JOURNAL OF SPORTS SCIENCE & MEDICINE
REFLECTING ON THE DELIVERY OF A LONGITUDINAL COPING INTERVENTION AMONGST JUNIOR NATIONAL NETBALL PLAYERS
Tracey J. Devonport and Andrew M. Lane
University of Wolverhampton, Walsall, UK
© Journal of Sports Science and Medicine (2009) 8, 169 - 178
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|Recent research suggests that appropriately-tailored interventions
can assist adolescents enhance their coping skills (Frydenberg and Lewis,
The present paper reflects upon the delivery of a longitudinal coping intervention
utilized by junior national netball players. Reflection is focused on issues
such as the rationale for the intervention, operational issues surrounding
the delivery and management of the work. It is also focused on interpersonal
issues relating to intervention implementation. We contend that being explicit
about developmental and applied processes may enable theoretically sound
and efficacious practices to be identified. In addition, unpacking operational
issues related to delivery may assist applied sport and exercise psychologists
in the development of related work.
Key words: Longitudinal coping intervention, time management, goal setting, problem solving, communication, emotional intelligence, adolescence.
During adolescence, young athletes may be confronted by a series
of developmental stressors (Smetana et al., 2006)
whilst concurrently experiencing sporting, academic, employment and social
stressors (Dugdale et al., 2002;
Woodman and Hardy, 2001).
The potential for these combined factors to be perceived as stressful
may be exacerbated by the possibility that adolescents are still developing
adaptive coping strategies and may be unable to cope with such pressures
(Frydenberg and Lewis, 2004).
reflective practice models can be used to guide reflection, although it
is recommended these are adapted to suit individual practices (Anderson
et al., 2002;
The model that will be utilized to aid reflection in the present paper
is that developed by Gibbs, 1988.
This six staged cyclic model (see Figure
1) is commonly used in sport psychology practice (Knowles et al.,
The Gibbs model encourages practitioners to describe an incident, and
then remember their thoughts and feelings regarding this incident. Practitioners
then evaluate the positives and negatives associated with the experience,
followed by an analysis taking into account current research and theoretical
propositions. To conclude, practitioners consider how they would react
in similar future situations.
|RATIONALE FOR THE INTERVENTION|
Whilst working with junior athletes I have noted common experiences relayed in the narratives offered regarding their experiences of balancing academic study with sporting demands. These narratives include the difficulties encountered when striving to attain personally meaningful goals in sporting, social, academic and sometimes work domains. Junior athletes highly committed to sport, and/or competing at national level draw comparisons against their peers and can often be heard to refer to their peers existence as 'normal', a term which implies that he/she was abnormal or unusual. In elaborating, more than one young athlete described the efforts required in pursuing multiple goals as a 'superhuman' endeavour, thereby using terms to indicate the complexity and difficulty of achieving such goals. If superhuman reflects a common language used among those athletes who aspire to achieve goals in multiple domains, then by implication, the expectation might be that the norm is failure to attain goals. My observations concur with research indicating that failure to attain personally important goals may foster negative feelings such as depression and hopelessness, reducing self-efficacy and self-esteem in that specific domain (Klein et al., 1999). In accumulating such experiences, my desire to explore ways in which such individuals could be assisted in their quest to pursue success across domains became a primary objective of my applied and research endeavours. The following reflections relate to an intervention undertaken by twelve junior national netball players (Age range 15-17 years).
read the generic stress and coping literature intensively, a process that
offered theory and empirical evidence that could be utilized to guide
the construction of a coping intervention (Frydenberg and Lewis, 2000,
However, my applied experiences were also influential in the construction
of the coping intervention. My practice utilizes a mix of cognitive, behavioral
and humanistic principles, but also is minded of taking into consideration
client and situational characteristics (Hill, 2001).
