Motivation, Mindfulness, Performance and Commitment in Young Female Athletes

Introduction

            Commitment and performance are both extremely important variables within youth sport.  It is important for athletes to experience high levels of commitment so that they engage in continued sport participation and have time to reach their athletic potential.  Continued participation may allow athletes to develop the skills and abilities to eventually attain higher performance levels.  High levels of performance are desired as performance may contribute to a variety of positive psychological factors, such as feelings of competency.  I conducted a study in 2012 in which I examined the relationship between self-determined motivation, mindfulness, sport commitment, and performance in young female athletes. One hundred ninety-seven female athletes from a competitive club lacrosse organization ranging in age from 11 to 18 completed measures of motivation, mindfulness, and sport commitment, while their coaches completed ratings of performance.   

Variables

Motivation was measured using the Sport Motivation Scale. Motivation exists along a continuum from lacking motivation to various forms of extrinsic motivation to intrinsic motivation, which is the most self-determined form of motivation.  Intrinsic motivation is enhanced when a behavior is engaged in because it is interesting and valued. 

Mindfulness was measured using the Children’s Acceptance and Mindfulness measure.  Mindfulness is defined as present moment awareness in an open, accepting, nonjudgmental way. It involves our ability to direct attention toward the immediate present moment. 

Commitment was measured using the Sport Commitment Scale and is defined as the desire and resolve to continue sport participation.

Performance was measured by coach ratings assessing execution of relevant behaviors or actions as related to one’s skill level and athletic ability, essentially performing up to one’s potential.

Results and Implications

This study found that self-determined motivation was a significant predictor of commitment and mindfulness was a significant predictor of performance. 

          Given the connection between self-determined motivation and commitment, athletes can benefit from increasing intrinsic motivation.  One way to increase intrinsic motivation is to create an environment that fosters the basic needs of autonomy, competence, and relatedness. An athlete might feel as if their basic needs are met if they are interested in their sport and play an active role in shaping their sport experience, are successful within a challenging environment, and feel connected to their teammates.  An athletic environment that supports basic needs therefore might involve a coach who gives athletes a say in their training regimen, creates challenges in practice that are consistent with the athletes’ skills, and fosters team unity.

            Mindfulness is all about present moment awareness.  It is not only related to performance, but it is also correlated with other variables in this study: commitment and self-determined motivation.  Mindfulness is not about changing the way one feels or getting rid of thoughts; rather it is focused on noticing one’s thoughts and emotions and guiding one’s attention to the task at hand (passing, playing defense, shooting, seeing the ball, etc.).  Athletes can increase present moment awareness by practicing mindfulness exercises, like meditation.  In performance situations, athletes can be mindful by focusing on the task as opposed to the outcome and returning their attention to the present moment instead of dwelling on mistakes.

            Self-determined motivation and mindfulness were examined in this study because they have direct intervention implications.  Sport psychologists can work with coaches, teams, and individual athletes in order to increase levels of self-determined motivation and mindfulness with the potential goal of increasing levels of commitment and performance.