Effect Of Mental Toughness And Social Support On The Relationship Between Life Stressors And Injury: A Case Study

Athletic injury has been prevalent in sports for decades, among both recreational and competitive athletes. For instance, in college athletes, there was an injury rate of 14 and 4 respectively for the male and female athletes out of every 1000 in competitions and practices (Hootman, Dick and Agel, 2007). Injury rates tend to be especially high in contact sports like football, as well as in non-contact sports like volleyball and soccer. Injuries however do not tend to be too chronic or long-term in such sports (Hootman et al., 2007). Some researchers suggest that individual factors (like age, fitness levels and any previous injuries) as well as environmental factors (the playing conditions, sports equipment and the type of sports) both play a role in ultimately causing injury (Van Mechelen, Hlobil, and Kemper, 1992). Even if these factors are at in support for the athlete, reportedly there have still been higher rates of injury (Petrie, Deiters, and Harmison, 2014). Therefore, researchers have turned their attention to the stress an individual may be undergoing that could potentially affect sports performance. Stress may be defined as the types of major events experienced by a person that may induce both positive and negative emotions (Petrie, Deiters, and Harmison, 2014). Both positively and negatively rated life events can affect athletic performance and cause injury (e.g., Smith, Smoll and Ptacek, 1990; Blackwell and McCullagh, 1990).

1.1.Literature review

A systematic literature review was conducted via electronic databases, including Taylor and Francis, Elsevier, and Google Scholar using key words “sports injury”, “life stressors”, “mental toughness”, and “social support”. Fifteen studies investigating relationship between stressful life events and injury for college-level competitive athletes were identified, that used a survey questionnaire design for their studies. Eight of them included either social support (n=5) or mental toughness (n=3) as mediating variables. Anderson and Williams (1988, 1999) for example developed a multi-factor framework to help capture the reality of injury by including various psychosocial factors and their related mechanisms that affect injury risks in sports. To develop this line of investigation, scholars have come up with at least three sets of factors that affect the stress response of athletes while they are engaged in the field. These are: the history of stressful events (both negative and positive), traits of personality (competitive trait anxiety) and resources for coping (social support network). All three categories of factors, individually and in combination are said to affect the athlete’s performance because they affect how the player will interpret the stimuli in his environment. An athlete experiencing some very stressful life event, soaring levels of trait anxiety and low social support may evaluate a sports situation with hostility and anxiety; that will ultimately cause a rise in fatigue and attentional disturbances. Previously, research has identified various factors that help cope with life stressors. One such factor is the support of social network, or simply called social support. According to Malecki and Demaray (2003), social support is the supportive behaviors or the general support that an individual perceives is being stemmed by people they know and helps them withstand adversity. In a comparative study of college female gymnasts, those who had high life stress and low social support encountered more injuries than their counterparts with higher life stress and high social support. Another construct that has increasingly received attention of researchers of sports is called mental toughness(Gucciardi and Gordon, 2011). Some researchers have even cast their doubts over the validity of such a construct but it continues to garner attention (Andersen, 2011). According to Coulter, Mallet andGucciardi, (2010) mental toughness is defined as the collection of imbibed attitudes, values, emotions, cognitions and behaviors that affect how athletes will evaluate and mitigate negative and positive stimulating situations to reach their goals. Mental toughness is driven by a collection of dispositional traits and cognitive abilities (Harmison, 2011). Athletes that have such dispositions and affectives are better able to cope with the demands that challenging sports puts them through. This personality variable helps athletes channel negative thoughts to use for better performance, gives them endurance in times of breaking down and pushes them towards their goals.

1.2.Research question:

The proposed research question is: how do life stressors affect athletic injury when moderated by mental toughness and social support? Sub questions are: how does mental toughness moderate the relationship between life stressors and injury, and how does social support affect the relationship between life stressors and injury?

2.Research design and methodology:

The research design for this study will follow the framework structure given by Saunders et al (2011).


Source: Saunders et al., (2011)

The paradigm of philosophy to be used for this research study will be the pragmatist’s approach. This is because either the qualitative or the quantitative methods and measures can be used, since their determination is strictly contingent upon the research question (Saunders et al., 2011). The research strategy will be a cross sectional case study approach, with quantitative measures (Yin, 2013). A case study approach will help analyse the social support that team mates offer and cross-sectional study is more feasible with time and resource constraints. Because the study uses hypothetic-deductive method, quantitative measures and results will be used that enable researchers to answer questions on how one set of variables affects the other and generalize the results.

