Situational and Intrapersonal Moderators of Sport Competition State Anxiety

By Martin, Kathleen A.; Hall, Craig R. | Journal of Sport Behavior, December 1997 | Go to article overview

Situational and Intrapersonal Moderators of Sport Competition State Anxiety


Martin, Kathleen A., Hall, Craig R., Journal of Sport Behavior


In recent years, sport researchers have examined a variety of individual difference and situational variables that may moderate levels of sport competition anxiety (Smith & Smoll, 1990; Vealey, 1990). For example, several researchers have suggested that the social context of the sport competition (i.e., team or individual event) moderates anxiety levels, with individual sports evoking greater anxiety than team sports (Martens, Burton, Vealey, Bump, & Smith, 1990; Passers, 1982; Scanlan, 1984; Smith & Smoll, 1990). However, research comparing pre-competition state anxiety levels between individual and team athletes has produced equivocal findings. One possible explanation for these conflicting results may stem from the use of between-sport designs which do not control for sport factors and individual differences which may influence the relationship between the team/individual sport situation and sport competition anxiety.

Specifically, some studies have reported that individual sport participants manifest greater state anxiety than team sport participants (Furst & Tenenbaum, 1986; Simon & Martens, 1979), while other researchers have reported no significant differences in state anxiety between team and individual sport athletes (Colley, Roberts, & Chipps, 1985; Tenenbaum & Milgram, 1978). All of these studies compared anxiety levels between athletes from team sports such as basketball and volleyball versus different athletes from different individual sports such as gymnastics, swimming, and track and field. Research suggests that sport factors such as physical contact, threat of physical harm, and subjective versus objective scoring procedures may moderate competitive state anxiety levels (Martens et al., 1990; Simon & Martens, 1979). We are unaware of any studies that have controlled for all of these sport factors simultaneously when comparing athletes' anxiety levels across team and individual sport situations. Thus, any anxiety differences observed between individual and team athletes in previous studies may have been partly due to differences in sport factors other than the individual/team nature of the sport.

Another problem with between-sport comparisons of team versus individual sport anxiety, is that this approach falls to control for the possibility that different sports attract individuals with differential tendencies to experience sport competition anxiety. For example, research suggests that an individual's birth order (i.e., whether one is an only child, first born, second born, youngest, etc.) may affect both the type and degree of involvement in sport (cf. McPherson, Guppy, & McKay, 1976). First born individuals are more likely to avoid sports in which the threat and severity of physical injury is perceived to be high (e.g., diving, hurdling, skiing, gymnastics, and wrestling; Casher, 1977) and the opportunity to affiliate under stress tends to be low (Casher, 1977; Nisbett 1968; Yiannakis, 1976). Research also suggests that first borns experience stronger anxiety responses than later born individuals under a variety of anxiety-arousing situations (Kushnir, 1978). Thus, studies comparing team and individual sport participants' anxiety levels should control for individual difference factors such as birth order which may moderate the composition of sport groups as well as anxiety levels.

While a few studies have looked at birth order and anxiety related to potential physical harm in motor contexts (Alberts & Landers, 1977; Landers, 1979), the relationship between birth order and sport competition anxiety has received virtually no attention. As first born children are socialized into sport differently (Ebihara, Ikeda, & Myiashita, 1983; Landers, 1979), identification of birth order differences in state anxiety levels may shed some light on socialization factors that are responsible for individual differences in competitive anxiety. For example, parents have higher expectations of their first born children (e. …

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