Influences of Strain in Elite Athletes: A Case Study of New Zealand Open Boxing
Thomas, Philippa Glenis
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The main purpose of this study was to provide an institutional understanding of the effects of stress within elite level sport performance, in an effort to identify further resources for sporting organisations in support of their athletes. The primary investigation focuses on the transitional periods within an athlete’s campaign, from preparation to post-competition. This research emphasises stress as a transactional process; commencing with an athlete encountering a stressor(s) which generates a response: emotional and cognitive, which the athlete appraises and adapts to. These response tasks will determine the direction and intensity of the strain experienced. This research adopts an applied case study methodology guided by an existential post-positivist methodology. Existentialism frames this research by arguing that athletes have choice, and that choice is determined by individual meanings within the complex social and organisational environment in which they operate. Despite this, it is possible to find some common patterns in the idiosyncrasies of sporting life. Participant/observation fieldwork was completed across three event cases involving New Zealand Nationally ranked squad open boxers (N = 11) and coaches/staff (N = 6), in their preparation and qualification leading up to the Rio 2016 Olympics. In addition to these participants; four individual athlete cases were selected for semi-structured interviews on completion of the fieldwork. This research found support within scholarly literature related to stressor identification in elite performance sport, and found Hanin’s IZOF model a useful framework for analysing the dimensions of athlete strain. Five major themes were identified as exposing boxers and their coaches to more intense levels of strain. Findings have supported temporal and contextual factors moderating influence on stressors and both found internal and external resources to have mitigating effects on the intensity of strain. As such, sporting organisations can provide athletes with resources to improve situational controllability and improve individual’s expectancy of stressors they are likely to encounter; further, enabling facilitative coping measures be taken in high pressure environment of elite sport training and competition.