Coping, Social Support, and Emotion Regulation in Teams
Katherine A. Tamminen and Patrick Gaudreau
Tamminen, K. A., & Gaudreau, P. (2014). Coping, social support, and emotion regulation in
teams. In M. R. Beauchamp & M. A. Eys (Eds.), Group dynamics in exercise and sport
psychology: Contemporary themes (2nd ed., pp.222-239). New York: Routledge.
Social ties have been described as both assets and liabilities for athletes (1). On the one
hand, social support is seen as a resource for athletes dealing with stressors in sport, and seeking
social support is associated with positive outcomes for athletes including performance
achievement, enhanced relationships with teammates, recovery from injury, protection from
burnout, and task-oriented coping during competitions (2). On the other hand, athletes frequently
report a range of stressors derived from social interactions or relationships that can lead to
negative outcomes or unsuccessful performances. Examples of such stressors include coach and
teammate conflicts, criticism from others, concerns about home life and friends, and conflicts
with officials (3). The relationship between social support and coping is therefore complex:
social interactions may contribute to athletes’ stressor appraisals, however social support can
contribute to positive outcomes and successful performances. Emotions also play an important
role in interactions between athletes and teammates, coaches, and other members of the team
environment. Athletes’ emotions can be affected by the social environment of the team, and
athletes’ emotional displays can impact teammates, coaches, and other members of the social
environment (e.g., family members, spectators). Thus, athletes must manage their own emotions
and cope with stressors to produce successful performance, yet athletes can also influence (and
be influenced by) the emotions and coping of teammates, coaches, and others. By better
understanding the dynamics of social support, coping, and emotion, we can advance theory about
how athletes interact within the social context of a team and develop interventions to improve
individual and team coping and emotion regulation.
The purpose of this chapter is to review relevant literature regarding coping, social
support, and emotion regulation processes in sport teams. We argue that in order to advance our
understanding of coping in sport and provide useful advice for coaches and practitioners, it is
important to consider the social context within which athletes’ coping is embedded. We present
some emerging conceptual considerations from the sport psychology literature, and we make the
distinction between intrapersonal and interpersonal perspectives of coping and emotion
regulation. Intrapersonal perspectives of coping and emotion regulation focus on individual
athletes’ perceptions of stressors, their emotions, coping, and outcomes (e.g., personal
performance). Alternatively, an interpersonal approach focuses on how athletes’ stressors,
coping, and emotion regulation are influenced by others, and how actions or emotional displays
subsequently influence others. An interpersonal perspective also considers how athletes cope
with stressors as a group, and this approach allows for the distinction between athletes’ coping in
teams versus the collective coping of teams. Coping in teams is concerned with how each
individual in a team copes and how this influences other individuals or group-level outcomes
such as performance or cohesion. Coping of teams relates to athletes’ perceptions of how “we as
a team are coping.” We propose a novel multilevel framework of coping that could both
distinguish and integrate intrapersonal and interpersonal perspectives on social support, coping,
and emotions, and we summarize with suggestions that can be used to inform team interventions
Theory and Research
Coping in Sport: Intrapersonal versus Interpersonal Perspectives
Researchers in sport psychology have predominantly used the
cognitive-motivational-relational theory (CMRT) proposed by Lazarus and his colleagues (4,5)
for studying athletes’ stressor appraisals and coping. Within this theory, stressors refer to
demands made on an individual that are appraised as taxing or exceeding his or her resources (6).
Lazarus described coping as an ongoing process of constantly changing cognitive and behavioral
efforts to manage appraised stressors (5). The emphasis on coping as a within-person process (4)
has led to a large body of research focusing on intrapersonal processes that are associated with
coping. For example, researchers have examined the different events or situations athletes
appraise as stressors and how athletes respond to or cope with stressors, as well as examining
outcomes associated with stressors and coping such as sport performance, goal achievement,
affective states, sport commitment, injuries, and burnout (6). Stressors in sport can include
concerns about personal performance, losing in competitions, referee decisions, opponent
behaviors, injuries, game conditions (e.g., weather), and non-competitive stressors such as
distractions and work-life balance concerns (6). According to Lazarus (4), stressors are evaluated
via two appraisals of an event: a primary appraisal of the situation and whether it is relevant to
the individual’s goals and values, and a secondary appraisal of what can be done about the
situation. A stressor may be appraised as a challenge when the athlete perceives that he or she
has the resources necessary to meet the demands of the situation, whereas a stressor may be
perceived as a threat if the athlete does not have sufficient resources to manage the situation (7).
