Exercise as it relates to Disease/Reduction of children's sport performance anxiety through social support and stress-reduction training for coaches

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The purpose of this article is to critique a study titled "Reduction of children's sport performance anxiety through social support and stress-reduction training for coaches" that investigates the effect of coaching behaviour on the mentality of their athletes.

What is the background to this research[edit | edit source]

Sport performance anxiety (SPA) is a highly prevalent issue in today's society. It occurs when an athlete feels too nervous or fearful to perform to the best of their ability.[1] Generally, anxiety can be divided into two subsections; cognitive and somatic. Cognitive anxiety refers to the mental processes that cultivate anxiety, such as worrying. Somatic anxiety refers to the physical representation of that mentality, for example an elevated heart rate.[2] There are many reasons that cause this anxiety, such as the fear of failure, rejection and social approval. The fear of failure is closely associated with low self confidence and a strong desire to succeed.[1]

Analysing SPA is important as it can be highly detrimental to performance. One way this is shown is through the notion of "choking".[1] This concept is when an athlete's response to anxiety is the physical feeling of being unable to breathe, which may lead to a decrement or cessation of performance.

This research fills a gap in existing knowledge as it is the first study to demonstrate how relevant interventions targeted at coaches may decrease performance anxiety within children. It shows that children who had a high amount of SPA were particularly sensitive to how they were perceived by their coaches. Therefore, this study addresses the association between coaching behaviour and performance anxiety in young athletes.

Where is the research from?[edit | edit source]

The authors of this article, Ronald E. Smith et al., represent the University of Washington. This paper was published in the Journal of Applied Developmental Psychology and was conducted through Little League Baseball in Washington. However, no mention was made of any conflict of interest.

What kind of research was this?[edit | edit source]

This study was a randomised controlled trial (RCT). An RCT is often referred to as the gold standard of scientific trials, with the aim of decreasing bias while testing the efficacy of one or more interventions.[3] Due to this reduction of bias, RCT’s are generally thought to be a more valid form of investigation.

In this study, the trained group had an intervention program implemented, where the control group remained without.

What did the research involve?[edit | edit source]

The researchers conducting this study applied an intervention known as Coach Effectiveness Training (CET) to 18 male baseball coaches. To meet the inclusion criteria, the coaches all held a similar style of coaching. The subjects involved were 152 male 10-12 year old Little League Baseball players, all whom competed at a major level within the Seattle area code. Coaches within the trained group received a pre-season intervention in which they were presented with behavioural guidelines to help decrease performance anxiety. Coaches within the control group did not receive any guidelines. Children who played for each coaching group were then interviewed pre and post season using sport-specific anxiety scales. The CET was implemented in the training group 2 weeks prior to the start of the baseball season. The crux of the CET intervention revolved around a set of behavioural guidelines that the coaches were instructed to follow. The guidelines followed concepts of positive control as opposed to aversive, and the ideology that success was defined by maximal effort as opposed to outcome. There were four behaviours that the guidelines targeted: mistake-contingent encouragement, positive reinforcement, corrective and technical instruction. Alongside that, there were four behaviours the guidelines deemed as undesirable: punishment, non-reinforcement, punitive instruction and controlling behaviour. These behaviours by the coaches were linked to influencing the fluctuation of performance anxiety within the young athletes. To minimise bias, trained coaches were asked to keep the intervention guidelines private, which prevented leakage of information.

To assess changes within performance anxiety levels, the boys undertook the Sport Anxiety Scale (SAS) within pre and post season interviews. The SAS is a sport-specific determination of cognitive and somatic anxiety, and provides a competitive trait anxiety score to determine changes in athletes' anxiety levels.

The methodology of implementing a change in behaviour to affect anxiety was an effective approach, as behaviour is a common way coaches may influence anxiety levels in children. However, there were limitations within this intervention that compromised the efficacy of the study. For example, all participants were male. Studies have shown that female athletes tend to experience anxiety to a higher degree than males,[4] which could have possibly skewed the results in the study. It has also been suggested that the positive approach implemented within this intervention may have a greater effect on reducing SPA within females than males. Another limitation is that parental influence was not included. It has been shown that parents can be a major source of anxiety within young athletes.[5] Thus, including parents within the intervention may have resulted in further anxiety decrement.

