Running head: Moderators of Coaches’ Motivating Style
Do Athletes’ Responses to Coach Autonomy Support and Control Depend on the
Situation and Athletes’ Personal Motivation?
Manuscript accepted for publication in
Psychology of Sport & Exercise, 43, 321-332.
Last proof without editing
Although plenty of studies have shown that a controlling, relative to an autonomy-
supportive, motivating style yields a host of undesirable outcomes, at least some sport
coaches endorse the belief that in some situations (e.g., when athletes misbehave) or with
some athletes (e.g., those who are amotivated) a controlling approach is warranted and even
beneficial. On the basis of Self-Determination Theory (Deci & Ryan, 1985; Ryan & Deci,
2017), the current study examined to what extent the effects of an autonomy-supportive and
controlling coaching style depend on (a) the situation at hand and (b) athletes’ personal
motivation. To do so, we made use of an experimental vignette–based approach. Specifically,
after having completed a validated questionnaire on their motivation to practice judo (i.e.,
autonomous motivation, controlled motivation, amotivation), 101 judokas (67.3% boys; Mage
= 13.31 ± 1.54) were randomly assigned to either an autonomy-supportive or a controlling
condition. In each condition, judokas read two comics representing distinct situations (i.e.,
athletes struggling with skill mastery despite their effort versus athletes not putting effort and
disturbing practice), imagining themselves being the athlete in the comic. Having read the
comic, athletes filled out a paper and pencil questionnaire in which they rated their anticipated
need satisfaction/frustration, engagement, oppositional defiance, and anger. Results showed
that the situational circumstances (i.e., athletes are misbehaving) attenuated, yet, did not
cancel out, some of the detrimental effects of a controlling (relative to an autonomy-
supportive) approach. Effects of coaches’ motivating style appeared to be largely independent
of athletes’ motivation. The theoretical and practical significance of the results are discussed.
Keywords: Sports, Coaching, Self-Determination Theory, Motivation, Autonomy
“There is no need to pressure athletes when they are struggling with hard exercises. Yet,
when they are disturbing practice athletes expect their coach to punish athletes who are
behaving inappropriately.” (Lisa, Coach)
“Some athletes need pressure. If you don’t pressure them they will not train hard enough.”
These statements illustrate that at least some coaches believe that in certain situations
(i.e., when athletes disturb practice) or with some athletes (i.e., those who are poorly
motivated), the use of a more controlling and pressuring approach may be beneficial.
Grounded in Self-Determination Theory (SDT, Deci & Ryan, 1985; Ryan & Deci, 2017), a
broad theory on human motivation, the main goal of this study was to examine whether the
effects of a controlling (relative to an autonomy-supportive) coaching style on athletes’
anticipated need-based experiences, anxiety, oppositional defiance, and engagement may
depend on (a) the specific situational circumstances (i.e., athletes are putting effort into a hard
exercise or athletes are displaying a lack of effort and are disturbing practice) and (b) athletes’
motivation (i.e., athletes displaying autonomous motivation, controlled motivation, or
amotivation). From a theoretical point of view, these questions are critical because they speak
to the claim that a controlling motivating style is universally more detrimental than an
autonomy-supportive style (Ryan & Deci, 2017). At the same time, these questions also have
important applied value because they can provide more specific and nuanced information on
which motivating style is most warranted under which circumstances and for which athletes.
Autonomy-supportive and Controlling Coaching
According to SDT (Deci & Ryan, 1985; Ryan & Deci, 2017), athletes are more likely
to persist and thrive when their coaches rely on an autonomy-supportive style rather than on a
controlling style. When being autonomy-supportive, coaches solicit athletes’ needs, wishes,
and preferences, they use inviting and informational language, they encourage athletes to take
initiative, they provide autonomy-supportive feedback, and they follow athletes’ pace of
development. When athletes show resistance, autonomy-supportive coaches acknowledge
athletes’ negative affect and provide a meaningful rationale for assigned tasks and requests
(Aelterman, De Muynck, Haerens, Vande Broek, & Vansteenkiste, 2017; Carpentier &
Mageau, 2013; 2016; Mageau & Vallerand, 2003; Reeve, 2016). In contrast, when using a
more controlling style, coaches are more preoccupied with their own goals and ambitions,
thereby enforcing their personal agenda onto the athletes. A controlling style involves relying
on a variety of pressuring strategies such as the use of harsh, coercive language and
commands, the offer of contingent rewards and (threat of) punishments, the display of
conditional regard and even the use of intimidation and excessive personal control
(Bartholomew, Ntoumanis, & Thøgersen-Ntoumani, 2010; De Meyer, Soenens, Aelterman,
De Bourdeaudhuij, & Haerens, 2016).
A wealth of cross-sectional, longitudinal, intervention-based, and diary studies in
youth sports has provided evidence that autonomy-supportive coaching relates to a host of
desirable affective outcomes, including greater vitality (Adie, Duda, & Ntoumanis, 2012;
Gagné, Ryan & Bargmann, 2003; Reinboth, Duda & Ntoumanis, 2004) and well-being
(Haerens et al., 2018) as well as better behavioral outcomes such as engagement and
motivation (Curran, Hill, Hall, & Jowett, 2014; Langan, Blake, Toner, & Lonsdale, 2015),
mental toughness (Mahoney, Ntoumanis, Gucciardi, Mallett, & Stebbings, 2017), sustainable
persistence (Pelletier, Fortier, Vallerand, & Brière; 2001), and performance (Cheon, Reeve,
Lee & Lee, 2015; Haerens et al., 2018). Conversely, controlling coaching relates to negative
outcomes such as burnout (Balaguer et al., 2012), ill-being (Bartholomew, Ntoumanis, Ryan,
& Thøgersen-Ntoumani, 2011; Haerens et al., 2018), and antisocial behaviors and resentment
(Delrue et al., 2017; Hodge & Lonsdale, 2011).
The systematic evidence for the differential effects of controlling and autonomy-
supportive coaching on athletes’ outcomes is consistent with the notion in SDT that these
coaching styles appeal differentially to athletes’ basic psychological needs. Autonomy-
supportive coaching has been shown to contribute to the satisfaction of athletes’
psychological needs for autonomy (i.e., to experience a sense of volition), competence (i.e., to
feel effective) and relatedness (i.e., to experience a warm relationship) (e.g., Haerens et al.,
2018). In contrast, a controlling coaching style has been found to thwart athletes’
psychological needs (Bartholomew et al., 2010). Because these psychological needs are
considered universal, that is, to be operative and relevant to all athletes, one can assume that a
perceived autonomy-supportive style is invariantly superior to a perceived controlling style in
terms of fostering adolescents’ motivation and well-being.
