Winning Isn’t Everything: Examining the Impact of Performance Goals on Collegiate Swimmers’ Cognitions and Performance

in The Sport Psychologist
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Sport psychologists believe that contemporary sport’s pervasive preoccupation with winning may actually be responsible for athletes’ anxiety, motivation, and self-confidence problems. Winning is a goal that lacks the flexibility and control necessary for athletes to (a) achieve consistent success and (b) take credit for success. Martens and Burton (1982) concluded that performance goals (PGs) based on attaining personal performance standards offer the flexibility and control needed to develop high perceived ability and performance. Thus the purpose of this study was twofold: (a) to evaluate whether a goal setting training (GST) program could teach athletes to set appropriate PGs, and (b) to assess the impact of the GST program on the perceived ability, competitive cognitions, and performance of collegiate swimmers. A collegiate swim team (N=30) participated in a season-long GST program, and program effects were systematically evaluated with a multimethod approach using interteam, intrateam, and case study data. Interteam and case study data generally supported both predictions. Intrateam analyses revealed that high-accuracy GST swimmers demonstrated more optimal cognitions and performance than low-accuracy teammates, suggesting that goal setting skill mediated GST effectiveness.

Damon Burton is with the Division of HPERD at the University of Idaho, Moscow, ID 83843.

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