Evaluating the mastery-avoidance goal construct: A study of elite college baseball players

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Objective:Mastery-avoidance goals represent a relatively new construct that may be conceptually problematic. Although theory and examples often focus on elite athletic performance, research on mastery-avoidance in such samples is sparse, and even less is known about what these goals mean to athletes. This study examined the rate of endorsement of mastery-avoidance goal items by elite college baseball players and explored the explanations given for endorsements, to evaluate how the players understood the items and their own responses to them.Method:A sample of eight baseball players from one university's Division I men's team were asked to rate and explain their ratings of two mastery-avoidance goal items (“My goal is to avoid doing worse than I did last season” and “My goal is to avoid losing my skills”).Design:Qualitative design using athletes’ open-ended written responses.Results:Results revealed both low and high ratings of mastery-avoidance items, with the most valid interpretations coming from low endorsers. High endorsement was often followed with an incongruent response that seemed to translate mastery-avoidance into mastery-approach.Conclusion:Mastery-avoidance goals are strivings to avoid intrapersonal or absolute incompetence. This type of goal has received less scrutiny than the other three goals in the 2 × 2 achievement goal framework [Elliot, A. J. (1999). Approach and avoidance motivation and achievement goals. Educational Psychologist, 34, 149–169.], perhaps because of its ambiguity and counterintuitive nature. Our findings suggest that mastery-avoidance goals may be uncommon, and that high ratings may indicate misinterpretation of the item rather than actual avoidance goals.

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