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Academic Motivation of College Athletes & the Influence of Athletic Scholarships


The purpose of this research was to examine whether scholarship play a role in academic success by identifying the motivation of the students toward their classes and the influences of being an athlete. The identification was investigated using surveys and interviews. Most college athletes made it clear that their motivation academically comes from their concern about a successful future. A successful future in this place is having a good job, earn good money and have a successful business. As if they were to fail in sports, they would still be able to make a good life with their records in academic fields. So their first priority is a good academic status. The results also identified how being an athlete could hurt them academically.


I decided to do this research because I’m interested in getting a scholarship to play basketball and I would like to know how things work and could possibly affect my academic performances at that point. Scholarship athletes are expected to work hard and dedicate more time than the walk-in or try-out players because they need to maintain their good performance to keep their scholarships. I’m studying in Thailand as a 10th grader. I started playing basketball a couple years ago. At first I was just playing for fun and exercise, but since I was asked to join my varsity team, I started to like the game more. My love to game developed to the point where I wanted to take it seriously. Many researches have proved that scholarship athletes tend to underperform in their academic. One of my teammates, he is now a freshman in college, dropped most of his classes playing basketball. Even though he did not receive scholarship to play, which mean he can focus much more on his studies and can still have fun playing basketball if he manage the time well. But he spent most of the time playing basketball the whole semester and that makes me wonder what would a student who receive a scholarship to play sport, which mean they need to give a lot of attention and time to it, that is very concern about their academic performance would do. I am very concern about my grades so I feel a little worry about it. But some research also said that student who participate in sport improve their time managing skills and become more responsible and confident. So this research to find out what motivate student athletes academically will determine what should most college student that participate in sports do to perform well in both academic and athletic category.

Literature Review

Influence in athletic participation

There are about 420,000 college athletes in the United States according to NCAA statistics. Athletic participation has a big influence on most athletes academically. Mahoney (2011) says that “Student-athletes’ academic and athletic roles both require commitment, energy and effort” (p.3). This means that time management is very important for them to balance and make use of their time wisely. Levine, et. al., (2014) agree that the lack of time distract student athletes from achieving their academic goals (p.12). It is well known that non-athlete students are more likely to do better academically than the student-athletes in most colleges. This could affect their motivation on putting the effort on their classes. On page 578, Aries, et al, (2004) mention that “The time demands of athletic programs forces student-athletes to sacrifice attention to academics (as cited by Meyer, 1990; Parham, 1993), making it difficult for them to devote time to study or earn good grades (as cited by Cantor and Prentice, 1996).” Now that most of their times have been taken by the participation in college sports, most athletes tend to develop their motivation toward athletic achievement along with their scholarships. This is another reason why they need to focus more on sports, if not, they could lose their scholarships.


It is often said that many student athletes in universities seem to lack such motivation towards their academic programs. “Most are highly motivated to succeed in the athletic domain, having been selected to participate in inter-collegiate athletics because of their proven ability and desire to succeed” (Simons, et al, 1999, p. 151). Some of them are being serious about it and putting in a lot of time to be successful and go professional as their career. With their scholarship, these students who would like to play professional may lose interest on their academic achievement. On page 317, Gaston-Gayles (2005) suggested that academic performance “depends on interests, motivation, time management skills, creativity, and other late-developing qualities that no battery of tests captures well" (as cited in Bowen and Levin, 2003, p. 117). What is more is that it also depends on each type of students. “Covington has proposed four motivational types, classified in accordance with their scores on each of these two dimensions. He has called these four motivational types: Success Oriented, Over-strivers, Failure-Avoiders and Failure-Acceptors” (Simons, et al, 1999, p. 151). The two dimensions are motivation to approach success and motivation to avoid failure.

According to Covington (1999), Success Oriented students are motivated by their confidence. These types of students are not afraid to fail. They work hard and take pride with their academic achievements or what is also called a Failure Avoidance. Success Oriented students tend to be motivated intrinsically. They highly believe that with their abilities they can compete academically with others (p.152). Amorose and Horn (2000) believes that “An intrinsic motivational orientation describes an individual who participates in an achievement activity primarily for internal reasons” (p. 63). This kind of motivation occurs when someone does something without any external rewards. They simply want and enjoy doing it as an opportunity. These students might have had a high academic performance before which could be another factor that drives them to achieve higher or keep good scores on their studies.

Covington (1999) explains that Failure-Avoiders student do not strive for success but always try to avoid failures. They are motivated -mostly by fear and the anticipation of shame. Unlike the Success Oriented, this type of students doesn’t work hard to improve their performance rather than trying to be confident and put in the effort. Those factors kept them from succeeding (p.153).

Over-strivers are students who approaches success but at the same time try to avoid failure. Their motivation is to strive hard to be succeeded led by their fear of failure. “They work extra hard and have good study skills.” (Simon, et al, 1999) Often times they believe that they have the ability to excel academically more than some other student. So basically, these students avoid failure by succeeding (p.153).

Failure-Acceptors don’t want to approach success or even avoid failure. They don’t care about their academic outcomes. They might have a history of failing before and they are fine with it. They do not try to improve their performance. Simon, et al, (1999) says that “they are not really interested in academics enterprise” (p.153). The purpose of this study was to research for what motivates student athletes and how it plays an important role academically



Participant in this study was 23 college student athletes from different universities. The survey was given both online and paper and pencil to them. They were asked basically about how important academic and athletic performance is to them. For an interview, participants were college students who are currently having a scholarship and someone who have received scholarship to play sport or to study in university before.


