Authors: Maja G. O. Østerås 1, Jan A. Haugan2, and Frode Moen1
1 Department of Education and Lifelong Learning, Norwegian University of Science and Technology, Trondheim, Norway
2 Department of Teacher Education, Norwegian University of Science and Technology, Trondheim, Norway
Frode Moen, PhD
Department of Education and Lifelong Learning
Post box 8900, Torgarden, NO-7491 Trondheim
Maja G. O. Østerås, MA, is currently doctoral student at the Norwegian University of Science and Technology. Maja’s area of research includes coach education, stress, coping and coach athlete relationship.
Jan A. Haugan is an Assistant Professor of pedagogical psychology at the Norwegian University of Science and Technology. His research interests focus on development, coping and relationships in school and sports.
Frode Moen, PhD, is an Assistant Professor of pedagogical psychology at the Norwegian University of Science and Technology. His research interests focus on the coach-athlete relationship, coaching, coach education, athlete-burnout, stress, executive functions and sleep. He also holds a position as a mental trainer for the Norwegian Olympic sport center in middle Norway.
Elite-level Coaches’ Coping: Stress Appraisal and Covid-19
The current study investigated 97 Norwegian elite-level coaches’ appraisal of working as a coach during the COVID-19 pandemic, and the predictive outcomes of these cognitive processes. The participants were part of a Norwegian coach education program carried out by the Norwegian Olympic Sport Center (NOSC). The results in the current study show that the coaches appraised their work during the pandemic as controllable-by-self, as a challenge, as controllable-by-others, and stressful. The regression analysis showed that challenge and controllable-by-self were unique and positive significant predictors of the coaches’ subjective performance, and that controllable-by-self was the strongest predictor of the two. Appraising the situation as uncontrollable-by-anyone was also a significant positive predictor of coaches’ subjective performance in the step 2 of the regression analysis, and not coaches’ exhaustion level as hypothesized. Threat appraisals were found to significant predict coaches’ exhaustion level at the first step of the regression analysis, whereas controllable-by-self was the strongest negative significant predictor for coaches’ exhaustion. The results indicate that controllable-by-self appraisals play a particular role in preventing burnout and inducing performance in elite coaches when they face stressors such as the COVID-19 pandemic.
Key Words: elite sports, COVID-19, stress, coping
Elite sport is acknowledged as a potentially stressful and exhausting environment for coaches, and the ability to cope with stressors is key (12, 17, 25, 52). The global spreading of the coronavirus (SARS-CoV-2 (COVID-19) was such a stressor that led the World Health Organization (WHO) (57) to declare the situation as a global pandemic. The Norwegian government declared the most intrusive measures ever given during peace time. Opposite to a normal situation the government continuously decided and changed the social isolation-rules, traveling restrictions and crowd limitations on short notice, affecting training times, competitions and who were allowed to participate in training groups. Breaking the rules during these circumstances would potentially have severe consequences to the public health, creating an extra moral demand to follow the government rules strictly. As for most of the world, this situation led to considerable alterations in the Norwegian preconditions for the planning, completion and evaluation of training and competitions for all sports, at both the individual-, group-, and systemic-level. At the individual level, the coaches` opportunities to observe and coach their athletes and plan training for optimal performance development was considerably reduced. At the group-, and systemic-level, the general requirements for social distancing challenged the possibilities for organizing joint training and training camps. In addition, the continuous changing governmental and global regulations reduced the preconditions for maintaining elite-level efforts in sports as the income from sponsors and spectators was stopped or immensely reduced.
Several studies have examined how COVID-19 led to negative outcomes related to both emotional, cognitive, and behavioural dimensions for elite-level athletes (23, 27, 32, 34). These studies indicate that the athletes experienced enhanced stress and deteriorating mental health during the pandemic. In addition, studies have explored how COVID-19 influenced elite-level coaches` perceptions of stress (6, 51, 54). Results from systematic reviews revealed scarce knowledge about coping among elite level coaches, especially concerning stress appraisals (what coaches think) and outcome, compared to for instance different coping strategies (what coaches do) (41, 46).