Coping strategies within the CMRT are typically classified as problem- or
emotion-focused (5). Problem-focused coping strategies used in sport settings include increasing
effort, increasing attention, planning, seeking advice, and technical adjustments, whereas
emotion-focused coping strategies are actions to regulate emotional stress resulting from the
appraisal of a stressor (e.g., positive reappraisal, seeking emotional support, relaxation) (8).
Avoidance (e.g., cognitive disengagement or physical withdrawal) has also been reported as an
important dimension of coping among athletes (9). Another conceptualization of coping
strategies in sport proposes a distinction between task-oriented coping (e.g., increased effort,
relaxation, thought control), disengagement coping (e.g., venting, physical or mental
disengagement), and distraction coping (e.g., mental distraction, focusing on other tasks) (10). Of
particular importance, task-oriented coping crosses active forms of emotion-focused coping (e.g.,
relaxation) and problem-focused coping (e.g., increased effort) because they both play an
important role in directly dealing with the sources of stress and their resulting cognitive,
emotional, and physiological reactions. Although no single coping strategy is universally
effective or ineffective in managing sport stressors, it has been suggested that task-oriented
coping is positively associated with subjective and objective measures of sport performance,
while disengagement coping is negatively associated with sport performance (11,12).
Although researchers have tended to focus on what individual athletes do to cope with
stressors in sport, athletes’ stressors are often social in nature. Athletes’ stressor appraisals
frequently stem from social interactions such as arguments or disagreements between teammates,
being criticized or yelled at by parents or coaches, getting a bad call by an official, and
interpersonal performance or relationship conflicts (1,13,14). In a recent systematic review of the
team contact sport literature (e.g., rugby, ice hockey), Campo and colleagues (15) reported that
the influence of others (e.g., negative relationships, criticism, teammates’ behaviors) was an
antecedent of athletes’ negative emotions in over 58% of the studies they reviewed, whereas
individual errors were reported in 52.9% of reviewed studies. These stressors have largely been
explored from an intrapersonal perspective in order to try to understand how individual athletes’
stressor appraisals contribute to sport experiences and performance.
In terms of coping, athletes in team sports have been found to use a variety of coping
strategies in response to appraised stressors (8,16,17). For example, Holt and Hogg (16) reported
that female soccer players use cognitive, behavioral, and social coping strategies (e.g.,
reappraisal, performance behaviors, blocking, and drawing on social resources) to deal with
stressors. In a study of professional rugby players, Nicholls and colleagues (17) reported that
problem-focused strategies represented 70% of the coping efforts reported by athletes over a
28-day period, although fluctuations in the use of problem-, emotion-focused, and avoidance
coping suggested that athletes’ coping changed in response to differences in appraised stressors.
It appears that athletes from team sports report using problem-focused coping strategies most
frequently, whereas emotion-focused and avoidance coping strategies are used less frequently
(15). However, and probably even more important for understanding athletes’ coping from a
group dynamics perspective, problem-focused coping includes actions such as seeking support,
gathering information from coaches and teammates, and increasing communication (15), which
can be shaped by and shape subsequent group processes and outcomes. For example, when an
athlete seeks advice from teammates as a way of coping with poor performance, social bonds
between team members may be reinforced through the act of communicating and sharing advice.
Conversely, if an athlete withdraws or disengages from her teammates as a way of coping, her
teammates may feel shut out or socially isolated and unable to help her cope with her
performance problems. Thus, the ways in which an athlete attempts to cope can have social
consequences for the team.
Considering the widespread use of the CMRT, which conceptualizes appraisals, coping,
and emotion at the level of the individual, it is not altogether surprising that sport researchers
have primarily studied coping as an intrapersonal process. As noted by Nicholls and Polman (8)
in their systematic review of the literature, much has been learned about how individual athletes
cope with stressors and how different dimensions of coping are associated with personal
characteristics of the athletes (e.g., age, gender, appraisals, cognitions, personality, motivation,
goals) and with consequential athletic outcomes (e.g., affective states, goal attainment, burnout).
Similarly, research in the broader field of psychology has primarily focused on intrapersonal
processes rather than on the social and communal context within which coping takes place
(18,19). However, this approach has been deemed untenable (19) since it does not take into
account the importance of social relationships and interdependency that affects coping and
emotion regulation. Thus, moving forward, we propose that integrating theoretical perspectives
that emphasize interpersonal processes will increase our knowledge of the ways athletes actually
cope within teams and the social consequences and outcomes of athletes’ coping. We provide a
brief synopsis of the literature on social support and socio-contextual influences on athletes’
coping before discussing theoretical perspectives that can inform emotion regulation and coping
Social Support and Socio-Contextual Influences on Coping
Social support is a multidimensional construct with structural, functional, and perceptual
aspects (2,20). The structural aspect of social support refers to the existence and size of an
athlete’s social network. The functional aspect of social support refers to the characteristics of
the social exchanges between individuals (e.g., social support activities, message/content,
frequency of interactions), while the perceptual aspect of social support refers to athletes’
appraisals of the social support they experience. Perceptions of support may be further
distinguished according to the athlete’s perceived availability of support versus received support
(20). Perceived support availability refers to the perception that support would be available if
needed, while received support refers to supportive behaviors actually provided to the athlete.
