Motivation Part 2. Motivation and Learning

Creating an optimal learning environment: Part 2a

 

Sian 2Needs-supportive coaching behaviours have an impact on motivation. Sian of ‘Psyched Paddleboarding’ coaching on the beautiful Llyn Padarn. Photo by ‘Two For Joy Photography’.

 

Optimal learning environments

In part one (click here to read) we looked at how to create learning environments that lead to more self-motivated, happy, healthy, individuals!  These articles are written primarily to help coaches, coach educators and leaders in adventure and other sports. However, all of the concepts can be applied to you as a learner, participant or parent seeking to improve your skill and motivation, and to feed your passion!

 

In these next two sections, we will explore whether motivationally supportive learning environments can also improve skill acquisition, or do we need to choose between them? Be happy and motivated, or be skilful? Most of you will be familiar with the term learner-centred coaching, but what does it mean, and why is it important? In this article, we will look at some of the most recent learner-focused research into coaching sports skills. Most of this research comes from attempts to understand what happens when the coach stops making all the decisions and starts to give the learner more autonomy as part of developing a motivationally supportive learning environment. When both motivation and skill are supported, we can have an optimal learning environment.

 

A quick recap of motivation and participation

In the first half of this article, we learnt that the satisfaction of our psychological needs for autonomy, competence and relatedness will determine our motivation and enjoyment. This will either increase or decrease our self-determination. In other words, it will determine whether we are likely to carry on doing something. The exciting (and scary) part for us as coaches is that our needs-supportive coaching behaviours directly influence whether those we coach will think that their needs are being satisfied. This will then have an impact on their level of motivation and self-determined behaviour.

 

How can we make sure that we are not accidentally de-motivating others instead of being the inspirational coach or leader that we aspire to be?

Anglesey trip 1

A group making decisions about the next stage of their learning expedition around Ynys Mon. Photo by Sam Davies.

 

We concluded (in part 1) that a needs-supportive coach will provide choices where possible, well-structured sessions, give a rationale for the activities, and acknowledge the feelings and perspectives of their learners. They will provide opportunities for initiative taking, give non-controlling competence feedback, and communicate using non-controlling language. They will also avoid using controlling behaviours, rewards or promoting ego orientated involvement. This means that a needs-supportive coach is doing a lot!

To keep the language simple I am going to refer to the coaching behaviours as needs-supportive, and the environment that this creates as an optimal learning environment.

 

Can motivational factors also affect learning?

Intuitively, this seems like a really silly question to ask, because, it would seem to be an obvious “yes”. Even without any short term learning advantages from an optimal learning environment, practice conditions that increase self-motivation (self-determined behaviour) will also increase the likelihood of continued engagement.  And we know that becoming skilful requires a considerable amount of continued engagement!3 It requires many years of deep practice.  So, even without any short term learning benefits, creating optimal learning environments is really powerful and important.

 

There is a substantial amount of recent evidence that suggests that providing needs-supportive coaching, particularly autonomy support, can also result in significantly better learning9. This article will explore this exciting concept using the example of how it would work in the structuring practice schedules. We will look at how and why giving your learners ‘choices’ could not only increase their motivation and commitment, but also improve their learning.

 

Who is making the decisions?

Within more traditional sports, as well as adventure activities, deliberate practice has typically consisted of coach-led sessions. In a coach-led session, the coach makes all the decisions. The coach defines the learning environment and provides the technical and tactical content considered necessary for developing skilful performance3. The research that guided this practice paid little attention to how coaches could support the needs of those they coached11.  In fact, motor learning research did not consider motivation at all until recently. There appears to have been an assumption that in sports settings people are already self-motivated. Motivation was, therefore, something that was only important if someone did not have any at all. (And then, only to get people active who needed to be for health reasons.)

 

Thankfully, there has been a recent change in focus.  Both researchers and practitioners have moved away from considering movement learning as just being about how a coach can effectively impart information. This wider view has resulted in an approach that is more learner-focused.

IMG_1841

Preparing for a coaching session. Will it be coach led or learner-centred? Photo by Marianne Davies

 

A learner-focus not only considers the task constraints of a sports skill (technical and tactical), but also the environment in which the skill is performed, and most importantly, all of the nuances (including motivational ones) of the individual who is performing it6.

 

This learner-centred focus has resulted in a growing number of studies that have examined the effects of individualising the learning environment. Interestingly, the most consistent finding is that individualisation is most effective when the learner is the one making the decisions. So, instead of the coach choosing how to individualise all aspects of the learning environment, for example, skill difficulty or progressions through practice schedules; the learners are supported to make their own choices within defined and structured frameworks.

 

Giving the learner choices  

Let’s go back to our list of needs-supportive coaching behaviours.

