As I sit here in a coffee shop in Leeds train station, I am overcome by a thought, a concept, a question: what motivates us?


What motivates a man to ignore reviewing a contract in favour of writing a match report?


What motivates a man to post videos of him doing a bleep test on Facebook?


What motivates a captain to throw a speculative (at best) offload in his own 22 despite telling his troop just 20 minutes earlier that we should ‘play in the right areas’ and ‘play the percentages’? Did he want to force a feeling of cognitive dissonance upon himself? We will never know. If only we could ask him. 


But what is it that motivates a rugby team?


Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs as set out in his 1943 paper ‘A Theory of Human Motivation’ states that only after an individual’s most basic needs are met can they be motivated to achieve their higher level needs. Ipso facto, a travelling band of Griffins must have had a hearty breakfast before being motivated to defend at guard.


In a subtle twist on the topic, McClelland’s Need Theory posits that the reasoning behind one’s motivation depends on one’s personality. The three proposed ‘needs’ are:

1.       Achievement – being intrinsically motivated by the mastery of certain tasks such as being able to count the number of attackers on one side of a ruck and line up opposite them.

2.       Affiliation – the desire to feel part of being part of a group, being loved and accepted. It is important not to misplace this desire though. The desire to be loved and accepted should not extend to wanting the affections of the opposing fly half so much that we should let him gain 20 yards every time he carries the ball.

3.       Power – the desire to influence, teach or encourage others. This can best be described as ‘not-applicable’ on Saturday.

Another noted psychologist who also said much the same thing but used slightly different words and acronyms to explain something blindingly obvious was Clayton Alderfer. His ERG theory set out the three (it’s always bloody three isn’t it?) core needs of Existence, Relatedness and Growth. Each category must be full before attempting to satisfy the next. We exist by satisfying basic human needs, we maintain important interpersonal relationships and then we grow by improving our self-esteem. Alderfer said that if an individual’s needs in a certain category are not met, you must step back to a lower category and fulfil those needs.


The discerning reader will have followed the path of this essay and already identified the obvious conclusion: Al Pacino in Any Given Sunday, the greatest motivational psychologist the world has ever seen.


‘Either we heal, as a team. Or we will die as individuals’


Or we need Stronger to shout ‘Ready!’ a bit more in the pre-match huddle. I don’t know.