A Study into Achievement motivation and Competitiveness

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Motivation, a psychological feature can be defined as the direction and intensity of ones effort (Sage, 1977). In short, the direction of ones effort alludes to an individual is attracted to a certain situation, for example the student may be motivated to go out for a soccer team. Whereas, the intensity of ones effort refers to how much effort a person put forward in a particular situation, for example a student may attend physical education class but do not put effort during class. The relationship of direction and intensity of efforts are directly related, typically a student who seldom miss training lesson will usually put in more effort during participation.

Different views on motivation

There are generally 3 different types of views on how motivation works, typically the trait-centered, the situation centered, and the interactional. The trait centered view refers to a motivated behavior actually comes from individual character. The personality, needs, interests and goals are some of the component that determines a motivated behavior. The situation centered views sees motivation as an influence of a certain situation. A student may be unmotivated in attending soccer training but motivated to play for the school soccer team. The last view of motivation which is widely endorsed by sport psychologists is the interactional view, this view actually combines the trait centered views and situation centered views to form a new view. An interactional view of motivation study was conducted by Sorrentino and Sheppard (1978) on 44 male and 33 female swimmers in universities, testing them on a 200 yard individual event and then a part of a relay team. The study has shown that knowing the swimmers' personal characteristics (trait centered view) was not the best way to predict the behavior (individual best split time), because the performance also depended on the situation like whether it is relay or individual race (situation centered view) (Brewer B, ,2009)3.

Achievement motivation and Competitiveness

In sport, achievement motivation and competitiveness are known to be able to influence performance and participation. Achievement motivation is defined as a person's efforts to master a task, achieve excellence, overcome obstacles, perform better than others, taking pride in exercising talent (Murray, 1938). It allows athletes, exercisers, students to achieve excellence, to gain high levels of fitness and to maximize learning respectively. Achievement motivation is also an inclusive of trait view, situation view and interactional view of a motivation of a person. Competitiveness, on the other hand is defined as "disposition to strive for satisfaction when making comparisons with some standard of excellence in the presence of evaluative others" (Martens, 1976). Both deal not just with the final outcome but also the journey of getting to the final outcomes.

Own motivation experience

I am interested in the concept of motivation because due to my own personal account. I am currently a contract Physical education (PE) teacher with Ministry of Education. In 2 months' time (June 2010), I will be going to National Institute of Education (NIE) in Nanyang Technological University to train as a PE teacher. However to be admitted into NIE, I need to pass a physical proficiency test (PPT) conducted by NIE Physical Education and Sports Science. The PPT comprises of 5 different stations, namely the agility run, badminton, possession game, gymnastic and swimming.

To pass the PPT, a candidate must achieve the following:

a. A score a total of 9 points or more in the test.

b. Does not fail any station.

To date, I have taken the PPT twice, but failed to pass the agility run station both time, the minimum passing time for the station for male runner is less than 17.7 sec. Even though, I am very disappointed, but I am very determined and motivated to take and pass the test again. Hence, the achievement motivation (Wikipedia, Jan 2010)2. for this PPT has influence a wide variety of my current behaviors, thoughts and feeling for example.

Choice of activity (seeking out runners of greater ability to learn with them the correct techniques).

Effort to purse goals (I have been practicing for every alternate days)

Intensity of effort in the pursuit of goals. (To do 25 mins sprinting, mobility, warms up before the run.) Persistence in the face of failure and adversity (When I still not able to run within the 17.7 secs, I will work harder, to try new ways to run the test.)

In short, with the understanding of the 4 theories of achievement motivation, I (considering myself as low achievers) have summaries the major predication from each theory and hoped to use them to guide my own practice to pass my PPT in march 2010.

Low achiever

Motivation orientation

High motivation to avoid failure

(Need to pass PPT)


Ascribes failure to stable and internal factors within my control.

(Dry testing field, well prepared)

Goal adopted

Outcome goals

(Pass PPT)

Perceived competence and control

Low perceived competence and believes achievement is outside own control.

(To date, still cannot clear 17.7 sec)

Task choice

Seeks out difficult challenges

(Pass PPT, to become PE teacher)

Performance conditions

Performs poorly in evaluative conditions

Four theories of achievement motivation

Over the years, four main theories were evolved to explain motivation in people, they are the need achievement theory, attribution theory, achievement goal theory and competence motivation theory.

