Self efficacy in sport and exercise: Determining effort, persistence and performance
A complex process of self appraisals and self persuasion form the basis of judgements that individuals create with regards to whether they believe they have the capabilities to achieve. This is known as self efficacy and it relies on cognitive processing from a wide range of sources of efficacy information (Bandura, 1990).
Self efficacy is a psychological mechanism that inhabits an individual’s belief surrounding their capabilities to formulate control over situations that affect their lives (Bandura, 1989). How well one believes they can organise and execute courses of action enabling the attainment of successful performance is not based on the skills one has, but what the individual believes they can achieve with the skills (Bandura, 1986).
Self efficacy can be seen as a situationally specific self confidence, influencing the types of activities individuals choose to approach, the effort they put forth and the degree of persistence they demonstrate in situations of failure (Moritz, Feltz, Fahrbach & Mack, 2000).
At the core of self efficacy lie two distinct aspects of self efficacy that play their own part with regards to the behaviour of an individual and the outcome. Outcome expectancies involve an individual’s belief that a given behaviour will lead to certain outcomes. Efficacy expectations are the key cognitive variable and determine how much effort an individual will put forth and how long they will persist when facing adversities (Bandura, 1977).
According to Bandura (1977), expectations of personal efficacy are based on four main sources of information. Performance accomplishments are the most influential source of self efficacy information (Bandura, 1997), with strong efficacy expectations developed through continual successful performances. Greater self efficacy derived from previous performance accomplishment determines sustained effort and persistence, which is key to overcoming occasional failures, ultimately improving performance.
Vicarious experiences involve directly observing one’s own performance or the performance of another, which enhances efficacy expectations specifically when observing successful performances. Self efficacy can determine performance in sport and exercise through observing others as individuals persist in their efforts until the performance outcome matches the self created standards made from vicarious experiences (Bandura, 1977). Research has shown how vicarious experiences in terms of modelling can enhance the self efficacy of individuals and leads to enhanced performance (Feltz, Landers & Raeder, 1979; McAuley, 1985).
Verbal persuasion is used frequently due to ease, with individuals persuaded that they can cope successfully with what may have overwhelmed them in the past. Individuals who are socially persuaded by coaches, parents and peers to believe they have the capabilities to achieve are more likely to exhibit greater effort and persistence, enhancing their performance (Bandura, 1977).
In terms of physiological states, simply acknowledging that physiological arousal is informative and motivating determines the levels of motivational inducements such as effort and persistence towards action (Weiner, 1972).
The consequences of how these various sources of efficacy information are processed to create judgements on different tasks determines an individuals’ level of motivation which is reflected in their effort put forward and persistence shown.
The Self Efficacy Theory (Bandura, 1977) suggests that self efficacy beliefs predict one’s behaviours, thought patterns and motivation. Individuals with high self efficacy will participate readily and more frequently, will put more effort in and persist longer, enhancing performance in sport and exercise (Bandura, 1986).
Previous research has examined the relationship between self efficacy, motivation and its mediating roles upon performance in sport. Studies have found that the higher the self efficacy, the greater the persistence and effort, as measured by motor performance (Weinberg, Gould & Jackson, 1979) and muscular endurance (Gould & Weiss, 1981; George, Feltz & Chase, 1992). Although the latter two of these studies only used female participants minimising the generalisability, these earlier studies show how high beliefs about one’s capabilities to use their skills and execute a successful performance can drive effort and persistence, consequently improving performance.
Early research has explored self efficacy as a determinant of performance in marathon runners. Pre and post questionnaires were completed by 90 marathon runners completing their 2nd marathon (Okwumabua, 1986). Analyses indicated that marathon finishing time was related to self efficacy, with 46% of the variance in marathon finishing time due to self efficacy. Having high self efficacy can lead to greater performance accomplishments in marathon running.
More recently, Moritz, Feltz, Fahrbach and Mack (2000) conducted a meta-analysis in order to clarify the existing literature surrounding self efficacy and performance in sport and exercise. Self efficacy and performance had a positive and moderately significant relationship, with an average correlation of .38. This research provided clear evidence for a significant relationship between self efficacy and performance, with studies including different tasks and measures allowing for generalisation over a number of sporting situations. However, the conclusion drawn from the meta-analysis is compromised by inadequate data reporting practises in several included studies.
Hazelwood and Burke (2011) investigated whether self efficacy beliefs play the mediational role of predicting performance in triathlon, conducting a study on a competitive ultra endurance triathlon group. Performance self efficacy was found to be the only measure that was significantly related to the performance of the tri-athletes. Athletes with a higher self efficacy performed better than those with lower self efficacy.
These studies show how self efficacy determines effort, persistence and performance in sport. Individuals with higher self efficacy hold stronger beliefs regarding their capabilities to run certain times, finish in a specific position and execute a particular skill. With the enhanced self efficacy comes a strong willingness to put in more effort and persist even when met with an aversive condition. The effort and persistence works to enhance performance in sport and exercise (Bandura, 1977).
