Stress in Elite Sport: A Motivational Perspective - Implications for the design and evaluation of professional practice interventions




The purpose of the thesis was to investigate the relationship between motivational cues in the team environment and performance anxiety. Specifically, we examined whether the perception of the motivational climate would affect performance anxiety, and whether elite sportsmen and women were differentially affected. Participants included 350 athletes from individual sports and 10 elite handball teams. In the development of a Norwegian Trait anxiety inventory (SAS-N), students from NIH also participated


Previous studies recommend that coaches emphasize an environment that focus on the athletes’ own mastery and improvement (mastery climate), more than a milieu that endorses normative evaluation between athletes (performance climate). Previous research has seldom focused on elite sport however. The present results reveal similar conclusions and the same recommendations for elite athletes and their coaches. 

The present study also shows that athletes who perceive an environment that emphasizes normative evaluation are more predisposed to experience performance anxiety and concentration disruption. A mastery environment reveals a positive association with two important stress buffers; perceived ability and social support as a coping strategy. One study was longitudinal, and investigated changes during the handball season in 10 elite teams (five female / five male).

From season start to season end, the players reported a decline in mastery climate perceptions and an increase in performance climate perceptions. For the female players this change followed a reduction in perceived ability, which again was associated with an increase in performance anxiety levels. The gender differences are small however, and should be interpreted with caution. Still, the present results indicate that climate perceptions might have a differential affect for female and male athletes.

In light of the challenges in elite sport, the recommendation is the same for female and male athletes alike: In order to avoid stress and anxiety, the coach and the athletes should endorse a mastery environment, where they focus on personal mastery and improvement.