I used and both online and paper-and-pencil, focused on academic and athletic attitudes and motivation to survey student athletes in different universities. This study also included interviews to answer these two research questions:

1. How being a student athlete influence academic performance?
2. What motivate student athlete academically?



My surveys implied basically how important academic and athletic success is to all participants. Most athletes said that academic is more important for them than athletic is but majority of them study less than an hour a night or do not study at all.
Approximately 81% said that academic performance is more important than athletic performance. However, 40% of them workout more than 10 hours a week and 47% said that they study and review their lessons less than an hour a day. In this survey, athletes were asked whether or not the influences of being an athlete hurt their academic performance, 56% agree that being an athlete does hurt their studies because it take away some of their times from studying and the fact that they are an athlete, they need to focus on both their studies and sports.

In addition, participants were allowed to write free answer to a question asking them about what are their motivations toward academic. Most of them said that their motivation comes from their internal desire. It is all about their future with these athletes. They mentioned that study is more important because it can determine their success in the future. Good grades and degree will guarantee them with jobs, life and success. Even though they didn’t succeed in sports, but with their success in their classes they can still make a good life.


The factors that motivate or make student athletes to focus more on academic more than athletic are basically their future. Most of them realize that there is a chance of failure in sport so just in case they didn’t make it to where it can be called success, they still have their academic skills and degrees as a backup for getting jobs or running businesses.
Time management is clearly a big issue for student athletes. To be an athlete for university takes a lot of discipline and responsibilities. Especially scholarship students, not only they need to put a lot of effort in and perform great in sport, they need to maintain their GPAs high enough to save their scholarships too. Bruce Wayne (preferred name), one of the participants I interviewed, is a basketball player and track runner for his university that received a scholarship for both of these sports. He didn’t care for his study until his junior and senior years where his classes began to get serious. He went from studying an hour a week to an hour a night during his last two years in university. So, managing time well is very important for athletes.


This study about motivation of student athletes in academic field was conducted having only 20 surveys and a few interviews. In order to generally make statements that can relate to all student athletes, a bigger number and more diverse participants would be needed in this study. Not all of the participants were athlete with scholarship. Some of them are just inter-college athletes who play for the varsity team or take it very seriously in their sport. This study could be more generalized if it were to consider much more scholarship students. As Milton et. al., (2012) suggest that “Comparing full athletic, partial athletic and academic scholarships would enhance the result of this study” (p. 337).


This study could benefit student athletes whether they are an intercollege athlete or high school students who are trying to get a scholarship to play sports at the university level. This research about student athletes and their motivation towards academic will provide details about the influences of being an athlete in college and what and how to manage when students are at that point of being a scholarship athlete.


1. In which sports do you participates the most at your university?
2. How important academic success is to you?
0 1 2 3 4 5
3. How important athletic success is to you?
0 1 2 3 4 5
4. How important academic success is to your teammates?
0 1 2 3 4 5
5. How important athletic success is to your teammates?
0 1 2 3 4 5
6. How long do you study every night on average? * Do not study at all * Less than 1 hours * 2 to 3 hours * 4 to 5 hours * 6 hours or more
7. How long do you think your teammates or the average-student athlete study every night? * Do not study at all * Less than 1 hours * 2 to 3 hours * 4 to 5 hours * 6 hours or more
8. Does being an athlete hurt you academic performance? * Yes / No
9. How many hours a week did you work out or practice? * Do not work out at all * Less than 2 hours * 2 to 5 hours * 6-10 hours * 11-15 hours * 15-20 hours * More than 20 hours
10. What do you expect your first-year G.P.A. to be? * Less than 2.0 * 2.0 to 2.5 * 2.5 to 3.0 * 3.0 to 3.5 * 3.5 or higher * Not Sure

Interview Questions:

1. Which is more important between academic and athletic success is to you? Why?
2. What are the factors that motivate you or make you focus on_____more than_____?
3. Do you have problem managing your time for each of these?
4. How do you manage your time for your study and sport?
5. How about your teammates or any player you know? Which one of these do you think they care or focus more about?
6. If your first semester grade is low because you focused more on sport, what will you try to do differently next semester to raise your GPA even though you still need to dedicate your time to your sport?


Amorose, A., Horn, T. (2000). Intrinsic Motivation: Relationships with Collegiate Athletes’ Gender, Scholarship Status, and Perceptions of Their Coaches’ Behavior. Journal of Sport & Exercise Psychology, 22, 63-84.

Aries, E., McCarthy, D., Salovey, P., Babaji, M. (2004). A Comparison of Athletes and Non-Athletes at highly selective College: Academic Performance and Personal Development. Research in Higher Education, 45, 577-602.

Gaston-Gayles, J. (2005). The Factor Structure and Reliability of the Student Athletes’ Motivation toward Sports and Academics Questionnaire (SAMSAQ). Journal of College Student Development 46, 317-327.

Levine, J., Etchison, S., & Oppenheimer, D. M. (2014). Pluralistic ignorance among student–athlete populations: a factor in academic underperformance. Higher Education, 1-16.

Mahoney, M. L. (2011). Student-athletes' Perceptions of their Academic and Athletic roles: Intersections amongst their Athletic role, Academic Motivation, choice of Major, and Career decision making. (Unpublished doctoral dissertation). California State University, Long beach.

Milton, P. R., Freeman, D., & Williamson, L. M. (2012). Do Athletic Scholarships Impact Academic Success of Intercollegiate Student-Athletes: An Exploratory Investigation. Journal of Issues in Intercollegiate Athletics, 5, 329-338.

Simons, H., Van Rheenen, D., Covington, M. (1999). Academic Motivation and the Student Athlete. Journal of College Student Development, 40, 151-161.

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