Whilst my practice will continue to evolve as I gain new experiences and
knowledge, I have observed a personal shift from a desire to be in control
of the consultancy agenda and climate, to encouraging clients and organisational
members to assume more responsibility for change. This philosophical shift
has moved towards an equal-expertise model utilizing the athlete, coach
and sport scientist triad (Hardy and Parfitt, 1994).
Specifically my long-standing relationship with England Netball contributed
to my awareness of potentially difficult issues in terms of the politics
of the organisation, and the need to involve and inform key personnel
in all stages of change.
content and corresponding rationale
and time management
In developing problem solving skills, some awareness of the complexities
of the task is required, and understanding these complexities is a prerequisite
for solutions (Cummins et al., 1988). An individual will struggle to solve a problem if they
remain unaware of its relative complexities, unless, of course they solve
it by chance. When engaging in problem solving, different types of knowledge
are applied. Domain knowledge (principles) is used to mentally represent
the problem and identify solution steps or actions that may be relevant
for the problem. It interacts with strategic knowledge (heuristics, systematic
approaches to problem solving), which is used to identify solutions that
are most likely to lead to the goal state. Metacognitive knowledge is
used to monitor the selection and application of solutions by keeping
track of progress toward the goal state (van Gog, Paas and van Merriënboer,
2005). Huitt's (1992) four-stage process of problem solving incorporates the
development of domain, strategic and metacognitive knowledge. As such
this model was utilized in the coping intervention to enhance a player's
ability to adopt a careful, analytical, planned, and systematic approach
to the solution process (Huitt, 1992). The Input-Stage focussed on gaining a better understanding
of a problem or situation. The Planning-Stage involved selecting a solution
perceived as most suitable for solving the problem by identifying the
advantages and disadvantages of each alternative. During the Output-Stage,
a solution was implemented, and the Review-Stage evaluated the efficiency
and effectiveness of a solution.
|Helping people utilize communication to obtain personal goals
enables them to develop a host of positive personal qualities including
increased emotional intelligence and self-efficacy expectations (Bandura,
1997; Bedell and Lennox, 1997). Communication skills include abilities to initiate conversations,
maintain social interactions, express thoughts and feelings to others, and
accurately comprehend the expressions of others. As people develop communication
skills that are effective in obtaining rewards from the environment, they
begin to have positive expectations of success and control, and efficacy
expectations rise accordingly (Bandura, 1997).
Communication interventions tend to involve a range of different activities. Recurring principles include; active listening, helping individuals tell their stories, and increasing participation in decision making (Rivers, 2005; Sullivan, 1993). Most communication skills training emphasise the performance of specific behaviors rather than the assessment and adaptation to individuals. In the development of a communication intervention, it is necessary to emphasize awareness as flexibility is paramount in communication. The communication pack presented activities adapted from those previously proposed by Rivers, 2005 and Anderson, 1993. The pack began with exercises intended to facilitate active listening, initiating conversations and explaining intent. To facilitate practice, mentors and mentees were encouraged to use role-play to re-enact or rehearse a range of communication scenarios. These included confrontations, asking for support, conversations that went well, and conversations that did not go well. Role-play provided an opportunity for mentees to test their communication skills, seeking advice and feedback in a non-threatening environment. Thereby, role-play helped develop their confidence in applying new communication strategies in day-to-day encounters.
This was the last pack to be completed by participants following ten months of coping based activities. For many, this pack was due for completion at a time when they were completing academic examinations (UK awards: General Certificate of Secondary Education (GCSE) or Advanced Level) and coursework. Possibly due to a combination of these factors this pack was the least utilized. Many players maintained that they continued to meet with and value their mentor and the activities completed. All players noted that the mentor-mentee relationship progressively evolved becoming more flexible, less formal and more tailored to the immediate needs of the mentee. For many mentees during the exam period their preference was for mentors to maintain an interest in their general well-being. At first I was disappointed that more players had not engaged with the communication pack. Fuelled by comments made by those who did not complete the pack that the corresponding activities sounded useful, I wished that more players had completed it. However, as I teased through the wealth of information provided by mentors and mentees, this sense of disappointment dissipated.
