An individual’s internal sense of ability and the way others perceive their capability are fundamental factors that influence success in diverse activities, including sports. Different perspectives have been developed to understand better athletes’ motivation and its impact on their performance. The achievement goal theory (AGT) is one of the most interesting concepts that explain why some people perform better than others in different situations.
According to AGT, an individual’s performance in achievement-related activities fluctuates in their participation level directed towards ego or task goals. Therefore, a person can be more or less ego and task involved at different periods during their task engagement. Bruner et al. (2020) indicate that the theory is based on the idea that variations in people’s judgment of their ability and definition of successful accomplishments are vital for understanding athletes’ motivational process. The perceived motivational climate in sports influences the process of setting and pursuing goals regardless of whether an athlete can be said to be task or ego-oriented. Persons can have a high task/high ego, low task/low ego, low task/high ego, and high task/low ego orientation during their sporting activity participation, significantly influencing their behaviors and outcomes (Duda & Treasure, n.d.). Indeed, an interaction between an individual’s intrapersonal level and motivational climate generated by such social agents as parents, coaches, and peers determines goals’ achievement.
At an intrapersonal level, AGT proposes that people develop a higher likelihood overtime to regard ability as ego or task-oriented within a particular achievement context. According to Bruner et al. (2020), considerable evidence supports the belief that high levels of task orientation lead to positive behavioral, cognitive, and affective outcomes at the individual level. On the contrary, neutral or less optimal results, especially in the low perception of competence, are evident when one is more inclined towards the ego. Alternatively, circumstances created by social agents determine whether a person will be task or ego-involved in achieving particular goals. For instance, parents, coaches, and peers have a considerable role in creating task-involving environments for sports competitors. They accentuate effort, self-referenced improvement, and compliant learning. Conversely, individuals generate ego-involving situations when they focus on winning, emphasize outshining others, and have a perception of preferential treatment to others as well as punishment for any mistake (Duda & Appleton, 2016). Therefore, such factors as interpersonal interaction, sanctions and rewards, evaluative standards, values communicated by social agents, and normative influences within a given context help understand differences among competitors in their level of goal achievement.
AGT assumes that the goal-setting process depends on the perceived motivational climate regardless of whether an individual strives to achieve a task and/or ego-involved goal. In task-involving situations, goals set depended on effort and emphasis on improvement, task-focused, and self-referenced (Duda & Appleton, 2016). The feedback provided by key social agents is informational, successful completion of objectives is linked to intrinsic satisfaction, and participants can be involved in the goal-accomplishment evaluation. The goal-setting program recognizes people’s perspectives on its challenge and their input and level of commitment. In circumstances where ego prevails, goal setting is characterized by a preoccupation with outcomes, judgmental feedback, social comparison, and one’s relative ability. Additionally, individuals’ sense of successful or unsuccessful completion of set goals is determined by the nature of offered recognition, and the participant’s contribution is the least concern in the process. Therefore, the method adopted in setting goals influences the level of involvement and achievements in contexts.
The two-goal orientations of AGT, task or ego-involvement, determine different outcomes in achievement contexts. According to Bardach et al. (2020), ego orientation is less adaptive than task orientation. Individuals with the latter select challenging tasks and use effective strategies in pursuing their goals. Moreover, they have positive attitudes towards training and mastering skills and optimistic emotions. Their primary objective is to attain success or avoid failure relative to tasks’ demand or their past performance (Korn & Elliot, 2016). Ego-oriented persons are inclined toward selecting easier tasks and use inconsequential learning approaches. They are mainly concerned about their social status and contemplate escaping or withdrawing when they encounter difficulties. Unlike task-involved athletes, those who are ego-involved are less confident in their competence, and perception of their ability significantly affects the level of success (Korn & Elliot, 2016). Thus, the behavioral, cognition, and participation impacts of the orientations influence the set goals’ achievement.
The motivational climate, which can be either task-involving or ego-involving, in AGT is fundamental to the level of goal achievement. In sports, athletes consider coaches a vital pillar that reinforces high effort, learning, improvement, and cooperation among team members in a task-involving climate (Duda & Treasure, n.d.). Bardach et al. (2020) indicate that the environment is associated with perceived competence, greater enjoyment, higher moral functioning, team cohesion, and adaptive coping strategies. Conversely, sportspersons in an ego-involving setting consider their coach’s positive feedback and social support less significant and more punishment-oriented. The situation is linked with increased performance-related worries and anxiety, a high rate of peer conflict, sports dropout, excuses for poor performances, reduced levels of moral functioning, and self-handicapping among the athletes (Duda & Appleton, 2016). Some participants can even question their personal worth and doubt their competence. Therefore, AGT emphasizes the importance of a motivational climate in understanding the set goals’ level of achievement.
Bardach, L., Oczlon, S., Pietschnig, J., & Lüftenegger, M. (2020). Has achievement goal theory been right? A meta-analysis of the relationship between goal structures and personal achievement goals. Journal of Educational Psychology, 112(6), 1197-1220.
Bruner, M., Eys, M., & Martin, L. (2020). The power of groups in youth sport. Elsevier Science.
Duda, J., & Appleton, P. (2016). Empowering and disempowering coaching climates: Conceptualization, measurement considerations, and intervention implications. Sport and Exercise Psychology Research, 373-388.
Duda, J., & Treasure, D. (n.d.). Chapter 4: The motivational climate, motivation, and implications for empowering athletes and the promotion of the quality of sports engagement [Ebook]. McGraw-Hill Education.
Korn, R., & Elliot, A. (2016). The 2 × 2 standpoints model of achievement goals. Frontiers in Psychology, 7.