Associations Between Emotions and Performance in Cross-Country Skiing Competitions

Authors: F. Moen, K. Myhre and Ø. Sandbakk

Corresponding Author:
Frode Moen
E-mail address: frmoe@online.no, Tel. : +47 932 487 50
Postal address: Department of Education, Norwegian University of Science and Technology, N-7491 Trondheim, Norway

Frode Moen is currently the head manager of the Olympic Athlete program in central Norway, where he also has a position as a coach / mental trainer for elite athletes and coaches. He also is an associate professor at the Department of Education at the Norwegian University of Science and Technology. He previously has worked as a teacher in high school where sport was his major subject, and he has been a coach for the national team in Nordic combined in Norway for several years. Frode received his Ph. D. in coaching and performance psychology from the Norwegian University of Science and Technology. His research focuses mainly on coaching in business, coaching in sport, communication, performance psychology and relationship issues.

Associations Between Emotions and Performance in Cross-Country Skiing Competitions

ABSTRACT
This article looks at how emotions are associated with performance during cross-country skiing competitions among 10 senior Norwegian national level athletes. The results in this study show that there is a relatively similar emotional distribution pattern found among the athletes who are most satisfied with their performance compared to the less satisfied ones. However, the intensity in their emotions is different. The most satisfied athletes have higher intensity in their eudaimonic and hedonic emotions, while the negative emotions “sad” and “scared” are higher among the less satisfied athletes. The emotion “angry” is not significantly different between the two groups of athletes, and significantly higher in intensity compared to “sad” and “scared”. The emotions in this study explain 53 % of the variance in subjective performance. The results are discussed in regard of applied implications and possible future research.

Keywords: performance, emotions, cross-country skiing

INTRODUCTION
Cross-country skiing is a typical endurance sport where aerobic capacity, exercise efficiency, as well as strength and power characteristics are regarded the most important determinants of performance (31). However, adequate emotions are also required to optimize the development process and performance (13). The biochemical reactions following emotions acutely influences the biochemical processes of the body (25) and thereby positively or negatively influence performance in sport (2, 14, 15, 23, 24, 40).

The terms affect, feeling and emotion are often interchangeably employed in the literature (11). However, this study differentiates between these expressions and affect is defined as a “neurophysiological state consciously accessible as a simple primitive non-reflective feeling most evident in mood and emotion but always available to consciousness” (29). Thus, affect is a generic term for an affective phenomenon whereas emotions are defined as complex electrochemical reactions to a specific event that occur inside an athlete’s body (13). It is the event and the athlete’s perception and interpretation of this event that stimulates the type and the strength of the emotional reaction (5, 6, 29). Thus, emotions involve a cognitive appraisal by an athlete in which the subjective experience is defined as a feeling (36).

Both biologically oriented psychology, social psychology, and personality psychology propose three types of emotional categories that play different roles in the regulation of sport behavior (3, 19, 32, 34, 37, 38). 1) Hedonic emotions such as pleasure, happiness, and contentment are prominent when the given task is easy or when an athlete has successfully completed a difficult task (26). 2) Negative emotions such as sadness, sorrow and depression are dominant when athletes experience performance impairments and setbacks (13). 3) Eudaimonic emotions such as engagement, interest, and inspiration are dominant in complex and demanding activities that an athlete is striving to understand or overcome (12, 18, 39).

Elite athletes in sports naturally seek growth and development and at least two types of approaches are used to explain how emotions may enhance their performances. The first approach is defined as hedonic emotion regulation (22), with presence of pleasant emotions such as joy, pleasure, and happiness, and absence of fear, sadness, and nervousness (17, 22, 23). Thus, athletes who use this approach strive to reduce the intensity of unpleasant emotions and to increase the intensity of pleasant emotions. The second approach is defined as instrumental (22), in which athletes seek for emotions that they believe will help them to perform optimally and reduce emotions that they believe will hamper their performances. Some athletes believe that emotions such as anxiety, fear, and angriness will enhance their performance, while other athletes believe that the same emotions might reduce their performance (13, 15).

