Academic journal article North American Journal of Psychology

Examining Anxiety and Self-Confidence for the Special Olympics Athlete

Academic journal article North American Journal of Psychology

Examining Anxiety and Self-Confidence for the Special Olympics Athlete

Article excerpt

Eunice Shriver developed the first Special Olympics games in the United States in the mid-1960's for individuals with an intellectual disability. Since that time, enrollment and participation in Special Olympics has grown tremendously (Special Olympics, 2013). Athletes spend time prior to events practicing with volunteer coaches who instruct the athletes in skill enhancement and sporting technique. Volunteer coaches undergo specialized training to understand how to work with athletes with an intellectual disability. This training assists coaches with understanding some of the cognitive and physical limitations of the athlete, but does not necessarily address the mental health of the person with an intellectual disability. This study aims to examine the mental health component through use of competitive anxiety and self-confidence measures.

Competitive anxiety and self-confidence states are considered temporary alterations in an athlete's mental and physical being that can either enhance or inhibit athletic performance (Martens et al., 1990). Research on competitive anxiety has existed for decades, yet no research exists examining this construct for the Special Olympics athlete.

Our research is the first of its kind to examine the international sporting event experiences of athletes with an intellectual disability. It involves examining the cognitive anxiety, somatic anxiety, and self-confidence states of athletes with an intellectual disability, as measured by the Competitive State Anxiety Inventory (CSAI-2, Martens et al., 1990) and comparing the scores with established norms for the elite-level Olympic athlete.

The authors of the present study formed a relationship with the Special Olympics organization in order to examine the international competitive experiences of athletes with an intellectual disability and used the Special Olympics eligibility criteria when referring to participants within the study. This definition is as follows: someone who must be "identified as having an intellectual disability or a closely related developmental disability, at least eight years of age or older, registered with the state office." Further criteria include completing mandatory training and filling out application paperwork prior to the established deadlines (Special Olympics South Dakota, 2015).

There are several studies of Special Olympians. One such study was done by Farrell, Crocker, McDonough, and Sedgwick (2004), who interviewed various Special Olympics athletes and found that most athletes participated for reasons that enhanced autonomy, competence, and social interaction. Shapiro (2003) examined athletes' motivation to participate in Special Olympics and found some of the primary reasons were to win medals, socialize, exercise, and have fun. Researchers have also found that participants in Special Olympics programs demonstrate a higher self-concept than their non-athletic peers with a disability and that self-concept is also strongly influenced by the amount of time one has been an athlete with the Special Olympics (Weiss, Diamond, Demark & Lovald, 2003). Gregg, Hrycaiko, Mactavish, and Martin (2004) tested a Mental Skills Training program with Special Olympics athletes and concluded that this program was useful for track athletes.

Martens outlined a model that examines competition as a process. Martens' model emphasized cognitions as a mediator between stimulus (sport) and participation in sport (Martens, 1977). This theoretical model is used in the current study as it provides the baseline assumptions set forth for competitive state anxiety as they are understood in sports psychology today (Jones & Swain, 1992). However, it is quite possible that Special Olympics athletes experience anxiety and self-confidence differently, and it is because this population was neglected in the initial theoretical framework that we examine how applicable Martens' model is to the international Special Olympics athlete. …

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed


An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.