How professional rugby players cope with performance stress

Image by jem on flickrProfessional rugby players are more worried about getting injured than anything else, including whether or not they win the match, or whether their opponents cheated. That’s according to Adam Nicholls and colleagues who succeeded in getting eight professional players to fill out a diary after each rugby match they played during a 28-day period in 2004.

The players, including a full international All-Black and three full Irish internationals, completed a check-list of potential stressors, described the techniques they’d used to cope, and reflected on how effective they felt these had been.

Twenty-four different stressors were cited at least once, but the three most frequently cited – worry about injuries, or about previous mental or physical errors – made up 44 per cent of all stressor incidents. The most frequently used coping strategies were putting the stressor out of mind, increasing one’s effort and reinterpreting things in a positive way. Crucially, however, the strategies the players reported using most often were not the same strategies that they said were the most effective (these included adapting techniques and improving communication), suggesting the players could benefit from guidance in choosing the right strategies. However, the picture was complicated by the fact strategies varied in effectiveness depending on the stressor in question.

“Given that a small number of stressors recur over time, we suggest that practitioners teach athletes three or four effective coping strategies that include at least one problem-focused, emotion-focused and avoidance strategy”, the researchers said. “This way, when faced with controllable or uncontrollable stressors, athletes always have a relatively effective coping strategy to deploy”.

Nicholls, A.R., Holt, N.L., Polman, R.C.J. & Bloomfield, J. (2006). Stressors, coping, and coping effectiveness among professional rugby union players. The Sport Psychologist, 20, 314-329.

Post written by Christian Jarrett (@psych_writer) for the BPS Research Digest.

One thought on “How professional rugby players cope with performance stress”

Comments are closed.