Burton, D., & Naylor, S. (1997). Is anxiety really facilitative? Reaction to the myth that cognitive anxiety always impairs sport performance. Journal of Applied Sport Psychology, 9, 295-302.

These authors disagree with the concept of facilitative and debilitative anxiety as proposed by Hardy. They prefer to consider anxiety as a traditional concept and to interpret emotions along with arousal, anxiety, or whatever the state of "physical excitedness" is that exists in particular settings. They defer to the time-honored and enduring concepts of emotion as proposed by Lazarus [Lazarus, R. (1991). Emotion and adaptation. New York, NY: Oxford University Press.]

Lazarus has suggested that negative expectations of goal attainment and coping should lead to negative emotions such as cognitive anxiety, whereas positive goal attainment and coping expectations should prompt the development of more positive emotions, such as challenge, excitement, and self-confidence. Maintaining the traditional interpretation of anxiety the authors state:

"Not only do we believe that anxiety does not facilitate performance but we argue that [sport] anxiety researchers have mistakenly mislabeled other positive emotions such as challenge, and self-confidence as facilitative anxiety." p. 297

Lazarus' Model

Situational reactions are called stress reactions that involve a complex cognitive evaluation in which individuals weigh at least three types of information (i.e., primary appraisal, secondary appraisal, and coping resources) in order to determine the amount and quality of stress experienced.

Primary appraisal is a transaction in which individuals evaluate the personal significance of an encounter for their well being. There are three types of primary appraisals - threat, challenge, harm/loss -- each being influenced by

  1. goal relevance, the extent to which the encounter impacts valued personal goals,
  2. ego involvement, the diverse aspects of ego identity or personal commitment that are at stake, and
  3. goal congruency, the degree to which the transaction facilitates or impairs goal attainment.

Secondary appraisal focuses on assessing perceptions of how well the individual can handle or manage the encounter, that is, their coping resources. Individuals assess how much control they have over

  1. preventing or overcoming harm, and
  2. improving their prospects for receiving positive benefits from the transaction.

Coping resources are the actual cognitive and behavioral techniques that individuals have at their disposal to deal with problems and improve emotional well-being. Other researchers have proposed two classes of coping:

  1. problem-focused coping that aims at reducing or eliminating sources of stress, and
  2. emotion-focused coping that are cognitive/behavioral ploys to decrease emotional distress and increase feelings of well-being, even if the source of threat remains unchanged.

Thus, factors that raise perceived threat during primary appraisal, decrease perceived control during secondary appraisal, or reduce perceived coping ability should increase anxiety, particularly cognitive anxiety. On the other hand, when the opposite of these effects occurs, positive emotions such as challenge, excitement, and self-confidence should be provoked.

Hardy and his colleagues' work is criticized as being deficient because it promotes a single construct to define two or more discrete emotions that have different antecedents and consequences. Hardy's presentation is dependent upon how he defines and measures competitive anxiety. That restriction is limited and has weaknesses. Lazarus' conceptualizations are a better alternative.

Implication. Lazarus' model of primary and secondary appraisals and coping resources provides a good framework for understanding athletes' responses to stressful situations. It suggests certain activities that should be "coached" to assist athletes to perform well.

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