How to Achieve Team Cohesion through Competition in Sport: An Organizational Model

Submitted by Jay K. Smith1*

1* Battalion Executive Officer, 3-13 IN BN, 193rd IN BDE, Fort Jackson, South Carolina


The purpose of this paper is to conceptualize a practical method for coaches of any sport team to improve team performance and cohesion through inter-squad competition and intra-squad cooperation.  While the concept of intra-team competition to improve cohesion and team performance is not new, this paper describes a practical, task driven approach for coaches to use.  For purposes of clarity, American football is the example used to describe this approach.  Although, this task driven competition format can be applied to other sports teams, American football has more distinctive task oriented positions than other sports, thus providing simplicity.  Also, football teams use the most formal off-season competitive scrimmage strategies in which the first team offense and first team defense play each other in order for the coaching staff to assess players and test game schemes.  This widespread tactic is useful for coaches, but it can be argued this creates division with the rest of the team.  In-fighting among the individuals in each squad (i.e. wide receivers, offensive line, etc…) can prevail, and a counter-productive attitude may develop that breaks any cohesive advantage gained as players begin to focus on the amount of playing time they get in relation to their teammates.  However, if coaching staffs adopt a task oriented system in which the squad coaches encourage group success and teamwork, and the coordinator level harnesses the competitive spirit, players will be more likely to encourage each other to become better.  Pre-season scrimmages should not be scored in a traditional, regular season-like format.  Instead, scrimmages should be scored by accumulating points for successful plays executed by any player from a specific squad against any opposing squad with naturally opposing tasks.  This means receivers would be competing two levels up at the Coordinator level, and not among themselves.  Building off past research, this should also diffuse anxiety levels of players since each cohesive group will be focused on building up the less talented players, instead of trying to dominate them for increased playing time.

Keywords: competition, cooperation, group dynamics, motivation, team cohesion Continue reading

Amateur Soccer Players and the Phenomenon of Motivation

Submitted by Papanikolaou Zissis and Dr. Asterios Patsiaouras

The relationship between various types of psychological and social motivation in amateur soccer players was examined in this paper.Twenty eight males and 14females who participated in this study regularly engaged in soccer. The amateur soccer players ranged in experience from beginning to advanced soccer, with the majority self-reporting at an intermediate level. Subjects were given Butt’s Short Scales for the Measurement of Sport Motivation. Males and females soccer players scored similarly on the aggression scale. Female amateur soccer players scored significantly higher on the conflict scale than did male soccer players. Identical means were found for males and females on the competence scale. There were no differences found between males and females on the motivational scales for competition and cooperation. Due to the small number of subjects who have participated, general conclusions can only be made with great caution.


Interest in the sport of soccer has greatly increased in recent years, bringing men and women into fields. According to FIFA survey of 2007 (41), 265 million male and female players in addition to 5 million referees and officials make a grand total of 270 million people or 4% of the world’s population-who are actively involved in the game of soccer. Among the most pleasing signs is the continuing growth of the women’s game. The number of men and women playing soccer is expanding the world over. One especially important statistic that can be drawn from the number of registered players is the proportion made up by youngsters, who constitute 54.7% of all registered male players and as many as 69.6% of the women. The greater number of young players in the women’s game is a reflection of the impressive growth in women’s football, which has also resulted in a significant increase in the number of registered amateur players (up 130% compared to 16% in the men’s game). These figures dearly indicate that FIFA and its associations are on the right track to increasing the popularity of soccer even further in the future.

Understanding and enhancing motivation has long been a major concern in sport. Without motivation athletes would not desire to excel in their sport, coaches would no longer strive to unify the team, and a player’s drive to set and reach goals would end. Roberts (28) defines motivation as “those personality factors, social variables, and/or cognitions that come into play when a person undertakes a task at which he/she is evaluated, enters into competition with others, or attempts to attain some standard of excellence”. (p. 5).

The biggest and most common reason that affects soccer performance is soccer motivation or lack of it. Without motivation all soccer players will crumble under the various pressures and problems soccer manages to throw up. Generally, speaking motivation is guided by the hope of success and the fear of failure. When you lack the self-belief and confidence, there is a good chance you also lack motivation.