There are different types of social support that athletes may experience, including emotional
support (listening support, comfort, and security), informational support (advice and guidance),
esteem support (increasing the athlete’s sense of competence), and tangible support (concrete
assistance such as providing transportation or financial assistance) (2).
Much of the research within sport has sought to understand when and from whom
athletes seek support, and researchers have also focused on understanding how perceptions of
received and perceived support are associated with relevant sport-related outcomes. Seeking
social support has frequently been reported as a coping strategy among athletes dealing with
stressors associated with sport such as injuries (21, 22), burnout (23), and performance problems
(24). Social support has also been associated with successful performances among Olympic
athletes (25), and both perceived support availability and received support have been shown to
contribute to athletes’ self-confidence prior to an important sport competition (26). Additional
research has found that athletes’ perceived support availability is positively associated with
performance outcomes, and athletes who perceived high levels of esteem support reported higher
perceptions of control over competitive situations and subsequently lower threat appraisals
associated with competition (27). Perceived support (but not received support) has been shown to
be associated with less burnout, a greater sense of accomplishment, positive appraisals of sport
activities, and a greater sense of self-determined motivation among collegiate athletes (28).
Similarly, researchers found that injured athletes who perceived greater available support were
less likely to experience negative psychological responses including feelings of restlessness,
isolation, and feeling cheated following injury (29). In terms of social support between
teammates, further research has focused on how perceptions of emotional, esteem, informational,
and tangible support from teammates are associated with athletes’ self-confidence (30). All four
types of support were positively associated with increased self-confidence; however, athletes
perceived that esteem and emotional support were most available from their teammates. Thus,
social support appears to be important for athletes when facing stressors in sport, and this
research demonstrates the importance of teammates in providing particular types of support.
The body of research reviewed above provides valuable evidence that social support is
associated with positive outcomes for athletes. However, as noted previously, many of the
stressors athletes experience in sport are often linked in some way to social relationships and
there has recently been a call for research that seeks to understand how both positive and
negative interactions function to influence social support among athletes (28). Research
examining social support has primarily focused on asking athletes when and from whom they
seek support (22,27,29,30), with Bianco and Eklund (20, p92) noting that researchers have
“virtually ignored” the effects of providing and receiving social support on relational outcomes,
such as team cohesion and relationships between athletes, coaches, and physiotherapists. For
example, in the future it may be pertinent to examine whether the provision of support to athletes
strengthens relationships between teammates, or whether providing social support may at times
be a burden to others.
Beyond social support, additional research has examined the relationship between
socio-contextual factors and coping of competitive athletes. It is important to pause in order to
delineate the wide range of socio-contextual factors that could have an influence on the coping
efforts of athletes. Sport organizations, coaches, and teammates can have both direct and indirect
influences on how an athlete copes with the requirements of sport-related stressors. Furthermore,
parents, sibling, friends, and agents also play pivotal roles in both the athletic and personal
development of competitive athletes. Some researchers have highlighted the role of parents’
influence on athletes’ coping in sport (31,32). For example, Lafferty and Dorrell (31) reported
that competitive adolescent swimmers who perceived medium and high levels of support from
their parents used more active coping (e.g., problem solving) and increased training to deal with
stressors. Extending this work, Tamminen and Holt (32) conducted a study of adolescent
athletes’ process of learning about coping in sport. The authors reported that parents attempted to
help athletes learn to cope by initiating informal conversations about coping, reminding athletes
about coping with past stressors, providing perspective about stressors, and by sharing personal
experiences with their child. Despite this research examining parents’ influence on their child’s
coping in sport, most research to date has mainly focused on the relationships between coaching
behaviors (largely defined) and the coping behaviors of their athletes.
The importance of good coach–athlete relationships to promote optimal performance and
well-being of athletes has often been highlighted by sport scientists (see Jowett and Felton, this
volume). Supportive coaching can play a positive role by providing guidance in the goal-striving
process and nurturing the development of physical, technical, tactical, and mental skills (33). By
providing clear goals, plans, and instructions with positive feedback and encouragement,
supportive coaching behaviors may act as a protective factor likely to promote well-being and
effortful engagement by athletes during the goal-striving process (34). Supportive coaching can
also operate as a social resource (35) likely to foster more effective ways of solving problems
while helping athletes to become better equipped with a coping repertoire to manage stressors
inherent in sport competitions. Supportive coaching in the form of social support (2), creating a
task-involving motivational climate (36) (see also Harwood et al., this volume), and specific
physical, technical, tactical, and mental behaviors (37) have been positively associated with the
likelihood of using task-oriented coping strategies in competitive athletes.