How can a coach provide choices? Give the rationale for activities? Provide opportunities for initiative taking, and promote a mastery orientated involvement? And how can they do all of this as well as individualising the sessions for those they are coaching?

 

One way is to allow those they coach to choose their own level of skill difficulty or practice schedule challenge. This is known as ‘self-pacing’. The coach has a responsibility to ensure that the range of tasks and levels are appropriate, well structured and have the opportunity for progression. They also need to ensure that the learners have the information they need, and the skill level necessary, to make their decisions9.

 

In part 2b, we will explore using self-pacing in more detail by going through an example.

 Find us at www.Dynamics-Coaching.com

 

Acknowledgements:

A very big thank you to everyone who proofread this for me. To Rosie Cripps, Sam Davies, Sid Sinfield, and Greg Spencer.

 

References:

  1. https://wp.me/pahSPq-w

2. Davids, K., Button, C., & Bennett, S. (2008). Strategies for Structuring Practice. In K. Davids, C. Button, & S. Bennett, Dynamics of Skill Acquisition: A Constraints-led Approach (pp. 164-167). Champaign, US: Human Kinetics.

3. Ericsson, K. A., Krampe, R. T., & Tesch-Römer, C. (1993). The role of deliberate practice in the acquisition of expert performance. Psychological Review, 100(3), 363-406.

4. Guadagnoli, M. A., & Lee, T. D. (2004). Challenge Point: A Framework for Conceptualizing the Effects of Various Practice Conditions in Motor Learning. Journal of Motor Behaviour, 36(2), 212-224.

5. Hooyman, A., Wulf, G., & Lewthwaite, R. (2014). Impacts of autonomy-supportive versus controlling instructional language on motor learning. Human Movement Science, 36, 190-198.

6. Jang, R., Reeve , J., & Halusic, M. (2016, January 26). A New Autonomy-Supportive Way of Teaching That Increases Conceptual Learning: Teaching in Students’ Preferred Ways. Journal of Experimental Education, 84(4), 686-701.

7. Keetch, K. M., & Lee, T. D. (2007). The effect of self-regulated and experimenter-imposed practice schedules on motor learning for tasks of varying difficulty. Research Quarterly for Excercise and Sport(78), 476-486.

8. Post, P. G., Fairbrother, J. T., & Barros, J. A. (2011). Self-Controlled Amount of Practice Benefits Learning of a Motor Skill. Research Quarterly in Excercise and Sport, 82(3), 474-481.

9. Sanli, E. A., Patterson, J. T., Bray, S. R., & Lee, T. D. (2013). Understanding self-controlled motor learning protocols through the self-determination theory. Frontiers in Psychology, 3(611), 1-17.

10. Smith, P. J., & Davies, M. J. (1995). Applying contextual interference to the Pawlata roll. Journal of Sports Sciences, 13, 455-462.

11. Wulf, G., & Lewthwaite, R. (2016). Optimizing Performance through Intrinsic Motivation and Attention for Learning: The OPTIMAL theory of motor learning. sychonomic Bulletin & Review, 23, 1382-1414.

12. Wulf, G., Clauss, A., Shea, C. H., & Whitacre, A. C. (2001). Benefits of Self-Control in Dyad Practice. Research Quarterly for Exercise and Sport, 72(3), 299-303.

 

 

 

 

Motivation Part 1. Motivation and Participation

Creating an optimal learning environment: Part 1

Canoe B&W

Motivating others

I think it is safe to assume that those of us who coach, lead or instruct other people would like them to leave each session they have with us feeling happy. Buzzing even. Keen to come back and do more with us. Motivated to go and practice what they have learnt, and enjoy it in their free time. I also think that we would all like to be able to influence our own motivation too. We would like to recognise elements that are supporting or thwarting our motivation and be able to change them or at least understand and accept them.

The statistics available on regular participation in sports make rather sobering reading, and numbers are consistently lower for women and girls, and minority groups. According to a Sport Wales statement from 2017, “Currently 576,000 women in Wales report not participating in any form of activity, while just over half (54%) of women say they’ve done at least one sporting activity in the last four weeks compared to 63% of men. Research shows a lack of confidence, fear of judgement, a perceived inability or no one to go along to something new with are common factors that prevent women and girls from getting more active”10. Can we, as practitioners, have any influence on the motivation and continued participation of those do come along to our sessions? Are we able to help increase the number of people who will get hooked on our sports and continue to participate long term, including ourselves?

