Differently-skilled athletes' self-control style and volitional domain analysis



Associate Professor, PhD A.E. Lovyagina
Saint Petersburg State University, Saint-Petersburg

Keywords: self-control, volitional qualities, volitional control type

Introduction. Every athlete needs high volitional qualities and self-control skills as imperative for success in any sport. An athlete must be highly skilled in behavioral control i.e. in the personal ability to restrain his/her emotions, focus attention, step up performance intensity when necessary, mobilize the mental and physical powers, endurance and other qualities. This is the reason why the self-control ability improvement is now rated among the top priorities of the psychological support service to athletes [6, 9].

Individual self-control patterns within the mental mindset of every person are generally referred to as the self-control style in terms of modern psychology [8]. It is a matter of common knowledge today that athletes may widely differ in their natural self-control patterns depending on how well expressed different basic typological qualities are in their nature [2, 6, 8]. However, the available knowledge base gives virtually no data on correlations of the individual self-control styles of athletes with their volitional domains (meaning the volitional qualities plus the volitional control type). The present shortage of data restricts the potential of practical psychological support service provided to athletes and coaches and, among other things, complicates the efforts to excel the highly important individual qualities including self-control and self-reliance abilities, endurance etc., with due consideration for interdependencies of these qualities and skills.

Objective of the study was to explore the self-control style and volitional domains of differently-skilled athletes.           

Methods and structure of the study. The study applied the toolkits of the Behavioral Self-Control Style method (by V.I. Morosanova); Volitional Qualities Self-Rating by University Athletes method (by N.B. Stambulova); and the Action Control Rating method (by J. Kuhl in the version by S.A. Shapkin). Subject to the study were 96 athletes (including 47 men and 49 women) specialized in athletic gymnastics, figure skating, diving, track races, swimming, cycle races, football, volleyball and basketball. For the data processing purposes under the study, the sampled athletes were split up into the following sport groups: complex sports group (31 people), cyclic sports group (32 people) and team sports group (34 people). The subjects were aged 17-24 years, having sport records of 5-15 years and ranked from Class II Athletes to Masters of Sport. The study data were classified by the following two skill-level groups: Class I-II group (45 people) and Candidates for Master of Sport and Masters of Sport (CMS and MS) group (51 people).

The study data were processed using the regular correlation analysis (Spearman’s rank correlation coefficient) and the multifactor dispersion analysis (based on the Analysis of Variance [ANOVA] and Fisher’s criterion) methods.

Study results and discussion

Correlations of the self-control styles and volitional domain rates of the athletes as identified by the study are given in Table 1 hereunder.

Table 1. Significant correlations of self-control styles and volitional domain rates of the athletes

Volitional domain rates

Self-control style rates




Result rating



Overall self-control

Purposefulness (general scope rate)




р ≤ 0,01





Courage, vigor (intensity rate)




р ≤ 0,05





Courage, vigor (general scope rate)


р ≤ 0,01



р ≤ 0,01





Insistence, endurance (intensity rate)







р ≤ 0,05


Self-reliance, initiative (intensity rate)




р ≤ 0,05





Planning process control rate






р ≤ 0,01




р ≤ 0,05

Post-failure process control rate



р ≤ 0,05


р ≤ 0,05




р ≤ 0,01



р ≤ 0,01

Planning ability of the mental performance process is found to be inversely related to the general scope of the courage and vigor qualities. That means that the athletes gifted with high courage and vigor are less inclined to plan their performance process and, hence, are more prone to unrealistic and unsound goals. And vice versa, the athletes reluctant to rely on the personal courage and vigor in different life situations are more inclined to plan their performance process in great details and, consequently, their goals are more realistic and sound. There are reasons to believe that the planning qualities in this case are designed to offset some shortage of courage and vigor.

Moreover, the planning ability was found to be less developed in the athletes less prone to energy costly volitional efforts (i.e. reluctant to work hard) when facing challenges or failures. This fact may be explained in two ways: either the athletes’ planning capacity is not strong enough to set high goals worth high volitional efforts; or, feeling shortage of the volitional capacity under pressure, they avoid setting high goals that may claim too much effort to be attained.

Modeling means the ability to identify the most significant conditions of the goal-focused performance process, the ability being generally higher in the athletes showing low post-failure stress rates. The post-failure performance process is often motivated by the need to carry out the once started process, i.e. complete the scheduled workout, finish the competitive exercise/ sequence/ distance etc. These are the situations when an athlete needs to mobilize his/her will power. When the athlete feels that the personal will power is insufficient to stand the challenges, he/ she makes an assessment of the internal and external conditions on the way to the goal and models his/her performance under these conditions (for example, feeling how monotonous the performance is, makes an attempt to make it more lively).

Programming ability is lower in the athletes having high general scope of pursposefulness, high courage, vigor, initiative and self-reliance rates. It might be that the insufficient volitional qualities in some athletes are offset by their detailed contemplation of the ways to act so as to attain the desired goals.