Motivation is an internal energy force that determinates all aspects of our behavior, it also impacts on how we think, feel and interact with others. In sport, high motivation is widely accepted as an essential prerequisite in getting athletes to fulfill their potential. However, given its inherently abstract nature, it is a force that is often difficult to explain fully. Some coaches, appear to have a “magic touch” being able to get a great deal more out of a team than the sum of its individual parts; others find motivation to be an elusive concept they are forever struggling to master. Motivation is a dynamic and multifaceted phenomenon that can be manipulated, to some degree at least in the pursuit of superior sporting performance.

Some theories and models of motivation were examined, as they relate to sport. The study of motivation is the investigation of the energization and direction of behavior (28). Early theories of motivation (Mechanistic theories) viewed humans as being passive and driven by psychological drives. More recently, however, cognitive approaches have been developed to explain behaviour from the beliefs or thoughts that people have. The following are some major approaches to motivation, followed by the theory that is the basis of this paper.

Roberts (28) suggests that the search for the “right” theory of motivation is not yet within our grasp; however many excellent efforts are available. Need Achievement Theory, introduced by Murray (25) and further developed by McClelland and Atkinson (24), suggests two motive states that elicit action: (a) the motive to achieve success, and (b) the motive to avoid failure. This theory reflects the philosophy of our Western society, which places value on gaining rewards, high achievement, and moving forward and improving our position within society (5). Research in sport with Need Achievement Theory has been inconclusive.

In recent years, the cognitive approach has been the dominant paradigm in understanding motivation. This refers to how cognitions or thoughts govern behavior. Within this approach is Attribution Theory, which is concerned with the methods and attributes that an individual uses in attempting to account for the causes of behavior (36,37,38). The way in which one attributes the cause of an outcome will affect the expectation of future successes and failures. The expectation of future outcomes will affect the striving for achievement (28). Although this theory has focused upon why people expect to succeed, it neglects to explain why people want to succeed.

More recently, Social Cognitive Approaches have incorporated affect, expectations, and values in order to explain motivated behaviors (28). Bandura’s (2) theory of Self-Efficacy refers to the assessment of one’s own capability in performing at a given level. This theory suggests that the self-perception of the performer determines motivations and aspirations and not the actual ability of the performer. Research within the sport setting indicates self-efficacy to be a modest predictor of sport performance (11, 12, 23), although many others factors may contribute to behavioral change (3,12).

The perception of one’s competence may also determine behaviors in sport. Harter (17) developed a model of perceived competence which suggested that perceived competence and intrinsic pleasure gained from success will increase achievement striving, while perceived incompetence and displeasure may lead to anxiety and a decrease in achievement striving. Much of the research with Harter’s model has been performed with children with favourable results; however, children have notoriously been inaccurate in estimating their comparative ability (13, 26, 29,32).

A model developed by Butt (4) focuses on the motivational components specific to sport and is the basis of this study. Butt indicates that motivation in sport evolves on four levels: (a) the biological, (b) the psychological, (c) the social, and (d) the reinforcement level. The first and the fourth levels provide two major sources, or influences of sports motivation: (a) a biological energy or life force, and (b) a set of learned reinforcements. These reinforcements may be extrinsic (i.e., overt rewards) or intrinsic (i.e., feelings of well-being and personal growth). The psychological and social levels contain the five constructs that will be examined in this paper. Aggression, conflict, and competence are the three styles of sport motivation contained within the psychological level, and the other two constructs of competition and cooperation contains the level of social motivation.

The aggressive athlete appears to have a great deal of energy, and thus seems to be eager, active, and impulsive. If frustrated, the aggressive athlete may verbally or physically attack others. This involves feelings of power, vivacity, anger, and strength, and often lacks self- control. He or she may also be quick to find fault in others (5).

The conflict-ridden athlete often complains and makes excuses. This athlete may be unhappy, and is usually slow to fulfil his or her goals. Life energy is channeled into opposing purposes and pursuits, such as the desire to express impulse versus quilt for the expression of impulse. Energy is used to mediate the struggle between opposing purposes. Conflict can result in self-destructiveness, self-absorption, blaming others, complaints, worries, depression and inactivity, weeping, and other nervous symptoms (5).

