Understanding sport expertise through a motivational perspective

Elmer A. Castillo *, Jean-Charles Lebeau **, Seongkwan Cho ***, Camilo Sáenz-Moncaleano * and Graig M. Chow *

(*) Florida State University – Tallahassee, FL, USA
(**) Ball State University – Muncie, IN, USA
(***) Texas A&M International University – Laredo, TX, USA


A. Castillo, E., Lebeau, J., Cho, S., Sáenz-Moncaleano, C., M. Chow, G. (2018). Understanding sport expertise through a motivational perspective. International Journal of Sport Psychology, 49(5), 407-428. doi:10.7352/IJSP.2018.49.407


The present study investigated sport expertise development and maintenance through the framework of self-determination theory (SDT). In-depth semi-structured interviews were conducted with ten elite athletes who had represented their respective nations in major international events. Data were analyzed deductively according to the principles of SDT. Results indicated that sport expertise development and maintenance was facilitated by both autonomous motivation factors (e.g., becoming better and reaching full potential, love of sport) and controlled motivation factors (e.g., wanting to do their best for others, Olympic aspirations), as well as basic psychological needs support from various social agents. Support for SDT’s universality hypothesis was found as basic psychological needs support was determined to be an integral part of elite athletes’ development across various ages, sports, and cultures. Collectively, our findings indicate that a combination of motivation types and basic needs support is conducive to sport expertise, as elite athletes can draw on various sources to develop and sustain their high level of engagement and performance.

Keywords: Basic psychological needs, Expertise development, Expertise maintenance, Elite athletic performance, Sport motivation, Talent development