Fulfillment of basic psychological needs: a qualitative investigation of strategies used by elite youth soccer coaches

  • Johannes RaabeEmail author
  • Tucker Readdy
  • Oliver Höner
Main Article


An optimal coaching style can result in the simultaneous fulfillment of individuals’ basic psychological needs of competence, autonomy, and relatedness. According to self-determination theory, such need fulfillment increases the likelihood that athletes will experience self-determined motivation, which, in turn, has been found to positively affect their cognition, affect, and behavior. The purpose of the current research was to investigate specific strategies elite youth soccer coaches use that they believe nurture athletes’ perceptions of competence, autonomy, and relatedness. Semi-structured interviews were conducted with 16 coaches from the German Soccer Association’s (Deutscher Fußball-Bund) talent identification and development program. Using thematic analysis, five themes were constructed: (a) Design task-oriented practices, (b) transfer tasks and responsibilities to players within boundaries, (c) support players in the development and implementation of optimal goals, (d) promote positive interactions within the team, and (e) show players appreciation independent of their performance. The present findings allow for a more nuanced understanding of need-supportive coaching and its application in the coach–athlete relationship.


Self-determination theory Motivation Need-supportive coaching Youth sport Football 

Befriedigung psychologischer Basisbedürfnisse – eine qualitative Befragung zu Strategien von Elitenachwuchstrainern im Fußball


Ein optimaler Coachingstil kann zur simultanen Befriedigung der drei psychologischen Basisbedürfnisse nach Kompetenz, Autonomie und sozialer Eingebundenheit beitragen. Laut der Selbstbestimmungstheorie fördert die Befriedigung dieser Basisbedürfnisse eine selbstbestimmte Motivation bei Sportlern, die sich wiederum positiv auf deren Kognition, Emotion und Verhalten auswirkt. Das Ziel der vorliegenden Studie war, Strategien zu untersuchen, die Elitenachwuchstrainer im Fußball anwenden und die nach ihrer Meinung die Kompetenz, Autonomie und soziale Eingebundenheit von Sportlern befriedigen. Es wurden halbstrukturierte Interviews mit 16 Trainern des Talentförderprogramms des Deutschen Fußball-Bunds geführt. Mithilfe einer thematischen Analyse wurden fünf Themenbereiche gebildet: (a) Training aufgabenorientiert gestalten, (b) innerhalb von Leitplanken Aufgaben und Verantwortung auf Spieler übertragen, (c) Spieler bei der Setzung und Verwirklichung optimaler Ziele unterstützen, (d) positive Interaktionen innerhalb der Mannschaft fördern und (e) Spielern leistungsunabhängig Wertschätzung vermitteln. Die aktuellen Ergebnisse erlauben ein differenzierteres Verständnis eines Coachingstils, der die Basisbedürfnisse befriedigt, und dessen Anwendung in der Trainer-Athleten-Beziehung.


Selbstbestimmungstheorie Motivation Bedürfnisbefriedigendes Coaching Jugendsport Fußball 



We would like to thank Louisa Wolf and Selina Zürn at the Eberhard Karls University of Tübingen for their support of this study.


This study is part of the research project “Scientific support of the DFB’s talent development program,” which is funded by the German Soccer Association (Deutscher Fußball-Bund, DFB). We would like to thank the DFB for the support of the current endeavor and all coaches for their participation.

Compliance with ethical guidelines

Conflict of interest

J. Raabe, T. Readdy, and O. Höner declare that they have no competing interests.

For this article, all studies with human participants performed were in accordance with the ethical standards indicated in each case.


