The purpose of this study was to examine the way that gymnastic performance can be discriminated based on psychological skills and self-efficacy. The sample of the study was 101 gymnasts (Mage = 11.8 ±.74 years, 22 male and 79 female), who competed at the Hellenic Championship of Rhythmic Gymnastics and the Hellenic Championship of Artistic Gymnastics. Each completed a Self-efficacy scale one day prior to the competition and the Athletic Coping Skill Inventory – 28 immediately following the event. All subscales of the ACSI-28 showed adequate internal consistency (α>.64). A discriminant function analysis suggested that the predictors for distinguishing between poor and high level performance were: Coping with adversity (F=9.3, p<.01); Goal Setting/mental preparation (F=8.58, p<.005); Confidence (F=8.81, p<.005); Freedom from Worry (F=4.83, p<.05); Coachability (F=6.81, p<.01); and Self-efficacy (F=18.9, p<.001). The results indicated that best performance was achieved by those gymnasts who believed they could relax and compete with enthusiasm and certainty, set goals and prepare themselves for the competition, did not worry excessively about their performance, and showed confidence they could perform at a high level. According to the findings of this study, ability alone must not be the only concern of coaches. They also need to enhance certain psychological skills of their gymnasts at an early age, in order for them to have successful outcomes in a competition. More specifically, gymnasts need to learn how to cope with adversity and free themselves from worry, how to use goal setting techniques and prepare themselves for the competition, and how to improve their self-efficacy and confidence.
**Key words:** coping skills, self-efficacy, artistic and rhythmic gymnastics
Competitive sports place very high demands on athletes in terms of physical and psychological performance. Athletes are called to withstand significant stress both during competition and daily training, all from the very young starting age required by sports at a high level. Furthermore, elite gymnasts were found to exhibit very high anxiety levels in comparison to similarly skilled athletes in other sports (12).
According to Fitzpatrick (4) the most commonly reported attributes distinguishing between high and low levels of gymnastic performance were psychological factors, in contrast with the general belief that successful performance is mainly influenced by ability (29). Thus, the psychological skills of gymnasts can influence their capability to perform successfully in a competition. These coping skills refer to the cognitive and behavioral efforts to overcome, reduce or tolerate internal and/or external demands caused by a stressful situation. Coping with stress is not directly related to the final outcome of the effort. This means that coping is defined by the efforts to control the challenge of a situation, regardless of an athlete’s success (5).
The most widely used instrument for measuring athletes’ coping skills in gymnastics is the Athletic Coping Skill Inventory – 28 (23). ACSI-28 measures seven factors: Coping with adversity, Peaking under pressure, Goal setting and mental preparation, Concentration, Freedom from worry, Confidence and achievement motivation, and Coachability.
It has been shown that the psychological characteristics measured by the ASCI-28 are closely linked to performance in sports such as professional baseball (22, 10), golf (2), basketball (6, 8), swimming (19) and gymnastics (28). Specifically, Waples’ (28) study on gymnastics focused on athletes 10-18 years old, of different competition levels (7 to 11 according to the USAG level format). The specific competition level of each athlete was determined by skill level, training age, competitiveness and overall time and training commitment to the sport. The results of this study supported the hypothesis that psychological differences exist between elite athletes and non-elite athletes. Significant differences were shown mainly for the Coping with adversity, Goal setting and mental preparation, Concentration, and Confidence and achievement motivation subscales.
It has been also demonstrated that, in relation to young athletes, the support offered by their coaches and fellow athletes plays a very important role in coping effectively with stress (16). In this respect the ways in which children and teenagers deal with stress are influenced by the feedback and the behavior of parents, trainers and others. When a child enters puberty the importance placed on “wins” increases substantially. This in turn amplifies the feeling of being “pressured to perform”, a feeling which is carried over into puberty and adulthood. Vaillant (27) stated that the particular way in which someone deals with stress is developed during puberty and becomes entrenched during adult life. It is therefore important to initiate coping skills development regimes and programs for competitive sports at an early age. Such programs, according to Vaillant (27), should begin during childhood or puberty.
It is thus necessary to examine the coping skills and methods of young athletes in order to evaluate the effect of these methods on their performance. This in turn might allow for the more effective learning and actual use of such stress coping methods by athletes of this particular age group.
