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University of Tennessee - Knoxville
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University of Tennessee - Knoxville
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Foundations of Sport and Exercise Psychology
251 Perceptions of Stress and Coping During Preparations for the 1999 Women?s Soccer World Cup Finals Nicholas L. Holt Leeds Metropolitan University John M. Hogg University of Alberta The ability to cope with competitive stress is an integral part of elite sport performance. The purposes of this investigation were to identify and examine players? perceptions of sources of stress and coping strategies prior to the 1999 soccer world cup finals. Using a case study approach (Stake, 2000), members of a women?s national soccer team (n = 10) participated in this investigation. Through the process of inductive data analysis, main sources of stress were categorized into the following four main themes: coaches, demands of inter- national soccer, competitive stressors, and distractions. Participants used sev- eral types of strategies based on a range of problem-focused, emotion-focused, appraisal-reappraisal, and avoidance coping styles to deal with these stres- sors. The main coping themes identified were reappraisal, use of social re- sources, performance behaviors, and blocking. Athletes implemented differ- ent coping strategies depending on the stressors they encountered. The widest range of coping responses were displayed in coping with the communication styles used by the coaches. Implications of these findings for researchers, ath- letes, coaches, and sport psychologists are discussed. Competing at major international sporting events, such as the women?s soc- cer world cup finals, has the potential to be extremely stressful. Research from various sport contexts suggests that athletes must develop a range of cognitive and behavioral coping skills to manage the competitive stressors they face (Crocker & Graham, 1995; Gould, Eklund, & Jackson, 1993; Gould, Guinan, Greenleaf, The Sport Psychologist, 2002, 16, 251-271 © 2002 Human Kinetics Publishers, Inc. Nicholas Holt is with the School of Leisure and Sport Studies at Leeds Metropolitan University, Leeds LS6 3QS, England. E-mail:
. John M. Hogg is with the Faculty of Physical Education and Recreation at the University of Alberta, Canada. E- mail:
. 252 ? Holt and Hogg Medberry, & Peterson, 1999). Understanding stress faced by athletes and identify- ing coping responses are important issues for sport psychology researchers, as sport psychologists are required to help athletes find ways to cope with the de- mands of competition (Gould, Finch, & Jackson, 1993). Researchers from different theoretical perspectives agree that coping can be described as cognitive, affective, and behavioral efforts to manage specific inter- nal and external demands (Crocker, Kowalski, & Graham, 1998; Endler, Parker, & Summerfeldt, 1993; Lazarus, 1991; Lazarus & Folkman, 1984). The conceptual framework for the present study was based on the transactional process perspec- tive (Aldwin, 1994; Lazarus & Folkman, 1984). Aldwin (1994) proposed a trans- actional approach to the study of stress and coping integrating Lazarus and Folkman?s (1984) perspective into a sociocultural developmental framework. Aldwin (1994) conceptualized coping as a function of the person and the environ- ment. For example, the use of coping strategies may be influenced by personality characteristics, such as emotionality (Bolger, 1990) or by environmental demands (Mattlin, Wethington, & Kessler, 1990). Furthermore, Aldwin (1994) argued that in the Lazarus and Folkman?s (1984) original coping model, only person and envi- ronmental variables influence appraisal of coping demands and resources, yet coping outcomes also have effects on the person and environment. For example, how individuals cope with stressful situations may alter their perception of the control- lability of the environment, and the coping strategy may alter the environment itself. Therefore, in the transactionist view, the environment is proposed to have a greater role than merely as a source of stress or resource for coping with stress. It is suggested the physical or social environment actually plays a role in shaping coping strategies (Aldwin, 1994). Coping researchers have made important distinctions between problem-fo- cused, emotion-focused, avoidance, and appraisal-reappraisal coping styles (Cox & Ferguson, 1991; Endler & Parker, 1990; Lazarus & Folkman, 1984). Problem- focused coping typically involves strategies to manage or alter the problem that is causing stress through behaviors such as information gathering, goal setting, time management skills, and problem-solving. Emotion-focused coping styles include the strategies of regulating emotional responses resulting from a stressor through actions like meditation, relaxation, and cognitive efforts to change the meaning the individual attaches to the situation. Avoidance coping involves physically or mentally disengaging from the stressful situation. Finally, the appraisal-reappraisal category involves efforts to appraise and reappraise stressful situations to assess whether or not the coping techniques are working effectively. Previous research on stress and coping in sport has focused primarily on athletes involved in individual sports, especially figure skating (Gould, Finch, & Jackson, 1993; Scanlan, Ravizza, & Stein, 1989; Scanlan, Stein, & Ravizza, 1991). These studies show that elite skaters experienced stress from a wide range of com- petitive and noncompetitive sources embedded within the social context of perfor- mance. Similarly, Gould, Eklund, and Jackson (1993) showed that all 20 members of the 1988 U.S. Olympic wrestling team used a wide range of responses to cope with stress during competition. Wrestlers dealt with adversity during their bouts by using thought control (blocking distractions, perspective taking, positive think- ing, coping thoughts, and prayer); task focus (narrow, more immediate focus, con- centrating on goals); behavioral changes (controlling the environment, following a set routine); and emotional control (arousal control, visualization). The Stress and Coping in Soccer ? 253 automaticity of coping responses was strongly related to coping effectiveness and superior performance. Coping was reported as a complex phenomenon that in- volved a number of different strategies, often in combination (Compas, 1987; Folkman & Lazarus, 1985). Other research has confirmed that sources of stress for athletes at major competitions include concerns about contextual factors such as organization, media pressures, unforeseen events, travel, as well as competitive performance expectations and preparatory training (Gould, Eklund, & Jackson, 1993; Gould et al., 1999; Orlick & Partington, 1988). In a study closely related to our current investigation, Gould, Finch, and Jackson (1993) attempted to link sources of stress and coping strategies used by figure skaters in training and competition. Their findings reiterated that coping is a complex process for elite athletes that does not simply involve one coping style automatically employed for all stressful situations. Eight general coping dimen- sions were reported by over 40% of the skaters: rational thinking and self-talk, positive focus and orientation, social support, time management and prioritization, precompetitive mental preparation and anxiety management, training hard and smart, isolation and deflection, and ignoring the stressors. Dale (2000) also linked stress and coping examining how seven elite decathletes coped with distractions during their most memorable performances. Two specific coping strategies were used to maintain task-focus. First, when decathletes began to compare themselves to other competitors, they coped by rein- forcing the importance of competing against themselves. Second, decathletes