‘A phone call changed my life’: Exploring the motivations of sport for development and peace scholars

· Volume 4 Issue 7

Jon Welty Peachey1, Adam Cohen2, Allison Musser1

1University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, Department of Recreation, Sport and Tourism

2University of Technology Sydney, Management Discipline Group

Corresponding author email: jwpeach@illinois.edu

Citation: Welty Peachey, J., Cohen, A., Musser, A. ‘A phone call changed my life’: Exploring the motivations of sport for development and peace scholars. Journal of Sport for Development. 2016;4(7):58-70.

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The purpose of this study was to explore the initial motivations of scholars to engage with the sport for development and peace (SDP) field, to ascertain reasons why they stay involved, and to examine their perceptions of and motivations towards future scholarship. We conducted interviews with eight SDP scholars. Findings indicated scholars were initially motivated intrinsically through personal interest and extrinsically by the perception of opportunity. Scholars remained involved when their needs for autonomy, competence and relatedness were met. Scholars also explicated many intriguing future directions for scholarship that are related to their ongoing motivations to remain involved in SDP.


Increasingly, more and more scholars are becoming engaged with the sport for development and peace (SDP) field in a variety of ways. Scholars are involved in policy and theoretical discourse, conducting basic and applied research along multiple fronts, as well as focusing on community engagement work through monitoring and evaluation efforts with SDP organisations. The SDP field is quite broad and can be defined as using sport as an engine of development through intercultural exchange, community engagement, conflict resolution and peace building, assisting marginalised populations, or through focusing on public health. This broad scope of SDP allows scholars from myriad disciplines such as sport management, sport sociology, recreation, development, sociology, psychology, business, and more to find avenues within the field to pursue their research agendas1

With the increasing number of scholars moving into the SDP field from various disciplines and conducting research along multiple agendas, it is important to ascertain their motives for becoming involved and also why they remain engaged with the field over time. Relatedly, it will be beneficial to ascertain scholars’ views on future directions for SDP scholarship and practice, and how these opportunities relate to their intentions to remain involved in the field. There is much opportunity for scholars and students in this young field; in a recent integrated literature review of over 400 articles pertaining to SDP, Schulenkorf, Sherry, and Rowe2 reflected on existing research and call for new lines of inquiry that aim to contribute to theory and practice. From a broader perspective, studies have aimed to understand the motivations and experiences of academics, and call for more research across disciplines to enhance an understanding of faculty motivations.3,4

Specifically, understanding the motives of SDP scholars including why they stay involved over time is critical for growing the field. Developing this understanding could provide a basis to attract new scholars and students from different disciplines to the field and encourage higher education institutions to provide support and pathways for young scholars. Understanding SDP scholar motivations could serve as a valuable tool towards enhancing continued effective scholarship and prevent burnout or apathy as academic careers progress. Faculty and students considering SDP as a research focus may find it helpful to understand why other scholars have engaged with SDP initially and over the long term. Specifically, this could give them direction to pursue SDP as a viable line of inquiry, which would contribute to advancing scholarship and teaching in SDP. Thus, the purpose of the present study was to explore the initial motivations of scholars to engage with the SDP field, to ascertain reasons why they stay involved, and to examine their perceptions of and motivations towards future scholarship. The present study is part of a larger project, which examines the initial barriers and strategies scholars have encountered and utilised when working in the SDP field,5 and the specific challenges faced and strategies they have employed when forming research partnerships with SDP organisations.6


Self-Determination Theory

To understand motivations of SDP scholars to initially engage with and to continue working in the field, we tapped Deci and Ryan’s7 Self-Determination Theory (SDT) to help accomplish this aim. According to SDT, individuals can be motivated intrinsically and extrinsically. Intrinsic motivation refers to a person engaging in an activity for the valued engagement and potential rewards of the activity itself. The activity is inherently satisfying, so he or she is moved to action based on the fun and pleasure of taking part in the activity, rather than for the possibility of any external reward or positive reinforcement.8 Extrinsic motivation, conversely, is behaviour that is driven by pressure or rewards that exist external to oneself.10

Ryan and Deci8 were the first to argue that there are different types of extrinsic motivation; thus, SDT operates on a continuum from amotivation, through four types of extrinsic motivation, to intrinsic motivation. Amotivation simply refers to lack of motivation for action. The four types of extrinsic motivation are external regulation, introjected regulation, identified regulation, and integrated regulation, with external regulation closest to amotivation and integrated regulation closest to intrinsic motivation. External regulation is motivation in which external rewards are the most important driver of the behaviour, as in a scholar engaging in a research agenda because he/she believes it will enable him/her to attain tenure and promotion. Introjected regulation occurs when people are motivated to act by the feeling of pressure or to avoid anxiety. An example would be a scholar pursuing a research agenda because of peer or department pressure to do so, because he or she believes it will enhance prestige, or simply because it is a requirement for career enhancement. Identified regulation occurs when a person has identified with the value of an action, and is self-regulating the action; for example, a scholar engages in a research line because he or she identifies with the value of a particular research agenda and wishes to be associated with it. Finally, integrated regulation is when an individual internalises the value of an action. A scholar demonstrates integrated regulation when he or she believes in the worth of a research agenda and that this focus aligns with his or her internal values.