Result rating ability is found to be in correlation with the volitional control intensity rate in the planning process. The more reasonable are the personal result ratings by the athletes, the lower are the volitional efforts required to take decisions and the higher is the determination for actions. The result rating ability was found to sag with higher focus on the individual condition and higher self-control process costs; since such athletes are less critical of their performance results and less capable to fully understand the reasons for their failures.

Self-control flexibility rate was found to be in correlation with the post-failure volitional control intensity rate. This means that the post-failure volitional control of the athletes having problems with their plans and programs being adjusted in a timely manner may be too energy-costly for them. On the other hand, the excessive volitional strains may give no way for the athlete to respond to the changing situation on time by necessary adjustments [1, 11].

Self-reliance ability may be interpreted as the advanced self-regulation autonomy that is generally supported by high insistence and endurance abilities. The insistence and endurance rates of the athletes were found to correlate with their independent planning ability and the work management and performance control ability in the goal attainment process, the ability apparently being determined by the sport specifics. Problem solution capacity in the sport performance process is largely dependent on the athlete in fact, although a coach, sport psychologist, physician and other specialists may and should provide necessary support to the athlete. However, nobody of them can replace the athlete in his/her efforts to overcome the burnout, post-failure stress or fears of injury. The athlete must take personal efforts to develop the mental ability to control negative feelings and make progress towards success.

Overall self-control rates of the athletes were found to be higher when the planning and post-failure performance were better controlled provided that the volitional efforts were not too energy-costly. It is the fully-fledged individual conscientious self-control ability that helps the athlete calm down excessive emotions, cope with the muscular “cramps” under too high stresses and employ his/her powers in a most efficient manner [1, 3, 7].

Given in Table 2 hereunder are the significant differences of the volitional qualities intensity rates of the differently-skilled athletes.

Table 2. Significant differences of volitional qualities intensity rates of differently-skilled athletes


Class I-II


Fisher's criterion (F)

Difference significance

Mean scores by Stambulova’s method

Purposefulness (general scope rate)




р ≤ 0,05

Courage, vigor (intensity rate)




р ≤ 0,05

Courage, vigor (general scope rate)




р ≤ 0,05

Result rating ability

Mean scores by Morosanova’s method




р ≤ 0,05

5, 51

7, 63

Higher-skilled athletes were found to have higher self-control and endurance rates, and this may be due to the Candidates for Master of Sport and Masters of Sport being more experienced than the Class I-II athletes in addressing and solving a wide variety of problems and challenges in the training process and competitions. To qualify for the CMS and MS ranks, they have made it through heavy training workloads and learnt on the way to keep their emotions in check during the competitions, workouts etc. By doing that, they have built up their self-control and endurance abilities. When the Candidates for Master of Sport and Masters of Sport demonstrate their high purposefulness, initiative and self-reliance abilities in a wide range of sport and life situations doing better than the Class I-II athletes, it may mean that the higher-ranking athletes have used to face high challenges in their sport careers. They know that there is no way to rely only on the coach’s assistance and are well prepared to take on the responsibility for their sport career and success by acting fairly independent in their goal-setting and sport training, planning and management process and solutions in the context of other life priorities and challenges.

Analysis of the self-control styles under the study showed the athletes of two skill groups being significantly different in the result rating ability (see Table 2). The tested Candidates for Master of Sport and Masters of Sport were found more accurate in their performance result assessment and understanding better the reasons for the results falling short of the goals – compared to the lower-ranking athletes. The differences detected may be indicative of the fact that the higher-ranking athletes are better prepared to attain challenging sport objectives and stand the training loads and competitive stresses under more complicated conditions. The accumulated experience gives them the ability to better analyze the reasons for their victories and defeats and be more critical in assessments of their personal sport performance and fitness.  


The study data confirmed the interdependencies of volitional qualities and self-control abilities as was demonstrated by a few study reports in sport psychology [4, 5, 10]. Furthermore, the study demonstrated the volitional quality improvement potential being in correlation with the individual self-control style of an athlete. Therefore, target efforts to correct the individual self-control style may facilitate the individual volitional qualities improvement process.

The study found that the interrelations of the volitional domain of personality with the individual self-control style are balanced in the sense that inadequately developed volitional qualities are normally offset by certain aspects of the individual self-control style being relatively stronger. It is a matter of common knowledge that the volitional qualities development success is largely dependent on certain genetic factors, i.e. the individual traits of the nervous system. In the sport skills mastering and excelling process,  athletes have to go through a wide range of trials and challenges, and every step in this process helps build up the volitional qualities specific for the sport discipline [9]. Knowing that the volitional qualities improvement process designed in line with recommendations of Puni A.C. is limited to the individual genetic factors, the relevant individual self-control style may be improved by special training tools, including mental and physical training and conditioning methods, situational analysis etc. It is beyond doubt, however, that further focused studies are needed to shape up an effective psychological support system for these processes, although even at this stage it is quite clear that a top priority will be given to the personal performance result rating ability for the reason that this ability is found to be in close correlation with the skill level of an athlete. 


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