Previous research has used the transactional theory of stress (19, 31) as the basis for the development of a meta-model describing the holistic coping process in elite-sports (16, 18). This meta-model suggests that stress involves several processes where coaches transact with their environments, make appraisals of the situations they are exposed to, and endeavour to cope with any issues that may arise (16). In such, the transactional theory of stress argues that situational appraisals of control are a result from the persons evaluative process concerning the demands, coping resources and abilities to execute the desired coping strategies. The theory emphasizes the centrality of subjective appraisals in the coping process, and divides these in two phases, primary and secondary (31, 37).
In the primary appraisal phase the focus is on the stressor at hand. These stressors are further divided into three subcategories: (A) irrelevant (the encounter carries no implication for the coach), (B) benign-positive (the encounter has positive or possible positive outcomes for the coach) or (C) stressful. When a stressor is appraised as stressful the situation is further perceived in three ways: (C1) harmful (damage has already happened), (C2) threatening (possible future harms and losses), or (C3) challenging (potential gains and growth). Research show that challenge appraisals with anticipations of gain or growth seem to result in emotional reactions such as eagerness, exhilaration, and excitement (12, 14). Threat appraisals on the other hand, are more associated to negative emotional reactions such as fear, anxiety, and anger (45, 46). In the secondary appraisal phase, the coach evaluates what can be done to cope with the stressor and potential consequences of the different strategies. This includes coaches’ perceptions of both personal and social resources available to them in the situation. Thus, subjective appraisals explain the complex, meaning-related, cognitive processes underlaying individual variations in reaction to stressors (25, 50).
Cognitive appraisal variables are listed among the factors contributing to burnout among elite-level coaches (39, 40, 52). Both sense of well-being and feelings of meaningfulness are found to be significant predictors for emotional exhaustion, and researchers argue that coaches` perceptions of the situation when facing stressors, seem more influential on exhaustion than context-related variables such as type of sport or level of sport (1, 41). Perceived lack of control, difficulty managing external pressure, and approaching the job differently are also mentioned as factors inflating and reducing burnout scores (2, 25). Locus of control is to what degree people perceive rewards and reinforcements because of their personal behaviour and attributes (internal locus of control), versus factors outside the persons control (external locus of control) (49). Locus of control is among the generalized beliefs that affects the primary appraisal of challenge, threat, or loss (30, 42). Furthermore, situational appraisals of control are part of the secondary control appraisal, and parallel to Bandura’s theory of self-efficacy (4). Interestingly coaches have also mentioned workload and pressure to perform as affecting their exhaustion levels, but when stepping down from the elite-level coaching these scores did not automatically lower, and the coaches still had fluctuating exhaustion scores over time (9, 25). This might indicate that although they changed their form of engagement, they were not able to change their basic behavioural responses to challenging situations. Thus, amplifying the importance of understanding coaches` appraisal processes.
In sum, research evidence suggests comprehensive knowledge concerning what coaches do (coping strategies), but systematic reviews on relevant research indicate scarce knowledge concerning why (appraisals) coaches apply these coping strategies, and what effect these cognitive processes have on the coaches` subjective experiences of exhaustion and performance (13, 14, 17, 41, 46). In this study, the focus will be demarcated to a scrutiny of primary and secondary appraisals and how these may induce coaches’ performances and reduce exhaustion among elite-level coaches during COVID-19, from the following research question: “How do Norwegian elite-level appraise their work during COVID-19, and how do these appraisals predict their perceived performance- and exhaustion-levels?” Based on the authors literature review, the following hypotheses were developed:
H1: The Norwegian elite-level coaches appraise their work as coaches during COVID-19 as threatening and uncontrollable-by-anyone.
H2: The Norwegian elite-level coaches` appraisals of their work as challenging and controllable-by-self will positively predict their perceptions of performance.
H3: The Norwegian elite-level coaches` appraisals of their work as threatening and uncontrollable-by-anyone will positively predict their perceptions of exhaustion.
