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Review of Internal and External Sources of Individual Pressure and Stress

Paper Type: Free Essay Subject: Psychology
Wordcount: 5309 words Published: 17th Sep 2021

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The purpose of this literature review was to highlight internal and external sources of individual pressure and stress, and recognise potential strategies to overcome these issues from a coaches point of view.

The process of identifying areas of improvements, within an athlete performance, using a variation of specifically designed assessment tools, formed the foundation of advancing my depth of knowledge and understanding regarding the particular issues. Initial assessments of holistic development, critical self-reflection and evaluations, recognising and reviewing critical incidents and external sources of feedback (coach advice, athlete opinions and observational field note) were carried out to outline and produce different forms of feedback, pinpointing diverse areas of improvement.

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After analysing and evaluating critical incidents that occurred throughout my coaching practice, I consulted relevant books, articles and journals to locate information, regarding the specific focus for the particular issue being discussed within each section of the review. Detailed evaluations and acknowledgements of potential methods thought to improve athlete performance were performed, ensuring that the strategy was relevant to the related issue. Additionally I had to ensure my coaching pedagogy could support the chosen strategy and would have no adverse effects upon the athlete physically, psychologically or emotionally.

Figure 1 (below) displays the reflection process I undertook to understand and implement specific strategies to cope with the particular issue in question, in this instance coping effectiveness:


Introduce the issue topic

  • What the issue is (how is it affecting the athletes performance [psychologically, physically and emotionally] and improvement)
  • How I identified the issue (assessment tools, interaction)
  • What are the benefits of improving and addressing the issue (not just sport but later on in life too)
  • Why does it need improving (benefits if improving issue on performance)
  • Potential theories and justifications for why the problem arose
  • Potential reasons of problems
  • Indication of symptoms of the issue
  • Potential problem solving theories related to my individual coaching practice and experience
  • Potential theories of problem solving
  • Limitations of theories, how they influence me
  • How I could adapt my coaching approach to overcome the issue regarding the relevant theories I thought could aid the improvement process

Most Emphasis Should Be Put On These Sections ‘Literature’

Concluding paragraph

  • How it has aided my coaching development & understanding
  • What has it highlighted to me (importance of specific elements within the issue)
  • implications for future coaches

Uncontrollable Pressures

Firstly, the term ‘uncontrollable pressures’ initiates discussion amongst researchers, regarding the coach manageability and manipulation of organisational, competitive and environmental stressors that athletes face daily (Hanton, S., Fletcher, D. & Coughlan, G. 2005). Although there isn’t a wide birth of knowledge within this academic area, it has been established that it is impractical and imprudent for a coach to shape an entire athletes environment, to control, manipulate and improve their sporting performance and daily lifestyles (Pensgaard, A. M. 2008; Dugdale, J. R., Eklund, R. C. & Gordon, S. 2002; Downey, M. 2003).

Hanton et al (2005) produced and identified specific stressors that affect an athlete’s performance, in which a number of them can be manipulated by the coach and others that cannot. Issues arose through structured interviews and questionnaires with the athletes individually, highlighting areas of concern, ranging from competitive preparation (mental, physical & psychological), cuisine to sleeping conditions. Although these are reliable representations of specific issues in a professional sport status, certain issues are irrelevant due to the nature of my coaching context (see appendix). I have identified and justified why certain potential external and internal pressures (see Figure 2), cannot be controlled by the coach. The negative impact these issues can have on athlete performance, development and psycho behavioural characteristics (within U13 recreational sport) continues to provoke discussion amongst the literature.

Identified Pressure

Definition of the Pressure

Justification of Why the Coach is Unable to Control the Pressure


The result of unwelcomed behaviours (physical,

verbal, emotional)

  1. I am unable to control athlete’s environment outside of the coaching context
  2. Athlete may not confide in the me with regards to personal issues

Social Clichés

Interacting with individuals you feel comfortable with, excluding others

  1. I cannot force athletes to be friendly in context, varied groups is inevitable
  2. Unable to control athlete social groups outside of the coaching environment
  3. Athletes will be friends with who they have common interests and enjoy the company of

Family Issues

Issues or events occurring within a family situation, affecting the athlete

  1. I am not entitled to interfere with family issues or events
  2. Athlete has ultimate decision to confide in the me, seeking advice or help
  3. Issues may not be the athletes fault, therefore unable to identify the source


The balance of fluid and food an athlete consumes, ultimately effecting their appearance and health

  1. I can educate the players regarding nutrition and a balanced diet, but cannot make them follow designed diet plans
  2. Parents decide what the athlete eats as they provide the food
  3. Can only warn against diet related diseases, not prevent them from occurring

