Goal Orientation and Performance in Martial Arts

By King, Laura A.; Williams, Teresa A. | Journal of Sport Behavior, December 1997 | Go to article overview

Goal Orientation and Performance in Martial Arts


King, Laura A., Williams, Teresa A., Journal of Sport Behavior


Interest in two distinct goal orientations, mastery or task orientation and ego or performance orientation, has dominated research on motivation in educational and sports settings (e.g., Dweck & Leggett, 1988; Elliot & Dweck, 1988). Mastery orientation refers to concern with learning goals, improving skills, and gaining understanding. Ego orientation refers to concern for success at competition, gaining accolades, and establishing superiority over others. Characteristic patterns of behavior have been associated with both mastery and ego orientations. These orientations emerge from dispositional preferences for mastery or ego goals and situational influences (Duda & White, 1992).

Dweck and colleagues (e.g., Dweck & Leggett, 1988; Elliot & Dweck, 1998) have demonstrated that goal orientations carry implications for individuals' theories of ability (e.g., intelligence). Mastery goals imply an intuitive theory of ability as malleable. From this perspective, hard work is seen as necessary for success and indicative of potential for learning. Failure is understood as useful feedback about the effectiveness of one's learning strategy. Ego goals imply a theory of ability as fixed. From this view, effort is seen as indicative of a lack of "natural ability" and failure is interpreted as diagnostic of low ability. In short, goal orientations color an individual's understanding of the nature and meaning of achievement situations (Dweck, & Leggett, 1988).

Past research has identified mastery and ego orientations in both sport and academic areas of achievement. Research has shown that these orientations predict beliefs about the nature of success (Duda & Nicholls, 1992; Duda & White, 1992; Dweck & Leggett, 1988). For instance, Duda and Nicholls (1992) found mastery oriented high school students believed that success requires interest and effort; ego oriented students believed success requires high ability. In a sample of elite skiers, Duda and White (1992) found mastery oriented skiers believed success stems from ability and high effort, while ego oriented skiers believed success stems from superior ability, an illegal advantage, and external factors. Research with elite adolescent tennis players has produced similar results, particularly for women (Newton & Duda, 1993a).

Goal orientation has also proven to relate to aspects of experience (c.f., Duda, 1989) in noncompetitive recreational sports. Even in a bowling class that emphasized learning, Newton and Duda (1993b) found goal orientation predicted thought content and enjoyment. In this case, mastery orientation related to less worry, more enjoyment, and the belief that effort would contribute to performance. Ego orientation related to the belief that ability would contribute most to performance. The present study addressed the issue of goal orientation in the context of a noncompetitive sport, the traditional martial arts.

Traditional Martial Arts Training

Martial arts schools are generally divided into two types, namely, contest-oriented martial arts training and traditional martial arts training. Contest-oriented martial arts emphasizes preparation for tournament competition. While the contest-oriented system may devote attention to learning technique, this approach is not primarily concerned with perfecting technique. Thirty year martial arts veteran Herman Kauz (1993) explained that a contest oriented practitioner would resort to additional physical strength or speed to overcome an opponent when a non-perfected technique fails.

In contrast to contest-oriented training, traditional martial arts emphasizes mastering self-defense techniques. A traditional martial arts practitioner would consider the use of additional strength or speed to overcome or escape an opponent risky. Speed and strength alone may ultimately fail in a street situation where the attacker is much stronger or faster than oneself. …

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