Fitness & Health

Psychology prof Patrick Gaudreau leads new research

Photo credit: Marta Keirkus

Student-athletes who are optimists tend to be better at managing stress, according to a study led by University of Ottawa psychology professor Patrick Gaudreau.

Gaudreau’s research team concluded that when optimistic student-athletes envision their future, they are more confident in their ability to meet their goals. Therefore, they are more likely to achieve them, despite stress coming from school or sport.

In 2005, Gaudreau was coaching golf when he first thought of stress management. He thought about how sometimes athletes are not the best during training, but in competition they can outperform everyone else. Other times, it’s the complete opposite.

His team went out to study 185 Alberta high school students who all participated in some sort of competitive sport at the provincial level. They distributed questionnaires describing their optimism, and questionnaires evaluating how they cope with their academic and sporting life.

The resulting study, titled “Optimism, Pessimism, and Coping in a Dual-Domain Model of Sport and School Satisfaction,” finds that positive thoughts about sports typically meant better performance, and the same for school.

“They were coping in an active manner, using relaxation strategies, and seeing their issues in a logical way. This in turn gives them a better quality life in sport and academic,” said Gaudreau. “The student athletes were also controlling their thoughts, using mental imagery, and seeing social support.”

Gaudreau says most studies that look at stress management in athletes don’t take into account every aspect of a young adult’s life, such as their relationships, parents, and schooling.

“We look at athletes without examining other parts of their life. Our study looked at athletes and what’s happening in their entire life. We tried to look at two of their most important things: school and sport.”

He concluded that coping for sport predicted sport satisfaction, whereas coping for school predicted school satisfaction. But there was no spillover effect; coping strategies used in one domain did not predict satisfaction in another.

Gaudreau hopes his study will at least give information to student-athletes, coaches, parents, and teachers to use and make a difference in their lives. His next step is to see if the coping strategies will help students in their life as a whole.