Perceptions of NCAA Division I Athletes on Strength Training

Authors: Joni M. Boyd, Ashley M. Andrews, Janet R. Wojcik, & Charles J. Bowers

Corresponding Author:
Joni M. Boyd, PhD
Winthrop University
216L West Center
Rock Hill, SC 29733
boydj@winthrop.edu
803-323-4936

Joni Boyd is an Assistant Professor of Exercise Science in the Department of Physical Education, Sport, and Human Performance at Winthrop University in Rock Hill, South Carolina.

ABSTRACT
Understanding the beliefs and attitudes of student athletes (at all levels) in regards to their perception of their strength and conditioning programs is pivotal to an effective program. Therefore, the purpose of this study was to determine the perceptions regarding the impact of strength training of student athletes at a mid-major Division I university. This study employed a cross-sectional descriptive design using a volunteer sample of 123 college student athletes from a Division I university. Surveys measured student athletes’ perceptions on the importance of strength training in relation to sport-specific training. Results showed no significant differences in perceptions of strength training between genders or class rank. Significant differences were evident between the sports surveyed, specifically noting that some sports (baseball, track and field) felt their strength training program was more beneficial to their performance than other sports (softball, men’s soccer). These results show the differences in some athletes’ beliefs and perceptions regarding their strength training program, which could ultimately hinder results. The strength and conditioning professional can use this information to educate and monitor certain athletes or sports that may not feel their strength program is effective to enhancing performance.

Keywords: athletes, perceptions, beliefs, strength training, conditioning, mental

INTRODUCTION
Effective strength and conditioning programs are mandatory for athletic success, especially at levels beyond middle and high school. Research clearly shows the benefits of effective strength and weight training programs as they relate to increases in strength, power, speed, endurance, and flexibility (1,7,8,12). The effect of strength and conditioning programs is not exclusive to physical gains. Strength training has both physiological and psychological benefits for student athletes (3), although mental benefits from strength and conditioning programs are rarely studied.

Every strength and conditioning coach understands the importance of a comprehensive training program through research, education, and certification. However, what about the athletes? Especially those that compete in high-school, National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) Division II or III, or even mid-major Division I programs? The concept of “buying in” should be a key point of concern for strength and conditioning coaches, just as it is for many head coaches and sport programs.

Poiss and collegues investigated the perceived importance of weight training of 105 NCAA Division III student athletes from 10 different sports (9). Surveys were used to gather demographic data, weight training data, and perception of sport conditions. The authors primarily focused on finding differences between males and females regarding their perceptions of the importance of competitiveness (the basic achievement orientation toward competitive sport), goal orientation (focus on personal standards), and win orientation (focus specifically on winning) as they relate to their strength training beliefs. Several significant differences were found in the perceptions of training in males and females. Male athletes were more likely to feel that weight training was beneficial to both male and female athletes. Males also felt that weight training was essential to overall development in their sports, and it should be a part of sport training regimens. Males were more likely to train more days per week and more minutes per session than females, and they were more confident in their weight training abilities. Females felt more strongly than males that females should weight train, and that training was beneficial to their sport. Additionally, strength training was found to be more frequently required by coaches of male sports teams than coaches of female sports teams (9). Clearly, from these results there seems to be a need to better understand female athletes’ perceptions and beliefs on the importance of an effective strength and conditioning program.

Many studies have shown the benefit of pre-tests on the physical abilities of the athletes in respect to designing and implementing a program to strengthen their physical weaknesses (4,8,12). In two studies that examined the roles and responsibilities of strength and conditioning coaches within the National Football League and National Basketball Association, researchers found that coaches consistently reported the need to conduct physical tests. Body composition, muscular strength, muscular power, cardiovascular endurance, muscular endurance, agility, speed, anaerobic capacity, and flexibility were all reported to be measured at least once a year for each athlete (2,10). While physical tests are the norm within the strength and conditioning profession, no studies have reported on examining pre-test psychometric variables to consider during program design. This could be a major limitation for the athlete as they relate to the confidence and security of their strength training program.

As strength and conditioning programs continue to develop and progress at the collegiate level, so do the roles and responsibilities of the strength and conditioning coach. Coaches, athletic trainers, and strength and conditioning specialists can have a direct influence on the athlete’s attitudes, beliefs, and choices related to training (9, 11). As an influential person in an athlete’s career, the strength and conditioning coach needs to educate the athletes on the importance of all aspects of training in order to strive towards improved performance. For the strength and conditioning professional, pre-assessment of the athlete is critical for effective programming. Understanding the beliefs and attitudes of student athletes (at all levels) in regards to their perception of their strength and conditioning programs is pivotal to an effective program. Utilizing a framework that includes self-efficacy and motivation of training could improve the athlete’s overall effort within the strength and conditioning program. Therefore, the purpose of this study was to determine the perceptions regarding the impact of strength training of student athletes at a mid-major NCAA Division I university.

METHODS
This study was a cross-sectional descriptive design using a volunteer sample of college student athletes. Surveys measured student athletes’ perceptions on the importance of strength training in relation to sport-specific training. Additionally, differences in perceptions were analyzed by gender, class year, and sport teams.

