3 Proven Ways to Develop and Support Motivation

Courtesy of Pete Thompson

How do we move from wanting or desiring to reach a goal to taking action in order to get it? In other words, what are the best ways for us to motivate ourselves, or to motivate others?

Motivational Theorists (Deci & Ryan) have described motivation as falling on a continuum from external motivation (I must do it because I feel obligated…because someone is looking or judging…because it will make me look good) to internal motivation (I do it because it will help me reach my goals…because it is fun…because I really love this activity!). Clearly, internal motivation creates circumstances where accepting challenges is fun, and fulfilling, and places less emphasis on outcomes. It also leads to better performances! So, what leads us to cultivate this mindset and why aren’t we doing more of it!?

According to Deci and Ryan, there are three proven ways to develop and support our internal motivation.


The development of a supportive team climate that emphasizes cooperation and improvement.


A sense of autonomy – Participation because we choose it freely.


A sense of accomplishment/feelings of competence.

Coaches, parents, and individual athletes can all work towards the positive end of the motivational continuum by emphasizing individual and group support, supporting individual autonomy, and by providing challenges that reinforce feelings of competence. The development and establishment of these three criteria will lead to healthier, happier athletes, teams and families, and allow each swimmer to reach their true potential by validating their self-worth, and their strength of character.

You might try remembering a time when you were really focused on accomplishing a task, and were able to discover your best self. Now, see how you applied these three criteria to that endeavor…

  1. Did you feel supported by any teammates, coaches, parents, friends? How about from yourself?
  2. Did you accomplish this for someone else, or did you really, really want it?
  3. Were you challenged enough to have to realize your best self?

Now, moving forward, how can you create these same circumstances for what’s to come? Give it a shot, and please let me know how it goes!


Pete Thompson, headshotPete has worked in the sport psychology and human development fields with Fortune 500 companies, Division I,II, and III collegiate athletes, as well as high school and middle school staff and students. He was a swimming coach at the club, high school and collegiate level for 30 years. Pete now runs a private Sport Psychology and Adolescent Life Coaching practice, working with student-athletes nationwide. His life coaching sessions for adolescents are designed to create challenge, teach resilience, and instill self-esteem. For information regarding Pete’s Life coaching and sport psychology services click here.

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