The competence – oriented athlete usually displays more maturity and self–insight than the others. This athlete seeks new challenges and displays confidence in his or her sport. Life energy is channeled into interacting effectively and purposefully with the environment. The individual expects to have the effect on the environment that he or she desires to have and the expectations are realistic. Joy, pleasure, elation, and self-esteem accompany activity and interaction with the environment. Setbacks and failures are accepted as a realistic part of development from which new learning and new development may evolve(5).

The level of social motivation contains the constructs of competition and cooperation. The motivation of a competitively oriented athlete is derived primarily from the desire to defeat others. A contest or competitive sporting event is seen as a chance to dominate others and display assertiveness. The competitively motivated athlete also places importance on status and position, which may lead to frustration and resentment if such goals are not achieved (4).The individual wants to defeat others, to be number one, to have rivals, and sees the environment as an adversary over which one must triumph (5).

The cooperative athlete sees others as partners in the sporting event or contest. The contest is seen as an opportunity for personal growth and skill development. The cooperative athlete is usually good-natured and shows concern for his or her competitors while striving for personal excellence (4). The major social motive in a contest is derived from participating with others, from feeling part of the group, team or club. The individual desires to raise the performance of all as a group experience, cares for others, empathizes, and congratulates others. The perception of the environment is that of supportive and interdependent with the self (5).

One of the most popular and widely tested approaches to motivation in sport and other achievement domains is self-determination theory, that examines the effect of the social context on motivation and individual behaviors (9,10, 30). This theory is based on a number of motives or regulations, which vary in terms of the degree of self-determination they reflect. Self-determination has to do with the degree to which your behaviors are chosen and self-initiated. The behavioral regulations can be placed on a self-determination continuum. From the least to the most self-determined they are amotivation, external regulation, introjected regulation, identified regulation, integrated regulation and intrinsic motivation.

According to Hungarian psychologist MihalyiCsikszentmihalyi (7,8), the highest level of intrinsic motivation is flow state. Flow is characterized by complete immersion in an activity to the degree that nothing else matters. Central to the attainment of flow is a situation in which there is a perfect match between the perceived demands of an activity and an athletes’ perceived ability or skills. During flow, self-consciousness is last and athletes become one with the activity.
Motivation has been studied in many sports such as figure skating (31); rugby (19); and gymnastics (39). There is a lack of research, however, on the motivation of soccer. Research is necessary in this sport due to the favor of its participants and increasing popularity and participation by men and women of all ages. Therefore, this literature review is limited to test data from other types of athletes, and other psychological studies involving male and female soccer players.
Gender differences investigated in this study pertained to differences in motivation. Investigating the motivations of competitive and amateur soccer players is a necessary step in understanding this complex and popular sport. The diversity among the many theories and models of motivation reminds us of the vast number of possibilities as to why we behave the way we do in sport. Measuring a construct such as motivation in sport is a difficult task due to the endless, number of variables in an athlete’s personality. However, human nature dictates that similarities do exist among our personalities which, if measured, help us to predict our behavior.

The purpose at this study was to examine the relationship between various types of psychological and social motivation in soccer and to compare motivation between male and female amateur soccer players. For the purpose of this paper, motivation was operationally defined as the score on the Sport Motivation Scale.The hypothesis of this study was: There will be no difference on any of motivational scales between male and female soccer players (aggression, conflict, competence, competition and cooperation).

Research Design
The research design employed was a descriptive study. Amateur soccer players who played in the area of Philadelphia, USA, were asked to complete Butt’s (4) short scales for the Measurement of Sport Motivation. Forty-two adult male and female amateur soccer players completed and returned the questionnaires.

Participants were 42 adult (age 18 years or over) soccer players, males (n=28) and females (n=14), who regularly engaged in soccer (worked out at least two days per week). The male subjects ranged in the age from 18 to 38 years (M=28.7±4.50), and the females ranged in age from 20 to 35 years (M=28±3.80). Subjects were members of two amateur soccer teams chosen by the first researcher.