Financial Barriers

Not affording to supply the athlete with reasonable and suitable equipment, as well as paying match and training fees

  1. I cannot supply the athletes with money or equipment to participate
  2. I can interact with parents to emphasise the need for specialist equipment, but cannot make them buy the required equipment

Individual Interpretation

The understanding an athlete takes from specific behaviour or situation

  1. I cannot change the way an athlete interprets information instantly
  2. I might not see the point of view of the athlete, ignoring the background issues
  3. I may have specifically made a statement to get a certain reaction out of the athlete, therefore ignoring the issue altogether

Individual Perception of Physical Self

Athlete perceptions on their own ability and physical appearance

  1. I can provide positive feedback to boost self-confidence, self-esteem and self-belief in themselves, however it is the athletes choice to accept it
  2. I cannot change the athlete perspective on their own physical appearance

These are only a selected handful of situations that coaches come across, but are all relevant towards my coaching context. However, at recreational level of performance, there is no need to emphasise nutritional requirements, but it may be beneficial to educate the athletes health issues and physical appearance to increase their awareness of potential issues that will affect their future sporting participation.

All these issues have an effect on athlete performance, but combined, can also exacerbate the situation for the athlete (Hanton et al 2005). For example, bullying is initiated through social clichés (Harris, S. & Petrie, G. 2003) which in turn allows the victim to formulate an individual perception on themselves. This perception can then alter the way they interpret information from other people, resulting in social exclusion (Carron, A. V. 1988), misunderstanding simple tasks and consequently lower the athlete’s self-confidence, self-belief and self-esteem resulting in the player doubting their own ability (Feltz, D. L. 1988).

The situation in which an athlete identifies a pressure which is outside the coaches control, and their attempt to solve the problem can cause an increase in stress and anxiety level within the athlete mentally (Owen, T. & Hanton, S. 2007). This inability to find a solution instigates helplessness through low levels of arousal. However, if high levels of arousal are prolonged through negative response outcome expectancies (giving up on the situation or failing), clinical depression development can follow (Pensgaard 2008) as well as burnout from the sport entirely.

Within my coaching context I try to shield the athletes from potential pressures (i.e. injuries, pre-competition anxiety and social clichés) to give them the best chance of achieving in sport, along with facilitating their learning environment pedagogically (Cassidy, T., Jones, R. & Potrac, P. 2004). Although the advantages of these protection acts are obvious (promote team cohesion, ensure and increase competitive performance), disadvantages are numerous in terms of the athlete’s psycho behavioural characteristics and coping effectiveness (Bailey, R., Collins, D., Ford, P., MacNamara, A., Toms, M. & Pearce, G. 2009).

Firstly, each child does not want to have their life controlled by the coach, even at a reciprocal level of play. Each athlete is entitled to experience varied situations where external pressures are more frequent, to test their own ability to apply specifically designed coping strategies provided by the coach. Feltz et al (2008) suggests that successful experiences will produce and reinforce higher levels of self esteem within an athlete ability to overcome specific situations.

Secondly, if I am over protecting the athletes from potential pressures, they will not be able to experience the situations that have a huge impact in the development of their sporting ability, but also their lifestyle characteristics (i.e. concentration, motivation, confidence, passion, determination etc). The athlete may become reliant on me, the coach, to deal with their problems, decreasing their own independence. This process is vital to human development, limiting their experience would have a decrement effect on their success in later life within any profession.

On the other hand, even if I could control the athlete’s environment, how can I predict every potential stressor that will arise and have the ability to implement coping strategies? All I can do is coach the athlete to manage diverse pressurised situations, which will enable him to apply what method he thinks suitable to the situation to overcome it (Jones, R. L., Hughes, M. & Kingston, K. 2008).

Finally, it is essential for me to have an awareness of the stressors affecting my athletes, even if it is inappropriate or too advanced for me to deal with (Downey 2003). Signals such as athlete body language, mood changes and a drop in performance levels should be recognised as situations troubling the athlete who is in need of assistance.

To validate and increase the reliability of this research, progressions must be produced into the topic of uncontrollable athlete pressures and the implications for a coach to aid in overcoming specific, everyday life situations.

