University of Jyväskylä

School motivation not a threat to sport

A study conducted at the University of Jyväskylä Finland shows that young athletes’ school motivation does not necessarily compete with sport motivation.

Researchers from the Department of Psychology at the University of Jyväskylä examined the stability and change in task value patterns that Finnish student-athletes show during their first two years in upper secondary sport school and the extent to which these patterns are associated with students' future educational and athletic career aspirations.

The findings, published in the journal Learning and Individual Differences, debunk the myth that those who direct their dedication single-mindedly toward sport would be more sport motivated than those, who also have high education or work-related motivation outside of sports.

The study shows instead that the level of sport motivation was very similar between athletes who were motivated for both education and sport and those who had mainly motivation for sport. In total, three motivational patterns were discovered. Another finding was that these motivational patterns were very stable during the study.

“Over half of the student athletes planned to apply to a university and the amount even increased during the first two years in high school,” says Professor Kaisa Aunola from the University of Jyväskylä.

“These results suggest that most of the young athletes are highly motivated to educate themselves, and sports high schools in Finland have been successful to foster athletes’ motivation.”

Dual career is a demanding choice

A dual career refers to an athlete's challenge of combining an elite sporting career with education or work. Promotion of dual careers is done to ensure that young athletes have alternative career options alongside their chosen sports and are better prepared for retirement from elite sport.

For athletes, succeeding in a dual career is a highly demanding task due to time constraints, overlapping schedules and conflicting goals. In order to successfully manage a dual career, students should be motivated toward both education and sport.

The results of the study encourage supporting dual motivated young athletes in order to prevent dropout from further education and to strengthen their motivation towards both education and sport.

This brings up the question of how athletes can be supported optimally to maintain motivation for both sport and school during their adolescent years, as it means no harm to either path and keeps their options open in the future.

Further information:

Co-leader of the longitudinal research project

Professor Kaisa Aunola, tel. +358408053481,
Department of Psychology, University of Jyväskylä, Finland

Leader of the longitudinal research project
Senior Researcher Tatiana Ryba, tel. +358408054460,
Department of Psychology, University of Jyväskylä, Finland


Aunola, K., Selänne, A., Selänne, H., & Ryba, T. V. (2018). The role of adolescent athletes' task value patterns in their educational and athletic career aspirations. Learning and Individual Differences, 63, 34-43.

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