Need achievement theory

Need achievement theory (Atkinson 1974; MClelland, 1961) has 5 components which include personality factors, situational factors, resultant tendencies, emotional reactions, and achievement related behaviors. These components serve as the framework to predict task preferences and performance outcomes. Achievement related behavior results from the interaction of the other four components (high achievers tend to perform better when evaluated and select challenging tasks with intermediate risks; low achievers tend to avoid risky and challenging tasks, and perform less well when evaluated).

Attribution theory

This theory focus on the explanations that people tend to make to explain success or failure (Heider, 1958, Weiner 1985, 1986). The theory has 3 main categories, they are stability, locus of causality and locus of control. Stability refers the cause of the success or failure may be either stable or unstable. If the we believe the cause is stable, then the outcome is likely to be the same if we perform the same behavior on another occasion. If it is unstable, the outcome is likely to be different on another occasion.. Locus of causality refers to the cause of the success or failure may be internal or external. That is, we may succeed or fail because of factors that we believe have their origin within us or because of factors that originate in our environment. Locus of control refers to the cause of the success or failure may be either controllable or uncontrollable. A controllable factor is one which we believe we ourselves can alter if we wish to do so. An uncontrollable factor is one that we do not believe we can easily alter. The most important contribution of the theory is it explains the attributions affect expectations of future success or failure and emotional reactions (Biddle, Hanrahan & Sellars, 2001; McAuley, 1993b).

Achievement goal theory

According to this theory three factors interact to determine a person's motivation: Achievement goals, Perceived ability, Achievement behavior. This theory also indicates that individuals in achievement settings are typically oriented to one of two goals either task goal or outcome goal. When determining whether or not they have been successful in these contexts. Someone may have an task goal orientation where they only focuses on comparing performance with personal standards and personal improvement Others may have an outcome orientation that focuses on comparing performance with and defeating others,

Competence motivation theory

A theory of achievement motivation based on a person's feelings of personal competence. According to the theory, competence motivation increases when a person successfully masters a task. This encourages the person to master more tasks (Weiss & Chaumeton, 1992). For example, a young high self-esteem soccer player believes that he has control over the learning and performance of skills, then the efforts to learn the game will increase his pride and happiness, this will in turn lead to increased motivation.

An analysis of the relationships between the four theories

Based on the book (Weinberg, R.S., & Gould, D. (Eds), 2007)1, the 4 theories of achievement motivation are able to work together and give a clear predication of the motivational behavior for high and low achievers. The table below establishs how high and low achievers vary in terms of their motivationals orientation, attributions, the goals, their task choices, their perceived competence and control, and their performance.

High achiever

Low achiever

Motivation orientation

High motivation to achieve success

Low motivation to aviod future

Focus on the pride of sucess

Low motivation to achieve success

High motivation to aviod future

Focus on shame and worry that may result from failure


Ascribes success to stable and internal factors within one's control

Ascribes failure to unstable and external factors outside one's control

Ascribes success to unstable and external factors outside one's control

Ascribes failure to stable and internal factors within one's control

Goal adopted

Adopts task goals

Adopts outcome goals

Perceived competence and control

High perceived competence and believes achievement is within one's control

Low perceived competence and believes achievement is outside own control.

Task choice

Seeks out challenges and able comptitors and tasks

Aviod challenges; seeks out very diffcult or very easy tasks and competitors

Performance conditions

Performs well in evaluative conditions

Performs poorly in evaluative conditions

In contast, high achievers normally embrace task goals and are fully aware of their own ability and control. They believe success is due to stable and internal factors like high skill and they see failure is due to unstable and control factors like low efforts, they always have a positive and optimistic attitude. For example, someone who has a positive attitude always focuses on opportunities rather than on potential drawbacks. They focus on solutions rather than on problems. Low achievers usually have low ability and control, believing on more outcome goals and credit success to luck and ease of the task, they blame failure due to low ability. They always have negative attitudes most of the time. For example, they focus on the possible drawbacks rather than on opportunities. The low achievers tend to dive in and find problems when others find solutions.

In summary, with the results tabled above, parents, teachers and coaches are able indentify the personal and situation factors in influencing achievement behavior for different individuals (for high and low achievers). They are able to emphasize task or master goals instead of outocme goals for different individuals. They are also need to assess and correct inappropriate individuals attributions and enhance perceptions of competence and control. And finally, helping different individuals to decide when to compete and when to focus on individual improvement.