Motivational determinants underpinning the optimal and diminished functioning of adult sport performers: a test of a theoretically integrated achievement goal and self-determination approach

  • Mairi Mulvenna

Student thesis: Doctoral ThesisDoctor of Philosophy


Guided by Vansteenkiste, Lens, Elliot, Soenans, & Mouratidis (2014), this thesis adopted an integrated theoretical approach in aiming to gain an enhanced understanding of the motivational determinants underpinning well-being and performance in sport. All three studies drew upon key tenets from the 3 x 2 Achievement Goal Model (AGM; Elliot, Murayama, & Pekrun, 2011) and Self-Determination Theory (SDT; Deci & Ryan, 1985) with a primary emphasis on testing the notion of goal complexes (i.e., achievement goals x motivational context/reasons) on the performance and healthy functioning of novice participants across different competitive sport situations. Study one focused on examining well-being and optimal functioning, and so exclusively concentrated on investigating approach-based goals (rather than avoidance goals) given their consistently reported positive associations with adaptive cognition, affective and behavioural patterns. An experimental test of separating task- and self-approach, relative to other-approach, goals (as proposed in the 3 x 2 AGM) alongside examining the interaction effects of the motivational context (autonomy support vs control) on indices of psycho-physiological functioning and performance among novice performers on a basketball shooting task was conducted. Goal main effects revealed the task-approach goal condition to be the most beneficial for psychological functioning (i.e., participants experienced the least anxiety, and highest levels of perceived competence and goal attainment) corresponding to the experimental task, and the self-approach goal condition resulted in the best performance. Main effects for the motivational context also revealed the autonomy-supportive (relative to controlling) condition to be the most beneficial for sport performance and physiological functioning (measured via cardiovascular reactivity). In addressing a key limitation of study one, study two exclusively focused on the other-based goal, drawing direct comparisons between both other-approach and other-avoidance goals within a team-based sports competition. Similar to study one, study two also highlighted the importance of the motivational context towards impacting participants’ psychological and emotional well-being among novices invested in a table football competition. Specifically, autonomy-supportive (relative to controlling environments) revealed significant differences in optimal (i.e., higher levels of self-efficacy, self-rated performance) and diminished functioning (i.e., greater levels of hopelessness). In conjunction with parkrun U.K., study three focused on self-approach and self-avoidance goal pursuit, the most salient goals amongst the running community (e.g., Krouse, Ransdell, Lucas, & Pritchard, 2011; Martin, 2006), yet previously understudied in the sport-based, motivation literature. Like study two, study three – the final study of the thesis – provided further evidence of the over-riding effects of SDT-related constructs in explaining unique variability in the cognitive appraisals, emotional well-being and actual performance of participants taking part in a competitive achievement situation (i.e., 5km parkrun). Structural equation modelling findings provided partial support for the hypothesised model (i.e., self-approach goal and their underlying motives > stress appraisals > performance and emotional well-being). More specifically, it was found that the reasons (i.e., motives) underlying self-based goal pursuit (rather than the intensity of this particular goal pursuit alone) impacted parkrunners emotional well-being (pride) and performance. The mediational hypothesis concerning stress appraisals was also partially supported and discussed in more detail later in the thesis (chapter four). In summary, the findings across the three studies comprising this PhD thesis provide limited evidence to support the goal complex notion drawing upon Vansteenkiste et al’s (2014) integrated theoretical approach. Rather, the findings point towards the unique effects of achievement goals, and, in particular, the motives underlying goals, as well as the social environment in which they operate, on influencing optimal and diminished functioning of novice sport performers in competitive sport situations.
Date of AwardJul 2020
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • Coventry University
SupervisorJames Adie (Supervisor), Luke Sage (Supervisor), Nigel Wilson (Supervisor) & Douglas Howat (Supervisor)

Cite this