Subjects
A total of 123 Division I student athletes participated in this study, most of which were male (N = 76, 62%). All 3rd, 4th, and 5th year student athletes were classified as upperclassmen (N = 50, 41%) and 1st and 2nd year student athletes were classified as underclassmen (N = 73, 59%). Sports contacted were men’s and women’s soccer, men’s and women’s basketball, men’s and women’s track and field, men’s and women’s tennis, baseball and softball. Out of 10 teams contacted, seven coaches agreed to participate in the study. Five different sports were represented: baseball, softball, soccer (men’s), tennis (men’s and women’s), and track and field (men’s and women’s). Subjects age 18 years and older were asked to volunteer for the study. The Institutional Review Board (IRB) granted permission to conduct this study, and student athletes completed consent forms if they agreed to participate.

Instruments
Demographic information was assessed through three items on gender, class rank, and sport played. Additional training information was collected, including frequency of strength training per week and time of each training session.

Perceptions of weight training were assessed through the 32-item Training Information Survey (TIS) (9). The TIS measured student-athlete’s responses to basic weight training, sport specific training, and perceptions of the importance of weight training, both in and out of the competitive season. Examples of the basic information items included: “How long is a typical strength training session?” and “Who taught you strength training techniques?” Examples of the perception-based questions included: “Strength training is essential to my overall development as an athlete” and “Strength training is fun and enjoyable.” Responses for the perception questions were on a 5-point Likert scale, ranging from strongly agree (1) to strongly disagree (5). The TIS demonstrated both content- and criterion-related evidence which supported face validity, and an alpha correlation coefficient of 0.896.

Procedures
Once IRB, department, and coaches’ approvals were obtained, data collection began at the start of the fall 2013 semester. As coaches agreed, dates and times were arranged to privately meet with each team during a regularly scheduled team meeting or practice, where only the researcher and student athletes were present. Consent forms were completed if the student-athlete agreed to participate in the study. For those that agreed to participate, a script prepared by the researcher was read and the TIS administered. No subject declined participation, and surveys took about 10 minutes to complete.

Statistical Analysis
The perception on the importance of strength training was analyzed between male and female student athletes, between upperclassmen and underclassmen, and across the four different sports used in the study. The completed TIS was coded based on gender, class rank, and sport in order to analyze the data in relation to the objectives. Non-parametric tests of Mann – Whitney U and Kruskal Wallis were used to analyze differences between groups, and the level of significance was set at p < 0.05. All responses were entered into the SPSS program for analysis (5). RESULTS
The results of this study indicated female student athletes spent more time in the weight room during their strength training session than the male student athletes. Females (N = 47) spent an average of 65 minutes per strength training session while the males (N = 76) spent an average 59 minutes per strength training session. The female student athletes in this study reported that they felt educated about the importance of strength training in regards to sport performance. Of the 123 student athletes that completed the study, 101 listed the strength and conditioning coach as the person who taught them strength training techniques. Of all the sports offered at this mid-major Division I university, the only sport not required to strength train was cross-country.

Perceptions of the Impact of Strength Training between male and female student athletes.
A non-parametric Mann-Whitney U-test was conducted to compare the male (N = 76) and female student athletes (N = 47). There were no significant differences between genders in their responses to the statements that “women should participate in strength training,” “strength training should be a part of every sport,” and “strength training is only possible with the encouragement of others,” (p = .912, p = .859, and p = .834, respectively). Additionally, males and females felt similarly on their responses on whether men should strength train or women should strength train (p > .05; Table 1). Male student athletes were significantly more likely to feel that their “strength training techniques are adequate to avoid injury” (p = .030; Table 1) and that “strength training is masculine” (p = .030; Table 1).

Table 1

Perceptions of the Impact of Strength Training between upperclassmen and underclassmen student athletes.
When comparing the responses between upperclassmen and underclassmen using the Kruskall-Wallis nonparametric analysis, the upperclassmen (N = 50) were more likely to feel that “strength training is only possible with the encouragement of others” (p = .037). In order to determine further significance between the different categories of upperclassmen, class ranks of 3rd, 4th, and 5th year student athletes were analyzed against each other using a Mann-Whitney test. Among the upperclassmen, the fifth year student athletes were significantly more likely to disagree than the third year student athletes (p = .018). No significance was determined between the underclassmen for any of the 5-point Likert scale questions (N = 73, p > .05).

