Learned Helplessness in Sport

in The Sport Psychologist
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  • 1 National Tennis Centre
  • 2 University of Western Ontario
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One purpose of the present investigation was to examine whether tennis athletes have maladaptive achievement patterns associated with learned helplessness, and whether this condition is related to gender and/or skill level. A second purpose was to determine if there is a relationship between maladaptive achievement patterns and the attributional styles used in failure performances. A sport-specific questionnaire based upon the research of Dweck and others was designed to assess the cognitive, motivational, and emotional maladaptive achievement patterns in male and female highly skilled and lesser skilled athletes enrolled in a tennis academy (N=50). Another sport-specific questionnaire based on Abramson’s attributional model was used to measure each athlete’s attributional style (i.e., locus of control, stability, globality, and importance). Results revealed that 11 subjects demonstrated maladaptive achievement patterns associated with learned helplessness. No gender or skill level differences were present. Subjects classified as helpless had a different attribution dimension style for explaining failure performances than did subjects classified as nonhelpless. Specifically, helpless subjects gave ratings that were internal, persistent, and recurrent. The results were discussed in terms of their practical implications.

Harry Prapavessis is with the All-Canadian Academy at the National Tennis Centre, 3111 Steeles Ave. West, Downsview, Ontario M3J 3H2. Albert V. Carron is with the Faculty of Physical Education, Thames Hall, University of Western Ontario, London, Ontario N6A 3K7.

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