In addition, Ryan and Deci8 described three pivotal psychological needs that fuel motivation: sense of autonomy, relatedness, and feelings of competence. Sense of autonomy refers to a person’s desire to be a causal agent in one’s life, and to have an internal locus of control. Relatedness is the universal urge to be connected to and interact with others, while competence is the desire to experience mastery of something. Enhancing these psychological needs helps one move from an extrinsically motivated state to an intrinsically motivated one.7

Motivation Research

To further guide the present study, we drew from literature on workplace motivation, the general scholar motivation literature, and literature on motivations of humanitarian workers. Deckop and Cirka9 found merit-pay programmes decreased feelings of autonomy and intrinsic motivation, indicating introduction of extrinsic rewards can undermine intrinsic motivation. Additionally, Vansteenkiste et al.10 explored employee motivation orientation, finding that extrinsic motivation led to less positive outcomes, such as decreased job satisfaction and higher emotional exhaustion. They attributed this to employees’ lack of satisfaction of the psychological needs of autonomy, competence and relatedness. Several studies have also found a connection between feelings of autonomy and positive workplace outcomes. For example, a seminal study by Deci, Connell, and Ryan11 measured many aspects of workplace satisfaction including job satisfaction, trust in management, quality of supervision and viewing the environment as supportive. Their findings showed an increase in these outcomes after an intervention to encourage managers to adopt a strategy supporting employees’ self-determination.

Gagne, Koestner, and Zuckerman12 showed that facilitating an employee’s autonomy facilitated greater internalisation, which can lead to more positive workplace outcomes. Additionally, support for autonomy resulted in greater acceptance of organisational change. With regards to organisational commitment, Gagne, Boies, Koestner,13 and Martens found that autonomy led to employees being more committed to the organisation’s goals and to actively working toward them. Other research has indicated additional positive outcomes for employers utilising a needs-fulfillment model in the workplace, such as better quality of work life14, enhanced job performance15 and greater perceived internal employability.16

Concerning faculty motivations, previous research has shown that the main factors affecting faculty productivity are rank, research time, valuing of research, departmental support, research-related advising, self-efficacy in research and intrinsic motivation for research.17 Work in this area has demonstrated faculty are motivated externally by rewards such as tenure, promotion, merit pay, travel support, and special privileges. Faculty are also motivated internally by wanting to engage in problem-solving, helping others, wishing to make a difference in the lives of others or society, feeling a sense of competence, and having opportunities for learning.18,19 Further research has found that there are differences in motivation and research productivity between tenured and untenured faculty with untenured faculty more motivated by extrinsic rewards.20 Additionally, research productivity is positively related to tenure status.20 There have been a few studies exploring scholar motivation to engage with industry. D’Este and Perkmann21 found that academics engage with industry primarily to advance their own research, while other research has shown that motivation can vary depending on the career stage of the researcher, since early career scholars are focused more on building their careers within academia, whereas senior researchers were more likely to reach out to industry.22

We also drew from literature regarding motivations of individuals to engage in humanitarian work because there are parallels between SDP scholars working in communities to provide intervention programmes for social good and humanitarian aid workers engaging in social welfare projects. Across several studies of humanitarian aid workers, one of the strongest initial and ongoing motivations was wanting to contribute to society and to provide tangible assistance to individuals in need.23,24,25 Other motivations include the search for personal development and self-knowledge, a search for new experiences to learn about new parts of the world, a desire for more satisfying work, recognition and self-esteem, professional competence, mastery, to challenge oneself, and to develop relationships with people from other cultures.23,24 To sustain the interest and motivation of humanitarian aid workers over time, they must have positive experiences, feel satisfied with their work,26 and continue to identify with the organisation’s mission and values.27 Their expectations related to self, the organisation, an the mission should be satisfied in order to sustain involvement, and their motivations may change over time.27 Motivations of humanitarian aid workers can also be a combination of altruism (intrinsic) and self-interest (extrinsic).25 As Norland25 says, “perfect altruism is not possible”(p.398).

Thus, informed by Self-Determination Theory7,10 and the literature reviewed above, we developed three research questions to guide this study:
RQ1: What are the motivations of scholars to initially engage with the SDP field?
RQ2: Why do scholars stay involved in the SDP field over time?
RQ3: What are scholars’ perceptions of, and motivations towards, future directions for SDP scholarship?


Scholars have called for exploratory qualitative investigations that aim to increase our understanding of faculty motivations and actions.28 Others have also called for qualitative inquiry regarding faculties’ rationales and motivations to showcase their cognitive processes towards remaining at their position or leaving.29 Therefore, to ascertain the motivations of SDP scholars, we conducted in-depth interviews with leading scholars within the SDP field.

