Common stressors and underlying psychological needs among competitive varsity athletes: A video observation analysis


Athletes experience a variety of stressors that can have a substantial influence on their performance and wellbeing. Theoretical perspectives indicate that stressors are related to psychological needs that are at stake for the individual, such as autonomy, competence, relatedness (Deci & Ryan, 2000), achievement, meaning, growth, and understanding (Costa & McCrae, 1988). However, underlying needs have rarely been explored in studies of stressors in sport. The purpose of this study was to examine stressors and their underlying needs among varsity athletes. Forty-five athletes (M = 20.4 years of age; 16 from women's teams, 21 from men's teams, and eight from co-ed teams) participated in video-recorded conversations with a teammate to discuss stressors they faced in sport. Videos were analyzed using inductive and deductive approaches to identify the types of stressors that athletes discussed and their underlying needs. Athletes reported competitive/performance stressors (e.g., underperformance, injury), organizational stressors (e.g., coach personality and communication, team/culture issues, logistical challenges), and personal/life stressors (e.g., school/work, family, finance). Multiple needs were identified, including needs for connection (e.g., appreciation/recognition, belonging), competence/effectiveness, meaning (e.g., contribution, growth/development, sense of purpose), ease (e.g., reduced burnout), fairness, autonomy, and achievement. Cross-analyses indicated that common stressor types could reflect different underlying needs; for example, stressors related to coach personality and communication could reflect athletes' need for mattering, or for growth and development. This analysis provides novel information about key issues that are relevant for athletes and can provide practitioners with insight for supporting athletes' needs when dealing with stressors in sport.

Acknowledgments: This research was supported by a SSHRC Insight Grant, and funding from the Canadian Foundation for Innovation and the Ontario Ministry of Research, Innovation, and Science.