used reminders about how well they had trained when they doubted their preparation. In addition to these two specific strategies, all seven decathletes reported using a variety of coping responses to handle most distractions. The majority of stress and coping research in sport has focused on indi- vidual sports and served to highlight how competitive and noncompetitive contex- tual factors influence the coping process. Despite the emphasis on individual sports, some attention has been paid to potential differences in perceptions of stress and coping between individual and team sport participants. For example, Park (2000) examined coping strategies used by 180 male and female Korean national athletes (including 76 World Championship or Olympic medallists) from 41 different sports. Generally coping themes cited by these athletes were similar to those reported by skaters in Gould, Finch, and Jackson (1993). Although more participants from individual and dual sports were sampled, Park (2000) concluded that athletes who participated in team sports ?require more coping strategies than the other two sports? (p. 74). In light of previous research findings, it is plausible that athletes in team sports face some different stressors to those involved in individual sports. For example, team sports athletes must rely on others to achieve success, engage in a high frequency of competitive and noncompetitive interactions with teammates, and may experience less individualized coaching programs. Previous research in sport psychology has begun to demonstrate how athletes may recognize a particu- lar stressor and use specific coping responses to handle that distraction (Dale, 2000; Gould, Eklund, & Jackson, 1993; Gould, Finch, & Jackson, 1993). However, it is not clear how the social network of a team influences individual coping processes for elite team sport participants at major sport competitions. As the processes of coping must be studied simultaneously with stress (Perlin, 1991), the purpose of this investigation was to identify and examine (a) psychological and social sources 254 ? Holt and Hogg of stress members of a female national soccer team perceived as they trained for the 1999 World Cup, and (b) what strategies were employed to cope with these perceived demands. Method The fieldwork conducted in this investigation was organized around a case study methodology. Case studies are one of the most common methods of qualitative inquiry, representing choices of what is to be studied rather than strict method- ological decisions (Stake, 2000). In this study, we used a naturalistic approach (Lincoln & Guba, 1985) to provide insight into perceptions of stress and coping in sport using the case of a national soccer team. We present the case of one team described through individual perceptions of stress and coping. Therefore, an indi- vidual level of analysis was used to frame stress and coping within the context of a team preparing for the world cup finals. The strategy of examining individual perceptions of stress and coping represents an idiographic approach to understanding psychological phenomena. Using the case of one team facilitates analysis of social and contextual factors that may impinge upon an athlete?s perceptions of stress and subsequent coping responses. Specifically, we adopted what Stake (2000) calls an intrinsic case study, which is undertaken because the researchers want a better understanding of a case to illustrate a particular set of issues. We used an intrinsic case study to satisfy the practical purposes of the investigation, namely to provide the team Sport Psychol- ogy Consultant (SPC) with data pertaining to the psychological coping skills of players. That is, we wanted better understanding of how the team environment influenced team members? perceptions of stress and coping. Such information could be used to improve future performance preparations. The purpose of case study is not to represent the world, but represent the case as researchers seek what is par- ticular about the case in question. It is important to describe the details unique to the case being presented because ?the methods of qualitative case study are largely the methods of disciplining personal and particularized experience? (Stake, 2000, p. 449). The major conceptual responsibilities of researchers presenting a case study are to set the boundaries of the case, conceptualize the study, select the re- search questions to emphasize, seek patterns of data to develop the issues, triangu- late key observations for interpretation, consider alternative explanations, and de- velop assertions about the case (Creswell, 1997; Stake, 2000). These responsibilities are addressed throughout this study. Participants Participants were members of an international female soccer team taking part in a six-week preparation camp for the 1999 world cup finals in the U.S.A. The team was from a developed western country with a high standard of living. At the time of the interview data collection, there were 21 players in the squad, and seven players were initially solicited for participation (age m = 23.7 years, range 19-30 years). Informed consent was obtained from each of the players before the inter- views were conducted. Three players were defenders, two midfielders, one striker, and a goalkeeper, with an average of four years on the squad (range 1-9 years). Demographic information regarding each of the participants is included in Table 1. Following the world cup, another three members of the squad were contacted as Stress and Coping in Soccer ? 255 part of the member checking procedure reported later in this article. Demographic information for each of the member checking participants is also included in Table 1. All of the players interviewed had competed at the full international level. The Context The women?s world cup finals is the largest female sporting event in the world. During the 1999 finals, many games were played in sold-out stadiums, and the final game, between the U.S.A and China, attracted a capacity crowd of 80,000 and many millions more via a live worldwide telecast. Women?s soccer is rapidly growing in popularity, and since the world cup finals, a professional women?s league has successfully completed its first season in the U.S. Teams from 16 dif- ferent nations qualified for the 1999 finals via regional (i.e., Europe, South America, Central and North America, etc.) round robin competitions. The finals is com- prised of four groups of four teams. Each team plays against each other once with the top two teams in each group progressing to the second round of the tourna- ment. The number of teams reflects the popularity of women?s soccer around the world, and the world cup finals is the pinnacle of achievement in the sport. Given the importance of the competition within the culture of women?s soccer, playing in the world cup finals is a significant sporting life event for all participants. Such important life events provide unique opportunities to investigate the coping pro- cesses players adopt (Aldwin, 1994). Three of the players interviewed had performed in the previous world cup finals in Sweden (in 1995), when the team failed to qualify for the much-acclaimed second round of the competition and was also unable to register a victory. The team experienced numerous disruptions during the 1995 tournament, and players recalled poor organization, fragmentation as a group, and negative team interactions. Table 1 Participant Demographic Information Years on Starter/ Participant Age team Position Nonstarter Occupation 1 - Kate 23 4 Defender Starter Student 2 - Carole 19 1 Striker Nonstarter Student 3 - Megan 20 2 Goalkeeper Nonstarter Student 4 - Chris 21 1 Defender Starter Student 5 - Sue 24 4 Defender Starter Student 6 - Sam 30 7 Striker Starter Full-Time Employment 7 - Jen 29 9 Midfielder Nonstarter Full-Time Employment 8 * 28 8 Defender Starter Soccer Coach 9 * 24 3 