Cognitive Appraisals and Coping Strategies Following Acute Stress among Skilled Competitive Male and Female Athletes

Article excerpt

The purpose of this study was to describe the manner in which skilled athletes interpreted and coped with various sources of acute stress experienced during sport competition. For each of eight sources of acute stress, male (n = 174) and female (n = 77) Israeli athletes were asked to assess the extent of using 12 different cognitive appraisals, based on Lazarus and Folkman's (1984) appraisal model. The appraisals were compared to the athletes' subsequent use of coping strategies, using the approach and avoidance coping framework (Roth & Cohen, 1986). Repeated measures ANOVA compared the appraisal categories of harm/loss, threat, challenge, and the coping categories of approach and avoidance across eight stressors, with gender as a between-participant factor. There was a significant appraisal by stressor interaction (p [less than] .001), with significant main effects for stressor and appraisal and a significant interaction between appraisal category and gender (p [less than] .02). Females experienced more threat and fewer harm or challenge appraisals than males. A 12 (appraisal items) x 2 (gender) x 8 (stressors) repeated measures MANOVA revealed a significant main effect of appraisal item (p [less than]. 001), and a significant appraisal item by stressor interaction (p [less than] .001). In addition, approach coping strategies were significantly related to each of the three appraisal categories of harm, threat, and challenge. However, correlations between categories of appraisal and coping for each source of stress indicated that these relationships differed as a function of the source of stress. The results of this study confirmed that cognitive appraisals of stressful events influence subsequent use of coping strategies. Additional quantitative and qualitative research is needed to understand the underlying personal and situational factors that influence appraisals and coping in competitive sport, and the development of validated inventories that measure these constructs.

Traditionally, the coping process following a stressful event has been depicted as engaging in a cognitive appraisal of the stressor followed by consciously enacting a coping strategy in attempting to reduce the stressor's perceived intensity or in building one's resources or abilities to deal with it (Lazarus & Folkman, 1984). Cognitive appraisal consists of two factors, the individual's initial interpretations about what is at stake for the individual, and whether the environment is stressful or relevant to the person's well-being (Dewe, 1993). Personal (e.g., perceived intensity and controllability) and situational factors (e.g., source of stress, novelty and predictability of the situation, feedback from the environment) jointly influence the person's appraisal of a stressful event.

Conceptually, Lazarus and Folkman (1984) and Folkman, Lazarus, Dunkel-Schetter, DeLongis, & Gruen (1986a) have designated appraisal as primary and secondary. In primary appraisal, the individual evaluates what is at stake, then, in secondary appraisal, the person assesses what, if anything, can be done to overcome or prevent harm, or to improve the situation. Lazarus (1999) has found that a plethora of appraisal studies have converged both primary and secondary appraisal. In the context of competitive sport, cognitive appraisal consists of evaluating the significance of a particular stressful encounter, making a physical or mental error, for example, and its relevance for the athlete's psychological (e.g., confidence, satisfaction) and physical well-being (e.g., pain, effort) and performance quality (Hardy, Jones, & Gould, 1996).

Cognitive appraisal is particularly relevant in the coping process in competitive sport because the manner in which an athlete interprets a stressful event mediates the level of perceived stress intensity and influences the person's coping responses (Steptoe & Vogele, 1986; Terry, 1991). According to Forsythe and Compas (1987), coping effectiveness is often dependent on the match, or "goodness of fit," between coping efforts and an individual's appraisal of the situation. …