Motivation is a word frequently bandied about by managers, pundits and fans; particularly where NUFC are concerned. But what is motivation, and where does it come from?

What impact can it have on an individual and on the team?  What impact is it having on NUFC at the moment?  In this article I am going to try and address some of those questions.

Types of Motivation

Psychologists agree that there are 2 types of motivation that impact upon an individual; intrinsic motivation, and extrinsic motivation.

Intrinsic motivation is about the individual, where the individual’s behaviour is driven by internal rewards that mean something important to that individual.

Extrinsic motivation is behaviour that is driven by external rewards such as money, fame and praise.  I am not going to touch on extrinsic motivation in this article, but I may put pen to paper at a later date.

That said, it is worth remembering that thousands of professional footballers over the past century have managed to be highly motivated while only earning boot money!

Intrinsic Motivation

With intrinsic motivation the motivation to adopt a particular behaviour stems from the fact that that behaviour, or the outcome of that behaviour, is rewarding for that individual.

You are engaging in the game of football for example, because you enjoy football for what it is, and for what it gives you, not because there is some external reward.

For a professional footballer, it is inconceivable that they have not at some stage of their career been very highly motivated indeed.  You do not progress from being a schoolboy footballer, to being a Premier League footballer, without intrinsic motivation.

It should be a prerequisite for a manager or scout to identify highly motivated players as targets; it is of course a real prize to snare an exceptionally motivated player.  The trick thereafter, is to hang on to these players, and maintain their exceptional motivation.

What does football involve that enables people to derive motivation from playing the game?  Fitness, skill, drive, intelligence, tactics, courage, teamwork and the potential for success, to name just a few.  The motivated player wants to improve in all of these areas, and what drives him to do so is not just the joy of the game, but the pleasure that improvement and success gives to that individual.


The motivated player is highly self-critical; he has to be, because improvement is his constant goal.  He doesn’t need to be told that 50% of his passes were not on target, he doesn’t need to be told that he was always 2 yards off the pace.  That self-critical, but motivated player will be hard at work on the training ground for the next weeks addressing his self-analysis.  A gradual improvement on the training ground will see his motivation maintained.

His ultimate reward will come at the game a few weeks later when he knows that 75% of his passes were on target, and that his opponent was always 2 yards off the pace.  He will remain highly motivated because he enjoys the experience of improving, and enjoys the success that that improvement brings.   This remains the case, even if his team lost that particular game.

The desire for success is an essential element of intrinsic motivation; success brings self-satisfaction, happiness and even euphoria to that individual.  Success for a professional footballer can be defined and achieved in many ways; not just by that individual’s own personal success.

Intrinsic Motivation and External Factors

The level of a player’s intrinsic motivation, no matter how high it was initially, will be affected by a number of external factors that are not necessarily extrinsic.  So far as NUFC is concerned, there are 2 particular external factors that are currently having a catastrophic impact on motivation, and therefore in my view, a catastrophic impact on current performance.

The first factor is whereabouts along their individual career path each member of the squad is located.  Are they at the beginning of their career, the middle, or the end; or do they even know? This impacts upon a player’s ability to set career goals, and can limit, or increase, the career goals that the player has left available to him.  With no career goal in mind, there is unlikely to be many short-term goals in mind.  This has a huge impact on that individual’s intrinsic motivation.

The second factor is the intrinsic motivation, (or lack of) of the other team members, and the motivation of the team collectively.  This too has a major impact upon our ‘currently motivated’ player.

Career Time-line

An obvious example of someone who is likely to have a high level of intrinsic motivation would be the ex-academy player who wants to play for the first team; especially his home team NUFC.

Another example would be the young foreign player who desperately wants to play in the English Premier League, and finally gets his first job in the Premiership; albeit at a second-tier club.    Both of these individuals have everything to gain by putting 100% into their game.  They have short-term and long-term personal goals that are relevant, meaningful, and attainable.

The ex-academy player works his socks off every day of the week.  He turns up early for training, he trains further in his free time, he listens and reacts to his manager and peers, he covers every inch of the park, he runs into space, he draws defenders out of shape; he does all this and loves every minute of it!  Our ambitious young foreign player does exactly the same; he is out to impress on a global stage, not just a local one.

It doesn’t matter if that foreign player wants to leave the club after 2 years to join his real target, which may be Chelsea, Man City, or Barcelona.  His teammates and the club will have benefited from his intrinsic motivation for 2 years, and the player will have benefited from his time with NUFC.  It’s a win win situation.  NUFC will also make a profit on the eventual transfer!

The already high intrinsic motivation of these 2 individuals is multiplied in bucketfuls, simply because of the timing within their career path.   I’m talking of course about Jack Colback and Ayoze Perez.


Contrast this with players at a totally different stage of their career such as Steven Taylor.  What are his career goals I wonder?  At the age of 29 I hesitate to call him a veteran, but to my mind he has earned that title for all the right reasons.

When he is fit, he is by far the most motivated player in the NUFC squad.  You can see it in his actions, in his demeanour, in his attitude and in his humour.  He is also thoroughly enjoying himself playing football!  In my view, his high level of motivation comes partly from contentment.  He is where he wants to be.  He has a pivotal role in defence, and has rightly earned the respect of his peers and his fans.

Using the Steven Taylor example, you don’t always need to have fresh goals and career progression in mind to maintain your intrinsic motivation.  You can remain highly motivated even when you have got to where you want to be, are happy, and are very keen to stay there.  Steven Gerrard is a similar example.

Players of any age demonstrating motivation are superb for the other players in the team; a little bit rubs-off on all the other players.  When respected veterans like Taylor or Gerrard demonstrate motivation on the pitch, the positive effect on the rest of the team is stronger still, and immediately visible.