Midfielder Starter Student 10 * 25 2 Goalkeeper Nonstarter Full-Time Employment *Post-tournament member-checking participants 256 ? Holt and Hogg Despite the problems the team experienced at the previous tournament, qualifica- tion for the finals in itself was a feat that the male national team has been unable to achieve for the past three men?s world cup finals over a period of 15 years. For the 1999 women?s qualification tournament, a new head coach was appointed, and the previous coaching staff was entirely replaced. The team won its qualifying group, establishing several new individual and team goal-scoring records in the process. As a result of the team?s successes during qualifying, there were high expectations in the home country that the team would make the second round of the finals. There was considerable media interest in the team during the build-up to the world cup finals. For many of the players, this was a novel experience, as women?s soccer did not typically attract much media interest in the home country. Players faced more interviews for television, radio, and print media than in the past and enjoyed the exposure given to the world cup on television in the U.S.A. Observa- tions by the SPC confirmed there was a great deal of media interest during the preparation camp, and generally this appeared to be welcomed by the players as they sought to promote women?s soccer and their involvement in world cup finals. There were individual and team sponsorship deals to be arranged, which was an- other new experience for many of the athletes. Some of the players discussed feel- ing poorly treated by the national soccer organization in comparison to the male national team. For example, the coach was not employed on a full-time basis for the women, and the players received less financial remuneration for their national team participation from the soccer national governing body than males did. In response to the poor organization of the previous world cup, a thorough preparation camp, including exhibition games against potential world cup second round opposition, was planned. The preparation camp lasted from May 2 until June 13, 1999. During this period, the team was involved in two hour physical/ technical practice sessions twice per day, daily 30 minute talks/activity sessions on mental preparation, six exhibition games against international opposition, and four other exhibition games against noninternational opposition (e.g., male youth teams). The objective of the team entering the 1999 finals was to finish in one of the top seven positions to ensure qualification for the 2000 Summer Olympics in Sydney, Australia (or top eight if Australia, the Olympic hosts, finished in one of the top seven positions). Ultimately, the team failed to reach the second round of the finals, with a record of two losses and one tie. Data Collection Entry to the setting was secured when the SPC was invited by the head coach to join to team staff during their preparation camp. During the first two weeks of his involvement, the SPC established rapport with the players and other staff mem- bers and then arranged for the interviewer to join the team for three days at the mid-point of the preparation camp. The mutual benefits of this investigation were that the interviewer and SPC would be able to develop a research study, and the team would benefit as the SPC gleaned deeper understanding of their perceptions of stress and coping so he could be a more effective helper. Participants were solicited orally by the team SPC. Seven players agreed to be interviewed on the basis that their identity would remain confidential from the coaching staff, that the team SPC would not have direct access to the interview tapes, and that no information provided would be used for team selection pur- poses. Semistructured face-to-face interviews were conducted over three days at Stress and Coping in Soccer ? 257 the mid-point of the training camp. Each interview lasted 45 minutes to one hour and was conducted by a male PhD candidate who had worked with the team SPC. The interviewer had training in prior qualitative research methodology, interview techniques, and ten years experience as a competitive soccer player. Participants were first asked background questions regarding their interna- tional soccer career and the camp. Main questions were then posed based on each of the four main psychological constructs thought to influence performance iden- tified by Mahoney, Gabriel, and Perkins (1987), namely concentration, self-confi- dence, motivation, and anxiety management strategies. These constructs were cho- sen because they have been previously related to successful athletic performance and provided a framework for guiding the interviews. For example, participants were asked, ?What factors are influencing your confidence during training camp?? Responses were probed to illicit participants? perceptions of the stressors they faced. When participants explained the factors that influenced them, they were asked, ?How did you/are you deal(ing) with that?? Questions were formulated around each of the four constructs in the same manner in order to develop the interview guide. Two pilot interviews were then conducted with female soccer players com- peting at the collegiate level. After the pilot interviews were analyzed, a final two- part question was included in the interview guide: ?Is there anything else that is concerning you during this camp? How are you dealing with it?? As such, the final interview guide consisted of five broad questions to guide the conversation. Par- ticipants were encourage to discuss issues that were pertinent to them, even if they deviated from the prepared questions, although the interviewer tried to keep the respondents on course. Interviews resembled a conversation with a purpose rather than a set of responses to a verbal questionnaire. In addition to the formal interviews, the interviewer chatted with other mem- bers of the team informally about various pertinent issues and attended a training session. The team SPC attended all training sessions throughout the six-week train- ing camp and kept detailed notes regarding his observations of player?s psycho- logical readiness and the content and effectiveness of the educational training ses- sions he conducted. He recorded his observations following training sessions once he returned to his hotel room. Data Analysis The process of data analysis was based on the framework set out by Maykut and Morehouse (1994): (a) following verbatim transcription of the audio tapes, the data were coded to ensure confidentiality and read several times; (b) individual meaning units were identified from the interview transcripts; (c) similar meaning units were grouped together and assigned an essence phrase that conveyed the essential meaning contained in the category; (d) each grouping of meaning units was carefully analyzed using the constant comparative method (Glaser & Strauss, 1967). These essence phrases can be considered interacting categories that eventu- ally became the central themes of the study. Next, the team SPC and interviewer discussed the themes created through the analytic process in light of the observa- tions and other data the SPC had collected and reported during his six-week in- volvement with the team. Finally, an external auditor with expertise in sport psy- chology and qualitative research examined the data analysis procedures and edited early drafts of the manuscript, offering plausible alternative explanations for some of the initial interpretations provided. 