Attribution-based motivation treatment efficacy in high-stress student athletes: A moderated-mediation analysis of cognitive, affective, and achievement processes

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Objectives:Student athletes encounter significant challenges during school-to-college transitions that can increase stress and undermine academic adjustment (Heelis & Shields, 2015). An attribution-based motivation treatment (Perry et al., 2014) was administered to student athletes who differed in perceived stress to improve short- and long-term academic performance.Methods:In a two-semester, quasi-experimental, randomized treatment study, we examined the efficacy of an attribution-based motivation treatment (Attributional Retraining; AR) for competitive student athletes (N = 185) who differed in perceived stress (low, high). A theory-based path analysis assessed whether AR-performance effects were mediated by perceived academic control (PAC) and achievement emotions.Results:High-stress student athletes who received AR outperformed their no-treatment counterparts by roughly one letter grade on a Semester 1 post-treatment class test. Consistent with Weiner's attribution theory (1985, 2012) of motivation and emotions, AR-performance effects were mediated by cognitive and affective process variables. For high-stress athletes, AR fostered course-related PAC, which in turn increased positive and reduced negative affect, which in combination promoted final course grades.Conclusions:AR effects on performance for high-stress student athletes were indirect via cognitive and affective mediators consistent with Weiner's attribution theory (1985, 2012). Findings suggest attribution-based motivation treatments have practical implications for athletic programs, administrators, coaches, and directors in facilitating adjustment for high-stress student athletes.HighlightsA motivation treatment (Attributional Retraining) was delivered to college athletes.AR promoted post-treatment course test scores for high-stress athletes only.AR's effects on final grades were mediated by cognitive and affective processes.Perceived stress moderates the AR→perceived control→emotions→performance sequence.

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