Maintaining participation in sport1 Opinion
Roy Hodgson’s squad for the forthcoming World Cup remains England’s second youngest squad ever taken to the major tournament, to some extent reflecting the desire for sport in England to work towards the future. What is more, such an occasion can create bursts of participation within younger individuals, who long for the success displayed by their favourite stars. And yet, research suggests a large proportion of younger sportsmen lose interest in physical activity and sport, in turn attenuating participation levels (Van Wersch, Trew & Turner, 1992). It is therefore necessary to understand what motivates children to continue participation in sport as potential ramifications range from greater well-being to lessened financial strain upon National Health Services.
One explanation is provided by Achievement Goal Theory, which holds the premise that ongoing motivation to participate in any behaviour relies upon the individual feeling competent. Nonetheless, young sportsmen’s understanding of ‘competence’ differs and has been broadly divided into ‘performance’ or ‘mastery’ goals (Dweck, 1975; Nicholls, 1983; Ames & Archer, 1987). Whilst performance goals refer to the desire to outperform or demonstrate competence to others, mastery goals refer to a need for self-improvement and learning in order to feel competent. Crucially, the goals held significantly differ in how they affect an individual’s emotional, psychological and behavioural responses to sport and exercise, in turn determining participation levels. Indeed, mastery goals within physical education classes have been associated with greater levels of intrinsic motivation and positive affect towards sport, subsequently maintaining participation levels outside of obligatory sport within school (Duda et al., 1995; Goudas, Biddle & Fox, 1994). Meanwhile, the positivity of outcomes resulting from performance goals seem to rely on numerous other factors, such as a high self-esteem and whether they are accompanied by mastery goals to some extent (Carr, 2006; Dweck & Leggett, 1988). Since the benefits of performance goals are by no means universal, it seems appropriate to desire mastery goals within young sportsmen in order to prolong participation in sport. The question begs therefore: how do we promote mastery goals?
Rather than mere didactic instruction to hold certain goals, children and sportsmen internalise the goals perceived within their environment. Ames (1992) has subsequently distinguished between mastery- and performance-oriented climates, whereby individuals perceive importance to be placed upon self-improvement or outperforming others respectively by their environment. One environmental influence which may play an especially vital role within later sport participation is that of physical education lessons, as they act as an early reflection of the wider sport and fitness domain and thus may reinforce a physically active lifestyle (Duda, 1996). Whilst it has been found that those who endorse both high mastery and performance goals seem to have high levels of intrinsic motivation regardless of the perceived motivational climate, the rest of the population seems significantly more likely to demonstrate high levels of mastery goals and intrinsic motivation when they perceive a mastery climate within physical education lessons (Carr & Weigand, 2008). This research highlights a vital role for teachers and coaches to emphasise the importance of self-improvement rather than outperforming others in order to promote mastery goals which can be transferred to later sporting experiences.
Equally, research has documented the effects of motivational climate as extending beyond teachers and coaches to the motivational climate created by parents (e.g. White, 1996). However, Keegan et al.’s (2009) focus group study delineated the precise mechanisms of these separate motivational climates, finding that parents play a more salient role in how they support a child’s sporting participation in general. This may include providing financial or transportation support for sporting opportunities, suggesting that the role played by parents extends upon how they influence a child’s goal orientation. Furthermore, Vazou, Ntoumanis and Duda’s (2005) focus groups looked at the effects of peer motivational climate within participation, finding that novel dimensions such as ‘intra-team conflict’ and ‘relatedness support’ emerged. Similarly, research has highlighted the importance of close social relationships with peers within ongoing participation (Ullrich-French & Smith, 2009). It may therefore be concluded that peers play an especially vital role within providing social support, parents within supporting participation and coaches within creating a mastery climate. If each of these facets is provided, it is plausible that ongoing sporting participation should be expected.
In conclusion, the Achievement Goal framework reflects just one of many lenses (another lens may be Deci and Ryan’s (1985) Self-Determination Theory) through which the increasingly pertinent topic of sport participation may be understood. Moreover, through consideration of motivational climate, Achievement Goal Theory enables understanding of how participation may be maintained. Nonetheless, parents and peers may be influential in participation behaviour beyond shaping goal orientations, suggesting future theory and practice should not limit itself to teachers and coaches when considering participation in sport.
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About Matt Furness
Psychology Undergraduate at the University of Bath, passionate about performance and sport.