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.
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