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Perspective Power: Boosting Intrinsic Motivation with Self-Determination Theory

The Educational Coach

9 Oct 2023

How can a coach harness the power of intrinsic motivation to inspire their coachees to actively participate in the coaching program?

Welcome to this edition of our research blog, where we delve into the fascinating world of self-determination theory (SDT). SDT, developed by psychologists Ryan and Deci (2000; 2017), explores the motivations and psychological needs that enable us to thrive in various aspects of our lives. In this blog, we will explore how understanding and applying SDT can be a game-changer, particularly in educational and coaching settings.

At the heart of self-determination theory are three fundamental psychological needs: autonomy, competence, and relatedness. These needs are the driving forces behind our motivations and play a pivotal role in shaping our behaviors. Today, we will delve into the concept of intrinsic motivation, which involves engaging in an activity for the sheer joy and curiosity it brings, without relying on external incentives.

Let's consider coaching as an example. How can a coach harness the power of intrinsic motivation to inspire their coachees to actively participate in the coaching program? Here are three key strategies:

1. Positive Competence Feedback: Research has shown that offering monetary rewards can actually diminish intrinsic motivation (Deci, Koestner, & Ryan, 1999). Instead, coaches can provide feedback that emphasizes a coachee's competency and growth. This type of positive competence feedback reaffirms their skills and abilities, aligning with the need for competence outlined in SDT.

2. Meaningful Choice: Autonomy is a crucial psychological need, and providing meaningful choices can significantly enhance intrinsic motivation (Patall, Cooper, & Robinson, 2008). Coaches can empower their coachees by offering multiple options and allowing them to have a say in their coaching journey. This fosters a sense of ownership and autonomy.

3. Perspective-Taking: Perhaps one of the most impactful strategies, especially in educational settings, is perspective-taking. Also known as adopting an "internal frame of reference," this technique involves empathetically understanding the coachee's or student's context and viewpoint. This approach is particularly vital when working with children, but it's equally applicable to adults.

In a school context, a study by Patall, Dent, Oyer, and Wynn (2012) revealed that teachers who practiced perspective-taking and provided choices were able to enhance autonomy and motivation among high school students. This could definitely be replicated  up the ladder through middle leadership and with head teachers. 

So, whether you're a coach, coachee, teacher, or leader, it's essential to consider how these three psychological needs can be satisfied to enhance motivation. Are you offering positive competence feedback? Are you providing meaningful choices? Are you practicing perspective-taking to understand the unique context and perspective of those you're trying to motivate?


Patall, E. A., Cooper, H., & Robinson, J. C. (2008). The effects of choice on intrinsic motivation and related outcomes: a meta-analysis of research findings. Psychological Bulletin, 134(2), 270. doi:10.1037/0033-2909.134.2.270

Patall, E. A., Dent, A. L., Oyer, M., & Wynn, S. R. (2013). Student autonomy and course value: The unique and cumulative roles of various teacher practices. Motivation and Emotion, 37(1), 14-32. doi:10.1007/s11031-012-9305-6

Ryan, R. M. & Deci, E. L. (2000b). Self-determination theory and the facilitation of intrinsic motivation, social development and well-being. American Psychologist, 55(1), 68-78.

Ryan, R. M. & Deci, E. L. (2017). Self-determination theory: Basic psychological needs in motivation, development, and wellness. New York, NY: Guilford Publishing.

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