Self-Determination Theory in Sports Psychology

Self-determination theory is a broadly accepted framework for understanding motivation and its impact on our daily lives. From sports to education or work, you can see its influence everywhere. And if you wish to discover the application of self-determination theory in sports psychology, by reading this post, you will learn how to be more determined while on the grounds.

Have you ever performed anything of your own free will? Or have you ever wished to achieve anything just because of your satisfaction? If you are an athlete and want to have inspiration, keep reading to learn more.

What is Meant by the Self-determination Theory in Psychology?

Psychologists define actions resulting from self‐determination as a personal choice, commitment, and preference. In other words, this definition means that your actions or choices are self-determined if you perform anything willingly regardless of any extrinsic motivation. 

If you are self-determined to do anything, it means you are doing it for your contentment, and doing something makes you feel happy.

Self-Determination Examples in Daily Life

Have you ever wondered about self-determined behaviors? The following list of actions and their reasons will help you learn about them.

  1. You might exercise because of its beneficial impact on your body.
  2. A child plays with their toys for enjoyment purposes.
  3. You might give up your addiction to smoking because you wish to lead a healthy life.
  4. Your children complete their chores because they are responsible.
  5. A student chooses their career path by their choice and preference.
  6. A person enjoys art activities because it gives them joy and relief.

The majority of these actions are a result of intrinsic motivation, while some of them may have internalized extrinsic motivation. 

The Components of Self-determination

According to human psychology, there are a total of 3 components of self-determination derive your motivation to perform any action. These are:


When you endorse your behavior with your choice and willingness, it gives you the feeling of self-government. 


The self-determination theory and competence target your ability to do anything. When you achieve your goals, you experience mastery and feel more confident about your capabilities. 


This element of self-determination theory talks about the notion of relatedness when you feel connected or associated with your goals or achievements. The more you have determination, the more you can connect with your actions.

These three elements constitute our needs that help promote our desire to engage in an activity. As a result, we can have the commitment and motivation to undergo a task. However, the impact it creates on the quality of our work is more commendable. 

How Do These Components Affect Your Actions?

When autonomy, competence, and relatedness inspire your actions, you will observe three main effects that are beneficial in the long run. First and foremost, you will keep an improvement in your performance. Secondly, you will notice that you are more creative, adaptive, and flexible. And lastly, you will achieve persistence. In other words, you would want to continue your efforts and endure the journey. 

What is the Self-determination Theory in Sport?

The Self-determination Theory in Sports Psychology states that adults who lack physical activity and strength and often withdraw themselves from an action must master self-determination. And if we talk about sports, the athletes need to learn self-determination theory in sports psychology to develop their interests and improve their performance.

Sports is one of the life domains that equally requires determination. Athletes often choose sports because of their choices or will. However, other reasons also might influence their preferences and performance. The self-determination theory explains why athletes feel determined while they play.

When the social environment or conditions of the athletes are favorable to their psychological needs, they feel more motivated and autonomous. It means they play with their free will. On the other hand, when their psychological needs are not satisfied given the social interactions, their motivation or willpower to undergo a task is more controlled. As a result, they might not be consistent and lose interest in the future.

Self-determination Theory Examples in Sport 

Self-determination theory in physical activity explains that athletes play willingly because playing might give them joy or relief. Sports are sometimes a form of escape from life’s adversities of life due to which many feel encouraged while playing. On the other hand, it might offer them pride when they secure seemingly tough matches. In addition, playing a sport means a way to channel their creativity and abilities.  

How can a Coach use Self-determination Theory?

If you are a coach, you can utilize the self-determination theory in youth sports because it helps your trainees to observe the following results:

  1. It enables you to support your choices.
  2. It models the desired behavior for increased performance.
  3. You can receive a more structured way to exercise control.
  4. You can positively create associations with your team members.
  5. Your expectations will seem more possible.
  6. It helps you create an environment that is beneficial for the desired performance.

Self-determination Theory vs Self-efficacy 

The concept of self-determination and self-efficacy are closely related to each other. In other words, self-efficacy can also be considered an alternative to self-determination because it helps a person believe in their capabilities. 

Why is Determination Important in Sport?

The self-determination theory and sport have a great connection. If athletes are not aware of how they can improve their performance by having internal motivation, they can lack their desired determination. And this can negatively impact their performance. 

Moreover, a determination is also crucial in polishing an athlete’s abilities. You have a natural determination to achieve your desired target if you feel the urge to be more creative and productive. As a result, you will feel more competent, and this ability can make you feel more connected with your work. 


How is self-determination theory used in sport?

As a coach, you can apply the self-determination theory in sports by helping your trainees discover their inner satisfaction and joy attached to their goals and performances. This technique will help them associate their mental relief with their sports activity. Hence, they will be more motivated and improve their performances. 

What is self-determination theory in exercise?

Physical activity, exercise, and sports are closely related. Therefore, they all share the same concept of the self-determination theory. 


The self-determination theory in sports psychology is an essential topic for coaches and trainers. This theory helps you to train your students and channel their capabilities effectively.

As a result, you will be able to eliminate the extrinsic factors motivating them and bring forward their determination that is free of any worldly gain. So if your students are lacking in their decision, train them using the self-determination theory. 

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