Does this universality claim imply that there is no variation whatsoever in effects of
autonomy-supportive and controlling coaching? No. According to SDT, there is room for
variability in the degree to which autonomy-supportive and controlling coaching affect
athletes’ outcomes (Deci & Ryan, 1987; Vansteenkiste, Aelterman, Haerens, & Soenens,
2019). While it is unlikely that a controlling style may be more adaptive than an autonomy-
supportive style, the effectiveness of both styles may depend partly on the situation at hand
and on athletes’ personal characteristics (e.g., motivation) (Ryan, Soenens, & Vansteenkiste,
in press; Soenens, Vansteenkiste, & Van Petegem, 2015).
The Situation-Dependent Effect of Coaches’ Autonomy Support and Control
In most previous correlational studies, the differential effects of autonomy-supportive
and controlling coaching were investigated by tapping into coaches’ typical style of
motivating athletes, thereby not taking the situational characteristics into account. This
shortcoming was partially addressed in experimental work examining the effects of coach
provided autonomy support and control in the context of a specific situation (e.g., De Muynck
et al., 2017). To date, these experimental studies mostly focused on situations in which
athletes are trying to master a specific skill. For example, in a lab study in which
undergraduate students learned to master a cricket throw, participants felt more self-
efficacious, reported more positive affect, and were more accurate when instructions were
given in an autonomy-supportive, compared to a controlling, way (Hooyman, Wulf, &
Lewthwaite, 2014). Along similar lines, kickboxers showed a greater willingness to exert
their practice drills when offered the possibility to choose the order of exercises compared to
when such choice was denied (Wulf, Freitas, & Tandy, 2014). Finally, tennis players involved
in an experimental field study reported more psychological need satisfaction and enjoyment
and showed more behavioral perseverance when feedback was delivered in an autonomy-
supportive, relative to a controlling, way (De Muynck et al., 2017).
Collectively, these experimental studies show that athletes who are practicing or even
learning a new skill benefit from an autonomy-supportive approach. Yet, sport coaches do not
only help athletes acquire and rehearse skills. Their role is also to monitor disciplinary matters
and to intervene when athletes fail to display appropriate behavior during training (Aelterman,
et al., 2017). In both roles, coaches are from time to time confronted with challenging
situations. Specifically, despite their efforts, athletes sometimes struggle to master new skills.
Also, athletes sometimes get distracted or they even show overt signs of resistance and
disruptive behavior, thereby refusing to put effort into the exercises at hand.
Up until today, we are not aware of any study in the domain of sports that compares
the effects of autonomy-supportive and controlling coaching in these different contexts.
Particularly when athletes refuse to put effort in the activity or even display disruptive
behavior, coaches may be inclined to react in a more controlling way. Indeed, studies in the
educational literature revealed that when students disengage or show disruptive behavior,
teachers tend to become more controlling (e.g., Grolnick, Weiss, McKenzie, & Wrightman,
1996; Skinner & Belmont, 1993; Van den Berghe, Cardon, Tallir, Kirk, & Haerens, 2016).
Teachers may react in a controlling way in these circumstances because they hold the belief
that when students disengage or display disruptive behavior a controlling approach is
effective and, hence, necessary (Reeve et al., 2014). Moreover, also students expect their
teacher to react against disruptive behavior (Evertson & Poole, 2008), perhaps even if their
reaction is controlling. Like students, athletes may appraise a controlling intervention by their
coach differently as a function of the specific features of the situation at hand. As it is
relatively easy and effortless to refrain from disrupting practice, athletes may find that athletes
who disrupt the training should be held personally accountable for their misbehavior through
a forceful intervention. Moreover, because such disruptive behavior may have consequences
for other athletes (e.g., the team), athletes may conceive a forceful intervention by the coach
as legitimate, thus ending up with a relatively benign interpretation of a controlling reaction
of their coach. According to the Social Domain Theory, a theory emphasizing the domain-
specificity of effects of socialization (Smetana, 2011), such disruptive behavior involves a
violation of conventional regulations. In the conventional domain, socialization figures’
(including coaches’) setting of limitations is likely to be perceived as justified, even when the
limits are provided in a rather pressuring way (Smetana, 2011). On the other hand, previous
correlational (Soenens, Vansteenkiste, & Niemiec, 2009) and vignette-based (Mageau et al.,
2018) studies in the parenting domain, pointed out that children still perceive an autonomy-
supportive style of setting behavioral limitations as more acceptable and effective in fostering
internalization, compared to a controlling style.
Athletes may perceive a controlling coach intervention very differently in a situation
where, despite of their effort-expenditure, they keep struggling with the exercises. In these
circumstances, a controlling approach may be perceived more illegitimate as the lack of
mastery of the exercises falls outside the control of the struggling athlete and the athlete’s
behavior is less disruptive for the group process. From the Social Domain Theory perspective,
athletes’ lack of ability to competently perform the exercise falls under the personal domain
(Smetana, 2011). Adolescents have been found to be particularly sensitive to socializing
agents’ involvement in these personal issues, which they then perceive as less legitimate,
especially when such involvement is communicated in an intrusive way (Smetana, Wong,
Ball, & Yau, 2014). For this reason, coaches’ controlling interventions when athletes are
struggling with exercises may get appraised as more intrusive and, hence, more harmful.
The Role of Athletes’ Personal Motivation in the Effects of Coaches’ Style
Whether and how athletes are affected by autonomy-supportive or controlling
coaching may depend not only on the situation at hand, but also on athletes’ personal
motivation. According to SDT (Ryan & Deci, 2017), athletes’ motivation differs in terms of
both quantity (motivation vs. amotivation) and quality (autonomous relative to controlled
motivation). When athletes find an activity truly challenging and enjoyable (i.e., intrinsic
motivation) or understand and endorse its personal value (i.e., identified regulation), they are
said to be autonomously motivated. When their sport participation is driven by internal
pressures such as guilt or shame (i.e., introjected regulation) or external pressures such as the
threats of punishments or the offer of contingent rewards (i.e., external regulation), they
display controlled motivation. When athletes lack a sense of goal directness or intentionality,
when they feel aloof and they do not see the point in putting effort into the practice at hand,
they are amotivated (Ryan, Lynch, Vansteenkiste, & Deci, 2011).