Participants for the current study were recruited from a Norwegian coach education program arranged by the Norwegian Olympic sport center (NOSC), a national Norwegian organization that is part of Norwegian Olympic and Paralympic Committee and Confederation of Sports. Coaches that were involved in the program completed questionnaires three times during the program, in the beginning of 2019, 2020, and 2021. Data for the current study was collected at the beginning of 2021. The study was approved by the Norwegian Social Science Data Services and the participant provided informed consent to participate in this study.
The NOSC has responsibility for training and management of elite coaches and athletes. The project invited coaches from all over the country to join the program. Selection criteriums included that the coaches needed to be prioritized from their sport federation and a preferred age limit of 30 years or younger. The data collection for this study was issued to 136 possible respondents and the total response was 97 coaches (71%). Psychological measurements based on previously developed scales proven to hold both satisfactory validity and reliability were employed in the current study. The coaches received a questionnaire including Maslach burnout inventory, performance measures and the stress appraisal measure (SAM). The questionnaires were currently or previously translated versions of the original instruments, adjusted to the coach context. The measurements are described below in more detail.
Maslach burnout inventory
Burnout was measured using a previously translated version of the Maslach burnout inventory – General Scale (35, 53). The instrument consists of three subscales measuring exhaustion (five items, e.g.: “I feel emotionally drained from my work as a coach”), cynicism (five items, e.g.: “I have become more cynical about whether my work contributes anything”), and professional efficacy (six items, e.g.: “I have accomplished many worthwhile things in this job”). In total the participant responds to 16 items, on a scale from 0 to 6; 0 (never), 1 (a few times a year or less), 2 (once a month or less), 3 (a few times a month), 4 (once a week), 5 (a few times a week), and 6 (every day). Cronbach’s alpha for the measurement was .90.
Subjective Coach Performance
Measuring subjective performance among coaches, an adjusted version of the subscale “individual performance” from the athlete satisfaction questionnaire was used to meet the coach context (47, 48). Individual performance measures the perceived satisfaction with progress on own task performance; thus, a perception of absolute performance, improvements in performance and goal achievement (35, 48). The adjusted scale directed to coaches, included four items (e.g., satisfaction with: “the degree of which I have reached my performance goals during the season”). The answers were given on a 7-point scale ranging from (1) “not at all satisfied” to (7) “extremely satisfied”. Cronbach’s alpha for this scale was .90.
Stress Appraisal Measure
To measure coaches stress appraisal Peacock and Wong (43) stress appraisal measure (SAM) was employed. The instrument consists of 28 items, and have three subscales for primary appraisal (threat, challenge, and centrality), as well as secondary appraisal (controllable-by-self, controllable-by-others and uncontrollable-by-anyone), and one subscale measuring overall stressfulness. The scale is developed for the rating of anticipatory stress, not current or past stress (e.g., rate the prospect of being exposed to a certain illness or rate your perception of the forthcoming exams). However, in this study the coaches were instructed to rate their current situation; “We are now living with COVID-19 every day. With these questions we would like to know more about how you think in this situation, working as a coach during a pandemic. Regard the situation, from your perspective as a coach, as it is for you, right now.” The instrument consists of seven subscales measuring challenge (four items, e.g.: “Is this going to have a positive impact on me?”), threat (four items, e.g.: “Does this situation make me feel anxious?”), centrality (four items, e.g.: “Does this situation have serious implication for me?”), uncontrollable-by-anyone (four items, e.g.: “Is this a totally hopeless situation?”), controllable-by-self (four items, e.g.: “Do I have the ability to do well in this situation?”), controllable-by- others (four items, e.g.: “Is there help available to me for dealing with this problem?”), and overall stressfulness (four items, e.g.: “Does this situation create tension in me?”). The response was given on a five-point scale: 1= not at all, 2= slightly, 3= moderately, 4= considerably, 5= extremely. Cronbach`s alphas were good for all subscales: Challenge (.70), Threat (.80), Centrality (.69), Uncontrollable-by-anyone (.73), Controllable-by-self (.84), Controllable-by-others (.87), and Stressfulness (.72).
