Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy


Department of Psychology


The purposes of this thesis, consisting of three studies, were threefold: (1) to examine sources of acute stress in sport, (2) to investigate the effects of personal dispositions and situational appraisals on the coping responses of basketball players, (3) to study the effects of a stress management training program on the affect, situational appraisals, and perceived coping efficacy of competitive basketball players. In the first study, inductive content analysis procedures from a structured interview with 20 male basketball players identified 25 sources of acute stress. These stressors were placed five categories: interpersonal conflicts, refereeing decisions, personal performance problems, opposition influences, and team behaviours. A second group of athletes (N = 69) then rated the perceived intensity of each of the 25 acute stressors. Among the most highly rated stressful incidents by the players were "I Miss an Easy Basket," "The Referee Reverses a Decision After Prompting by an Opposing Player," "An Opponent Physically Abuses Me," "I Lose Possession of the Ball to an Opponent," and "I am Responsible for a Turnover." The second part of Study 1 examined the approach and avoidance coping strategies of 360 male basketball players in response to four highly intense stressors commonly experienced during competition. This led to the development of the situation-specific Coping Strategies in Basketball Inventory (CSBI). Post hoc analyses revealed that players employed avoidance coping as often as approach coping when experiencing the stressors, "An Opponent Physically Abuses Me," and "The Referee Makes What I Thought Was a Bad Call on Me." However, when confronted with the stressors, "I Miss an Easy Basket," or "I Lose Possession of the Ball to an Opponents" players used significantly more approach coping than avoidance coping techniques.

In the second study, basketball players' coping responses to four acute stress situations, identified earlier, were examined as a function of situational appraisals perceived stress intensity, primary appraisals of threat and challenge, perceived controllability) and selected personal dispositions (i.e., self-esteem, generalised beliefs of control, monitoring-blunting coping style, approach-avoidance coping style). The consistency of the players' coping responses across the four stressful situations was also examined. The situational appraisal measures were administered to 147 players immediately after they participated in games. Of these players, 86 completed the personal disposition inventories. Findings indicated that players exhibited consistent approach coping responses across certain situations. No evidence was found for cross-situational stability of avoidance coping. Logistic regression models were computed to examine the contribution of personal, as compared to situational, factors in predicting players' situational coping responses. Personal dispositions made a significant contribution in predicting situational coping responses for all of the four situations, whereas situational appraisals accounted for significant amounts of deviance only for the situations, "Missing an Easy Basket," and "Losing the Ball to an Opponent." Both the personal dispositions and the situational appraisals contributed similar proportions of deviance in the prediction of coping for these two situations. Perceptions of stress significantly predicted approach coping responses, while perceptions of control significantly predicted avoidance coping responses. Finally, players' approach and avoidance coping styles emerged as significant predictors of coping responses for all of the situations, thus confirming the utility of assessing an athlete's coping style in acute stress situations. These findings suggest that both personal and situational characteristics should be considered when examining an individual's coping activities in particular stressful encounters.

The third study was designed to investigate the effects of a stress management training program on affect, situational appraisals, and perceived coping efficacy in response to two specific acute stress episodes. After responding to the CSBI, a measure of an individual's coping tendencies, male basketball players (N = 31) were assigned to one of three groups: an approach coping group, an avoidance coping group, and a placebo-control group. Over a five-week period, the first two groups received a stress management program, based upon Smith's (1980) Cognitive-Affective Stress Management Training. Experimental subjects were taught to use coping strategies that were consistent with their coping style. Measures of affect, situational appraisals (i.e., primary appraisals of threat and challenge, perceived controllability), and perceived coping efficacy were collected following each of three games before and after the fiveweek intervention. Subjects in both experimental groups received handouts and training diary sheets to assist them in using the coping strategies correctly. Results of the study indicated that the avoidance coping group experienced significantly greater improvements for challenge appraisals, perceived controllability, and coping efficacy compared with control group for the stressor, "Losing the Ball to an Opponent." The approach coping group also recorded greater improvements than the control group for coping efficacy. In response to the stressor, "Missing an Easy Basket," the avoidance coping group demonstrated a significantly greater improvement than the control group for perceived controllability. These findings provide partial support for the presentation of stress management strategies that are compatible with an athlete's coping style, and emphasise the importance of utilising systematic coping routines, manipulation checks, and motivational-control groups in intervention studies. The theoretical and practical implications of the three studies for future research are discussed.



Unless otherwise indicated, the views expressed in this thesis are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of the University of Wollongong.