Most studies so far have modeled athletes’ motivation as an outcome of coaches’
motivating style (e.g., Haerens et al., 2018; Pelletier et al., 2001) or as a mediator in the
relation between coaches’ behavior and important outcomes (e.g., Healy, Ntoumanis, van
Zanten, & Paine, 2014). Yet, given that there exist inter-individual differences in the amount
and type of motivation that athletes bring to the sport club, athletes’ motivation may also
color the interpretation of the coach’s motivating style and alter its effect, an idea that is
consistent with the notion that individuals pro-actively interpret and shape the situation they
are in (Reeve, 2013). In the literature, two hypotheses regarding the influencing role of
athletes’ motivation have been put forward. Specifically, the match hypothesis which is
inconsistent with SDT (Vansteenkiste, Timmermans, Lens, Soenens, & Van den Broeck,
2008), involves the idea that athletes will display the most favorable outcomes when there is
direct correspondence between their type of motivation and coaches’ type of motivating style
(e.g., autonomous motivation-autonomy-supportive style and controlled motivation-
controlling style). In contrast, according to the sensitization hypothesis (Moller, Deci, &
Elliot, 2010), athletes with high-quality motivation who have a longer history of need-
supportive interaction patterns, would be more sensitive to the benefits of an autonomy-
supportive coaching response, while being less sensitive to the costs associated with a new
controlling event. Conversely, due to their history of need-thwarting experiences, athletes
with poorer motivation would be particularly sensitive to the undermining effects of new
need-thwarting (e.g., controlling) events, while reaping fewer benefits from autonomy-
Both hypotheses yield partly overlapping and partly diverging expectations about the
moderating role of athletes’ motivation on effects of coaching style. According to both
hypotheses, athletes who are more autonomously motivated would benefit more from
autonomy-supportive coaches. Yet according to the match hypothesis, athletes with controlled
motivation or amotivation would benefit more and even need more controlling coaches, while
according to the sensitization hypothesis, athletes high on controlled motivation or
amotivation, will suffer more when exposed to controlling coaching behaviors, because they
will be more sensitive to it.
During the past two decades, the interplay between motivating style and personal
motivation increasingly received attention in empirical work (e.g., Black & Deci, 2000; De
Meyer et al., 2016; Mouratidis, Vansteenkiste, Sideridis, & Lens, 2011; Schüler, Sheldon,
Prentice, & Halusic, 2014; Van Petegem et al., 2017). These studies typically focused on
parents’ and teachers’ motivating style and yielded mixed results. Some studies provided
direct (e.g., Mouratidis et al., 2011) or indirect (e.g., Schüler et al., 2014; Van Petegem et al.,
2017) support for the overlapping premise of the match and sensitization hypotheses, showing
that autonomously motivated individuals benefit more from the provision of autonomy-
support. Yet, other studies did not support this idea, revealing that the benefits derived from
autonomy support were either larger for those low on autonomous motivation (Black & Deci,
2000), or were largely independent of persons’ autonomous motivation (e.g., De Meyer et al.,
2016). A few studies yielded evidence for a sensitization effect. For instance, Van Petegem et
al. (2017) showed that individuals with a history of need-thwarting were less sensitive to the
benefits of autonomy-support. None of the studies provided support for the match hypothesis,
while this hypothesis tends to hold truth in some people’s lay beliefs (Ng, Thøgersen-
Ntoumani, & Ntoumanis, 2012; De Meyer et al., 2016).
The Present Study
To examine our research questions regarding the moderating role of the situation and
athletes’ motivation, we chose to rely on an experimental vignette–based approach.
Specifically, we developed four different vignettes in which a judo coach is interacting with
two athletes, thereby crossing the style of interacting with athletes (i.e., autonomy-supportive
relative to controlling) with the situation at hand. In one situation athletes were struggling,
albeit putting effort into the exercises and in the other situation, they displayed a lack of effort
and even disturbed the training session. The characteristics of judo naturally align with the
investigated situations. That is, judo is a technical sport, in which athletes are challenged to
master complex skills (i.e., related to the first situation). Judo also has a culture in which
discipline is highly valued (i.e., related to the second situation; d’Arripe-Longueville,
Fournier, & Dubois, 1998).
Consistent with SDT and with previous research, we generally expect that an
autonomy-supportive style will be more beneficial than a controlling coaching style in terms
of athletes’ need-based experiences, felt anger, oppositional defiance, and engagement. Yet,
we anticipate that the strength of this effect may depend partly on the situation at hand and
Regarding the effect of the situational manipulation, consistent with SDT, we
hypothesize that even in the disruptive situation, an autonomy-supportive approach will be
more effective than a controlling style (Deci & Ryan, 1987; Mageau et al., 2018; Ryan &
Deci, 2017). Yet, we examine the possibility that the difference between an autonomy-
supportive and a controlling coaching style may be less pronounced in the situation where
athletes display disruptive behavior compared to the situation where they struggle mastering
As regards judokas’ personal motivation (i.e., autonomous, controlled and
amotivation), two alternative sets of hypotheses can be formulated. If the match hypothesis
holds true, more autonomously motivated athletes would benefit more from autonomy-
supportive coaching behaviors, yet controlled or amotivated athletes would benefit more from
controlling coaching. If the sensitization hypothesis holds true, athletes high on autonomous
motivation would be more sensitive to and therefore also benefit more from autonomy-
supportive coaching behaviors. Athletes high on controlled or amotivation would likewise be
more sensitive to the coaches’ behavior and thus suffer more from controlling behaviors.
Given the contradictory results in previous research on this matter (De Meyer et al., 2016;
Mouratidis et al., 2011; Schüler et al., 2014), we do not posit directional hypotheses. In a very
explorative fashion, we also consider the possibility that the situational characteristics and
athletes’ personal motivation interact in their influence on the effects of autonomy-supportive
(relative to controlling) coaching. For instance, the combination of the two most benign or
favorable conditions (athletes are in the situation where they struggle with a skill and the
athlete’s own motivation is autonomous in nature) may yield a surplus effect on the
effectiveness of autonomy-supportive (relative to controlling) coaching.
Participants and recruitment procedures
A convenience sample of 101 Belgian judokas (32.7% girls) out of 20 different judo
clubs participated in the current study. They were on average 13.31 years of age (SD = 1.54),
trained on average 3.69 hours a week (SD = 2.06) and had on average 5.67 years (SD = 2.61)
of experience in judo. Some judokas were approached through their coaches, with the coaches
first asking permission of the judokas’ parents by means of an electronic invitation distributed
to the parents. If permission was obtained, a meeting with the judokas was scheduled after
one of their practice sessions. Other judokas were approached directly at tournaments, and
then the parents’ consent towards participation was asked right away.
If parental consent was obtained, the researcher explained the format of the study to
the judoka and addressed the judokas’ questions (if any). During the explanation, it was
ensured that judokas had every right to refrain from participating in the study, even if their
parents had consented. Judokas who provided consent to participate filled out a paper-and-
pencil questionnaire on their background characteristics and their general motivation to
practice judo. The experimental phase was then scheduled after their next practice session,
which was separated by a minimum of two and a maximum of seven days from the initial
assessment. For the experiment, judokas were asked to read two comic books (one for each
situation, i.e., athletes struggling with skill mastery despite their effort and athletes not
displaying effort and disturbing practice), and to imagine that they were one of the two
judokas in the comic book. After having read each of the two comic books, judokas filled out
a paper-and-pencil questionnaire measuring their perceptions of the coach’s interaction style,
and their anticipated need-based experiences, as well as anticipated anger, oppositional
defiance and engagement. The situations were presented in a counterbalanced manner to
avoid that the sequence of the vignettes would influence the way athletes responded to the
questionnaires. Both comic books contained experimentally manipulated vignettes concerning
an interaction between a judo coach and two judokas in a practice session. The coach’s
response in the vignettes was presented in either an autonomy-supportive or controlling way,
with judokas being randomly assigned to either an autonomy-supportive or a controlling
condition. As such, a 2x2 design was created with the situational context (i.e., “struggling”
versus “disruptive”) representing a within-subjects factor and with condition (autonomy-
supportive or controlling) representing a between-subjects factor. The study was approved by
the ethical board of Ghent University.
