Achievement Goals in Sport: A Critique of Conceptual and Measurement Issues

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Chris Harwood Loughborough University

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Lew Hardy University of North Wales

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Austin Swain University of North Wales

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This article presents a critical analysis of the conceptualization and measurement of achievement goals in sport. It highlights conceptual and measurement inconsistencies of Nicholls’s (1984) achievement-goal theory in education with respect to its applicability to sport. It proposes that differentiation between ability and effort does not underpin the activation of task and ego goal perspectives in a sport performance context and that the definitions of task and ego involvement in the classroom might not generalize to sport. It offers an alternative conceptual approach incorporating three goal perspectives, as both a theoretical and a practical solution. It addresses goal involvement in sport performance contexts by emphasizing the value of assessing self-referent and normative conceptions of achievement at different time frames. Overall, this critique attempts to advance our understanding of both achievement goals and individual performers in the competitive sport domain.

Chris Harwood is with the Sport and Exercise Psychology Research Group at Loughborough University, Leicestershire LE11 3TU, UK. Lew Hardy and Austin Swain are with the Institute for the Psychology of Elite Performance at the University of North Wales, Bangor LL57 2DG, UK.

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