The extent to which motives for sport participation predict motivation outcomes was investigated in a study embracing self-determination theory and couched in Vallerand’s hierarchical model of motivation at the contextual level. Data were collected from 159 collegiate athletes. Motives for sport participation were assessed using the Sport Motivation Scale. Cognitive, affective, and behavioral measures were used to assess contextual motivation outcomes. Linear regression analyses examined the extent to which sport motives predicted motivation outcomes (satisfaction, concentration, and persistence). Amotivation emerged as a strong negative predictor of the outcome measures. External and introjected regulations and three intrinsic motives did not predict any of the motivation outcomes. The results do not support previous findings and offer only limited support of Vallerand’s model.

Motives for Sport Participation as Predictors of Motivation Outcomes in Track and Field: A Self-Determination Theory Perspective

Two types of motivation, intrinsic and extrinsic, have been of particular interest to researchers in the field of sport psychology (Deci & Ryan, 1985, 2000, 2008; Vallerand, 1997, 2001). Intrinsic motivation entails participation in an activity for the feelings of fun, pleasure, excitement, and satisfaction associated with it, while extrinsic motivation involves participation for the attainment of such rewards as money, trophies, and social approval or to avoid punishment. One of the most widely applied theoretical approaches to these types of motivation is self-determination theory, or SDT (Deci & Ryan, 1985, 2000; Ryan, 1995; Ryan & Deci, 2000). SDT also involves the concept of amotivation, or having no sense of purpose and lacking intent to engage in a particular behavior. SDT posits that the different types of motivation range on a continuum from high to low self-determination: intrinsic motivation–extrinsic motivation–amotivation (Deci & Ryan, 1985, 2000).

Vallerand (1997, 2001) embraced elements of SDT and integrated them within a hierarchical theory of motivation. His model asserts that social factors, mediators (autonomy, competence, and relatedness), motivations, and consequences (affect, cognition, and behavior) exist at three levels, the global level, contextual level, and situational level. A number of studies have indicated that behavioral regulations spanning the SDT continuum would lead to a corresponding pattern of consequences (Ratelle, Vallerand, Chantal, & Provencher, 2004; Sarrazin, Vallerand, Guillet, Pelletier, & Cury, 2002; Standage, Duda, & Ntoumanis, 2003; Standage & Vallerand, 2008; Taylor, Ntoumanis, & Standage, 2008; Vlachopoulos, Karageorghis, & Terry, 2000; Wilson, Rodgers, Fraser, & Murray, 2004). That is, autonomous regulations and intrinsic motivation are expected to correspond with more positive outcomes, whereas less self-determined forms of regulation (external and introjected regulations) correspond with more negative outcomes, such as poor focus, burnout, and dropout. Vallerand’s proposals have found broad support in a range of sport and physical activity contexts (Standage et al., 2003; Wilson et al., 2004; Ntoumanis, 2001, 2005; Spray, Wang, Biddle, & Chatzisarantis, 2006); however, to date no study has examined these proposals in the context of a single sport.

The purpose of the present study was to examine the extent to which motives for sport participation predicted motivation outcomes at the contextual level of motivation, thus affording a direct test of Vallerand’s (1997, 2001) model. On the basis of previous work (Ntoumanis, 2001; Vallerand & Bissonnette, 1992; Pelletier, Fortier, Vallerand, Tuson, Briere, & Blais, 1995; Ntoumani & Ntoumanis, 2006), it was hypothesized that identified regulation and the dimensions of intrinsic motivation would be significant positive predictors of motivation outcomes, while amotivation would be a significant negative predictor.



A sample of 159 volunteer track and field athletes was tested at eight athletics clubs in the London, United Kingdom, area (66 women and 93 men). Their mean age was 19.7 years (SD = 2.8). English was the first language of all participants. Full details of the ethnicity and level of participation of participants can be requested from the second author. Eighty-five athletes participated in sprint events (53.5%), 30 in middle distance events (18.9%), 33 in throwing events (20.7%), 4 in long-distance events (2.5%), and 7 in multievents (4.4%). Their years of experience in track and field ranged from 1 to 18 (M = 5.8 years, SD = 3.5).