Measures and Materials
Pre- Experimental Measures. After providing information about background
characteristics (i.e., gender, age, hours of training, experience, club) participants completed a
validated 28-item scale (Assor, Vansteenkiste, & Kaplan, 2009) measuring their motivation to
put effort into their judo practice. The stem “I put effort in training…” was followed by items
to be rated on a 5-point-likert scale tapping into their intrinsic motivation (4 items; e.g.,
“because I find judo practice enjoyable”; α = .75), identified regulation (4 items; e.g.,
“because I appreciate the advantages of judo practice”; α = .69), introjected regulation (8
items; e.g., “because I would feel ashamed if I would not”; α = .78), external regulation (8
items; e.g., “because I would get approval from my coach”; α = .87) and amotivation (4 items;
e.g., but I ask myself why I do it”; α = .79). Next, a composite score was created for
autonomous motivation (8 items of intrinsic motivation and identified regulation; α = .80),
controlled motivation (16 items of external regulation and introjected regulation; α = .88) and
amotivation (4 items; α = .79).
Experimental Manipulation. Four different vignettes were created (see Appendix 1).
More precisely, situations where judokas were struggling to master a skill, and where judokas
were displaying disruptive behaviors during practice were created. These two situations were
then crossed with either an autonomy-supportive or a controlling coaching style, resulting in a
total of four different vignettes. Specifically, in the autonomy-supportive condition, coaching
behaviors consisted of acknowledging the judokas’ perspective, welcoming negative affect
and resistance, providing choice and a meaningful rationale, while making use of
informational language. In contrast, controlling responses consisted of ignoring judokas’
perspective and negative affect, demanding compliance and providing only coach-centered
rationales, threatening with punishment, while using controlling, guilt/shame-inducing
language. Although the type of operationalized autonomy-supportive (e.g., offer of choice)
and controlling (e.g., threatening with punishment) behaviors were held constant across the
two situations (struggling vs. disruptive), the precise wording was slightly adjusted to fit the
situation at hand as to maintain high ecological validity. All four vignettes were reviewed by a
panel of experts in SDT, judokas and judo coaches to evaluate the autonomy-supportive and
controlling nature, as well as the ecological validity and credibility of the coaches’ responses.
Based on these panel evaluations, only minor adjustments to the scenarios were made. The
adjustments dealt with the sport specific jargon and with how a judo skill is usually learned
and rehearsed in judo.
We chose a paper and pencil format instead of a video-based approach to avoid that
situational differences would be contaminated by a different tone of voice. That is, when role
playing the situations, actors may be inclined to use a harsher and more aggressive tone of
voice when being controlling (Weinstein, Zougkou, & Paulman , 2018). Because tone of
voice does not differ in vignettes delivered in a paper and pencil format, any observed
differences in the present study could be attributed only to the different autonomy-supportive
and controlling strategies and its different accompanying wording. However, we are aware
that such an approach can suffer from lower immersion compared to a video-based approach
(Aguinis & Bradley, 2014). Therefore, vignettes were presented in a comic book format,
which depicted interactions between the judokas and the coach through text balloons.
Together with the fact that judokas participated in the study directly following a practice
session, these lively pictures may have allowed them to identify with the athletes in the
situation and to be more fully immersed in the story (Aguinis & Bradley, 2014).
Manipulation Check: Perceived Autonomy Support and Control. Judokas’
perceptions of the style of the coaches’ responses were assessed using items based on the
Teacher As Social Context Questionnaire (TASCQ; Belmont, Skinner, Wellborn, & Connell,
1988) and the Psychologically Controlling Teaching scale (PCT; Soenens, Sierens,
Vansteenkiste, Dochy, & Goossens, 2012), which were found to be valid in the context of
Physical Education (De Meyer et al., 2016). After reading the stem “If I would be one of the
judokas in this training, I would have the impression that the coach…” participants answered
questions probing their perception of coaches’ autonomy support (6 items; e.g., “…gives me
the space to do things the way I would like to do things”; α = .74) or control (5 items; e.g.,
“…insists on doing things the way s/he likes to do things”: α = .38). By dropping the
controlling item “…tries to change the way I see things” the reliability of scale increased to α
= .52. Items were answered on a 5-point Likert scale from 1 (not at all true) to 5 (completely
Need Satisfaction and Frustration. Needs-based experiences were assessed using a
6-item instrument based on the adapted version of the BNSFS (Chen et al., 2015). After the
stem “If I would be one of the judokas in this training, I would…” participants answered to 3
items tapping into satisfaction of the needs for autonomy (i.e., “have the feeling I can be who
I truly am”), competence (i.e., “have the feeling I am doing well, even with hard exercises”),
and relatedness (i.e., ”have the feeling that the coach truly cares about me”) (α = .76), and 3
items tapping into frustration of the needs for autonomy (i.e., “experience it as an obligation),
competence (i.e., feel as a failure because of the mistake I make”) and relatedness (i.e., feel
excluded) (α = .61).
Affective and Behavioral Reponses. Anger, oppositional defiance and engagement
were assessed respectively with items adopted from Assor, Roth and Deci (2004),
Vansteenkiste, Soenens, Van Petegem, & Duriez (2014) and Skinner, Kindermann, and Furrer
(2009). After the stem “If I would be one of the judokas in this training, I would…”
participants answered to 3 items for anticipated anger (e.g., “be very angry with my coach”; α
= .78), 4 for anticipated oppositional defiance (e.g., “rebel against the expectations of my
coach”; α = .78) and 6 items for anticipated engagement (e.g., “work as hard as I could”; α =
Plan of Analyses
Preliminary Analyses. We first inspected descriptive statistics and Pearson
correlations among all variables (see Table 1). To examine whether randomization was
performed successfully, we tested through two-level (i.e., measures within athletes) multilevel
regression analyses whether participants in the autonomy-supportive and controlling
conditions differed according to their general background characteristics (i.e., age, hours of
training, and years of experience). We used χ²-analyses to examine gender distribution across
Primary Analyses. To address our research questions, we performed a series of two-
level multilevel regression analyses with measures (i.e., for both situations), nested within
athletes1. Then, variance components models (i.e., Model 0; Rasbash, Steele, Browne, &
Goldstein, 2014) were tested to estimate how much of the variance in each of the outcomes is
explained at the within (i.e., Level 1) and between-athlete level (i.e., Level 2). Next, we added
relevant covariates (i.e., gender, age, hours of training, and years of experience) as well as
experimental condition (i.e., autonomy-supportive versus controlling) to the model (See Model
1, Table 2). To examine our first research question considering the possible moderating role of
the situation, we then added the main effect of situation, as well as situation by condition
interaction effects to Model 1 (see Model 2, Table 2). In a similar way, and to test for the
moderating role of students’ motivation, we added main effects of all three types of motivation,
as well as the three two-way interaction terms between types of motivation and condition to
Model 1 (see Table 4). Finally, in a more exploratory way we also tested for possible “condition
by situation by motivation” three-way interaction effects in a full model containing three-way
interaction terms as well as all possible two-way interaction effects and the main effects
condition, situation, and motivation.
