The demand for coaches to enhance player performance is increasing at an extraordinary rate.
The scientific literature refers to this as "competence". How is it acheived? There are two active approaches:
- learning as internal processes (LAIP)
- learning as meaning-making (LAMM).
LAIP emphasises the learners’ behavioural changes, but LAMM focuses on how learners construct their own meaning. My previous approach to coaching has been influenced by my playing experience. When I began playing competitive sport, my notion of competence was my ability compared to others, however, my new coach helped shift my focus from results to technique development: relative to myself.
Mastery-oriented players tend to be motivated by enhancing their performance by learning and developing new skills.
Contrast this to performance-oriented players who are ego driven; their notion of success is defined by them outperforming others, specifically when exerting less effort than their opponents.
Players are unlikely to be entirely oriented to either performance or mastery. Orientation is a combination of both. Their beliefs, experiences and the situation will determine their orientation. I found that players’ motivation levels are strongly determined by the environment formed by the coach, which is supported by scientific literature.
This correlates to their desire to achieve the anticipated outcome. Therefore, it has been suggested that a coach uses an approach that will help develop both orientations.
According to research, the "achievement goal theory" assumes that peoples’ behaviours are a consequence of the types of goals they set. Piaget found that athletes are more likely to enhance their performance when they construct their own goals. With LAMM, I set my own goals, which were developed to emphasise enhancing my technique. With LAIP, the coach heavily influenced my goal setting, and I became outcome focused. In the performance climate, I found that when I out performed my partner I felt happy, regardless of the reason for the result (i.e. opponent using their non-dominant hand). However, when they performed better, I was extremely frustrated, which aligns with research.
A few years ago, when I entered my final junior state cricket tournament, my club coach set three ego-oriented goals:
- make the state team
- take the most wickets
- win the state championship
During that tournament, I was disappointed when I didn’t achieve my goals; I considered dropping out of the sport. However, after working with a new coach (who used a LAMM approach), I was guided to construct my own goals, which promoted skill acquisition and mastery.
I focused on developing skill-based goals that encouraged me to reflect, evaluate, and analyse the effectiveness of the goals I had set. When I decided on this approach for goal-setting in my sport, I succeeded.
Over the past two years, I have competed in the State School Sports Open Boys Cricket Tournament, where I have attained the leading wicket taker award and a state championship. I accomplished this feat because my notion of competence was relative to self: I created my own meaning, I felt more self-determined to achieve my goals because I wanted to improve my skills and ability.
Literature suggests that the creation of a task-oriented environment, through encouraging learners to develop meaning from within, will have a great effect on improving an athlete’s competence. This does not mean that athletes cannot be successful in LAIP, rather they are driven by their self-image and extrinsic rewards (often provided by the coach).
Conversely, athletes high in mastery and low in ego orientation are less likely to play sport for social approval and rewards. A study by Ntoumanis and Mallett found that mastery environments increase player satisfaction and engagement in the sport because they promote greater autonomy and task involvement. This research is corroborated by Spray and colleagues who found the task environment promoted a deeper and longer connection to the sport as it encouraged personal growth and a deeper connection to the environment, thus improving performance and participation.
I experienced this first-hand a few years ago when I reached a point where my perception of competence was based on the teams I was selected for and awards I attained. However, I was no longer motivated to continue playing until I found a new coach who revitalised my interest in cricket. He helped me concentrate on developing meaning by constructing my own training, specifically, where I focused on demonstrating mastery in specific components of the game.
In a non-competitive task-focused situation, Treasure and Roberts found that
“students attributed success to effort and not ability.”
During cricket, the coach could have the goal of a player performing an on-drive and hitting the ball into a target area. The coach can mediate and control learning by asking a series of convergent and divergent questions to give the players a perception of autonomy, and encourage players to develop answers. This approach follows Piaget and Vygotsky’s views on learning, as it allows learners to construct their own meaning as they reached the desired goal for that session.
In this case, the coach used a LAMM perspective to control the motivational environment because he told the players the desired outcome and let them figure out how to achieve it, which created a mastery-goal-oriented climate. Treasure and Roberts also found that enabling athletes to perform different activities would not only allow them to focus on their own mastery, but would also give them fewer opportunities to compare and compete against others.
Goal orientations can change over time, and when an individual doubts their competence, a task-oriented goal approach is there for coaches to fall back on because it encourages and promotes growth as a person and player. When coaching, I encouraged cricketers to focus on developing technique and allowed them to build competence that way. Now I understand that some might develop competence better in an ego-oriented environment, but I always have a task climate to recourse to.
A potent method of fostering a task environment through a LAMM approach was to implement self-tests, which allow students to evaluate their competence using effort and personal improvement as criteria. The coach could ask players to record their execution of hitting the ball with an on-drive into a target zone, then consult them in private to review their performance before giving them the opportunity to return to the task to improve their previous score, which follows Vygotsky’s view of encouraging reflection as a means of learning.
There is compelling evidence to suggest that task-oriented athletes are interested in self-improvement and are more likely to achieve greater competence than those who are performance oriented.
In the LAIP practical, the coach provided two sets of instructions for learning: a complex and technical description of the skill (hard to learn), and a simple demonstration of that skill (easy to learn). The first instruction inadvertently created a performance environment, because players were determined to compete against each other to try and chunk and memorise more correct aspects of the complex model, which allowed the coach to perceive them as more competent in comprehension and performance.
On the other hand, the coach used Bandura’s research by managing the sensory input when the students observed the simple model. This followed Piaget’s theory of allowing learners to reach equilibrium by developing schemes through adaptation, assimilation and accommodation, which focused learners on improving their own execution of that skill.
As explained earlier, individuals are likely to be oriented towards a combination of both. A coach must recognise this point. It would, therefore, be prudent for the coach to spend time listening to their players, gain an understanding of their goals, and then encourage them to construct goals that are aligned with their values and interests, and slightly beyond their current reach.
In doing so, this approach enables the coach to develop a deeper understanding, which can help them develop their coaching sessions. During the practicals in the LAMM practical, we set our own task-oriented goals (without knowing the coach influenced them), before a competitive game of cricket. Thus, in an ego environment, even though I didn’t win, I still felt that I was becoming more competent because I was task focused.
Therefore, a coach promotes a sense that improvement is more potent than achievement by using autonomous goal setting. Cricketers (regardless of their orientations) will participate in the sport for longer because they connect more to the content. Players are more self-determined and will be likely to enhance their performance significantly.
After reflecting on my experiences, I see that with a mixed approach, which includes LAIP and LAMM, it is possible to create performance-based training sessions.
However, regardless of my approach, when players are unable to outperform others, their perception of competence will diminish rapidly. Hence, it is critical to use mastery-oriented training as a “safety net” for players. Attempts to encourage growth among individuals in training is easier to achieve with a LAMM approach, which encourages self-analysis, self-reflection and self-awareness. After studying the literature and reflecting on my practical experiences, I understand the importance of getting to know each athlete on an individual level. By doing so, I will be able to accurately determine their most effective approach to skill learning and motivation, and have the greatest impact possible on developing their athletic performance.
This is a guest article from Max Andrews