with more positive motivational, affective, and behavioural patterns compared to ego-involvement. This, in turn, leads to a higher intrinsic motivation in athletes when taking part in competitions and training. Young athletes in a task-involving climate tend to be even more self-aware, and to better resist and not giving up so quickly when failing e.g. in a competition. 

Which other factors keep young athletes motivated?

Coaches also influence their athletes by supporting autonomy and recognising effort and improvement. Young athletes who perceive their coaches' focus on the improvement of skills are more likely to try their hardest and to cooperate with team members. Also, a climate where athletes feel like they belong to the team fosters intrinsic motivation. 

Thinking about it, would you rather want to be appreciated by your results or by your effort you put into training and your individual improvement? Well, we all know that it's not possible to control your competition outcomes for 100%... 

Fostering autonomy as a coach as well as collaboration and improvement create a peer motivational climate which, once again, fosters athletes' intrinsic motivation toward the sport. The higher our intrinsic motivation towards something, the longer we stick to it. Relationships between athletes and coaches as well as between the athletes support the formation of a stable and strong motivational climate. This, again, fosters intrinsic motivation, as athletes invest both time and effort in a sport to acquire the necessary skills for its own sake. 

To sum it up, if we are thinking in the longterm, it can be helpful to foster a task-involving climate and intrinsically motivated team – independently of whether it's an individual or team sport. Don't we all want our athletes to do their sport for as long and as motivated as possible?

Well, at this point it should be said that being a coach is a hard job – at the end of the day, you're rated by results your athletes' achieve – a factor that we all know cannot be controlled as competition results underlie many different factors and (un)controllable variables. However, if we are able to provide the best possible environment for development, training and team cohesion, we might be able to increase the chance for athletes to achieve better results… 

What's your opinion on this topic? What experiences have you made – both as a coach or as an athlete in a team? Leave a comment below.