Achievement Motivation Theory in Sports Psychology

The film “Tin Cup” is chosen as the film for analysis in this paper. The main character, Roy McAvoy, showed great promise in golf in his youth, but then he gave up his career as an athlete. He begins to earn money by giving individual golf lessons. At this moment, he meets psychoanalyst Dr. Molly Griswold, whose boyfriend (David Simms) is a professional golfer and Roy’s former competitor. Roy and Molly’s relationship becomes more romantic, Molly motivates Roy to return to professional sports, and he qualifies for the US Open. In the finale of the competition, Roy comes to the last hole as the leader, along with David and another famous athlete. David plays carefully, and Roy decides to take a risk by executing a difficult shot. Then, using all his attempts, he finally manages to send the ball into the hole. After a successful performance, Roy is offered a lucrative contract to work as a coach, and Molly stays with him. In this paper, various psychological theories are used to explain the behaviors and actions of the main character of the film.

With regard to the reversal theory, it is possible to say that a person’s inclining to a specific action or propaganda can cause the exact opposite of the intended reaction. Such situations often occur when particular actions are prohibited or contradict social norms. In this case, the person’s actions are a kind of disagreement with the ban and an expression of protest. From the perspective of this theory, there are pairs of positions opposite each other, so only one can be active at a specific time. Thus, a person in a group can strive to be independent or vice versa to join the others. Another example is when a person can focus either on their own experiences or others’ experiences. As a result, a person’s behavior is determined by the choice of one state from two opposite positions at a particular time.

As an example from the film, the following situation can be cited: during the golf tournament, organized by David, Roy works as an assistant, by agreement with David, he does not participate in the competition. However, when at a crucial moment one of the players offers him to hit the ball, Roy agrees, despite the fact that David tells him not to do it and threatens to fire him. Another situation occurs when the main character qualifies for the US Open: his friend tells Roy that he will not score the ball with a three-iron, and all the spectators believe it is impossible. Meanwhile, Roy breaks all the other golf clubs and performs the stroke with the iron one.

Top-level needs, including the desire for success, power, and recognition, play a significant role in the achievement motivation theory. At the same time, success is a personal achievement as a result of active actions; the desire for power can be considered as the ability to work successfully at different levels of management in the organization. The desire for recognition is the potential to be an informal leader. Some athletes are highly motivated and constantly strive for success, while others seem to have no motivation at all and avoid any competition.

Following this theory, people with high achievement needs are convinced that they can reach success, as opposed to those who do not have a necessity for accomplishment. People of the first category tend to show more energy, ability to work, activity, and creativity. Besides, these people’s satisfaction reaches its peak from their awareness of the fact of their luck, but not from recognition by other people or praise. As an example from the film, Molly offers to help Roy prepare for the competition, but he refuses. Roi says that he wants to win and can achieve success, as well as get recognition, but he will do everything himself; no one’s help is needed. After this, Roy begins to train actively on his own.

The key point of the attribution theory is how people explain their achievements and failures, and these explanations can be divided into several categories: the basic types are stability, causality, and control. According to Fishman and Husman (2017), “Research in attribution theory has shown that students’ causal thinking profoundly affects their learning and motivational outcomes” (p. 559). Successful and unsuccessful people can be identified by what tasks they choose to evaluate, what efforts they make during the competition, as well as by their perseverance and results. Successful people usually attribute accomplishments to stable and internal factors, such as ability, while failure is attributed to unstable, controlled factors, such as effort. Unsuccessful people are more result-oriented and attribute achievements to luck or the ease of the task, and failure – to low capabilities. The film’s main character imputes his success to stable and internal factors, such as ability; he is persistent and focused on the result – to win the tournament.

The visuomotor behavioral rehearsal is a so-called mental training, and the purpose of this model is to improve the overall technique, analyze errors, correct them, prepare for the competition, and develop specific skills. To implement this model, first, it is necessary to immerse into a state of muscle relaxation, and then form an image of the situation following the requirements of a particular sport. At the next stage, there is an imaginative study of unique skills and specific elements of sports activity. In the film, when Roy, preparing for a tournament, sits down on the golf course before an essential hit, closes his eyes, and imagines the upcoming strike, trying to feel it.

The stress-inoculation training is a method that teaches self-control techniques that help to cope with stressful situations. This approach is often used to prepare athletes for competition. According to this theory, a coach can advise an athlete to analyze a stressful situation, offer options, show the consequences of a particular choice, and help the sportsman find internal support to overcome difficulties independently. In the film, Romeo, an assistant and a friend of the main character, acts as a consultant. When Roy is in a stressful situation before a vital match and says that he will not succeed, Romeo supports him. He tells Roy to relax, take his mind off other thoughts, focus only on the game, and continue training.

The manifestation of aggressiveness characterizes any kind of sport, and managing aggression is one of the most essential tasks. In sports, it is a rational form of opposition to the competitor, the mobilization of the athlete’s functional capabilities to achieve a specific effect. The self-efficacy theory explains aggression as a behavior acquired as a result of observing the behavior of others. In the film, this is the moment when David, wanting to throw Roy off balance during a bet, tells him that there will be players who score much more, and he is not good enough for this tournament.

According to the cognitive evaluation theory, the impact of various events on motivation is determined not by the objective characteristics of these events but also by their psychological meanings. Thus, the reward can be perceived as control and lead to a decrease in internal motivation and, consequently, to a deterioration in performance. The reinforcement of activity does not necessarily have to be external. It can come from the person themselves since they have their internal motivation, which should be primarily relied on. When preparing for the tournament, Roy’s motivation is not a reward (a prize). He relies on his internal motivation: Roy wants to win the championship and prove that he is not lazy. The main character wants to show everyone what he can do, and he wishes to impress Molly.

In this paper, the behavior of the main character of the film “Tin Cup” is analyzed from the point of view of several theories from the field of sport psychology. Sport is not only a physical load on the body during the training process and during competitions, but also a high mental tension. An athlete often finds themselves in extreme situations, to which it is necessary to adapt and learn to overcome them; otherwise, the competition will be unattainable. Therefore, an athlete’s psychological training is essential, including various methods and techniques aimed at optimizing a person’s psychological skills.


Fishman, E. J., & Husman, J. (2017). Extending attribution theory: Considering students’ perceived control of the attribution process. Journal of Educational Psychology, 109(4), 559–573. Web.

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PsychologyWriting. "Achievement Motivation Theory in Sports Psychology." September 4, 2023.