Participants and Procedures

Upon obtaining Institutional Review Board approval, our aim was to purposively sample30 academics who had published and had their work cited frequently in recognised journals within sport management, sport sociology, and other fields, including the Journal of Sport Management, Sport Management Review, the International Review for the Sociology of Sport, Sport and Society, Journal of Sport and Social Issues, the Journal of Sport for Development, and Third World Quarterly, among others. We employed searches within Google Scholar and ProQuest search engines on key words of ‘sport for development and peace’, ‘sport for development’, and ‘sport for social change’ to identify authors who had been regularly cited by other academics. In addition, we wished to speak with scholars who had varied foci within their research agendas such as community sport, conflict resolution initiatives, sport policy and social inclusion. We also wished to engage with scholars who had varied tenures as academics, as this would provide for perspectives from relatively new academics as well as more seasoned scholars who could then speak better about their long-term motivations for staying engaged in the SDP field. In addition, we aimed to speak with scholars representing diverse geographic locations where they were employed or conducted research.

Beyond the process highlighted above for our sample selection criteria, we also wished to include scholars utilising a variety of methodological approaches, including academics who had action research or field experiences that would allow them to speak on how their interactions influenced their motivations. Half of our interviewees specifically employed participatory action research (PAR) methods in their personal research: Burnett,31,32,33 Frisby,34,35,36 Green,37,38 and Sherry.39,40,41

This process generated a list of 12 leading academics in the SDP field. Each was invited to take part in our investigation through a personalised email with eight researchers who subsequently agreed to participate. Specifically, each consenting academic volunteered to take part in a semi-structured, personal interview by phone or Skype with one of the first two authors that lasted 60-90 minutes. All study participants agreed to have their names and institutions included in study reports and publications. The eight participants included: Dr. Cora Burnett, University of Johannesburg, South Africa; Dr. Simon Darnell, University of Toronto, Canada; Dr. Wendy Frisby (now retired), University of British Columbia, Canada; Dr. B. Christine Green, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, U.S.; Dr. Mary Hums, University of Louisville, U.S.; Dr. Roger Levermore, Hong Kong University of Science and Technology; Dr. Nico Schulenkorf, University of Technology, Australia; and Dr. Emma Sherry, La Trobe University, Australia. The scholars ranged in their academic lifespan from relatively early in their academic careers (e.g., Darnell, Sherry, Schulenkorf) to 15 or more years of academic work (e.g., Burnett, Frisby, Hums).

Our study aimed to capture the thoughts of academics such as Ingham and Donnelly42 who highlighted the need for scholarship and growth in the sociology of sport field. In an article written for the 50th anniversary of the International Sociology of Sport Association in the International Review for the Sociology of Sport, Markula43 stated “if previous critiques have been ineffective in terms of praxis and social change, we need new tools.” In this spirit of inquiry, this study emerged from an overarching investigation with SDP scholars into their experiences in the field connecting scholarship and praxis. Previous findings highlighted the dynamics of research partnerships6 and academic challenges of the field.5 Guided by a semi-structured interview protocol and an inductive qualitative approach,44 we conducted follow-up questions with each scholar when the topic of motivations was broached. Our initial question guide for the broader study was driven by literature pertaining to scholar experiences in SDP, with sample questions such as: (a) “How did you initially become involved in the SDP field?” and (b) “Why do you continue to work in academia?” When every interviewee discussed their personal motivations, we probed further by asking follow-up questions based on SDT and the motivation literature7,10,18,20 such as: (a) “What are some of the primary motivations that drive your personal academic efforts?” and (b) “What has motivated you to remain involved in this field of research?” This semi-structured format permitted a free-flowing discussion between the interviewers and study participants, which allowed for the possibility to expand on relevant commentary and remarks.45

Data Analysis

The first step in the data analysis process entailed transcribing each audio-recorded interview verbatim. The motivation literature and SDT10 guided the coding process to yield a priori categories and steer the thematic analysis.46 Along with analysis based on themes guided by SDT and the motivation literature, open coding each transcript line-by-line47 was also utilised to allow for themes to emerge via a more inductive method. All codes that materialised, a priori and open, were then placed into general dimensions.47 After the first and second authors coded the data individually to form the general themes, multiple discussions took place between the authors to evaluate the coding and agree on one set of themes to strengthen the dependability of the analysis.47 Finally, once our general themes were decided upon, a selective coding process47 was utilised to target representative quotations which are presented in the findings. In addition, a member check process was undertaken with each study participant to build trustworthiness where participants reviewed both their individual transcripts and study interpretations.30 No study participants suggested changes to their transcripts and they generally agreed with study interpretations.


Scholars were initially motivated to engage in the SDP field (research question one) due to a mix of intrinsic and extrinsic factors. Scholars then remained involved in SDP (research question two) when their needs for autonomy, competence and relatedness were met and their initial motives satisfied.10 Finally, the scholars explicated many intriguing future directions for scholarship that were related to their ongoing motivations to remain involved in SDP work (research question three).