258 ? Holt and Hogg Goodness Criteria With regard to how this study might be judged, we advocate the use of nonfoundational criteria (Holt & Sparkes, 2001; Smith, 1993; Smith & Deemer, 2000; Sparkes, 1998). A process of technique triangulation (Patton, 1990) was adopted, using multiple perceptions to clarify meaning (Stake, 2000). For example, interview data was corroborated using the techniques of observation (by the SPC), post-tournament member-checking, and by checking factual information with the world cup organizing body. Member checks (Lincoln & Guba, 1985) were impor- tant to ensure what happened was accurately reported, that the reality portrayed was recognizable to those living in it, and the participants felt they were repre- sented fairly. This technique was also seen as useful for exploring the reactions of the participants to researcher interpretations of their world. These reactions were taken as a further opportunity for reflexive elaboration by those involved and formed another valuable source of data and insight. Several months after the world cup, a summary of the data presentation was then sent to each of the original participants in the study. They were asked to comment on the accuracy of the investigators? descriptions and interpretations, elaborate on issues they found pertinent, and con- firm they were satisfied with measures taken to protect confidentiality or edit the manuscript accordingly. Next, the interviewer contacted three players on the squad who did not participate in the original interviews. Each of the three additional squad players were invited to check the next draft of the data presentation for factual information and offer her opinions of the investigators? descriptions and interpretations. Such creative member checking as was used here is one of the most needed forms of validation in qualitative research (Glesne & Peshkin, 1992; Lincoln & Guba, 1985). The thoroughness of the analytic procedures used were also important good- ness criteria for this study. Following the initial data analysis by the interviewer, data were analyzed by the interviewer and SPC to confirm the accuracy of the ana- lytic procedures used. The SPC had observed the team for six weeks, and his field notes provided an alternative source of insight that verified interpretations made during the process of data analysis. Observations were used mainly to confirm the contextual sources of stress, as many of the coping strategies were less overtly ?observable.? The SPC was involved in prolonged engagement (Lincoln & Guba, 1985) with the team over a period of six weeks. Finally, an external auditor (Lin- coln & Guba, 1985) provided his comments on data analysis and presentation to reduce possible researcher bias. Given that the purpose of this study was to pro- vide the participants? perceptions of stress and coping, it was deemed important that thick description (Geertz, 1973), using the participants? voices, were presented in the results section. Accordingly, readers might like to ask the following ques- tions of the text. Is enough evidence provided to enable the reader to judge the researchers? interpretations? Are there sufficient quotations from the participants, and are their perspectives and voices represented in a fair and balanced manner? Results: Sources of Stress An overview of the categories developed describing sources of stress is presented in Figure 1. Four main categories of stressors were perceived: coaches? communi- cation, demands of international soccer, competitive stressors, and distractions. Stress and Coping in Soccer ? 259 Coaches? Communication The communication styles employed by the coaches were perceived to be a source of stress to many of the players interviewed. During the first three weeks of the preparation camp, the coaches had been quite negative and punitive in their deliv- ery of feedback to players (this finding was corroborated by the SPC?s observa- tions). Several players were concerned about their coaches? communication in train- ing and game situations. Coach-Player Interactions in Training. The coaches were perceived to be negative and punitive during practice sessions, and the SPC observed that play- ers often reacted negatively to feedback during training. Players explained their coaches? communication created a stressful environment: ?They [coaches] are vocal and tend to be negative. To a certain extent it?s the coaches? job to point out the fact that you?ve made a mistake, but to have that reiterated to you on a continual basis brings you and the team down? (Jen). Jen went on to explain how she reacted to negative feedback: ?I can have a number of positive comments, but if there is a negative comment thrown in there, I remember the negative comment.? Such nega- tive interactions were so prevalent that the SPC tried to address this issue with the coaching staff. The SPCs recorded that following his intervention, the coaches? communication appeared to become more positive, and player-coached interac- tions seemed to be more productive. However, this observation was not corroborated Figure 1 ? Sources of stress. 260 ? Holt and Hogg by the players during member checking. In fact, players reflected that the coaches returned to their negative communication styles as the training camp ended and became even more critical when the tournament actually began. The negative influence of the coaches was described by Sue: ?The only people who can bring you down are the coaches. When I?ve made a mistake, I?m already mad at myself, and I don?t need to hear it from them. And now it?s almost expected from them, and if they don?t, I go, ?whoa, what are they thinking now??? Sam, a striker, had been struggling with her shooting in the training sessions before the interview and described how ?a few comments have been made by the coaches, and obviously you try harder and harder, but the more you try, the more you miss.? Megan, a goalkeeper, agreed: ?It doesn?t help your confidence at all when you have a bad session, and all you hear is the coach yelling at you, ?pick it up, pick it up.?? Clearly the manner in which coaches delivered feedback in training was a crucial source of stress during the preparation camp. Coach-Player Interactions in Games. Players perceived that the coaches also created stressful conditions during the exhibition games. In particular, those players who played in the wide positions on the field reported that they dreaded the half when they played closest to the coaches. The SPC, who sat on the bench during these games, noted the volume, frequency, and critical manner in which coaches delivered feedback during games. In particular, the coaches tried to give a lot of information to the flank players, and Jen thought that ?there comes a point where it takes away from the performance of what you are doing on the field. . . . Some of the players lose concentration with what they hear from the sidelines.? Given the demands of international soccer (see below), the players said they had to be fully concentrating on the game to perform at their best, but ?some of the coaches are too vocal and it can effect your concentration, pulling you away from what you are focusing on during play? (Carole). Experienced players were also concerned about the negative way informa- tion was delivered: ?I hear negative comments on the sidelines and it bugs me. . . . But it?s more of a problem when I hear them directing it at someone else on the team, and I see it bringing them down. That bothers me more? (Sam). Megan explained her responses to the coaches? comments if she made a mistake: ?When the coaches say ?c?mon you?ve let yourself down,? because you already know that, but when they said it, it brings you down further.? Demands of International Soccer Players often discussed the need to adjust to the pace of international soccer. This included the physical speed of the game and the speed of thought needed to cope with the tactical and technical demands at the highest level. The pace of the game was a significant stressor reported by the players. Pace of the Game. International women?s soccer is played at a tremen- dous pace. The players are the fastest, fittest, and most technically gifted athletes in their respective countries. Informal conversations revealed the biggest adjust- ment players thought they needed to make when playing international soccer was to the pace of the game. At the international level, players have very little time to adjust to situations in the game and must learn to anticipate plays as they develop; as rookie player Carole explained, ?At this level you have to think much faster, it could be even two seconds faster. Even when the ball is on the other side of the Stress and Coping in Soccer ? 