The Power of Intrinsic Motivation for Coaches

Coaches play a crucial role in helping their clients achieve success and happiness in their personal and professional lives. However, something that professional coaches learn during their training is that traditional methods of motivation—such as “rewards” and “punishments”—may not be the most effective way to achieve this goal.

Instead, a growing body of research suggests that focusing on intrinsic motivators can ultimately lead to greater satisfaction and lasting results. This article aims to provide coaches with insights and practical tips on understanding and fostering intrinsic motivation in their clients.

The Science of Motivation

Motivation can be broadly classified into two categories: extrinsic and intrinsic.

  • Extrinsic motivation refers to the pursuit of external rewards or the avoidance of punishment.
  • Intrinsic motivation is driven by an individual’s personal interest, passion, or satisfaction in completing a task.

Research has consistently shown that intrinsic motivation leads to higher levels of engagement, creativity, and overall well-being.

In the late 20th century, psychologists Edward Deci and Richard Ryan developed the Self-Determination Theory (SDT), which has become a cornerstone in understanding motivation. According to SDT, intrinsic motivation flourishes when three basic psychological needs are met: autonomy, competence, and relatedness.

  • Autonomy refers to a person’s ability to make their own choices and feel in control of their actions.
  • Competence is the belief that one has the skills and abilities to accomplish a task.
  • Relatedness refers to the feeling of being connected to others and belonging to a community.

Applying Intrinsic Motivation in Your Coaching Practice

  1. Foster autonomy: To help clients develop a sense of autonomy, coaches should avoid using controlling language and instead, encourage clients to set their own goals and make their own decisions. This can be achieved by asking open-ended questions and providing options instead of giving directives. Additionally, coaches should respect their clients’ choices, even if they do not necessarily agree with them.
  2. Build competence: Coaches can help their clients develop competence by providing constructive feedback and helping them set realistic goals. By breaking down larger goals into smaller, achievable steps, clients are more likely to feel a sense of accomplishment and mastery. Additionally, coaches should celebrate their clients’ progress and highlight their achievements to help build their confidence.
  3. Cultivate relatedness: Building strong relationships with clients is essential for fostering intrinsic motivation. Coaches should show empathy, active listening, and genuine interest in their clients’ lives. By learning to create a supportive and collaborative environment, coaches in training can help clients feel valued and connected, which can ultimately lead to greater motivation and happiness.

Final Thoughts

In coaching as well as in life, the traditional reward-and-punishment approach to motivation has its limitations, and may not lead us to long-lasting success or happiness. By shifting the focus to intrinsic motivation, coaches can unlock the true potential of their clients—and help them achieve greater satisfaction in their lives.

As a coach (or a prospective student who wishes to become a coach) it is essential to stay informed of the latest research and best practices in the field of motivation. By embracing intrinsic motivation as a powerful tool, coaches can better support their clients on their journey towards success and happiness.