RQ1: Initial Motivations to Engage in the SDF Field

Seven of the eight scholars were motivated both intrinsically and extrinsically to first engage with the SFD field, while one spoke about extrinsic motivations only.

Intrinsic motivations to initially engage in the SDP field

The primary intrinsic motivation for many scholars was their personal background and experiences, which then fostered a genuine interest in SDP. For instance, Darnell spoke about his background and how this then attracted him to SDP work:

In many ways I moved into this from personal experience. . . . My parents are both pretty politically active, and I grew up in that culture. . . . I was looking to combine my interest in development, poverty, and education with my interest in sport.

Similarly, for Hums, she explained how an incident earlier in life nudged her towards work in adaptive and disability sport:

I had a friend and colleague. We were in a bicycle accident together. One of us came back and one of us didn’t. She was severely disabled. . . . She’d always been a sports person, and throughout her rehabilitation I was able to see how sport helped her. I saw what sport did for her . . . and that pushed me into sport and disability work.

These life experiences were influential in shaping the social justice paradigm Darnell (policy approaches) and Hums (disability sport) utilised in their work. Like Darnell and Hums, Sherry’s background growing up in a philanthropic home in Australia was instrumental in developing her interest in and approach to SDP through a social justice paradigm: “I was brought up in a very strong, small, liberal household with a strong sense of social justice and family history of doing [social justice work]. . . It’s really the idea of social inclusion that interests and attracted me.”

Others did not talk so much about their personal background as being influential in their decision to become involved in SDP, but rather an intense, genuine interest in the SDP arena. For example, Levermore spoke about his passion for combining focal areas he enjoyed: “My real passion was development studies, and it was quite a natural extension to carry on and look at sport and development studies. That’s how I started.” Green came into SDP because she was “very interested in the relationship between developing sport and developing athletes, and developing people and communities. That’s what got me started.” Finally, like Frisby, Burnett shared how her interest in SDP originated when she completed a second doctorate: “My interest was kindled when I did a second doctorate in Anthropology in violence in the context of poverty. This enabled a transition and growing interest in sport for development.”

Extrinsic motivations to initially engage in the SDP field

Almost all scholars had a combination of extrinsic and intrinsic motivations to initially engage in the SDP field. A prominent initial extrinsic motivation perceived by all of the scholars was that there was an opportunity within SDP that could launch an exciting and sustainable academic career (introjected regulation). Schulenkorf, who was the only scholar not to identify any initial intrinsic motivations, spoke about how he first became involved in SDP through the opportunity for an internship involving sport and peace:

I had to do an internship in my undergrad in international business studies, and then decided to go to Sri Lanka where there was an opportunity to get involved in a sport for development project that was started right after the peace talks resumed. . . . I wanted to do something different to what other business students were doing.

In addition to her intrinsic drive from personal experience and interest, Sherry perceived an opportunity when she saw a magazine feature story on the Big Issue in Australia, which uses football (soccer) to help individuals suffering from homelessness make positive changes in their lives: “I saw that on the cover, I thought that sounds nice, so I contacted them to see if I could do something. I had no practitioner experience, but I am a bleeding heart lefty in sport management.” In a similar vein, Hums explained her opportunity: “Nobody was really doing anything in disability sport, and I had an interest in that area.” While Darnell was intrinsically motivated to engage in SDP from his personal background and interest, he also perceived his involvement as an opportunity: “It was the popularity of sport for development that pushed me towards it. . . I had an interest in doing research, and this led to my PhD research with young Canadians doing overseas work.”

Others perceived an opportunity to engage in evaluation and contract work to facilitate their research agenda. For instance, while intrinsically motivated by genuine interest, Green also shared how there was an opportunity to engage with organisations that led her into her research area:

Organisations made big claims about what they’re doing for kids, and what I was seeing bore no resemblance to the objectives they told me about. . . . So that got me interested, and I had a number of initial partnerships with local organisations who were looking for evaluation.

Similarly, Burnett was initially motivated by genuine interest but also had an opportunity in SDP evaluation that catalysed her involvement: “It was really in terms of there was a need for evaluation studies to be done, and nobody else was there.”

In addition to opportunity, two other extrinsic motivations emerged, although these were not mentioned as prominently as opportunity. First, Hums spoke about her desire to make a difference in society (identified regulation), and this drove her to become engaged in SDP, which complements her intrinsic motives of personal experience and interest: “I wanted to do something in an area of the world that would help, and to see how sport could make a difference. This helped to get me started.” Making a difference became even more prominent as a motivation for scholars to continue staying involved in SDP, as we discuss in the next theme. Finally, an initial extrinsic motivation (integrated regulation) mentioned by Frisby was the disconnect she was experiencing, and her wish to pursue a research agenda that resonated with her values, which developed through an opportunity:

It was a disconnect from people. I would sit in my office and play with statistics . . . and basically it wasn’t a good fit with my values. . . . I got a phone call from a public health nurse who had money to do a health and communities project. . . . I realised my training did not match up with the type of research that was needed. . . . I came across participatory action research and got chills all over. . . . That phone call changed my life.