Lee (13) suggested that self-efficacy is a good indicator of final performance, in fact more so than previous performance. The term is used to describe one’s perception that he or she can perform successfully in a specific manner in order to achieve a goal or task. Bandura’s theory of self-efficacy (1) examines the influence of personal belief on the actual capability to perform, with final performance being affected by two parameters: a) the strength of a person’s belief in his or her ability to perform a certain task; and b) the presence of an accepting and responsive environment (14).
The effect of self-efficacy on performance has been further examined in a series of research projects. It has been used to predict to a significant degree the actual performance in football (17), serving in tennis (25), darts (11), basketball free-throws (9), and gymnastics (13). According to Lee (13) the performance of female artistic gymnasts has been shown to vary according to self-efficacy expectations. Weiss, Wiese and Klint (30) have demonstrated that artistic gymnasts with higher expectations of final achievement before a tournament tended to be more successful than gymnasts with low expectations of success.
Locke and Latham (15) declare that self-efficacy, together with other factors such as ability and commitment towards a goal, can positively influence performance. Additional research suggests that self-efficacy is a predictor of both motivation and performance regardless of the skill (21) or the level at which it was performed (18).
The purpose of this study was to examine the way that performance can be discriminated based on psychological skills and self-efficacy of young gymnasts.
One hundred sixty-one athletes of Rhythmic and Artistic Gymnastics had competed at the Hellenic Championship of Rhythmic Gymnastics and the Hellenic Championship of Artistic Gymnastics, respectively. Out of this population, 132 athletes completed a Self-efficacy scale one day prior to the competition and the Athletic Coping Skill Inventory – 28 immediately following the event. The researchers ended up with 101 (Mage = 11.8 ±.74 years) usable questionnaires (31 athletes were excluded from the analysis due to incomplete questionnaires). The sample of the study consisted of 22 male (artistic gymnastics) and 79 female (artistic and rhythmic gymnastics) athletes.
In order to participate in these Championships, an athlete had to achieve a mean score of at least seven out of ten (mid to high level performance) in the apparatuses involved at the preliminary competition of each Championship held throughout Greece.
##### Self-efficacy scale
The scale evaluates the athlete’s perception of self-efficacy on all-around performance. The athletes were asked to respond to the following three questions: “How certain are you of performing your best?”; “How certain are you of being among the eight best on the all-around performance?”; “How certain are you of being among the three best on the all-around performance?” The items were measured on a ten-point Likert scale (1 = not at all certain to 10 = completely certain).
##### Athletic Coping Skill Inventory – 28
This is the version of ACSI-28 (23) adjusted to the Greek language (6). It consists of 28 items that measure seven factors:
1. Coping with Adversity: “I remain positive and enthusiastic during competition, no matter how badly things are going.”
2. Peaking under Pressure: “I tend to perform better under pressure because I think more clearly.”
3. Goal Setting/ Mental Preparation: “On a daily or weekly basis, I set very specific goals for myself that guide what I do.”
4. Concentration: “When I am doing gymnastics, I can focus my attention and block out distractions.”
5. Freedom from Worry: “I worry quite a bit about what others think about my performance.”
6. Confidence/ Achievement Motivation: “I get the most out of my talent and skills.”
7. Coachability: “When a coach criticizes me, I become upset rather than helped.”
The answers were given on a six-point Likert scale (1= never to 6 = always).
For the needs of this study, the ACSI-28 has been adjusted for 11- to 14-year-olds and evaluated on a preliminary study (3).
##### Performance Evaluation
Performance was measured according to the final scores achieved by the athletes during the Hellenic Championship of Rhythmic Gymnastics and the Hellenic Championship of Artistic Gymnastics. For the purpose of the study, two performance groups were created: poor (n=41) and high (n=60), according to the Hellenic Gymnastics Federation’s recommendation.
One day prior to the competition athletes completed the self-efficacy scale, and immediately following the competition they completed the ACSI-28. Performance evaluation was taken from the archives of the Hellenic Gymnastics Federation.
#### Statistical Analysis of Data
The collected data were analyzed using SPSS version 15.0 for Windows (24). A Direct Discriminant Function Analysis was used in analyzing results.
The internal consistency of ACSI-28 and self-efficacy were examined with the use of the Cronbach coefficient α (Table 1). All subscales showed adequate internal consistency (Coping with adversity α=.70; Peaking under pressure α=.64; Goal Setting/mental preparation α=.79; Concentration/achievement motivation α=.72; Freedom from worry α=.65; Confidence α=.65; Coachability α=.82).