Table 1 shows the descriptive results, and the correlations between covariates and the
study outcomes. Age related positively to anticipated anger and negatively to engagement.
Number of training hours related positively to anticipated need satisfaction.
Randomization check. Multivariate analyses showed no significant differences in
judokas’ age (F(1,98) =.89, p = .35), years of experience (F(1,98) = 1.26, p = .27) and hours
of training (F(1,98) = .09, p = .77) according to condition. Furthermore, no differences
between conditions were found for athletes’ baseline scores of autonomous motivation
(F(1,98) = .90, p = .35), controlled motivation (F(1,98) = .31, p = .58) and amotivation
(F(1,98) = .04, p = .85).
A χ²-analysis indicated a significant difference in gender distribution across the
experimental conditions (2(1) = 4.49, p < 0.05). Specifically, the autonomy-supportive
condition contained relatively more boys (58.8%) than the controlling coaching condition
(41.2%), while the controlling condition contained more girls (63.6%) than the autonomy-
supportive condition (36.4%).
Inspection of the variance component models revealed significant variance at the
between-athlete level and at the within-athlete (between-situations) level for all outcomes. The
Intraclass Correlation Coefficient (ICC; Lüdtke, Robitzsch, Trautwein, & Kunter, 2009)
represents the percentage of variance lying at the between athlete-level as a proportion of the
total variance. The lowest variance at the between-athlete level was found for engagement
(32.85%), while the highest between-athlete variance was found for need satisfaction (56.72%).
For all other of the studied variables, values were in between.
Manipulation Check. Results showed significant main effects of condition on judokas’
perceptions of the coaches’ autonomy-supportive and controlling style (Table 2). Judokas in
the autonomy-supportive condition perceived the coach as more autonomy-supportive (M =
3.05) and less controlling (M = 2.13) compared to judokas in the controlling condition, who
perceived their coach as less autonomy-supportive (M = 2.56) and more controlling (M = 3.11).
These findings confirm the effectiveness of the manipulation.
Perceived Credibility. In terms of perceived credibility of the situations, no
significant main effect of condition effect was found (2 = 3.04, df = 1, p = 0.08). Yet, a
condition by situation interaction effect emerged: the autonomy-supportive approach was
perceived to be more credible than the controlling approach in the “struggling” situation (
-0.57, 2 = 11.95, df = 1, p 0.001), while no significant condition difference was found for
the “disruptive” situation (
= 0.06, 2 = 0.12, df = 1, p = 0.73).
Main Effects of Coaching Style. Judokas anticipated more need satisfaction (2 =
42.54, df = 1, p 0.001) and engagement (2 = 10.89, df = 1, p = 0.001), and less need frustration
(2 = 40.77, df = 1, p 0.001), anger (2 = 63.29, df = 1, p 0.001), and defiance (2 = 9.22, df
= 1, p 0.01) when they read the autonomy-supportive vignettes when compared to the
controlling vignettes (see Table 2).
The Moderating Effect of Situation. Next, we examined condition by situation
interaction effects in relation to the outcomes. For all but one outcome (i.e., engagement), we
found significant condition by situation interaction effects. Significance levels ranged
between 2 = 11.34, df = 1, p 0.001 for anger and 2 = 4.66, df = 1, p 0.05 for oppositional
defiance. For anticipated need satisfaction, a controlling (relative to an autonomy-supportive)
approach elicited less need satisfaction in both situations, yet the detrimental effects were
stronger for the “struggling” situation (B = -1.10,
2 = 49.49, df =1, p 0.001), when
compared to the “disruptive” situation (B = -.65,
2 = 17.29, df = 1, p 0.001). Similar, yet
opposite, effects were found for anticipated need frustration and anger. While a controlling
(relative to an autonomy-supportive) approach elicited more anticipated need frustration and
anger in both situations, the detrimental effect of a controlling approach appeared larger in the
“struggling” situation (B = 1.15, 2 = 46.81, df = 1, p 0.001 for need frustration; B = 1.55, 2
= 68.56, df = 1, p 0.001 for anger), when compared to the “disruptive” situation (B = .55,
= 10.68, df = 1, p = 0.001 for need frustration, B = .75,
2 = 16.42, df = 1, p 0.001 for
anger). As for judokas’ anticipated oppositional defiance, we found that only for the
“struggling” situation, athletes anticipated more defiance when exposed to a controlling coach
(B = .64, 2 = 13.94, df = 1, p 0.001), while in “disruptive” situation no differences were
found between an autonomy-supportive and controlling approach (B = .22, 2 = 1.59, df = 1, p
= 0.21). All averages are reported in Table 3.
The Moderating Effect of Judokas’ Motivation. Next, we examined motivation
(i.e., autonomous, controlled and amotivation) by condition interaction effects in relation to
the outcomes. Of the 15 interaction terms tested (3 types of motivation by 5 outcomes) only
one was significant (i.e., with autonomous motivation; See Table 4,), namely in the prediction
of need satisfaction. A test of simple slopes indicated that athletes reported less need
satisfaction when they were exposed to the controlling coach as compared to the autonomy-
supportive coach, especially when they were high (i.e., +1 SD above the mean) in
autonomous motivation (B = -1.27, SE = 0.19, z = -6.72 p < .01). The respective difference
between the controlling and autonomy-supportive approach was smaller among athletes who
were around the mean in autonomous motivation (B = -0.85, SE = 0.12, z = -7.20, p < .001)
and even smaller – yet still statistically significant - among those who were low (i.e., -1 SD
below the mean) in autonomous motivation (B = -0.44, SE = 0.17, z = -2.67, p = .008). A
graphical representation of this interaction is shown in Figure 1.
