Autonomous and controlled motivation as moderators between achievement goals and sport outcomes


The present study examined the relationship between achievement goals and sport outcomes. Achievement goals are often examined with the 2x2 achievement goal theory (Elliot & McGregor, 2001) that differentiates between performance-approach goals (PAP; aim to outperform others) and mastery-approach goals (MAP; aim to attain task mastery). However, past research has rarely studied the impact of both the aims and reasons for pursuing achievement goals. Goals can be pursued autonomously and aligned with personal values and interests, or for controlled reasons that are external or self-imposed (Sheldon & Elliot, 1999). Previous studies in the academic (Gaudreau, 2012; Vansteenkiste et al. 2010) and sport domain (Vansteenkiste, Mouratidis, & Lens, 2010; Vansteenkiste, Mouratidis, Van Riet, and Lens; 2014) show that autonomously pursued achievement goals result in greater well-being and performance. The present study was the first to examine athletes’ goal motivation (autonomous or controlled) as a moderator between both achievement goals and four separate sport outcomes (performance, satisfaction, positive affect, and negative affect) with athletes from diverse sport backgrounds. 553 athletes from a Canadian university completed an online questionnaire. Results revealed that goal motivation significantly moderated several of the effects between achievement goals and sport outcomes. Athletes who pursued PAP goals autonomously had higher performance, satisfaction, and positive affect, whereas when PAP goals were pursued for controlled reasons athletes’ had lower satisfaction and positive affect. When MAP goals were pursued autonomously athletes had higher performance and positive affect, whereas when MAP goals were pursued for controlled reasons athletes’ had greater negative affect. The study indicates the advantages of differentiating two important features of achievement goals (aim and motivation) to explicate for whom PAP and MAP goals lead to better sport outcomes. In addition, these findings suggest it is most beneficial for athletes to pursue achievement goals autonomously to have the best sport outcomes.