 

My interest in motivation was particularly influenced by the way my son responded to the learning environments he experienced when he was young. At the age of eight, he asked if he could go to the local canoeing club with his best friend from school. I thought it was a great idea. He had played for years in boats with me and really enjoyed it, surely it would be so much more fun with his friends! I went to pick him up after the club session expecting a happy excited little boy. But he had hated it. When I asked him why, he told me that canoeing was boring; they were not allowed to play like he did with me, they didn’t let him do the things that he was good at, or be with his friend. Not only did he not go back to the club, but he also lost interest in coming to boat with me too.

Sam and polo team 2008

Bangor University Polo Club 2008


Then, ten years later, after a conversation with total strangers in the local canoe shop, he joined the Bangor University Canoe Polo club for practice. One session with them and he was hooked!

Ten years later he is still playing and paddling. I was curious… How could one experience put him off so completely, and another inspire so much. What if we (as coaches and leaders) could be more savvy about ensuring that all those who come to us have a positive motivational experience?


Motivation Theories

There are many theories about motivation, but the one we’ll look at here is particularly useful for sports coaches and leaders. It is called the Self Determination Theory2, or SDT for short. SDT is made up of a number of micro-theories one of which is called the Basic Psychological Needs Theory. According to the Basic Psychological Needs Theory, motivation to engage in an activity is influenced by the support, and subsequent satisfaction of, three innate basic needs. These are the need for:

  1. Autonomy (a sense of control over your own life and personal volition),
  2. Competence (the need to be effective and skilful),
  3. Relatedness (the desire to feel connected to, and cared for, by others).

Motivation to engage in something (anything) can be enhanced by the satisfaction of any, but optimised by the satisfaction of all three, basic psychological needs. There is evidence that the needs are of differing importance to people, but they still all need to be satisfied2. Interestingly, the satisfaction of these basic needs is not only very important for continued engagement in an activity, but also for overall health and well-being.

Research into the Basic Psychological Needs Theory has provided a considerable amount of supporting evidence from many different domains, including educational learning4, health and well-being7, motivation to engage in activities8 and adherence to prescribed exercise regimes6.

IMG_4012

Olly Laddiman showing his competence at Hells Mouth. Photo by Matt Tuck
  

How does satisfying basic needs influence motivation?

Human beings are not just processors of neutral information. In any context, we are inherently driven towards being creative and curious. This means that we will actively seek opportunities to satisfy our needs; to be masters of our own destiny, to be effective and feel connected2. If we engage in a behaviour that leads to our needs being satisfied, the motivation to continue to engage in that behaviour becomes more self-determined.  This means that we will regulate our own behaviour, and become self-motivated.

 

The reason for engaging in any behaviour falls on a continuum of being more or less self-determined. At one end is non-self-determined behaviour, or ‘Amotivation’ (that just means no motivation). This is when we do not engage at all. We don’t go to the gym or go running. We don’t do any exercise, or eat well, get up early, do the washing up, or whatever the behaviour is. The proposed reasons for this include; because the outcome is either not valued (relatedness), not perceived as being in our control (autonomy), or not perceived as being attainable by us (competence). At the other end is self-determined behaviour. This is when we engage in an activity purely for its own sake with no discernable reward. Just the pure joy of doing it! If you are motivated in this way you are said to have intrinsic motivation, internal behavioural regulation and an internal locus of causality. If that all sounds like another language, don’t worry, this is what it means:

 

  1. Intrinsic motivation: the motivation to engage in behaviour comes from within you,
  2. Internal behavioural regulation: you regulate your own behaviour and are in control of whether you act on the motivation to engage or not,
  3. Internal locus of causality: you believe that you are the cause (and therefore, in control), of the outcomes of your behaviour.

 

So, how do our behaviours become more self-determined?

Before we have actually had a go at something, it is unusual to be motivated purely for the joy of doing it. To begin with, most of the things we do are non-self-determined. You might have started the sport you now coach because it was taught in school, or maybe your parents took you, or your friends invited you to have a go. I’m guessing it was a good experience if you still not only love it, but are coaching it now. Your motivation to continue your sport became self-determined over time because you were within a rewarding social context and your basic needs for relatedness, competence and autonomy were being satisfied.

 

Types of motivation and the degree of behavioural regulation (adapted from Deci & Ryan, 2008)

Type of Motivation

Degree of Behavioural Regulation

Description

Amotivation
It’s not happening!
Not achievable/ in control
Extrinsic
External
Very low
Externally controlled
Extrinsic
Introjected
Moderately low
Internally controlled (self-esteem)
Extrinsic
Identified
Moderately high
Identifies with importance
Extrinsic
Integrated
Very high
Part of the sense of self
Intrinsic Motivation
Try stopping me!
For the inherent pleasure

 

However, the structure of coaching sessions (and most goal-directed behaviour in sport) is typically determined by the coach. Even beginners in supervised sessions have little control over what they do, and deliberate practice has been seen as something that is not enjoyable, but essential to do to become competent3. Participants have been expected to motivate themselves and take full responsibility for their motivation. But, if we accept that the learning environment has a huge impact on motivation, we can make adjustments to it that would support the three basic psychological needs of those we coach. This would lead to more of their needs being satisfied, practice behaviours becoming more self-determined, and to an increase in motivation, engagement and well-being. This is where we come in. As coaches, leaders and instructors we have a considerable amount of control over the learning environment that we create, and how it is experienced by those we coach.