Sport Motivation Scale. The 28-item Sport Motivation Scale (Pelletier et al., 1995) was based on SDT and designed to assess contextual intrinsic motivation, extrinsic motivation, and amotivation. Athletes respond to the item “Why do you practice your sport?” with responses from a Likert-type scale that ranges from 1 (does not correspond at all) to 7 (corresponds exactly). The Sport Motivation Scale (SMS) consists of seven subscales with four items attached to each. The participation motives operationalized by the SMS, ranging from the most to the least self-determined, are as follows: intrinsic motivation to know (“for the pleasure of discovering new training techniques”); intrinsic motivation toward accomplishment (“for the satisfaction I experience while I am perfecting my abilities”); intrinsic motivation to experience stimulation (“for the excitement I feel when I am really involved in the activity”); identified regulation (“because in my opinion, it is one of the best ways to meet people”); introjected regulation (“because I must do sports regularly”); external regulation (“to show others how good I am at my sport”); and amotivation (“it is not clear to me anymore; I really don’t think my place is in sport”). The SMS has strong psychometric properties (Pelletier et al.; Vallerand & Losier, 1999). Confirmatory factor analysis was used to support the factor structure, while correlations between subscales and criterion measures were consistent with theoretical predictions. Further, internal consistency estimates were acceptable for all subscales (α = .74– .80) with the exception of identified regulation (.63).

Affective outcome measure. Satisfaction was used as an affective outcome and was assessed using a single item: “I am satisfied with my participation in the sport I currently practice” (Vlachopoulos et al., 2000). Participants responded on a Likert-type scale ranging from 1 (I do not at all feel satisfied) to 7 (I feel extremely satisfied).

Cognitive outcome measure. Concentration was used as a cognitive outcome and was assessed using the dimension of concentration on task at hand from the Dispositional Flow Scale-2 (Jackson & Eklund, 2002). This dimension consists of four items (e.g., “I have total concentration”) and participants provided responses on a Likert-type scale ranging from 1 (never) to 5 (always).

Behavioral outcome measure. The behavioral outcome of persistence was assessed using the mean of three items: “I intend/I will try/I am determined to continue participation in the sport I currently practice during this year” (Vlachopoulos et al., 2000). Responses were provided on a semantic differential scale ranging from 1 (extremely unlikely) to 7 (extremely likely).


The study was approved in accordance with the published procedures of the Brunel University Ethics Committee. Coaches and team managers were approached by both authors, in order to obtain permission to administer questionnaires to athletes. The general purpose of the study was explained, and, subsequently, written informed consent was sought from participants. Only two athletes did not provide informed consent and thus did not participate in the study.

Prior to a training session, participants provided demographic details, then completed the SMS (Pelletier et al., 1995). Following a gap of 1 week, the contextual motivational outcomes were assessed prior to the corresponding training session. The time gap was used to reduce the possibility of any extraneous environmental factors impacting upon the relationship between motives for sport participation and motivation outcomes (Kelly, 1988).

Data Analysis

Data screening was undertaken to check for missing data and to ensure that values were within expected ranges. Univariate outliers were identified using z scores > ±3.29 and multivariate outliers using the Mahalanobis distance method (p < .001; Tabachnick & Fidell, 2007). Cases that had multiple univariate outliers or were multivariate outliers were deleted from the data file, while additional univariate outliers were reduced by modifying their raw score toward the mean, to a unit below the next least extreme raw score (Tabachnick & Fidell, p. 77). Checks were conducted for the parametric assumptions underlying standard linear regression, specifically normality, linearity, homoscedasticity, and independence of residuals. Standard linear regression analyses were used to predict the three outcome
measures from the seven SMS subscales.


Following data screening, three cases that had multiple univariate outliers and one case that was a multivariate outlier were identified and deleted. Also, 11 univariate outliers were identified and transformed to ensure that the corresponding z score fell within the accepted range (Tabachnick & Fidell, 2007). The mean Sport Motivation Scale scores were highest for the self-determined motives (see table 1), indicating that the present sample participated in sport predominantly for intrinsic and identified reasons rather than external and introjected reasons.

