The Differences Between Intrinsic and Extrinsic Motivation in Sports Psychology

By Dan O'Connell •  Updated: 05/25/23 •  11 min read

Motivation has been widely studied in sports psychology and plays a prominent role in athletes’ performance, behavior, and overall well-being. 

Motivation can be categorized into two distinct types: intrinsic and extrinsic.

 Intrinsic motivation refers to a self-generated drive rooted in personal interests and values. In contrast, extrinsic motivation is an externally-influenced form based on external rewards or punishments. 

Coaches, athletes, and sports psychologists must understand the differences between these two forms of motivation to foster an athlete’s growth and development effectively. 

Intrinsic motivation involves participating in an activity because it is personally enjoyable or meaningful. 

This type of motivation includes activities such as playing a sport for its own sake or engaging in athletic pursuits out of a genuine love for the competition rather than external incentives. 

In contrast, extrinsic motivation involves participating in an activity due to potential external rewards such as trophies, money, or recognition from others. 

Examples of activities driven by extrinsic motivation may include competing simply for bragging rights or prioritizing accomplishment over enjoyment.  

The Power of Self-Talk

The power of self-talk is undeniable. The words we say to ourselves can immensely impact how we perceive the world and how we act in it. 

This idea that thoughts become things has been popularized in recent years due to its applications in self-improvement and personal growth. 

By repeating positive affirmations and consciously redirecting our internal dialogue away from negative thinking patterns, we can create powerful shifts in our attitudes and behaviors.  

Self-talk can be used to cultivate greater self-awareness and clarity about who we are, what matters to us, and how we want to live our lives. 

It is a form of inner conversation that allows us to dig deep into our motivations and intentions, ultimately leading us to understand ourselves better. 

This heightened awareness brings greater insight into our choices and their subsequent effects on our present circumstances and future prospects. 

Through consistent reflection on our thoughts and feelings and the stories they tell us about ourselves, we can gain valuable insights that would otherwise remain hidden or unexplored.  

How Self-Talk Can Be an Instrumental Tool in Both Motivations

Self-talk is an effective instrument for driving both intrinsic and extrinsic motivation. 

Through self-dialogue, individuals can examine their goals and assess their progress toward those objectives, propelling them forward with increased determination and enthusiasm. 

By regulating their thoughts and internal conversations, people can further cultivate their intrinsic motivation by developing a growth mindset, cultivating gratitude, focusing on meaningful values or tasks, and committing to personal development initiatives. 

This form of self-directed communication also plays an important role in extrinsic motivation, as it allows an individual to record their successes, identify areas of improvement, reward themselves for achievements, create incentives for further development, and develop greater accountability. 

Self-talk thus empowers individuals with the language they need to think more constructively about themselves while encouraging forward momentum toward their goals.

 With its powerful combination of supportive content and motivational force, self-talk is critical for generating intrinsic and extrinsic drives to propel people toward success.

The Positive and Negative Effects of Self-Talk on performance levels

Self-talk is a form of inner dialogue whereby individuals consciously and unconsciously motivate, criticize, or process information about themselves and their behavior.

 While the effects of self-talk on performance levels vary across individuals, it has been widely believed to have both positive and negative impacts. 

On the positive side, self-talk is seen as a way to increase motivation and physical energy, maintain focus on a task, improve performance through proper technique reminders, create confidence in oneself, and ultimately fortify one’s abilities. 

Conversely, self-talk has also been seen to induce negative effects if used excessively or incorrectly. 

Overly harsh criticism may sap motivation and lead to feelings of demoralization:

Therefore, it is important for individuals engaging in self-talk to be mindful of the possible implications on their performance levels. In essence, being used properly in moderation may prove beneficial; however, it could adversely affect said performance levels if used excessively or incorrectly.

The Consequences of Extrinsic Rewards

The Consequences of Extrinsic Rewards are far-reaching and potentially detrimental. Extrinsic rewards are tangible incentives people receive for completing a task or achieving a goal. 

They may include monetary rewards, prizes, recognition, or other forms of external validation. While they can be useful in providing motivation and feedback, extrinsic rewards also have some significant drawbacks. 

Extrinsic rewards can decrease intrinsic motivation – the desire to do something because it is personally rewarding and enjoyable. 

By providing an external source of gratification, these awards can discourage engagement in activities purely for the pleasure they bring on their own merits. 

People may become overly focused on acquiring external awards instead of enjoying the activity, leading to a narrowing of interests and poorer performance due to a lack of engagement with the process. 

Additionally, people may become overly dependent on extrinsic reinforcement and go through diminishing returns when incentives are no longer present, resulting in reduced effort and decreased motivation over time.   

Moreover, extrinsic rewards can generate pressure-filled conditions that interfere with creativity and risk-taking behaviors by introducing fear of failure or arousing stress levels high enough to impair cognitive function.

The Downsides to Relying Solely on Extrinsic Rewards as a Source of Motivation

Using extrinsic rewards to motivate learning can provide short-term gains but have several drawbacks.