 

Creating an optimal learning environment

Okay, so we know that the satisfaction of basic needs has a positive impact on motivation and will influence whether someone continues to participate. That means we need to make sure that we are able to create what is known as a ‘needs supportive learning environment’6. Autonomy is arguably the most important need and is essential for goal-directed behaviour to become self-determined2. It is unique among the basic psychological needs because a participant (particularly an athlete) could satisfy their need for competence with externally controlled (by a coach) deliberate practice, and they could satisfy the need for relatedness by being part of a team, but autonomy is not as easily satisfied in a traditional coaching environment. This is because the coach makes most of the decisions, and the rules and regulations of a sport can further limit the options that can be given to individual participants.

 

Autonomy-supportive coaching behaviours

According to Mageau and Vallerand (2003)5, the coach’s autonomy-supportive behaviours directly influence the athlete’s perceptions of competence, autonomy and relatedness.

So, how do we ensure that we are being autonomy supportive in our coaching? Mageau and Vallerand have come up with seven autonomy-supportive coaching behaviours.

  1. Provide choice within structure, specific rules and limits
  2. Provide rationale for tasks and limits
  3. Acknowledge negative feelings
  4. Provide opportunities to take initiatives and work independently
  5. Provide non-controlling competence feedback
  6. Use non-controlling language, avoid controlling behaviours, and use competition and rewards wisely
  7. Promote a mastery rather than ego involvement (promote achievement).

Daisy and Ted

Daisy Dewhurst motivated and loving her time Eventing with Ted her horse. Picture by Sarah Braithwaite

 

  1. Provide choice within specific rules and limits

Basically, try to give as much choice to your participants as reasonably possible. Obviously, this needs to be within the rules and limitations of the activities and the ability levels of those participating. Having structure is really important. The choices you give need to be well thought out and meaningful so that you do not end up with a learning environment that feels too woolly. You can involve those you work within decisions about types of activities, venues, and progressions. This is usually done for experienced participants having high-level coaching, but less so for beginners where motivational climates can have a greater impact on continued participation. For introductory sessions, look at what choice you can easily give (choice of games, the order of activities (if not progressions), when to progress, the colour of equipment, …). Interestingly, even giving small choices like picking the colour of something, will have a positive impact on motivation. Remember that even choices that are very small and seem insignificant can have a big impact on the perceived need support9.

 

  1. Provide rationale for tasks and limits

By giving simple explanations for why activities are being done you will help your participants to understand and endorse the reasons for doing them. This helps to make the tasks meaningful and they can then be valued and accepted. Think about how you can do this within your activity set up or briefings without them becoming too long and convoluted. Some limitations that may affect your coaching sessions can be overcome by changing your focus; for example, change from running a particular award syllabus to developing competence for their personal goals. Other common limiting factors include venues, environment, kit, and equipment.

 

  1. Acknowledge negative feelings

This can be as simple as you letting your participants know that you understand that they may find something boring, or hard to do. That you recognise that they are feeling tired, cold, wet, and a little miserable at that time. This is especially effective when combined with a provision of choice and explanations of the rationale for doing something. Acknowledging negative feelings and stating that there is no choice and you also think it is meaningless, is clearly likely to be less effective! Your ability to relate to your participants is an important part of fulfilling their needs for relatedness.

 

  1. Provide opportunities to take initiatives and work independently

This is a big one for me and responsible for much of my negative experiences as a female learner, especially in adventure sports. If you provide support that is not needed or restrict opportunities to take initiatives, be creative, and make decisions; even with the best intentions in mind you will reduce motivation and be perceived as controlling. This behaviour is known as ‘controlling-support’.

Working independently does not necessarily mean working alone. It is also a good way of supporting and promoting social interactions by facilitating group, peer and pair work. Remember that social interactions are an important part of enhancing the enjoyment of an activity.

 

  1. Provide non-controlling competence feedback

There is a strong possibility that up to now you have agreed with most of the autonomy-supportive coaching behaviours we have looked at and that they fit in with what you already do. However, I might be about to suggest some things that do not fit so readily with what you have been told, or you currently do. So please bear with me.

