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Sport Psychology - Internal Attribution

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Internal Attribution

This is the process of assigning the cause of behaviour to some internal characteristic, rather than to outside forces. When we explain the behaviour of others we look for enduring internal attributions, such as personality traits, for example, unable to train properly because of illness. External AttributionThis is the process of assigning the cause of behaviour to some situation or event outside a person’s control rather than to some internal characteristic.When we try to explain our own behaviour we tend to make external attributions, such as situational or environment features. For example, puncture in a cycle race means withdrawal from race, or heavy rain floods pitch and match called off.Stable/Unstable FactorsA stable factor is considered permanent and unchangeable, for example, ability. An unstable factor, by contrast, is temporary and can be changed, for example, luck.Achievement Goal TheoryAchievement goals are targets for individuals based on their ability.

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In the late 1970’s and early 1980’s, the work in classroom settings of John Nicholls, Carol Dweck, Martin Maehr and Carole Ames provided the early foundation for the understanding of achievement goals in sport when two distinctive achievement goals were identified based on the definition of personal competence: task and ego goals or, in other words, mastery and performance goals.Task goals mean a person is interested in mastering a skill or task. By mastering certain skills of a sport, the person feels able with their ability to perform on the playing field. This indicates that they are also intrinsically motivated and evaluate success by effort and improvement.

Task-oriented goals are about:

  • High efforts
  • Doing your best
  • Collaborating with teammates
  • Enjoying sport

Ego goals are set by the athlete who compare themselves with similarly skilled athletes and base their success on doing better than their opponents. They measure success by not being the least skilled individual but put more emphasis on winning as opposed to developing skill. Ego oriented athletes are extrinsically motivated.

Ego-oriented goals are about:

  • Being better than others
  • Having the right equipment
  • Luck Task orientation is regarded as more adaptive than ego orientation.

Task orientation is related to selection of challenging tasks, effective study strategies, positive attitudes toward learning, and positive emotions, whereas quite often ego orientation is associated with selection of easier tasks, learning strategies, concern for social status, and thoughts of escape and behavioural withdrawal when difficulties are encountered. However, if high ability is combined with high task orientation, then ego orientation supports positive achievement outcomes.Factors Contributing to a Motivational ClimateA motivational climate is the psychological environment that the coach creates by designing sessions which provide instructions and feedback that will help to motivate the athletes in training and competition (Amnes 1992). This has been shown to have a positive impact on the intrinsic interest, enjoyment and the on-going participation in the sport by the athlete. A motivational climate that is focused on mastery of tasks – where athletes receive positive reinforcement and there is greater emphasis on teamwork and cooperation – will help motivation through improving the athlete’s attitudes, effort and learning.Specifically:

  1. Emphasise mastery, goals and downplay outcome goals (results).
  2. Monitor and alter attributional feedback, not based on result but athlete’s performance in other aspects where they have done well
  3. Do not heavily rely on rewards.
  4. Promote intrinsic motivation
  5. Use present performance to form expectation about an athlete.
  6. Avoid labelling an athlete.

Factors Affecting Motivation

Without your desire and determination to improve your sports performances, all of the other mental factors, confidence, intensity, focus, and emotions, are meaningless.

Motivation in sports is so important because you must be willing to work hard in the face of fatigue, boredom, pain, and the desire to do other things. Situation – Depending on the situation depends on how motivated you are, for example, a cup final or a Derby day.Individual personality – Depending on how driven you are and what helps you get motivated can impact the way you perform, for example, a scout watching you play or breaking a record. Intrinsic rewards – Knowing you’ve done well from within or being told you playing well can help you get motivated. Examples are receiving praise throughout the game. Extrinsic rewards – Receiving a medal, trophy or money can motivate you to play; this affects both athletes and non-athletes by motivating them both to play harder.


Motivation can heavily influence the way a sports person can perform, this is because it can positively get a sports person ready for anything from high level to low level of competition.

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