However, if we look at our current squad, I wonder how many of the players know where they are on their career time-line?  Beginning, middle or end?  To my mind, too many of the ‘senior players’ probably don’t know, and perhaps now don’t even care.  This puts these players in an impossible place in the wilderness in terms of maintaining their own intrinsic motivation.

To some players, playing in the Premier League, and playing at NUFC is the pinnacle of their ambitions and career.  To others, playing for NUFC it is a stepping-stone to better things.  Both of these types of players are welcome on the team.

Those who are not welcome, are those that view playing at NUFC (as opposed to any other Premier League team) as ‘better than nothing’.   It is this latter category of player who remain in the wilderness, and deservedly so.

If they don’t know where they are career-wise, but love to play for NUFC, and want to stay at NUFC, that is fine by me; their desire to stay will maintain their intrinsic motivation as it has with Steven Taylor.  However, out of the players that I consider to be in a career wilderness, I cannot identify any who have demonstrated that unconditional commitment to NUFC, either by word or deed.   Fabricio Coloccini is an obvious example.

The Team Motivation

An intrinsically motivated player will want success for his team, in addition to wanting success for himself.  At its simplest, this is because that individual derives pleasure from any success, even if that was a shared success in which that individual merely had a role.   However, success for the team is also good for the ambitious player for another reason; it opens up new career development opportunities in other teams and other European Leagues.

A good team always has a shared goal, and a shared goal creates synergy.  If 11 players strive for the same common goal, the energy created is far in excess of the sum of the 11 participants.  The pleasure that an individual player experiences when his team is successful is hugely enhanced when all 11 players wanted the same thing, and all 11 players taste that success together.  You taste your own success, a bit of each of the other 10 players’ success, the team’s success, the manager’s success and the fans’ success!

The success derived from high motivation is a drug, and it is addictive.  The greater the reward, the harder it is worth working to achieve that reward.  When a shared team goal is achieved, you can double the hit that you get from your chosen drug.

Motivation is a bit like laughing.  It can be infectious, and it creates its own synergy.  Once one starts, it is easy to set someone else off, and then soon the whole room is laughing.  The ‘sharing’ of the laughter makes it even funnier.  Sharing motivation has the same effect.

Currently, with barely a handful of motivated players, it will always be impossible for NUFC to benefit from the synergy of a fully motivated team.  Worryingly, the lack of team motivation will soon have a negative impact upon those ‘currently motivated’ players who are presently striving to maintain their motivation.

So we have a problem with having too few players that are intrinsically motivated, too many players in the wilderness, and we have the problem that it is impossible to improve team motivation in the current climate.  There is another factor at play too, and that is the ‘Hoover Effect’.

The Hoover

I suspect that we all have that one acquaintance, work colleague or team mate that could be nicknamed the ‘The Hoover’.  They are the Hoover because they suck the positive atmosphere or fun out of any situation.  They moan, they are pessimistic, they don’t try, and they don’t share the same goals as you.   Sometimes Hoovers don’t even have to say anything; their mere presence is enough to put a cloud of doom over the office or the dressing room.

A football player, particularly a senior player, without intrinsic motivation is the worst possible form of Hoover.  He is a disaster on so many levels.

The intrinsically motivated players have their own motivation sapped and hoovered-up by the behaviour of their unmotivated teammate.  The intrinsically motivated players have no role models to aspire to on the team.  There is no respected role model to dish-out meaningful praise and encouragement on the pitch. There is no role model or leader to rally the troops when their backs are to the wall.  The example that your would-be role model is setting, is one of apathy and defeatism.

Just how many times in a game will the intrinsically motivated player run the full length of the pitch only to discover that he has no support, before he decides its not worth the effort?  How many times will another player win the ball and run up the wing, only to discover that there is nobody in the box, or anywhere else, to receive his cross?  The most motivated player in the land is only human, and there comes a stage where even he will stop trying.  When that happens it’s a disaster for him, and a disaster for the team.  It’s only a matter of time before this happens to the likes of Colback and Perez and others.


Instead of increasing the motivation of their teammates by their example, and by the ‘Team Effect’, the Hoovers actually reduce motivation exponentially.  They reduce the motivation in each of their teammates, and they reduce the motivation for the whole team, because they are not part of the common goal.  In addition, as previously highlighted, the common goal ceases to exist if all 11 are not motivated, and the potential synergy will never materialize.

What next

I don’t lay all the blame on lack of motivation.  Steve McClaren’s own tactics have to be questioned too.

However, McClaren has had more than enough time to identify those on the squad who are lacking intrinsic motivation.  He has had more than enough time to talk to them, and to try and identify what issues are affecting their motivation.  A change of position could be the answer, or identifying new personal goals, or any number of other possibilities.  If McClaren has tried to address the motivation problem, it hasn’t worked.

If football was only about motivation and skills, I would put motivation as by far the more important attribute for a player, and for a team.   I would much rather we fielded a team consisting of 80% motivation and only 20% skills than the reverse.  Motivation creates chances.  Without the skills, 3 of the 5 shots might be off-target, but without the motivation you don’t get any shots at all.

If he cannot identify the reasons for the lack of individual motivation, and cannot improve it, McClaren needs to clear-out those unmotivated players.  He needs to start with the Hoovers.  He needs to give the ‘currently motivated’ players a chance, and give other members of the squad a chance to demonstrate their own motivation.

The Chelsea and Man City games are the perfect opportunities, because let’s face it, other than goal difference, we have nothing to lose.

(To feature like Rex send in your articles for our website to [email protected] – all views those of the author etc etc)

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