Helping Athletes Maintain Motivation and Increase Psychological Wellbeing Amidst COVID‑19 and Other Setbacks

Parker, Patti | $24,184

Alberta University of Alberta 2021 SSHRC

Sport holds an important place in the lives of Canadians and across the globe. Among many benefits, sport contributes to improving quality of community life, promoting social inclusion and citizenship, providing economic opportunities (Adetunji Coalter, 2005), and at the individual level, enhances athletes’ physical and mental wellbeing. The sudden interruption to sport caused by COVID‑19 may have permanently changed the trajectory of athletes’ careers, motivation, and wellbeing. Such setbacks can negatively impact motivation in sport, psychosocial wellbeing, and overall ability to cope with the setback (Toresdahl Schinke et al., 2020).

Sporting setbacks such as injury, illness, burnout, academic probation, and even career or parental obligations, are common for athletes. Thus, there is a need for athletes to develop effective coping skills during sport setbacks to sustain motivation and psychosocial wellbeing. Drawing on perceived control theory, secondary control is proposed as an effective strategy to cope with setbacks when personal (primary) control cannot be exerted to change the outcome. Whereas primary control (PC) is shown when a person exerts effort to change the environment to suit one’s needs, secondary control (SC) is exhibited when a person seeks control by means other than acting on the environment but aligning oneself with it (Morling Rothbaum et al., 1982). For example, an injured athlete who accepts the need to fully heal before returning to play is exerting SC.

Individuals who have high SC are posited to disengage from harmful rumination about their lack of control or causes of setbacks, and evade the harmful consequences of rumination (Tobin et al., 2015). The proposed research seeks to examine whether endorsing SC when PC is limited helps stop the harmful pattern of maladaptive thinking thereby sustaining motivation and protecting psychosocial wellbeing.

For this research we are interested in accomplishing three main objectives. Objective 1: to first identify athlete perceptions of control during low-control setbacks, such as sport interruptions, and their impact on motivation in sport and psychosocial wellbeing. Objective 2: to design an online intervention to boost SC for athletes facing low-control setbacks. This objective will be guided by the mixed-method results from Objective 1, collaborative strategies with athlete and coaches’ input, and control theory. Objective 3: to evaluate the efficacy of the SC intervention in increasing SC, motivation in sport, and psychosocial wellbeing outcomes.

The findings for this research will advance the study of secondary control (SC) by testing its influence in an applied sport context. The creation of a new online SC-enhancing intervention has specific implications for sport motivation and athlete wellbeing. These implications also pertain to the timeliness of the project when the effects of COVID‑19 are still being realized and athletes’ motivation in sport and psychosocial wellbeing have been negatively affected. Our research also has the potential to inform the public on how to foster adaptive thinking for people more generally facing setbacks and improve their wellbeing in everyday life.

With funding from the Government of Canada

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