Understanding psychological changes in adolescent wrestlers participating in an intensive training camp: A mixed-methods investigation

Andrew P. Driska *, Daniel R. Gould *, Scott Pierce ** and Ian H. J. Cowburn ***

(*) Institute for the Study of Youth Sports, Michigan State University, USA
(**) Illinois State University, USA
(***) Leeds Beckett University, UK

Research has indicated that adversity created in training environments can develop mental toughness in adolescent athletes (Bell, Hardy, & Beattie, 2013; Connaughton, Hanton, & Jones, 2010; Gucciardi, Gordon, & Dimmock, 2008). However, few studies (Bell et al., 2013) have explored this development prospectively. Employing a pragmatic, longitudinal, mixed methods design, this study assessed 70 adolescent wrestlers participating in an established intensive wrestling camp that systematically employed adversity. The Trait Sport Confidence Inventory, the State Hope Scale, and the Athletic Coping Skills Inventory- 28 were administered at the outset, conclusion, and nine-months-following the camp. A repeated measures MANOVA with post-hoc measures showed increases in seven variables, maintained at the nine-month follow-up, with the strongest partial effect sizes in hope (η = .242), sport confidence (η = .151), and coping with adversity (η = .142). Interviews with eight participants, conducted throughout the camp, one-week post-camp, and nine-months post-camp, yielded five high-order themes: enhanced confidence, work ethic, development of empowering attributes (e.g., responsibility, internal control), enhanced thought processes (e.g., self-awareness), and enhanced interpersonal skills. Results suggest that this highly-structured adverse training environment has the ability to develop a range of skills and dispositions related to mental toughness, and that some of these factors may transfer to other life contexts.

Keywords: Coaching, Coping with adversity, Mental skills, Mental toughness, Sport