Transcending Sport

Sports Psychologist Dr. Inga Wolframm Explores Motivation

dr inga wolframm, sports psychologis
Dr Inga Wolframm

In this series on sports psychology Dr. Inga Wolframm examines motivation, how it’s defined, where and how sports people find it and what can get in the way of it

Transcending Sport is hosted by Chris Stafford

Podcast length: 27′ 29″

In this series of sports psychology that was first aired in 2014 on The Horse Show, Chris talks to sports psychologist, author and researcher Dr. Inga Wolfram about motivation.  She explains that ambition is a combination of autonomy and competence or an alternative theory of achievement striving. People need to do what they want to do so their actions need to be guided by themselves. Whatever your chosen sport if outside influences inhibit your time to train or compete you’re not going to be happy because the self concept you have of yourself is that you want to go and do what you choose when you want so if outside sources pressure you into doing things that are not congruent with your self concept you are not going to be happy, despite the best motivation.  It may be that you prioritize other responsibilities and relatedness is another intrinsic need of mankind as Inga explains how this relates to the care of other people. Guilt and obligation are other factors that step in the way of self motivation to train or compete.  Inga also addresses the influence of social media on social habits and explains why she feels we have gone somewhat overboard with wanted to be connected.

LISTEN to more episodes of Transcending Sport HERE

FULL TRANSCRIPT of this episode:

[00:00:10] Hello I’m Chris Stafford and thank you for downloading this episode of sports that was aired in 2014. It was part of the series that we ran on sports psychology with Dr. Inga Wolframm.

[00:00:38] Dr. Wolframm is both a writer and a researcher and an author of fiction and nonfiction books. This episode addresses motivation and whilst it was originally aimed at an equestrian audience it applies to all sports and all athletes.

Chris Stafford: [00:00:55] OK we get to talk about motivation because you know having that energy the motivation, the self determination, that’s what makes successful riders. But even if you don’t aim for the top at least for a satisfied rider.

Dr. Inga Wolframm: [00:01:09] That’s right Chris and it’s a fun theory and why I came across it.

[00:01:14] I kind of thought oh I really need to talk to Chris about this because well this is something that our riders might find interesting and sorry pardon the pun but there might get some motivation out of knowing what motivates them. Right.

[00:01:27] So so really the theory was developed by two professors. They called Deccie and Ryan and they are both at the Department of Clinical and social sciences and psychology and the University of Rochester and a good 40 years ago there started work on this particular theory called Self Determination theory and in sports psychology circles it’s known really as as well as one of the theories to explain human behavior in a broader in a broader context and framework. And really what was Self-Determination Theory does Ed tries to explain how environmental sources such as social or cultural factors such as the people around us and individual personality traits.

[00:02:18] So so there are things like how determined you are as an individual or whether your achievements striving you know the kind of stuff that we’ve spoken about in the past and how these two things come together to motivate an individual and really they’ve split their self-determination theory into three intrinsic really. So these two professors they argue that in order for a human being to be able to perform their personal best shall we call it so I’m not talking about Olympic level here I’m just saying so thought for an individual to be able to live and work and perform at their utmost. They have to fulfil these three intrinsic needs now and the first one of those is of course as it always is when I’m trying to list something all of a sudden I’ve completely forgotten what to say. But there you go. It’s coming back. So the very first one is called autonomy. The second is competence and the third is relatedness. So what I would like to do Chris let’s let’s chat about these three and um and am told the theory and you can tell me whether you think that applies. From a practical point of view how’s that.

[00:03:39] That sounds great and I like to do it systematically like that because you do have a theory that you put it into such a way that everybody can understand. But let me ask you this where does ambition fall in all of this. You know we all have ambition to a greater or lesser degree. Mark you say you don’t have to want to be an Olympic athlete. You just maybe want to have the satisfaction of riding at your personal best what ever that level. What ever the discipline. Where does his ambition come into this. I

[00:04:10] You’re jumping the gun crowd kids jumping the gun. Because if you like according to this particular theory I mean I think I need to make this very clear also to our listeners a lot of the time psychologists or any any scientist really we like theorists and a lot of the time people come up with very clever theories that in many ways are there are said semantics you know it’s just a sort of packaging an idea a slightly different calling something by a slightly different name.

[00:04:42] And Chris when you talk about ambition Well today I am a proponent proponent of self-determination theory. So I’ll say well actually ambition is a combination of autonomy and competence but but you know but probably lots of other researchers out there say no but ambition is something completely different.

[00:05:02] And it’s the five factor model of personality says its achievements driving etc.,etc.

[00:05:08] But let’s have a look at these three intrinsic needs and then we can decide afterwards whether we can define ambition within that. So sorry. So autonomy really is this idea that people need to do what they want to do so their actions need to be guided by themselves rather then by the sources around them so by external influences.