It is important to understand that the feedback you give does not only provide information about an individual’s performance on a specific task but also influences their future expectations and their motivational state. There is a growing body of research that is showing that giving feedback after good performances is much more effective for learning, than giving feedback after poor performances8. This means getting away from seeing feedback as ‘fault finding’ and instead use it to ensure that your participants are aware of when and how to do things well. If they are unable to perform a movement pattern at all, use your ability to change or adjust the constraints (task, environment, individual), rather than give them feedback. This could mean asking them to do something different, adjusting their equipment, changing the environment, or giving them additional information.

There is also growing evidence that the feedback you give can also influence the participant’s expectations of the learning process and how malleable they perceive their performance to be. If you say for example ‘you are a great white water paddler’, this implies a permanence of ability and can be demotivating if performance drops for any reason. If, however, you say ‘those last few break-ins were great’, the focus is on learning and improving, and not a fixed ability. These subtleties of language are particularly important when coaching young children.

A useful way to set up supportive objective feedback is to create opportunities for the participant to ‘self-check’. Setting up skills or tasks in such a way that you allow them to pick up their own objective feedback about their performance from the environment and results. This also helps to promote autonomy and encourages problem solving and exploration of movement patterns.

Finally, like support, feedback can also be perceived as controlling. Saying ‘those last few break-ins were great, as they should be’, is clearly a controlling statement. Again, these are often used with the best intentions, you might be thinking and wanting to convey ‘it should be because you are a great white water paddler’. But, the controlling element here can undermine intrinsic motivation.

 

  1. Use non-controlling language, avoid controlling behaviours, and use competition and rewards wisely

There is a lot in here, and like the other points, we are just going to skim through in this article.

Along with competence feedback and support, many behaviours and use of language used can be perceived as controlling. With your coaching language avoid using words and phrases like ‘should’, ‘must’, and ‘have to’, along with phrases like ‘as I would expect’ or ‘as you should have’. It is also very important not to use guilt-inducing criticisms or emotionally laden statements that could be perceived as threatening the relationship between you and your participants. Anything that could be perceived as a threat to withdraw approval, respect or love is particularly damaging.

Thankfully it is generally accepted that controlling language and guilt-inducing statements are unacceptable and undermine autonomy and intrinsic motivation. However, there is still much debate about the use of competition and rewards. Most of the literature in this area agree that whilst competition can increase the intrinsic motivation of those who win, it is detrimental to those who don’t. Also, if you give rewards for participation it can be perceived as implying that the activity is somehow not worth doing for its own sake. If you are coaching children it is worth noting that the detrimental effects of rewards in undermining autonomy and reducing intrinsic motivation are far greater in children than adults5.

 

  1. Promote mastery rather than ego involvement (promote achievement)

A mastery climate encourages participants to improve their own skills and judge success by the changes in their own performance. This is influenced hugely by expectations of learning and future competence. We all engage in activities when we have a sense that positive outcomes exist (we will improve), and that we have the agency to achieve them. Conversely, as a coach, if you promote ego involvement you will encourage participants to compare their performance to others. This peer comparison can lead to threats to self-esteem if an individual’s performance is not perceived as good enough2.

Goal setting is a great way to support mastery and achievement orientation. As a coach, it is worth you learning to promote and support the use of effective goal setting.  If used skilfully, goal setting can also provide a sense of self-satisfaction, support competence and autonomy, and increase intrinsic motivation. Experience of using and exploring autonomy-supportive coaching activities like ‘self-check’ tasks (see point 5) will also help your participants to goal set and use objective measures adeptly to achieve their goals.

 

Summary

After a coaching session or any period of practice, any increase in motivation due to the satisfaction of needs support would be advantageous in the long term. Highly skilled movement performance is associated with extended periods of deliberate practice1. Practice conditions that support the motivational transition from less to more, self-determined behaviour, should have positive long term effects and are likely to result in a continued engagement in the activity whether for recreation or for performance achievement. This is especially important for groups and individuals who do not feel that they can participate and are not currently regularly engaged in being active.

As a coach, our autonomy-supportive behaviours directly influence participant’s perceptions of competence, autonomy and relatedness. This, in turn, influences their level of intrinsic motivation and self-determined behaviour. An autonomy supportive coach will provide choices where possible, give a rationale for activities and acknowledge the feelings and perspectives of their participants. They will provide opportunities for initiative taking, give non-controlling competence feedback, and communicate using non-controlling language. They will avoid controlling behaviours in the form of physical and psychological control, rewards or promoting ego orientated involvement.

 

Improved Performance

There is a lot of recent research exploring the effects of needs support and needs satisfaction on performance. The results so far suggest that some of the autonomy-supportive coaching behaviours are associated not only with increased motivation and improved mental health but also with better performance2. That is definitely worth considering for any coach and will be explored in the next article; ‘Motivation part 2: Motivation and Learning’.