In terms of main effects of motivation, we found that judokas who were more
autonomously motivated, anticipated more need satisfaction (B = .65, 2 = 8.67, df = 1, p
0.01) and less anger (B = -.51, 2 = 4.04, df = 1, p 0.05), while no significant relationships
were found with anticipated need frustration, engagement or defiance. Judokas high on
controlled motivation anticipated more oppositional defiance (B = .33, 2 = 6.62, df = 1, p
0.05), yet no significant relations were found with other outcomes. No significant main effects
were found for amotivation.
Finally, we also explored whether there were significant “condition by situation by
motivation” three-way interaction effects. None of these three-way interaction effects
appeared significant (all 2 < 3.49, df = 1, p > 0.06).
Recent SDT-based research has shown that an autonomy-supportive and controlling
coaching style are on average, respectively, beneficial and harmful for athletes’ experiences,
motivation, engagement, and performance (e.g., Wulf, 2007). Consistent with this research,
results of the current study demonstrate that an autonomy-supportive, relative to a controlling,
style predicts more need satisfaction and more engagement and less need frustration, anger,
and oppositional defiance. Our findings thus corroborate the average adaptive effect of an
autonomy-supportive coaching style.
Yet, some sport coaches raise doubts about whether in real life an autonomy-
supportive coaching style would always, that is, under all circumstances and with any athlete,
yield desirable outcomes (e.g., Ng, et al., 2012). That is, some coaches hold the belief that in
some situations (e.g., when athletes display disruptive behavior) and with some athletes (i.e.,
those high on controlled motivation or amotivation) a controlling approach is warranted and
even more effective (Ng et al., 2012). While the idea that a controlling approach would
sometimes be more effective than an autonomy-supportive approach is inconsistent with
SDT’s universality claim, SDT acknowledges that there might be gradation in the beneficial
and harmful effects of an autonomy-supportive and controlling style, depending on both
contextual and person characteristics (Deci & Ryan, 1987; Ryan & Deci, 2017; Ryan, et al., in
press; Soenens et al., 2015). Yet, to date, this issue of gradation did not receive much
attention in the context of sports. Therefore, the current study examined whether the
anticipated beneficial and harmful effects of, respectively, an autonomy-supportive and
controlling coaching style depend on (a) the situation at hand and (b) athletes’ personal
Situation-dependency of Coach Autonomy Support and Control
The detrimental effects of a controlling approach appeared to be more pronounced in a
situation where athletes are struggling albeit putting effort into the exercises when compared
to a situation where athletes display disruptive behavior. Thus, when athletes envisioned a
judoka who was approached by a controlling coach while struggling with the exercises (e.g.,
“just do as I say, it is not so hard”), they anticipated the least need satisfaction and the most
need frustration, they indicated they would experience more anger and resentment, and they
reported being more inclined to defy the request of the controlling coach all together. This
was very different when the coach was holding an autonomy-supportive approach in the
“struggling” situation. Then, athletes anticipated that they would experience high levels of
autonomy (i.e., a sense of volition), competence (i.e., effective) and relatedness (i.e., warm
relationship) satisfaction (with scores higher than 3 on a five-point scale) and low levels of
autonomy (i.e., pressured), competence (i.e., failure) and relatedness (i.e., cold relationship,
excluded) frustration (with scores of 2 on a 5-point Likert scale).
In a situation where athletes display disruptive behavior, the controlling approach
(e.g., “if I must say it another time, you will get punished”) was also detrimental (when
compared to an autonomy-supportive approach) in terms of anticipated need satisfaction, need
frustration, and anger. Yet, the effect was more modest in terms of effect size than in the
While the situation at hand thus seems to attenuate the detrimental effects of a
controlling approach, it is important to note that, in both situations, an autonomy-supportive
approach elicited more engagement than a controlling one and that even in the disruptive
situation the autonomy supportive reaction was still more adaptive for most outcomes (except
for oppositional defiance). As such, the current results demonstrate that the situational
circumstances in which such coaching behaviors are displayed, only partially modify the
extent to which these coaching behaviors influence judokas’ anticipated experiences during
How can this attenuating effect of the situation be explained? Studies in the
educational literature show that teachers are pulled to act in a more controlling way when
students misbehave (e.g., Grolnick et al., 1996; Skinner & Belmont, 1993; Van den Berghe et
al., 2016). As such, a controlling reaction might come across as more normative, realistic and
familiar in such a situation (Reeve et al., 2014). Our results provided some indirect support
for this interpretation as athletes rated the controlling approach as more credible in the
disruptive behavior compared to the struggling situation. Athletes may also have found such a
demanding and more forceful response of the coach to be somewhat more legitimate and
therefore less harmful (Way, 2011). After all, judokas have control over the amount of effort
they display and the extent to which they engage in disruptive behavior. As such, they can be
held accountable for their behavior in this situation. This is different when athletes are
struggling with exercises. In this situation athletes may feel as if their lack of competence falls
outside their control, and they may therefore feel not understood by a controlling coach. In
their opinion, the controlling coach may fail to notice their efforts to master the activity and
the fact of being considered personally accountable for making insufficient progress may even
come across as intrusive. For this reason, the use of control under these circumstances may be
perceived as less legitimate and, therefore, more harmful.
The Motivation-dependency of Coach Autonomy Support and Control
In addition to considering the role of the situation at hand, we also investigated
whether athletes’ motivation moderated the effect of coaches’ style. The results revealed that
the effects of coaching style were largely independent of judokas’ personal motivation (with
only one out of 15 interactions being significant). Further inspection of this interaction effect
revealed that the effect was a matter of gradation. That is, the difference between the
autonomy-supportive and controlling vignette in the prediction of need satisfaction was more
pronounced for judokas high in autonomous motivation. Specifically, highly autonomously
motivated athletes anticipated even more need satisfaction in response to an autonomy-
supportive approach and even less need satisfaction in reaction to a controlling approach
compared to individuals low in autonomous motivation.
Thus, athletes’ motivation affected the degree to which an autonomy-supportive
(relative to a controlling) approach elicited need satisfaction. Importantly, the condition effect
was not cancelled, let alone reversed. Together, these findings suggest, in contrast to some
coaches’ beliefs regarding the motivation-dependent effectiveness of an autonomy-supportive
or controlling approach (e.g., Ng et al., 2012), that the moderating role of athletes’ motivation
was rather limited. Our findings do not support the idea that a match between athletes’
motivation and coaches’ motivating style is warranted as has been suggested in previous
research (Horn, Bloom, Berglund & Packard, 2011; Schüler et al., 2014), as athletes high on
controlled motivation or amotivation did not benefit more from a controlling approach.
