Date of Award

January 2016

Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)


Teaching & Learning

First Advisor

Robert Stupnisky


Student-athletes who participate at Division III technical and community colleges across the country are a unique population of students who have special needs and interests. Their academic needs and interests likely led them towards a technical and community college education, but these students have also chosen to participate in athletics. Deci and Ryan’s (1985) self-determination theory (SDT) of motivation has long been utilized to examine students’ basic psychological needs (autonomy, competence, relatedness) and their impact on academic motivation (intrinsic, extrinsic, amotivation ) and success; yet, little of this research has focused on community college students or student-athletes within a community college setting. In a recent pilot study, independent samples t-tests revealed that nonstudent-athletes, compared to student-athletes, had significantly higher self-reported grade point averages, perceived success, intrinsic motivation, and extrinsic motivation. A limitation was that several of the study’s scales had poor reliabilities, prompting the use of improved measures in the current study. The current study employed new scales to examine the motivations of National Junior College Athletic Association (NJCAA) Division III student-athletes who, in stark contrast to their Division I and II counterparts, are not allowed to accept financial remuneration for their participation in intercollegiate athletics. More specifically, the purpose of this study was to examine the role basic psychological needs play in the academic motivation of student-athletes compared to nonstudent-athletes, as well as how these needs impact student-athletes motivation for athletics.

A convergent parallel mixed method design was used to triangulate quantitative results with qualitative findings (Creswell & Plano Clark, 2011). Participants consisted of students at a Midwestern community and technical college (N = 238) completing an online survey containing Likert-style and open-ended questions. Independent samples t-test revealed that nonstudent-athletes had significantly higher levels of intrinsic motivation for academics compared to student-athletes, and student-athletes were found to have significantly higher levels of amotivation than nonstudent-athletes. Multiple regressions revealed that the level of autonomy, competence, and relatedness a nonstudent-athlete has for academics has a significant impact on their academic motivation. In contrast, multiple regressions did not reveal any significant findings for student-athletes levels of autonomy, competence, and relatedness for academics as a predictor of academic motivation. It was found that a student-athletes level of relatedness for athletics was a significant predictor of their level of athletic motivation.

Open-ended responses were analyzed using qualitative data analysis techniques of codes, and themes. The analysis of the open-ended responses produce codes which added to the depth and understanding from quantitative results. The qualitative analysis provided support for quantitative survey questions and results by allowing student-athletes and nonstudent-athletes to provide their own specific motivational factors.

The findings in this study helped to create support for the generalizability of research found in larger NCAA Division I universities to that of smaller NJCAA Division III institutions. Additionally this study helped to provide data and validate an updated scale on sports motivation. Based on the results of this study it is hoped that instructors, coaches, advisors, and administrators will be better informed of the motivational needs of student-athletes in comparison to their nonstudent-athlete counterparts and take actions that target the specific academic needs of student-athletes.