According to Nicholls’ (1984) individuals are either task-involved; meaning they are concerned with their own personal improvement and they seek skill mastery, or ego-involved, in which they judge their own success in comparison to others. Existing literature (see Cury, Biddle, Sarrazin, & Famose,1997; Van-Yperen & Duda,1999) shows that there is a relationship between the ego and task involvement and the amount of effort one puts forth. Both orientations can influence the choices one makes in relation to their performance (i.e. their work rate may increase/decrease). Understanding what motivates a player is important for coaches as it can help in challenging them in the training environment.
With task-involvement, you will typically find:
*Especially when the task is perceived to be “too easy”, or where they fear failure.
Looking at this from a coaching point of view (and we will re-visit this further on), A coach would create a task-involved climate if they were to:
In contrast, a coach might be constructing a more ego-involved climate if they:
(Newton, Duda, & Yin, 2000)
Research shows (Newton & Duda, 1999) that a task-involved environment is linked with more enjoyment for those within it. Vazou et al (2005) found that an ego-involved climate can induce anxiety in youth athletes. It is easy to forget that these are children first and athletes second and the constant punishment of mistakes can potentially make these children fall out of love with the game causing drop-out rates to rise and the talent pool to shrink. Interestingly, Vazou et al. (2005) found that both types of motivational climate (ego and task) often co-exist during a practice session, of course competition between groups is good at times, of course public praise can be good (and some athletes thrive off of being told they can do better in front of the group).
So how can a coach work towards creating a climate in which their players can thrive? The TARGET approach was originally developed by Epstein (1989) but made more relatable to sport by Ames (1992). A balance is needed to create an optimal environment where athletes can thrive, and it may take time as you understand individuals and the team more. I hope the following goes some way to providing some food for thought and takeaways on what you could add to a session to help foster a better climate for your athlete(s) at whatever level that may be.
Coaches can create either a task or an ego environment by the tasks set in practice. In an ego-environment success in a task (drill) may be the only way a player is praised rather than in a task-environment where the team/ a player is praised as there is noticeable progress even if it is not perfect. Goals can be set as part the “task” section, and rather than setting goals that urge players to compare their success to how well others are doing try to make the goals individual and meaningful to each specific person whether that’s mastery of a skill that they haven’t quite got yet or a challenge to take something from the past weeks training session into the game.
The authority aspect is associated with the amount of control players have over tasks (in training for example). In a task-involved environment players may constantly be asked to make decisions in their practices, there may be times when they have to assume a leadership role or more responsibility, and a coach would try to view practice through the teams lens, what could be changed/altered to help them? In an ego-environment the coach would make all the decisions and would not allow players to express themselves through alternate decision making at applicable times.
This area is concerned with the recognition that the coach shows to the group / individuals. In order to foster a task-environment there may be more private recognition of how a player is improving and what they have accomplished, effort would also be praised. Whereas in an ego-environment a coach would compare performances and an individual’s ability to perform a task in front of the group thus embarrassing some players whilst praising others.
The grouping of individuals can impact the motivational climate. Let’s take a new drill in practice being done for the first time, it may be easy to put all the best players together and praise them whilst the rest of the players struggle (likely in an ego-environment). Mixing the groups, maybe even changing them at times and emphasising how the group can co-operate with each other to obtain success would reflect a task-involved environment.
Most coaches provide some sort of evaluation to players and this can take many forms and happen numerous times throughout the season. An ego-involved environment would see players being evaluated based on normative standards, and mistakes might reflect a low ability. In a task-involved environment the evaluation has more meaning and is tailored to the individual. The evaluation should reflect how that player has/is improving, it should include goals that are meaningful and specific to that player and it should treat the mistakes they make as opportunities to learn rather than being a stick to beat them with.
The final aspect corresponds to the management of time in the environment. An ego-involved environment would assume that everyone will have an understanding of concepts within a drill/practice at the same time, and a coach may be reluctant to spread their time between all players equally. What you might see in a task-involved environment would be a more flexible amount of time for certain activities depending on the progression during that session (is it worth moving on if you will be leaving some players behind?), a coaches time would be spread equally, ensuring all players have time before they progress.