Table 1

Descriptive Statistics for the Sport Motivation Scale and Outcome Measures


Sport Motivation Scale
Amotivation 7.46 4.24 4.00-2.00 1.24 0.97
External regulation 15.35 4.68 4.00-27.00 0.14 -0.45
Introjected regulation 15.90 5.53 4.00-28.00 0.25 -0.67
Identified regulation 15.98 4.74 4.00-28.00 0.10 -0.42
Intrinsic motivation to know 19.88 4.34 9.00-28.00 -0.19 -0.57
Intrinsic motivation toward accomplishments 21.50 3.92 10.00-28.00 -0.56 -0.38
Intrinsic motivation to experience stimulation 20.68 3.72 11.00-28.00 -0.26 -0.35
Outcome measures
Satisfaction 5.40 1.25 1.00-7.00 -1.25 1.42
Concentration 15.26 2.18 9.00-20.00 0.19 -0.15
Persistence 6.89 0.27 6.00-7.00 -2.46 4.92

Normality checks of skewness and kurtosis values indicated that the only problematic variable among the 10 examined was persistence (see table 1). This is indicative of the fact that participants generally indicated strong intentions to persist in track and field. Given that this was the only problematic variable, a decision was taken not to apply logarithmic transformation.

Thereafter, three separate linear regression analyses were conducted to predict each outcome measure from the SMS subscales (see table 2). Collectively, independent variables revealed a significant (p < .01) overall prediction within each regression equation. Amotivation emerged as a strong negative predictor of each of the three motivation outcomes. Contrary to expectations, the intrinsic motives did not predict the outcome measures in any of the equations. The predictor variables accounted for the highest degree of percentage variance in the outcome of satisfaction (16%), followed by concentration (9%), and persistence (6%).

Table 2

Standard Linear Regression to Predict Motivation Outcomes from Motives for Sport Participation

Dependent variablePredictor variableStandardized beta (β)

Satisfaction Amotivation -0.40*
External regulation 0.18
Introjected regulation -0.06
Identified regulation -0.02
Intrinsic motivation to know 0.05
Intrinsic motivation toward accomplishment 0.02
Intrinsic motivation to experience stimulation 0.09
R = 0.45
R2 = 0.16
Concentration Amotivation -0.24*
External regulation 0.19
Introjected regulation -0.02
Identified regulation -0.06
Intrinsic motivation to know -0.16

Note. The analysis of variance corresponding with each linear regression analysis was significant (p < .01).

* p < .01.


The purpose of the present study was to examine the extent to which motives for sport participation predicted motivation outcomes at the contextual level of motivation in a single sport. More specifically, this study examined the proposition that more self-determined forms of motivation are positively associated with motivation outcomes than either their controlling counterparts or amotivation (Deci & Ryan, 1985; Ryan & Deci, 2000).

Results indicated that amotivation negatively predicted the contextual motivation outcomes, which corroborates recent findings pertaining to this dimension (Deci & Ryan, 2000; Wilson et al., 2004). However, neither intrinsic motives nor external or introjected regulations predicted any of the outcome measures. Collectively, the present results appear to offer only very limited support for the research hypothesis; autonomous regulations and intrinsic motivation were not positive predictors of the motivation outcomes.

Contrary to expectations, the present findings do not support those of previous studies which showed that identified regulation and intrinsic motivation were positively associated with motivation outcomes at the contextual level of motivation (Wilson et al., 2004; Ntoumanis, 2001; Ntoumani & Ntoumanis, 2006). It is plausible that the predictive efficacy of intrinsic motivation to know may be lower in track and field than in some other sports, because track and field is primarily a motoric sport involving relatively few tactics; athletes follow their coaches’ instructions closely and do not exhibit a particularly deep desire to explore new performance strategies. However, it is acknowledged that anecdotal evidence suggests this may not generalize to elite performers (Johnson, 1996; Lewis & Jeffrey, 1990). A further plausible cause for the anomalous findings is that coaches emphasize and strongly encourage peer or social comparison (competition) among athletes, which may well weaken the link between intrinsic motivation and outcomes (Spray et al., 2006; Whitehead, 1993).

