The Role of Dispositional Goal Orientation and Team Climate on Situational Self-Handicapping among Young Athletes

By Ryska, Todd A.; Yin, Zenong et al. | Journal of Sport Behavior, September 1999 | Go to article overview

The Role of Dispositional Goal Orientation and Team Climate on Situational Self-Handicapping among Young Athletes


Ryska, Todd A., Yin, Zenong, Boyd, Michael, Journal of Sport Behavior


A plethora of sport research has identified heightened social evaluation as a prominent source of stress among athletes (Gould, Jackson, & Finch, 1993; Feltz, Lirgg, & Albrecht, 1992; Stratton, 1995). The normative performance expectations reflected in parental behavior and coaching practices significantly impact the quality of an athlete's sport experience which is evidenced in her or his emotional responses to competitive sport participation (Rosenfeld, Richman, & Hardy, 1989; Scanlan & Lewthwaite, 1989; Black & Weiss, 1992). For example, Scanlan, Stein, and Ravizza (1991) revealed that a large proportion of competitive stress reported by elite figure skaters involved social evaluative themes such as 'falling in front of the crowd', and 'not wanting to let others down if I perform poorly'.

As part of the competitive process athletes are often placed in a tenuous position with the potential of projecting self-deprecatory images to coaches, parents, and teammates. These images may convey negative, self-referent information such as low personal competence, inadequate physical fitness, and lack of mental fortitude. Leary (1992) suggests that the social evaluation aspect of competitive stress can be described largely as a function of an athlete's motivation to create and maintain a self-effacing impression on others as well as the perceived probability of doing so. For example, elevated levels of competitive stress would be expected among athletes who a) consider the self-presentational aspects of the performance setting as important and b) perceive the probability of achieving positive self-presentation as unlikely (Leary, 1992). James and Collins (1997) have recently provided empirical evidence to support this contention, estimating that approximately 70% of the competitive stress reported by athletes stems from various self-presentational concerns. Although a substantial theoretical link has been established between competitive stress in sport and an athlete's ability to create a positive impression of her or himself, only recently has sport psychology research investigated the self-presentational strategies employed by athletes to control the perceived threat of competition.

The theory of self-handicapping (Jones & Berglas, 1978) proposes that individuals make proactive use of effort reduction and performance excuses in order to protect one's self-esteem from potential negative feedback within a social evaluative setting. Several studies within non-sport settings generally indicate that effective self-handicapping preserves the protagonist's sense of control when confronted with social comparison (Greenberg, Pyszczynski, & Paisley, 1985; Rhodewalt & Davison, 1986; Schouten & Handelsman, 1987). These self-effacing tactics are utilized as a means of coping with evaluative situations characterized by uncertainty of successful outcome which is indicative of competitive sport. Initial studies in sport have focused on the prevalence of self-protective behaviors among athletes within the contexts of training, (Rhodewalt, Saltzman, & Wittmer, 1984), team cohesion (Carton, Prappavesis, & Grove, 1994; Hausenblas & Carton, 1996), and competitive anxiety (Ryska, Yin, & Cooley, 1997).

The process of self-handicapping is paradoxical in the sense that what appears to be a performance-debilitating excuse or behavior forwarded by the athlete actually has a positive influence in reducing the threat of potential competitive failure. This self-reported obstacle serves to minimize the athlete's responsibility for potentially unfavorable outcomes as well as reduce the expectations of others within the competitive setting. Through the repeated use of self-handicaps, the athlete "weakens the causal linkage to bad acts" (Snyder, 1990, p. 122) which suggests that success may have been possible had the handicap not been present. Therefore, the perceptions of others regarding the athlete's personal attributes are left uncompromised. …

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