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28/9/2020  
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Athletic activities

Stress management is good for student-athletes, study finds


Gaudreau and Katie Gunnell, a former post doctoral fellow who is now with CHEO´s Healthy Active Living and Obesity Research Group, headed the study that followed 185 Alberta students competing in provincial-level swimming and track and field. The actual surveys were conducted by Sharleen Hoar of the University of Lethbridge.
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The study showed optimistic students imagining their futures were confident in their ability to meet personal goals. In turn, they were more likely to achieve despite the stresses associated with school and sports because they applied effective techniques in both academics and athletics.

Task-oriented coping (TOC) is a positive, action-based strategy. Examples include replacing negative thoughts with more realistic ones, learning how to handle and manage effort more efficiently, learning relaxation techniques, analysing stressful situations more logically and seeking guidance or advice from other people.

Don’t try to distract yourself from a stressful situation, Gaudreau says, such as by withdrawing or by blaming others. he calls that disengagement-oriented coping. Gaudreau says that happens frequently with athletes, so the goal is use more TOC.

According to Gaudreau, optimism and pessimism are personality traits that can’t be changed easily. Optimists are more likely to use TOC and pessimists are more likely to employ disengagement-oriented coping. And some people use one strategy in parts of their life and a second in others.

“We are not sure yet what the consequence of this is, but, if it is somehow an indicator of a person who would prioritize, let’s say, sport more than he would prioritize school, what we think is that person could be successful in one area of his life while struggling in other areas,” says Gaudreau. “In such a case, trying to find a balance to help the person to cope in both domains would be a good thing.”

The Alberta students were not part of a school sports program, which have become common across Canada, including in Ontario and Quebec. Instead, their activities were outside school, which is why the researchers emphasize the benefit of dual-track stress management.

They also conclude that good stress management for sport won’t carry over into academics and vice versa. Those other life segments would require their own stress-management techniques.

The study, which is to be published in the May edition of the journal Sport, Exercise, and Performance Psychology, did not deal with whether sport by itself benefited academic performance.

“But, when we measure academic satisfaction, when you look at the mean scores that you get with these samples of student activities, they are higher than what you get in students who are not involved in any kind of extracurricular activity,” Gaudreau says. “But they are comparable to students who are doing arts or volunteer activity, so it seems it’s not necessarily sport per se, but it’s the engagement in extracurricular activity that, in adolescents, seems to be contributing to the well-being and the ultimate development of adolescents.

“Because we are sport lovers, we tend to conclude sport is a good thing. It is, but it’s not the only thing. You don’t want to give the message to kids who love other types of activities that, because they’re not doing sports, they might not experience the same kind of satisfaction. There are multiple pathways that people can get the same type of benefits.”

One limitation of this study is that it examines only two sports in one Alberta school system, so Gaudreau, Gunnell and others involved in the research suggest that other athletic activities and school sports programs be examined next.

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