261 field, I?m thinking, ?where am I supposed to be?? all the time so I can get that edge.? To perform at the international level, defenders must divide their attention between the player they are marking and the ball; as Kate described, ?You are constantly having to focus on where your man is, and where the ball is. It?s tough, though, because you can get caught watching the ball and losing your man.? Just focusing on the ball is insufficient, because players also had to be aware of the players around them. Another rookie player, Christina, realized, ?I used to cut myself off from everything around me when I first started, but if you are locked on one thing, then you won?t have any idea.? Attacking players felt they had to show awareness and think ahead, planning their actions well in advance of the play, ?because defenders are usually right up your backside, you have got to know where you are going to play the ball even before you receive the ball? (Carole). Likewise, ?You have to know where you are going to make your run, and where to play the ball way before you get the ball? (Sam). The demand to anticipate play in order to be able to compete, given the pace of international soccer, was stressful because players sometimes doubted if they had the ability to cope. Competitive Stressors Many of the stressors players perceived were related to the preparatory exhibition games during which they attempted to secure a starting position for the first world cup game. There was a wide range of these stressors, including pre- and during game anxiety, concerns about making mistakes, and coming off the bench into the game as a substitute. Players were also worried about deselection and the manner in which the coaches evaluated their game performances. Pregame Anxiety. During the pregame period, some players reported feel- ing particularly stressed as they thought about the demands they faced. For ex- ample, Christina said, ?We meet a few hours before the game, and he [the head coach] starts talking about the opposition and what we have to do, and what our roles are, and I start to get nervous. . . . I get butterflies in my stomach just because he?s talking about everything.? Pregame was the period when those players who experienced some doubts had the most concerns: ?Before the game on Monday, my long passes were totally off, and I thought, ?what kind of game am I going to have? Maybe I can?t do that anymore?? (Kate). Game Anxiety. Some players had high expectations of their personal per- formance in response to the team goal (Olympic qualification) that acted as a source of stress: ?I have worries about failing in terms on my personal performance? (Megan). ?If we are 1-0 up, I get anxious about my defending because we are so anxious to protect the goal? (Sue). A rookie player put a lot of pressure on herself to play well in her debut: ?I thought, ?why did I make that so hard for myself?? I was always under pressure, I just didn?t feel confident. I was worried I wasn?t able to play at this level, and I dwelled on that so much it showed in my game? (Carole). It was not just the younger players who perceived pressure to perform. For ex- ample, Sam said, ?When the game was 0-0, or when we were 1-0 down, and I felt I could make the difference and nobody else has stepped up, that made me anx- ious. . . . I kind of put too much pressure on myself and got too excited.? Making Mistakes. Referring to making a mistake during an international match, Megan said, ?Basically I think I have to be perfect out there. . . . It?s hard in 262 ? Holt and Hogg a game because the whole mental thing comes in, like, ?Oh God that was bad, what must everybody be thinking??? It was also difficult to maintain appropriate concentration patterns in a game after a mistake: ?When you make a mistake, it becomes a distraction and you tend to look inward, and then you?re losing focus on the game by concentrating on yourself? (Kate). Carole agreed that after a mis- take, ?I?m thinking about something else, or something that?s completely irrel- evant, like what if I mess up again.? Players began to question themselves: ?When I?ve screwed up, that?s when the self-doubt comes in, and I start to think about distractions? (Sue); ?You just feel like you suck, or I really start to doubt myself, thinking, ?maybe I can?t do this?? (Carole). Coming Off the Bench. The coach told the SPC he thought players on the bench did not look like they wanted to come on the field during games and that they looked away when he looked down the bench. The SPC conducted an educa- tional session with the bench players, and Sue explained how coming into a close game was a worry for her: ?He [the coach] told me I was going in, and I was like ?oh? for a couple of minutes, and that actually affected how I went on. I wanted to send the first ball over and I didn?t, and it went straight to the feet of the other team and I thought, ?crap, I can?t do that.?? The coach emphasized to all players that he needed them to make an impact, and Christina described her perception of the situation: ?So he wants me to go into the game and be ready right away. He can?t afford me to take 5-10 minutes to get into a game because that can cost us.? The coach asked the SPC to help prepare players to have an immediate impact on games, but he found this difficult because the players were often unsure of what position they would be playing in a given game. Also, players felt a lot of pressure to change the game: ?I was worrying if I?m going to have an impact on the game, if I would be able to make a difference? (Carole). Jen, a senior player, explained how it could be difficult for nonstarters to have an impact on the game: ?When I start, I go into a game with a lot more confidence than if I was a substitute.? Fear of Being Dropped. During the first two weeks of the training camp, the roster was reduced from 30 to 22 players. As such, there was a tense atmo- sphere among the team as players worried about their status as a squad member. This tense atmosphere lingered because the coaches were still required to cut the roster to 20 players the week after the interviews were conducted. Those players who were confident that they would remain in the squad had fears about making the starting eleven: ?I never feel that I am settled and here [to stay]. I feel that I?m always competing for my position? (Sam). Christina, who was less certain of her status on the squad, discussed how she actually wondered if she was going to get cut from the final squad of 20 players during one of the exhibition games: ?When I played [an unfamiliar position] I started getting worried. I thought, ?does that mean he doesn?t want me?? I had doubts and I thought maybe I was going to be cut.? Performance Evaluation. After each exhibition game, the coaching staff posted ratings of each player?s performance on the locker room wall, ranging from 1 (poor) to 10 (excellent). Some of the players viewed the scores with trepidation: ?I think that?s more of a negative thing than a positive. Obviously for the person who gets a high score it?s a positive, but for the people who get a low score, I think it just deflates them? (Sam). If the coach was to evaluate the players, Sue argued, ?I think it should be a self-referenced thing, where you sit down and discuss the mark, rather than everyone seeing it.? Stress and Coping in Soccer ? 