Understanding the Athlete and Athlete Perceptions

Stress, Anxiety and Arousal

Lazarus (1999) suggests that stress occurs within individuals whenever people are working too closely together or have a close relationship. However, this is a very vague understanding of the concept of stress and anxiety. Another perspective, which is supported by larger scientific research, is that stress and anxiety transpire through individual perceptions and evaluations of specific, potentially stressful events or situations (Crocker, R. E. P. 2007; Fox, A. 2008). Jenkins (2005) takes it one step further, stating that “stress is regarded as a substantial imbalance between perceived demand and perceived response capability under conditions where failure to meet demand has important consequences” (Jenkins, S. 2005, p303). The outcome of the situation either results in distress (negative emotions of stress e.g. nervousness, fear, anger) or eustress (positive emotions of stress e.g. excitement, ‘psyched up’). Knight & Harwood (2009) suggest that stressful situations vary in forms depending on the development and participation level of the athlete experiencing it. This is applicable to my coaching context (see appendix), because my athletes are not going to experience the extensive pressure of the media or a win at all costs mentality, focusing attention mainly on individual development.

It has been proven that parents are the main source of development (commitment, spending money and emotional energy) (Knight, C. J. & Harwood, C. G. 2009) at early stages of the Long Term Athlete Development (LTAD) model, due to the coach having short contact time with the athletes(Balyi & Hamilton 2004). However, as the children progress through the LTAD model and decide to participate in one or two sports to achieve elitism in, contact time increases putting more emphasis on the coach facilitate the athletes’ development.

Through this increase in emphasis to develop the athlete, is when stressors and pressurised situations become more realistic for the young athlete. This stage is when the relationship between stress, anxiety and arousal really starts to become evident within the athlete through anxiety cognitive (psychological i.e. fear of failure, apprehension) or somatic (physical i.e. shallow breathing, sweaty palms) anxiety symptoms (Owen & Hanton 2007).

Spielberger (1966) established the difference between state anxiety (anxiety an athlete encounters at a particular point of time) and trait anxiety (the frequency and intensity of the of an athlete’s state anxiety). The use of using the SCAT & CSAI-2 questionnaires upon athletes is proven to be an accurate measurement of an individual’s state anxiety through cognitive and somatic state anxiety (Jenkins 2005; Barnes, M.W., Sime, W., Dienstbier, R. & Plake, B. 1985; Martens, R., Vealey, R.S. & Burton, D. 1990).

Mellalieu (2009).

Study of anxiety interpretation or direction is popular within the literature and has achieved theory to practice progression, of how and why psychological interventions can improve the athlete ability to manage anxiety and stress to improve performance

Facilitative and debilitative symptoms of anxiety, has ultimately changed the way coaches interact and aid athlete experienced anxiety and stress

Changes is anxiety may change mental and physical readiness for sport

Important for a coach to assess the entire emotional state before saying its bad stress (baumeister 2007 cited in b)

Fox, A. (2008). Fear of Failure in the Context of Competitive Sport. International Journal of Sports Science & Coaching, Vol. 3, Issue. 4, p173-178.

Fear of failure occurs through the thoughts of winning vs. losing and the after effects

Effort to relieve stress in sport often has backstabbing effects, anger, acceptance of defeat, lose focus and concentration, give up etc

Stress can reduce through the athlete maturing and grasping a sense of reality, however needs the aid of a coach to implement specific cooping strategies as well

Knight, C. J. & Harwood, C. G. (2009).

Prolonged stress on the coach (via stress on athlete) can impact coaches motivation, satisfaction and fun , resulting in burnout or drop out

Cooke, L. E. & Alderson, G. J. K. (1986). Stress & Anxiety in Sport: A Review of the State of the Art. Pavic Publications, Sheffield.

Suggests the importance and accuracy behind the stress, anxiety and arousal relationship to predict performance, using the inverted U theory an reversal theory (Horn 2002)

Horn 2002

Suggest arousal performance relationship is far more complex than originally thought, using many more emotions that initially thought were involved

Optimum level of arousal essential to good performance IZOF


This literature review was specifically aimed to exclusively outline contributing factors towards the pressure an athlete experiences throughout their sporting career, primarily focusing and elaborating on issues relating to my individual coaching practice and experience. Each issue demonstrates how it contributes towards pressurised athletes and how these influences can affect their overall sporting performance, improvement and physical and psychological well being.

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Firstly, a key principle for any coach to understand is that they are unable to control each form of pressure that could change an athlete’s life (Dugdale et al 2002), whether sport related or not. It would be foolish and impossible to attempt to create a non pressurised environment for an athlete, as the athletes would not experience different situations that can aid their improvement and development not just as a player, but also a human being. Psycho behavioural aspects of a person’s life are extremely significant to why they are who they are and should be maintained and developed through deliberate practice. Whilst coaches should not try to recreate an athlete’s world without potential stressors, they should be constantly aware of what is troubling their athlete, interpreting any signals (physical, psychological, emotional) of stress and adopt specific strategies to aid the athletes coping effectiveness (Mellalieu, S. & Lane, A. 2009; Cockerill, I. 2002). To become an elite athlete, protection from such situations will increase athlete development and non-competitive performances, nevertheless it also limits the athletes understanding, experience and ability to cope with competitive and environmental stressors for their advantage (Hanton et al 2005), giving them a disadvantage when competing.