Statistical analyses were performed using IBM SPSS version 25. Descriptive statistics, including means, standard deviations, minimums, maximums and Cronbach’s alpha coefficients for all variables in the current study were calculated. A hierarchical multiple regression analysis was calculated to analyze which of the study variables that predict subjective coach performance, and a second hierarchical multiple regression analysis that was calculated to analyze which of the study variables that predict coaches’ exhaustion.
The investigated variables included coach perceived performance (variable 1), the exhaustion scale of coach-burnout (variable 2), challenge (variable 3), threat (variable 4), centrality (variable 5), uncontrollable-by-anyone (variable 6), controllable-by-self (variable 7), controllable-by-others (variable 8) and stressfulness (variable 9). Table 1 shows the results of a bivariate Pearson correlation of the investigated variables, as well as statistical means, standard deviations, minimum and maximum scores and Chronbach’s alphas.
There are large correlations between centrality and threat (.73), uncontrollable-by-anyone and threat (.56), controllable-by-self and subjective coach performance (.56), challenge (.64), and threat (-.65), controllable-by-others and controllable-by-self (.52), and stressfulness and threat (.66), and centrality (.59). There were also several medium correlations: challenge and subjective coach performance (.48), threat and subjective coach performance (-.33), exhaustion (.37), and challenge (-.39), uncontrollable-by-anyone and challenge (-.33), and centrality (.40), controllable-by-self and exhaustion (-.44), centrality (-.35), and uncontrollable-by-anyone (-.40), controllable-by-others and subjective coach performance (.31), exhaustion (-.34), challenge (.41)., threat (-.46), centrality (-.47), and uncontrollable-by-anyone (-.33), and stressfulness and exhaustion (.36), controllable-by-self (-.37), and controllable-by-others (-.37).
The coaches in the current study ranked the variables challenge, controllable-by-self and controllable-by-others highest when they appraised the COVID-19 situation and their role as coaches: controllable-by-self (15.19), followed by challenge (13.22), controllable-by-others (12.12), stressfulness (11.51), centrality (10.30), threat (8.78) and uncontrollable-by-anyone (8.29). The first three relate to “moderately”, and the last four to “slightly”.
The mean exhaustion level is 15.43, which relates to “a few times a month” concerning how often they experienced the exhaustive feelings described. The subjective coach performance level (19.55) relates to “satisfied”.
Hierarchical multiple regression analyses
The hierarchical multiple regression analysis was carried out in three-steps to investigate to what extent SAM uniquely predicts coaches’ subjective performances over and above SAM- Threat, SAM- Challenge, SAM- Centrality, SAM- Controllable-by-self, SAM- Controllable-by-others, SAM- Uncontrollable-by-anyone, and SAM- Stressfulness (see Table 2).
In the first step of the regression analysis threat, challenge and centrality were entered in the analysis, and challenge (β = .44, p < 0.001) was the largest contributor of the explained variance in subjective coach performance. In step 2 controllable-by-self, controllable-by-others and uncontrollable-by-anyone were entered, and controllable-by-self (β = .49, p < 0.001) was the largest contributor-, followed by challenge (β = .26, p < 0.05) and uncontrollable-by-anyone (β = .21, p < 0.05). In the last step controllable-by-self (β = .48, p < 0.001) was the largest contributor of the explained variance in subjective coach performance, followed by challenge (β = .25, p < 0.05). The results of the regression analyses in the last step indicate that the predictor variables uniquely and collectively explained 39% of the variance (R2 = 0.39, F (7, 89) = 8.00, p < 0.001) in subjective coach performance. The model indicated that challenge and controllable-by-self were significantly and uniquely associated with subjective coach performance, and that the total model uniquely and collectively explained 39% of the variance in subjective coach performance.
A second stepwise hierarchical regression was carried out to investigate to what extent SAM uniquely predicts coaches’ exhaustion over and above SAM- Threat, SAM- Challenge, SAM- Centrality, SAM- Controllable-by-self, SAM- Controllable-by-others, SAM- Uncontrollable-by-anyone, and SAM- Stressfulness (see Table 3).