Those individuals who completed pack activities typically utilized it as and when they perceived a need for it, as opposed to the scheduled time for completion. For example, one player wished to move clubs and used the communication pack to consider how she would approach this subject with the coach. In such instances players commented that the pack offered different perspectives, helped guide the rehearsal of challenging conversations and developed confidence. Furthermore, many players and mentors resolved to continue their mentoring partnership beyond the formal mentoring period. The packs were described as resources to visit as and when required, but most importantly, each and every mentor and mentee used positive affective terms when summarising their experiences. These included terms such as fun, enjoyable, nice, reassuring, supportive, challenging, and interesting. When asked if the coping intervention should continue to be offered to players the response was a unanimous yes, remove some of the paperwork, but yes. As an applied practitioner I strive for the generation of positive affective states associated with the work I do. This coping intervention and the mentors that delivered it, helped achieve this objective. On reflection I could not be disappointed with the outcomes of this programme if the mentors and mentees expressed satisfaction and enjoyment.
|MONITORING AND EVALUATION OF COPING AND COPING INTERVENTIONS|
I expressed from the outset my desire to complete research that had longevity
in terms of the value and benefits afforded to the organisation and participants.
Very early on, this set in motion an inner conflict whereby I sought to
pursue the scientific rigour and experimental control that many journals
demand for publication, whilst at the same time aspiring to develop an
intervention that participants would enjoy and value. On the one hand,
I believed experimental control and scientific rigour would require regular
psychometric testing and diary completion to assess the impact of the
intervention. On the other hand, I knew from experience that participants
dislike excessive paperwork. I felt I required some way of monitoring
the progress of participants. I was conscious of minimising the time required
for athletes to complete questionnaires, so I sought out measures of coping
and emotional intelligence that possessed acceptable validity and reliability,
that were also concise in nature. Lane, 2007 suggested that brevity is an important consideration
when selecting measures for use with athletes. The two measures selected
were the Brief COPE (Carver, 1997)
and the Bar-On Emotional Quotient Inventory: Short (EQI: S; Bar-On, 2002).
|The present paper reflects upon the delivery of a longitudinal coping intervention utilized by junior national netball players. The research was embedded in work designed to enhance the coping skills of adolescent players, a rationale that the sporting organisation bought into. The intervention involved establishing an action-learning group in order to facilitate an equal-expertise model (Hardy and Parfitt, 1994). We contend that unless proposed interventions receive the full and open support of the sports organisation in which participants are immersed, the objectives of an intervention may be compromised. The intervention itself was implemented over three stages: 1) Setting up the intervention; 2) Profiling the player and 3) Developing five coping competencies. Although results indicated that the intervention was effective, caution is urged regarding the generalisability of this model. We suggest that the key finding within the present study is the notion that intervention-based research requires the sport organisation to buy into the value of the work. Applied research must also accommodate the idiosyncrasies of the organization. We suggest that practitioners maintain reflective diaries whilst conducting applied work to aid the exploration and recall of operational and procedural issues. Future research could utilize data from reflective diaries to identify factors associated with effective applied sport psychology delivery.|
Tracey J. DEVONPORT
Employment: Senior Lecturer Sport and Exercise Psychology, School of Sport, Performing Arts and Leisure, University of Wolverhampton, UK.
Degree: BSc, PGCE, MSc, Postgraduate Diploma in Psychology.
Research interests: Stress appraisal and coping, emotion, self-efficacy, imagery, and performance.
Andrew M. LANE
Employment: Professor in Sport and Exercise Psychology, School of Sport, Performing Arts and Leisure, University of Wolverhampton, UK.
Degree: BA, PGCE, MSc, PhD.
Research interests: Mood, emotion, measurement, coping, and performance.