Sports and Exercise

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Overview: Self-Determination in Sports and Exercise

Few contexts illustrate and embody motivation as acutely as those of sport and exercise. Whether one considers an Olympian engaging with their training regime across many years or an exerciser jogging on a treadmill for an hour, motivation is at the heart of their endeavors. In tracing the history of SDT research, it is clear that sport and exercise contexts have provided fertile settings for testing key basic theoretical tenets as well as the applied utility of the psychological framework. From the origins of focusing on how social inputs such as competition, feedback, and rewards sustain or undermine intrinsic motivation through to testing the broad motivational phenomena within and across the current six SDT mini-theories, empirical work within sport and exercise has been rife.

The burgeoning body of research in sport and exercise settings, now spanning more than 40 years, has focused on key issues such as how different goals, distinct motives, and varying social contexts differentially predict key outcomes such as performance, sustained engagement, psychological well-being, and learning. In doing so, this research has also highlighted how complex it is to understand motivation within sport and exercise. Such complexity necessitates a broad and coherent psychological approach such as that advanced within SDT. Not only is this crucial for coherently developing, assimilating, and testing connected theoretical assumptions, but also for yielding evidenced-based applications to support practitioners and policy makers.

Reviews of the expansive SDT literature within sport and exercise settings are provided within the ‘Featured/Suggested’ readings below. Additionally, the findings of an impressive body of empirical work can be found on our “Research page on this topic.

Suggested Readings & Research


Intrinsic motivation and self-determination in exercise and sport

Hagger, M. S. Chatzisarantis, N. L.


Advances in motivation in sport and exercise

Standage, M. Ryan, R. M.


Self-determination theory: Basic psychological needs in motivation, development, and wellness

Ryan, R. M. Deci, E. L.

(2019) Advances in Sport and Exercise Psychology

Self-determination-based theories of sport, exercise, and physical activity motivation

Standage, M. Curran, T. Rouse, P.C.


Advances in motivation in sport and exercise

Ntoumanis, N. ,

(2021) Essentials of exercise and sport psychology: An open access textbook

Promoting Self-Determined Motivation for Physical Activity: From Theory to Intervention Work

Quested, E. Kritz, M. Hancox, J. E. Ntoumanis, N. Thogersen-Ntoumani, C.

(2021) International Journal of Behavioral Nutrition and Physical Activity

Improving children’s fundamental movement skills through a family-based physical activity program: results from the “Active 1 + FUN” randomized controlled trial

Ha, A. S. Lonsdale, C. Lubans, D. R. Ng, F. F. Ng, J. Y. Y.

(2021) BMC Medical Informatics and Decision Making

Development and feasibility of a mobile phone application designed to support physically inactive employees to increase walking

Nicholas, J. C. Ntoumanis, N. Smith, B. J. Quested, E. Stamatakis, E. Thogersen-Ntoumani, C.

(2018) Sports Medicine

The effect of a school-based intervention on physical activity and well-being: a non-randomised controlled trial with children of low socio-economic status

Shannon, S. Brennan, D. Hanna, D. Younger, A. Hassan, J. Breslin, G.

(2017) Child Care in Practice

Physical activity, well-being and needs satisfaction in eight and nine-year-old children from areas of socio-economic disadvantage

Breslin, G. Shannon, S. Fitzpatrick, B. Hanna, D. Belton, S. Brennan, D.

(2020) Children

Effects of a need-supportive motor skill intervention on children’s motor skill competence and physical activity