Motivational Traits of Elite Young Soccer Players

Article excerpt


Among the most overlooked aspects in the development of elite young soccer players is that of specific psychological traits. Of those traits, motivation has important implications for programs whose objectives are identification and cultivation of young, skilled performers. The growth in popularity of soccer by youth and the successes experienced by adults in the USA (men and women's national teams and Major League Soccer) have created a need to determine a better understanding of specific psychological characteristics of players.

Granted, a competitive mindset is advantageous to compete successfully in sports (Frederick, C.M. & Ryan, R.M., 1993), but limited research has been directed toward defining the competitive mindset of young elite soccer players. Therefore, the purpose of this study was to investigate motivational characteristics of that group and ascertain if age or the position played impacted those traits. Following written informed consent, 66 elite, young male soccer players from two age groups completed the Sports Attitude Inventory (Willis, 1992) and Levenson's Locus of Control Scale (Levenson, 1981). Data were grouped for analyses by birth years and primary position played (forward, midfielder, defender or goalkeeper). Statistical analysis indicated a significant effect by age, but not by position. Univariate results indicated that older players were more motivated to avoid failure and were less prone to place locus of control on external or chance oriented sources than younger players. Both findings have implications for coaches in the development of elite teenage soccer players and serve as rationale for further study.


It is generally accepted that a competitive mindset is advantageous to vie successfully (win or play at the highest level) in sports (Gould & Udry, 1994; Morgan, 1984; Orlick & Partington, 1988). Specific personality traits within that mindset have been identified as rich sources of information for both players and coaches. Too often, even the most experienced coaches ignore the benefits of exploring the personality or psychological state of their athletes (Holbrook & Barr, 1997). Historically, the concept of locus of control (Rotter, 1966) was documented as a primary component in motivation of skilled performers. In general, locus of control, or how performers perceive success or failure as a result of their hard work (internal control) or luck (external control), was directly linked to motivation (Cratty, 1983; Holbrook & Barr, 1997). More recently, locus of control has been redefined as locus of causality that is related more meaningfully to specific situations or sports (Cox, 2001). As a result of this change, motivation appears more a function of how athletes view their ability to control their athletic environment. LeUnes and Nation (2001) reported that athletes with greater ability appear to have more internalized motivational traits than those with average abilities. In addition, they recognized that there is a continued need for locus of control and causality research in all sports (pg. 137).

In comparison to the more traditional team sports played in North American such as football, baseball, and basketball, soccer is unique in both the physical and psychological demands placed upon athletes (Iso-Ahola & Hatfield, 1986). From a motor control perspective, soccer is a more dynamic, 'open' sport in which players are required to make countless decisions over the course of a match with few, if any, stoppages in play. Timeouts are limited, and halftimes are short. Even player substitutions are restricted both in number and the situation in which they may occur. Psychologically, soccer lends itself more to cooperative teamwork by the minimization of the 'star' syndrome, and a reduction in the consequences of playing errors (Iso-Ahola & Hatfield, 1986). An effective soccer player must be highly skilled, physically fit, and capable of making good decisions throughout the course of a game. …