Pre-match competitive anxiety

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Pattern of Pre-Match Competitive Anxiety in Elite Male Rugby Union Players.

1. Introduction

Significant progress into the understanding of anxiety in sport has been made in recent years with the aid of research by such researchers at Burton (1988), Gould et al. (1987) and Martens and Gill (1976). In turn this has enabled sport psychologists to gain a deeper understanding into what causes competitive anxiety and the way in which athletes cope with it (Jarvis, 2006).

The ability to cope with anxiety in all sports is essential as it could make the difference between winning and losing a competition.

1.1 - Identifying the Problem

There is a lack of research into the effects of anxiety on sporting performance, especially in male rugby. In team sports it is particularly important to breakdown all aspects of the performance. The key issues researched in this paper are somatic and cognitive anxiety. From research it is clear that the failure to control these areas leads to unsuccessful teams (Yerkes & Dodson, 1968; Feltz, 1988; Martens et al., 1990; Cox, 1998; Weinberg & Gould, 2007).

1.2 - Research Aims and Questions

The main aim of the research is to examine the pattern of pre-match competitive anxiety in elite male rugby union players.

With the use of the CSAI-2 and interviews, the effects that anxiety has on sporting performance will be investigated.

There are three questions to be answered in this research piece:

  1. How does cognitive state-anxiety affect sporting performance?

  2. What affects does somatic state-anxiety has on sporting performance?

  3. How can self-confidence affect the level of sporting performance?

According to LeUnes (1996), developments in the literature written around anxiety have focused on the multidimensional nature of the phenomenon. Therefore, all results will be analysed and compare with the predictions proposed by the Multidimensional Anxiety Theory by Martens et al. (1990) which is explained in the Methodology section.

1.2 - Importance of Research

The findings from this research will be beneficial to coaches as they will provide a better understanding of how anxiety levels affect performance. The research will also be important to athletes, in this case rugby union players, as they will gain a deeper understanding into the reasons behind their feelings of anxiety and self-confidence.

By gaining a further understanding in this area, performance levels can be increased with the aid of appropriate preparation during training and before matches. Coping strategies could also be introduced to the players to enable them to control their levels of anxiety prior to matches.

1.3 - Context

The research for this research project will take place at a local amateur rugby club. The club was set up in July 1898 and just before the Second World War the land was purchased and the pitches were laid. By 1975 the club had a fully erected club house with squash courts.

The club consists of 6 senior teams; Colts, Ladies, Vikings, Rhinos (Veterans), Wanderers and 1st XV. There are also teams for youth boys from U7 through to U17, and U15 and U18 teams for girls. The selected team for research is the 1st XV men's team.

Although the research is being carried out in this local rugby club, the results and findings can be applied to any other sports club across the country. The level and gender of the club or team will however make a difference to how the players react to certain situations.

1.4 - Outline of the Study

This research will be split further into five further chapters:

  • Chapter Two: Literature review

    in which I will be developing an overview of the field.
  • Chapter Three: Methodology

    will explain how I set out to investigate my research and why I chose the methods used.
  • Chapter Four: Results

    will present the findings of the research piece in chart form.
  • Chapter Five: Discussion & Analysis

    explains what I found out during the research project. It will relate them back to my literature review and compare them to the Multidimensional Anxiety Theory.
  • Chapter Six: Conclusion

    will explain my findings and close up the research project.

2. Literature Review

This literature review will be written in four sections. Each one will be looking into the effects of anxiety on performance in sport.

Section one will look at the definitions of trait and state anxiety and self confidence. Section two will be looking into the research around anxiety and its effects on performance, both positive and negative. The third section will be investigating the causes of anxiety; fear of failure, parental, peers and coaches' influences, social physique anxiety, and location. The final section will be exploring the characteristics of anxiety during performance in sport.

Objective and Data Sources

This research project provides an insight into the affects of anxiety on the performance of a selected rugby team. Database searches were done using SPORTDiscus, PsycINFO and EBSCOhost in order to find significant literature. The key words rugby, anxiety, performance, coaches, location, parents, and team were entered into the databases to bring up relevant articles. Only appropriate, peer reviewed data was extracted for this review.

2.1 - Trait and State Anxiety, and Self-Confidence.

Anxiety can be defined as, "A state in which the individual experiences feelings of uneasiness (apprehension) and activation of the autonomic nervous system in response to a vague nonspecific threat." (Barry, 2002:p230; Carpenito-Moyet, 2006:p11). "Anxiety is viewed as an enduring personality factor or trait referred to as A-trait" (Davies, 1989:p70).

2.1.1 - Trait Anxiety

Trait anxiety "is part of the personality, an acquired behavioural tendency or disposition that influences behaviour" (Weinberg & Gould, 2007:p79).

Individuals with a high level of trait anxiety have a tendency to regard certain situations as threatening, and respond to these with an increased level of state anxiety (Spielberger, 1971). For example, two hockey goal keepers are of the same standard yet one has a higher level of trait anxiety and finds pressure of saving the goals too much. This leads to him displaying higher levels of state anxiety. "Anxiety is also viewed as a temporary state, A-state which is evoked by particular situations" (Davies, 1989:p70).

2.1.2 - State Anxiety

State anxiety can be defined as an emotional state "characterized by subjective, consciously perceived feelings of apprehension and tension, accompanied by or associated with activation or arousal of the autonomic nervous system" (Spielberger, 1966:p17). For example, the level of an athlete's state anxiety will change during a rugby match. Before the game the player may have a high level of state anxiety, during the game it may lower as they settle into the game, and finally during the last few minutes of a tight game it may rise again.

State anxiety can be split further into cognitive state anxiety, and somatic state anxiety (LeUnes & Nation, 1996). In support of this proposal that the two aspects of state anxiety can be dealt with as independent constructs, both Burton (1988) and Gould et al. (1987) have proven through research that sporting performance is affected by the type of anxiety being measured.

