Playing to Win: A Look Into the Motivation of Athletes

Stefanee Maurice, California State University Northridge, USA
Ashley Samson, California State University Northridge, USA
Mark Otten, California State University Northridge, USA

Theme: Motivation and self-perceptions

Poster Number: 56

Program ID: POS-1

Presentation: October 3, 2013 5:30 pm - 7:00 pm

Room: Napoleon


Athletes are often told they need to play to win. Research demonstrates that playing to avoid losing provides more motivation in competition than playing to win. This is primarily due to loss aversion, explaining that the pains of losing are worse than the joys of winning; people will do anything to avoid those pains. This study looks not only at how athletes respond to situations that warrant loss aversion, but also how the athlete’s motivational profile affects their response. An achievement goal framework was used to determine if athletes have approach versus avoidance motivation. The research hypothesized that athletes with approach motivation will accept the challenge from loss aversion, while those with avoidance motivation will perform worse. The participants (n=231) were asked to complete a basketball free throw shooting task. Participants in the experimental group were told at the halfway point in the task that they were either ahead (n=60), behind (n=60), or tied (n=62) with other participants; those in the control group (n=49) were given no feedback. Participants who were playing to win were more likely to have a mastery achievement goal orientation [r(229)=.36, p<.01] while participants who identified as having a performance achievement goal orientation were more likely to play to avoid losing [r(229)=.52, p<.01], regardless of experimental condition. Results suggest that for participants in the behind condition, demonstrating a mastery approach orientation was positively correlated with better performance on the free throw task [r(58)=.28, p=.03]. Meanwhile, for the same participants, demonstrating a performance avoidance orientation led to a worse performance on the free throw task [r(58)= -.27, p=.04]. This study can provide coaches, athletes, and sport psychologists insight into the motivations of athletes who respond either positively or negatively to loss aversive situations, and may be beneficial to developing future interventions aimed at increasing positive performance outcomes.

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