Psychological and Motivational Techniques

by NSCA's Essentials of Tactical Strength and Conditioning
Kinetic Select October 2018


This book excerpt reviews the psychological principal of the self-determination theory (SDT) and its role in motivation and how this can be used in a tactical setting.

The following is an exclusive excerpt from the book NSCA's Essentials of Tactical Strength and Conditioning, published by Human Kinetics. All text and images provided by Human Kinetics.

Psychological and Motivational Techniques

Most tactical athletes share the common trait of wanting to serve and protect others, but not all have the same beliefs or motivations regarding their personal fitness or even the need for fitness at all to do their job. As practitioners in this field, we encounter the entire spectrum, from the highly fit and dedicated individuals whom we almost need to hold back, to the sedentary ones who require convincing to move at least a few times a week. Self-determination theory (SDT), developed by Deci and Ryan in 1985 (15), is a broad framework for the study of human motivation. SDT is a way of framing motivational studies, a formal theory that defines the roles of intrinsic and extrinsic motivation in behavior and performance. Conditions supporting the individual’s experience of autonomy, competence, and relatedness are said to lead to the highest levels of motivation and engagement for activities, including enhanced performance and persistence. To be sure, some people are intrinsically motivated; they gain pleasure simply from participating or performing. These people strongly believe that fitness is important, and they will exercise no matter what. On the other end, some people require some level of external motivation in order to adhere to a training program or attain optimal physical performance (17).

Deci and Ryan (15) refer to three types of regulation of extrinsic motivation: external, introjected, and identified. The first category is the person who is less likely to exercise or perform on a test unless there is some kind of pressure or reward unrelated to fitness, such as a financial reward.

For example, some organizations give money or financial credits for attaining a milestone on their annual fitness test. The second category will be motivated by a form of social recognition such as a T-shirt, pin, or medal stating their achievements on the fitness test. Military organizations around the world have used this type of reward in one form or another. Finally, the last category is people who require a valuable outcome from performing well on the fitness test—a reward that is directly related to the behavior. In a tactical population where fitness is valued, a good performance on the annual test may result in points toward a possible promotion, which is a reward that is highly valuable and related to the behavior.

In any case, for rewards to be effective, they must be achievable and meaningful to the targeted population (32, 54). If rewards benefit only an elite few, they will likely not produce the desired outcome. Some people simply will not push themselves to perform at their best because they are so far from the goal that their chances of achieving it are almost nonexistent. One way to motivate these individuals is to ensure that they are part of a group and that their individual performance, even if marginal, can positively influence the group’s overall performance. For example, in a fire hall, the various shifts could be placed in a competitive scenario where the best group average gets some extra leave or vacation time. In that case, even those who are least fit are motivated to do their best because they don’t want their performance to prevent their group from getting that leave time, and they will also benefit from the leave time themselves. This approach is based on the Köhler effect, where individuals work harder when included in a group than when working alone (30,31).

The Canadian Armed Forces (CAF) have designed an incentive program based on many of these principles. When CAF members take the FORCE evaluation, their performance is plotted on a graph that compares them with their age and gender counterparts. Based on how well they performed, they can achieve a bronze, silver, gold, or platinum level. Each level has its own reward, ranging from points on their annual performance appraisal geared toward promotion, to material rewards such as T-shirts and gym bags, to a performance pin to wear on their uniform at the platinum level. This pin is given to 0.1% of the population, so the value of this reward is not diluted—not just anyone receives it. In addition, the Royal Canadian Navy, Canadian Army, Royal Canadian Air Force, and other commands have instituted a group reward system whereby all individual performances are aggregated into a group structure unique to the command. The group with the highest average on the FORCE evaluation is then officially recognized by the commander (50).

NSCA's Essentials of Tactical Strength and Conditioning is the ideal preparatory guide for those seeking the Tactical Strength and Conditioning Facilitator® (TSAC-F®) certification, and a reference for fitness trainers who work with tactical populations such as military, law enforcement, and fire and rescue personnel. The book is available in bookstores everywhere, as well as online at the NSCA Store.

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