#### Discriminant Function Analysis
In order to evaluate the discriminatory power of each coping skill and self-efficacy, a direct discriminant function analysis was performed. The function significantly discriminated between the two levels of performance (Canonical R = .52, Eigenvalue = .38) (Table 3). The loading matrix of the correlations suggested that the predictors for distinguishing between poor and high level performance were Coping with adversity (F=9.3, p<.01); Goal Setting/mental preparation (F=8.58, p<.005); Confidence (F=8.81, p<.005); Freedom from Worry (F=4.83, p<.05); Coachability (F=6.81, p<.01); and Self-efficacy (F=18.9, p<.001). The best predictors of performance were Coping with adversity, Goal setting/mental preparation, Confidence and Self-efficacy.
Coping skills combined with self-efficacy were found to be a powerful indicator of performance. Most of the coping skills were found to predict the level of performance. More specifically, athletes with high performance scores (>75% of maximum performance) also had higher scores of Coping with adversity, Goal setting/mental preparation, Confidence/achievement motivation, Freedom from Worry, Coachability and Self-efficacy than athletes with low performance scores (<75% of maximum performance). Best performance was achieved by athletes who believed they could control themselves in stressful situations by relaxing and competing with enthusiasm and certainty, without worrying about their performance. They set goals and prepared themselves for the competition, listened to their coaches’ instructions and felt certain they could perform at their best. The results of this study were consistent with previous findings for Coping with adversity (28), goal setting techniques (20,28) and Confidence /Achievement motivation (2,28).
Not unexpectedly, athletes with low levels of control over a stressful situation, who didn’t set goals, got angry with their coaches’ instruction and did not believe they could be among the best athletes of the competition, performed poorly. These findings are consistent with previous studies, where gymnasts, in a wider range of age group and level of sport competition (2-12 years of gymnastics participation), with higher anxiety and lower ability to cope with adversity, were more likely to discontinue training (7). The findings also agree with Unestahl’s (26) suggestions that gymnasts with better inner mental training show higher level of competence.
The results of this study strengthen the accepted notion that ability alone is not the most important cause of successful outcomes (29). This has also been demonstrated in the past in gymnastics as well (4).
In contrast to much of the pre-existing research, which centered mainly on adult Greek populations, this study was carried out using a sample of male and female athletes of a younger age (11-14 years). It is thus necessary to further test and evaluate a number of additional important hypotheses in different sports in order to allow us to reach conclusions that can be generalized effectively. Doing so could, in turn, lead to a more systematic psychological intervention effort in these age groups with the ultimate goal being the prevention of negative effects in performance.
The present study provides adequate evidence of the importance of coping skills and self-efficacy on gymnastic performance. According to previous studies, various psychological skills can influence performance. The findings of this study indicate that the most important psychological skills for gymnastic performance are Coping with adversity, Goal setting, Confidence, Freedom from Worry, Coachability and Self-efficacy.
### Applications in Sport
According to the findings of the present study, several suggestions can be made for the enhancement of athletic performance of young gymnasts. Coaches need to enhance certain psychological skills in their gymnasts at early ages, in order for them to have successful outcomes in a competition. Gymnasts need to learn how to cope with adversity and free themselves from worry. It is also important to use goal- setting techniques, and to prepare mentally for the competition. Furthermore, they need to improve their self-efficacy and confidence. This entails learning to control their emotions in stressful situations, relaxing and competing with enthusiasm, even when poor athletic performance occurs. Athletes also need to learn to set goals effectively, a tool which has proven useful in competitive situations, and to believe in their ability to perform successfully in competitions.
#### Table 1
Mean Scores and Standard Deviations on Coping Skills, Self-efficacy and Performance
|Coping with adversity||4.25||1.05|
|Peaking under pressure||3.63||1.03|
|Goal setting / mental preparation||4.76||1.03|
|Concentration / achievement motivation||4.92||0.97|
|Freedom from worry||3.57||0.99|
#### Table 2
Direct Discriminant Function Analysis for Coping skills and Self-efficacy as predictors of Gymnastic Performance
|Predictors||Correlations of predictors with discriminant function||Univariate F (1.99)||p|
|Coping with Adversity||0.498||9.3||0.005|
|Goal Setting/ Mental Preparation||0.478||8.6||0.005|
|Freedom from Worry||-0.359||4.8||0.05|
Canonical R = .52, Eigenvalue = .38
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### Corresponding Author
Department of Physical Education and Sport Science, Aristotelian University of Thessaloniki
54006, Thessaloniki, Greece