ArtsAutosBooksBusinessEducationEntertainmentFamilyFashionFoodGamesGenderHealthHolidaysHomeHubPagesPersonal FinancePetsPoliticsReligionSportsTechnologyTravel

Drive Theory in Sport Psychology

Updated on March 23, 2014
CyclingFitness profile image

Liam Hallam is a sports science graduate. He is also a keen cyclist as well as being a lover of the Derbyshire Dales and Peak District.

A cyclist hitting a tight turn. Is his arousal level related to his performance?
A cyclist hitting a tight turn. Is his arousal level related to his performance?

An Insight Into The Relationship Between Arousal and Sports Performance

Drive theory in sports psychology terms was first put forward by Clark Hull (1943)

Drive theory summarises a direct linear relationship between arousal and sporting performance; In effect meaning the more an athlete is ‘psyched up’, the better their performance potential in any given event. Hull believed that heightened levels of arousal would lead to increases in the dominant response of the sporting performance.

Visual Representation of Drive Theory

Driver Theory In Sports Psychollogy
Driver Theory In Sports Psychollogy

Drive Theory In Sports- Expert Versus Novice

For many successful sports-people who are accustomed to performing a skill it is likely that a heightened arousal level will lead to an increase in the dominant response (performance). However difficulty arises once an untrained individual such as a beginner becomes involved. Their dominant response may not translate as being adequate in the sport they are performing with a potential manifestation of deterioration in performance.

The Downsides Of Drive Theory

Unfortunately the linear graph initial proposed for drive theory doesn’t take into account that arousal can actually have a negative effect on performance at certain levels. Can you think of any sports where a high level of arousal might be detrimental to performance?

The other question that arises is should the graph really be linear? Would a certain increase in arousal always lead to a comparably similar increase in performance?

Adding Specificity to Drive Theory- Habit Strength (Spence and Spence 1968)

Due to the non-specific nature of drive theory Spence and Spence (1968) saw a need to add additional clarity to the theory and came up with a simple equation which added an insight into the mastery of the elite or high level athlete.

Habit Strength Theory In Sports

Visual representation of Habit Strength theory
Visual representation of Habit Strength theory

As with many early sports psychology theories- Drive Theory is very basic in its approach and has subsequently been discredited with the knowledge that even the best performers have a tendency to experience deterioration in performance at the highest levels of arousal. Whether it’s a footballer who misses a penalty kick after being hacked down in front of goal or Lindsay Jacobellis in the Boardercross final knowing the gold medal is hers.

Over-arousal In Sport. Jacobellis Falls in 2006 Turin Olympic Boardercross

Drive Theory Helped To Shape the Inverted-U Hypothesis

The negatives aspects of drive theory helped to shape arguably one of the most well known sports psychology theorems. The Inverted-U Hypothesis is accepted by most coaches and sports psychologists as the general notion of how arousal and sporting performance are directly linked.

Read more on the Inverted-U Hypothesis


Hull, C. L., (1943), Principles of behavior. New York: Appleton- Century-Crofts

Spence, J.T., & Spence, K.W. (1966). The motivational components of manifest anxiety: Drive and drive stimuli. In C.D. Spielberger (Ed.), Anxiety and behavior. New York: Academic Press.


    0 of 8192 characters used
    Post Comment

    No comments yet.


    This website uses cookies

    As a user in the EEA, your approval is needed on a few things. To provide a better website experience, uses cookies (and other similar technologies) and may collect, process, and share personal data. Please choose which areas of our service you consent to our doing so.

    For more information on managing or withdrawing consents and how we handle data, visit our Privacy Policy at:

    Show Details
    HubPages Device IDThis is used to identify particular browsers or devices when the access the service, and is used for security reasons.
    LoginThis is necessary to sign in to the HubPages Service.
    Google RecaptchaThis is used to prevent bots and spam. (Privacy Policy)
    AkismetThis is used to detect comment spam. (Privacy Policy)
    HubPages Google AnalyticsThis is used to provide data on traffic to our website, all personally identifyable data is anonymized. (Privacy Policy)
    HubPages Traffic PixelThis is used to collect data on traffic to articles and other pages on our site. Unless you are signed in to a HubPages account, all personally identifiable information is anonymized.
    Amazon Web ServicesThis is a cloud services platform that we used to host our service. (Privacy Policy)
    CloudflareThis is a cloud CDN service that we use to efficiently deliver files required for our service to operate such as javascript, cascading style sheets, images, and videos. (Privacy Policy)
    Google Hosted LibrariesJavascript software libraries such as jQuery are loaded at endpoints on the or domains, for performance and efficiency reasons. (Privacy Policy)
    Google Custom SearchThis is feature allows you to search the site. (Privacy Policy)
    Google MapsSome articles have Google Maps embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
    Google ChartsThis is used to display charts and graphs on articles and the author center. (Privacy Policy)
    Google AdSense Host APIThis service allows you to sign up for or associate a Google AdSense account with HubPages, so that you can earn money from ads on your articles. No data is shared unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
    Google YouTubeSome articles have YouTube videos embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
    VimeoSome articles have Vimeo videos embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
    PaypalThis is used for a registered author who enrolls in the HubPages Earnings program and requests to be paid via PayPal. No data is shared with Paypal unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
    Facebook LoginYou can use this to streamline signing up for, or signing in to your Hubpages account. No data is shared with Facebook unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
    MavenThis supports the Maven widget and search functionality. (Privacy Policy)
    Google AdSenseThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Google DoubleClickGoogle provides ad serving technology and runs an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Index ExchangeThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    SovrnThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Facebook AdsThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Amazon Unified Ad MarketplaceThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    AppNexusThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    OpenxThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Rubicon ProjectThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    TripleLiftThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Say MediaWe partner with Say Media to deliver ad campaigns on our sites. (Privacy Policy)
    Remarketing PixelsWe may use remarketing pixels from advertising networks such as Google AdWords, Bing Ads, and Facebook in order to advertise the HubPages Service to people that have visited our sites.
    Conversion Tracking PixelsWe may use conversion tracking pixels from advertising networks such as Google AdWords, Bing Ads, and Facebook in order to identify when an advertisement has successfully resulted in the desired action, such as signing up for the HubPages Service or publishing an article on the HubPages Service.
    Author Google AnalyticsThis is used to provide traffic data and reports to the authors of articles on the HubPages Service. (Privacy Policy)
    ComscoreComScore is a media measurement and analytics company providing marketing data and analytics to enterprises, media and advertising agencies, and publishers. Non-consent will result in ComScore only processing obfuscated personal data. (Privacy Policy)
    Amazon Tracking PixelSome articles display amazon products as part of the Amazon Affiliate program, this pixel provides traffic statistics for those products (Privacy Policy)
    ClickscoThis is a data management platform studying reader behavior (Privacy Policy)