RQ2: Continued Motivations to Remain Involved in SDP

Similar to their initial motivations, scholars remained involved due to a mixture of intrinsic and extrinsic factors that satisfied their initial motives and also addressed their need for autonomy, competence, and relatedness.10

Intrinsic motivations to remain involved in SDP

From an intrinsic perspective, several scholars spoke to staying engaged with the field due to continued interest, satisfaction and enjoyment derived from their work. For example, Darnell indicated how his interest in SDP remained piqued through unanswered research questions:

I was interested in, and am still interested in, how and why people in countries like Canada, the U.S., or the U.K. are drawn to make a contribution to sport for development and how we can do that ethically in terms of implementation.

Hums spoke about her sense of satisfaction she derived from being involved over the years, which keeps her engaged: “I feel like I’ve made a difference, and that feels very good. I never thought of it until now.” One of Levermore’s initial motivations was his genuine interest and passion for SDP, and this continued to sustain his attention over time even though he saw this focal area as limiting his career progression in higher education administration and development studies:

If I want to progress in my career I have to avoid writing about sport and the sports industry, but I can’t quite kick the habit, because I enjoy writing about sport and development, and I find it quite an easy subject to write about. I really like the elements of it.

Levermore continued: “I’m not sure if I should be working in this area, but I really enjoy it. It’s my passion. . . . I’m a little bit hooked and I don’t want to give it up.”

Extrinsic motivations to remain involved in SDP

While scholars had intrinsic motivations to remain involved, extrinsic motivations featured more prominently in sustaining the interest and involvement of most scholars. The perception of opportunity was a critical initial motive for many scholars and this was also a key ongoing motivation, because scholars perceived a continued viable opportunity in SDP to which they could contribute and build a niche for their work (introjected regulation). Frisby shared about her motivation to stay involved in order to continue working on projects and opportunities that build from each other:

The work is never done, but that’s another motivator, a driver for me to keep on doing it because every time you do a project you realize how much more there is to know . . . you’re just scratching the surface and there is so much more to do, and that often leads to the next idea or the next project.

Initially motivated by perceived opportunities for research in SDP, Schulenkorf continued to stay involved due to evolving opportunities:

John Sugden liked my work in Sri Lanka and invited me to come along and spend time with him in Israel. . . . Then I got more involved on the health side, and we did work with the World Health Organization in the Pacific Islands. This has all kept me going.

For Levermore, who was similarly initially motivated to engage in SDP due to an opportunity, continuing to capitalise on this opportunity because he found SDP easy to write about kept him motivated: “I find it easier and less time consuming to write about sport for development than some of the more general development and management subjects. . . It’s been very easy to accumulate 10 or 15 articles.” Also regarding opportunity, Hums spoke from a different angle, in that one of her continued motivations to remain involved in SDP was for her students: “One of my main interests now is to get [SDP] on our students’ radar . . . my prime motivation continues to be to get information that is usable to students.”

Another extrinsic motivation that featured prominently to sustain scholars’ interest was the perception that they had an opportunity to continue making a difference in the field (identified regulation). It is interesting to note that only one scholar (Hums) spoke about making a difference as an initial motivator to engage in SDP, but six out of the eight scholars mentioned this as an ongoing motivation to remain involved. Sherry, for instance, was initially motivated by her personal background, genuine interest, and an opportunity, but now spoke about how what sustains her interest was the perception she was making a difference in the lives of people:

The work that we do is making a difference, and that keeps me going. I’m not curing cancer, but compared to a lot of our colleagues in this broad field of sport management, I think we are actually making a difference.

Like Sherry, Burnett was also initially motivated by genuine interest and an opportunity, but now reflected that is was her perception of making a difference which continued to cultivate her interest and involvement in SDP: “I stay involved so that I can make a difference and be relevant for a wider community. . . . Academics need to be part of the solution of a country torn apart by racial divisions and violence.” Frisby also spoke about making a difference as a motivator for keeping her engaged: “It might sound pollyannish but just trying to make a difference . . . but doing it with people who are being affected by the issue and then trying to get those who control resources and decision making to make a shift.”

RQ3: Future Directions for Scholarship

Our third research question was designed to uncover scholars’ perceptions of and motivations towards future directions for SDP scholarship. The scholars outlined many intriguing future directions, but undergirding these directions was their link to motivations. Specifically, many of their perceptions for SDP research tie into their initial and continued perceptions that there are opportunities within SDP that allowed them to make a difference in society. These future directions, then, also served to keep scholars’ motivated and involved in the field.