Secondly, the coaches understanding and perception of the athlete is essential in attempting to aid the athlete cope with pressurised and stressful situations. As Balyi & Hamilton (2004) and Feltz et al (2008) suggest, each athlete learns and exerts themselves in different ways to achieve different, specific learning outcomes. Previously mentioned theories such as the IZOF (Russell & Cox 2000) and communicational methods, are prime examples of how athletes differentiate regarding sport performance and development. The coaches recognition of specific physical and emotional responses to cognitive behaviours such as stress, frustration and anger, can enlighten the coach to what strategy to apply next (Saklofske 1998), i.e. self talk, motivational cues, physical relaxation, withdrawal from competition etc. Therefore, the coaches effort in producing specialised individual and team goals, but also individualise each coaching session to the benefit of each athlete participating (Jones et al 2008), is extremely challenging but is unquestionably beneficial for the progression of each athlete.

Interlinking with the understanding of your athletes, the different ways people perceive things can ultimately produce additional unwanted pressure on the athlete. As previously discussed, simple behaviours such as constructive criticism, can be interpreted as negative comments by the athlete (Dishman et al 2006; Finn 2008), therefore increasing the psychological pressure already stationed in the athletes mind. Specific actions that the coach produces always have exact intentions to benefit the athlete; however, sometimes the final decision made by the coach has negative effects on the athlete i.e. being a substitute can cause the athlete to doubt their ability and decrease their confidence. It would be naive to think that it is only the athletes and not the coach that misinterpret certain behaviours or instructions (Zourbanos et al 2007). From a coaching experience, there are certainly attentional cues (behaviours, responses, comments) that are unnoticed or misinterpreted, misleading the coach to pursue or adopt irrelative strategies to aid the athlete in particular situations.

Research regarding the relationship between stress, anxiety and arousal is undoubtedly important when discussing the issue of competitive stressors within sport. As Crocker (2007) suggests, the numerous models and theories all attempt to predict, control and improve the individual performance outcome via applying specific strategies. Cox (2002) definition of stress is agreeable, but only applicable to competitive stressors. Cox doesn’t take into consideration the environmental, organisational and social stressors affecting the athletes at different moments, all contributing to the stress being experienced. The inverted U theory (Horn 2002) and reversal theory (Horn 2002) have been very important towards my own coaching context, because of the varying points presented for different situations with diverse athletes. However, due to the complexity of the stress, anxiety and arousal relationship, Horn (2002) and Levy et al (2009) suggests that these theories are also limited, due to the varying methods of interpreting stressful situations, and further emotions that contribute to the stress being experienced, which explains incidents such as choking.

Finally, the ability to cope effectively via motivational and instructional methods is regarded as more important than the ability to identify the stressors (Levy et al 2009). Jones (2007) regards mental toughness as a huge asset for any athlete to possess, producing the ability to control their emotions and block out unwanted influences to enhance competitive performance. Supported techniques and theories such as self-talk (Zourbanos et al 2007), mental imagery/visualisation (Thomas & Hanton 2007) and SMART goal setting (Lazarus 1999) have been significantly proven aids within the process of reducing stress and anxiety in competitive situations for my athletes. I personally realise, due to the nature of my coaching context, that adolescent children vary with regards to their developmental and maturational status, therefore forcing me to use diverse methods (sometimes only slightly adapted) to aid the athlete in the most beneficial way possible. However a certain limitation within the relevant literature is that the coach cannot put particular strategies of coping effectiveness into sport specific situations without contemplating all the possible outcomes, positive or negative. Each situation is different to another, regarding the stressors, athlete, task, and environment, showing that no exact incident is the same.

Within this study, numerous research and theory has been acknowledged, considered and analysed regarding forms of constant athlete pressure and coping effectiveness. These theories have provided evaluation, support and advice with regards to specific coaching issues involved in my individual coaching practice. Although after understanding and critically analysing particular theories, it is clear that many of the results, models and theories produced, are not relative, effective or applicable to my own coaching practice. Theories should often be challenged from a coaching perspective as this is where theory gets put into practice, which in turn produce varying forms of athlete behaviour and psychological responses to each situation. However, certain limitations such as the types of athlete you are working with, the environment (sporting context) and strategies used via a particular pedagogical approach have a huge impact on the individual athletes. Therefore, future coaches should constantly monitor and understand published theories before putting them into practice in order to improve, not hinder, athlete and coaches, sporting and psycho behavioural developments.



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