In the first step of the regression analysis threat, challenge and centrality were entered, and threat (β = .32, p < 0.05) was the largest and only significant contributor of the explained variance in coaches’ exhaustion. Controllable-by-self, controllable-by-others and uncontrollable-by-anyone were entered in step 2, where controllable-by-self (β =- .34, p < 0.05) was the largest and the only significant contributor of the explained variance in coaches’ exhaustion. In the last step stressfulness was entered, and controllable-by-self (β = -.35, p < 0.05) was still the largest and only significant contributor of the explained variance in coaches’ exhaustion. The results of the regression analyses in the last step indicated that the predictor variables uniquely and collectively explained 25% of the variance (R2 = 0.25, F (7, 89) = 4.18, p < 0.001 in coaches’ exhaustion.
The aim of the current study was to investigate how Norwegian elite-level coaches appraised their work as coaches during COVID-19, and how their primary and secondary appraisals uniquely and collectively predict their subjective performances and exhaustion-levels.
The first hypothesis of the current study predicted that the Norwegian elite-level coaches appraised their work as coaches during the COVID-19 pandemic as threatening and uncontrollable-by-anyone. The results did not confirm this hypothesis. Controllable-by-self, challenge and controllable-by-others appraisals showed the highest scores among the coaches’ stress appraisals. The second hypothesis predicted that challenge and controllable-by-self appraisals would positively predict the coaches’ perceptions of their performances. The results partly confirmed this hypothesis. Challenge, controllable-by-self and uncontrollable-by-anyone significantly and uniquely contributed to explain the variance in subjective coach performance. The total model explained 39% of the variance in subjective coach performance. The third hypothesis predicted that threat and uncontrollable-by-anyone appraisals would uniquely predict elite-level coaches` perception of exhaustion positively. The results partly confirmed this hypothesis. Threat uniquely predicted coaches’ exhaustion in the first step of the regression analysis, however not in the second and third step. Uncontrollable-by-anyone appraisals did not uniquely contribute to explain the variance in exhaustion, however controllable-by-self did negatively predict the coaches` exhaustion. The total model explained 25% of variance in exhaustion.
Challenge and controllable-by-self appraisals among elite coaches
Contrary to the first hypothesis, the coaches did not foremost experience threat or uncontrollability in their work as coaches during the COVID pandemic. On the contrary, challenge and controllable-by-self appraisals are the most preferred appraisals among the coaches in the current study (Figure 1). Interestingly, locus of control is highly associated with being in possession of necessary resources to cope with situational demands and therefore their abilities to achieve desired outcomes. Thus, when coaches are exposed to a situation that has the potential to affect stressfulness, their stress response will depend on their believed abilities to control the situation or not with their available resources. The large correlation between appraisals of challenge and controllable-by-self (.64), and between challenge and controllable-by-self and subjective coach performance (respectively .48 and .56), strengthen this argument. During the period of the COVID pandemic public health policies all around the world decided to promote physical distancing and claim isolating practices to limit interactions between individuals (24). These practices were aimed at affecting the transmission of the highly infectious COVID pandemic (29). Research show that many large-scale sports activities and activities in general were stopped as a consequence of these public health policies (58). The development of the COVID pandemic was highly unclear and uncertain worldwide. Despite these facts and findings, the coaches in the current study have a challenge and controllable-by-self approach to their work as coaches, despite the uncertainty regarding the COVID pandemic and how it would develop (58). A potential explanation to this finding is that the coaches in the current study chose to pay their attention towards what they positively could affect and do with the situation, and not on internal cognitive and emotional states caused by the uncertainty of the COVID pandemic. Such an approach is found to be a functional cognitive approach in both clinical psychology as well as in sports, in contrast to dysfunctional cognitive patterns where attention is focused on cognitive processes such as worrying and rumination (26, 36, 56). Increased awareness on cognitive processes when people are exposed to stress is defined as a Cognitive Attentional Syndrome (CAS), whereas attention is focused on perseverative thinking styles involved in worrying and rumination. In contrast, a functional approach can be defined as a detached attention on potential worries and ruminations, which involves that coaches perceive worrying- and ruminating thoughts as objects in the mind that might as well are separate from reality. Whereas CAS is based on an idea that coaches can avoid experiencing harm if they pay attention to every danger that potentially can happen, detached attention is based on the idea that there is no need to pay attention to potential negative thoughts associated to potential dangers (56). Interestingly, the results in the current study show that challenge and controllable-by-self appraisals are negatively related to appraising the situation as threatening (-.39 and -.65), and positively related to subjective coach performance (.48 and .56). Controllable-by-self is also negatively related to overall stressfulness (-.37). These associations strengthen the argument that to appraise the situation as challenging and controllable-by-self are a functional approach for the coaches. Thus, the results indicate that coaches do not involve their awareness in negative thoughts that are associated with the COVID pandemic, since they cannot affect the situation by their thoughts.
