A Qualitative Investigation of Need Fulfillment and Motivational Profiles in Collegiate Cheerleading

Johannes Raabe, Tucker Readdy

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

6 Scopus citations


Purpose: Cheerleading is one of the fastest-growing sports in the United States. Members of spirit squads play an undeniable role in developing a university's athletic image, and participation in cheer has the potential to affect adolescents and young adults in a positive manner. Yet, cheerleaders also encounter stereotypes, constant trivialization, and a relative lack of external rewards. Given this complex contextual and situational environment, the current investigation was designed to better understand why people are motivated to participate in collegiate cheerleading. More specifically, guided by the premises of self-determination theory (SDT), this study explored motivational profiles and basic psychological need satisfaction (i.e., competence, autonomy, and relatedness) across different contexts and situations that comprise the collegiate cheerleading environment. Method: Consistent with established guidelines for qualitative inquiry, 12 collegiate cheerleaders were interviewed at 3 separate time points during the course of 1 academic semester. Results: Deductive and inductive qualitative analyses yielded 3 higher-order themes, including: (a) context specificity of basic psychological need satisfaction, (b) contribution of performance to motivation, and (c) occurrences of intrinsic motivation. Conclusions: These results highlighted the complex nature of motivation and basic psychological need fulfillment, including a potential synergism between relatedness and competence fulfillment as well as an influence of academics on sport motivation. These nuances add to the theoretical understanding of SDT and offer valuable insight for coaches and sport psychology professionals working with collegiate spirit squads.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)78-88
Number of pages11
JournalResearch Quarterly for Exercise and Sport
Issue number1
StatePublished - Jan 2 2016

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Orthopedics and Sports Medicine
  • Physical Therapy, Sports Therapy and Rehabilitation
  • Nephrology


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