Satisfaction and Sport

Satisfaction is recognized as an important determinant of motivation and commitment in sport and exercise.  Although  researchers  and  practitioners have  acknowledged  that  satisfaction  influences motivated behavior and also represents a desirable cognitive emotional end state in itself, satisfaction is  not  recognized  as  a  distinct  emotion  or  mood state.  Satisfaction  has  been  used  interchangeably in  the  sport  and  exercise  literature  with  various terms such as enjoyment, happiness, commitment, liking, and well-being. Although sharing the positive affective experiential aspects of these various terms,  satisfaction  should  be  treated  as  a  distinct term.  Satisfaction  represents  a  positive  cognitive affective state resulting from a cognitive judgment process that what is received or experienced meets or exceeds a personal standard.

Researchers suggest that standards can include psychological  needs,  values,  personal  and  external  expectations,  preferred  behaviors  from  others,  social  comparison  (being  better  than  others), self-comparison,  and  goals.  Indeed,  the  types  of specific  standards  can  range  markedly  across people,  contexts,  and  time.  Since  the  reflective cognitive  appraisal  process  involves  comparing what  is  received  or  experienced  against  a  “standard,” it is not surprising to find that satisfaction can  be  conceptualized  from  very  broad  levels (e.g.,  life  satisfaction),  to  specific  domains  (e.g., athlete  satisfaction,  exercise  satisfaction),  to  specific  subdomains  (e.g.,  body  shape  satisfaction, coach–leader  satisfaction)  to  specific  facets  (e.g., achieving  specific  goals,  strategy  decisions,  training and instructions).

Life  satisfaction  represents  a  cognitive  evaluation  of  the  quality  of  an  individual’s  life  as  a whole.  Researchers  within  exercise  and  sport psychology  (SP)  who  are  interested  in  subjective well-being (SWB) often study life satisfaction. Life satisfaction is often equated with or used as a synonym  for  general  happiness  or  well-being.  Some investigations  using  younger  participants  such  as university students or athletes have found positive associations between physical activity (PA) and life satisfaction. In older adults, review studies indicate that PA has very little association with life satisfaction. This is not surprising for a few reasons. Life satisfaction  can  involve  not  only  evaluating  one’s life achievements and experiences but also involve future expectations and hopes. Life satisfaction in older adults involves evaluating multiple standards such  as  health,  family,  parenthood,  intellectual functioning, physical functioning, and economics, to  name  a  few.  For  many  older  adults,  physical functioning might be more important than actual PA engagement.

There  is  far  greater  understanding  of  satisfaction in specific domains such as sport and exercise. Athlete satisfaction has been linked to team cohesion, motivation, the learning and teaching setting, coach–player  compatibility  and  relationships,  and injury rehabilitation. Research by Harold A. Riemer and   Packianathan   Chelladurai   demonstrated that  athlete  satisfaction  is  very  complex  and  can involve  evaluating  numerous  standards  related  to (a)  individual  and  team  performance,  (b)  leadership, (c) the team, (d) the organization, and (e) the individual. Although standards associated with the achievement  of  the  team  and  the  individual  seem obvious, there are other unique aspects associated with  the  team  and  the  athlete.  Team  aspects  can involve team integration, how the team treats the athlete,  and  the  ethical  behavior  of  teammates. Individual  standards  include  personal  dedication, as well as task and social contribution to the team. Leadership  factors  are  also  important  to  athlete satisfaction. How the coach conducts training and instruction, utilizes the athlete in training and competition,  develops  strategy,  and  treats  athletes  are all distinct features of athlete satisfaction. Many of these features influence the quality of coach–athlete relationships. Last, there are several features associated with the sport organization including financial support, quality of medical support, and academic support. Standards associated with the sport organization  are  likely  to  vary  widely  depending  on the  level  of  competition  and  the  organizational structure  (e.g.,  community  groups,  educational institutions,  professional  sport).  Given  that  there are  many  distinct  features  associated  with  athlete satisfaction,  the  athlete’s  level  of  satisfaction  can be mixed, with satisfaction with some features and dissatisfaction with other aspects.

