Attributions are explanations that individuals give to describe or account for their perception of an event or outcome. The complex nature of sport settings has provided a challenging context for researchers to understand the impact of causal attributions. The purpose of this research was to develop Skills and Techniques for Attribution Retraining (STAR), particularly for application to the athletic domain.
Study 1 was conducted to evaluate attributions for perceived success and failure outcomes of multi-event athletes in a field setting. This study contributed to sport attribution literature in that minimal research has previously examined athletes’ causal explanations in sport utilising globality and intentionality dimensions. Also, prior research in sport has not yet explored the stability of attributions across different events for the same athlete. Five decathletes and one heptathlete (18–62 years old) completed the Revised Sport Attributional Style Scale (R-SASS; Hanrahan & Gross, 2000) following each event and for the overall competition at the Queensland Multi-Event Championship. Performance ratings and scores on internality, globality, stability, intentionality, and personal and external controllability dimensions were examined. Analyses revealed that multi-event athletes tended to make different explanations across events. Dimensional scores for each event did not necessarily reflect participants’ overall perceptions of the competition. However, similar categories of attributions tended to relate to specific dimensions for individual athletes (e.g., “motivation” – indicated three times by a participant – was associated with more global and personally controllable attributions). Performance ratings were significantly correlated with greater stability, globality, and intentionality.
Study 2 was an exploratory study that was conducted to examine athletes’ causal attributions. The qualitative approach for this study was unique, as previous researchers have typically utilised questionnaires to assess athletes’ explanations for success and failure. Interviews were conducted with ten elite triathletes (five males, five females; aged 18-30 years). Following inductive content analyses, results indicated that the athletes provided more explanations for success than failure and fewer external factors for success. However, in contrast to existing learned helplessness (LH), self-efficacy, and attributional models of attribution retraining (AR), athletes did not cite ability as a reason for success. While the majority of participants described negative effects of attributions for unsuccessful situations, analyses revealed a variety of factors led to the same type of effect. For example, ‘cramps/stitch’, ‘haven’t done the hard work’, and ‘over-training’ attributions all led to the effect ‘convincing self of having a bad race’. A minority of athletes stated that explanations following an unsuccessful situation led to positive effects.
The purpose of Study 3 was to compare across current AR models (as cited above: Abramson, Seligman, & Teasdale, 1978; Bandura, 1986; Weiner, 1986). In particular, the study was conducted to test the effectiveness of AR where students were given persuasive feedback that was designed to either enhance or decrease performance. Participants were undergraduate, introductory psychology students (N = 61). Students were given two sets of three puzzle cube tasks, and were asked to construct puzzle cube pieces to match each of six shapes provided. Some tasks were impossible and were included to assess persistence. Following the initial set of tasks, students received AR intervention. Participants completed the R-SASS following both sets of tasks. Performance measures included students’ ratings of perceived performance, time to complete possible puzzle cube tasks, and time spent on impossible tasks. Findings revealed a slight trend toward the ability of AR models to change students’ attributions. Overall, no AR model was found to significantly impact changes in attributions or performance more than another model. Participants’ open-ended explanations for success and failure suggested that individuals were affected by the intervention to varying degrees. Relationships were found between performance and attributions, particularly with respect to internality, stability, and globality.
Implications of this research are that competitors may benefit from AR to learn adaptive ways to explain performance, as long as the intervention is designed to complement their needs and attributional tendencies. Also, athletes may be able to develop skills to translate causal explanations for unsuccessful experiences into positive outcomes. Suggestions for future research include testing the utility of skills and techniques for AR in a meaningful environment and over a number of sessions. Specifically, following assessment of athletes’ causal attributions, interventions would be based on existing AR models and ideally occur both on and off the field throughout the competitive season.