A Qualitative Analysis of the Types of Goals Athletes Set in Training and Competition

By Munroe-Chandler, Krista J.; Hall, Craig R. et al. | Journal of Sport Behavior, March 2004 | Go to article overview

A Qualitative Analysis of the Types of Goals Athletes Set in Training and Competition


Munroe-Chandler, Krista J., Hall, Craig R., Weinberg, Robert S., Journal of Sport Behavior


Studies have shown that athletes (e.g., youth, collegiate and Olympic level) report using goal setting to enhance their performance (Weinberg, Burke, & Jackson, 1997: Weinberg, Burton, Yukelson, & Weigand, 1993). Moreover, research has demonstrated that goal setting is an effective performance enhancement technique in sport (Kyllo & Landers, 1995). This conclusion has been reached through the use of recta-analysis (Kyllo & Landers, 1995) and enumerative reviews (Burton, 1992, 1993; Weinberg, 1992). Although these studies have helped to illuminate some of the previous inconsistencies in the sport goal setting research (see Weinberg, Burton, Yukelson, & Weigand, 2000 for a discussion of this issue), there still remains a need for additional research. Researchers argue that goal setting research has not effectively examined such issues as where athletes set goals (e.g., training versus competition) and what types of goals are most important to the athletes (Weinberg et al., 2000; Weinberg, Butt, & Knight, 2001). Several investigators have suggested that qualitative goal setting studies would supplement the previous research in this area (Burton, Naylor & Holliday, 1998; Weinberg et al., 2000). The results of such studies would provide a more complete understanding of goal setting by athletes and be useful to sport psychologists in the development of goal setting programs. Therefore, the primary purpose of the present study was to qualitatively examine the types of goals athletes set in both training and competition.

Goals Set in Training and Competition

As would be expected, athletes set goals for both training and competition, although collegiate and Olympic athletes set more competition goals than practice goals (Burton, Weinberg, Yukelson, & Weigand, 1998; Weinberg et al., 2000). it was suggested that this could be due to the fact that athletes consider competition more important and therefore place more emphasis, albeit frequency, on setting competition goals. However, Burton and colleagues did report that their sample of college athletes rated both practice and competition goals as equally effective.

Burton and colleagues further propose that the function of these goals may differ considerably (2001). Enhanced learning is often times the focus in practice situations, while performing optimally or outperforming one's opponent is the focus in competitive situations. Because practices generally foster minimal evaluation and social comparison, as compared to competition, the function of practice goals may be on skill development as opposed to arousal goals and mental toughness goals, which are more prominent in competition. Although Burton and colleagues contend that the types of goals athletes set in training and competition probably differ, little research exists comparing the goals athletes set in these two situations. Therefore, this comparison was undertaken in the present study and given the proposals made by Burton et al., it was hypothesised that athletes would set primarily learning oriented goals in practice and execution oriented goals in competition.

Specific Types of Goals Athletes Set

Those investigating goal setting in sport have typically studied the nature of the goals set by athletes and the influence of these goals on enhancing performance. Much of the early research investigated goal difficulty (e.g., difficult versus easy goals), goal specificity (e.g., specific performance goals versus vague "do your best" goals), and the temporal nature of the goals (e.g., short-term versus long-term goals) (see Kyllo & Landers, 1995 for a summary of this research). Researchers have made also distinctions between outcome and performance goals (Burton, et al., 2001 ; Kingston & Hardy, 1994, 1997). Outcome goals are conceptualized as more product oriented, focusing on social comparison and object outcome such as winning or losing in competition.

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