Column by Dr YRK Reddy - HRD Newsletter


“…a lollypop team which had to be licked”

Navjot Singh Siddhu, commenting on the
Kenyan Cricket Team
in the World Cup

When Kenya started for the World Cup-2003 most did not imagine them to go beyond Canada or at the most Bangladesh. A team which was never a test playing one and among the most recent, could not have been expected to reach the semi finals, even by giving allowance for the alleged “gifting” of points – it surely gave a fight and fright to Aussies as well as the Indians.

They are an odd team with 39-year-old Asif Karim getting back from retirement and several who had probably learnt cricket the Lagaan way. Yet, they are an inspired a lot. They are acknowledged as the best amongst the super six in the field, if not yet in batting and bowling. Their zeal, hard work and inspiration are so evident that they have already won the respect and admiration of the sports world like Morocco in the case of soccer.

Admiration has not been short supply for the Aussies too – media has been commenting for a couple years now on the characteristics of the Aussies. On their clinical precision, efficiency that contributes to serial winning. Academicians have also started speculating on the influence of the culture and image founded by Don Bradman – ruthlessly effective and yet self-effacing (which is arguable, of course, given the on-field squabbles). The Indians have lifted themselves from the disastrous past to a situation where they appear invincible too – did the fear of failure disturb their complacent ego to an inspired group effort?

Despite the individual differences in the technique, skills and ability, can the streak of inspired performance be explained by achievement motivation? Harsha Bogle thinks so, in an article that cites the management discipline from where achievement motivation has mostly arisen. Can the coach train the members in achievement motivation? Does such training reflect in better performance?

Achievement motivation (n Ach) has been defined in terms of concern about success in competition with some standards of excellence. David McClelland has contributed phenomenally to our understanding of achievement motivation and the potential for training in it, of course, keeping the education and business segments in perspective. The measurement of achievement motivation which has been a problem was resolved with the methodology developed by McClelland group by scoring the intensity of obsession with achievement when an individual:

“1. Expresses a desire for excellence as a need (N)

2. Expresses some instrumental activity (ACT) that will move him toward his goal

3. Expresses hope that he will succeed in reaching his goal – hope of success (HOS)

4. Expresses a fear that he might fail, for the sets goals that require effort – fear of failure (FOF)

5. Expresses a feeling of success when he achieves his goal – success feelings (SF)

6. Expresses knowledge about things in the world that might keep him from reaching his goal – world obstacles (WO)

7. Express a feeling of failure when he fails to reach his goal – failure feelings (FF)

8. Expresses knowledge about personal inadequacies that might prevent him from reaching his goal – personal obstacles (PO)

9. Expresses the fact that he can get help (H) in reaching his goal.

10. Expresses only concern for achievement in his story (and not, e.g., affiliation, power, etc,)-thema (TH)” (Karl W. Jackson & Dennis J. Shea – 1976)

An individual whose thought processes are full of the above, his behavior would set him apart from the rest given the same abilities. This has been validated by several studies including an early study by McClelland in India. The individuals with high score (n ach) like to take charge of the situation and be responsible for finding solutions to the problems; set challenging goals that require calculated risk and seek comprehensive and timely feedback for tracking the progress and for meeting the goals.

Is achievement motivation an individual phenomenon and not a group one? Not necessarily, as the individual may define his goals in group terms and the processes he adopts may imply group success. Hopefully, his group task-orientation is more than his ego-preferences (taking a risky shot to pace up the score, if that is the imperative, than completing his century). Did we not boo and punish those who played for themselves and got others to be run-out unnecessarily? This and the related areas of motivated behaviors has been the study of sports psychologists since the early 90`s.
Some have categorized achievement motivation among players into types most relevant of which are the task-orientation and ego-orientation. The premise is that achievement motivation is primarily about the mental processes of the players related to the experiential consequences than the unique results by themselves. For instance, the first one will reflect in an attitude of playing the best one can, demonstrating the best abilities to solve a problem or achieving a good result than proving to anyone as such. The latter is concerned more about superiority, proving to others. Thus, a high task-orientation could also imply better effort and a belief that constant learning would lead to better performance while a ego-orientation in the wrong measure may lead players not to be seen as learning but as being masters, relying on a combination of factors that can lead them to a show of success than their ability alone (remember the stylish batsmen who believed they were role models but performed errantly?). A winning combination can be a high task-orientation with an amount of positive ego-orientation – may be Sachin has this just as Kapil.
Can people be trained in enhancing their achievement motivation and get them to have the right combinations? There is hope for the coaches and hopefully Sandeep Patil has indeed created the conditions for improving the achievement motivation climate. It was evident from early training – the first of which is reportedly by McClelland for a group of Indian businessmen in Mumbai and then for colored businessmen in Washington – that achievement motivation training has an impact on different types of people. Students, businessmen and executives to start with, but lately even sportsmen.

The role of the coach is no longer merely to impart the skills and analytics of the game or to use foul language so as to shame them into action as in the case of coaching wrestlers, boxers and swimmers. But to be in a position to create a climate that can provide the traction for motivated performance in a competitive manner. The matter is not very simple though, as an awareness of achievement motivation will not result automatically in motivated performance. There are finer aspects such as the task/ ego dispositions under dynamic conditions. Thus a fear of failure and a high ego state before colossal spectators of Indian origin will bring a combination of behaviors among the players.

It is evident that the Kenyan team has mastered the individual effort and aspiration into a group effort, which is still willing to learn, setting stretch goals and feeding on a child like enthusiasm for repeating the success into a habit. If Sandeep Patil has created the condition for the achievement motivation he should probably emerge, as a role model for what a true coach ought to be – as also for the training managers in corporates. He may treat Siddhus as children “carrying candy for that commentator to start licking”, as he rightly responded to the Siddhu quip.


April, 2003 Issue

Copyright 2000 Yaga Consulting Pvt. Ltd.