The scholars perceived a number of future directions for scholarship related to opportunities and ways to make a difference. Frisby shared her perception that the sport management field was becoming more accepting of SDP, which could potentially bode well for new scholars and students wishing to enter the field: “Our journals deserve some credit because in some fields you may not get published if you’re doing something weird or different . . . there has been some receptivity.” To complement Frisby, Burnett thought that now was the time to get a lay of the land in SDP research with regards to approaches to SDP, theoretical insights, and methodology employed: “I think we need to take stock. What is happening out there and how can we come and bring all the body of knowledge together that we can see this is now what’s happening.”

Many scholars spoke about the need to explore different methodologies, to move beyond monitoring and evaluation, and to implement longitudinal research. For instance, Frisby thought new methods such as PAR were becoming more accepted and that this would provide more opportunities within SDP: “There is a dominance of positivistic, quantitative work out there. . . I think that’s shifting, and I think methodologies like PAR are tied to the social justice agenda and I see a bright future there.” Sherry agreed, and believed action research would satisfy needs of scholars and SDP: “I’d like to see a lot more action research. . . . As a field, I’d love to see us start working more with the actual populations we’re investigating.”

Interestingly, other scholars perceived the need to adopt quantitative methods, as typified by Schulenkorf:

In this field at present, we don’t have too much quantitative work. Once people have established certain things and have done the qualitative work, it would be great if someone would design a quantitative piece . . . and if someone’s got the skills to do both, that would be fantastic.

Similarly, despite his skepticism, Darnell perceived a need for more quantitative work: “I have my own skepticism and critique of quantitative methodology . . . but I think there’s certainly room to allow more quantitative work that will help us get a better handle on SDP.”

Along with more quantitative studies, Green thought it was time to move beyond monitoring and evaluation in SDP studies and challenged scholars to do so:

One of the biggest challenges for being a researcher in this area is getting beyond evaluation, to something that is more generalisable, to what is really different about managing these kinds of organisations. I think they are different, and I think there are some bigger underlying questions that could make a bigger impact theoretically and also in practice.

Many scholars spoke about the need for more longitudinal studies and that this was a great opportunity for scholars and research. Schulenkorf shared: “I think longitudinal work, is again, the most challenging methodology, but it would certainly make a big difference and is important for us to have in SDP.” Darnell agreed with Schulenkorf on the importance of thinking long term with future SDP work: “Instead of drawing hard and fast conclusions, it seems like when you find something that’s when it becomes significant . . . that’s when the real work could certainly start to happen going forward.”

Aside from methodological considerations, scholars perceived a need to focus on the more relational aspects of SDP along a number of fronts. Hums, for example, thought it was vital for SDP scholars to connect to practitioners in order to make a difference going forward:

We’re talking about sport for development, you have to connect to practitioners. . . . You want your work to matter. So connect with practitioners as much as you can, because your work can make a difference for them. . . . It can have a positive impact.

From a relational standpoint, Darnell saw opportunity to engage in research on the nature of the relationship between donors and SDP participants: “I think there’s a lot of important work to be done looking at the relationship between donors and participants that basically follows the trajectory of rich to poor, for obvious reasons.”

The scholars also perceived many other opportunities for SDP scholarship that continue to drive their work. Since there are too many reasons to list here in full, there is a sampling provided below. For example, Levermore felt there was a distinct need to examine SDP organisations that have failed: “I’ve not read anything that has looked at failure. Everything has looked at recent organisations . . . there are not many sport for development organisations that have survived 20 years.” Green continued to be motivated from her interest in combining sport development (i.e. development of sport) and sport for development: “I also think there’s a big disconnect between sport development and sport for development. . . I’m really headed towards understanding the linkages between these two.” All in all, there are many untapped opportunities for SDP scholarship to keep these and other scholars and students motivated and engaged in the field, perhaps best summed up by Frisby: “We’re not even scratching the surface. . . It’s a really exciting field to be in.”


SDP scholars have examined a wide variety of foci with their research, but ironically, little has been done in an effort to ascertain the motives behind the scholars conducting SDP studies. In order for this nascent field to continue to grow and develop, more scholars and students will be needed within SDP over the long term. Understanding why leading scholars initially became involved and why they stay engaged could serve to attract new scholars and students from different disciplines to SDP. Potential scholars may recognise, due to the success and staying power of the scholars in this study, that the field is a viable pathway towards a fulfilling career.

Our first research question centered upon uncovering the motivations of scholars to initially engage in the SDP field. We found that scholars were driven to first become involved both intrinsically and extrinsically, in line with SDT,7 and complementing previous work in business management and in the humanitarian sector that has suggested individuals will often have multiple motives for becoming involved in a cause, activity, or focal area.25,48,49 Several points merit further discussion. First, it is interesting that almost all of the scholars spoke to the importance their background in social justice and personal experiences played in selecting SDP as a focal area. It was this personal connection and experience with social justice and other issues that sparked an interest in the field. Perhaps the role of personal experience and background is more significant in initially motivating SDP scholars to become involved than for scholars pursuing other lines of sport-related research, such as finance, events or marketing. This could be due to the affinity in social values that SDP scholars need with study participants. We are not suggesting that faculty members in other core areas are not intrinsically motivated to pursue their line of research and teaching, but perhaps their background was less influential. Future research is needed to test this supposition.

