ArtsAutosBooksBusinessEducationEntertainmentFamilyFashionFoodGamesGenderHealthHolidaysHomeHubPagesPersonal FinancePetsPoliticsReligionSportsTechnologyTravel

Need Achievement Theory In Sport Psychology

Updated on March 16, 2013
CyclingFitness profile image

Liam Hallam is a sports science graduate. A keen cyclist, runner, and obstacle racer who ran his first ultra-marathon in 2016.

What Is Your Achievement Motivation?

What is your achievement motivation-Strong, faster, higher, smoother? What drives you towards greater sports performances?
What is your achievement motivation-Strong, faster, higher, smoother? What drives you towards greater sports performances? | Source

Competitiveness and Motivation to Achieve In Athletes

Within sports and life we all have different motivational factors. Whether they come from within ourselves (intrinsic) or from outside influences (extrinsic). It is important that we're all realistic when it comes to our sporting performances and how we get there.

Many athletes have a strong motivation to succeed and achieve greatness. No matter how relative it is.

What Is Achievement Motivation?

Achievement Motivation is the efforts an athlete (or individual in a non sporting sense) makes to achieve excellence within their chosen field. It's their attempts at overcoming obstacles or mastering a particular task.

Achievement motivation has so many descriptives an athlete, exerciser, sports psychologist or coach could easily come up with. These are the characteristics which help inspire us to achieve greatness and hit those targets we make for ourselves.

Definitions of Achievement Motivation

How do you define achievement motivation?
How do you define achievement motivation?

Competitiveness and Achievement

Many athletes thrive on competition. Competitiveness is a personality trait which involves comparison with others leading to evaluation against a concept of excellence.

Competitiveness is a form of achievement motivation behavior in the context of sports. It can be very specific to the individual and their situation. Just because an individual wants to be competitive on the tennis court doesn't mean they will have the same driver and determination in school.

Many people compete with (and in many ways- against) themselves. Running a faster marathon in their next event is a target for many individuals even if there is no-one else there to evaluate and scrutinise their performance.

Achievement motivation and competitiveness are very inter-related. Achievement motivation can often be seen to be socially driven and lead to competitiveness related influences in behavior.

Achievement Motivation In Action- Chasing A Fast Time

Chasing a fast time in a cycling time trial is a sign of competitiveness and is driver by achievement motivation
Chasing a fast time in a cycling time trial is a sign of competitiveness and is driver by achievement motivation | Source

Theories Of Achievement Motivation In Sport

Over the years a number of key theories have formed in terms of the motivation to act and achieve. These are

  • Need Achievement Theory
  • Attribution Theory
  • Goal Theory
  • Competence Motivation Theory

Need Achievement Theory In Sports

Need achievement theory within sports psychology is a theory used to help predict task preference and relevant outcomes in performance. The theory of need achievement concerns five interactional component factors (as shown below).

The interactional factors of need achievement theory
The interactional factors of need achievement theory

1. Personality Factors Of Need Achievement Theory

Within need achievement theory we have two underlying motives..

i) Achieve success and ii) Avoid failure

Achieving success is our ability to take pride or satisfaction from our achievements. Whereas the opposite is true in avoiding failure as we're looking not to submit ourselves to feelings of shame or failures.

Many sports psychologists consider that high achievers have a high motivation to achieve success whereas low achievers have a tendency to concentrate on avoiding failures and that there is a balance between the two distinct behaviours.

What Situational Factors Drive You On?

Situational factors play a key role in need achievement theory
Situational factors play a key role in need achievement theory | Source

Situational Factors In Achievement

We must consider the whole story when considering how to accurately predict behaviours.

Situationally we must consider the probability of success within the sporting situation. Our competition is key to this as well as training status and the difficulty of the task faced. As a result we also need to consider the incentive value within a specific task.

High achievers will gain the most out of situations where the probability of success is relatively low and that success becomes a challenge. However a low achiever may see losing in such a scenario as one that promotes a feeling of personal shame from a loss.

