Coping Strategies Used by Elite Athletes

Posted on June 26th, 2012

Athletes who possess well-developed and practiced coping skills are often more effective in managing the stress and demands of training and competition. Studies from sport psychology have revealed the following coping strategies that are used by elite athletes 1.

Olympic wrestlers and National Champion figure skaters

  • Thought control strategies (self-talk, positive thinking, thought control)
  • Attentional focus strategies (concentration control, tunnel vision)
  • Emotional control strategies (arousal control, relaxation, visualization)
  • Behavioral strategies (set routines, rest, control of the environment)

The seven coping dimensions and percentages of usage

  • Psychological training (49.7%),
  • Physical training and strategizing (15.6%),
  • Somatic relaxation (14.4%),
  • Hobby activities (7.8%),
  • Social support (6.1%),
  • Prayer (5.2%),
  • Substance use (1.2%).

As you can see, the most used coping strategy is the application of some form of psychological training (imagery, meditation, self-talk, positive thinking, attention, self-confidence, repression, goal setting, and willpower). Physical training and strategizing follow psychological training in importance (practicing hard, preparing for the next contest, watching films of opponents).

Next in importance to training/strategies is somatic relaxation (progressive relaxation, massage, sleeping). These three categories of coping strategies accounted for 79.9 percent of all coping strategies cited.

Coping practices of elite decathlon athletes

  • Visualization
  • Focus on relevant cues
  • Competing against self
  • Confidence in training
  • Consistency of effort
  • Camaraderie

Coping strategies used by soccer and golf players

  • Application of learned mental skills
  • Social support resources
  • Practice and performance preparation
  • Blocking out relevant and irrelevant stimuli

Coping strategies used by both skilled and moderately skilled golfers

  • Cognitive adjustment techniques (problem focused)
  • Relaxation techniques (emotion focused)
  • Off-course efforts to improve golf ability (problem focused)
  • Situation golf course strategies (problem focused)
  • General emotion-focused strategies

  1. Cox, R. H. (2007). Sport psychology: concepts and applications (6th ed.). Boston: McGraw-Hill. 

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