Effects of competitive stressors on psychosomatic health

PhD, Associate Professor M.E. Guzich
Surgut State University, Surgut

Keywords: competitive performance, stressors, behavioral self-control styles, volitional qualities, personality priorities, psycho-emotional and psychosomatic health, stress tolerance, psychological fitness.

Background. In the new millennium sports has evolved into a social phenomenon of a global scale. The new epoch with its growing interest in the top-ranking competitive events (with this interest intensively fueled by the sports media, scandals and promotion campaigning), has put the elite sports among the top priorities in the national interests and policies. It is difficult nowadays to find an individual unsupportive of the compatriots and indifferent to their competitive failures and wins. As mentioned by many analysts [1, 5, 7], progress of elite sports is contradictory and complicated in many aspects including the following.

First, the elite sports are known to expose the athletes to high health risks due to their ultimate physical and mental stressors. Competitive success in modern sports often requires from the athlete to go beyond the permissible limits at sacrifice of own health and often the opponent’s health. “The contradiction between the progress in sports and health agenda may be resolved by the initiatives to improve the sports equipment, rules of competitions, material and technical provisioning for the sports facilities and the disease prevention and health control service, plus the special efforts to improve the coaching standards. It should be confessed, however, that the ‘sports or health’ problem remains unsolved” [5, p. 12].

Second, many sports are “getting younger”, and it is not unusual today to see top-level underage athletes winning titles in many sports including rhythmic and artistic gymnastics, figure skating etc., as demonstrated, e.g. by the Russian Figure Skating Championship (Saransk, December 2018), when all three medals in the women's singles were won by 13-14 year-old girls fearlessly competing in triple and quadruple jumps.

Third, the elite sports are seriously undermined by the corrupt match fixing practices. As reported by some analysts [1, 5, 7], the fixtures (i.e. competitions with a completely or partially pre-determined result), have seriously expanded to undermine competitiveness, particularly in the top-level football and hockey events where many matches are often “sold out” in advance. The fixtures cannot but be damaging for the moral standards of the competitors, for their entertaining aspects and for the supporter communities.

Fourth, the situation is no less concerning in the sports pharmacological servicing sector, with no modern sport discipline known to be immune from doping issues nowadays – that are perceived rather contradictory by the society on the whole and supporter community in particular since the sports in fact become no longer humane and fair. Doping undermines the competitive culture since the audience watches competitions of the sport physicians and pharmacologists rather than the competitors as such, and it is not the strongest competitor who wins. At this juncture the problem can unlikely be fast solved, since the ‘win at any cost’ doctrine is getting only stronger and deeper rooted in the modern sporting cultures. Special anti-doping agencies and other organizations have failed to live up to the expectations as demonstrated by the never-ending doping scandals the world over.

At the same time, as emphasized by some researchers [1], modern sports has come to the point where the world's best athletes are virtually indistinguishable in every fitness aspect and evenly strong, that means that competitive failures and successes are mostly decided by psychological factors, particularly in elite sports. This is not an “outside opinion” only as it is shared by many elite athletes – including Olympic Champion Vladimir Vasin who underlines that “these are psychological factors rather than material incentives only that are important in sports” [2]. The common acknowledgement of this fact resulted in emergence of sports psychology a few decades ago, and it has been on the rise for the last few years. One of the key missions of this new scientific knowledge branch is to support the athletes and trainers in their mental conditioning efforts for the individual or team competitive progress. That is the reason why the psychological fitness aspects and mental conditioning tools have been in a growing priority by the sports community lately.

Objective of the study was to analyze impacts of competitive stressors on the psychological fitness and health aspects in sports.

Methods and structure of the study. The Surgut State University’s Psychology Department has run for the last decade the athletes’ psychosomatic health and competitive stress tolerance studies in Surgut city and the Khanty-Mansi Autonomous Okrug Yugra [3, 4]. We sampled for the present study skilled boxers (n=30) with 3-plus year experiences and split up the sample into actively competing EG1 (n=15); and EG2 (n=15) of non-qualifiers for the seasonal events. The study was designed to: (1) Test the group self-control behavioral styles; (2) Test the volitional qualities; and (3) Diagnose and rate psychosomatic health disorders by severity classes; followed by an EG1/ EG2 test data analysis.

