During the past ten years considerable effort has been devoted to developing an understanding of children's experience in sport. The impetus behind this research focus appears to have been twofold. First, the tremendous number of children who participate in organized sports necessitates an understanding of what this participation means in terms of their physical, social, emotional, and cognitive development. Second, the continuing debate concerning the value of participating in sports has resulted in a large quantity of empirical work on this issue. One aspect of children's experience in sports that has received extensive research attention centers on issues related to motivation (Weiss & Chaumeton, 1992).
A primary focus of this research has been to develop an integrated understanding of the associations among variables thought to influence motivational orientation. Specifically, variables such as competitive trait anxiety, perceived competence, perception of control, and coaching behaviors have been studied within the context of Harter's (1981) competence motivation theory and Deci and Ryan's (1985) cognitive evaluation theory. Harter's (1981) theory proposed that individuals' innate desire to demonstrate competence is exhibited in their tendency to engage in mastery attempts. Central to her model are the constructs of perceived competence, perception of control, and affect (anxiety). These constructs are said to be influenced by the outcome of mastery attempts as well as feedback from significant others (e.g., parents, teachers, and coaches). Perceived competence, control, and affect are, in turn, proposed to influence individuals' motivational orientation and subsequent mastery attempts.
More recently Deci and Ryan's (1985) cognitive evaluation theory proposed that any event or context which affects an individuals' feelings and perceptions of self-determination and competence will affect their intrinsic motivation. Thus, intrinsic motivation is hypothesized to be a function of the meaning of events with respect to intrinsic need to be self-determining and competent (Vallerand, Deci, & Ryan, 1987). For example, events that promote a sense of self-determination and competence tend to enhance intrinsic motivation. Conversely, events that are perceived as controlling tend to diminish motivation.
Research on Motivationally Related Variables
Harter (1982) suggests that children who perceive themselves as competent will persist longer and maintain greater interest in a particular skill domain. That is, they will possess an internal motivational orientation for that domain. Conversely, children who do not perceive themselves as highly competent tend not to persist and lose interest more quickly. Thus, for example, they are less likely to participate in sports; or, if they do play, it likely will be for external reasons.
A number of studies in the youth sport literature support such a hypothesis (Feltz, Gould, Horn, & Weiss, 1982; Feltz & Petlichkoff, 1983; Frazer & Weiss, as cited in Weiss & Chaumeton, 1992; Klint & Weiss, 1987; Roberts, Kleiber, & Duda, 1981). In general, these studies examined how participation motives (i.e., the reasons for participating in sports) and perceived competence differed among participants, non-participants and drop-outs. Such studies consistently find that children who are participating report higher levels of perceived competence and state more intrinsically oriented reasons do than nonparticipants and drop-outs.
Competitive trait anxiety (the general level of anxiety perceived by an athlete regarding competitive situations) has been an often studied construct in the realm of youth sports as well. However, few studies have examined trait anxiety with respect to motivational orientation (Brustad, 1988; Brustad & Weiss, 1987; Klint, 1988; Weiss, Bredemeier, & Brustad, 1987). There has been some support for Brustad and Weiss's (1987) and Harter's (1982) notion that the sense that one does not possess the competencies for particular environmental demands (e. …