Neither do our results provide systematic support for the mechanism of sensitization that
received some support in prior research with teachers and parents (e.g., Van Petegem et al.,
2017). If the sensitization hypothesis would have been supported we would have found that
athletes who were highly autonomously motivated would not only be more sensitive to an
autonomy supportive approach but also be less sensitive to the detrimental effects of a
controlling approach, while athletes low on autonomous motivation with a history of need-
thwarting events would have been particularly sensitive to the undermining effects of new
controlling events. Our results supported only the former part of the hypothesis but not the
Although only one moderation effect was obtained, such finding is informative in its
own right. Indeed, the claimed universal benefits of a perceived autonomy-supportive
coaching style begs the question of moderation by individual differences variables, an issue
that has received increasing attention over the past few years (Vansteenkiste & Mouratidis,
2016). A host of potential moderators have been addressed in recent work, varying from
personality differences (e.g., Hagger & Chatzisarantis, 2011; Mabbe, Soenens, De Muynck, &
Vansteenkiste, 2018), to differences in need strength (e.g., Katz, Kaplan, & Gueta, 2010;
Schüler et al., 2014; Van Assche et al., 2018) and differences in motivation (e.g., De Meyer et
al., 2016). Congruent with previous work by De Meyer et al. (2016), herein, limited evidence
was found for the moderating role of athletes’ type of motivation in the relationship between
coaches’ autonomy-supportive and controlling behaviors and athletes’ sport experience.
Interpreted differently, our findings suggest that an autonomy-supportive approach will most
likely yield adaptive outcomes, and that a controlling approach will most likely lead to
detrimental outcomes, even if athletes display high levels of controlled motivation or
Finally, our findings also revealed some direct relationships between athletes’
motivation and the outcomes. Irrespective of the coaching style they were exposed to, athletes
who truly enjoyed or valued practicing judo (high on autonomous motivation) anticipated
higher levels of need satisfaction and less anger. Further, athletes who scored high on
controlled motivation anticipated more oppositional defiance. These findings suggest that
these trait levels of motivation, which are likely to be rooted in a history of need satisfying (as
for autonomous motivation) and need frustrating (as for controlled motivation) experiences
determine to some extent (not systematically for all outcomes) how athletes respond to
experimentally manipulated vignettes of a coaching situation.
In light of the findings demonstrating the benefits of an autonomy-supportive
motivating style, an increasing number of researchers have developed and tested evidence-
based interventions to train sport coaches to adopt a more autonomy-supportive style and
have shown such interventions lead to better motivation and performance (e.g., Cheon, et al.,
2015; Reynders et al., 2018). The present findings may help to bring a more nuanced message
regarding the effectiveness of autonomy-supportive and controlling coaching, thereby also
addressing coaches’ and educators’ critical questions. That is, during professional training
programs, coaches and educators often raise doubts about whether in real life an autonomy-
supportive style is always attainable (Reeve & Cheon, 2016), realistic and effective (e.g.,
Aelterman et al., 2013). Coaches particularly struggle to act in an autonomy-supportive way
when athletes are fooling around, are disrupting practice, or display a lack of effort
(Ntoumanis & Mallet, 2014; Occhino, Mallet, Rynne, & Carlisle, 2014; Reeve, 2009). In such
situations, a strong reaction is called for and coaches may be inclined to convey their
expectations in a fairly forceful manner by using commands (“It is enough, you must…”), by
threatening with sanctions (e.g., “If I need to say it another time, then…) or by punishing
(e.g., “you must sit aside now). Although coaches may hope to reorient athletes’ attention to
the exercise and to prompt them to extra efforts with such a forceful approach, they may end
up with athletes who do not feel understood, as indexed by lowered need satisfaction, and
who may even resist complying with the coaches’ request, as indexed by the elevated anger,
resentment and oppositional defiance. So, what is the alternative? Clearly, it is no option to
become permissive under these circumstances and to hope that the situation resolves itself.
Yet, the way of intervening seems to play a major role. In the present study, the coach in the
autonomy-supportive vignette tried to take athletes’ frame of reference, thereby being curious
to hear athletes’ perspective (e.g., “you seem to have problems to concentrate, how come?”)2
and acknowledging athletes’ negative affect; he also provided a rationale (e.g., “I understand
it is not easy to concentrate if you do not like this exercise too much, yet this exercise will
help you with the next exercise…”), and even built in genuine choice (e.g., “you can choose,
either you choose a different partner or you keep on working together and take the exercise
seriously”) to defuse the problematic situation. Although some coaches may consider such an
autonomy-supportive approach as being “too soft” to adequately handle disruptive behavior,
the current results indicate the opposite. Hence, the challenge for coaches is to consequently
follow up on athletes’ disruptive behavior (i.e., provide structure), yet do so in an autonomy-
supportive way (see also Mageau et al., 2018 in the parenting domain). Indeed, past research,
albeit not specifically related to athletes’ disruptive behavior, has found that the combination
of an autonomy-supportive style with the provision of structure is most ideal to promote
engagement and autonomous motivation (Curran, Hill, & Niemiec, 2013; Jang, Reeve, &
Deci, 2010; Vansteenkiste et al., 2012).
When athletes struggle with hard exercises, coaches’ patience to follow athletes’ pace
of development may be challenged quite a bit. In such a situation it appears even more
important to refrain from controlling strategies such as the use of controlling language (e.g.,
“I see you are making the same mistake over and over again, you must….), pressuring
athletes (e.g., “if others manage, you have to as well”) or shaming them (e.g., “stop now, there
is no point in proceeding like this”). Indeed, given the benefits of an autonomy-supportive
approach were even more pronounced in this situation, coaches do well to maintain this style
when athletes invest a lot of effort into hard exercises they are struggling with. As such, an
autonomy-supportive style seems to help athletes stay positive and engaged when facing
challenging or even competence-frustrating situations.
In sum, the present contribution may help to fine-tune existing intervention programs
(Cheon et al., 2015; Langan et al; 2015; Mahoney et al., 2015), as our findings suggest that a
controlling approach is especially likely to backfire when athletes fail to master an exercise
despite their well-intended efforts. At the same time, coaches do well to maintain an
autonomy-supportive stance even when their athletes display disruptive group behavior. By
integrating these more refined conclusions in existing intervention programs, some of
coaches’ doubts about the effectiveness of autonomy-supportive practices and their
convictions regarding the effectiveness of controlling coaching in cases of athletes’
misbehavior could be addressed. Also, the vignette materials developed herein may offer a
more precise insight in how coaches can maintain an autonomy-supportive stance under
challenging circumstances, that is, when their athletes struggle with an exercise or disrupt the
concentration of their team members.
Finally, the results of the current study suggest that coaches should not pursue an
absolute match between their motivating style and athletes’ motivation, as if an autonomy-
supportive approach would only work for autonomously motivated athletes, while a
controlling approach would be effective for athletes with poor quality motivation (i.e.,
controlled motivation and amotivation). Instead, based on the results of the experiment
presented here, it can be hypothesized that, also in real-life, all athletes would thrive under
autonomy-supportive conditions and suffer from controlling strategies. We would like to
caution, however, that the current findings do not suggest that an autonomy-supportive style
represents a motivational cook book, including recipes that work all the time for all athletes.