263 Distractions Despite increased media and sponsorship interest, players reported distractions that were related to the demands of training and competition. In training environ- ments, the players had to cope with fatigue arising from a tiring schedule. In games, the players reported concerns about the actions of the opponent they were respon- sible for marking as a distraction. Fatigue.Even though the coaching staff planned recovery periods during the camp, two practice sessions per day, Monday through Friday, plus exhibition games over a six-week period were having a tiring effect. Jen expressed how her level of fatigue was distracting her focus: ?If you are mentally or physically fa- tigued, that can affect your motivation to train. But you have to be able to put it in day in, day out, for whatever you are doing.? Fatigue also affected Kate: ?When I am tired, or having a bad day, I tend to turn inward and I make the focus on myself, and I lose sight of the big picture. By looking inward when you are tired, you lose sight of your goal.? Many players complained of fatigue during informal conver- sations and were looking forward to their next weekend off. Opponent. Christina recalled a recent exhibition game when her opponent tried to break her concentration: ?During the Australia game, this player kept el- bowing and kicking me, even when the ball wasn?t around. She was getting me angry, and I was getting more aggressive. She took my mind off the game.? Chris- tina was a defender, so keeping her discipline under stress was important. Sam, a striker, also found she could be distracted by physical play from her opponent, losing focus when ?I start getting hit and the fouls are not being called.? Kate realized she seemed to react more to opponents ?when I?m not confident, I tend to be a little hesitant and react more to what the other team is doing.? Coping Strategies Players used numerous coping strategies in response to the identified sources of stress. Coping strategies were categorized into four main areas: reappraising, use of social resources, performance behaviors, and blocking. Each main category and requisite subcategories are described in Figure 2. Reappraising Some players attempted to cope with the stressors they faced by reappraising the situation they perceived as stressful. Three cognitive reappraisal strategies were used to restructure perceptions of stress. Specifically, players used the psychologi- cal skills of positive self-talk, the ability to problem solve after a mistake, and recalling successful performances in the past. Positive Self-Talk. Sam said her experiences had taught her that ?anything you can do to try and talk yourself into staying positive and build you own confi- dence will help at this level.? Players used a variety of positive phrases to manage stressful situations. For example, Megan reminded herself, ?let?s go, you can do this? when she worried about her ability to meet the standard of play, while Sue thought, ?you are stronger than her, just relax, you?re fine? when faced with a big- name opponent. Christina used positive self-talk strategies in response to stressors from the coaches: ?If the coach said something to me, I would get down on myself 264 ? Holt and Hogg at first, but now if he says something, it?s just going to make me think, ?OK, next time I?m going to do better.?? Problem Solving.Typically, players engaged in problem solving after a mistake. For example, ?I think, ?let?s sort it out, what did I do wrong? How am I going to fix it?? And then I try not to do it the second time? (Sam). Kate empha- sized the technical nature of her problem solving: ?I stay positive with myself and think about the basics, the technique, and fix it up for the next time.? Veteran player Jen discussed how she problem solved under pressure: ?I think you are struggling if you are more stressed. I think that?s the time when I actually have to focus on the process of doing things instead of the actual outcome.? Remembering Past Successes.To increase their belief they could handle the stressors they faced, players looked back on what they had achieved. Some thought about what they had done with the national team: ?I think back to what I?ve achieved, the other camps I?ve been to building up to this. Past experiences usually help me a lot? (Christina). Carole, a rookie player, explained how she coped with her lack of experience: ?I?ve come from never having played an inter- national game, but I feel I?ve had good performances at a lower level.? Megan explained how experience made playing at international level easier: ?I think you get more stable with experience, you don?t get down on yourself so much.? Use of Social Resources In addition to cognitive efforts to manage stressors, players also sought social support to help manage their emotions. In this sense, the social environment acted Figure 2 ? Coping strategies. Stress and Coping in Soccer ? 265 as a resource for coping. Three main groups provided social support: teammates, family, and significant others. Encouragement From Teammates. In response to the pressure from coaches, players generally relied on each other for encouragement during training and games. Megan described how she felt about praise from teammates: ?In prac- tice the other day I made an awesome save, and [player?s name] came over and said, ?that?s a great save? and that?s great when you hear that from teammates.? Following a mistake, when typically the coaches would be yelling, teammates often helped each other: ?If another player says to me, ?don?t worry about it, you?ll get the next one? that just helps me smooth it away and move on? (Sue), because, as Megan realized, ?The other players, they know me, and they know the right things to say.? Generally the players thought that positive feedback from each other helped overcome some of the sources of stress presented by the coaching staff. However, because of the number of young players in the team, some of the older players found they would give praise, but rarely received it: ?Encourage- ment from teammates motivates me, but I guess with this team, because we have a lot of inexperienced players, it doesn?t happen all that often? (Sam). Family Support. Unconditional love and support from family members often helped the players to cope with the demands they faced. Megan described her parental support: ?My parents, it?s the same thing all the time, they never say anything negative to me.? Carole talked about her supportive siblings: ?My broth- ers and sisters really motivate me to keep going when things are tough.? Knowing they had family support helped players deal with the demands of being on the team, especially when they felt discouraged. Support From Significant Others. Players reported that a number of other people supported them, and each was credible to the player in different ways: ?My teachers and track coaches from high school. I go back and visit them and they tell me, ?you?re capable of anything, go in and do your best, keep focused?? (Chris- tina), and ?My coach at the national training center is a men?s national team coach, and when he tells me that I deserve to be here, that really boosts my confidence? (Sue). Performance Behaviors Two on-field performance behaviors helped players cope with the competitive stressors they faced. Communication is an important technical element of elite soccer, and players reported that effective on-field communication helped them to concentrate appropriately. Second, having a good warm up and start to the game were behaviors that enabled players to cope with the demands of international soccer. On-Field Task Communication. On-field communication between play- ers was imperative for maintaining task focus. In particular, the sweeper, who can see most of the field, was a crucial source of information during games. Christina explained how this helped her meet the demands of the game: ?The sweeper gives me a lot of good feedback. Usually she reinforces the things I?m thinking, so I won?t think twice about doing it. It helps me stay in the right position mentally.? Furthermore, actually providing this information helped players stay in the game, as a goalkeeper explained, ?I?m talking completely, throughout the game, even if the ball is in the forward line. I think that communicating in a game like that helps me stay focused? (Megan). 