Motivation and Competition:
Their Role in Sports
Edward L. Deci
University of Rochester
Bradley C. Olson
Northern Michigan University
Millions of people throughout the world are highly involved in sports as athletes, coaches, or spectators. Children start at very young ages trying to hit a softball, catch a football, or stand up on ice skates. Recent figures indicate that over 20 million school-aged Americans play organized sports ( Magill, Ash, & Smoll, 1978). Furthermore, the percentage of girls involved in sports although still small, is steadily growing. Adults are no less involved in athletics, though their participation tends to be as coaches and spectators. Sports is one of the most frequent topics of conversation during coffee breaks and lunch hours, and games such as the Super Bowl have more television viewers than virtually any other programs.
Sports, according to Alderman ( 1974), are organized games that have become institutionalized. They have a set of rules and procedures that is essentially constant wherever they are played, and they have become part of our social history. Furthermore, although it is not implied by the definition, sports almost invariably involve competition; individuals or teams attempt to beat other individuals or teams. This competition may be either interactive (where there is a critical defensive, as well as an offensive, component) or noninteractive (involving only offense). Basketball and soccer are interactive competitions; figure skating and diving are noninteractive.
In terms of motivation, sports have all the necessary ingredients to be intrinsically motivating. The activities themselves are interesting and exciting (at least for some people); challenge and mastery are central components; and participation is, in most cases, voluntary. Certainly in sand-lot games and amateur athletics people seem to need no prods or incentives to