The Right Motivation

Athletic motivation can be derived from not wanting to let the team down

/ Author:  / Reviewed by: Robert Carlson, M.D

(RxWiki News) On relays, slower athletes were found to perform their best, especially in the finals. The pressure to not underperform and let the team down is a powerful motivator.

A recent study found that the slower swimmers or runners are likely to perform their absolute best when on team relays. The faster athletes are likely to do the opposite and lag behind their capabilities in comparison.

"Give your team everything you’ve got!"

Deborah Feltz, PhD, professor in the Kinesiology department and doctoral candidate, Kaitlynn Osborn, at Michigan State University, found evidence to support the Köhler motivation effect.

The Köhler effect is when a person performs better than their personal best when they are part of a team. This is the opposite of the social-loafing effect, where a person is lazier when working in a group.

For the study, Dr. Feltz and Osborn looked at 68 NCAA college swimmers and 156 high school track runners. They discovered that when the stakes were highest for a relay, such as in a final race, the inferior athletes performed their best.

Their motivation appeared to come from not wanting to bring the team down.

Social loafing did not occur in these groups. Meaning that the top athletes did not tank in the relays. Yet, they did not perform their best either.

Osborn said, “Researchers for years have been attempting to understand the complex nature of motivation in sport, partly to find a way to increase athletes’ motivation to perform.”

“Our findings show weaker team members are more motivated when working with others than when working alone.”

Dr. Feltz said, “Key motivation strategies include making individual contributions visible and holding individuals accountable for what they do for the team.”

“Also, coaches need to tailor these strategies to individual athletes to best meet their needs when necessary.”

Authors noted that further studies are necessary to understand the specifics of motivation in different parts of the athletic season and different sports.

This study was published in the February issue of Sports, Exercise, and Performance Psychology. No financial information was given and no conflicts of interest were found.

Reviewed by: 
Review Date: 
July 26, 2012
Last Updated:
May 13, 2013