266 ? Holt and Hogg Good Warm-Up/Start. An important sign players looked for was the qual- ity of their warm-up, because ?If my touch is good in the warm-up, I?m going to feel confident about myself? (Sue). After the warm-up, starting the game impres- sively helped the players to cope with their performance expectations. For ex- ample, ?When you?ve won some tackles, some headers, or you?ve stepped in, you are going to be more focused on the game? (Kate). Sue, a defender, also said, ?If my defensive positioning and first touch is good, that?s when I can do everything right.? Sam, a striker, assessed her game similarly: ?I play better when I?ve done a few things right at the start, like getting my touches in early, having a few strikes at goal.? A good start to the game helped the players cope with anxiety; however, a bad start could have the opposite effect: ?I?m always a bit nervous until I get the ball and I do something good with it. If I do something wrong, then I am going to get more nervous? (Sue). Blocking The ability to ignore, or block, irrelevant distractions was a skill that some players developed in order to cope with the preparation camp. In addition to blocking out a range of irrelevant stimuli, players also learned to ignore distractions provided by the coaches. Blocking Out Irrelevant Stimuli. All the players interviewed discussed how they played their best when they could focus on the game, eliminating periph- eral distractions: ?I feel when I am concentrating the most, I sort of feel really excited about the game, my activation level is really high, and I?m not distracted by anything that?s going on around me? (Sue). However, they found it more diffi- cult to describe how they blocked out irrelevant cues. One player explained her approach: ?I?m reading a book by Phil Jackson called Sacred Hoops, and he talks about emptying your mind, and I think that for me, that?s when I play my best? (Sam). Another player took her cues from the ball and other players: ?I think I can block anything out, and I?m focused on where the ball is, where the players are, where I am? (Megan). The importance of focusing on the key elements of the game was reinforced by Kate, who described her first game with the national team: ?I was super, super nervous because I didn?t know what to expect, but I went out on the field and none of that mattered. I was just playing the game and focusing on that, and because of that, I think I played pretty well.? Blocking Out Coaches. Although the coaches may have been providing relevant information, often players tried to block them out during games because of the negative communicative styles. Jen said, ?Usually I tune the coaches out during games,? and another experienced player agreed that ?if someone is yelling at me it brings be down, like a spiral. But I have learned just to ignore them and get on with my game? (Sam). Although the more experienced players on the team felt they could block out the coaches, this was harder for younger players; as Carole remarked, ?they might be yelling and stuff, but he is still the coach and he picks the team.? Linking Sources of Stress and Coping Strategies To perform at the most elite competitive level, such as the soccer world cup finals, athletes must be able to deal effectively with the stressors they face to actively change or manage an environment in order to achieve success (Crocker & Gra- ham, 1995). The team featured in this study fell short of meeting the outcome goal Stress and Coping in Soccer ? 267 set for them by the coaches before the tournament. Whether or not the perfor- mance of the team was based on athletes? inability to cope is a matter of specula- tion. However, the findings of our study indicate that the athletes faced a range of specific stressors, and they had at least started to construct coping responses to manage or alter their environment. Some successes have been reported in attempting to link sources of stress with coping strategies (Dale, 2000; Gould, Finch, & Jackson, 1993). In the current study, certain plausible linkages were apparent between specific sources of stress and coping responses. For example, participants responded to the stressors they perceived to be caused by the coaches by using their social resources (emotion- focused coping), reappraising (problem-focused, emotion-focused, and appraisal- reappraisal coping) and blocking (avoidance coping). Following training sessions or games where they felt they had been harshly treated by the coaches, some par- ticipants would talk to their family, significant others, or look for the encourage- ment from teammates. The use of social resources to help athletes cope emotion- ally has been previously reported (Dale, 2000). It has also been suggested that athletes seek social support to obtain technical information about performance problems in addition to soliciting emotional reassurance (Crocker & Graham, 1995; Gould, Finch, & Jackson, 1993). The soccer players featured here garnered advice from former coaches to seek reassurance and information about performance prob- lems. Players also used the reappraisal strategy of positive self-talk to change their reaction to negative comments made by coaches and deal with negative emotions they experienced as a result of the feedback. Finally, players used avoidance cop- ing to block out the coaches in training and games. The stressors created by the demands of international competition were ad- dressed by using performance behaviors to maintain task focus. Because of the fast pace of the game, providing communication enabled the players to stay fo- cused, and receiving instructions facilitated task focus and performance. A variety of other sources of competitive anxiety were generally dealt with through reap- praising strategies and performance behaviors. Pre and during game anxiety could be alleviated by having a good warm-up and starting the game well. However, it was not clear how players coped with anxiety during a game if they had not started or warmed up well. In fact, the fear of making mistakes throughout a game was a considerable stressor. In response to this, players engaged in positive self-talk, problem-solving talk, and reminded themselves of past successes, all reappraisal strategies that can be also characterized as both problem and emotion-focused coping. Finally, stressors labeled as distractions (fatigue and the actions of the opponent) were dealt with by blocking out the irrelevant stimuli and focusing on the task, examples of avoidance coping strategies. Discussion Many of the stressors and coping strategies identified here are congruent with findings from previous investigations of elite athletes from individual sports (Dale, 2000; Gould, Eklund, & Jackson, 1993; Gould, Finch, & Jackson, 1993; Scanlan et al., 1989, 1991). For example, reflecting on previous performances, using posi- tive self-talk and problem solving were strategies used by both elite soccer players and figure skaters to cope with competitive anxiety demands. Blocking distrac- tions and coaches? negative comments were strategies used by players in our study 268 ? Holt and Hogg to alleviate some of the stressors they faced. This is in accordance with Gould, Eklund, and Jackson (1993), who reported blocking distractions was the theme elite wrestlers cited most frequently. These issues show how athletes from team and individual sports used some similar coping strategies as part of their elite sport performance. Two main differences with previous research on stress and coping were re- ported in our case study. First, players used on-field communication patterns to help