According to positive psychology and the Functional Well-Being Approach (FWBA), intense sport training is commonly dominated by eudaimonic emotions such as interest and immerse (26). This approach contrasts the hedonic emotion regulation approach that, according to the FWBA, is mainly present during easier training sessions that require less focus and following moments of success or experiencing mastery (26). The distinction between hedonia and eudaimonia following intense training or competitions is likely an up-regulation of eudaimonic emotions such as inspiration, rather than happiness, that positively influence the training process, whereas hedonic emotions such as happiness will be dominant when the athletes look back on a well done task or a competition (13, 26). Negative emotions are expected to dominate situations where athletes evaluate the situation to be beyond their control and that they have inadequate coping skills, or when they experience failure to reach their goals during training or competition (13, 35).

Previous research does not give a unison answer on how emotions enhance or hamper performances in sports (21, 33), and studies investigating the spectrum of emotions playing a positive role for performance are highly warranted. A cross-country skiing race lasts for about 3 minutes in the sprint event to almost 2 hours in the 50km event. Thus, emotions can fluctuate continually over a period of time in cross-country skiing and thereby influence performance in different ways. Therefore, the purpose of the present study is to examine associations between emotions and performance during cross-country skiing competitions among Norwegian senior athletes at national level. Following the FWBA this study hypothesize that eudaimonic emotions will be positively associated with performance during cross-country competitions and that hedonic emotions will be negatively associated with performance. Following the hedonic emotion regulation strategy in sport psychology this study further expect that negative emotions will be negatively associated with performance.

METHOD
For this study, twelve national level senior athletes from Norway were invited to voluntarily participate in this project, where they were asked to document their experienced emotions during national and continental cross-country skiing races during the 2015/2016-winter season. A diary was developed based on the theoretical arguments presented in this study and was given in paper format to the athletes, so that they could retrospectively document their emotional states during different parts of each completed competition, their perceived performance (how fast they believed they skied) during these different parts, as well as their results and their subjective interpretation of satisfaction. From the 12 athletes invited, 10 contributed to the data collection (6 males and 4 females). The sample had a mean age of 22 years, ranging from 20 to 25 years.

DRM (Day Reconstruction Method)
The day reconstruction method (DRM) was developed as a research strategy to capture individual’s feelings within everyday life (16). In this study, an adjusted and compressed version of the DRM was used. This was done to decrease the time required for the athletes to complete the registration, and thereby increase the chance that the athletes would contribute to the study in an adequate way. The athletes were asked to reflect upon their recent competition, and write reports based on specific events experienced during the competition. They could document up to four different parts of the race that they felt were critical for the overall result and these different parts are defined as episodes. Each episode required three types of repeated information from the athletes.

Repeated measures
According to the principles of DRM (see below), the variables examined here include items and inventories that the athletes were asked to document up to four times, depending on how many parts of the race they chose to document (episodes). First, the athletes were asked to describe exactly what they were doing in the specific episodes through open-ended questions. Second, the athletes reported the degree of experienced feelings while completing the specific episode (emotions). Third, the athletes reported their subjective performance in that episode (performance).

Emotions. In conjunction with each episode, the athletes were asked to report the degree to which they experienced each of seven different feeling states; four positive and three negative. The set of emotion items were introduced with the phrase: “During [name of the episode] I felt”: followed by the following seven items 1) satisfied/happy, 2) pleased, 3) angry, 4) sad, 5) scared, 6) interested/curious, and 7) engaged/immersed. The response options ran from 0 (no, not at all) to 6 (yes, extremely much). The seven items were also categorized into three composite scales based on earlier research (38): hedonic emotions (items 1 and 2), negative emotions (items 3, 4 and 5), and eudaimonic emotions (items 6 to 7).