Cognitive anxiety can be defined as the "...mental component of state anxiety caused by such things as fear of negative social evaluation, fear of failure, and loss of self-esteem" (Cox, 1998:p98).

"Somatic anxiety refers to the physiological and affective elements of the anxiety experience that develop directly from autonomic arousal" (Martens et al., 1990:p6). Somatic anxiety is shown in responses such as increase in heart rate, breathlessness, sweaty palms, and muscular tension (Martens et al., 1990; Morris et al, 1981; Cox, 1998).

Research by Hanton et al., (2000) examined the cognitive and somatic anxiety levels in 50 rugby players and 50 target rifle shooters. Hanton et al. (2000) concluded that rugby players were more likely to report that somatic anxiety had a positive impact on their sporting performance. However, the target rifle shooters reported that it had a negative impact on their performance.

Somatic and cognitive anxiety can be tested using the Competitive State Anxiety Inventory-2 (CSAI-2) developed by Martens et al. and first presented in 1982.

2.1.3 - Self-Confidence

Vealey (1986) defined sports confidence as the amount of confidence athletes possess about their ability to be successful in sport. Vealey (2001) suggested that self-confidence can be more traitlike or statelike depending on the time that it is measured. In essence, confidence might be something that an individual feels on a particular day (state self-confidence), or it might be part of their personality (trait self-confidence). Research carried out by Hall et al. (1998), suggests that self-confidence is closely related to perceived ability and is depressed with the onset of competition due to the increase in anxiety.

As explained in literature by Horn (2008:p66), self-confidence is "...rooted in beliefs and expectations." If overall self-confidence is low and the player(s) expect something to go wrong, they are creating a self-fulfilling prophecy (Weinberg & Gould, 2007). This means that expecting something to happen actually helps it to happen. For example, if a team thinks that they will lose the upcoming match because they lost last time they stand a greater chance of losing than winning. "The expectation of failure leads to actual failure, which lowers self-image and increases expectations for future failure" (Weinberg & Gould, 2007:p323).

2.2 - Anxiety and Performance.

As a result of the development of the CSAI-2, the Multidimensional Theory of Anxiety has been recognised in the field of sport psychology (McNally, 2002). The Multidimensional Theory of Anxiety is based on the idea that anxiety is comprised of two distinct parts; cognitive and somatic (as defined in section 2.1). Both of these components have different effects on performance and can be manipulated separately in any occasion (Burton, 1998; Cox, 1998; McNally, 2002).

The Multidimensional Anxiety Theory predicts that cognitive state anxiety is negatively related to performance. However, the theory predicts that the somatic state anxiety is related to performance in an inverted U shape which can be seen in

Appendix 1

. Certain levels of anxiety can be advantageous for the performers, but only but to a certain level. Beyond this level the anxiety causes performance to decline (Martens et al., 1990; Hanin, 2000; Weinberg & Gould, 2007). 

According to Endler (1978), there are five factors that can be responsible for an increase in state anxiety in an athlete; threat to an individual's ego, threat of personal harm, ambiguity, disruption of routine, and threat of a negative social evaluation. A high level of anxiety is "...disadvantageous for optimum performance in competitive sport" (Davies, 1989:p71). This is demonstrated by the fact that more anxious individuals generally do worse in important events compared to less important events and practise sessions. This is supported by research carried out by Martens et al. (1990), Martin & Gill (1991), and Eys et al. (2003).

Martens et al. (1990) suggests that somatic anxiety has an Inverted-U shaped relationship with performance, whereas cognitive anxiety has a negative linear relationship with performance as shown in

Appendix 2

. Similar results had been found by Parfitt and Hardy (1991). They found that there were both positive and negative effects for somatic anxiety during performance related activities just before an important event or match during the time that cognitive anxiety was at a high level (McNally, 2002).

Anxiety can be a huge setback for many athletes, especially those who take part in individual sports, such as tennis singles, and for those who play in 'exposed' positions, such as goalkeepers in hockey (Davies, 1989). Research has proven that there is an optimum level of anxiety for maximum performance. It was also proven that both high and low levels of anxiety are related to poor levels of performance (Yerkes & Dodson, 1968; Feltz, 1988; Martens et al., 1990; Cox, 1998).

According to research carried out by Martin and Gill (1991), a player's level of anxiety varies depending on how important or challenging the match or competition is. More able players will therefore not be so adversely affected by high levels of anxiety, where as less able players will be as they see the match as challenging and good results will seem unrealistic. Sigmund Freud (1962) did a lot of research into anxiety. In 1962 he focused on the anticipatory nature of anxiety. From this research he concluded that some individuals expect to win or fail, and therefore become more or less anxious according to their expectations.

An important piece of research into state anxiety among successful and unsuccessful competitors who differ in competitive trait anxiety was carried out by Martens and Gill (1976). From the research they concluded that the individuals who maintained low levels of A-state throughout the competition were highly successful. This supports the research carried out by Martens (1990) and Parfitt and Hardy (1991) with the Inverted-U shaped relationship between anxiety and performance.

"Anxiety, therefore is a central factor in performance in competitive sport" (Davies, 1989:p72). It is exasperating and disheartening for a talented and committed sportsman when their performance crumbles during competition due to over-anxiety. This is avoidable if the individual is suitably prepared emotionally and emphasis is on the learning and enjoyment of the game. However, this could be difficult to enforce with a professional sportsman who may potentially have external rewards undermining intrinsic motivation (Weinburg and Gould, 2007).

2.3 - Causes of Anxiety.

This section will be looking into the issues surrounding the causes of anxiety in sports performers. These will include fear of failure, parental, peers and coaches influences, and event importance. Relevant literature has been reviewed and presented in the section below.