maintain task focus and deal with the demands of the game. It is likely this finding was not reported in previous studies because they did not deal with team invasion sports. The second difference reflected the participants? negative percep- tions of their coaches? communication styles. A cross-cultural study with 38 elite soccer players from Germany, Norway, Sweden, and the U.S.A. revealed that fe- male soccer players were more satisfied with female than male coaches because of their more understanding style of communication (Fasting & Pfister, 2000). Our findings indicate that the players used a range of coping responses to deal with their coaches? punitive and negative communication styles. Coaches have been reported as a source of social support for individual sport participants (Gould, Finch, & Jackson, 1993), but this finding was not replicated by our study, because the coaches were often perceived as a source of stress. However, participants re- ported using social resources as a key strategy for dealing with the coaches. In- deed, teammates used each other for support even though many were in direct competition for starting positions. This is in line with Crocker and Graham (1995), who suggested that females used higher levels of social support to cope with the stressors of competition than males did. It is likely that avoiding confrontation with coaches allied with discussions among teammates about coaches? communication styles created an atmosphere of resentment to the perceived negative feedback the players were receiving. The avoidance strategy that was used to block out the coaches may not make athletes feel like an active agent of change (Crocker, 1992). However, Aldwin (1994) sug- gested that standard approaches to coping overemphasize the role of control over the environment and emotions, and for minor stressors, ?deferring action, or sim- ply letting events play themselves out, may be a better strategy? (p. 272). Although coaches were not a minor stressor, blocking may have been an appropriate coping strategy because confronting the situation risks a negative influence on playing status. Furthermore, it was not clear if participants thought they were coping effec- tively with stressors or if the coping strategies employed were altering the social context of the team. Folkman and Lazarus (1985), and Compas (1987) predicted that coping ef- forts would not be limited to particular strategies nor single approaches to dealing with a particular stressor. The soccer players in this study demonstrated a range of coping responses to stressors that have previously been identified as important for performance. However, the widest range and complexity of coping strategies were used to manage participants? perceptions of the coaches. This suggests that the majority of their coping energy was directed to concerns that were created by the team environment and subculture, rather than by psychological demands of the playing soccer in the world cup finals. We showed that team sport athletes used a range of strategies, as Park (2000) previously suggested. Perhaps this was related to having to cope with (additional) stressors perceived from the team environ- ment. Analysis of coping strategies used by athletes in other team settings and different team sports would be an interesting research direction. Stress and Coping in Soccer ? 269 A number of other research implications arising from this study are perti- nent. Although some of the stressors and coping strategies identified have been previously reported in the existing literature and are measured by the relevant cop- ing instruments, this study revealed some coping strategies used by athletes may be specific to the demands and context of the sport in question. For example, per- formance behaviors, such as on-field communication and a good warm-up/start to the game are not specifically measured by the modified ?Ways of Coping Check- list? (Crocker, 1992), or the sport modifications of the COPE instrument (Crocker & Graham, 1995). Our findings suggest that these context specific factors influ- enced the coping process in a team sport environment. As Crocker et al. (1998) noted, the main instruments used to measure coping in sport were not originally developed with sporting populations. Further inductive qualitative analysis of coping by athletes during major competitions may reveal other sport specific coping strat- egies arising from the interaction of athletes with their social environment, leading to the development of more contextually sensitive measurement instruments. This study also raises several practical implications in the preparation ath- letes in teams for major competitions. Many of the stressors faced by the athletes were related to the social interactions situated in the context of the team environ- ment. It is important to educate elite team sport athletes in ways to cope with the social stressors (e.g., coaches, game demands, certain sources of competitive anxi- ety) associated with their particular team subculture and performance environ- ment. Such stressors may vary from team to team, but it was important to note that cognitive, behavioral, and social resources were used as coping strategies. For example, on-field communication helped athletes cope with several types of stres- sors. A practical strategy would be for SPCs and coaches to work on communica- tion patterns during training scrimmages and drills to develop inter-player com- munication skills. Then SPCs can reinforce the benefits of on-field communication as a coping strategy at appropriate times (e.g., pregame talks) to reassure players and build confidence in their abilities to cope with the demands they face. Our findings also indicated that supportive behavior can be a resource for coping. Sup- portive behavior from teammates, parents, and significant others should be en- couraged and its role as a coping resource reinforced. Individual cognitive strate- gies such as blocking may be appropriate for relatively uncontrollable situations. Finally, coaches proved to be a source of stress, but it would appear to be more effective if coaches were working with athletes to cope with the demands of elite sport. Coaches should be aware of the potential psychological implications of their behavior. The findings of this study suggest elite team sport athletes used a range of coping strategies, but it was not clear how the perceived effectiveness of these strategies influenced their emotional coping. Because coping is a process, longitu- dinal studies are needed to monitor the dynamic nature of coping responses over a season and examine the effectiveness of specific coping strategy interventions. Clinical research suggests the source and effect of coping strategies are contex- tual, as people use different strategies at different stages of a problem, and these strategies have different effects depending on the circumstances (Aldwin, 1994). In sport, athletes may use different coping strategies during different phases of competitive cycles. Tracking athletes through the preparation, performance, and debriefing phases of major competitions, like the world cup, would be desirable to understand more about coping and mental recovery at the most elite levels (Hogg, 2002). Coping research has predominantly focused on the negative, but coping 270 ? Holt and Hogg may be viewed as a means for human development as people learn to cope with their problems (Aldwin, 1994). 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London: Sage. Acknowledgments This research was supported by a Small Faculties Research Grant awarded to the second author by the University of Alberta. The authors would like to thank Dr. John G.H. Dunn for his insightful comments on earlier versions of this manuscript. Manuscript submitted: January 4, 2001 Revision received: September 24, 2001 03 Pates (?) 03 Pates (?)
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