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Student motivation


What motivates students to do their best?

Motivation research

A 1995 study by Theeboom, DeKnop, and Weiss, Motivational climate, psychological responses, and motor skill development in children's sport: A field-based intervention study, described two theories of motivation in youth sports:

  • Competence Motivation Theory. This theory posits that those who see themselves as competent and as having internal control are more intrinsically motivated.
  • Achievement Goal Theory. This theory posits that individuals are motivated to demonstrate high ability based either on ego goals that are ability oriented or on task goals that are mastery oriented.

The researchers studied two groups of children:

  • A traditional method group that used basic drills for practice and had an authoritative teacher who focused on individual exercises and based recognition and evaluation of performance.
  • A mastery method group that used a variety of exercises, shared decision-making, partner and small group exercises, and focused on effort and improvement.

For example, the traditional method group may do repeated leg kicks whereas the mastery method group may kick a ball, a bag, or a hand target and students may suggest combinations and exercises.


The researchers found that a focus on expertise in sports is associated with greater perceived effort, greater enjoyment, and increased team satisfaction. Whereas, a focus on performance outcome leads to greater worry and less team satisfaction.

Results showed that the mastery group enjoyed the class more, although there was no difference in the participant’s perceived competence. Interviews showed increased motivation for the mastery group. The mastery group was rated higher in the performance of motor skills.

The authors concluded that the more informal and flexible teaching style used for the mastery method group may be effective early on in training, but that in the later stages of training some traditional teaching exercises may be needed.

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