 

Marianne Davies

MRes. (Distinction) Sport and Exercise Science

BSc (Hons), Sport, Health and Physical Education

 Marianne has been a coach and coach educator for over 20 years as well as conducting research in motivation and learning. Her main interests are equestrian activities climbing and paddlesports.

Mdaviescoaching@gmail.com              Copyright remains with the author

 

 

References:

1 Arkenford. (2014). Watersports Participation Survey 2014 Full Report. Retrieved December 12, 2016, from RYA.org.uk: http://www.rya.org.uk/SiteCollectionDocuments/sportsdevelopment/Watersports_Survey_2014_Executive_Summary.pdf

2 Deci, E., & Ryan, R. (2000). The “What” and “Why” of goal pursuits: Human needs and the self-determination of behaviour. Psychological Enquiry, 227-268.

3 Ericsson, K. A., Krampe, R. T., & Tesch-Römer, C. (1993). The role of deliberate practice in the acquisition of expert performance. Psychological Review, 100(3), 363-406.

4 Jang, R., Reeve, J., & Halusic, M. (2016, January 26). A New Autonomy-Supportive Way of Teaching That Increases Conceptual Learning: Teaching in Students’ Preferred Ways. Journal of Experimental Education, 84(4), 686-701.

5 Mageau, G. A., & Vallerand, R. J. (2003). The coach-athlete relationship: A motivational model. Journal of Sports Sciences, 21(11), 883-904.

6 Markland, D., & Tobin, V. J. (2010). Need support and behavioural regulations for exercise referral scheme clients: The mediating role of psychological need satisfaction. Psychology of Sport and Exercise, 11, 91-99.

7 Ryan, R. M., Huta, V., & Deci, E. L. (2008). Living Well: A self-determined theory perspective on eudaimonia. Journal of Happiness Studies, 9, 139-170.

8 Wulf, G., & Lewthwaite, R. (2016). Optimizing performance through intrinsic motivation and attention for learning: The OPTIMAL theory of motor learning. Psychological Bulletin Review.

9 Wulf, G., Freitas, H. E., & Tandy, R. D. (2014). Choosing to exercise more: Small choices can increase exercise engagement. Psychology of Sport and Exercise, 15, 268-271.

10 Website article downloaded on 06.09.17, http://www.sport.wales/news–events/news–events/our-news/latest-news/sport-wales-calls-for-welsh-women-and-girls-to-join-%E2%80%98our-squad%E2%80%99.aspx

 

Thank you to Dean (Sid) Sinfield, Sam Davies and Paul Marshall for their excellent proofreading, comments and suggestions.

 

Do passion and motivation come before skill?

The joy of being with other people who are passionate and skilful. Lusitano English Class, Royal Windsor Horse Show. Photo by Simon Armitage

A hard lesson in motivation

Being involved with horses is a bit of an emotional rollercoaster. On a massive high one day, desperately struggling the next. There is so much that we can’t control that staying motivated and really loving it sometimes seems more down to luck than anything we can do.

A big learning experience for me came when I went to have showjumping lessons with one of my horses a few years ago. We were doing really well in the local unaffiliated classes, and we generally won everything up to 1.15m. A local instructor (unqualified) persuaded me that what I really needed was some lessons to get us to the next level and compete in affiliated classes. Within two months he had totally destroyed my confidence, my ability and my motivation. I should have read the warning signs when he said that I ‘needed him’ to be successful, that I could never do it on my own. But I didn’t, and it still took a couple of months, a huge drop in my motivation and leaving lessons wanting to cry, for me to sit back and look at what was going on.

To be honest, I thought that I could protect myself from the negative effects of his coaching as I knew that it was not intentional. He passionately believed in what he was doing. As an experienced coach myself, well versed in motivation theory and sports psychology, I believed that I could anaesthetise myself from the negative motivational impact. But I couldn’t. Even with all that awareness, I couldn’t stop being affected.

 

This might seem like a daft question but, do you know what really motivates you?

Have you always thought that your motivation is simply a result of your own behaviours and attitudes? Perhaps you sometimes feel guilty for not being as motivated as you would like to be? Research into motivation and behavioural regulation (controlling our own behaviour) suggests that we are very much influenced by how we feel about the support we get from those around us, particularly people who are important to us such as parents, partners, teachers and coaches. Understanding this can help you to create a more supportive environment for yourself and boost your self-motivation and enjoyment.

Our motivation is influenced by our perceptions of the support we get from those around us. Particularly people who are important to us like parents,  partners, teachers, and coaches.

