Patterns of Basic Psychological Need Satisfaction and Associated Outcomes Among NCAA Student-Athletes

A Longitudinal, Person-Oriented Investigation


  • Johannes Raabe West Virginia University
  • Daniel Leyhr Eberhard Karls University of Tübingen
  • Lauren McHenry University of Tennessee
  • Tucker Readdy University of Wyoming
  • Oliver Höner Eberhard Karls University of Tübingen


LICUR method, National Collegiate Athletic Association, Self-determination theory


Given the physical, psychological, and social demands National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) student-athletes are confronted with in their sport participation, it is essential to understand the psychological conditions that allow them to cope with challenges, experience well-being, and perform at a high level. According to self-determination theory, the quality of individuals’ cognition, affect, and behavior is determined by the degree to which their three basic psychological needs of autonomy, competence, and relatedness are fulfilled. To date, research on basic psychological need satisfaction in sport has almost exclusively been conducted employing a variable-centered perspective. The purpose of this longitudinal study was to investigate NCAA student-athletes’ perceptions of autonomy, competence, and relatedness using a person-oriented Linking of Clusters after removal of a Residue (LICUR) approach. Data for this research was collected at two separate time points at the beginning of subsequent Fall (t1) and Spring (t2) academic semesters with a sample of N = 180 NCAA student-athletes from eight different sports. Using the LICUR method, similar patterns of need fulfillment were found at both time points denoting student-athletes with relatively ‘Low Need Satisfaction,’ ‘Moderately Low Need Satisfaction,’ ‘Moderate Need Satisfaction,’ and ‘High Need Satisfaction.’ These four patterns were structurally and individually stable from t1 to t2. Furthermore, there were significant differences in participants’ cluster affiliation based on their student grade level (p < .05), but not their competitive level. The findings offer a more nuanced understanding of student-athletes’ individual sport experiences.


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