Measuring Instrument
Subjects completed Butt’s (4) short scales for the Measurement of Sport Motivations questionnaire. The survey was developed to measure motivation specifically in the sport context. The scales measured the motivational components of aggression, conflict, competence, competition and cooperation. These constructs were measured by 10 items on each scale. Internal consistency measures ranged from .69 (aggression) to .74 (competition). Test-retest reliability ranged from .50 (competence) to .80 (conflict) across a two-week interval. A total of 52 questionnaires were distributed (26 at each team) with 42 being returned for a return rate of 80.8%. Four weeks allowed for returning the questionnaire. No questionnaires were received after that time.

Data analysis
Descriptive statistics were calculated for the Sport Motivation Scales. A one-way analysis of variance (ANOVA) was computed to determine differences between genders. Correlation coefficients were also computed to investigate the relationships among the five components of motivation.

A one-way ANOVA was performed to compose gender with five components of motivation: (a) aggression, (b) conflict, (c) competence, (d) competition, and (e) cooperation. The overall scores are listed in Table 1. Table 2 indicates the mean values for this study and previously studied athletes from other areas of sport who were given the Sport Motivation Scales. Realizing the dangers of visual comparison of means, it appears that subjects in this study were responding differently from the other groups, especially in competence and cooperation. At the very least, the data suggest that further study in this area would be of interest.

Table 1.Motivational Component Scores for the Soccer Players by Gender.

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Table 2. Mean Values for the Sport Motivation Scales for Various Athletes

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With respect to male and female soccer players, females scored significantly higher on the conflict scale (M=3.14) than the males (M=1.71) (F=5.40). The other four motivational components were not found to be significantly different between males and females. Results are provided in Table 3.
Interestingly, there were identical means for both males and females on the competence scale (M=7.29).

Table 3.Results of ANOVA for Gender and the Five Motivational Components

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In an attempt to test Butt’s (4) theory, correlation coefficients were computed to investigate the relationships among the five motivational components (see Table 4). As predicted by Butt’s theory, the psychological component of competence was significantly correlated with the social component of cooperation (r=.66). Further support for her theory was a significant correlation of the psychological component of aggression with the social component of competition (r=.51). However, aggression was also correlated with competence (r=.46) and cooperation (r=.38), which were not consistent with Butt’s theory that there would be no correlation between their components.

Table 4. Correlation Coefficients Comparing the Five Motivational Components and Amateur Soccer Players

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The results indicated differences between males and females on the conflict scale, and similarities among males and females on the aggression, competence, competition, and cooperation scales.

The information gained from this study suggested more similarities than differences between male and female amateur soccer players. Due to the limited number of subjects in this study, interpreting the data for these groups was difficult, and general conclusions should be made with great caution.

Males and females scored similarly on the aggression scale. Very often society sees men as the more aggressive sex, making this similarity difficult to explain. Klein (20) suggests that women athletes may feel an increase in control over their bodies, the aging process, and other aspects that may lead to feelings of empowerment. Their feelings of empowerment by the women may have been presented on this questionnaire in the aggression scale. Some of the responses in the aggression scale included the words “powerful”, “excited”, and “full of energy”. These are all words that could suggest feelings of empowerment.

Female soccer players scored significantly higher on the conflict scale than did male soccer players. One explanation for the women’s higher scores on the conflict scale may be due to the stereotype and/or belief that muscular women do not look feminine. Klein (20) suggests that gender role conflict can occur in female athletes when women desire to build athletic body (muscle mass), but also want to remain attractive to men.

Another explanation for the higher conflict score for the women concerns the questionnaire itself. The 10 responses on the questionnaire that measured conflict contained certain words or phrases that may have been stereotypically attributed to women more than men. For instance, Item 6 reads, “moody for no real reason”, and Item 12 states, “guilty for not doing better”’. Words such as “moody” and “guilty” have been thoughtby many to pertain to women’s feelings more than men (34), possibly making it less likely for a male to answer “yes” to questions such as these.

Identical means were found for males and females on the competence scale. Both sexes scored high on this scale with the greatest number of “yes” responses than with any other scale on the questionnaire. This may be due, in part, to the ease of “taking good” on this scale. Some of the items on the competence scale include “trustworthy”, “improving yourself” and “happier than ever”, making it more likely for the participants to answer “yes” to these items if they wanted to appear in a positive manner.

