What is the Drive Theory in Sport?
In this post we discuss the Drive Theory in Sport and:
- What is involved in the Drive Theory in Sport?
- What is it?
- What are the Disadvantages of the Drive Theory in Sport?
- Sporting Examples of the Drive Theory in Action
- What Can Coaches and Athletes Learn from the Drive Theory In Sport?
What is involved in the Drive Theory?
The drive theory in sport aims to demonstrate the relationship between arousal levels and performance. The two factors involved in the drive theory in sport are:
What is the Drive Theory in Sport?
Clark Hull is seen as the pioneer on the drive theory in sport and in 1943, published Principles of behaviour: an introduction to behavior theory. In his research, Hull (1943) claimed that there is a significant relationship between arousal and performance. Hull (1943) suggests that as a individuals arousal levels increases, performance will also increase. Alternatively, if an individuals arousal levels decreases, then the performance would also decrease.
This research has since evolved into a new area of sports psychology and arousal theories. Most noticeably being the inverted U theory and the Catastrophe theory (read our article on the catastrophe theory here).
What are the disadvantages of the drive theory?
The main argument against the accuracy of the drive theory in sport is that the theory does not cater for any decline in performance if arousal is too high.
Hull (1943) claims as arousal continues to increase, performance will also continue to improve. However, other researchers suggest that performance will begin to decrease if an athletes arousal increase too much (Fazey & Hardy, 1988). The most common alternative arousal theories to the drive theory are:
- The Inverted U Theory
- The Catastrophe Theory (You can read our article on the Catastrophe theory here).
Both theories suggest that each individual athlete has an optimum point at which arousal leads to the best possible performance. Whereas, the drive theory does not suggest this and claims performance will continually increase as long as arousal levels increase.
Sporting Examples of the Drive Theory in Action
An example that can be used to explain the drive theory is that of a boxer. If a boxer has low arousal levels before a fight, their reaction time would be slower along with low concentration levels. Low arousal levels would also mean their body would not be at the optimum level for sport and would also result in lower performance. Their heart rate may be at resting levels and lack the additional disruption of blood that occurs with the an increase in somatic arousal.
Whereas, if the boxers arousal levels began to increase, this could lead an improved reaction time. Strength would also increase due to the additional blood flow along with better concentration levels and faster speed.
What Can Coaches and Athletes Learn from the Drive Theory?
Coaches should understand the importance of how arousal can influence performance. By knowing that if an athletes arousal level is low, this is more than likely going to result in a lower performance.
All of the three major theories in arousal (Drive theory, inverted U theory and the Catastrophe theory) all have in common that performance will increase if an athletes arousal increases.
Coaches and athletes also need to know a criticism of the drive theory is that it does not cater for the decrease in performance as a result of too much arousal. Research suggests that athletes can have too much arousal and this would therefore influence performance differently according to the three main arousal theories in sport.
The drive theory in sport suggests that as an individuals arousal levels increases, performance will also increase linearly. The drive theory has changed perceptions of arousal and influenced a number of researchers to specialise in this field.
We have also discussed that the drive theory does have disadvantages. The drive theory does not suggest performance will decrease due to over arousal. Whereas, the inverted U theory and the Catastrophe theory suggest otherwise (You can read more on the catastrophe theory here).
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Fazey, J., and Hardy, L. (1988). The inverted-U hypothesis: catastrophe for sport psychology. British Association of Sports Sciences Monograph No. 1. Leeds: The National Coaching Foundation.
Hardy L, Parfitt G (1991). A catastrophe model of anxiety and performance. Br J Psychol. May;82 ( Pt 2):163-78.
Hull, C. L. (1943). Principles of behavior: an introduction to behavior theory. Appleton-Century.