 First and foremost, relying solely on external incentives such as prizes or praise diminishes an individual’s intrinsic motivation, which is the virtual drive that leads to deeper engagement with material and long-term mastery. 

Additionally, many extrinsic rewards have a finite value that wears off over time; once recipients become accustomed to the prize, it ceases to be motivating. 

Furthermore, overemphasizing tangible incentives creates competition among learners and reduces their focus on self-improvement. 

Finally, when rewarding only positive outcomes rather than effort or progress, failure can be seen as a personal failing rather than simply part of the learning process. 

For these reasons, educators should consider a balanced approach incorporating extrinsic and intrinsic rewards to promote sustained engagement in learning activities.

Why Extrinsic Motivation Should not Be the Sole Focus of Your Sports Psychology Performance  

Motivation is an essential component of success in any activity, including sports. 

The type of motivation is especially important. However, extrinsic motivation—based on external rewards and punishments—can be a factor in performance improvement. Still, it should not be the sole focus of any sport psychology intervention.

 This is because evidence suggests that intrinsic motivation is needed to sustain performance over the long term and reach peak potential as an athlete.

Extrinsic motivation can be beneficial in the short term; incentive structures such as goal setting or contingent rewards can provide useful feedback when seeking to improve performance in sports. 

However, there are also many potential drawbacks to this approach:

The Power of Intrinsic Motivation

The Power of Intrinsic Motivation is a concept that has long been touted as the key to success.

 In its simplest form, it refers to engaging in activities for the pleasure of doing them rather than for external rewards or recognition.

The power of intrinsic motivation lies in its ability to fuel sustained effort, creativity, and self-improvement.

 It is a form of self-motivation where the individual pursues an activity out of genuine interest and enjoyment rather than from external sources of reward or recognition. 

Intrinsic motivation comes from within; it is an internal drive to achieve something because it is personally rewarding and meaningful. 

This type of motivation stems from satisfying one’s interests and desires instead of being driven by external sources like rewards or incentives.

When pursuing activities based on intrinsic motivation, individuals are intrinsically motivated to challenge themselves and pursue excellence, leading to more meaningful accomplishments and fulfilling experiences. 

The power of intrinsic motivation lies in its capacity to stimulate creativity and inspire lasting commitment toward personal growth.

Why Intrinsic Motivation is More Sustainable Than Extrinsic Motivation

Intrinsically motivated behavior is rooted in the satisfaction derived from accomplishing challenging tasks and achieving goals.

The individual derives a sense of purpose and joy from their activities, pursuing them out of their own volition rather than to receive external rewards or recognition.

This type of motivation reflects the intrinsic value that accrues certain behaviors rather than any perceived benefit from performing them.

Such motivation is more sustainable since it relies not on external sources for support and reinforcement but on the internal psychological reward experienced when engaging in desired pursuits.

In contrast, extrinsic motivation relies upon external factors such as rewards or punishments for guiding behaviors. 

This type of motivation can be effective in the short term; over time, it can lead to feelings of being coerced into action or resentment towards those providing incentives – thus diminishing its efficacy as a long-term motivator.

 Furthermore, because extrinsic motivation is based externally, it depends upon the sustained presence of these motivating forces to succeed; should they be removed, the individual may no longer find an incentive to continue their task or activity.

Ways to Develop Internal Motivation to Boost Performance Levels

When attempting to increase performance, it is often beneficial to focus on cultivating internal motivation first and foremost. 

Internal motivation is derived from within oneself; it is the drive and dedication to accomplish a task that can be sourced from one’s values, goals, and belief systems. 

By developing an internal source of motivation, individuals can enjoy greater success and satisfaction in their efforts.

 In this regard, there are various ways to cultivate internal motivation, such as establishing clear objectives, finding intrinsic meaning in activities and tasks, setting realistic but challenging goals, breaking down complex projects into manageable components, rewarding yourself for accomplishments along the way, and identifying areas of growth. 

All of these strategies increase self-efficacy—the belief that you can succeed—which can ultimately lead to improved performance. 

Furthermore, by recognizing one’s achievements towards a larger goal, progress can be tracked over time—a feeling that reinforces motivation even further. Ultimately, engaging in activities with a sense of purpose will help catalyze improvement in performance levels.


Sports psychology is a growing field that helps athletes and coaches better understand how to maximize their performance.

It focuses on psychological techniques, such as goal setting, imagery, and self-talk, to assist individuals in reaching peak performance levels.

Intrinsic motivation is one of the most important elements contributing to successful sport psychology performance.

Intrinsic motivation is the desire to participate in an activity because it is inherently satisfying rather than for external rewards or recognition.

To develop one’s intrinsic motivation, there are several different strategies they can use. 

First, understanding what it means to be intrinsically driven can help individuals identify their goals and interests within the context of their chosen sport.

Understanding what inspires them can then serve as a guiding force throughout their training plan. 

Additionally, breaking tasks into smaller goals is beneficial for providing feedback on progress and keeping the athlete motivated over time.

Setting short-term and long-term goals aligning with overall objectives creates achievable milestones that provide tangible evidence of growth and motivation toward further improvement.

Dan O'Connell