According to Butt’s (4) theory a tendency of one of the psychological components of motivation would predict dominance in one of the social components of motivation of either competition or cooperation. Since there were no significant differences between males and females in the competition or cooperation scales, one cannot predict dominance at any social components of motivation with the subjects in this study. Although female amateur soccer players were significantly higher on the conflict scale, they were not higher on the competition scale, as predicted by Butt’s theory that a higher conflict score will likely result in a higher competition score.

A study examining the relationship between athletes’ goal orientations and their levels of intrinsic and extrinsic motivation indicated that British Collegiate athletes with task-related or personal mastery goals were far more likely to report high self-determination than athletes with ego-orientated or social comparision-type goals (27).

A recent study showed that during competition deemed to be important, intrinsically motivated athletes developed task-oriented (positive) coping strategies (1).Gϋrbϋzet al. (16) indicated that male soccer players rated improvement and 21,4% of the players rated the “team spirit” as their participation motive.
Results of Gillet andRosnet (15) revealed that male athletes perceived themselves as being more competent than female athletes, but female athletes exhibited a higher self-determinated profile. This is not surprising given male athletes typically display higher self-confidence than female athletes (21, 33, 35). One explanation suggested for gender differences in perceived competence may be that males are boastful and think they will do better than they do (22). Also their results showed that male athletes exhibited more external regulation and less intrinsic motivation than female athletes. In other words, females appeared to take part in sport activities for the pleasure derived from the activity itself more than for extrinsic motives. These results were in line with past studies in the sport context (6, 14) and confirmed that gender differences should be taken into consideration in the sport domain. However, contrary to a study conducted by Hollembeak and Amorose’s (18) their findings did not confirm that females reported higher scores on perceived autonomy and perceived relatedness than males. They proposed that future investigations should continue to explore gender differences in basic need satisfaction in order to gain a better understanding of the motivational processes underpinning sport participation.

When interpreting the results of this study, it is important to consider the need for a possible revalidation of Butt’s (4) Short Scales for the Measurement of Sport Motivation. Some items may need to be reworded or omitted to ensure equal interpretation by males and females, as well as subjects of various racial groups and socioeconomic statuses. Ideally, this inventory would have the ability to be valid considering the changing attitudes in society so it can be utilized in the future.

Overall, this information will be useful to those involved in the sport of soccer. Since female soccer players scored significantly higher than male soccer players on the conflict scale, soccer coaches may need to become more sensitive to issues of female soccer players, and provide a supportive atmosphere to beginning female players.

The present research was on attempt to broaden our understanding of soccer players’ motivation. When comparing gender with motivation, female soccer players scored significantly higher on the conflict scale than did male amateur soccer players. No differences were found on the scales of aggression, competence, competition, or cooperation.

In conclusion, investigating the motivation of amateur male and female soccer players is a necessary step in understanding this complex and popular sport. Measuring a construct such as motivation in sport is a difficult task due to the endless number of variables in an athlete’s personality. However, human nature dictates that similarities do exist among our personalities, which, if measured, can help us to predict our behavior.

Future studies would be enhanced by administering the Short Scales for the Measurement of Sport Motivations (4) to professional, semi-professional, college, high schools competitive male and female soccer players. Generalizations may be easier to make for strictly competitive subjects due to their similar goals and soccer lifestyle. Administer the questionnaire to the same subjects over a period of time. Subjects could be tested over several months or years to investigate any changes in motivational styles. Other methods of studying soccer players should be utilized to investigate their motivational components. In-depth interviews and field studies could provide information not easily gained via questionnaire.

The results of this study provide useful informationto those who are involved in the sport of soccer (coaches, educators, participants etc.). Since female soccer players scored significantly higher than male soccer players on the conflict scale, soccer coaches should be more sensitive to issues of female soccer players, trying to offer a supportive atmosphere for the amateur female players. This will be beneficial for the motivation of the players, not only for the females but also for themales.

I would like to express my gratitude to all soccer players who made this research possible with their willingness to participate.

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