Research provides insights into effective coping with stress in sport
The research study, conducted with elite UK swimmers, explored the most effective ways for athletes to cope with stress; with the findings suggesting that coping strategies related to 'self-reliance' (e.g., attempting to regulate one's behaviours and / or emotions) are some of the most effective in helping elite athletes to manage stressful situations.
The research paper, authored by Dr Faye Didymus, Senior Lecturer in Sport and Exercise Psychology at Leeds Met, and Dr David Fletcher, Senior Lecturer in Performance Psychology and Management at Loughborough University, identifies 78 different coping strategies that the swimmers used to manage the pressures of their sport.
In the study, published in the latest edition of the Journal of Clinical Sport Psychology, thirteen national standard swimmers completed semi-structured diaries on 28 consecutive days and recorded their experiences of coping with the demands of training and competing as elite athletes.
Dr Faye Didymus explained: "Using daily diaries, we were able to explore sport performers' coping strategies and evaluate the effectiveness of the strategies that each swimmer employed. We found that the completed diaries contained rich and novel information, which had not yet been reported in the literature on coping in sport. The results suggest that athletes use a range of coping strategies to manage stress, which are used both in isolation and in combination. The findings on combinations of coping strategies are particularly noteworthy and provide the first insight into how different coping strategies may work together to effectively manage stressful situations in sport."
The coping strategies employed by the swimmers were grouped into ten families of coping, some of which have not previously been reported by sport performers. These families of coping include acceptance, instrumental aid, and self-comforting. The results also provide support for the use of problem solving as a helpful way to manage stress in sport.
Dr Didymus added: "In the study we found that using two or more coping strategies in combination was perceived, on average, to be less effective than using one coping strategy in isolation. This is interesting because these are the first findings to suggest that, while coping is a highly complex phenomenon, athletes may benefit from taking a simple approach to managing stress by focussing on using one effective coping strategy at a time.
The study also explored the associations between appraisals and coping, which highlights the links between athletes' thoughts about a stressor and the coping strategy(ies) they employ. This provides further insight into the appraisal process, which Dr Didymus describes as being "at the heart of psychological stress."
"The results suggest that coping is a complex process that is influenced by individuals' differences. If athletes understand the most effective coping strategy for them in different situations, we will make progress towards effective coping, optimal performance, and, ultimately, improved athlete health and well-being."