What were the basic results?[edit | edit source]

Preseason and postseason anxiety levels were compared through t tests to determine the effectiveness of the CET intervention. A significant reduction in SAS scores were depicted in athletes from the trained group, whereas the control group did not reveal any significant SAS decreases.

Out of the 8 behavioural traits enforced within the guidelines, results from 2 desirable traits (reinforcement and encouragement) and 2 undesirable traits (non-reinforcement and punishment) are shown below:[6]

Behaviour Category M (Trained) SD (Trained) M (Control) SD (Control)
Reinforcement 5.98 1.27 5.60 1.18
Encouragement 5.79 1.58 5.20 1.43
Nonreinforcement 2.37 1.27 2.74 1.20
Punishment 1.79 1.30 2.16 1.27
  • M = Mean
  • SD = Standard Deviation

The statistics above displayed that boys who played for the trained coaches perceived them as possessing greater desirable traits. The boys who played for the control coaches perceived them as having greater undesirable traits.

The researchers determined that the CET intervention was successful in reducing SPA in young boys as a result of the coaches' changed behaviour. They concluded that athletes playing for the trained coaches had an increased level of self confidence, associated with a negative relationship to performance anxiety.

What conclusions can we take from this research?[edit | edit source]

Based on the evidence presented within this study, applying a behavioural intervention to coaches is likely to decrease children's tendency to experience SPA. A positivity-focused approach in how coaches interact with their athletes results in higher levels of self confidence, thereby reducing anxiety. However, despite the intervention being successful, it doesn't pinpoint whether a reduction in performance anxiety is directly correlated to performance improvement. In my opinion, the findings from this study are an accurate representation of the correlation between coaching influence and performance anxiety due to similar results being presented within more recent studies. An example of this is a study conducted by Joseph Baker analysing the relationship between athletic sport anxiety and coaching behaviours.[7] The majority of research deems that an increase in positive coaching attributes aligns with decreased performance anxiety, supporting the findings of this study.[8]

Practical Advice[edit | edit source]

Although this study was conducted on young athletes, SPA affects athletes of all ages. Any professional athletes experiencing extreme performance anxiety would benefit greatly from an intervention. Advice for coaches with athletes suffering through this is to reflect upon their own behaviour and see if positive and supportive interventions can be implemented.

Further information/resources[edit | edit source]

Coaches involved with young athletes, as well as young athletes experiencing anxiety may benefit from the following readings. However, these readings do not substitute professional medical advice.

References[edit | edit source]

  1. a b c Cohn, P. (2012). What is Performance Anxiety in Sports? | Sports Performance Anxiety. [online] Performanceanxietysports.com. Available at: https://www.performanceanxietysports.com/performance-anxiety-in-sports/
  2. Steptoe, A. (1990). Cognitive and Somatic Anxiety. [online] Available at: https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii/000579679090057P
  3. Pal, S. (2019). Randomized Trials vs Meta-analyses: Which Is the Better Bet? - The ASCO Post. [online] Ascopost.com. Available at: https://www.ascopost.com/issues/june-10-2014/randomized-trials-vs-meta-analyses-which-is-the-better-bet/ [Accessed 18 Sep. 2019].
  4. Patel, D. (2010). Sport-related Performance Anxiety in Young Female Athletes. [online] Available at: https://www.researchgate.net/publication/46425791_Sport-related_Performance_Anxiety_in_Young_Female_Athletes
  5. Smith, R. (1995). Reduction of children's sport performance anxiety through social support and stress-reduction training for coaches. [online] Available at: https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/0193397395900209
  6. Smith, R. (1995). Reduction of children's SPA through social support and stress-reduction training for coaches. [online] Available at: https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/0193397395900209
  7. Baker, J. (2000). [online] Available at: http://The relationship between coaching behaviours and sport anxiety in athletes [Accessed 18 Sep. 2019].
  8. Felton, L. (2013). Attachment and well-being: The mediating effects of psychological needs satisfaction within the coach–athlete and parent–athlete relational contexts. [online] Available at: https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S1469029212000933 [Accessed 18 Sep. 2019].