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The Science of Motivation-Determining the Optimal Climate:

According to Nicholls’ (1984), individuals can be categorized as either task-involved, meaning they are focused on personal improvement and skill mastery, or ego-involved, where they assess their success in comparison to others. Previous research (Cury, Biddle, Sarrazin, & Famose, 1997; Van-Yperen & Duda, 1999) indicates a connection between ego and task involvement and the amount of effort exerted. These orientations can significantly impact the choices individuals make regarding their performance, such as their work rate. Recognizing the motivational factors of players is crucial for coaches as it aids in providing effective challenges within the training environment.

Task involvement is typically associated with individuals who:

  • Tackle challenging tasks

  • Invest significant effort

  • Persist even when faced with obstacles

On the other hand, ego involvement is characterized by:

  • Reduced persistence*

  • Lower effort* (*Especially evident when tasks are perceived as "too easy" or when there is a fear of failure.)

Considering this from a coaching perspective, a coach would foster a task-involved climate by:

  • Emphasizing effort and personal improvement of athletes

  • Making players feel they have important roles within the team

  • Encouraging cooperation among team members

Conversely, a coach might create a more ego-involved climate by:

  • Giving "special treatment" and focusing more on talented players

  • Consistently punishing mistakes

  • Promoting rivalry among teammates (note the distinction between healthy competition and destructive rivalry) (Newton, Duda, & Yin, 2000)

Research by Newton and Duda (1999) suggests that a task-involved environment is associated with greater enjoyment for those involved. Vazou et al. (2005) found that an ego-involved climate can induce anxiety in young athletes. It is important to remember that these individuals are children first and athletes second. Constantly punishing mistakes can potentially diminish their passion for the sport, leading to higher drop-out rates and a reduced talent pool. Interestingly, Vazou et al. (2005) discovered that both motivational climates (ego and task) often coexist during practice sessions. Competition between groups can be beneficial at times, and public praise can motivate some athletes.

So, how can coaches work towards creating an environment where players can thrive? The TARGET approach, initially developed by Epstein (1989) and adapted for sports by Ames (1992), offers valuable insights. Achieving an optimal environment that promotes athletes' growth requires balance and time to understand both individuals and the team as a whole. The following suggestions aim to provide food for thought and actionable steps to foster a better climate for your athletes, regardless of their level.

T - Task A - Authority R - Recognition G - Grouping E - Evaluation T - Timing

Task: Coaches can create a task or ego environment through the types of tasks assigned in practice. In an ego environment, success in a task or drill might be the sole basis for praise, while in a task environment, progress and effort are acknowledged even if perfection is not achieved. Set goals as part of the "task" section, making them individual and meaningful for each player, focusing on skill mastery or implementing something learned in previous training sessions.

Authority: The authority aspect relates to the control players have over tasks during practice. In a task-involved environment, players are frequently asked to make decisions, take on leadership roles, and assume more responsibility. Coaches should consider how practice sessions can be altered to benefit the team as a whole. In an ego-involved environment, coaches make all the decisions, restricting players from expressing themselves through alternative decision-making when applicable.

Recognition: This area concerns how coaches recognize individuals or the team as a whole. To foster a task environment, coaches can provide private recognition of players' improvements and accomplishments, emphasizing effort. In contrast, an ego environment might involve comparing performances, highlighting individual abilities in front of the group while potentially embarrassing some players and praising others.

Grouping: How individuals are grouped can influence the motivational climate. For instance, when introducing a new drill in practice, it may be tempting to group the best players together and praise them while the rest struggle (indicative of an ego environment). In a task-involved environment, mixing groups, and highlighting cooperation among players to achieve success would be emphasized.

Evaluation: Most coaches provide evaluations to players, which can take various forms and occur throughout the season. In an ego-involved environment, evaluations are based on normative standards, and mistakes might reflect low ability. In a task-involved environment, evaluations have more significance and are tailored to the individual. They should reflect players' progress, include meaningful and specific goals, and treat mistakes as learning opportunities rather than using them as a basis for criticism.

Time: The management of time within the environment also plays a role. An ego-involved environment assumes that all players will grasp concepts at the same pace and may allocate unequal time to different individuals. In a task-involved environment, there is flexibility in allocating time for certain activities based on the progress made during the session. Coaches strive to distribute their time equally, ensuring that all players receive sufficient attention before moving on.

By implementing the TARGET approach and considering these factors, coaches can create an environment that nurtures athletes' growth and development. It may take time to understand individuals and the team dynamics fully, but the investment will ultimately lead to an optimal motivational climate where players can thrive.


Ames, C. (1992). Achievement goals, motivational climate, and motivational processes. Motivation in sport and exercise, 161-176.

Cury, F., Biddle, S., Sarrazin, P., & Famose, J. P. (1997). Achievement goals and perceived ability predict investment in learning a sport task. British Journal of Educational Psychology, 67(3), 293–309. doi: 10.1111/j.2044-8279.1997.tb01245.x

Epstein, J. (1989). Family structures and student motivation: A developmental perspective. In C. Ames and R. Ames (Eds.), Research on motivation in education (pp. 259-295). Academic Press, New York.

Newton, M. L., & Duda, J. L. (1999). The interaction of motivational climate, dispositional goal orientation and perceived ability in predicting indices of motivation. International Journal of Sport Psychology, 30, 63-82.

Newton, M., Duda, J. L., & Yin, Z. (2000). Examination of the psychometric properties of the Perceived Motivational Climate in Sport Questionnaire-2 in a sample of female athletes. Journal of Sports Science, 18, 275–290.

Nicholls, J. G. (1984). Achievement motivation: Conceptions of ability, subjective experience, task choice, and performance. Psychological Review, 91(3), 328–346. doi: 10.1037/0033-295x.91.3.328

Van-Yperen, N. W., & Duda, J. L. (2007). Goal orientations, beliefs about success, and performance improvement among young elite Dutch soccer players. Scandinavian Journal of Medicine & Science in Sports, 9(6), 358–364. doi: 10.1111/j.1600-0838.1999.tb00257.x

Vazou, S., Ntoumanis, N., & Duda, J. L. (2005). Peer motivational climate in youth sport: A qualitative inquiry. Psychology of Sport & Exercise, 6, 497-516.

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