Performance. For each race the athletes were asked to document their result from the race, defined as “competition result (CR)”. Thus, for those athletes documenting several episodes for a completed competition, each of the episodes can be associated with the final competition result. Since emotions can fluctuate over time, and the aim in this study is to investigate how emotions affect performance, a variable for each episode where the athletes were asked to consider how well they raced in this specific part of the race was also entered. This variable is defined as “subjective performance (SP)”. To measure subjective performance the athletes were asked to consider how fast they raced in this specific part of the race on a scale ranging from 1 (“Very slow”) to 7 (“Very fast”). Since the athletes in this study differed in athletic level a variable that documented how satisfied they were with today’s competition was also entered, this variable was defined as “satisfaction competition (SC)”. Satisfaction competition was measured on a scale ranging from 1 (“Very dissatisfied”) to 7 (“Very satisfied”).

Data analysis procedures
All data were tested for a normal distribution using a Shapiro-Wilk test and are presented as mean and standard deviation. Accordingly, a correlation analysis between variables was conducted using the parametric Person´s correlation coefficient. Then an independent samples t-test was conducted to investigate possible differences in strengths of emotions between athletes who were satisfied with their performance compared with the athletes who were unsatisfied. Thereafter, the data were analyzed by logistic hierarchical multiple regression analysis to investigate how the different emotions were associated with the three different performance variables. All statistical analyses were performed using SPSS 23.0 software for Windows (SPSS Inc, Chicago, IL).

RESULTS
Descriptive statistics and bivariate correlations
Correlations between the different emotions measured in the study, competition result, subjective experienced performances and satisfactions competition as well as the possible maximum scores, statistical means and standard deviations are presented in Table 1. The zero order correlations between the study variables vary from zero (+/-.01 to.09) to large (+/-.51 to.86) positive and negative relationships (10).

Table 1

This study found large correlations between the performance variables (CR, SP and SC), the hedonic variables (Satisfied/happy and Pleased), the negative emotions except for scared (Angry and Sad), and the eudaimonic variables (Interested/curious and Engaged/immersed). The descriptive statistics also show that there are large correlations between SP episode and SC, and the emotion happy, sad (negative), interested/curious and engaged/immersed.
The correlations between the CR and SP, and the categorized emotions (hedonic-, negative-, and eudaimonic emotions) as well as the possible maximum scores, statistical means and standard deviations are presented in Table 2.

Table 2

This study found large correlations between eudaimonic emotions and SP and SC (.70 and.56, respectively), and eudaimonic emotions and hedonic emotions (.63). The results further show that there are moderate correlations between hedonic emotions and SP and SC (.47 and .36 respectively), and negative emotions and SP and SC (-.36 and -.28 respectively).

By an independent samples t-test, this study investigated possible differences in strengths of emotions between athletes who were satisfied with their performance compared with the athletes who were unsatisfied. The SP variable was chosen as grouping variable, with the mean score used as a cut point (4.12). Thus, the group of athletes who were most satisfied with their performance had a SP mean score higher or equal to the mean (4.12), while the group of athletes who were unsatisfied with their performance had a mean score less than the mean (4.12). Figure 1 below shows group-comparisons of emotions during the documented episodes.

Figure 1

As shown in Figure 1 there are significant differences between the two groups on all observed emotions, except angry. The emotions interested/curious and engaged/immersed have the highest reported scores followed by satisfied/happy and pleased. To further investigate if some of these emotions are uniquely associated with performance a regression analysis was conducted on the observed data.

Regression analysis
Table 3 shows the regression statistics from the 3-step linear regression analysis separated in 3 different analyses. SP was entered as a depended variable in one analysis since we expected this variable to have more variation than the two other performance variables since this variable is present in each episode. Thereafter, we entered CR and SC as depended variables in the two other analyses. The different emotions measured in the study were entered as independent variables in all three analyses that followed three steps. The hedonic emotion variables were entered in Model 1, the negative emotions variables in Model 2, and finally the eudaimonic emotions variables in Model 3.