2.4.1 - Fear of Failure

"For many people, sport is an important arena in which one's ability, motivation, and personality are scrutinized and evaluated by other people" (Leary & Kowalski, 1995:p122). Whenever individuals step onto the sports field they are at risk of showing themselves in an unflattering perspective. They may worry about displaying signs of being out of shape, unskilled, incompetent and unable to handle pressure to their fans, teammates, coaches and family (Passer, 1983; Davies, 1989; Leary & Kowalski, 1995; Jarvis, 2006). Research by Pierce (1980) concluded that youth sport participants worried more about making mistakes and underperforming than getting hurt and what others thought of them.

"One of the most potent causes of anxiety is the fear of failure..." (Davies, 1989:p73). This fear of failure would also be connected with the loss of prestige and humiliation. Research by Passer (1983) supports this theory as he found that fear of failure is a major cause of threat in competitive-trait-anxious children.

This fear of failure can be evident in superior performers as there is an increased pressure to perform well when playing a less able opponent. Losing to a lower ranked team or player could be humiliating and result in a loss of prestige and reputation (Davies, 1989; Leary & Kowalski, 1995). The player may have the ability and skills to win the match, but due to their constant worry of how they are going to perform they end up underperforming (Passer, 1983). However, for professional athletes this adverse affect of anxiety on performance will be less as they have learnt to cope with such situations and are able to deal with them accordingly.

An example of a highly skilled player is Roger Federer (aged 27). Federer met the young Spaniard, Rafael Nadal (aged 22) in the Wimbledon finals in 2008. Federer was the current Wimbledon champion and had held the title for 5 consecutive years; this would have been his 6th World Championship title. Federer's defeat could have been due to the excessive amount of media coverage before the match adding to the pressure of him winning yet another title against a younger competitor. At the same time, the pressure would have equally been placed on Nadal to knock Federer off the top spot. Federer commented after the game "It's not a whole lot of fun, but that's the way it is. I can only congratulate Rafa for a great effort" (BBC Sport, 2008).The game was incredibly close; 6-4, 6-4, 6-7(5), 6-7(8), 9-7 (BBC Sport, 2008), and has gone down in history as the longest ever Wimbledon final.

2.3.2 - Parental, Peers and Coaches Influences

Parents and coaches can sometimes be far too pushy and ambitious and in turn increase the stress and anxiety levels within the athlete. According to Jarvis (1990), it is apparent that both high and low expectations of performance can be linked to levels of anxiety. The over-concern and high levels of anxiety shown by anyone close to the athlete is likely to heighten their anxiety also, and in turn could damage the chances of success. "Too much pressure from teachers, coaches and family can add tremendously to competitive anxiety" (Jarvis, 1990: p118).

Passer (1983) concluded from his research that highly anxious individuals are very worried about performing badly as this will bring about criticism and disapproval from their peers, parents and coaches. However, Smith et al. (1979) developed a coach-training program designed to help coaches create an environment for the athletes to feel comfortable and less anxious in. The Coach Effectiveness Training gives the coaches the skills and ability to create a ..."socially supportive environment through frequent use of positive reinforcement, encouragement, and technical instruction, while discouraging the use of punitive behaviours" (Smith et al., 2006:p492). Smith et al. (1995) discovered through research that there were significant reductions in performance-anxiety among children who played for a coach that had experienced the Coach Effectiveness Training. The children who were exposed to trained coaches showed a decrease in levels of anxiety over the season, whereas the other group who were exposed to untrained coaches showed an increase on the Sports Anxiety Scale-2 (SAS) (Smith et al., 2006).

A frequent source of anxiety is the presence of spectators; these can be friends, family, coaches or even complete strangers. "Sometimes performance is enhanced, sometimes it deteriorates and sometimes there is little discernible difference" (Davies, 1989:p83). According to literature the performance of stable and confident players usually improves when an audience is present, whereas that of anxious players tends to decrease (Weinberg & Gould, 2007; Jarvis, 2006; Martens et al., 1990). Research also shows that the effect of an audience on superior players is positive, and for the less able player the audience presents them with an increase in anxiety and stress which in turn causes them to underperform. According to work carried out by Haas and Roberts (1975), Martens and Landers (1972) and Green (1983) the perceived role of the observer is an important factor for the athlete or performer. It has been suggested that if the observer occupies an important, judgmental role then this generates feelings of anxiety. The researchers found that on the other hand, if the spectators are seen as being positive and supportive, for example a coach, they will be generally welcomed by the performer.

2.3.3 - Event Importance.

"The more important a sporting event is, the more stressful we are likely to find it" (Jarvis, 1990: p118). However, it is important to remember that it is the importance of the event to the individual that is counts, not the status of the competition. An event may seem insignificant to most people but may be important to an individual (Weinberg &Gould, 2007). An example of this could be that an individual is competing against their old club team; there would be an increased desire to perform well and potentially beat them. Research carried out by Sanderson in 1977 on 64 of the best badminton players in England aged between 18 and 21; found that the perceived importance of the competition was a significant factor leading to A-State reactions (Sanderson, 1981).

Marchant et al. (1998) conducted an experiment with pairs of golfers. The golfers were either competing for three new golf balls, or a pair of new golfing shoes. Obviously, the golf shoes made the competition into a high importance one, and therefore the players experienced more anxiety than those competing for the golf balls.

An example of a player who was able to cope with the increase in anxiety is Jonny Wilkinson who took a drop goal to win England the 2003 Rugby World Cup in the final play of the game. If Wilkinson had been affected by the anxiety and pressure of the level of competition, he may have missed the goal.

2.4 - Anxiety: Performance Characteristics.

