What motivates you?

 A key component in sport and athletic success is motivation, but to understand someone’s motivation we must first understand what success and failure means to them, and to appreciate that we must examine a person’s achievement goals and how they relateto the individual’s perceptions of competence, self-worth, or perceived ability.

The two forms of goal orientation are “task” and “outcome”. Task-oriented individuals participate in activities in an attempt to self-improve and master the sport in which they play. They base success and perceived ability on their own performances, and do not depend on the performances of others. Outcome-orientated individuals, however, focus on comparing themselves with and defeating others, and competing with others instead of themselves.

An example of an outcome-orientated goal athlete is one who is focusing on out-performing someone in an event, or winning a bodybuilding competition. These types of goals are in large part out of the control of the individual because athletes cannot control how their competition prepares for an event. For instance, even though an athlete showed up in the best shape of their life for a body building competition, the other competitors may be much better than anticipated, and if this resulted in the athlete losing then they would have failed in their goal, reducing their self-perceived ability, and as a result would feel bad about themselves.

An example of a task goal orientated athlete is one whose aim is to master the sport of tennis and to constantly improve in all aspects of the game. The player is not comparing his or her own ability to that of other tennis players, but instead to how he or she performed yesterday, last week, or last month. Subsequently, the results are within his or her own control.

I agree with most sport psychologists who contend that task orientation, more often than outcome orientation, leads to a strong work ethic, persistence in the face of failure, optimal performance, and a greater enjoyment of physical activity. I also believe that focusing on task goals leads to greater athletic success, mainly because such athletes have greater mental regulation and control. They possess a healthier, more controllable theory of the causes of success, believing that success is a result of positive thought, effort, teamwork, and support.

When athletes who use outcome-orientated goals experience defeat, they will often start to reduce their efforts, cease trying, or make excuses. In an effort to protect their self-worth they are more likely to select tasks in which they are guaranteed success or are so outmatched that no one would expect them to do well. If such an athlete participates in a team that is losing, their belief system will prevent them from believing that they were at fault for the loss, which will result in them blaming their teammates or the coach.

When I work with athletes I encourage the use of task orientated goals as it helps make them more self-aware,inspires them to better themselves, and helps them to become more stable, more consistent, and harder working. They are also less apt to be brought down by failure and adversity.