[00:05:35] So essentially an autonomous individual will fill that there. Their actions are their own and most importantly and this very neatly follows on from what we talked about last week namely this idea of self concept but that you know who you are. So if you want to be autonomous you also need to behave in a way that is congruent with your self concept. So say for example you you consider yourself a rider however you have such a busy job or such a busy family or there’s other reasons why you don’t get tried. Now you’re not going to be happy about this because the self concept that you have of yourself is that you want to go out and ride everyday or at least the real the day or whatever. However if external sources if the outside pressure rises you into doing things that are not congruent with yourself concept you are neither autonomous nor happy. So essentially so what would this very first element of the self termination theory talks about. Is that as individuals we want to be masters of our own destiny. We want to be in charge of our own actions and it happens so much these days that we seem to be pressurized into doing things because because others around us want us to do them.

[00:07:01] If we now look at top athletes and Chris please tell me in a manner whether it whether you know what your views on those but if we look at top athletes quite often they get the label of ego centric or selfish. A lot of a lot of people say yeah in order to get to the top you need to be slightly selfish. Now what I am proposing now is that it’s not actually that they are selfish but that especially top athletes are very good at acting autonomously that they look around themselves and they go on alright.

[00:07:34] I’m actually going to prioritize my own actions my own behaviour and will to try and do whatever it is that I feel I need to do that I want to do that is inline with the way I see myself and thus I become autonomous. But then of course sometimes means that you have to disappoint other people. You might have to disappoint. I do know a friend who was scarred for dinner but you really need to go and ride your horse. So that friend my turn and say Oh yeah but she’s selfish. While no Ashley you’re being autonomous because you’re doing would you prefer to do. Does it make sense.

[00:08:07] GROSS Absolutely. Or you could call it independent but it is having single minded determination that you see your growth or your ambition and you see the path to fulfilling it.

[00:08:19] That’s right and that is what they call autonomy.

[00:08:23] So so that’s one and I think because I always like to give our listeners something to take away with them and this this concept of autonomy as I said that that carries on very neatly from last week. If you feel so I’m now talking to the listeners not just you Chris but I guess it also applies to you and me. If you feel that you’re not fully. So if this resonates with you and if you sort of think yeah this is right I continue to keep doing things because other people want me to do them try and think what it is. For starters what do yourself concept. So how do you see yourself and what are the kind of actions that you need to undertake in order to being the person you want to be. And sometimes it can actually help to write them down on paper because then you have them down on black and white in black and white.

[00:09:09] Or you might just brainstorm with a good friend or with your partner sort of talking about okay what is it that I really want in order to become the person that I would like to be and then really try and you know make a contract with yourself that you saying okay for at least an hour every day I am going to do I’m going to be autonomous and I am going to not really ignore other people because we’ve got to get to that ignoring other people isn’t really the answer either but I’m not. Um but I’m going to follow my heart for at least an hour a day so that at least for that time I am the person that I want to be. I am autonomous and I think you’ll find that that will actually make you much happier because you’re soul filling an intrinsic need, something that is intrinsic to every human being and that is to be in charge to be a master of their own behaviour.

[00:10:06] Well it makes me think of Einstein wasn’t it him that said you have to be alone to really fulfil who you are.

[00:10:14] Quite possibly.

[00:10:15] But all I know was that I said I believe you if you say that and it does it really does ring true with me because then you’re not polled in 100 different directions at the same torrent. And I think because we live in a world where people continually want something from us it’s very it’s very easy to get sidetracked from what you really want.

[00:10:35] Yes you often hear people say when they’re married they have partners or families that their life is not their own. So we are going in exactly the opposite direction to someone who sees their ambitions sees the path to their success or potentially and knows that it has to be single minded and you have to as you say just set aside everything else that’s going on in your life not to ignore them but to prioritize because of your own ambition to rise.

[00:11:04] That’s right. And I mean obviously you know if you have a family if you have a job you know you can’t set it all to one side but what you can do is you can perhaps set set aside a couple of hours every day that are just yours because you know what it’s like you kind of get side tracked by lots different things.

[00:11:22] Laurel sons or the end of the day again. So indeed Chris as you say quite rightly it’s it’s a matter of prioritizing if you don’t have the time and money available to devote yourself entirely to your riding for example because considering that we’re talking mostly about riding it will be riding that I use as an example and of course this can apply to anything in life and I’ve had friends as I’m sure everybody has.

[00:11:48] When you see them get involved in a relationship get totally absorbed and I’ve used this and I’ve used this expression to work can remember one very dear friend when he got so involved in a new relationship and children and everything and he set aside his own career his own personal life goals and ambitions and everything and I used to say to him you’ve lost yourself yeah to yourself and this relationship you’ve where where is that and I won’t use his name because he knows who he is.