In sporting competitive situations, the anxious performer tends to become over-aroused, tense, and far too worried to perform to the best of their ability. The increase in muscle tension can interfere with coordination causing the performance levels to decrease (Burton, 1988; Smith et al., 2006; Weinberg & Gould, 2007). The feeling on inadequacy and lack of self-confidence hinders the sporting performance (Davies, 1989). For example in a competitive rugby match a player who suffers a high level of anxiety may lack confidence when going in for a tackle. This could result in the player passing him and scoring a try, but most probably resulting in injury as they are not fully committed to the tackle.

"The highly anxious person is slower to react in the stressful competitive situation than he is in the relatively relaxed conditions of practice" (Davies, 1989:p75). During tense, crucial parts of the match the over-anxious player may show unforced errors; for example in rugby they may miss a penalty kick and in tennis a double-fault may be played. Unforced errors may occur during the match; this can include forward passes, a knock-on, or a late tackle.

3. Methodology

In order to achieve the objectives of this research project, a variety of appropriate research methods have been chosen, using both primary and secondary data. Before research was collected it was important to establish a research process which acted as a framework throughout the research project. During this chapter the strengths and weaknesses of the potential research method is discussed and only the suitable and most relevant have been selected for this study.

3.1 - Paradigm Rationale

There are two broad research traditions; qualitative which answers questions such as 'why' and 'how', and quantitative which answers questions such as 'what' and 'when' (

See appendix

- page 27 table) (Gratton & Jones, 2004). As I am interested in researching a particular phenomenon I mainly carried out quantitative data collection. I measured how anxiety affects performance, both positively and negatively within the men's 1st XV at Reading Rugby Football Club.

It was decided to mix quantitative data with qualitative data to make the research more credible and valid. Many researchers such as Nau (1995) and Jayaratne (1993) have suggested that blending qualitative and quantitative methods of research can produce a result highlighting significant findings from each. Henderson et al. (1999) suggests that using anecdotes and narratives to support quantitative data can provide clarity to the findings. Linking the two types of data can give a bigger picture of the issues around the subject. During this research project, quantitative data was collected to provide numerical data from a large sample, whereas the qualitative data collected provides rich data from a smaller sample (Gratton & Jones, 2004).

3.2 - Research Approach

The research question "Pattern of pre-match competitive anxiety in elite mate rugby union players" includes elements taken from both an inductive and deductive approach to research. When researching around the subject of how anxiety affects performance, a deductive approach appears to be more appropriate to the research project as it was unnecessary for the researcher to come up with a new theory. A large amount of research has already been carried out into the affects of anxiety on sporting performance, evident in the literature review.

For this piece of research the Multidimensional Anxiety Theory proposed by Martens et al.,(1990) was used. The theory is based on the idea that anxiety is comprised of two distinct parts; cognitive and somatic. The Multidimensional Anxiety Theory predicts that cognitive state anxiety is negatively related to performance, and that the somatic state anxiety is related to performance in an inverted U suggesting that there is an optimum level of anxiety (Weinberg & Gould, 2007; Burton, 1998; Cox, 1998; McNally, 2002).

3.3 - Participants

For this research into the effects of anxiety on performance, the men's 1st team of the amateur Reading Rugby Football Club was chosen. They were chosen as there is the opportunity to meet with the meet every week.

From talking to the players it is apparent that the club has a mixture of professions; students, army personnel, mechanics, and business men. However, they all have one passion, and that is rugby. The ages of the players range from 18 to 38 years. There is a variety of experiences within the team; some players are in their first season of National 3 level rugby, whereas a number are in their fourth of fifth season at this level.

Training takes place on a Tuesday and Thursday from 7:30pm until 9:30pm. During this time the players train, have physiotherapy (if it is needed), and they also have a meal together before going home. The amount of time that the team spends together off the pitch is vital for the development of team cohesion.

3.4 - Data Collection

During this research project, data was collected using both questionnaires and interviews. This section will look at questionnaires and interviews separately explaining the different types of question, and the advantages and disadvantages of both.

3.4.1 - The Questionnaire Survey

Following the research in Chapter 2, the Competitive State Anxiety Inventory-2 has been chosen for this research. The inventory is a sport-specific, self-report that has been proven to be a reliable and valid measure in competitive situations of cognitive and somatic state anxiety and self-confidence. The CSAI-2 consists of a three 9-item subscales that measure cognitive anxiety, somatic anxiety, and self-confidence (Burton, 1988). Each of the 27 questions are rated on a 4-point Likert scale from "not at all" to "very much so". The questionnaire was administered during the final hour before competition over a period of 14 weeks. The scores collected on each of the three scales provided a reference point from which to examine the rugby player's patterns of multidimensional anxiety. - Types of Questionnaires

According to Gratton and Jones (2004) questionnaires are possibly the most common method for collecting data in sports-related research. A questionnaire is simply "...a standardised set of questions to gain information from a subject" (Gratton & Jones 2004: 115). Questionnaires are associated with quantitative research where data is required from a large sample group. In this case the questionnaires measure the anxiety levels of the 1st XV team before matches.

There are three types of questionnaire; postal, telephone and face to face questionnaires. Postal questionnaires are given or posted to the participants who then complete them in their own time; they are then posted back to the researcher. Telephone questionnaires are completed by the researcher while talking to the participant over the telephone. Face to face questionnaires are completed with both the participant and researcher in the same location.

For this research the most appropriate way to collect data was to hand out self-completion questionnaires that were carried out face to face. Handing out the questionnaires saves postal and telephone costs, and also time. This was the best way for the researcher to collect the data that was needed before summarising it using tables and graphs (Gratton & Jones, 2004). - Advantages and Disadvantages of Questionnaires


A well designed questionnaire provides little opportunity for the introduction of bias into the results. However, a badly designed questionnaire can sometimes lead to bias data, and therefore using questionnaires does not automatically mean that there is a reduction in bias (Thomas et al, 2005; Gratton & Jones, 2010).

