Athletes’ self-regulatory responses to unattainable athletic goals: Effects of need-supportive vs. need-thwarting coaching and athletes’ motivation

Kathryn Mulvihill, Maude Guilmette, Erin T. Barker and Theresa Bianco

Department of Psychology, Concordia University, Montréal, Canada

Athletes are celebrated for their ability to persevere in the pursuit of goals. Just as important, however, is the ability to deal effectively with failure and disappointment. Goal adjustment theory (GAT; Wrosch, Scheier, Carver, & Schulz, 2003a; Wrosch, Scheier, & Miller, 2013) specifies that when goals are unattainable, disengagement – withdrawing effort and psychological commitment – and reengagement – beginning to pursue new goals – are adaptive responses that protect health and wellbeing. Building on two recent studies (Ntoumanis, Healy, Sedikides, Smith, & Duda, 2014; Smith & Ntoumanis, 2014), we examined whether need-supportive vs. thwarting social contexts and autonomous vs. controlled motivation, two constructs central to self-determination theory (SDT; Ryan & Deci, 2017), could help to explain goal adjustment responses in a sample of athletes. Results replicated the potentially controversial finding that athletes’ autonomous motivation was negatively associated with ease of disengagement and underscored the importance of coaching behaviors for athletes’ motivation and goal adjustment.

Keywords: Athletes, Coaching, Goal adjustment theory, Self-determination theory