Appraisals predictive of subjective coach performance
The results in the current study further show that appraisals of challenge and controllable-by-self uniquely are predictive of coach performance, and that the total model uniquely explains 39% of the variance in subjective coach performance. In fact, even though challenge and controllable-by-self appraisals are highly associated constructs (.65), they both uniquely explain the variance in subjective coach performance. Thus, when a situation is perceived to be controllable-by-self, the coaches appraise the situation as a challenge instead of a threat, and this mindset seem to be facilitative for performance. This result is in line with earlier research (7, 26, 28, 55). Previous research among athletes coping with the COVID pandemic detected four coping profiles, in which three of them (“active and social”, “engaged” and “self-reliant”) proved to have an adaptive response to the impact of the COVID pandemic compared to the avoidant profile (44). The “avoidant copers” had high levels of anxiety, threat and uncontrollability appraisals, while “active and social” and “self-reliant” copers appraised the situation as more controllable and as a challenge, and the “self-reliant” copers rated low on threat, centrality and uncontrollability appraisals. Interestingly, out of all levels of athletes included, the “active and social” and “engaged” profiles were mainly comprised by athletes competing at the elite level (44). This finding indicates that there might exist an elite level expertise for handling distress in both coaches and athletes, enabling them to cope with distressful situations such as the COVID pandemic (11).
Interestingly, the results show that uncontrollable-by-anyone uniquely and positively predict subjective coach performance in step 2 of the regression analysis. However, when stressfulness is entered in step 3 the significance disappears, which can be explained by the large correlation between uncontrollable-by-anyone and stressfulness (Table 1). This is a surprising finding, since uncontrollable-by-anyone is positively associated to both centrality (.40), threat (.56), exhaustion (.27) and overall stressfulness (.47), and negatively to challenge and controllable-by-self appraisals (-.33 and -.40, respectively). The current finding is contrary to the study by Pété et al. (44), where high levels on uncontrollability were found in the least adaptive copers. Thus, the appraisal of uncontrollable-by-anyone is positively associated to negative appraisals and negatively to positive appraisals but is still a positive predictor of subjective coach performance. A potential explanation of this result can be that the coaches in the current study accept that they cannot control everything, such as the development of the highly uncertainty of the COVID pandemic. As discussed in the paragraph above, this is found to be a functional mindset when people are exposed to stressors. Research in sports confirms that athletic performance is enhanced when strategies and techniques target the development of a nonjudgmental and acceptance approach of internal experiences such as thoughts and feelings caused by a stressor (38). Efforts to control internal states caused by a stressor, such as the COVID pandemic, such as worries and ruminations, are found to have an opposite effect on performance (10, 20, 21, 22).
Interestingly, the items covering the appraisal centrality use words that stimulate coaches to think about possible negative consequences associated with the stressor, and therefore refers to inner experiences that share similarities with worries (“consequences for me”, “I will be affected”, “serious implication for me”, “long-term consequences for me”). The current results also show that threat and centrality are highly associated constructs (.73), and although not significant, centrality is found to be a unique negative predictor in subjective coach performance in the current study. This results also indicate that the coaches in the current study detach their attention from such potential worries caused by the COVID pandemic.
Thus, the coaches in the current study seem to accept that there are variables that are not controllable-by-anyone when they are faced with the unpredictable COVID pandemic, but that they detach their attention from internal states caused by this stressor and chose to pay their attention towards controllable factors. However, these possible explanations related to the current results must be investigated in future research to be confirmed.