The use of a questionnaire enables the participant to remain anonymous. This is advantageous when researching sensitive issues such as violence, drugs and, in this case the personal issue of anxiety. Enabling the participants to remain anonymous may increase the validity of the researcher's results.

As the CSAI-2 is being used the research has been provided with a well-structured means of collecting quantitative data. This data can be compared between the same groups over a long period of time. The findings can be easily transferred into tables and charts and analysed statistically (Gratton & Jones, 2010).

The final advantage of using questionnaires is that they allow the researcher to collect a large amount of data from a large sample group. The use of questionnaires makes the process less time consuming as the researcher does not necessarily need to be present to conduct them.


"The questions have to be clear enough for all participants to understand" (Gratton & Jones, 2010: 129). This is important as the researcher may not always be present to clarify and explain complex questions. If there is the need for complex questions then the researcher would have to be present, defeating the object of time saving postal or online questionnaires.

Another disadvantage of questionnaires is that the researcher cannot control who completes them unless specified beforehand. In the case of this research project, it was specified that the 1st XV men's team from Reading Rugby Football Club were to complete the CSAI-2 questionnaires each week. This provided consistency with the results as the same group of people filled them in each week, thus increasing the validity of the project.

Although the questionnaire is answered on a scale and will be analysed from week to week comparing the results of experienced and inexperienced players, "...there is no opportunity to get him or her to expand upon or explain any of the points that may have been made" (Gratton & Jones, 2010: 129). This is where the researcher made the decision of including qualitative research to increase the validity of the project and back up the information gained from the quantitative research.

When relying on questionnaires for quantitative data, there is always the risk of a poor response rate. However, for the research for this project the CSAI-2 questionnaires were handed out and collected from the players before they went out for the warm up. This increases the response rate as the whole team kindly took ten minutes to fill them in, and the researcher was also present to enforce the completion of the CSAI-2. - Developing and Piloting the Questionnaires

For this research project, the CSAI-2 questionnaire was used which was developed from the CSAI questionnaire and first presented in 1982, as explained in the literature review of this piece of research. As the CSAI-2 was designed to measure level of multidimensional aspects of anxiety prior to competition, the decision was made to go ahead and use it for my own research into how anxiety affects the performance of elite male rugby players.

Due to the time-scale that I am working to, it would not have been time efficient to develop a new own questionnaire to the same complexity as the CSAI-2 which was developed over many years. "Valid and reliable scales are difficult and time consuming to develop" (Gratton & Jones, 2010: 137).

Even though the CSAI-2 has been tried and tested over the years by experienced researchers, a pilot study was conducted. A pilot study is a small-scale administration of the questionnaire prior to the main administration. The pilot study is useful for a number of functions, including:

  • To check that the wording of the questionnaire is clear and understandable for the participants
  • To check that the sequence of the questionnaire is clear and simple
  • To check the administration of the questionnaire from start to finish is efficient and runs smoothly
  • To get an idea of how long the administration time of the questionnaire is
  • To allow a trial run of analysing the data

(Bryman 2008; Gratton & Jones, 2010).

The pilot study was carried out in conditions that were close to those of the actual study. If there were changes needed then these would have been made and then the questionnaire would have been re-piloted and analysed again (Bryman 2008; Gratton & Jones, 2010). - Covering Letter

When I handed out the questionnaires I also handed out a covering letter. This introduced me as the researcher and the organisation to which I am affiliated. The letter also introduced the research programme and explained why the research was being carried out. An important element of the letter is to stress the importance of anonymity of the respondents. If the researcher had been sending out postal or online questionnaires, a covering letter would certainly have been one method of increasing the response rate. As face-to-face questionnaires were carried out, the covering letter is done as a matter of politeness.  

3.4.2 - Research Interviews - Types of Interview

Gratton and Jones (2004), state that the best way to find out information is to simply ask them. Interviewing is associated with the collection of qualitative data; they tend to seek the answers of 'why' and 'how' things occur. There are four different types of interview; structured, semi-structured, unstructured and the focus groups. A semi-structured interview technique was used. The key topics to be researched were already clear from the literature review. However, the questions were easily adoptable and expandable in response to the interviewees. The sequence of questions can be altered and the questions are designed to be "...sufficiently open" (Wengraf, 2001: 5). This enables the researcher to expand on the interviewees responses. Sometimes the researcher may have to improvise 50 to 80 percent of the questions as the interviewee's responses cannot always be predicted (Thomas et al, 2005; Gratton & Jones, 2010). Please see


for an example of the interview questions.)

The location of the interview is very important; it needs to take place where the interviewee is comfortable answering questions (Gratton et al 2004). The interviews carried out for this research piece took place at the rugby club in a quiet area of the club house; the location was free from background noise as I was recording the interview. - Advantages and Disadvantages of Interviews


One advantage of using an interview is that it enables the participant to talk about their experience in their own words, and expand on past experiences that they feel are relevant to the study. This will be important to the research as the interviews are being used to back up the information gathered from the CSAI-2 questionnaires.

Allowing the interviewees to answer in their own words allows unexpected data to emerge. The semi-structured interviews that were used allowed for themes of importance to emerge and be explored. This then enabled the subjects to elaborate on their attitudes and behaviour that may not have been picked up by the researcher (Gratton & Jones, 2010).

A face-to-face interview allows the researcher to pick up on body language and facial expressions when the interviewee answers the questions. it can be advantageous in some situations to see the first reaction to a particular situation.