Results and discussion. The personality behavioral self-control test rates and their individual progress profiles were obtained using the V.I. Morosanova Behavioral Self-control Test method [8] in the first stage of the study. The tests rated most of EG1 (53.4%) high and 40% moderate on the behavioral self-control test scale – that means that the actively competing group is relatively independent, flexible and adequately responsive to the situations. Having high success motivations, the group is able to effectively offset the unfavorable personality qualities and develop an efficient self-control style for a competitive success. EG1 was tested with a good goal-setting and goal- detailing qualities and good self-management and progress planning skills; plus determination and efficiency in the progress goal attainment. As for EG2, 66.6% and 33.4% were tested low and moderate on the self-control test scale, respectively. The tests showed the non-qualifiers for the seasonal events being reluctant to set long-term progress goals and keep up the best behavioral self-control standards. The EG1/ EG2 intergroup behavioral self-control test data differences were tested significant (empirical U = 0.021). This finding may be interpreted as indicative of the competitive activity being of positive effect on the athletic self-controls, tactical versatility, situation-specific response and fast decision making skills.

The volitional qualities test data and analyses give the means to rate the competitive progress planning and forecasting abilities and competitive stress tolerance. The EG1/ EG2 volitional qualities tests were run using the V.K. Chumakova Volitional Qualities Test Method [10] at the 2nd stage of the study. The volitional qualities tests rated the EG1 and EG2 66.6% and 60% high on the volitional qualities scale that means that both groups are reasonably responsible, disciplined and demonstrate high self-control, pressure tolerance etc. The EG1/ EG2 intergroup volitional qualities test data differences were found meaningful (empirical U = 0.161). This finding may be interpreted as indicative of the volitional qualities being fairly independent of the competitive activity or inactivity.

We expected that the pressure of independent decision-making in stressful environments, needs to maintain endurance, physical fitness and demonstrate high stress coping skills could not but tell on the psychosomatic health rates of the actively competing group. This hypothesis was checked by the psychosomatic health rating analysis at the 3rd stage of the study when we used the Giessen Psychosomatic Complaints Questionnaire to fix individual complaints and their complexes, analyze them and classify them by severity levels [6].

The psychosomatic health rating tests found dominance of burnout symptoms in EG1, with 47%, 12% and 41% of the group tested with moderate-severe, highly-severe complaints and no-complaints in the psychosomatic health tests, respectively; versus EG2 with 13%, 20% and 4.27% of the group rated medium-severe it every test, moderate-severe in 2 tests, and non-complaining, respectively. The EG1/ EG2 intergroup psychosomatic health data difference analysis, however, showed the intergroup difference being insignificant (empirical U = 0.021). This finding may be probably interpreted as indicative of the competitive stressors being of not only disorganizing but also mobilizing effects. Many analysts tend to rank active life related stressors among such ambivalent factors including, e.g. psychosocial motivation stressors [9] that include, of course, the competitive stressors.

Conclusion. The test data and analyses have once again demonstrated the fallacy of the purely technical training models in sports with competitions often viewed as the training progress verification and demonstration events. The study data showed the training and competitive stressors being perceived differently by athletes, with their actual effects and health risks being different as well. This finding demonstrates the need for (1) qualified psychological support at every athletic training stage and competitions; (2) further studies to analyze the athletes’ personality qualities, motivations, values and priorities versus the factors of influence on their competitive progress; (3) improving the psychological support and conditioning competency of the coaches, athletes and sport managers; and (4) competent and skillful sport psychologists for effective and timely psychological consulting service to athletes.


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Corresponding author: apokin_vv@mail.ru


In the XXI century sports have evolved into an influential social phenomenon due to their growing popularity with inevitable scandals, with the elite sports ranked nowadays among the core sectors of national interests. It is hard to find a person indifferent to national sport successes and failures – not always logical and comprehensible enough. Objective of the study was to find correlations of the sport-specific competitive stressors with the athletes’ psychosomatic health standards. Sampled for the study were 30 boxers split up into Experimental Group 1 of actively competing individuals (n=15); and Experimental Group 2 of the boxers who failed to qualify for the top-ranking seasonal competitions (n=15). Both of the groups were tested for the behavioral self-control styles, willpower and mental health disorders by the V.I. Morosanova behavioral self-control tests; V.V. Chumakov Volitional Qualities Rating Test; and the Giessen Psychosomatic Complaints Questionnaire. The study found both of the groups, irrespective of the competitive process intensity, being exposed to the external uncertainty stressors with the associating mental and somatic health issues. The actively competing Experimental Group1, however, was tested with strong correlations of the test rates versus the inactive Experimental Group 2 that showed no such correlations whatsoever.