Self-determination theory and young people

Denise Hill, Mustafa Sarkar, Anita Navin, Andrew Parker, Jean Côté, Alison Croad

Research output: Book/ReportCommissioned report


Introduction: The aim of this project was to explore young athletes’ motivational experiences within sport using the self-determination theory as a framework (Deci & Ryan, 1985). Accordingly, it established what the psychological needs of autonomy, competence, and relatedness meant to a sample of young athletes, how such needs were satisfied within their sporting context, and whether the process of needs satisfaction differed across their sports / age. Method: Through 6 focus groups, the motivational experiences of 33 young athletes (aged between 11-18 yrs; 21 male & 11 female) across the selected sports (netball, rugby, football, golf, swimming, and athletics) were explored in detail. The key themes from the focus groups were tabulated and presented in a qualitative narrative. In addition, four case studies were constructed to illustrate the contextual differences and similarities associated with psychological needs satisfaction across sporting / age contexts. Results: The findings of the project reinforce the suggestion that the satisfaction of all three psychological needs is required to engender a positive motivational climate that encourages effort, persistence, enjoyment, satisfaction, prolonged engagement with sport, and critically, enhanced self-confidence within and outside of the sporting domain (see Alvarez, Balaguer, & Castillo, 2012; Hill et al., 2013). However, perceptions of relatedness were noted to be the most influential psychological need within this sample group. In accordance with Mageau and Vallerand (2003), the project revealed psychological needs satisfaction can be achieved primarily through: i) the provision of a task-orientated climate, in which mastery, enjoyment, and group identity are facilitated; and ii) the coach providing opportunities for athlete input into sessions, allowing adolescent athletes to assume increased ownership of their performances, and by offering high quality feedback (supported by the use of technology). It was found that the level of trust in the coach and parental influence, moderated the satisfaction of the psychologicalneeds. As a result, the following evidence-based recommendations can be offered to coaches, to ensure the motivational climate they create for young athletes satisfies their psychological needs and encourages the associated positive outcomes.
Original languageEnglish
PublisherSport Coach UK
Commissioning bodySport Coach UK
Number of pages45
Publication statusPublished - 1 Aug 2015
Externally publishedYes


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