Enjoyment in Sport

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.


  1. Martens, R., & Seefeldt, V. (Eds.). (1979). Guidelines for children’s sports. Washington, DC: American Alliance for Health, Physical Education, Recreation and Dance.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.

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