Interviewing participants does have a number of weaknesses, one being that interviews require more resources than questionnaires (Bryman 2008, Gratton & Jones, 2010). In some cases interviews may be expensive in terms of time and travelling. As a result of this expense, the sample may be small and unrepresentative of the population; in this case of male rugby players and the effect that anxiety has upon their sporting performance.
It may also be possible to add bias through verbal and non-verbal reactions. An example of this may be that the interviewer nods in response to a certain answer so the interviewee continues down that path. This could lead to the 'right' answers being given, rather than what the interviewee really believes or feels (Thomas et al, 2005).

3.5 - Analysis Procedures

The data that was collected will not provide an answer to the research question itself. The data needs to be organised and analysed so that it is meaningful to the research project (Gratton & Jones, 2010). The CSAI-2 questionnaires were labelled 'experienced player' or 'non-experienced player' by the participants. During this research piece the definition of experience is taken from the Cambridge Dictionary (2008). It states that experience is "the process of getting knowledge or skill from doing, seeing or feeling things." For this particular research piece, being part of the 1st team for 4 years or more put the participants in the category as an 'experienced player'.

The CSAI-2 is scored by calculating a separate total for each of the three sub-scales; no total score is worked out. "The higher the score, the greater the cognitive or somatic A-state or the greater the state self-confidence" (Martens et al., 1990: p176). The cognitive A-state subscale is worked out by adding the scores for the following 9 items: 1, 4, 7, 10, 13, 16, 19, 22, and 25. The somatic A-state subscale is scored by adding the scores for the following 9 items: 2, 5, 8, 11, 14R, 17, 20, 23, and 26. The scoring for 14 must be reversed as indicated: 1 = 4, 2 = 3, 3 = 2, and 4 = 1. The state self-confidence subscale is calculated using the following items: 6, 9, 12, 15, 18, 21, 24, and 27.

According to Martens et al (1990) any inventories that are missing no more than one response per subscale can still be included in the research project. However, if they are missing more than two per subscale they have to be discarded.

Normative information for elite male athletes is provided by Martens et al. (1990) which can be seen in

Appendix __ (page 184).

This information was used as a comparative when analysing the data for this research project.

3.6 - Quality Criteria

"Reliability is the extent to which a test or procedure produces similar results under constant conditions on all occasions" (Bell 2005). According to Gratton and Jones (2010), there are a number of forms of reliability when carrying out research:

  • Inter-observer reliability -This is concerned with how two different observers would measure the same phenomenon as people do see and react to events differently.
  • Test-retest reliability - This is the extent to which the research would provide the same measurements if repeated on a different occasion.
  • Internal consistency reliability - This refers to the extent to which each question in the measure is actually measuring the same phenomenon.

All of these forms were controlled in this research piece as there was no actual observation of the phenomenon. All of the results were written down by the participants and were not influenced by anyone else. The test-retest form of reliability does not apply for this work as what is being measured changed from week to week depending on the opposition, location and individual. There is internal consistency with the CSAI-2 as all of the questions have been made to measure self-confidence, and somatic and cognitive A-state anxiety.

Steinmetz (1991), states that a trustworthy study is one that is carried out fairly and ethically and whose findings represent as closely as possible the experiences of the respondents. Within this research, all of the interviews and questionnaires took place in locations where the interviewees felt comfortable. This prevented any of them feeling like they could not fully open up to the researcher and therefore withhold any information that may be important.

3.7 - Ethics

During the different stages of the research project, a number of ethical issues were considered. According to Saunders et al (2007), ethics refers to the suitability of one's behaviour in relation to the rights of those who become the subject of one's work, or are affected by it.

When carrying out primary data collection, questionnaires and interviews have to potential to be intrusive to a respondent and it is ethical to receive consent beforehand. When using a questionnaire, consent can usually be granted by the participant returning the completed form. However, if an interview is going to be carried out, consent should be given by a detailed written agreement (Veal, 2006). In the case of this study, both questionnaires and interviews were carried out; therefore a consent form had to be filled in before the interviews went ahead.

5. Analysis & Discussion

The Competitive Sport Anxiety Inverntory-2 provided me with relevant numerical data for this study into the pattern of pre-match competitive anxiety in elite male rugby union players. The data was put into tables (

Figure 4.10


and graphs to show the extent to which each of the CSAI-2 measures affects the sporting performance.

Figures 4.1



show the average scores for firstly experienced players and secondly inexperienced players over a period of 14 matches. With knowledge of the results taken from

Figure 4.10

and the graphs we can see a pattern in the results which will be explained in more detail in the remainder of this chapter.

The interviews were conducted to back up the results collected from the CSAI-2. The interviews were coded using the three stages of thematic analysis (Lichtman, 2006) and the main themes and concepts were extracted and used to in conjunction with the numerical data to increase the validity of this research study.

This section will look at both of the data sources that I have collected and compare them to research and literature from the Literature Review section under the following headings.

4.1 - Cognitive State-Anxiety

As explained in the Literature Review, cognitive state-anxiety is the mental factor of state anxiety. It is caused by fear of failure, fear of being scrutinised by others, and loss of self-esteem (Cox, 1998).

From the data collected from the CSAI-2, it can be concluded that high levels of cognitive state-anxiety do in fact have a negative effect on sporting performance.  This can be supported by the Multidimensional Anxiety Theory that predicts that cognitive state anxiety is negatively related to performance. Looking at two examples from

Figure 4.3

this negative relationship between cognitive anxiety and performance is shown.

4.1.1 - Example One

Looking at the first game in

Figure 4.10

against Maidenhead the levels of cognitive anxiety are low; experienced players had an average score of 18.1 and inexperienced players had an average of 18.5. From

Figure 4.6

it is clear that the inexperienced players experienced a higher level of cognitive state-anxiety.