[00:12:21] Where have you were. Where were you when were you gone.

[00:12:25] And he completely sacrificed himself. That was his choice. That was his priority at the time but only now after time in that relationship which is still going strong as he found time to fulfill his own personal ambitions and become actually a very successful poet and well published poet and really fulfilling himself then but that was set aside for the longest time.

[00:12:54] You know it’s interesting because so let’s just skip competence for a minute and talk about relatedness because I think Chris the example that you’ve just given even now that your friend might have set aside autonomy for a little while what he did also do with that particular relationship as he fulfilled another intrinsic need of mankind. And that is called relatedness so it’s actually it’s a beautiful example and just to our listeners we didn’t plan this. So this is develop naturally once again so. Chris excellent bleed into the intro into the second mentions Ignes and there is relatedness and relatedness is all about how. It is all about our desire to connect and engage with care for and experience the caring of other people because you know John Donnelly I think was it who said no man is violent and indeed I dont think he knew at the time.

[00:13:50] That this would actually turn into a saying that just about everybody knows because indeed human beings are social animals. We need each other. So you know so the example Chris that you were just telling us about is actually an excellent example of of the most fulfilling and introns ignored and I’m assuming that perhaps you’ll find didn’t have a relationship before you got got involved with that.

[00:14:17] He didn’t actually this that it ended that he had found someone that he wanted to devote his time to and set aside everything else.

[00:14:27] Yeah. And but you know because quite clearly you thought with this new partner that it was actually fulfilling perhaps a need that the other partner share because it wouldn’t have ended otherwise couldn’t couldn’t fulfil.

[00:14:40] So so and so it seemed this and this is partly why this concept of autonomy of trying to be ourselves and following our own path sometimes seems to clash with this idea that we also want to be there for the people. The problem is I think that a lot of people confuse relatedness with with just saying yes for the sake of it for the sake of being loved and loss and thus setting aside darksome their own goals in edge of trying to be related to some but trying to trying to relate to other people even though they’re not even prepared to give them the need that they want.

[00:15:23] Let me throw two other ideas in here for you. And I hope I haven’t lost them there but I have to look at them for the murmured Rose thinking about them. Oh yes. Gilbert is one thing an obligation is the other.

[00:15:39] Yeah yeah yeah yeah yeah sure. And you know because relatedness I think feeling a strong connection with somebody that’s one thing and that’s what we all want. You know we all want to have people that we love and lovers back quite often. The kind of relationships we engage with are based on indeed guilt where we sort of feel you really should because that’s the done thing in inverted commas. Or what. Because we simply have to because that’s you know we can’t let our colleagues down because us or what we get paid for. And so we get sidetracked for the sake of what we feel are sort of fake social networks and thus we sort of prioritize this over this idea of autonomy over this idea of acting independently.

[00:16:28] So so once again here my my my practical tip or my practical advice would be is is try and think okay we want to connect to other people. Relationships are important but to look very carefully whether the relationships that you are engaging in perhaps to the detriment of your autonomy whether they’re actually giving you what you want are they giving you the connection that you truly seek.

[00:16:56] And win out. Sorry I can’t avoid it because it’s kind of my favorite topic and that’s social media and in particular Facebook. I mean I am on Facebook and I really definitely think it has its benefits because you know it allows you to connect with people all over the world et cetera et cetera. But in many ways it’s become this this artificial idea of friendships in Ozo you befriend somebody even though well you hardly know them.

[00:17:23] mean I sort of accept pretty much every invitation quite simply because I share my work on Facebook.

[00:17:30] But there’s so many people seem to be out there that use social media as a as a means to desperately try and find relatedness and I dont think you can over the Internet. I think you need real life contact with a person to connect so much better to sort of take half an hour or an hour to meet up with a friend sit down and chat rather than spend three hours on Facebook while you could have spent the other two hours following your own desires.

[00:18:00] Some expense yes but you know having real life interaction as opposed to the virtual interaction. But I think that’s a whole bigger topic is in any way I know it’s important to touch on it because it comes back to relatedness and I think that’s again it’s something that detracts detracts from your purpose because it is distracting in itself. And I’m always amazed when I go on Facebook and find that in the middle of competition or before a class before the days competition I see riders on their posting comments who raise a living do you have something else to do. I’m thinking well shouldn’t your absolute focus be here and shouldn’t you be present. Yeah. And that’s you present with that competition with divorce and everybody is around you and not distracted by social media.

[00:19:00] Yeah very true. And I think I think there’s this is I think what some with some are gone slightly overboard with this with wanting to be corrected. But it’s a false connection. But anyway but taking it taking the positive angle to related matters and that is partly that and that is I think all of us want to be part of sport. Those of us that engage most but we also like to be involved because it connects connects us with like minded people.