Second, while participants noted their personal experiences, genuine interest and passion as influential in prompting them to initially engage with SDP, it is important to highlight the extrinsic, career-oriented motives as well, which is in line with previous scholar motivation work.18,19 Although no scholar suggested she or he was undertaking this line of research specifically for financial gain or rewards in terms of tenure and promotions (external regulation), which is not surprising given the background of these scholars (i.e. growing up in socially-minded families or taking part in altruistic endeavors prior to their academic appointments), there was a majority opinion that the growth and recognition of SDP within academia would provide fulfilling opportunities (introjected regulation). These opportunities provided extrinsic motivation to initially engage with SDP, which is in line with previous public engagement literature elucidating that scholars primarily engage with industry in order to pursue their research agendas,21 and scholar motivation literature suggesting academics are motivated by opportunity and competence.18,19 This finding also supports scholarship in the humanitarian sector demonstrating that aid workers, in addition to altruistic, intrinsic motives, are also motivated to volunteer for aid assignments to enhance personal development, competence and mastery.23 Finally, uncovering that SDP scholars do indeed have extrinsic, career-focused motives for engaging in SDP perhaps counters some stereotypes that SDP scholars are only concerned with the welfare of others and could ‘care less’ about the trappings of academia.6 Instead, while these scholars certainly care passionately about the field and about SDP participants, they are also actively pursuing opportunities and research agendas that will allow them to advance their careers.

In addition to ascertaining initial motivations, we were interested in understanding why scholars remained involved in the SDP field over time. To this end, it was found that scholars continued to remain involved because they drew satisfaction and enjoyment from their work (intrinsic), extrinsically because they perceived ongoing opportunities in the field to pursue with research (introjected regulation), and also believed they had the ability to make a difference in the SDP field (identified regulation). Essentially, scholars continued to work in SDP when their initial motives were satisfied.8 Their needs for autonomy in their work (which is vitally important to academics regardless of focal area19), demonstrated competence in being able to contribute to SDP through scholarly endeavors, and need for relatedness with others (through interactions with collaborators and SDP practitioners and participants) were fulfilled; this contributes to their satisfaction and ongoing motivation, which supports SDT and the scholar motivation literature.18,19 This finding also supports previous motivation research, which has found that the satisfaction of needs for autonomy, competence and relatedness with others will keep individuals motivated to pursue an endeavour over time.18

Interestingly, the majority of scholars highlighted the idea of “making a difference” as a strong motive towards their continued work in the field, much more so than as an initial stimulus to become involved. Scholar motivation work outside of the sport context has demonstrated that scholars were motivated to help others and make a difference with their research, however, these motivations also materialised as initial motives.18,19 Work in the humanitarian sector has also revealed that aid workers were motivated by wanting to help society and provide assistance to those in need, although this motive seemed to be strong initially as well as over time for them.23,24,25 In a similar vein, the scholars in our study considered making a difference as wanting to help society in some way through their scholarship and research. The motivation of making a difference was perceived similarly across all scholars, regardless of background and length of time working in the field. This finding illustrates two key points. First, it is important to note that motives can change over time, as our findings support previous work suggesting that motives are not static but can vary with life and career experiences.15,23 Second, it could also be that “making a difference” became more salient as a motivator over time because scholars were able to better ascertain the need for their involvement in SDP as they developed their networks and made connections with practitioners. New scholars and students interested in SDP may not yet perceive the value and ways in which their work can help advance the field and “make a difference” in comparison to scholars who have been immersed in their research and have built relationships with the practitioner community.

In addition, considering that academics could be less motivated to further their scholarship after achieving tenure and promotion, it is interesting that those in our sample were seemingly more excited about their efforts as their careers advanced. Moreover, there was no difference in motivation between early-, mid- and late-career scholars, countering previous research suggesting early career and untenured faculty are motivated more by extrinsic rewards than tenured faculty.20 This could be explained by the SDP context where intrinsic motivations (a personal connection and story leading to genuine interest) are also critical to initially attracting and then sustaining the interest of scholars, regardless of career stage. This is not meant to suggest extrinsic motives that academic jobs can provide such as salary, flexible hours and lifestyle, did not drive our participants; they simply did not emerge as essential motivations. Thus, we illustrate the motivations of SDP scholars go beyond the extrinsic rewards of tenure, promotion, and academic prestige.

