Achievement Orientation, Concept of God, and Emotional Health in Elite Athletes

Principal Investigator: Dr. Benjamin Houltberg
Co-Investigators: Dr. Kenneth Wang, Dr. Pamela Ebstyne King,  Dr. Sarah Schnitker
Student Researchers: Christa Nelson, Nanyamka Redmond
Project Dates: January 2015–Present
Funded By: Travis Research Institute Seed Grant at $3,000

There is a wealth of knowledge in the sports psychology literature on the many different factors that contribute to enhancing performance. However, very little attention has been focused on the athlete’s spiritual and emotional development within these high-pressured sporting contexts. This study utilizes a group of elite athletes to examine the link between achievement orientations (purpose-based identity vs. performance-based orientation) and emotional health, as well as to explore how one’s view of God and spirituality interact with these links.

Although collecting data from elite athletes has been challenging, as of December 2015, we collected data from around 100 athletes (out of our projected 200). Those initial findings allowed us to build a theoretical model, which we began to test in January 2016, drawing upon sites that agreed to be a part of our study in their sport’s off season and on another university added to our sites. In spring we completed data collection.

We have already presented the findings at the Society of Scientific Studies of Religion and at the Inaugural Global Congress on Sports and Christianity in York, UK, in August 2016. Our preliminary analysis is promising, with patterns emerging that hold potential for publication in a religion and psychology journal as well as in a sports psychology journal. In addition, one student will be using the data for her master’s project. Finally, we would like to present our research in applied settings and use the research to inform psychoeducational efforts working with elite athletes. Our preliminary analysis has already been discussed in several applied settings, and results are being integrated into talks Dr. Houltberg is giving with coaches and elite athletes.