3. Resultant/ Behavioral Tendencies

An athlete's behavioural and resultant tendencies derive from considering an individuals motive levels in relation to situational factors. High achieving athletes seek challenges at this level which are within their abilities on a competitive level around a 50/50 probability.

These resultant tendencies for a low achiever will lead to them adopting easier tasks which do not force them to challenge themselves in a sporting context or inexplicably hard tasks where failure is almost a certainty. It's not a fear of failure in this circumstance. More a fear of the negative evaluation of failure in a sporting context.

Emotional Reactions To Achievement

The fourth factor in need achievement is an individual's emotional reactions regarding the accomplishment or failure exhibited. Our personalities react differently to situations to either focus on pride of success or shame of failure.

Achievement Behaviour

The four previous factors together lead to your achievement behaviour as a result of their reactions. These stages are all detailed below.

Need Achievement Theory Infographic
Need Achievement Theory Infographic

Attribution Theory In Sports Psychology

The key aspects of attribution theory is the explanations people place on their sporting performances. The success or failure in performance through attribution was popularised by Weiner (1985) due to the infinite number of possible explanations for our gains and losses which can be classified as stability, causality and control categories.


Stability factors can either be stable such as your own sporting abilities or inastabilities such as luck.


Causality within attribution theory can fall internally through your own efforts or externally in the case in insufficient competition.


Control factors can either be within your control (event planning, bicycle tire pressure etc) or outside of your control such is another runner falling in front of you.

Fear Of Failure Or Drive To Succeed?

Is your motivation to avoid failure? Or achieve success?
Is your motivation to avoid failure? Or achieve success? | Source

The Importance Of Attribution Theory

Attribution theory is important within achievement motivation as our attributions help to shape our short term and long-term expectations. By adopting three separate classifications it's possible for an athlete to isolate causality, control and stability factors.

Goal Theory In Sports Psychology

Achievement goal theory focuses on three interacting factors to determine motivation

  1. Achievement Goals + 2.Perceived Ability = Achievement Behavior

To understand a person's achievement behavior we must take into account that persons achievement goals and their perceived abilities.

Competence Motivation Theory In Sport

Competence motivation theory helps to explain motivational differences based on an individual's feelings of self worth and competence. These feelings are greatly influenced by our feedback mechanisms and motivational orientations and interact to affect our motivation in the form of anxiety, pride, joy and shame.

High Achiever Vs Low Achiever Motivational Factors

High Achiever
Low Achiever
High motivation for success and a low motivation to achieve failure
Reduced motivation for success with a high motivation to avoid failure
Task Choice
Seeks challenges
Avoids challenges
Success stems for stable and controllable factors. Failure is outside one's control
Success is from instability and factors oustide one's control. Failure is within control
Goal Setting
Specific task goals
General outcome goals
Achievement Competence
Competence is within one's control
Low perceived competence so achievement outside personal control
Excels in evaluative conditions
Poor performance in evaluative conditions


Weinberg. R. and Gould. D., 2nd Ed (1999) Foundations of sport and exercise psychology, Champaign IL, USA, Human Kinetics,.

Weiner.B., (1985), An attribution theory of achievement motivation, Psychological Review, 92, 548-573.


    0 of 8192 characters used
    Post Comment

    • CyclingFitness profile image

      Liam Hallam 4 years ago from Nottingham UK

      Thanks jay, I recommend Weinberg and Gould as its an excellent textbook. I'm glad this article has helped you question actions and hopefully can lead to improvement as a result. Many thanks liam

    • INFJay profile image

      Jay Manriquez 4 years ago from Santa Rosa, California

      Thanks for writing a very informative Hub about one of my favorite topics: motivation and achievement. As I read your Hub, I found myself analyzing my past achievements in relation to my motivational factors and I discovered some inconsistencies (which means I will be reading the references you cited). Well done!

    Click to Rate This Article