Does the Pursuit of Major Goals Reduce Performance?
In today’s USA Today, an article discussed “players who are slumping in pursuit of milestones.” The examples they give are:
- Barry Bonds, who is eight home runs shy of Hank Aaron’s record of 755, has recently hit only 2 home runs in 124 plate appearances. Earlier in the season he hit 11 home runs during 76 at bats.
- Pitcher Tom Glavine needs only 5 more victories to reach 300. He has failed to win his last five starts.
- Craig Biggio needs 11 more hits to reach the 3,000 mark. He is now in a slump hitting just .237.
- Sammy Sosa has 599 home runs, just one shy of 600. Although he has hit 11 homers this year, he has just one since May 22 with 75 at bats.
- Jim Thome needs 20 homers to reach the 500 plateau. He hit 42 home runs last season yet has only 8 this year.
- Manny Ramirez also needs 20 homers to reach 500. Last year he had nearly twice as many home runs by this point in the season.
I described in earlier blog entries how “over motivation” reduces performance. Is that what we are observing here? These players are all performing worse as they get closer to their goals. But are they performing worse BECAUSE they are getting closer to their goals? Or is this just a coincidence? Does anyone know of any studies that show the performance of athletes as they get closer to major – and highly publicized – milestones? Do you have personal experiences that support or refute this perspective?