Academic journal article Journal of Sport Behavior

Coping with Acute Stress among American and Australian Basketball Referees

Academic journal article Journal of Sport Behavior

Coping with Acute Stress among American and Australian Basketball Referees

Article excerpt

Psychological stress typically occurs when the environment is appraised by an individual as taxing or exceeding personal resources (Lazarus & Folkman, 1984). Whereas chronic stress consists of experiences that are perceived as threatening, harmful, or challenging over an extended time period, acute stress refers to the sudden exposure to stimuli that elicit similar perceptions. Examples of acute stressors In sport including making a mental or physical error, experiencing pain or injury, an opponent's successful performance and receiving a "bad" call from an official. Acute stressors can negatively affect numerous cognitive and psychophysiological processes such as concentration, attentional focus, effort and arousal, and lead to impaired motor performance (Anshel, 1990; Jones & Hardy, 1989). Central to success in sport is the ability to enact cognitive and/or behavioral strategies to cope with acute stress.

Coping consists of psychological and behavioral efforts to master, reduce, or tolerate demands (Folkman & Lazarus, 1985). These efforts consist of learned behavioral and emotional responses that reduce the importance of a dangerous or unpleasant condition. Researchers are in uniform agreement that the ability to cope effectively with stress is a significant factor in determining good health, well-being, and sport performance (Gauron, 1986; Smith, 1986). Coping with acute stress in sport is a function of the competitor's perception, or appraisal, of a situation, that is, "...the extent to which a person believes that he or she can shape or influence a particular stressful person-environment relationship" (Lazarus & Folkman, 1984, p. 69).

There is evidence in the counseling psychology literature that different stressors require various types of coping strategies (e.g., Endler & Parker, 1990; Terry, 1991). The most common categorizations of coping strategies are referred to as problem-focused (behavior) and emotion-focused (cognitive) coping (Lazarus & Folkman, 1984). Problem-focused coping is the use of one or more activities implemented to achieve a task objective. For example, an athlete may cope with unpleasant comments from others by placing themselves at a distant physical proximity from the person or, conversely, by performing more aggressively. A basketball referee may cope with the stress of a coach's verbal abuse by giving a technical foul or warning to the individual, or by simply walking away from the stress source. Conversely, emotion-focused coping consists of using thoughts or emotions to feel better about performing the task. Hence, if a referee feels upset after making a wrong call during the contest, appropriate emotional coping strategies may include positive self-talk (e.g., "Keep at it; stay calm" or "Stay ready; concentrate"), or discounting in which the event's importance is minimized or at least temporarily forgotten.

Another conceptual framework for studying the coping process has been to examine a person's disposition, or tendency, to use particular categories of strategies called approach and avoidance coping styles (Krohne, 1993; Roth & Cohen, 1986). Approach coping reflects the individual's preference to examine or obtain more information about the source of stress. Avoidance coping, on the other hand, indicates a preference to reduce the importance, or attention, toward the stressor. For example, Krohne and Hindel (1988) found that skilled table tennis players tend to use avoidance coping in response to performance errors during the match. This would appear to reflect the player's need to maintain attentional control on task, and to either discount or ignore most stressors which may interfere with performance demands.

In a recent study, Gould, Eklund, and Jackson (1993) examined the coping strategies of the 1988 U.S. Olympic Wrestling Team. The wrestlers' primary coping strategies, used by 80% of them, were categorized as thought-control (e. …

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