  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.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  2. Ahlberg, M., Mallett, C. J., & Tinning, R. (2008). Developing autonomy supportive coaching behaviors: An action research approach to coach development. International Journal of Coaching Science, 2, 1–20.Google Scholar
  3. Almagro, B. J., Saenz-Lopez, P., Moreno-Murcia, J. A., & Spray, C. (2015). Motivational factors in young Spanish athletes: a qualitative focus drawing from self-determination theory and achievement goal perspectives. The Sport Psychologist, 29, 15–28.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  4. Alvarez, M. S., Balaguer, I., Castillo, I., & Duda, J. L. (2009). Coach autonomy support and quality of sport engagement in young soccer players. The Spanish Journal of Psychology, 12, 138–148.PubMedCrossRefPubMedCentralGoogle Scholar
  5. Ames, C. (1995). Achievement goals, motivational climate, and motivational processes. In G. C. Roberts (Ed.), Motivation in sport and exercise (pp. 161–176). Champaign: Human Kinetics Books.Google Scholar
  6. Appleton, P., Ntoumanis, N., Quested, E., Viladrich, C., & Duda, J. L. (2016). Initial validation of the coach-created empowering and disempowering motivational climate questionnaire (EDMCQ-C). Psychology of Sport and Exercise, 22, 53–65.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  7. Balaguer, I., Gonzalez, L., Fabra, P., Castillo, I., Merce, J., & Duda, J. L. (2012). Coaches’ interpersonal style, basic psychological needs and the well- and ill-being of young soccer players: a longitudinal analysis. Journal of Sports Sciences, 30, 1619–1629.PubMedCrossRefPubMedCentralGoogle Scholar
  8. Bartholomew, K. J., Ntoumanis, N., & Thogersen-Ntoumani, C. (2009). A review of controlling motivational strategies from a self-determination theory perspective: Implications for sports coaches. International Review of Sport and Exercise Psychology, 2, 215–233.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  9. Bejar, M. P., Raabe, J., Zakrajsek, R. A., Fisher, L. A., & Clement, D. (2019). Athletic trainers’ influence on NCAA Division I athletes’ basic psychological needs during sport injury rehabilitation. Journal of Athletic Training, 54, 245–254.PubMedCrossRefPubMedCentralGoogle Scholar
  10. Blanchard, C. M., Amiot, C. E., Perreault, S., Vallerand, R. J., & Provencher, P. (2009). Cohesiveness, coach’s interpersonal style and psychological needs: Their effects on self-determination and athletes’ subjective well-being. Psychology of Sport and Exercise, 10, 545–551.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  11. Braun, V., & Clarke, V. (2017). Using thematic analysis in sport and exercise research. In I. B. Smith & A. C. Sparkes (Eds.), Routledge handbook of qualitative research in sport and exercise (pp. 213–227). New York: Routledge.Google Scholar
  12. Conroy, D. E., & Coatsworth, J. D. (2007). Assessing autonomy-supportive coaching strategies in youth sport. Psychology of Sport and Exercise, 8, 671–684.PubMedPubMedCentralCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  13. Cushion, C., Ford, P. R., & Williams, A. M. (2012). Coach behaviours and practice structures in youth soccer: Implications for talent development. Journal of Sports Sceinces, 30, 1631–1641.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  14. De Muynck, G. J., Vansteenkiste, M., Delrue, J., Aelterman, N., Haerens, L., & Soenens, B. (2017). The effects of feedback valence and style on need satisfaction, self-talk, and perseverance among tennis players: an experimental study. Journal of Sport and Exercise Psychology, 39, 67–80.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  15. Deci, E. L., & Ryan, R. M. (2000). The “what” and “why” of goal pursuits: Human needs and the self-determination of behavior. Psychological Inquiry, 11, 227–268.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  16. Duda, J. L. (2013). The conceptual and empirical foundations of Empowering Coaching™: setting the stage for the PAPA project. International Journal of Sport and Exercise Psychology, 11, 311–318.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  17. Gagné, F. (2000). Understanding the complex choreography of talent development through DMGT-based analysis. In K. A. Heller, F. J. Mönks, R. J. Sternberg & R. F. Subotnik (Eds.), International handbook of giftedness and talent (2nd edn., pp. 67–79). Oxford: Pergamon Press.Google Scholar
  18. Gilbert, W. D., & Trudel, P. (2004). Role of the coach: How model youth team sport coaches frame their roles. The Sport Psychologist, 18, 21–43.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  19. Gilchrist, M., & Mallett, C. J. (2017). The theory (SDT) behind effective coaching. In R. Thelwell, C. Harwood & I. Greenless (Eds.), The psychology of sports coaching: Research and practice (pp. 38–53). New York: Routledge.Google Scholar
  20. González-Cutre, D., Sicilia, A., Moreno, J. A., & Fernández-Balboa, J. M. (2009). Dispositional flow in physical education: relationships with motivational climate, social goals, and perceived competencer. Journal of Teaching in Physical Education, 28, 422–440.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  21. Gould, D. (2016). Conducting impactful coaching science research: The forgotten role of knowledge integration and dissemination. International Sport Coaching Journal, 3, 197–203.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  22. Harwood, C. G., Keegan, R. J., Smith, J. M., & Raine, A. S. (2015). A systematic review of the intrapersonal correlates of motivational climate perceptions in sport and physical activity. Psychology of Sport and Exercise, 18, 9–25.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  23. Heller, K. A. (2001). Hochbegabung im Kindes- und Jugendalter (2nd edn.). Göttingen: Hogrefe.Google Scholar