An autonomy-supportive style in essence requires coaches to adopt a curious and receptive
attitude as to fully understand the athletes’ frame of reference (Aelterman et al., 2017;
Vansteenkiste & Soenens, 2015). Autonomy-supportive coaches flexibly adapt their strategies
to the athletes in front of them, in an attempt to identify, nurture, and develop their inner
motivational resources. Indeed, such an empathic stance is perhaps the most central feature of
an autonomy-supportive style (Mageau, Sherman, Grusec, Koestner, & Bureau, 2017;
Soenens, Deci, & Vansteenkiste, 2017; Vansteenkiste, Niemiec, & Soenens, 2010).
Limitations and Future Directions
Some limitations of the current study require attention. First, due to the repeated
measurement design, we limited the number of items per construct as to avoid response
fatigue among participants. However, this item reduction may account for the lower internal
consistency of some of the assessed constructs. Because the scales with lower internal
consistency include a substantial part of error variance (next to substantive variance capturing
the essence of the construct), associations of these scales with other measures may be affected
by error variance and may, most likely, be suppressed (thus representing an underestimation
of the true association). Second, the vignettes used to standardize participants’ exposure to
autonomy-supportive or controlling coaching behavior were very distinct and may not
correspond with daily reality. In real-life many coaches rely on a mixture of strategies (e.g.,
Haerens et al., 2018), alternating between more autonomy-supportive and more controlling
strategies within a situation. The pronounced difference between the two conditions not only
account for strong condition effects, this difference may also have reduced the probability of
obtaining evidence for the moderating role of the situation and athletes' motivation. These
moderating variables may play a more significant role in more ambiguous situations,
involving a combination of both styles. Third, although the use of written vignettes has its
advantages (e.g., no interference of body language or intonation), because we assessed
athletes’ hypothetical responses to the vignettes we cannot tell with certainty whether they
would feel and respond the same way in an actual training. Also, written vignettes are less
vivid than interactions put in scene and presented via video demonstration (e.g., Aguinis &
Bradley, 2014; De Meyer et al., 2016). As such, they rely heavily on participants’ imagination
and access to anticipated emotions and behavior. In future work one could also try to address
our research questions by manipulating sport coaches’ style in a real-life context and by
assessing athletes' real-life responses and feelings (e.g., Mouratidis et al., 2011). Finally, the
observed differences between both situations in terms of perceived autonomy support may be
due to the situational differences themselves, but could also be explained by the slightly
different operationalization of the specific autonomy-supportive behaviors between situations.
Although the type of operationalized autonomy-supportive behaviors (e.g., provision of
choice; communication of a meaningful rationale) was kept constant across situations, the
exact wording was adjusted to the situation at hand to maintain high ecological validity.
Future research may try to keep the wording perfectly constant across situations to draw
unambiguous conclusions regarding the observed differences in autonomy support between
Coaches do not only help athletes to develop skills, they also have an important role in
monitoring disciplinary matters and in regulating athletes’ appropriate behavior during
training. Moreover, from time to time they also deal with athletes who are less optimally
motivated. The current study addressed the question whether in disciplinary situations, or with
poorly motivated athletes, a controlling approach may be warranted. Although we found that
the differences between the autonomy-supportive and controlling approaches were less
pronounced in situations where athletes disrupt the training compared to situations where
athletes struggle to master a skill, neither the situational circumstances (e.g., athletes are
misbehaving), nor athletes’ personal motivation (e.g., they show more controlled motivation
or amotivation) cancelled out the benefits of an autonomy supportive, relative to a controlling,
approach. These findings provide further support for the theoretical claim that a controlling
motivating style is universally more detrimental then an autonomy-supportive style (Ryan &
Deci, 2017). Although disruptive athletes or poorly motivated athletes may pull for a
controlling approach from coaches, the present findings suggest that even under these more
challenging circumstances coaches would do well to adopt an autonomy- supportive stance.
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Table 1: Bivariate correlations between all assessed variables across both the struggling and the disturbing situation
Note: *p < .05, **p < .01; ***p < .001
Table 2. Main effects of Condition and Condition by Situation Interaction Effects
Note. *p < .05; **p < .01; ***p < .001. Values in parentheses are standard errors.
aGender reference category = boy; b Condition reference category = autonomy supportive; c Situation reference category = struggling
Autonomy Supportive Style
Conditionb * Situationc
RANDOM PART REFERENCE MODEL
Athlete level variance
Repeated Measure level variance
RANDOM PART TEST MODEL
Athlete level variance
Repeated Measure level variance
Test of significance
IGLS Deviance reference model
IGLS Deviance test model
Note. *p < .05; **p < .01; ***p < .001. Values in parentheses are standard errors.
aGender reference category = boy; b Condition reference category = autonomy supportive; c Situation reference category = struggling
Conditionb * Situationc
RANDOM PART REFERENCE MODEL
Athlete level variance
Repeated Measure level variance
RANDOM PART TEST MODEL
Athlete level variance
Repeated Measure level variance
Test of significance
IGLS Deviance reference model
IGLS Deviance test model
Means and Standard Deviations According to Condition and Situation
Disturbing-Lack of effort
Table 4. Condition by Motivation Interaction Effects
Note. Tested in a model including covariates and main effects of motivation and
condition. **p < .01.
Figure 1. Graphical representation of the Condition by Autonomous Motivation
Interaction Effect in the Prediction of Need Satisfaction
style Controlling style
Low (-1 SD) autonomous
High (+1SD) autonomous
We did not consider a three-level model (with measures nested within athletes within
coaches/clubs), because due to the recruitment procedure the distribution of participating
judokas across sports clubs was very unbalanced (for 7 of the 20 clubs only one judoka was
Although the questions asked by the coach were meant to signal interest and to carry
high informational value, coaches can also ask questions in fairly confrontational and
interrogative, thereby coming across as distrustful and evaluative. Although Reeve and Jang
(2006) identified asking questions as one autonomy-supportive behavior, its perceived
functional significance (Deci & Ryan, 1985) likely depends on the exact wording, its
accompanying tone of voice (Weinstein, Zougkou, & Paulmann, 2018), the timing of the
question, and the presence of additional autonomy-supportive or controlling behaviors among
other factors (see Vansteenkiste, et al., 2019).
Appendix 1: Experimental Vignettes.
1.Autonomy-supportive style - Struggling situation
Below you find a short story, which is situated at judo practice. Try to project yourself
as good as you can in the depicted situation. Imagine that you were present in this practice
session and you were one of the two judokas. Afterwards, please fill in the questionnaire.
2.Autonomy-supportive style – Disturbing situation
3.Controlling style – Struggling situation
4.Controlling style – Disturbing situation