The purpose of this study was to investigate appraisals and coping of elite athletes when facing expected versus unexpected stressors. Questionnaires were sent to all New Zealand athletes competing at the 1998 Commonwealth Games, and 91 athletes provided responses inside three weeks of the closing ceremony. A stressful experience that had occurred prior to or during their most important performance was identified by 71 althletes. Analysis revealed significant differences in the way athletes cognitively appraised expected and unexpected stressors. Unexpected stressors were perceived as more threatening than expected stressors. Athletes also indicated a significantly greater tendency to hold back or hesitate from responding or acting in the face of unexpected stressors in comparison to expected stressors. Athletes employed a variety of strategies to help them cope with their most stressful experience. Stressor expectedness, however, was not related to coping use or performance and coping evaluations. Finally, a modest but significant relationship was observed between coping strategy effectiveness and coping automaticity. These findings suggest that competitively functional primary and secondary cognitive appraisals of stressors may result from the preparation of athletes for potentially distressing events and circumstances associated with major international competitions.
The authors are with the Department of Human Movement and Exercise Science at the University of Western Australia, Crawley, Perth, Western Australia, 6009 Australia. Email: <firstname.lastname@example.org>.
This research was supported by a grant from Sport Science New Zealand and the New Zealand Sports Foundation. The authors thank the coaches, section managers, and support staff who assisted in the administration of the questionnaires. Special thanks are also extended to the athletes who participated in this project. Without their cooperation and willingness to share their experiences, this project would not have been possible.