Perceptions of the Impact of Strength Training between student athletes of different teams.
The Kruskall-Wallis analysis was used to determine the significance when comparing the student athletes’ perceptions between sports. Responses to eight items from the TIS showed significant differences (Table 2). Strength training perception questions showing significance of p < .05 were then analyzed further using a Mann-Whitney U-test in order to compare each sport individually against each other. Table 2

Men’s soccer was significantly more likely to disagree with “strength training is essential to my overall development as an athlete” and “strength training has beneficial effects on my performance” as compared to baseball (p = .004; p = .004) and track and field (p = .035; p = .002). The statement, “my strength training techniques are adequate so I can avoid injury”, resulted in several differences between sports. Baseball was significantly more likely to agree to the statement than softball and men’s soccer (p < .001 and p = .019, respectively). Track and field was significantly more likely to strongly agree than softball and men’s soccer (p < .001 and p = .021, respectively). Tennis was significantly more likely to agree than softball (p = .021). Men’s soccer, tennis, and softball were significantly more likely to disagree with the statement, “my strength training techniques are adequate to improve my performance” than track and field student athletes (p < .001, p = .004, and p = .013, respectively). Men’s soccer was significantly more likely to strongly disagree than baseball and track and field to the statement, “strength training increases body weight” (p = .032 and p = .029, respectively). For “strength training helps me perform better physically”, men’s soccer was significantly more likely to strongly disagree than baseball and track and field (p < .001 and p = .003, respectively). Responses to, “strength training helps me feel better mentally”, demonstrated men's soccer was significantly more likely to strongly disagree than baseball and track and field (p = .004 and p = .023, respectively). Softball was also significantly more likely to strongly disagree with the statement than baseball (p = .035). Baseball was significantly more likely to strongly agree with the statement “strength training is fun and enjoyable”, than men’s soccer and softball (p < .001 and p = .021, respectively).

DISCUSSION
The purpose of this study was to examine student-athlete’s perceptions of the impact of strength training, and data were analyzed based on the following variables: gender, class year, and sport. Obtaining this information is important to the development of programs for student athletes that best fit their individual needs and performance goals.

Previous research found that male athletes felt strength training was a masculine activity more so than the female athletes (9). Additionally, females felt more strongly that women should strength train, and also felt that it is beneficial to their sports. Male and female student athletes in this study responded similarly to the statements that women should participate in strength training and strength training should be a part of every sport. There was no significant difference overall in the responses between genders which may point to both genders realizing the significance of strength training in relation to their sports. These results support the idea that females understand the importance of strength training for their sports, and that the concept of female strength training is becoming more accepted and supported. Two individual items did show significant differences, specifically, male athletes felt stronger that their strength training techniques were adequate enough to prevent injury, and that strength training was masculine. While these are not overly concerning, proper education from the strength and conditioning professional is key for all athletes to understand to role of an adequately designed program, especially from an injury prevention perspective.

The main differences in the perceptions of the athletes were between the different teams studied. Specifically, baseball and track and field were more likely to “buy in” to their strength training program. They were more likely to agree with the positive outcomes of an effective strength training program, such as injury prevention and overall enjoyment of strength training. Men’s soccer and women’s softball seem less convinced of the effectiveness of their strength training program. They were much more likely to disagree with almost all of the positive outcomes of strength training as they relate to sport performance. Specifically, these sports disagreed that strength training was beneficial or improved performance, helped the athletes mentally or physically feel better, or was essential to their athletic development. These results were quite surprising, and could be of concern to the strength and conditioning professional. We do not have any theoretical rationale or suggestions to explain the differences seen, so it is possible the reasons for these differences lie internally, potentially from the coaching staff or athletes themselves.

Of the sports that participated in this study (at a mid-major Division I university) only the cross-country team was not required to strength train. We found that track and field (which includes the cross country team) was one of two sports that were more likely to agree to the statement “strength training increases body weight.” Endurance athletes may be more conscious about weight gains and losses than athletes who play other sports. Based on previous research, the inclusion of a resistance or strength training program for endurance athletes is beneficial, and can be designed so the endurance athletes can attain the benefits while maintaining current body mass (6,7). Head coaches and strength and conditioning coaches should emphasize the need for incorporating strength training into the athletes’ overall training programs, as athletes can improve power output, running economy, and VO2 max levels.

CONCLUSIONS
Since there were some sports in this study that were more likely to strongly disagree with statements such as, “strength training has beneficial effects on my performance in my sport” and “strength training is essential to my overall development as an athlete,” the strength and conditioning coach has a responsibility to motivate these particular student athletes to train and condition. Measuring the perceptions of student athletes at the beginning of the year can inform the strength and conditioning staff on techniques that can be useful. Educational information, progressive improvements via testing (including mental), and motivational strategies could be incorporated into programs where certain student athletes may not comply with the program. By completing various maximal and sub-maximal tests and taking body compositions throughout all training phases, data can be used to assure all student athletes that the hard work they are devoting to strength training can improve their overall performance levels. This demonstration of progress will hopefully change the perception of student athletes who do not “buy in” to strength training.

APPLICATIONS TO SPORT
Understanding the background of the student athletes’ training histories and high school (or previous) training programs can uncover any preconceived ideas and notions about conditioning and training in general. Analysis of previous training programs and how they may impact the student athletes’ current perceptions, attitudes, and beliefs could reveal confounding effects of preconceived notions. Future research could also analyze the age in which the student athletes begin to incorporate strength training into their overall performance training prior to the collegiate setting. Coaches, athletic trainers, and strength and conditioning specialists all play a major role in an athlete’s performance potential, no matter the level of competition. Surrounding the athletes with professionals who have backgrounds and knowledge about the specific sport and the conditioning and training needs will provide the greatest opportunity for maximized performance.

ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS
None

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