Basic Psychological Needs of Athletes

An athlete’s performance is broken down into three domains: Physical, Tactical, and Mental. In addition to taking care of all three aspects of the game, a coach should be aware of the basic psychological needs athletes must have fulfilled to be functional. These psychological needs, like many other topics we discuss here, can translate outside of sports to all professions. If the coach is the “manager,” and his players are his “employees,” then this can hold true for any company or business.

The three basic psychological needs athletes need to have met to function are: Autonomy, Competence, and Connection.

Autonomy - Players should feel a freedom of choice. Their actions and sacrifices should be because they want to, not because they have to. A player’s autonomy can be strengthened by asking them their thoughts on the game plan and their opinion on how to prepare. While watching film, let them analyze what they see, and then provide feedback when necessary. Give them the tools to get better, rather than overbearing and trying to force improvement. Players who feel that they are involved in the game plan, have a say in their schedule, and are internally motivated are more likely to perform.

Competence - The second psychological need, competence, is a two-way street. Players must strive for improvement and want to develop their skills, and coaches should provide helpful feedback in a safe environment for their athletes to reach their potential. If a player feels competent, or that their skills are good enough to succeed, they will have the confidence necessary to perform. Coaches can foster confidence by helping their athletes improve their skills as well as providing positive encouragement

Connection - Players want to feel part of a team that cares about them, believes in them, and to feel that others rely on them. One of the most important jobs as a coach is being creative about ways to develop these relationships between teammates and to create an environment that is accepting and inviting. The most successful teams don’t have cliques or groups within the team. They are teams that handle issues between players and coaches quickly and internally. When players feel connected to their teammates, they don’t want to let them down. Therefore, accountability, punctuality, and effort are by-products of a “close” team.

Basic Human Needs for Survival: Food, water, Shelter.

Basic Human Needs for Performance: Autonomy, Competence, Connection.