Sport enjoyment, or fun in children’s terms, is the most important and most studied positive emotion in youth, adolescent, and elite sport. Early youth sport research found that fun was one of the most important reasons given by athletes for choosing to participate in sports, and lack of fun was a prime explanation for dropping out. Consequently, to have fun in sports was one of the rights included in the “Bill of Rights for Young Athletes,” written by a special task force established by the National Association for Sport and Physical Education. Subsequent research defines sport enjoyment as athletes’ positive emotional response to their sport involvement that encompasses generalized feelings, such as fun, pleasure, liking, and love. Detailed in this entry are the research findings addressing two key questions. First, how does enjoyment affect athletes’ motivation in sport? Second, what makes sport enjoyable? Importantly, the results presented on both of these issues characteristically generalize or apply to both genders, as well as to diverse sports and competitive levels.
How Does Enjoyment Affect Athletes’ Motivation in Sport?
Sport enjoyment has important motivational consequences and is incorporated into many theories dealing with athletes’ participation, persistence, and exertion of effort in their sport. Findings show that the higher the enjoyment experienced, the more athletes elect to participate and persist in their sport, the more they feel the desire to exert greater effort and perceive that they actually have expended more effort, and the higher their enthusiastic sport commitment. Enthusiastic sport commitment is a psychological state defined as athletes’ enduring determination and desire to continue participating in their sport. Research focused on the sport commitment model, elaborated elsewhere in this encyclopedia, shows that sport enjoyment is the strongest and most consistent predictor of commitment to sport.
What Makes Sport Enjoyable?
Knowing that enjoyment is so crucial to positive motivation makes it important to understand what makes sport enjoyable. Knowledge of the sources of enjoyment not only allows for a more comprehensive understanding of emotion and motivation in sport from a research perspective, but it also tells us the ways to make sport enjoyable for athletes from an applied point of view. In effect, the sources of enjoyment are the buttons that can be pushed to create the enjoyment that kindles positive motivation. Extensive study reveals that there are many potential sources of enjoyment inherent in sport and that they are diverse.
Sources of enjoyment fall under three broad categories: intrapersonal sources that emanate from the person; situational sources that are inherent to the sport context; and significant other sources that are influences from important people to the athlete such as parents, coaches, and teammates. Specific examples of sources of enjoyment will be presented under these three classifications.
Intrapersonal Enjoyment Sources
Athletes’ perceptions of high personal competence in their sport, and a number of achievement factors related to these ability perceptions, make sport enjoyable. These sources reflect the positive processes and outcomes of engaging in mastery— including exerting effort, learning, practicing, improving, and perfecting challenging athletic skills—and achieving mastery of these skills.
Athletes’ own motivational goal orientation is also a source of enjoyment. Greater enjoyment is experienced by high-task-oriented athletes who define success in a self-referenced manner with criteria like successful skill mastery and high effort expenditure.
Personal movement experiences emanating from the movement and execution of sport skills are enjoyable. These sources include feeling athletic; experiencing movement sensations, such as freedom and exhilaration; and being able to creatively express one’s self through movement.
Situational Enjoyment Sources
Both the process and outcomes of competition are sources of enjoyment. In terms of process, enjoyment is experienced from engaging in competition and comparing one’s skill against a competitor. Winning a game and having a winning season are enjoyable outcomes.
Receiving recognition from other people for successful performance is also enjoyable. This recognition includes such specific sources as being in the newspaper, yearbook, or record books of one’s sport and receiving medals, trophies, and standing ovations.
Significant Other Enjoyment Sources
There are two sets of significant other sources of enjoyment: those that come from adults, and those that stem from teammates. With respect to parental and coach sources, enjoyment is experienced when athletes perceive that these adults are supportive and highly involved in their sport experience, and are satisfied with their performance. Elite athletes find it enjoyable to bring pleasure and pride to these adults through demonstrating their talent. Sources specific to parents involve athlete perceptions of realistic parental performance expectations and lack of pressure to participate in sport. Finally, sources of enjoyment come from being on a team with peers, including positive interactions with teammates, building friendships, and supporting each other. And so we see that there are numerous and many different types of sources or buttons that can be pushed in sport to create the enjoyment that increases and maintains positive motivation.
- Martens, R., & Seefeldt, V. (Eds.). (1979). Guidelines for children’s sports. Washington, DC: American Alliance for Health, Physical Education, Recreation and Dance.
- Scanlan, T. K., Babkes, M. L., & Scanlan, L. A. (2005). Participation in sport: A developmental glimpse at emotion. In J. L. Mahoney, R. W. Larson, & J. S. Eccles (Eds.), Organized activities as contexts of development: Extracurricular activities, after-school and community programs (pp. 275–309). Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum.
- Scanlan, T. K., Russell, D. G., Magyar, T. M., & Scanlan, L. A. (2009). Project on elite athlete commitment (PEAK): III. An examination of the external validity across gender, and the expansion and clarification of the sport commitment model. Journal of Sport & Exercise Psychology, 31, 685–705.