Satisfaction in exercise will be related to meeting or progressing toward personally valued standards. The  literature  suggests  satisfaction  in  exercise  is related  to  several  of  the  same  general  features  as identified  in  the  sport  literature.  These  features including the instructor’s behavior, quality of training  or  instruction,  quality  of  the  exercise  training environment,  ability  to  develop  competence  and achieve exercise goals, and ability to have meaningful  social  interactions  and  acceptance.  Since  exercise settings potentially allow for greater individual freedom  and  choice,  there  can  be  great  diversity in  the  type  and  level  of  personal  “standards.” Generally,  satisfaction  is  related  to  participation motivation in exercise. However, there is evidence that body dissatisfaction is also a motive for exercise engagement in some individuals.

Body  satisfaction,  and  more  commonly  body dissatisfaction, is a central feature of body image. Although  body  image  is  discussed  in  more  detail elsewhere  in  this  encyclopedia,  body  satisfaction and  dissatisfaction  involve  comparing  one’s  body or parts thereof to some personal standard. Body satisfaction is typically related to meeting societal expectations of idealized body shape and composition  (muscle  and  fat)  relative  to  age  and  gender. Body  satisfaction  is  moderately  associated  with both  physical  and  global  self-esteem.  Researchers have found that body satisfaction and dissatisfaction can be factors in motivating the initiation and continued engagement in exercise programs. There is evidence that suggests that exercise is negatively related to body satisfaction in younger women but positively  related  in  older  women  and  men  of  all ages.  Researchers  are  also  interested  in  body  dissatisfaction  because  it  is  a  risk  factor  for  eating and exercising pathology.

A  growing  area  of  study  in  sport  and  exercise psychology (SEP) is examining satisfaction related to psychological needs. These needs could include competence  (feeling  effective),  autonomy  (feeling as though you make your choices), and relatedness (sharing  a  meaningful  connection  with  important others). Guided by Edward L. Deci and Richard M. Ryan’s  self-determination  theory  (SDT),  researchers often assess the degree to which psychological needs are satisfied in sport and exercise contexts. The sport and exercise environment can facilitate psychological  need  satisfaction.  For  example,  the coach or exercise leader could create environments that  are  optimal  for  need  satisfaction  through encouraging  choice,  acknowledging  personal  perspectives and minimizing pressures. Satisfying psychological needs in sport or exercise is associated with  optimal  outcomes  such  as  increased  wellbeing, intrinsic motivation, exercise behavior, and intrinsic interest and interest in sport. Researchers are also interested in psychological need thwarting (frustration of needs) because it is associated with athlete burnout, negative affect, and perfectionistic concerns.


  1. Adie, J. W., Duda, J. L., & Ntoumanis, N. (2012).Perceived coach-autonomy support, basic need satisfaction and the well and ill-being of elite youth soccer players: A longitudinal investigation. Psychology of Sport and Exercise, 13, 51–59.
  2. Baker, J., Yardley, J., & Côté, J. P. (2003). Coach behaviors and athlete satisfaction in team and individual sports. International Journal of Sport Psychology, 34, 226–239.
  3. Riemer, H. A., & Chelladurai, P. (1998). Development of the athlete satisfaction questionnaire (ASQ). Journal of Sport & Exercise Psychology, 20, 127–156.
  4. Ryan, R. M., & Deci, E. L. (2007). Active human nature: Self-determination theory and the promotion and maintenance of sport, exercise, and health. In M. S. Hagger & N. L. D. Chatzisarantis (Eds.), Intrinsic motivation and self-determination in exercise and sport (pp. 1–19). Champaign, IL: Human Kinetics.
  5. Slevec, J. H., & Tiggemann, M. (2011). Predictors of body dissatisfaction and disordered eating in middle-aged women. Clinical Psychology Review, 31, 515–524.
  6. Tiggemann, M., & Williamson, S. (2000). The effect of exercise on body satisfaction and self-esteem as a function of gender and age. Sex Roles, 43, 119–127.

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