Athlete Motivation in the US and Japan

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Project Overview

College athletics in the U.S. have been governed and regulated by the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) for decades, and Title IX has legislated equity between male and female athletes since 1972. In contrast, college athletics in Japan are privately organized and without mandates similar to Title IX. The Japan Association for University Athletics and Sports (UNIVAS) was implemented in 2019 as a “Japanese NCAA” to promote and set standards for collegiate athletics in Japan.

Ensuring the well-being of student-athletes is identified by the NCAA as the single most important task for athletic departments. The present study aimed to examine this aspect of the female student-athlete experience to identify potentially important differences between the U.S. and Japan in the predictors of student-athlete well-being.


Participants completed an online survey in English or Japanese assessing aspects of their well-being, perceived social support, and sport motivation. Non-athletes completed only the well-being measure. All materials were translated from English to Japanese and back-translated.


U.S. athletes reported higher well-being than U.S. non-athletes in engagement, skills, accomplishment, self-efficacy, meaning, optimism, life satisfaction, and positive feelings. Japanese athletes and non-athletes did not differ in their reported well-being.

U.S athletes reported perceiving greater social support in sport than Japanese athletes across all domains (emotional, esteem, informational, tangible). Perceived social support in sport predicted well-being for both U.S. and Japanese athletes, but this relationship was stronger for U.S. athletes.

All forms of intrinsic motivation and identified regulation positively predicted well-being for both U.S. and Japanese athletes. In contrast, introjected and external regulation were negatively associated with well-being for U.S. athletes but were positive predictors of well-being for Japanese athletes.


Although female collegiate athletes in the U.S. and Japan were similar in some respects, we observed considerable differences in self-reported social support in sport and sport motivation. Of particular import, introjected and external regulation were negative predictors of overall well-being for U.S. athletes but positive predictors of overall well-being for Japanese athletes. Efforts to promote the well-being of student-athletes should carefully consider these important distinctions if they are to be successful.
William E. Davis
William E. Davis
Assistant Professor of Psychology

I am a social and personality psychologist who studies things like authenticity and meaning in life. My work also focuses on efforts to improve psychological science. One of my favorite things about teaching at Wittenberg is that I am able to offer robust research experiences and individualized mentorship to undergraduate students interested in studying psychology.