Justine and support

Justine Armitage and her support team at Aintree International. Photo by Simon Armitage

 

As a coach, my interest in studying motivation was initially influenced by the way my son responded to the learning environments he experienced when he was young. One, in particular, stands out. At the age of eight, he asked if he could go to the local canoeing club with his best friend from school. I thought it was a great idea. He had played for years in boats with me and really enjoyed it, surely it would be so much more fun with his friends! I went to pick him up after the club session expecting a happy excited little boy. But he had hated it. When I asked him why, he told me that canoeing was boring; they were not allowed to play like he did with me, they didn’t let him do the things that he was good at, or be with his friend. Not only did he not go back to the club, but he also lost interest in canoeing with me too. Then, ten years later, after a conversation with total strangers, he joined the Bangor University canoe polo club for a practice session. One day with them and he was hooked! He learnt quickly, become very skilful and ten years on he is still playing.

I was curious… How could one experience put him off so completely, and another inspire him so much? What was so different about the two experiences? If we understood what was influencing our motivation, could we be more savvy about ensuring that we have positive experiences (& our kids too)? After my experience with the showjumping lessons, I reflected again on my son’s experiences. I began to really focus on the motivational environment that I created with the people that I was coaching, and eventually, it inspired me to go back to university and do some more research.

Motivation Theories

There are many theories about motivation, but the one we’ll look at here is particularly useful for sports. It is called the Self Determination Theory, or SDT for short. SDT is made up of a number of micro-theories one of which is called the Basic Psychological Needs Theory. According to the Basic Psychological Needs Theory, motivation to engage in an activity is influenced by the support, and subsequent satisfaction of, three innate basic needs. These are the need for:

  1. Autonomy (a sense of control over your own life and personal volition),
  2. Competence (the need to be effective and skilful),
  3. Relatedness (the desire to feel connected to, and cared for, by others).

Motivation to engage in something (anything) can be increased by the satisfaction of any, but optimised by the satisfaction of all three, basic psychological needs. Interestingly, the satisfaction of these basic needs is not only very important for motivation, but also for overall health and well-being.

How does satisfying our basic needs influence motivation?

As human beings, we are inherently driven towards being creative and curious. This means that we will actively seek opportunities to satisfy our needs; to be masters of our own destiny, to be effective and feel connected.

If we do something that leads to our needs being satisfied, our motivation increases and we become more self-determined (self-motivated). You might have started riding horses because your parents did, or maybe your parents took you to a riding school, or your friends invited you to have a go. I’m guessing it was a good experience if you are still riding now.

Dysgu water

Marianne Davies and Dysgu having fun in the water at Somerford Park

 

Your motivation to continue to ride is likely to have become more self-determined over time because you were within a rewarding social context and your basic needs for relatedness, competence and autonomy were being satisfied.

 

Can you influence your own learning environments?

Let’s look at a few examples.

  1. Having lessons

Autonomy support:

  • Do you and your coach agree long and short term goals?
  • Who makes most of the decisions regarding your lessons? Do you have an input?
  • Are you able to choose your own level of challenge?
  • Do they provide opportunities for you to take initiatives and work independently?

Competence support:

  • Does your coach make sure that you have the knowledge and understanding you need to practice what you have been learning between lessons?
  • Do they provide competence feedback (acknowledging when you do things well instead of pointing out ‘faults’), and use non-controlling language (no use of words like ‘should’, ‘must’, ‘have to’… etc)?
  • Do they promote a mastery rather than ego involvement (developing your own performance and setting up tasks, manège patterns and exercises that allow you to recognise your own improvements)?
  • Are you still challenged and supported to be successful?

Relatedness support:

  • Are your feelings acknowledged and respected? Particularly anxiety or fear?
  • Does your coach explain the reasons behind what they ask you to do?
  • Do they avoid providing support that is not needed, or restricting opportunities to take initiatives, make decisions or be more independent? This is known as ‘controlling-support’.
  • Do they interact with you and show genuine interest in you and your horse?

If the answer to these questions is mostly ‘no’, you may need to challenge your coach to change some of their behaviours! If it is ‘yes’, give your coach a hug and keep hold of them! Coaches need motivation too!

 

  1. Your social groups

Have a think about your relationship with the people you ride with, train with and/or compete with. What about the people you spend time within your local riding club? Do you share ideas and values? Are you part of a supportive group of riders who celebrate each other’s success? Being amongst like-minded people is very important for your perceptions of relatedness and feeling valued, which in turn will increase your motivation. And being around people who are passionate and skilful has a positive effect on everyone.