[00:19:30] So it’s so this is another this is the positive element too to relatedness and to this intrinsic need we want to be part of a group and that and that is something that whole sport can give us. For starters it in many ways it it makes us relate to our horse you know performing with the horse especially when things are going well. It does feel that you’re connected and that is an intrinsic need but also we then also become part of the group you know it becomes fun to go to the yard because your friends are there and that’s also relatedness and that’s also an intrinsic need and once again getting back to perhaps the frustrated rider doesn’t get to ride as much. Well if you actually make time to go to the yard you won’t just be fulfilling one lead but you might even be fulfilling too because you’re going to interact with the people that you share a lot of things with.

[00:20:23] Absolutely. Very important. You know common interests obviously but there again you get you get drawn into that. And that in itself is motivating.

[00:20:36] Very true. And then really let’s let’s move on to the last element of these intrinsic needs and that of course is that of competence. I dont come as a surprise to you Chris or to any of our listeners that competence. So being good at something in being able to steer the environment around you feeling in control being good at something that is highly motivated.

[00:21:07] Am I partly what was also attractive to engaging in a certain sport you know because you start to learn you realise that you become better at it and it becomes a bit of a drug.

[00:21:17] You know you read every day you pack on because you sort of hope that today you’ll be just that little bit better than yesterday and that’s still extremely motivating this idea that you want to become better at what you’re doing that is intensely motivating and if we look at the top riders in this world you know if you read that autobiography is the one thing that keeps coming out of them is is that they want to learn that every single day they want to become better. That doesn’t mean that you have to compete at an international level.

[00:21:52] All it means is siab within your own parameter you want to get better and to be honest in many ways that relates back to all the goals setting talks that we’ve had Chris that you shouldn’t try and refer to yourself to the outside world but but try and assess your progress compared to how you were two days ago three weeks ago a year ago and that becomes intensely motivating because you feel that you become more competent as you go on can you relate to that.

[00:22:25] Oh absolutely yes. I mean confidence and competence they all come hand in hand. The more you do in the more positive outcomes from those the more confident and competent you become. It’s a self-fulfilling prophecy of that.

[00:22:41] Absolutely. And now that you talk about confidence you see that the better you become even though you know I mean we all know of course life is never straightforward.

[00:22:51] You know there there will always be peaks and troughs really you know there’s and yours will sudden decide to jump and fence and know slash its leg open and then you know and you’re back to square one.

[00:23:04] We all know this that’s part and that’s part of the levelling factor of requestion sports but still your competence your feeling of competence never goes away even though you might have had you might have to take two steps back for a while.

[00:23:19] You still become more competent and mum gives you confidence that you can tackle essentially all the bad bits that life throws at you Yeah and really in essence those clearing elements combined. So autonomy being able to choose your eye and pass become competent so that you actually know that you become better if you like the path you’ve chosen and related but you’re also taking ripping bore the correct way along on that journey with you. Well if you manage to fulfil all those three well that I am pretty certain you’ll feel very motivated and very fulfilled in many ways.

[00:24:05] Oh I’ve no doubt about it yes. But there are some good tools there to remember to keep a little mental list of all those elements to make you successful and reach your personal best whatever that level may be. So I think that’s great for this week but it’s not something else has come to mind. No I just talked about people being distracted trying to relate to other people they get distracted on social media and they may be at a competition. Now that brings me to something else I want to raise with you and maybe we could discuss this in another week and that’s about getting into the zone as they call it and not leaving it and not stepping out of it. Once you get into it now you know I’m a great tennis fan. I don’t know that right. Well when you think of how long they have to concentrate for it’s not four five six seven 10 minutes. You know that address those Ryder jumper eventer would have to they have to concentrate for the warm up period as well and then competition that is just tiny relative to the amount of time so a tennis player has to concentrate. It could be you know hours on court you know be at least even for a women’s you know to three sets it could be you know two or three hours. But you know if it’s a longer period and then for the men obviously can be much longer it can go up even to 12 hours. Can you imagine getting into the zone and staying in the zone for that period of time so can we talk about that another time you know and how it is not so well I can’t exactly say no now laughs now that railroad but you know what is the solution to this but I think some schools for our listeners would be helpful because it’s really matter what level youre at. Even as an amateur because maybe even more so as an amateur when you not doing it very regularly and you need some help just getting in there and staying in that zone and staying focused concentrate stay in the zone for as long as you need to. It sounds great Chris. Conversations from the world of sports.

[00:26:23] Well I hope you enjoyed this episode and we will be bringing you more in this series on sports psychology. If you have any questions or comments you can email us directly at On social media @wispsports; particularly on Facebook where you’ll find lots of Facebook Live episodes on our Face to Face show where you can also post your comments and any suggestions for guests there too. That’s WiSPsports on social media. Until the next time thank you for listening.

[00:26:54] Goodbye for now.






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