3.Selected Research Methods:

3.1.Population and sample selection

3.1.1.Eligibility criteria

The eligibility criteria for population selection in this research will be competitive athletes, all of whom will be part of team and be participating in the same competition. The sport selected is football, since it is one of the sports with high levels of reported injuries (Singh, 2015). The population to be studied for generalizable results will be college level athletes. The Life Event Survey for Collegiate Athletes (LESCA) will be used to screen out participants who have had stressful life events in the past one year at least. College athletes belonging to all ethnicities and age groups will be included in the study; status of their academic achievement and/ or scholarship will also not be considered an eligibility criteria. Athletes belonging to both a starter and non-starter status will be included as well. This is to ensure that the final sample to be selected will be representative of the whole population (Saks and Allsop, 2013). However, the team and the university selected will be done purposively since access can be a major problem in research.

3.2.Sampling size

The sample for this study will be selected from college level teams of football athletes from a minimum of four colleges. All participants from a team must be part of the same competition. The sampling size will be significant (n=80) so that results can be generalized (Fink, 2003).

3.3.Outcome measures

The four main variables for this study are life stress, athletic injury with mental toughness and social support as moderating variables. The first outcome variable will be the LESCA to measure the stressful event in an athlete’s life, that may have brought on both positive and negative effects. The event will be evaluated on an 8-point scale with the extremes of positively stressful and negatively stressful. The validity and reliability of this scale has already been established by Petrie and his colleagues (1992, 1993). Athletic injury has been defined by Albinson and Petrie (2003) as the injury occurring because of participation in an organized competition that requires medical attention of a physician and renders the affectee unable to play for a day or more beyond the day of incident. Hence the time lost owing to an injury will be the primary outcome variable measuring injury, as has been done in previous researches (Smith et al., 1990). The number of times injury occurs and the number of days the player does not participate will be recorded.

The moderating variable of mental toughness will be measured using the fourteen item Sports

Mental Toughness Questionnaire (SMTQ) developed by Sheard et al., (2009). This questionnaire will treat toughness as a permanent personality factor and will use dimensions of confidence, constancy and control. The other moderator variable, social support will be operationalized on the basis of twelve item Multidimensional Scale of Perceived Social Support (MSPSS) which is presented by by Zimet et al., (1988). Using this scale, social support from family, friends and significant others will be analyzed.

3.4.Procedure for data collection

Permission from the selected college’s relevant authorities will be obtained to pursue this study on their team. Data from college athletes will be collected via survey questionnaire, once consent for participation from individuals has been obtained. The survey questionnaire will be distributed one time and hence represents a cross-sectional study of the relationship which exists among life stressors and injury. Instead of collecting historic data on injuries and life stresses, the survey will be distributed just before the athletes are going to participate in a competition. This will help ensure that baseline data on the three variables of life stressors, mental toughness and social support can be collected. The data on injuries will be recorded by a physician or athlete assistant trainer who will be given forms by the researcher with printed particulars of each participant. That will help keep track of the injuries, the day and time on which they occurred, during practice or the competition, days lost in practice or in competition, days it took to recover and the type of treatment provided. It will be imperative that data be codified only in terms of numbers so that later analysis is possible.

3.5.Data analysis:

For data analysis, the coded responses will be added to the computer software that will perform various tests. This study involves the study of moderating variables that will affect the relationship between the independent variable and the dependent variable. According to Frazier,Tix and Barron (2004) the Hierarchical Multiple Regression (HMR) is the legitimate way to analyze the relationships that are moderated by variables. Therefore, the results of this study will not be subject to a simple regression analysis. Scores for the moderator and predictor variables will be standardized to reduce chances of any problem of multi-collinearity. Therefore, descriptive statistics will be the resulting data from statistical analysis of this study. These will then be analyzed and reproduced in the form of a report. Cronbach alpha for ensuring validity of scales will be used in this study. Care has also been taken in selecting those scales that have previously been validated by authors in different studies. Reporter bias is minimized because data will be collected while the phenomenon is occurring.

3.6.Ethical issues:

Research that involves information of a personal level can be a very sensitive matter. This research study on the athletes will also collect personal credentials like demographic information from the athletes and also record information about their injuries. To ensure that the study is carried out in a transparent and ethical way, written consent of the participants will be obtained beforehand. They will also be allowed to withdraw any time during the study that they may want to. In addition, confidentiality of the information collected will be ensured by storing data electronically on a password-protected computer. Anonymity of the information shared by athletes will be ensured by assigning codes to each athlete instead of their names.


The research study proposed will investigate the relationship between life stressors and athletic injuries. The relationship will be moderated by mental toughness of the individual and social support available to him. The design is a case study that uses the quantitative method of a survey questionnaire. As mentioned above, the researcher will ensure rigor and validity in the study while making sure ethical issues are dealt with properly. The data collected will be analyzed quantitatively as well and will produce descriptive statistics, which will be combined with written and detailed description to present the final report.




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