Rare insights into the development of young student-athletes

Frank Eirik Abrahamsen
Norwegian School of Sport Sciences

Joakim Ingrell
What does it take to be successful here? A longitudinal study of achievement motivation in youth sport
165 sidor, paperback.
Malmö: Malmö University 2019 (Malmö Studies in Sport Sciences, Vol. 32)
ISBN 978-91-7877-007-6

Creating motivation for continued participation is one of the most important aspects of what coaches and teachers can do for children and young people in sports and physical activity. Creating the right motivation among the participants is also one of the most difficult things to achieve. When something at the same time is both important and difficult to achieve, it is imperative to have the right knowledge. As a reader, you will find help in this book!

Joakim Ingrell’s dissertation focused on some of the important underlying socialization factors for achievement motivation in youth sports. Specifically, the thesis’ foundation comes from 78 students attending a school where they get support to focus on their chosen sport. When the student-athletes started in the study, the participants were 12–13 years old. One of the unique aspects of this book is that the study of the thesis lasted over three years with six data collections. In this way, one gets an important insight into how motivation vary over time and what may affect these changes.

The theoretical frameworks used were Achievement goal theory (AGT; Nicholls, 1984, 1989), Implicit theories of ability (ie, “Mindsets”, Dweck, 2000), Ames’ (1992a, 1992b) motivational climate, Big-Fish-Little-Pond Effect (Marsh, 1984; Marsh & Parker, 1984), burnout in sports (Raedeke & Smith, 2001) and gender as a social construct (Lorber, 1994). This provides an excellent foundation for understanding how gifted youth athletes may experience the journey they undertake when they attend a school with an extra focus on sports. The study used both qualitative and quantitative methods to illuminate the themes. The findings illustrate clearly how complex achievement motivation in youth sports may be.

The findings in the book unfortunately uncovers somewhat gloomy outcomes; the changes in motivation, in the implicit theories of ability and in the burnout scores, reveals what we would call maladaption from a performance motivation perspective. In Ingrell’s first study, one sees that the belief that skills are trainable diminished over time, whereas beliefs about innate abilities increased over time. Theoretically, such changes may adversely affect athletes’ motivation, their efforts and their development. An athlete that feels their abilities are innate and low may tend to give up. Fortunately, the findings indicated that the belief that abilities may improve was, on average, higher than innate beliefs about ability. The findings from study one highlight the importance of the way athletes’ experience their own situation and how the environment may shape this perception of ability.

Therefore, the framework of this book is a useful resource for explaining why young people’s changes over time turn out the way they do.

In the second study, the data revealed a reduction both in task and ego orientation over the three-year period. In line with the first study, this is a negative development, as it implies that the athletes became less motivated for their sport during the period. One important insight gained from the second study is the importance of the coach in creating changes, as there were positive relationships between the coach created ego-involving climate and the athletes’ ego orientation. This is obviously important for coaches to be aware of, in order to create a healthy motivational climate with their youth athletes.

The third study also painted a bleak picture of the changes that the athletes underwent, as the reporting of burnout symptoms increased. Taken together, the findings underscore the importance of awareness of both individual and environmental factors to help athletes thrive and survive their athletic journey. In order to do so, schools, coaches and parents should develop a deeper understanding of the motivational facets of athletes. Being able to recognize how motivation fluctuates over time is also important, and emphasizing a mastery climate environment would help circumvent some of the maladaptive processes detailed in these studies.

Many people think about how (much) motivated one is, so the goal perspective theory considers what one is motivated for – and why. Therefore, the framework of this book is a useful resource for explaining why young people’s changes over time turn out the way they do. At the age of about 12, the AGT explains that practitioners and students to a greater degree begin to compare themselves with others. Although this happens even at a younger age, one will typically see these changes when they reach 12 years of age. The findings of the book from a Swedish (and Scandinavian) athlete-student landscape are important in many ways, as Scandinavian culture is sometimes regarded as less hierarchical and less authoritarian than other cultures, and still the book exemplifies how motivational processes may be less than what is hoped for. After reading many books about motivation, to this reviewer this one is rare in many ways. As mentioned, it shows a three-year process and sits within a Scandinavian sport-school landscape. On top of that it is well written, has clear viewpoints, and uses important motivational frameworks to discuss the results.

By reading this book one will gain a good understanding of the changes that may happen when young athletes prioritize sports and what a teacher and coach should do to help them in the best possible way to stay motivated during their journey.

Copyright © Frank Eirik Abrahamsen 2019

Articles included in this compilations thesis:

Ingrell, J., Larneby, M., Johnson, U., & Hedenborg, S. (2019). Student- athletes’ beliefs about athletic ability: A longitudinal and mixed method gender study. Scandinavian Sport Studies Forum, 10, 117-138
Ingrell, J., Johnson, U., & Ivarsson, A. (2019). Achievement goals in youth sport and the influence of coaches, peers, and parent: a longitudi- nal study. Manuscript submitted for publication
Ingrell, J., Johnson, U., & Ivarsson, A. (2018). Developmental changes in burnout perceptions among student-athletes: An achievement goal perspective. International Journal of Sport and Exercise Psychology, doi:10.1080/1612197X.2017.1421679
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