Table 3

Satisfied/happy contributed significantly to all three regression analysis in Model 1, with B being .61 (p <.01), -9.39 (p <.01), and .57 (p <.01) for SP, CR and SC respectively. Pleased contributed significantly to two of the analysis in Model 1, with B being 6.37 (p <.01) and -.20 (p <.05) for CR and SC respectively. Angry contributed significantly to two regression analysis when entered in Model 2, with B being .25 (p <.01) and .27 (p <.01) for SC and SC respectively. Sad contributed significantly to all three regression analysis in Model 2, with B being -.43 (p <.01), 6.63 (p <.01), and -.37 (p <.01) for SP, CR and SC respectively. Scared did not contribute significantly to any of the three analysis. Interested/curious contributed significantly to one of the analysis when entered in Model 3, with B being .19 (p <.05) for SP. Engaged/immersed contributed significantly to all three regression analysis in Model 3, with B being .34 (p <.01), -5.57 (p <.05), and.25 (p <.05) for SP, CR and SC respectively. The variables entered in Model 3 uniquely explained 53 % of the variance in SP, 14 % of the variance in CR and 36 % of the variance in SC.

DISCUSSION
The purpose of this study was to examine associations between emotions and performance during cross-country skiing competitions among senior Norwegian national level athletes. The first hypothesis, that eudaimonic and hedonic emotions would be positively and negatively associated with performance during cross-country races was only partly confirmed. Both “interested/curious” and “engaged/immersed” were significantly and uniquely associated with SP, while only “engaged/immersed” significantly and uniquely was associated with CR and SC (Table 3). In contrast to the hypothesis, the hedonic emotion “satisfied/happy” was significantly and uniquely positively associated with all performance variables (SP, CR and SC), while “pleased” showed a significant and unique negative association with CR and SC.

The FWBA in positive psychology argues that eudaimonic emotions are positively associated with performance, while hedonic emotions are not (26). This is only partly confirmed in this study. With regard to the eudaimonic emotions “interested/curious” and “engaged/immersed”, these show high correlations with the subjective performance variables (SP and CS). The eudaimonic emotions were further reported to be significantly more present during cross-country races, and also with significantly higher intensity, for the most satisfied athletes. In Model 3, the eudaimonic emotions uniquely explain 13 %, 3 % and 7 % of the variance in SP, CR and SC respectively. Thus, eudaimonic emotions seem to play an important role in association with performance.

A possible explanation to this can be found in Csikszentmihalyi’s (8) research on optimal experiences. Athletes and other high-level performers are found to act at their very best in the state termed “flow” (8). Flow is defined as a state of mind where athletes become one with what they are doing and where the attention is focused on a limited area of stimuli (7, 20). Thus, in this state there is a merging of the self and the action at hand, a state where eudaimonic emotions such as immerse and inspiration are found to be conspicuous (9). Results from affective neuroscience strengthen such an explanation (4). One distinct affect state in the brain that resembles the eudaimonic feeling state is called the “seeking system” (27). The seeking system generates an intense interest in exploring the current case or situation and stimulates excitement through the neurochemical ingredient dopamine. This system share important resemblance with eudaimonia and flow that is discussed above. Thus, it might be the eudaimonic emotions such as interested/curious and engaged/immersed that stimulate the neurochemical ingredient characterizing the “seeking system”, which makes athletes loose themselves in what they are doing and enter a state of flow.

With regard to the hedonic emotions, the results in this study contrast the hypotheses. In fact, hedonic emotions are found to be largely and moderately correlated with the performance variables SP and SC. These were reported to be moderately present during cross-country skiing races (Figure 1), and also with significantly higher intensity for the athletes who are most satisfied with their performances. More specifically, “satisfied/happy” is uniquely associated with all performance variables, and hedonic emotions uniquely explain 27 %, 7 % and 18 % of the variance in respectively SP, CR and SC in Model 3. In contrast, “pleased” is negatively associated with the performance variables in Model 3. Thus, being “satisfied/happy” seems to be positively associated with performance, while being “pleased” seems to be negatively associated with performance.