Appraisals predictive of coach exhaustion
The results in the current study show that controllable-by-self is negatively and uniquely predicting coaches’ exhaustion, and that the total model uniquely explains 25% of the variance in coaches’ exhaustion. As hypothesized, threat was found to uniquely predict exhaustion in step 1 in the model. However, when the secondary control appraisals were entered in step 2 the significance disappeared. The moderate to high correlations between threat and controllable-by-self, controllable-by-others and uncontrollable-by-anyone can explain this. As discussed, when coaches perceive that they cannot control a situation that they should be able to control with their available resources, they will experience uncertainty and threat, and worry is found to be elicited under conditions of uncertainty and threat (8). Worry is a cognitive component of anxiety and under such conditions, attention is found to be focused toward the threat (33). Thus, coaches who experience non-controllability-by-anyone are inclined to pay their attention towards internal experiences, which is found to be an exhausting activity (15, 36). The current results show that controllable-by-self is highly negatively associated with threat (-.65), and that threat is highly positively associated with stressfulness (.66), which is in line with theories of stress (16). It is somewhat surprising that appraisals of centrality and overall stressfulness did not uniquely predict exhaustion. However, the high correlation between threat, centrality and overall stressfulness might explain why the variables did not were unique predictors of exhaustion (threat and stressfulness (.66), threat and centrality (.73), stressfulness and centrality (.56)).
A possible explanation of the current results is by following the mindset proposed as an explanation of predicting coach performance. Coaches who pay their attention towards internal states caused by the COVID pandemic (stressor) that cannot be controlled-by-themselves, are in danger of being exhausted caused by experiencing negative stress and threats.
Limitations and future directions
The discussed results are interesting and somewhat surprising. However, the study has several limitations. First, this study is a cross-sectional study and future studies should use more extensive experimental and longitudinal designs to scrutinize the coaches` perceptions of the dynamic interplay between stressors and available internal/external coping resources over time. In addition, it would be interesting to investigate the possible effect of different interventions such as education, mentoring and social support has on the coaches` perception of subjective coach performance and exhaustion. Second, all data were based on the coaches` self-reported perceptions. Future studies should triangulate these quantitative self-reported measures with qualitative methods such as observation and interviews. Third, this study has not investigated both indirect and direct relationships between the dependent and independent variables. Future studies should use analytical methods such as structural equation modelling (SEM) to scrutinize these relationships in depth.
Conclusively it seems key for the elite-level coaches to experience to be in control, both to positively affect their subjective performance and decrease their exhaustion levels. The elite-level coaches’ response to working as coaches during COVID-19 is characterized by such appraisals, as well as challenge appraisals. However, the results in the current study also indicate that when a situation cannot be controlled by themselves, they need to thrust that others who have competence to handle such stressors are capable to handle the situation at hand, such as the COVID-19 pandemic that was overall handled by the WHO. Accordingly, when the situation cannot be controlled by anyone, it doesn’t help to engage in ruminations and worries about the stressor. The effective approach for coaches to handle such stressors is to detach their attention from such cognitive activities, because such activities are demanding and can ultimately lead to exhaustion.
APPLICATIONS IN SPORT
First of all, if coaches are in possession of necessary resources to cope with situational demands they will be more equipped to cope with stressors. Thus, coaches should continually work to develop their believes (self-efficacy) that the strategies they possess can lead to desired outcomes (outcome expectancy) and that they are able to execute necessary actions when they are exposed to stressors (efficacy expectancy) (3, 4, 5). This will influence appraisals of challenge and controllable-by-self. Secondly, coaches should develop a mindset that accept that some things cannot be controlled-by-themselves or by-anyone at all in some cases (such as the uncertain development of the COVID-19 situation) and detach their attention towards potential cognitive activities such as worries and ruminations. If a coach cannot control a stressor in a situation, it will not help to engage in ruminations and worries, since the coach will not have the necessary coping resources to ultimately solve the situation. The coach needs to thrust others who have such coping resources, or if no one have such resources, coaches need to detach their attention towards such cognitive activities.
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