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Mastery Oriented Intervention Methods for Youth Sport Coaching

The current state of intervention methods for coaches has been for the most part theoretical in nature, and thus there has been an influx of interest from sport psychologists to find an intervention method that is both scientifically based, and can be successfully applied on a consistent basis to help promote the growth of young athletes. It is suggested that a coach can influence an athlete's anxiety levels, enjoyment of sport, confidence, and perceptions of physical competence (Duda & Balaguer, 2007). Therefore it is also evident that the role of the coach is an important predictor of athlete drop out, and steps should be taken to ensure the climate that the coach creates is one of nurturing progress, and not an environment where an athlete's self-esteem, confidence, and perceptions of competence are challenged. In light of this issue, this article will examine the processes in which a coach goes about creating a task/mastery oriented motivational climate as described by achievement goal theory, and how becoming more self-aware can contribute to the forming of this relationship. Furthermore, scientifically based interventions will be proposed on the role of the coach, as suggested by the current sport psychology literature.

Achievement goal theory (AGT), considers an individual's achievement goals, perceived ability, motivational climate, and achievement behavior. Achievement goals can be categorised into two orientations: The first, is an outcome or ego goal orientation where the focus is on normative social comparison to judge personal ability/competence. The ego oriented athlete’s primary source of motivation is being better than others. On the contrary, the task or mastery oriented focus is on self-improvement, effort, and personal mastery to judge personal ability/competence. For this athlete, perceived ability is not tied into normative success. AGT proposes that athletes who endorse task goals are more resilient to nagging doubts and criticism regardless of perceived competence because the athlete does not need to be better than others to feel good about themselves (Duda & Balaguer, 2007). Having an ego motivational focus can lead to maladaptive achievement patterns, especially if the athlete has a low perceived ability level. When looking at creating an ideal motivational climate, the coach has to take these two goal orientations into consideration when evaluating his or her athletes. Whenever young athletes are evaluated based on their effort and personal improvement, and not whether they are better at say, scoring more goals than their teammate, then a task/mastery motivational climate is cultivated. Within a task oriented climate there is no pressure to outperform others, which has been shown to result in higher self-esteem and higher enjoyment of sport.

Enjoyment has been identified as a key reason for participation in youth sport, and it is highly associated with a task-involving coach motivational climate (Ntoumanis, Vazou, & Duda, 2007). Horn et al. (Horn & Weisse 1991; Horn & Amorose 1998) have found that young athletes aged 8-12 years old prefer feedback from adults when their performance is being evaluated (as cited in Ntoumanis et al., 2007). Therefore, coaches must become aware that their behaviors alter athlete’s perceptions and recall, which in turn affect their evaluative reactions (Smith & Smoll, 2007). In other words, the climate they produce has a drastic effect on how the young athlete will perceive their environment and ultimately judge it as a positive or negative experience. Unfortunately, the majority of coaches are unaware of their behaviors and what type of environment it fosters (Smith & Smoll, 2007). This shows the need for more coach self-awareness of the negative consequences of emphasizing an outcome goal oriented focus, such as criticising an athlete for making a mistake, instead of encouraging and providing instructional feedback. One way of providing coach self-awareness is for the team or organization to take the Perceived Motivational Climate in Sport Questionnaire (PMCSQ), where athletes are asked to assess the perceived climate produced by the coach. This way coaches can see an objective view of how they are perceived within their team, and can begin to provide a mastery focused approach which is correlated with players feeling that they have an important role in the team, and fosters cooperation among members (Duda & Balageur, 2007).

Furthermore, coaches are encouraged to take Coach Effectiveness Training (CET). CET promotes coaches self-awareness and urges coaches to focus on “athletes’ effort and enjoyment rather than on success as measured by statistics or scoreboards” (Smith & Smoll, 2007, p.85). Research has shown that athletes who are coached by individuals undertaking the CET program have increased self-esteem and lowered performance anxiety. Moreover, these findings correlate with the significant lowered percentage of athlete dropout when athletes are coached by a trained individual (20% down to 5% dropout when compared to control group) (Smith & Smoll, 2007). In addition to the CET program, coaches can also be encouraged to develop greater emotional intelligence which is a big component of the Mindfulness Acceptance Commitment Approach (MAC). The concept of ‘mindfulness’, defined as paying attention to the present moment, on purpose and non-judgmentally (Kabat-Zinn, 2005) can be a way to foster the self-awareness a coach needs to better understand themselves in order to teach skills to others appropriately. Individuals who are able to stay in contact with their emotions and can maintain full awareness of their emotional experience, understand the meaning of the emotion, and utilize and manage them contextually can be expected to respond effectively to their own performance demands (Gardner and Moore, 2007).

This article has sought out to bring light to the benefits of a task/mastery oriented climate and the lack of coach self-awareness in nurturing one. The three proposed intervention methods, PMCSQ, CET, and the MAC approach are only some of the scientifically based ways of creating a more self-aware, informed, and competent coach that can provide the highest quality task emphasized instruction to youth in order to form a healthy, confident, and happy individual ready to perform at their potential.


Duda, & Balageur, I. (2007). Coach-created motivation climate. In S. Jowett and D. Lavallee (Eds.) Social Psychology in Sport, (pp. 75-90). Champaign, Il: Human Kinetics

Gardner, F.L., & Moore, Z.E. (2007). The psychology of enhancing human performance: The Mindfulness-Acceptance-Commitment (MAC) approach. New York: Springer Publishing.

Kabat-Zinn, J. (2005). Coming to our senses: Healing ourselves and the world through mindfulness. New York: Hyperion.

Ntoumanis, N., Vazou, S., & Duda, J. (2007). Peer-created motivational climate. In S. Jowett and D. Lavalee (Eds.) Social Psychology in Sport, (pp. 145-156). Champaign, Il: Human Kinetics

Smith, R.E., & Smoll, F.L (2007). Social-cognitive approach to coaching behaviors. In S. Jowett and D. Lavalee (Eds.) Social Psychology in Sport, (pp. 117-130). Champaign, Il: Human Kinetics

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