A New Approach to Sports Psychology
Written by: Steven Reiss
Peter Boltersdorf, a and business consultant in Germany, applied the 16 human needs to competitive athletics. Peter’s first consult was with the minor league professional soccer in Mainz, which was struggling in mid-season, largely because of poor performance from a star player. Peter determined that the player had a “high need for acceptance” and further noticed that the Mainz coach constantly berated the player during games, yelling, “Kick it right! Kick it right!”
Since a player with a high need for acceptance will only be discouraged by criticism, Peter advised the coach not to yell at the player while a game was in progress. Instead, the coach should provide calm, constructive criticism after the game. The player’s performance improved dramatically and the team went on to win a division title and move up to a higher league.
When Peter told me of his consult, I gained new insights into how to apply the 16 human needs to sports. By relating each of the human needs to specific athletic tendencies, I could see that a player with a low need for honor, for example, might have a tendency to commit penalties. A player with a high need for status might perform best against a high status opponent.
In total, I deduced scores of sports-specific implications from my knowledge of the 16 needs. I later evaluated the needs of each player on an NCAA Division I baseball team, NCAA Division I golf team, and a soccer and a tennis team playing in NCAA Division III. The results showed dramatic differences in what motivated the various teams. The Division I players were primarily motivated by competition and achievement, whereas the Division III players – i.e., those from smaller schools – were primarily motivated by social experiences. In other words, Division I athletes wanted to win, but those playing in Division III wanted to make friends.