Academic journal article Cognitie, Creier, Comportament

Reactive Stress Tolerance in Elite Athletes: Differences in Gender, Sport Type, and Competitive Level

Academic journal article Cognitie, Creier, Comportament

Reactive Stress Tolerance in Elite Athletes: Differences in Gender, Sport Type, and Competitive Level

Article excerpt

Elite athletes face a tremendous amount of stress in their sporting lives (Hanton, Fletcher, & Coughlan, 2005; Kristiansen & Roberts, 2010; Mellalieu, Neil, Hanton, & Fletcher, 2009), and their ability to function and react under stressful conditions has a significant impact on their sporting performance (Anshel & Anderson, 2002; Craft, Magyar, Becker, & Feltz, 2003; Jones, Hanton, & Connaughton, 2007). In her book about sportsmen under stress, Patmore (1986) suggested that the most important factor in sporting success is not the athlete's skill, but rather his or her ability to perform the skill under stressful conditions. Hanton, Thomas, and Mellalieu (2009) added that stress places additional demands on athletes that can tax their resources to cope and respond during various competitive situations. Specific sport-related attributes that have shown to be affected by stress include attentional focus (Krohne & Hindel, 1988), motor coordination (Anshel, Kim, Kim, Chang, & Eom, 2001), and decision making ability (Anshel, 1990).

While the majority of literature on athlete stress has focused on investigating areas such as appraisal (Nicholls, Polman, & Levy, 2012), coping style (Anshel & Anderson, 2002), and arousal (Jones & Hardy, 1989), much less research has been conducted in the area of reactive stress tolerance. Reactive stress tolerance is defined as the ability of an individual to react quickly and accurately in a situation where he or she is overstretched (Neuwirth & Benesch, 2012). Thus, the construct assesses the capacity of an individual to maintain focus and respond appropriately when placed in a situation where stress is induced. The concept has been featured very prominently in driving-related research (Brunnauer, Laux, Geiger, Soyka, & Moller, 2006; Heikkilä, Turkka, Korpelainen, Kallanranta, & Summala, 1998), where it is commonly used to gauge a driver's ability to manage stressful situations and react in a fast and appropriate manner. Similarly, it has also been frequently used in the field of aviation (Arendasy, Sommer, & Hergovich, 2007; Fæ revik & Eidsmo Reinertsen, 2003), where it is one of the key assessment criteria used in the evaluation of pilots.

In the domain of sport, there is a lack of research regarding the factors affecting reactive stress tolerance in athletes. Research suggests at least three factors potentially related to how athletes react under stress: gender, sport type, and competitive level. First, although there is a lack of studies relating reactive stress tolerance to gender differences, previous research has indicated that there are numerous gender-related differences in other stress-related domains. For example, males were found to use approach coping strategies more frequently compared to females (Anshel, Kang, & Miesner, 2010), while females were found to use problem-focused strategies such as communication, planning and techniqueoriented coping more often (Nicholls, Polman, Levy, Taylor, & Cobley, 2007). Additionally, female soccer players have shown to appraise stressors with lower levels of perceived control and greater levels of stress intensity (Kaiseler, Polman, & Nicholls, 2012), and one of the few studies attempting to investigate genderrelated differences in reactive stress tolerance found that female athletes had a greater number of incorrect responses under stress as compared to male athletes (Dogan, 2009). Nevertheless, more research is needed in order to properly ascertain how athletes' reactive stress tolerance varies as a function of gender.

In terms of sport type, there could be a difference in reactive stress tolerance in athletes who engage in open versus those engaging in closed skill sports. Open skill sports (e.g., football, basketball, badminton) take place in an environment that is constantly changing, where movements and decisions have to be continuously adapted according to the situation that the athlete faces (Highlen & Bennett, 1983). …

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