How do individual and team bonuses motivate professional athletes?

Samandeep Chohan

Makis Karteros

Posted: September 23, 2014

Report on an EASM 2014 presentation by Christopher Maier

Presenter Christopher Maier has predominantly been based in the USA with his most notable employer being US broadcasting giants ESPN. This particular topic is an interesting one. For everyone concerned with sport, this subject has most probably cropped up in some shape or form. With literature being scarce, everyone’s eyes were glued to the screen waiting to see the results.

To start off with, I want to ask a question; what do you think motivates an athlete? Is it the glitz and glam of celebrity life? Is it the recognizable factor? Is it to have your face planted on these illustrious products? Is it because they actually love the game? Or is it all of these combined? As sports fans, we all have an opinion. But that opinion is mainly heard between the walls of pubs and gyms etc. not academic literature.

Athlete motivation

Going back to the research presented, Maier proposed the concept of operationalise performance, stressing the question, does money actually motivate? A rhetorical question nonetheless. In retrospect, we know we cannot compare different sports, different athletes and even players of the same position (tactics). Each athlete has their own needs and wants. Furthermore, the researchers pin pointed the coach as an essential cog in a well-engineered machine. They felt the coach was the only one who could specifically assess a player’s thought process.

To fulfil this task, Maier et al identified three sports they could analyse; Football, Ice Hockey and Handball (three big sports in Germany). Wanting to get an authentic player and coach perspective, they produced two sets of anonymous questionnaires (one for the players and one for the coaches) identifying key motivational initiatives by asking simple questions, eliminating time/cost. In addition, they also wanted to categorise what influences winning and losing. The presenter again highlighting the fact that most studies regarding this topic is based around secondary data and the thought process disregards motivational initiatives, only identifying monetary bonuses (player and team) as a way of improving that all important win percentage.

Critical Analysis

The results were varied. The athletes gave answers which emphasised both monetary and non-monetary benefits acting as a motivational incentive. They felt as though some athletes work for themselves, acting out their own personal agenda, which in turn harms team moral. However, the athletes also displayed awareness around what their teammates want. The underlying aspect which came through the most is to simply win and give it your best.

From the results, the researchers produced a simplistic model emphasising initiatives behind athlete motivation. Two factors were categorised; ‘Players Perspective’ and ‘Coach Perspective’. The researchers came to an agreement what players want in return for their best performance (player’s perspective);

1. Individual Bonuses

2. Team Bonuses

3. Recognition and Feedback

4. Responsibility

From a player’s perspective, Maier et al considered four key dimensions. Individual and team bonuses can be both monetary and non-monetary, giving each athlete that feel good factor. Recognition and feedback again reinstates their worth within the team, and responsibility dawns on them who are willing to accept it. Moreover, the researchers give us (the audience) the opportunity to install the coaches’ perspective as a motivational tool for athletes. Maybe it’s as simple as, if the team is winning everyone is happy?

Though as mentioned earlier, player’s perspective all leads to the coach’s perspective. Do they really care if one of their players has monetary incentives and one does not? From their point of view, performance is the key. It acts as a tree formation. You have the four abovementioned narrowing down to what is seen as important – performance.

With regards to winning, athletes have to be at their best seven days a week. The sporting greats will tell you there’s no offseason, legends are born behind closed doors. But how do we actually understand what these athletes want in return for our spectatorship. From this work, we have come to appreciate athletes not only see money as a motivational tool to succeed.

About Samandeep Chohan

Samandeep is a recent Sport Management graduate at Coventry University who is seeking employment in the world of sport. He has worked in the ticketing and sales department for Coventry City Football Club, organised and coached sporting events and written for sporting blogs from the age of 16. Samandeep’s email address –

About Makis Karteros

Makis is currently writing a PhD on investment in human capital and its impact on football club’s performance.  He has been involved in the sports industry in many ways having worked for professional football clubs, media organisations and IT companies, in Greece and India.