Coping with Acute Stress in Sport as a Function of Gender: An Exploratory Study

By Anshel, Mark H.; Porter, Anne et al. | Journal of Sport Behavior, December 1998 | Go to article overview

Coping with Acute Stress in Sport as a Function of Gender: An Exploratory Study


Anshel, Mark H., Porter, Anne, Quek, Jin-Jong, Journal of Sport Behavior


Acute stress, a persistent and inherent feature of competitive sport, consists of time-limited and short-term events (e.g., making an error or receiving a penalty from the official during the contest) can unfavorably affect performance. Typical responses to stressful events include over-arousal, heightened anxiety, muscular tension, emotional turmoil, and slower, less accurate decision-making (Anshel, 1990, 1995; Anshel, Brown, & Brown, 1993). Long term consequences of ineffective coping with acute stress include psychological burnout and the athlete's withdrawal from competitive sport (Smith, 1986). Given the ubiquitousness of acute stress in sport, and the importance of proper coping to maintain performance efficiency, there has been a surprising dearth of research in this area.

The results of published studies examining athletes' use of coping strategies (e.g., Anshel & Kaissidis, 1997; Crocker, 1992; Gould, Eklund, & Jackson, 1993a; Gould, Finch, & Jackson, 1993b; Johnston & McCabe, 1993; Krohne & Hindel, 1988; Williams & Krane, 1992) have jointly revealed that athletes in various sports have demonstrated certain types of coping strategies following acute stress experienced during the contest. With the exception of the Williams and Krane study of college female golfers and Anshel and Kaissidis' study of Australian basketball players, researchers have focused primarily on male athletes. While the area of coping with stress in competitive sport has been surprisingly understudied, in general, examining gender differences in the use of coping strategies in sport has apparently been virtually ignored.

Gender differences have received far more attention in the general psychology literature. While several studies have showed that physiological, social psychological, and environmental factors each predict gender differences in the use of coping strategies, research results have been less than conclusive. For example, several studies (e.g., Miller, 1989; Stone & Neale, 1984) have indicated that males, significantly more than females, use direct action in coping with stress. Both studies showed that females used distraction as a coping strategy, whereas men were more likely to use information-seeking.

Along these lines, in an Australian study, Frydenberg and Lewis (1991) found that males, more than females, reported higher percentage of appraisals which lead to direct action and a lower percentage of appraisals which inhibit action. Ptacek, Smith, and Dodge (1994) also found gender differences in coping with college examinations. Females reported greater use of social support and emotion-focused coping strategies (e.g., expressing feelings, avoiding the situation), while males were more likely to use problem-focused coping, such as thinking about solutions and ways of controlling the situation. However, Miller and Kirsch (1987) and Belle (1991), in their reviews of related literature, have each concluded that women, more than men, use problem-focused coping strategies, such as obtaining assistance and seeking information. According to Miller and Kirsch, "Women are more likely than men to blunt out stress-relevant information in a variety of situations" (p. 289). Along these lines, Belle explained that "men may refrain from help-seeking because of explicit social sanctions against such behavior" (p. 264), and that "seeking social support is considered a feminine activity" (p. 265). Whether similar gender differences exist between male and female competitive athletes is heretofore unknown.

In a rare sport study on gender differences and coping, Madden, Kirkby, and McDonald (1989) examined the coping styles of male and female elite runners. Specifically, females were more likely to react to a slump with greater emotion (e.g., anger, accepting sympathy) than males, who preferred problem-focused coping techniques.

One framework with which researchers have studied coping in the general psychology literature has been to categorize them as approach (also called sensitization, engagement, vigilance, or attention) and avoidance (also labeled repression, disengagement or rejection; see Krohne, 1993, Roth & Cohen, 1986, and Suls & Fletcher, 1985, for discussions of this nomenclature). …

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