Motivation produces outcomes, therefore understanding motivation is pivotal to initiating and maintaining others to act in various contexts, such as sport. (Mallett, 2005). It is proposed that individuals flourish under conditions of interest, optimal stimulation, enjoyment and challenge. Self-determination theory (SDT) describes the conditions under which social-contextual factors influence various forms of motivation. These factors are mediated by the impact of the psychological needs for autonomy, competence and relatedness. The satisfaction of these needs represents an important ingredient underlying the psychological force driving individuals towards excellence in sport (Vallerand & Rousseau, 2001).
The aim of this study was to enhance our understanding of the role of relatedness in elite rowing. Significant evidence exists supporting the needs for autonomy and competence, however the need for relatedness has received little attention. The need for relatedness reflects innate desires to be supported by and supportive of others when engaging in behaviour (Hagger, Chatzisarantis, & Harris, 2006). Being connected to significant others in what we do has important consequences in elite sport.
This qualitative research was conducted with 22 athletes and coaches (17 athletes and five coaches) who were all members of the 2008 Australian Olympic Team for rowing. This exploratory research was conducted through the design of a semi-structured interview. Each interview was transcribed and analysed into meaning units through the process of triangular consensus.
The interactions and relationships between athletes and significant others in this study were important elements on motivation and identity, that may have had performance implications. Specifically, the findings suggested that the quality of the coach-athlete relationship was a key driver of athlete motivation and subsequent performance. Support existed for the centrality of the coach in the quality of athletes’ sporting experiences. This may be specific to the context of the Olympic Games, in which the coach and athlete are bound by performance. This supports Mageau and Vallerand (2003) who proposed that coaches’ behaviours can influence athletes’ motivation and subsequent performance through their effect on perceptions of autonomy, competence, and relatedness.
There were examples of athletes identifying and recognising the skills and abilities in their crew mates, and trying to create an environment for their crew mates to excel in. Sharing common tasks and communicating effectively were examples of strengthening relatedness between athletes. In 12 of the 14 Olympic boat categories for rowing contain more than one athlete. This highlights the importance of the interpersonal component and the need to consider the many relationships that exist. Strengthening relatedness in each crew can possibly influence performance.
In this population, athletes can be training in many different locations, so there is a risk of being deprived of the necessary contact to strengthen relatedness. Athletes can experience times of hardship including injury which may further threaten their sense of belonging to the crew. Evidence supported the importance of athletes maintaining regular contact with each other to reduce the risk of deprivation, and even promote a far stronger feeling of relatedness to athletes experiencing difficult times.
There was strong evidence to support Vallerand’s (1997) Hierarchical Model of Intrinsic and Extrinsic Motivation (HMIEM), to the extent that the influence of the coach may have contributed to personality development of the athletes at a global level. This broader personality development can help these athletes build skills in promoting a sense of relatedness in others across a range of domains. The different types and levels of generality within the HMIEM assist coaches in designing optimal environments to satisfy the need for relatedness, as well as autonomy and competence.