The ability to withstand or adapt to environmental demands is an inherent aspect of performance sport. At the highest level of competition, phenomenal levels of psychological resilience are necessary to attain and sustain success. Although various biopsychosocial factors contribute to the development of this resilience, an important differentiating factor in the emergence of the world’s best athletes is an ability to benefit in some way from the adversity they encounter, to the extent that they psychosocially grow and develop their resilience beyond their pre-trauma functioning, resulting in superior performance. These interrelated experiences of adversity, growth, and resilience involve ongoing complex interactions of numerous personal and situational factors. To briefly elaborate, following adversity-related trauma, athletes go through a “transitional process” whereby growth is facilitated through a combination of internal and external processes. For the world’s best athletes, changes to their motivation and personality appear to be particularly salient psychological aspects of adversarial growth. With regard to the development of resilience, the combined influence of psychological (i.e., personality, motivation, confidence, focus, support) and environmental (i.e., challenge, support) factors underpin athletes’ enhanced ability to withstand or adapt to environmental demands. Although there are a variety of potential beneficial outcomes of these experiences, it appears that there may also be some darker aspects to the world’s best athletes’ development and performance that have less desirable effects on their mental health and relationships. The integrative synthesis of psychological resilience and adversarial growth offers one of the most exciting and insightful avenues for future research in sport and performance.
Mary Fry and Candace M. Hogue
There is a large literature base within the field of sport psychology that provides tremendous direction to coaches and parents on how to structure youth sport so that young athletes develop sport skills and concurrently reap psychological benefits from their sport participation. Much of this research has employed Nicholls’ Achievement Goal Perspective Theory and a Caring Framework to (a) identity the processes children undergo as their cognitive development matures across the elementary years, allowing them to accurately judge their ability by adolescence, (b) formulate their personal definitions of success in sport (develop their goal orientations), and (c) note features of the team and overall sport climate created by coaches and parents. Of particular importance is athletes’ perceptions of the motivational climate prevailing on their teams. Athletes can perceive a caring and task-involving climate where coaches reward effort, improvement, and cooperation among teammates, make everyone feel they play an important role on the team, and treat mistakes as part of the learning process. In contrast, athletes can also perceive an ego-involving climate where the coach rewards ability and performance outcome, fosters rivalry among teammates, punishes mistakes, and gives most of the recognition to a few “stars.” When athletes perceive a caring and task-involving climate on their teams, they are more likely to have fun, exert high effort, experience intrinsic motivation, have better interpersonal relationships with coaches and athletes, display better sportsperson-like values and behaviors, have better psychological well-being, and even perform better. In contrast, when athletes perceive an ego-involving climate on their teams they experience fewer adaptive and positive motivational outcomes and greater problematic outcomes (e.g., increased cortisol; greater endorsement of unsportsperson-like behaviors). Research has clearly identified the benefits of coaches and parents creating a caring and task-involving climate for young athletes, yet there are still many ego-involving climates in the youth sport world. A number of organizations are committed to helping coaches and parents transform youth sport culture into a positive arena where young people can develop their athletic skills and have a rewarding sport experience.
Bradley W. Young, Bettina Callary, and Scott Rathwell
Paralleling the graying of the baby boomer generation, there has been remarkable growth in the number of Masters athletes (adult sport participants generally 35+ years old) and Seniors athletes (55+) worldwide. The phenomenon of the aging or older athlete is an opportunity to study the psychological conditions and considerations that distinguish older sportspersons from their younger counterparts. Although the vast majority of sport psychology research focuses on youth and adolescents or young adults in a high-performance context, a critical mass of literature on middle-aged and older athletes has emerged. Much research has aimed to understand the sport motivation of older adults; this work has evolved from early descriptive works to increasingly theoretically grounded and analytically advanced efforts that seek to better understand older athletes’ sport commitment and their long-term goal striving behaviors. Another theme of inquiry relates to the nature of adult athletes’ social motivations and the role of social identity in explaining immersion into sport. Research has examined various social influences on older athletes, and specifically how different social agents and social norms come to bear on older athletes’ sport participation. Much work has interrogated how social support facilitates older sport participation as well as the unique negotiations that older adults make with significant others to sustain their experience. Another research theme has sought to determine the various psychosocial benefits of adult sport, cataloguing benefits related to personal growth, age-related adaptation, and successful aging outcomes. Although the discourse on adult sport has been overly positive, several contributions have problematized aspects of adult sport, challenged the assertion that adult athletes are models that many others could follow, and have further suggested that narratives of Masters athletes may reinforce ageist stigma.
Katherine A. Tamminen and Courtney Braun
Adolescent athletes face increasing opportunities for competition at higher levels, as well as increasing demands on their time, pressure from parents and coaches, and conflicts with teammates and opponents, all during a time when adolescents are exploring different aspects of their identity and sense of self. Sport is a context for adolescent development, and despite the wide array of positive benefits that have been associated with sport participation during adolescence and into adulthood, it is also acknowledged that sport participation does not automatically confer benefits to adolescent athletes, and it may lead to potentially negative experiences and poor psychosocial outcomes. Key concerns for researchers and practitioners working with adolescent athletes include managing various stressors and the development of adaptive coping strategies, the risk of experiencing sport burnout, bullying, and the potential for withdrawing or dropping out of sport. Despite these concerns, a large body of research among adolescent athletes provides evidence that athletes’ performance and positive psychosocial development may be enhanced among adolescent athletes by intentionally structuring the sport environment to promote positive outcomes; in particular, coaches, parents, and peers play an important role in shaping the sport experiences of adolescent athletes. Furthermore, the psychosocial characteristics and competencies associated with sport participation may not automatically transfer to other areas of adolescents’ lives unless they are intentionally and systematically structured to do so. It is important for coaches, parents, and sport administrators who are involved in developing and delivering programs for adolescent athletes to be aware of some of the psychosocial concerns that are relevant for this population, and to consider intentionally structuring sport programs to promote high levels of achievement as well as healthy psychological and social development among young athletes.