Iberian line up

The joy of being with other people who are passionate and skilful. Lusitano English Class, Royal Windsor Horse Show. Photo by Simon Armitage

 

For those of you who don’t have your own facilities, a big challenge for your motivation is the whole complex environment of the livery yard. From the other livery owners and the yard owners to the rules that are in force on the yard. Is it somewhere you love being and can’t wait to get to every day? A big and important part of your social life?  …or is it somewhere that causes you stress and anxiety?

Maybe you spend much of your time on your own, intentionally or not. In the modern world of social media, we can create virtual support networks even if we can’t create real ones. Remember that the social environment you are part of is important for your motivation.

Yard and dog                                                                                                                                                                 A happy yard is important for you and your horse. Photo by ForagePlus

 

  1. What about you and your horse(s)?

Equestrian sports are unique because our performance partners are sentient animals. Although motivation theories have not been used to explore human-animal relationships, most people involved say that they ‘love’ their horses and value their relationships with them. This means that our relationship with our horse could also affect our motivation. How would you describe your relationship with your horse? Is the relationship part of what you love about riding and equestrian sports, or is it a source of conflict or frustration?

Relationship issues with your horse could impact on your feelings of competence and autonomy too. Sometimes spending time getting to really know your horse and doing something different, perhaps some in hand or liberty work can really improve your relationship.

Sarah and Smurf in hand

Sarah Braithwaite and Smurf getting to know each other better in hand. Photo by Forageplus

 

And what about your goals and aspirations? Is your horse able to fulfil them? Or do you need to re-evaluate what you want to achieve, or what you need to do with your horse to get there?

 

  1. Can we apply any of this to understand our horses’ motivation?

Whilst there is no specific research into equine motivation, there is some fascinating research being done at the moment into equine ethology and learning. The work of people like Dr Andrew McLean and Professor Paul McGreevy is of particular interest from a motivational point of view. According to McLean, not only do horses have a need to be free of pain, fear, and suffering but they also have a need to feel in control (have some autonomy) and to have some self-determination.

A  horse’s mental health is linked to their ridden and training experiences.

McLean also highlights that a horse’s mental health is linked to their ridden and training experiences. Whilst horses have a very different cognitive and learning capacity to humans, there is clear evidence that they do not learn best from simple punishment and reward, but from shaping their behaviour and rewarding incremental success.  This is very much a mastery focus for training your horse. Although we know that horses do not think the same way as us, it makes intuitive sense to acknowledge that a prey animal has a need to feel competent in their environment and movement ability.

We also know that horses, as herd animals, need to have strong social bonds to feel safe. Safe with us as their riders and trainers, and safe with a herd that they are able to spend time with.

 

Summary

Your motivation is not only influenced by you having a goal and intentions, but also by the little details of your everyday experiences that can create a supportive environment and satisfy your basic psychological needs. These are the needs to have autonomy, become competent and have meaningful relationships.  You might be surprised about how much difference you can make to your self-motivation, and enjoyment, by ensuring that you have as much support as possible.

Sarah and Morris

Sarah Braithwaite fulfilling her goals and supporting the needs of her Arab CSA Maurice. Photo by ForagePlus

 

Think through all of your equine experiences – which are supportive and which are not? What can you change? If you can’t change something that is not supportive, can you find a different way to make it work for you?

Don’t forget your partner. After all, for most of us, it is the love of our horses that is the most important part of our sport.

Justine passage

The fabulously competent Justine Armitage performing at a dressage Demo. Photo by Simon Armitage

 

It is interesting for me to think back on my son’s experiences with the two canoe clubs knowing what I now know about motivation and how much it is influenced by the support of autonomy, competence and relatedness needs. His experiences were very much a result of the environments that he was in at those moments in time and summed up perfectly for me how important and influential those environments are to all of us. We cannot become really skilful without passion and motivation, and we can’t develop those without self-determination.

 

Acknowledgements:

This article is based on my postgraduate research, but most importantly many conversations and the freely given knowledge and passion of too many people to individually mention. I would like to thank all of my friends and colleagues who proofread this for me, those who willingly offered pictures for me to use and the fabulous communities of support and practice that I am part of, both real and virtual. I would also like to thank both Paul McGreevy and Andrew McLean for taking the time to proofread the sections about the horse and confirm my interpretation of their research.

Beach with Dysgu & River

Marianne Davies and El Brown having fun at the beach with River Tiger and Dysgu. Photo by Matt Tuck

Marianne Davies

Marianne has been a coach and coach educator for over 20 years as well as conducting research in motivation, learning and skill acquisition. She is currently at Hartpury University doing a PhD researching skill acquisition in equestrian sports coaching. Her main interests are equestrian activities, climbing, mountaineering, and paddlesports.

 marianne@rivertiger.blog

MRes. (Distinction) Sport & Exercise Science – Influence of motivation on skill acquisition. BSc (Hons), Sport, Health & Physical Education.

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