Much recent work in sport psychology has centered on various aspects of competition. Researchers have investigated precompetitive affect, ways to cope with competitive pressures, and psychological effects of competition (e.g, DePauw, 1988; Mastro & French, 1986; Watanabe, Cooper, Vosse, Baldini, & Robertson, 1992). Interestingly, in recent years, focus of sport for individuals with disabilities has changed from rehabilitation to competition (Depauw, 1985, 1986; Huber, 1984). Thus, it might be expected that sport psychologists would engage in substantive research efforts to investigate competitive issues among individuals with dissabilities. However, this has largely not been the case. Where researchers have attempted to form conclusions concerning the emotional affect of athletes in relation to competition, conclusions have been based primarily on psychological research with non-disabled athletes. Clearly athletes with cerebral palsy parable brain trauma disabilities are underrepresented in sport psychology literature.
It has been argued that psychological study of athletes with cerebral palsy has received relatively little attention because of the wide range of individual disabilities, difficulty of classifying athletes, and lack of organized elite competitions (e.g., Sherrill, Adams-Mushett, Jones, 1986). However, because of enormous advances in training and organization of athletes with disabilities, elite athletes with disabilities now have highly competitive sport experiences.
Existing sport psychology research pertaining to individuals with disabilities generally has looked at comparisons of personality profiles among athletes with disabilities, non-athletes with disabilities, non-disabled athletes, and non-disabled non-athletes (e.g. Canabal, Sherrill, & Rainbolt, 1987; Greenwood, Dzewaltowski, French, 1990; Henschen, Horvat, & French 1984; Horvat, French, & Henschen, 1986; Jacobs, 1989; Paulsen, French, & Sherrill, 1990; Sherrill & Rainbolt 1988; Valliant, Bezzubyk, Daley, Asu, 1985). Researchers have also investigated differences in personality profiles of athletes with disabilities, identified by gender, skill levels, and degree of disability (Canabal, Sherrill, & Rainbolt, 1987; Cooper, Sherrill, & Marshall, 1986). Generally, this research has suggested personality profiles of non-disabled athletes and those with disabilities are similar, athletes with disabilities display more positive personality indicators than do non-athletes with disabilities, and skill levels and degree of disability did not provide bases for making personality differentiations. While these studies provided a foundation for initial inquiries, several authors (e.g., Asken Goodling, 1986; Depauw, 1986) suggested further research was necessary to establish reliability and generality of findings.
Elite athletes with disabilities now have opportunities to compete at regional, national, and international levels, providing similar sport experiences to those of non-disabled counterparts. Some previous research indicated responses of athletes with disabilities to competition may differ from those of non-disabled athletes. For example, where non-disabled athletes attributed successes to internal processes and failure to external factors, athletes with cerebral palsy attributed successes equally to internal and external factors (Dummer, Ewing, Habeck, & …