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Organisational stress in sports: awareness and coping strategies for athletes

By: Sahana Kamath & Prajwal Acharya

Most of us have seen or participated in sporting events in our school days. Either we played because we were being graded for it or because we simply enjoyed playing the sport. So, we all know how competitive playing a game of any sport can get. Now imagine that same scenario but this is on an international level where you may or may not be the best player but you definitely are surrounded by amazing athletes, where playing the sport is your livelihood and you represent your country in the international games. The pressure is definitely very high. So, the athletes must be physically and mentally fit. They may have performance anxiety issues, depression from injury, body image perception and so much more. One such psychological stress that is present but not talked about a lot is organisational stress. This is because many of them don’t know that such a thing as organisation stress even exists or even if they do come to know about this, they wouldn’t take it very seriously. But it is the real deal.


Let’s talk about what organisational stress really is. Organisational stress can be defined as an emotional, cognitive, behavioural and physiological response to aggressive and harmful aspects of work, work environment and organisational climate.

It is a condition characterised by feeling of helplessness in solving tasks. Organisational stress if an athlete does encounter with, it is said to affect their performance negatively. In a study it was observed that stress could lead athlete’s inability to concentrate and actively participate at the work at hand. Some studies have also said that athlete have a higher tendency to get acute injuries during the game. Or have the possibility to sustain a recurring acute injury.


Common organisational stressor includes,

  • Training issues (training content, change in coach, training practicality)

  • Perceived lack of support from the organisation.

  • Travel/accommodation issues

  • Interpersonal conflicts with coaches/teammates/support staff

As we can see, these issues do take place and they do cause stress to the athletes which in turn helps in the deterioration of the athlete’s performance. It’s the organisation’s duty to ensure that athlete is not subjected to such kinds of stress. Either you are having problems with the training schedule, you have accommodation or travel issues or above listed problems that may cause a mental or psychological discomfort

Let’s investigate some coping strategies that the athletes usually respond naturally when stressed

  • Problem focused coping mechanism: here the athlete deals with the environment that they are in. here the athletes usually seek guidance or support which reducing the negative effects caused by rational thinking. They usually know that this maybe a problem they alone can’t solve and hence go to a professional help like a counsellor.

  • Emotion focused coping: here the athlete attempts to deal with his/her emotional responses to stressors. This may include how the athlete justifies a performance such as wishful thinking, blaming other players or avoidance. Here the athlete deals with what they are feeling. If they feel bad about their performance in a certain game or a match, they start justifying their feelings or they avoid talking or thinking about their problem altogether.

Here you can’t say that one is right and one is wrong. Absolutely by looking at the above coping strategies we can say that the problem focused coping mechanism sounds like a better idea and must be implied by all athletes. But problem focused coping mechanism takes time to be implemented and the athlete will be forced to feel the way they feel till they get help. Hence a mixture of both problem focused coping mechanism and emotional focused coping mechanism should be employed as, emotional focused coping mechanism occurs faster and in most cases involuntary, it helps the athlete validate their respective feelings towards a particular issue.


Coping strategies that should be employed by the athletes:

  • Mental imagery: athletes use this to familiarise themselves with their competitive environment, visualise how they should react to certain situations if presented, how they would go about in the game. This technique is used to reduce negative thoughts and focusing only on the positive outcomes only.

  • Pattern breaking: this technique is used when the athlete falls into a negative mental state due uncontrollable imagery. Here the athlete is seen to only think of the worst outcomes possible and hence starts demotivating themselves by thinking of only negative outcomes. Pattern breaking is where the athlete is either by themselves made to think of other good things distracting them from the negative thoughts or either when these negative thoughts are mentioned out aloud, the coach could help the athlete by breaking their thought pattern by making them think of something good or maybe making them think of their role models.

Concluding this article, an athlete whenever they feel that something is not right or they don’t feel their usual self or there is a particular instance or a particular person who brings you discomfort, you should always stalk about it to any authoritative figure who can take any action if required. Or seek professional help from counsellors, sports psychologist etc, as they know how to properly guide you through what you may be going through and how to make the best of the situation presented. Last but not the least, consider stress as a challenge and not a threat.

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