Finally, we were interested in exploring scholars’ perceptions of and motivations towards future directions for SDP scholarship. While many ideas were uncovered in support of recent literature citing the need for creative study ideas and methodologies,24,50 importantly, the scholars illustrated an excitement or anticipation towards the future of the field, which motivated them to continue their research and collaborations. As suggested in the findings, a growing opportunity to impact society, the increased need for new and unique methodology, and the opportunity to train and work with future scholars and students drove academics to continue in the field even after achieving tenure and promotion. In essence, the unanswered questions continued to motivate scholars, as well as their perceptions that they could help practitioners and make a difference by engaging in future research. Thus, the extrinsic motivation of perceived opportunity (introjected regulation) is integrally connected to scholars’ perceptions of future directions for SDP scholarship and continued to drive and motivate them to remain involved in SDP. This finding is supported by Feldman and Paulson’s19 scholar motivation work. While space constraints limit our ability to recognise all of the research that has emerged from the scholars in this study, some have specifically published about the influence their work has had on them personally. For example, Sherry51 addressed the influence of her six-year relationship with a community soccer program, highlighting the challenges of collecting data involving sensitive topics and its impact on her and her research. Hums52 specifically reinforced her need to continuously improve and advance the field when she called for sport management academics and students to “Challenge your students. Challenge yourselves” in her Earle Zeigler lecture for the North American Society for Sport Management.

Theoretical and Practical Considerations

From a theoretical perspective, we extended the use of SDT theory7,10 with SDP academics, a previously unexplored area, to demonstrate its applicability in this context. In particular, we uncovered that SDP scholars’ motivations were driven both intrinsically and extrinsically, that their motivations can change over time, and that they remained involved in the field when initial motives were satisfied and when their needs for autonomy, competence and relatedness were met. In addition, an important theoretical contribution is that we showed how scholars’ perceptions of future directions were related to their perceptions of opportunities within the field, which continue to motivate and excite them towards their work. Collectively, these aspects are all key theoretical extensions, adding to motivation theory in general and helping to build theory about SDP scholar motivations in particular.

From a practical standpoint, understanding the initial and ongoing motivations of leading SDP scholars could serve as a valuable tool for targeting and encouraging current PhD students and early-career academics to consider SDP as a viable line of research. Understanding how and why these scholars initially became involved and have stayed involved could demonstrate to academics not yet engaged in SDP but interested in the field that SDP is a viable, long-term research focal area that presents exciting opportunities upon which to build a meaningful academic career. In addition, understanding the initial and ongoing motivations of SDP scholars will be beneficial to departments, colleges and universities such that they can provide and structure enriching scholarly environments beyond the rewards of promotion and tenure that can help satisfy individual needs for autonomy, competence and relatedness. These may include providing additional rewards for community engagement and service, which may help fulfill needs for making a difference and helping others. Appropriate institutional measures of community-engaged service and scholarship are also needed.53 SDP scholars should be encouraged to engage with industry, form partnerships with SDP organisations, spend time in the field developing relationships with SDP practitioners and participants, develop collaborations with other scholars, mentor young and early career academics interested in SDP, and be rewarded for these efforts by their institutions. Doing so may help prevent burnout and enhance their motivation to continue making meaningful contributions to SDP as their academic careers progress. These findings may also help understand why scholars in other applied fields focused on community engagement become involved in their lines of research and stay involved over time, and provide insights for higher education institutions on how to attract and retain faculty in these community-focused spheres.

Limitations and Future Directions

As with all research, we do recognise this study has limitations that should be acknowledged and addressed with future research efforts. While literature does note the effectiveness of one-on-one interviews,30 we concede only a limited sample of SDP scholars took part in this investigation, mostly from the Global North, and that our sample consisted of only high-achieving scholars in the field. We cannot claim the motivations expressed by this group of interviewees are the only motivations of scholars within the field or representative of scholars from all geographic contexts. There is also the possibility of social desirability bias with both the researchers and the interviewees. We admit personal bias could have influenced the process, as the authors of the current study have been involved in the SDP field for some time. However, we endeavoured to encourage the scholars in this study to speak openly and honestly about their motivations and checked our interpretations with them in an effort to enhance trustworthiness. Finally, we acknowledge that interviewing academics who have been in the field for some time may not have been the optimal approach to ascertain motivations to initially engage in the SDP field, because these motivations could be influenced by various contextual factors which change over time. However, since one of our goals was to examine why scholars remained involved in the field over time, including longer-tenured academics in the sample allowed for this question to be answered effectively. It may prove enlightening for future research to investigate the motivations of current students undertaking SDP projects to see how their motives may differ from or compliment established academics.

Stemming from our findings, future research could aim to analyse a broader scope of academics both within the field of SDP (e.g., non-tenured faculty or individuals from non-English speaking areas of the world) and other research disciplines. It would be illuminating to ascertain how initial and ongoing motivations differ between SDP scholars from the Global North and Global South; how motivations may differ between SDP scholars and sport-related scholars with dissimilar research streams (e.g., finance, economics, marking, event management); and how motivations may differ between SDP scholars and scholars in other sociologically-based fields. Finally, it may prove beneficial to conduct research with scholars who have disengaged from the SDP field to determine why they left and other constraints and barriers they faced in their work in order to better design engagement opportunities for current and future SDP scholars. Thus, much more work is needed in this exciting line of research, and we hope other scholars will become motivated from our work here to pursue future research along the lines of what we outline, or in other areas of the growing SDP field.


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