Riding a bike, just like other sports, takes commitment and motivation. For many of us our bikes are a source of pleasure, a chance to escape the humdrum of the nine-to-five and keep the old ticker working a little better. But why do we do it? What motivates us to climb into the saddle week in, week out?
The study of the psychological factors affecting motivation continues to be a central concern for sport psychologists. When I work one to one with an athlete, getting an understanding of their sources of motivation, the reasons they are involved in the sport, is a key one in helping them raise their performance levels.
Underpinning the study of motivation are two concepts: extrinsic and intrinsic motivation. Extrinsic motivation is when a rider considers the reasons they ride to be determined by factors outside of themselves such as rewards or status. Intrinsic motivation on the other hand is when riders describe the inherent pleasure of riding to be the key reason they participate.
While extrinsic and intrinsic motivation give us some assistance in understanding and reflecting on our involvement in sport, they are very ‘black and white’. One of the most useful perspectives on this issue came from Deci and Ryan (1985)’s study, who looked at a continuum with intrinsic at one end and extrinsic at the other. Describing the stages along the path might be useful in helping you find your place on the extrinsic/intrinsic continuum.
• External regulation – the rider is solely involved because of the extrinsic rewards or to satisfy an external demand. Riders who only turn up in order to chase the prizes or to satisfy sponsors will not feel in control of the activity and ultimately this lack of self determination can lower motivation and lead to drop-out or lower performance levels.
• Introjected regulation – at this stage the rider is less motivated by the external rewards, and more so by the feeling inside that they have to ride a bike. Guilt from missing training can be a motivating force but again, in the longer term, a rider experiencing this type of motivation is unlikely to enjoy his riding.
• Identified regulation – while the rider at this stage might feel they are undertaking the sport on their terms, the ends rather than the means still primarily drive them. A really good example is the professional who sees riding a bike purely as a good way to secure his financial future, rather than as a pleasurable experience.
• Intrinsic motivation – at this stage the rider undertakes the sport purely for the pleasure they get out of it. As this pleasure is not dependent on any external factor such as receiving rewards or earning a living, these cyclists are the ones most likely to keep riding over the years.