A possible explanation to this result might also be found in affective neuroscience (4). The “liking system” is in contrast with the “seeking system” dominated by the feeling state of experiencing pleasure and satisfaction, and is a typical state that occurs following moments of success and mastery (27). However, pleasure will not be experienced in the seeking system state, but might rather serve as an expectation that might be experienced as an outcome of achieving a given task. A cross-country race lasts from 3-4 minutes in the sprint events and up to 2 hours in the 50 km race performed in varying terrain with constantly changing workloads and technical tasks. Thus, an athlete’s emotional state will naturally fluctuate during a race, from being totally immersed and interested while focusing hard to achieve a specific task (the seeking system), and in the next moment the liking state might occur when an athlete receives internal or external feedback that the task is achieved. The short moment of savoring the moment of success is then followed by a new episode of intense focus to achieve the next task. This might be one possible explanation that both hedonic emotions and eudaimonic emotions are associated with performance.

The second main hypothesis in this study, that negative emotions would be negatively associated with performance was mainly confirmed; “Sad” correlates negatively with all performance variables, and “scared” correlates negatively with SP and SC. Furthermore, “sad” is uniquely negatively associated with all three performance variables, while “scared” is not significantly associated with either of them. “Angry” is, on the other hand, significant and uniquely positively associated with SP and SC. The latter finding is rather surprising and in contrast with the hedonic emotion regulation strategy in sport psychology (22). However, anger entails a powerful neurochemical impulse to counterattack that is involved in the fight-flight response (13, 24). This mobilized energy might result in better performances rather than worse in specific instances (24). Cross-country race athletes are in danger of wounding their self-esteem through performance impairments and loss against their competitors. Thus, “anger” might function as a counterattack in order to protect an athlete’s self-esteem and therefore be beneficial for faster skiing. Although “anger” is not the most significant emotion during cross-country races compared to eudaimonic and hedonic emotions.

A relatively similar emotional distribution pattern with regard to eudaimonic and hedonic emotions during cross-country skiing races are found among the most satisfied athletes as compared to the less satisfied ones (Figure 1). However, the intensity in their emotions is different. The most satisfied athletes have higher intensity in their eudaimonic and hedonic emotions, while the negative emotions “sad” and “scared” are higher in the less satisfied athletes. The emotion “angry” is not significantly different between the two groups of athletes, and significantly higher in intensity compared to “sad” and “scared”. Thus, both the specific emotion that is present during cross-country races seems to be important as well as the level of intensity in the emotion.

The present study has several limitations. In order to report a precise emotional state through a self-reporting system, athletes need to have developed their emotional awareness. There is no control if this was the case in this study. Furthermore, emotions are present in the moment, and should optimally be reported directly when they are accessible (28). In this study athletes reported their emotions in different sequences of the competition while looking back at the race they had just completed. Future studies should take these notes into consideration.

CONCLUSION
Previous research on emotions in sport has mainly paid attention to how anxiety is related to performance (40). The data in this study expand upon this by examining a more complex set of emotions and their relationship to different performance outcomes. The main conclusion in this study is that high levels of eudaimonic emotions, moderate levels of hedonic emotions and low levels of negative emotions are important to perform well in cross-country skiing. Amongst the three performance variables used in this study, the SP variable exhibited the strongest association with emotions. The seven different emotions included in this study uniquely explain 53 % of the variance in SP, while the corresponding numbers for CS and CR are 36 % and 14 %. The differences in explained variance between the three performance outcomes are possibly explained by the fact that objective results (compared to other athletes) do not fully reflect the individual athletes’ relative performance (compared to their previous results and their own capacity). This is related to differences in initial performance levels and that competition results also relies on external factors. In addition, an athlete’s emotional state will have natural fluctuation during a cross-country race, and athletes might experience interchangeably performance enhancements or impairments during different parts of the race.

APPLICATIONS IN SPORT
Emotions in sport have the potential to influence performance both positively and negatively. Athletes would be more competitive if they learned how their emotions affected their performance and how they can use emotions to enhance their performances. This study shows that eudaimonic emotions positively affect performance.

ACKNOWLEDGMENTS
This study was done in cooperation with The Olympic department in middle-Norway and the Center for Elite Sports Research, Norwegian University of Science and Technology.

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