What is a ‘Motivational Climate’?

It’s easy to find material, including videos, podcasts, and even blogs on Leading Edge (or further afield) that look at specific mental skills, strategies, information, and techniques that you as an athlete can use to help you develop and grow. They provide you tools that increase your understanding of the psychological side of sport and how you can help optimise your performance through practice and training.

But you are not the only person that influences this journey…

As an athlete your journey is supported, directed, and adapted from a very young age, and even today, by those around you: your family, friends, teammates, coaches, managers, and probably others.

Every interaction we have shapes us… some more obviously than others. One of the most seen examples may be rewards and punishments. Think about when you were a child, how many of you were offered an ice-cream or dessert for displaying ‘good’ behaviour, but were threatened with your Xbox being taken away when you were bad? Rewards and punishments help to guide our behaviour in the short term but also help us learn what we should aim for in the future. Perhaps you still don’t use your phone at the table now, but I’m sure your mum doesn’t still take your Xbox away if you do. Your behaviours, values, motivations, and attitudes are shaped by the environments you are exposed to…the motivational climate.

Just as your family and friends may create the motivational climate at home, school, or work, your coaches, managers, and teammates do the same within your sport, and so do you. What is celebrated or punished throughout your athletic journey shapes your beliefs and values, which then influence the goals you set, achievements you celebrate, and performance levels you reach.

How do you define success?

Is it about the effort you put in, the improvements you make, the persistence you show? Is it about winning, outperforming, being ‘the best’? Perhaps you find yourself somewhere in the middle.

Most sporting environments could be categorised into one of these two examples above. Some will be task-oriented, focusing on the mastery of skill, encouraging cooperation, praising effort, hard-work and personal improvement, and celebrating persistence in the face of challenges. Others will be ego-oriented, celebrating being the best, showing favouritism to athletes in this category, and praising only winning.

The Motivational Climate Leading Edge Performance

You can probably recognise these environments now looking back, but did you know that this environment can have a significant impact on your athletic development and the levels you are able to reach?

The values, attitudes, behaviours, and words of those around you help you to know what is expected from you as a player. Once you know this, you can set your goals and evaluate your own performance based on this information. This means that, if a player is exposed to a task-oriented environment then their goals will likely involve mastery of skills and personal improvement, and their achievement of this will determine their success. Those exposed to more ego-oriented environments will likely have goals focused on winning or outperforming their teammates or opponents, and again they will evaluate their performance by assessing whether this has been achieved.

Although these may not appear to be too different on the surface, they have hugely different influences over athletic development.

Now, what I’m about to say may not be what you want to hear, in fact I’d be willing to bet that it isn’t… an environment that emphasises the importance of winning or outperforming others, over personal development, negatively impacts your athlete. I know what you’re thinking…

“What’s wrong with wanting to win?”

Nothing! First things first, let’s clear this one up… we all like winning, even me! We all go out to win. We all need to win to keep league positions, jobs, finances, etc.… but what happens if winning is our only focus? If winning is the only thing that determines success?

Imagine going up against Usain Bolt tomorrow in a 100-meter sprint (as a county-level sprinter). If I had only ever trained in an ego-oriented climate then anything but a win would be a failure. So how would I feel about the race? In all honesty, I would likely make up an excuse as to why I couldn’t participate as I would feel anxious, and the fear of failing may be too much. If I had to run and lost, then I would be extremely disappointed. I would believe that I had failed. It may knock my confidence, negatively impact my mood, and decrease my motivation to ‘get back up and go again’.

But what if I had only ever trained in a task-oriented climate? I wouldn’t fear losing, perhaps I would see it as an opportunity to see how well I could do. If I ran a time faster than my last, or even than my best, then I could celebrate a victory irrespective of the outcome of the race. I could be proud that I turned up and tried, and maybe even feel motivated to get a step closer to him the next time.

These perceptions are not a choice on the day but have been shaped by the environment in which we have developed. We have learnt how to respond to these events whether this response is beneficial to us or not. So, nothing is wrong with wanting to win but that doesn’t mean that it should be the only focus.

The Motivational Climate Leading Edge Performance

The Motivational Climate Leading Edge Performance