The game was at home and Reading Rugby Football Club's 1st team won 36-5 which was the best result from the whole season. Having the home advantage and the knowledge of Maidenhead's position in the league table (

Appendix 9

) may have been the reason for reduced levels of cognitive anxiety as thoughts of self-doubt and visions of losing were absent or minimal. During an interview with an inexperienced player after the match, he said;

"I didn't feel so anxious or nervous before the game today. We had won the last two games at home so I was a bit more relaxed and confident before stepping out onto the field."

This finding supports the research in Chapter 2 carried out by Martens and Gill (1976) and Spielberger (1971) suggests that individuals respond to events differently. Those who maintained a low level of anxiety throughout the competition were more successful than those who did not.

Another area that this finding supports is how the importance of the event affects anxiety levels. As Reading 1st team did not find this match a challenge or view it as hugely important the players experienced lower levels of cognitive anxiety which backs up the literature by Davies (1989) and Jarvis (1990). The absence of anxious thoughts such as self-doubts and images of humiliation will have enabled the players to prepare mentally for the game (Jarvis, 1990). This is backed up by an interview that was conducted with an experienced player, who said;

"I didn't have any overwhelming feelings of self-doubt during this game. Maidenhead are below us in the league table and have been since the beginning of the season. I was confident during the match that the whole team could play well and come out with a good result at this home match."

4.1.2 - Example Two

The second example to look at is the away game against Redingensians which Reading lost 14-32. From

Figure 4.3

there is a dramatic increase in cognitive anxiety.

Redingensians is the big rival club from Reading, and Reading Rugby Football Club had not lost to them in six seasons. The game that is listed in the results is actually the second meeting of the two teams in this particular season and Reading only just come away with the win with a score of 14-13. This close encounter may have been one of the key contributors to the increase in cognitive anxiety.

The average CSAI-2 score for experienced players was 21.1 and for inexperienced players it was 23.4; this data is displayed in

Figure 4.7

. These CSAI-2 scores are considerably higher than the ones from the match against Maidenhead. For the experienced players there was a 16.6% increase from the Maidenhead match to the Redingensians match in CSAI-2, and for the inexperienced players there was a 26.5% increase.

The findings from this match are a great example of how the fear of failure can have a huge impact on the performance of even the most experienced players. During the match there were a lot of unforced errors which can be backed up with literature by Jarvis (1990; p115) who states that "...errors during performance are due to cognitive anxiety, and not somatic anxiety."

The fear of being scrutinized and evaluated by other people on one's own ability, motivation and personality in turn increases cognitive anxiety (Davies, 1989; Leary & Kowalski, 1995). This research can be backed up by a quote taken from an interview with an inexperienced player of the Reading 1st team;

"As a new member of this team I am feeling the pressure to perform well. This game was one of the biggest of the season and I did feel that being the 'new guy' put me first in line for criticism by spectators and coaches. And yes during the game there were moments where I did doubt my ability, for example when I missed two penalty kicks in a row."

This can also be related to literature by Jarvis (1990) and Davies (1989) who both explain how some people suffer from anxiety more than others. If some members of the team crumble under pressure then the team will not be as cohesive and complete, and the gaps result in underperformance from the team.

4.2 - Somatic State-Anxiety

Somatic state-anxiety is explained by Martens et al. (1990) as the physiological and affective elements of anxiety. Somatic anxiety is shown in responses such as an increased heart rate, muscular tension and sweaty palms.

From the CSAI-2 data collection method in this research project, it can be concluded that certain levels of somatic state-anxiety can have positive effects on performance. However, the Multidimensional Anxiety Theory suggests predicts that somatic state-anxiety is related to performance in an inverted U have a negative effect on sporting performance. This means that once the level of anxiety reaches a certain level, it starts to hinder the performance.

Two examples from

Figure 4.4


this negative relationship between somatic state-anxiety and performance.

4.2.1 - Example One

The first example is the match against Redingensians where Reading lost. The levels of somatic state-anxiety were very high for both experienced and inexperienced players. The average CSAI-2 somatic state-anxiety score for inexperienced players was 22.1, and for experienced players it was 20.5. This data is presented in

Figure 4.7

where the level of the inexperienced player's somatic state-anxiety is visually higher.

High levels of somatic state-anxiety are sometimes advantageous to performance as the increase in adrenaline and heart rate can make the individual perform to a higher standard; as confirmed from research carried out by Parfitt and Hardy (1987). However, if the level of anxiety reaches the optimum level then the performance starts to deteriorate as explained in the Multidimensional Anxiety Theory. When interviewed an inexperienced player said;

"I usually have a certain level of anxiety and nerves, but today I was incredibly nervous during the match. This definitely affected my performance today; I missed so many tackles and messed up even more passes."

One area that the results particularly highlight is how parents, peers and coaches place pressure on individuals or teams to perform well. Jarvis (1990) recognises that both high and low expectations from the performer and others can be linked to anxiety.

During one of the interviews the researcher was told that having the coaches, family, friends and committee members on the side line does in fact make certain players "increasingly nervous" and does affect the performance levels. As this match against Redingensians was possibly the biggest match for both teams each season, there was an increased amount of pressure on Reading to play well and maintain their winning streak. The fact that the pressure raised the levels of anxiety to a point that resulted in a loss supports the findings by Burton (1988) and Gould et al. (1987), that somatic anxiety is related to performance in an inverted U shape.

Another area that arises from this result is the fear of failure, the increase in somatic state-anxiety affects the performance levels. The increase in muscle tension as a result of high somatic state-anxiety can hinder coordination resulting in the decrease in performance levels (Burton, 1988; Smith et al., 2006; Weinberg & Gould, 2007). For example in a competitive rugby match a player who suffers a high level of anxiety may lack confidence when going in for a tackle.

One of the inexperienced players that were interviewed stated that;

"We all knew that this would be a hard match as some of our h3er players were missing, but we were still up for the game. Earlier I did feel extremely nervous compared to usual. I think it was because I knew lots of people were coming to watch. I know I didn't perform to my best today. I kept fumbling around when I had the ball; I made a few bad passes, and missed lots of critical tackles."