Many studies have provided results showing that having enhanced self efficacy results in the individual putting more effort in, persisting longer and performing better compared to individuals with low self efficacy. However, research has also shown contrasting findings.
In a study by Gernigon and Delloye (2003), the influence of unexpected outcomes in a first sprint trial on an athlete’s self efficacy and performance were measured. Successful feedback increased self efficacy however, there were no subsequent changes in performance due to the differing self efficacy.
Beattie, Lief, Adamoulas and Oliver (2011) conducted experiments to explore the reciprocal relationship between self efficacy and performance. Novice golfers took park in two putting conditions, with the task difficulty varying in each. At the between person level self efficacy and performance were positively related but at the within-person level there was a weak non-significant, negative relationship between self efficacy and sport performance (2.7% at best).
These findings show that self efficacy may not always strongly predict subsequent performance. At the within-person level on tasks that are skill based, the evidence surrounding a positive self efficacy and performance relationship is questionable. It has been argued that individuals with high self efficacy may become optimistic to the extent that they apply fewer resources when meeting goals, decreasing their performance (Vancouver & Kendall, 2006).
Central to the Social Cognitive Theory is self efficacy, which has continuously been identified as a determinant to a range of health behaviours including physical activity (Bandura, 1997; McAuley & Blissmer, 2000). Depending on what stage an individual is currently at with exercise participation, it will determine the salience of self efficacy perceptions for most individuals (Bandura, 1997). During the initial stage of exercise participation, self efficacy is suggested to impact upon an individual’s performance strongest due to barriers such as fatigue and lack of time augmenting the perceived difficulty of maintaining the exercise (Oman & King, 1998).
Recent literature has provided findings to show how self efficacy can determine effort, persistence and performance in exercise. Tenenbaum et al (2001) examined the association between goal orientation, self esteem, perceived ability, effort, commitment, exertion, feedback tolerance and process/outcome measures. Self efficacy predicted dart accuracy performance in all conditions where feedback was manipulated to be either positive or negative. In a computer-simulated running task, self efficacy and task specific psychological states accounted for 63%-68% of the performance variance. Self efficacy was shown to predict the length at which an individual can put forth effort and withstand discomfort.
Conn et al (2003) examined the predictors of exercise behaviour in 147 older adults. Self efficacy was the most important predictor of exercise frequency, intensity and duration providing strong evidence to show how self efficacy predicts effort, persistence and performance in exercise.
Linde, Rothman, Baldwin and Jeffery (2006) examined the relationship between self efficacy beliefs, weight control behaviours and weight change among 349 participants partaking in a weight loss trial. Self efficacy beliefs were strongly related to the loss of weight and control behaviours, predicting the amount of blocks walked and stairs climbed as well as adherence to an exercise plan.
Further to this, Hutchinson, Sherman and Martinovic (2008) examined the role of self efficacy in predicting sustained effort during an isometric hand grip task. 72 male and female participants were randomly assigned to three groups: High Efficacy, Low Efficacy or Control. By using false performance feedback, efficacy expectations were influenced. The High Efficacy group demonstrated greater tolerance of the task than the Low Efficacy or Control group denoted by the length of time a participant could maintain the task. This study showed how self efficacy plays an important role in enhancing performance and physical effort tolerance. However, this study recruited predominantly Caucasian participants, limiting the generalisability of the results. In addition, the study relied on the judgements of the researcher to decide when the participant was unable to sustain the contraction intensity required of them; it would have been more accurate to use an electronic hand dynamometer.
McAuley et al (2011) explored the relationship between self efficacy and exercise adherence to a 12 month exercise intervention. 117 older adults volunteered and were inactive previous to the study. Baseline measures of self efficacy were taken at three weeks to account for recalibration of self efficacy and the number of exercise classes attended for 12 months were measured. The results showed that individuals with high self efficacy at 3 weeks attended significantly more exercise classes compared to individuals with low self efficacy.
These studies show how higher self efficacy in individuals leads to a stronger adherence to exercise than individuals who have lower self efficacy. Individuals with higher self efficacy are more likely to put in the effort and persist, overcoming barriers such as fatigue or lack of time, leading to exercise maintenance and enhanced performance in the context of exercise.
A large body of research provides evidence to show that self efficacy determines effort, persistence and performance in a sport and exercise setting. However, at the within-participant level there is evidence to show no effects of self efficacy on performance. Literature is not without its limitations and with self efficacy being an unobservable variable, it is impossible to know whether what is being measured is self efficacy or another psychological variable such as motivation or goal striving. Future research should aim to measure a range of variables together with self efficacy, at the between and within-participant level in order to provide a valid conclusion as to whether self efficacy consistently determine effort, persistence and performance in sport and exercise.
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Tags:banduraefficacy expectationsEffortExerciseFitnessmodellingMotivationPerformanceperformance accomplishmentspersistencePsychologyPsychology of Sportself efficacySportSport Psychologyvicarious experience
About Sarah Griffiths
BSc Sport Science graduate, MSc Psychology graduate, MSc Sport and Exercise Psychology at UCLAN. Athlete and coach at Leigh Harriers Athletics Club.