Research on Wheaton athletes’ identity and perception of the motivational climate

Hailey Kohler ’18, a member of the Women’s Field Hockey team, along with two other classmates in her social psychology lab, recently completed a study on Wheaton athletes’ perception of motivational climate in relation to athletic identity. The purpose of this study was to examine how Wheaton athletes are influenced by the climates of their teams, and to what extent this climate affects their athletic identities.

Speaking to the initial idea for doing this study, Kohler said, “Because Alexis and [I] are on the field hockey team, we have always been interested in how athletes differ from the general student body. [So] we decided to replicate a study focused on athletic identity.”

Their study, which references the aforementioned studies on athletic identity, shows that there were differences in motivational climate and optimal performance of athletes between Division 1 and Division 3. Explaining these division levels’ differences, Kohler said, “Division 1 means that athletes need to have a big time commitment in the sense [of] intensive practice each day. Basically, it is about funding, practice time and different rules.” She added, “Division 3 puts more emphasis on student athletes, which means that academics always come first, and there are less hours of practice compared to Division 1 schools.”

Since Wheaton is a Division 3 school, student athletes put less weight on practice than academic studies. Research also shows that the culture of male teams is very different than the culture of female teams. Kohler stated that the study wanted to determine not only how Division 3 athletes viewed themselves in regards to athletic identity and motivational climates, but also regarding the caring climates between male and female teams.

The group used an online survey as the main method of gathering data. In their study, they hypothesized that females would have a better motivational and caring climate than males. Conversely, they speculated that males would rank higher in athletic identity, while ranking low in motivation outside of sports. Citing from the paper, they had a sample of 30 males (40.5%) and 44 females (59.5%). Of this, 28.4% of participants identified themselves as first-year students, 37.8% as sophomores, 13.5% as juniors and 20.3% as seniors.

Analyzing the data, Kohler stated, “We found that there was no difference between men and women’s sports at Wheaton in regards to motivational climate, caring climate and how they view themselves as…athlete[s]…one interesting result I found [was] that there was a significant difference between upperclassmen, who view their climate as more motivational, and lowerclassmen, who view their climates [as] more caring.”

Although there are some limitations in the study (such as small sample size and inevitable peer discussions during the online survey), it still provides considerable insight for athletes in terms of thinking about their athletic identity and team environment. Most importantly, it also gives Wheaton a better understanding of athletes’ thoughts and feelings. It can help different classes of athletes achieve their goals, both physically and academically. Kohler concluded, “I hope this study can give the institution a hint of what the athletes want and help them become the best athlete[s] as they can.”