Degree Name

Master of Arts (Hons.)


Department of Psychology


Two studies were conducted in this thesis (1) to examine how child athletes cognitively appraise and cope with acute game-related sources of stress in sport, and (2) examine the effectiveness of a stress management training program in reducing the deleterious effects of acute stress for child athletes. In study 1, structured interviews with 16 female and 36 male junior athletes identified their experience of 10 sources of acute-game related stress. The two most frequently reported sources of stress were missing an easy shot and receiving a bad call from the umpire. Gender differences were observed in the cognitive appraisals made following the stressors, with male participants reporting a greater percentage of negative appraisals than female participants. Gender differences were also observed in the type of coping strategies employed in response to the athlete's cognitive appraisals. Male participants reported a greater use of avoidance coping strategies in response to negative appraisal than females whereas, female participants reported a greater use of avoidance coping in response to positive appraisals than males.

In the second study, the effectiveness of a stress management program for child athletes in reducing the negative effects of two acute game-related stressors was examined. These acute game-related stressors were identified in study 1 (i.e., missing an easy shot, receiving a bad call from an umpire). Participants were matched on age, gender, and competitive experience and assigned to an experimental or motivational-control group. Over a seven-session period, the experimental group received a stress management program, based on Anshel's (1990) COPE model and DeWolfe and Saunders (1992) school based stress management program for children. The program also included aspects of Meichenbaum's (1985) Stress Inoculation Training and Smiths (1980) Cognitive Affective Stress-Management Training. Experimental participants were taught a specific integrated coping sequence allowing speed and parsimony in the execution of coping responses. The coping strategies taught to participants reflected the level of control available in response to the source of stress experienced. Thus, an approach oriented strategy was advocated with stressors amenable to control (e.g., missing an easy shot) and an avoidance oriented strategy was advocated for stressors appraised as uncontrollable (e.g., after receiving a bad call from the umpire). Participants in experimental group also received handouts and home-work sheets to assist them in using the coping strategies correctly. Measures assessed pre and post data collection included (1) global measurements of the competitive experience (e.g., fun, enjoyment, satisfaction, participation, pride in play, desire to continue playing, performance level and satisfaction), (2) assessments of how annoyed, guilty, embarrassed, angry and unhappy participants were following their experience of two selected stressors; and (3) measures of affect (using the stress arousal adjective checklist), appraisal, perceived controllability, and perceived coping efficacy.

The results of the study provide partial support for the effectiveness of the stress management program in reducing the negative effects of acute stress for child athletes. Results on the post intervention knowledge test demonstrated that experimental participants were able to learn the basic concepts and skills taught in the program: they demonstrated more knowledge than control participants in identifying signs of stress and knowledge of coping strategies and how to implement them. The experimental group also demonstrated significant increases on global measurements of the competitive experience including the level of fun experienced and the pride in the way they played and significantly reduced guilt after missing an easy shot compared to controls. Experimental participants enjoyed a more positive sport experience following participation in the program, compared to controls. However no significant improvements were observed in ratings of affect, appraisal, perceived coping and coping efficacy.

These findings lend support to the effectiveness of the stress management program and provided some evidence that young athletes could learn coping skills and strategies and apply them successfully in their sport experience. Further research is needed to replicate and extend these findings on the effectiveness of strategies to cope with the experience of acute stress for child athletes.