  24. Hill, C. E., Thompson, B. J., & Williams, E. N. (1997). A guide to conducting consensual qualitative research. The Counseling Psychologist, 25, 517–572.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  25. Höner, O., Leyhr, D., & Kelava, A. (2017). The influence of speed abilities and technical skills in early adolescence on adult success in soccer: a long-term prospective analysis using ANOVA and SEM approaches. PLoS One, 12, e182211.PubMedPubMedCentralCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  26. Huijgen, B. C. H., Elferink-Gemser, M. T., Lemmink, K. A. P. M., & Visscher, C. (2014). Multidimensional performance characteristics in selected and deselected talented soccer players. European Journal of Sport Science, 14, 2–10.PubMedCrossRefPubMedCentralGoogle Scholar
  27. Lamont, M., & Kennelly, M. (2012). A qualitative exploration of participant motives among committed amateur triathletes. Leisure Sciences, 34, 236–255.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  28. Mageau, G. A., & Vallerand, R. J. (2003). The coach-athlete relationship: a motivational model. Journal of Sports Science, 21, 883–904.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  29. Maitland, A., & Gervis, M. (2010). Goal-setting in youth football. Are coaches missing an opportunity? Physical Education and Sport Pedagogy, 15, 323–343.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  30. Mallett, C. J. (2005). Self-determination theory: a case study of evidence-based coaching. The Sport Psychologist, 19, 417–429.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  31. Mills, A., & Pain, M. (2017). Creating effective development environments for the adolescent athlete. In R. Thelwell, C. Harwood & I. Greenless (Eds.), The psychology of sports coaching: Research and practice (pp. 21–37). New York: Routledge.Google Scholar
  32. Murr, D., Raabe, J., & Höner, O. (2018). The prognostic value of physiological and physical characteristics in youth soccer: A systematic review. European Journal of Sport Sciences, 18, 62–74.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  33. Nicholls, J. G. (1984). Achievement motivation: conceptions of ability, subjective experience, task choice, and performance. Psychological Review, 91, 328–346.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  34. Ntoumanis, N., & Biddle, S. J. H. (1999). A review of motivational climate in physical activity. Journal of Sports Sciences, 17, 642–665.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  35. Occhino, J. L., Mallett, C. J., Rynne, S. B., & Carlisle, K. N. (2014). Autonomy-supportive pedagogical approach to sports coaching: research, challenges and opportunities. International Journal of Sports Science & Coaching, 9, 401–415.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  36. Pelletier, L. G., Fortier, M. S., Vallerand, R. J., & Briere, N. M. (2001). Associations among perceived autonomy support, forms of self-regulation, and persistence: a prospective study. Motivation and Emotion, 25, 279–306.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  37. Poczwardowski, A., Barot, J. E., & Henschen, K. P. (2002). The athlete and coach: their relationship and its meaning. Results of an interpretative study. International Journal of Sport Psychology, 33, 116–140.Google Scholar
  38. Pulido, J. J., Sachnez-Oliva, D., Leo, F. M., Matos, S., & Garcia-Calvo, T. (2017). Effects of an interpersonal style intervention for coaches on young soccer players’ motivational processes. Journal of Human Kinetics, 59, 107–120.PubMedPubMedCentralCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  39. Raabe, J., Schmidt, K., Carl, J., & Höner, O. (2019). The effectiveness of autonomy support interventions with physical education teachers and youth sport coaches: A systematic review. Journal of Sport & Exercise Psychology, 41, 345–355.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  40. Raabe, J., Zakrajsek, R. A., & Readdy, T. (2016). Teammate influence on collegiate swimmers’ basic psychological need satisfaction: a qualitative perspective. Journal of Intercollegiate Sport, 9, 27–49.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  41. Reinboth, M., Duda, J. L., & Ntoumanis, N. (2004). Dimensions of coaching behavior, need satisfaction, and the psychological and physical welfare of young athletes. Motivation and Emotion, 28, 297–313.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  42. Ryan, R. M., & Deci, E. L. (2017). Self-determination theory: Basic psychological needs in motivation, development, and wellness. New York: Guilford.Google Scholar
  43. Schott, U. (2011). Von der Talentförderung profitieren das A‑Team und die Bundesliga. Fußballtraining, 41, 47–51.Google Scholar
  44. Smith, B., Sparkes, A. C., Phoenix, C., & Kirkby, J. (2012). Qualitative research in physical therapy: A critical discussion on mixed-method research. The Physical Therapy Review, 17, 374–381.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  45. Su, Y.-L., & Reeve, J. (2011). A meta-analysis of the effectiveness of intervention programs designed to support autonomy. Educational Psychology Review, 23, 159–188.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  46. Watson, M., & Kleinert, J. (2018). The relationship between coaches’ emotional intelligence and basic need satisfaction in athletes. Sports Coaching Review. Scholar
  47. Williams, A. M., & Reilly, T. (2000). Talent identification and development in soccer. Journal of Sports Sciences, 18, 657–667.PubMedCrossRefPubMedCentralGoogle Scholar
  48. Wilson, R. S., James, R. S., David, G., Hermann, E., Morgan, O. J., Niehaus, A. C., Hunter, A., Thake, D., & Smith, M. D. (2016). Multivariate analyses of individual variation in soccer skills as a tool for talent identification and development: Utilising evolutionary theory in sports science. Journal of Sports Sciences, 34, 2074–2086.PubMedCrossRefPubMedCentralGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag GmbH Deutschland, ein Teil von Springer Nature 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.College of Physical Activity and Sport SciencesWest Virginia UniversityMorgantownUSA
  2. 2.Institute of Sports ScienceEberhard Karls University of TübingenTübingenGermany
  3. 3.Division of Kinesiology and HealthUniversity of WyomingLaramieUSA

Personalised recommendations