This statement backs up the inverted U hypothesis within the Multidimensional Anxiety Theory as the somatic state-anxiety levels were above the optimum level resulting in a poor performance. It also backs up research carried out by

4.2.2 - Example Two

The second example is a combination of the first game against Maidenhead, Coney Hill, and the second encounter with Maidenhead; all of these games are ones in which Reading won. The level of somatic state-anxiety was very low in these games compared to the results for the other games. From these three examples we can calculate that the optimum score from the CSAI-2 for somatic state-anxiety is for the experienced players 17.3, and for the inexperienced players 18.3, this data is shown in

Figure 4.6.

When interviewed, one of the inexperienced players commented on how playing the Maidenhead match on home ground did in fact make him quite anxious. The player stated;

"Even though it was a home game, I felt the pressure to perform to my best ability as there was a big crowd of Reading supporters expecting us to win."

The player was comfortable with playing at home but had the added pressure from the supporters who expected a win. This backs up the literature behind the influences of peers, parents and coaches (Smith et al., 2006; Smith et al., 1995; Jarvis, 1990). This also backs up research carried out by Haas and Roberts (1975), Martens and Landers (1972) and Green (1983) who suggest that the role of the observer is an important factor for a sports performer.

When the player was asked how the effects of somatic anxiety affected his game, he responded;

"The increase in heart rate, tension in my neck, and clammy hands that I experienced before the game did not really affect me greatly during the game. If anything I did perform better today than I have done when these feelings are absent."

During another interview with an inexperienced player, he was asked about how the somatic anxiety affected his performance and he replied;

"I think it is good to have a certain level of anxiety before the match, get the heart pumping and the adrenaline going. I think it makes you perform better. If you weren't anxious before a game you wouldn't be raring to go and you probably wouldn't play very well."

These statements back up the Multidimensional Anxiety Theory in that the level of anxiety experienced by the player did not hinder his performance; however, if these levels had risen to higher levels they may have had an adverse affect on his performance.

4.3 - Self-Confidence

Self confidence has been defined as the level of certainty an athlete possess about their ability to be successful in their sport by Martens et al. (1990). Weinberg and Gould (2007) explain how expecting a certain result would actually help in it becoming reality.

The data collected from the CSAI-2 and interviews conclude that having a good level of self confidence is beneficial to first-class sporting performance. The results from this research project are in line with predictions made by Vealey (1986). Vealey (1986) predicted that self confidence in sport would be negatively related to cognitive and somatic state-anxiety. That is if self confidence is high then cognitive and somatic state-anxiety is low; this is established in

Figure 4.1




From looking at

Figure 4.5, the data for self confidence CSAI-2 scores is presented for both experienced and inexperienced rugby players.

4.3.1 - Winning Matches

During the matches that Reading won the levels of self confidence were higher than the levels of cognitive and somatic state-anxiety.

Figure 4.6

shows that

the inexperienced players experienced lower levels of self confidence. During two of the interviews this pattern of results was explained:

"As an inexperienced member of this team, I want to prove myself worthy of my position. Playing in front of a home crowd or against a team who are high in the league table makes me nervous and I start doubting my ability and I begin to compare myself to other people in the team who are 'better' than me."

"I have been in this team for four seasons now and feel at home on the pitch, especially when we play on home ground. I always feel less nervous when we play at home. Particularly when we play against teams who are lower than us in the league who we expect and are expected to win against."

These quotes support the theory that Weinberg and Gould (2007) and Horn (2008) came up with where they suggest that expecting a result can help you achieve it. They also support the idea that fear of failure affects sporting performance (Passer, 1983; Leary & Kowalski, 1995; Jarvis, 2006).

The average CSAI-2 score for self-confidence in experienced players is 26.2 and for inexperienced players it is 24.4. These figures taken from

Figure 4.10

show that experienced players experience a higher level of self-confidence as they feel more "at home".

"Being an inexperienced player it is obviously good for my confidence to win a few matches. After winning a match I feel a lot more confident coming back for the next one as I know I'm not holding the team back and that I am in fact good enough to be in the 1st team."

"Winning a match is always nice; it's why we play - to win. Winning always increases the team's spirit and team cohesion."

4.3.2 - Losing Matches

When interviewing an inexperienced member of the team an interesting point was made about self confidence. The player said that his confidence has been boosted by being promoted into the 1st team from the 2nd team. The interviewee stated that;

"Being promoted into the 1st team is amazing. It has boosted my confidence about my own ability on the rugby pitch. So when we come up against tougher teams my confidence in my own ability wavers a little, but not enough that it affects me on the pitch."

This supports Vealey (2001) who suggested that confidence can be more traitlike or statelike depending on the time that it is measured. So this inexperienced player may feel confident before the match but during the match he may take a big hit or miss an important tackle and as a result his self confidence may decrease.

"Being part of a team that constantly loses does have adverse effects on self-confidence. Personally I was questioning my promotion into the 1st team during this period as I was becoming much more nervous before matches. This affected the level that I was playing."

This finding supports research carried out by Passer (1983) and Hall et al. (1998) who concluded that performers who expect bad results due to self-doubt have a lack of self-confidence, which results in a decrease in performance levels.

5. Conclusion

5.1 - Overview

In relation to my research into the "Pattern of Pre-Match Competitive Anxiety in Elite Male rugby Union Players" I have attempted to answer this with the aid of research.

The CSAI-2 and interviews were useful in confirming and validating factors arose within Chapter 2; for example how the importance of the event can affect the anxiety and performance levels of an athlete.

Cognitive State-Anxiety

This research has concluded that cognitive state-anxiety is negativ