The motivational process in talent development in the arts and the sport



Place: NIH - Auditorium Innsikt

Formal title

Thriving, Striving, or Just Surviving? A Study of Motivational Processes among Elite Junior Performers from Sports and Performing Arts.


Reaching the top in sports and performing arts can be striving. For some elite junior performers, though, the perceived requests and stressors seem to be overwhelming, resulting in dropout, unfulfilled potential, and psychological ill-being. This distinct “dark side” of talent development is an understudied phenomenon. Hence, the purpose of this doctoral thesis was to contribute with deeper insight into the complexity of maladaptive motivational processes of elite junior performers from sports and performing. Guided by Self-Determination Theory (SDT; Ryan & Deci, 2017) the present doctoral thesis set out to examine the interplay between personal motivational mentality (who) and contextual conditions (where) in relation to malfunctioning and various debilitative motivational outcomes.

The present doctoral thesis was guided by two overall aims. First, we aimed to investigate the relationships between perceived talent development environments (TDEs) and elite junior performers’ maladaptive motivational processes and various performance outcomes. Second, we aimed to investigate personal motivational determinants and their relationships with maladaptive motivational processes and various performance outcomes in elite junior performers.


An overall sequential multiphase mixed-methods research design comprised a retrospective exploratory interview study (Paper I), a descriptive cross-sectional study (Paper II), a longitudinal cohort studies (Paper III), a prospective cohort study (Paper IV), and an explanatory interview study (Paper V).

The targeted population was Norwegian elite junior performers from sports and performing arts. Hence, the participants were purposefully selected for all studies. In the qualitative studies, successful established elite performers (N = 9, Paper I) and current elite junior performers facing adversity (N = 8, Paper V) were interviewed based on semi-structured interviews. Data were analyzed with a combination of thematic and narrative analysis. The quantitative studies recruited current elite junior performers from sports and the arts (N = 171, Paper II; N = 259, Paper III; N = 219, Paper IV) that filled out standardized questionnaires. Data were analyzed via structural equation modeling (SEM), and we performed conditional process modeling (Paper II), growth mixture modeling (Paper III), and latent profile analysis (Paper IV).


Findings (1) indicated that Norwegian talent development environments (TDEs) were exclusive, professionalized, and highly performance-oriented (Papers I and V). They played an important role in elite junior performers’ maladaptive motivational processes, contributing in both positive and negative ways (Papers I, II, and V). Even though they provided both autonomy-supportive and controlling conditions, controlling conditions were common across the domains and were mainly of an indirect nature based on conditional regards (Papers I and V). Controlling conditions moderated the indirect relationship between perfectionistic concerns (PC) and (a) controlled motivation and (b) performance anxiety via competence need frustration (Paper II). Competence turned out to be the core currency in the TDEs, affecting social status and future outlooks for the elite junior performers (Papers I and V).

Findings (2) showed that elite junior performers’ motivational mentality (i.e., externally driven forms of perfectionistic concerns and inauthenticity) are vulnerability dispositions increasing the risk of experiencing maladaptive motivational processes and debilitative motivational outcomes (Papers I–V). Moreover, basic needs frustration, and especially competence needs frustration, seemed to play a key role as an explaining mechanism in these maladaptive motivational processes (Papers II and III). Perfectionistic strivings (PS) did not function as a buffer in the maladaptive motivational processes (Papers I, IV, and V). However, autonomous functioning and low levels of inauthenticity seemed to instead play that buffering role (Papers I, IV, and V).

Findings (3) showed that the maladaptive motivational processes were an emergent in situ process of joints effects, where the sum and (mis)match of diverse personal, contextual, and situational motivational factors was like a balancing scale, influencing the elite junior performers’ overall experiences of striving, surviving, and thriving (Papers I and V). When negotiating the maladaptive motivational processes, the role of self-determined functioning played a key role in relation to elite junior performers’ coping, learning, and developing from adversity (Papers I and V). Conversely, the lack of autonomous functioning nurtured debilitative motivational outcomes of ill-being and decreased perceived performance development (Papers I–V). 

Conclusion: In summary, the overall findings from the present thesis highlight the complexity of becoming an elite junior performer. The SDT-based maladaptive motivational processes seemed to be unique, increasing the elite junior performers’ likelihood of experiencing malfunctioning, psychological ill-being, and performance setbacks. TDEs should be encouraged to facilitate autonomous functioning, and thus, better safeguard and aid elite junior performers in developing their full potential as both performers and human beings.

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