The regression analyses predicted a relatively small percentage of the variance in the cognitive and behavioral outcomes but a considerable percentage of the affective outcome (16%). This indicates that behavioral regulations are strong predictors of how people feel about their participation in sport. Most notably, amotivation was found to be a strong antithetical marker of satisfaction, a finding that is entirely consistent with theoretical predictions (Ntoumanis, 2001; Wilson et al., 2004). This implies that if coaches are to address the potentially deleterious effects of amotivation, an effective strategy would be to apply mood- and emotion-regulation strategies and to demonstrate some sensitivity toward athletes’ affective states.

Another interesting aspect of track and field which may, to a degree, account for the somewhat anomalous findings, is its multidisciplinary nature. This means not only are psychological needs underlying intrinsic motivation being frustrated by the sport’s coactive nature and emphasis on social comparison, there is in addition a further level of competition between event groups, for example sprints versus throws or jumps versus distance running. Proponents of each event group vie for use of facilities, limited financial resources, and media attention. This fusion of conflicting forces makes track and field a very distinct sport, which may account for the present results’ lack of support for the propositions of SDT. This is indeed the first study in the sport literature to offer a voice of dissent by suggesting that SDT has very limited predictive efficacy in terms of motivation outcomes.

Limitations of the Present Study

Data for the present study were collected at the height of the summer track and field season, and participants were, consequently, immersed in their preparations for competition. A strong orientation toward performance outcomes may have served to undermine their intrinsic motivation to a degree. More specifically, the overt emphasis on competition at that time of year may have promoted an external locus of causality, given that competition is
inherently controlling in nature (Fortier, Vallerand, Briere, & Provencher, 1995; Vansteenkiste & Deci, 2003).

The varying participation levels of athletes in the present sample could also have accounted for unexpected findings pertaining to the predictive efficacy of self-determined forms of motivation. Essentially, it is conceivable that different combinations of motives may be relevant to athletes competing at different levels. For example, the external regulation score of international athletes (M = 16.37) indicated that their sport participation was less self-determined than was the participation of their recreational counterparts (M = 14.71), albeit this difference did not reach statistical significance (p < .05).

Conclusions and Recommendations

The present findings provide very limited support for Vallerand’s (1997, 2001) hierarchical model of intrinsic and extrinsic motivation and, indeed, for posits of SDT (Deci & Ryan, 1985, 2000; Ryan & Deci, 2000). Contrary to expectations, results indicated that amotivation was the only predictor of the contextual motivational outcomes.

The practical implications of the present findings lie in promoting factors that underpin intrinsic motivation in track and field. Perceptions of autonomy and individual mastery will nurture intrinsic motivation and ultimately improve sport performance (Edmunds, Ntoumanis, & Duda, 2006; Whitehead, 1993; Wilson & Rodgers, 2004). Coaches should emphasize positive sensations such as fun and excitement that result from participation, while tempering their emphasis on peer comparison (Taylor et al., 2008; Whitehead, 1993). Further, coaches should be trained in the principles underlying emotional intelligence, given that the present findings suggest that sensitivity to athletes’ affective states is likely to buffer the potentially negative consequences of amotivation.

A promising direction for further research would be to investigate the psychological need for relatedness, given that much past sport motivation research has focused on the need for autonomy and the need for competence (e.g., Deci & Ryan, 2008; Vallerand & Losier, 1999). It appears likely that the need for relatedness may be frustrated in track and field, owing to the track and field sports’ potential for conflict and coaches’ overt emphasis on peer comparison.

Future research should explore additional motivation outcomes, for example cognitive outcomes such as attention span and level of learning (Ntoumanis, 2001). Moreover, additional research is warranted into the antecedents of amotivation, in order to minimize negative consequences such as burnout and dropout. Finally, replication of the present study during the off-season would yield insightful comparative data, since participation in track and field is orientated more toward self-development than it is toward peer or social comparison. The predictive efficacy of sport motives may well vary from competitive periods to noncompetitive periods, and this would hold important implications for theory development.


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