As delineated earlier in this chapter, coaches can sometimes become a potent source of
stress for the athletes (38). Unsupportive coaching behaviors in the form of yelling,
manipulating, threatening, intimidating, and upsetting athletes are likely to exacerbate the
pressure of the competitive sport environment (39). Excessive performance pressure from
coaches as well as favoritism and greater time spent with the best athletes (i.e., ego-involving
climate) are important risk factors for athletes’ reduced well-being and impaired self-regulation
(36). Perceived pressure in the forms of socially prescribed perfectionism (39), an ego-involving
motivational climate (40), and negative personal rapport with the coaches (37) have been linked
to an increased use of disengagement-oriented coping strategies in competitive athletes. Recent
research examining the perceived supportiveness of coaches suggests that coaches’ behaviors are
viewed as supportive by some athletes, but not by others. It appears that athletes have
preferences for particular types of supportive behaviors to receive esteem support (e.g., having
someone who reinforces positives and provides encouragement) and emotional support (e.g.,
having someone who listens to concerns and talks things through ), although optimal
provision of support may require a match between the provider and the receiver (41).
Further research is needed to examine how major social agents influence the coping
behaviors of athletes. Foremost, research using a more holistic approach is required to examine
how complex mesosystemic interactions between different social agents can affect the coping of
athletes above and beyond the respective direct influences of parents and coaches. For example,
parents and coaches may experience interpersonal conflicts that could potentially harm how
athletes cope with stressors in sport. With this in mind, research is required to understand how
parent–coach interactions influence development of athletes and thereafter some of the group
dynamics of teams. A developmentally sensitive approach is also warranted that examines the
extent to which the effects of different socialization agents fluctuate across different stages of an
athlete’s development (42) including childhood, adolescence, and emerging adulthood (43).
Studies that consider interpersonal processes related to athletes’ coping have the potential to
broaden our understanding of how athletes actually cope within the social context of a team and
the impact that athletes’ coping has on teammates. Below we describe theory and research
relating to interpersonal emotion regulation and communal coping that could inform future
research and applied work among athletes.
Interpersonal Emotion Regulation
Interpersonal emotion regulation is concerned with how athletes regulate their own
emotions as well as the way they regulate the emotions of their teammates and others around
them (44). Emotions arise as a result of an athlete’s appraisal of his or her relationship with the
social environment and are influenced by personal and situational factors (4). Emotions can be
either positive (e.g., happiness, pride, relief) or negative (e.g., anger, anxiety, shame, guilt), and
emotions are considered to be functional and adaptive in helping individuals to identify stressors,
overcome problems, and achieve goals (45). Emotions can impact performance by influencing
the physical, motivational, and cognitive functioning of athletes (46,47). Theorists argue that
emotions are useful for forming and maintaining social relationships (45) and athletes’ displays
of emotion can influence the perceptions and responses of others around them (47,48).
There is some overlap between coping and emotion regulation: coping is defined as
constantly changing “cognitive and behavioural efforts to manage specific external and/or
internal demands that are appraised as taxing or exceeding the resources of the person” (5 p141).
Coping consists of conscious or voluntary efforts to deal with appraised stressors or emotions,
but coping efforts generally exclude involuntary or non-deliberate responses (e.g., yelling,
crying) that are part of athletes’ emotional experience and expression (48,49). Emotion
regulation is defined as the “processes by which individuals influence which emotions they have,
when they have them, and how they experience and express these emotions” (50 p275) and it
refers to the use of automatic or deliberate strategies aimed at decreasing, maintaining, or
increasing one’s own emotional experiences, and also how emotions are displayed and the
effects of emotional expression on others. Thus, coping is one part of an athlete’s overall
emotional regulation repertoire, however, emotion regulation and coping can be conceived as
being part of a self-regulatory system in which different types of strategies play distinct yet
pivotal roles in helping individuals adapt to the demands of their ongoing interactions with the
environment (6). The study of emotion regulation is useful for examining ways in which athletes
suppress or augment both positive and negative emotions, and emotion regulation also takes into
account involuntary or non-deliberate emotional responses (48,49). The term interpersonal
emotion regulation refers to athletes’ verbal and non-verbal actions that influence other people's
emotions (51). Interpersonal emotion regulation is concerned with questions such as “how are
emotions transmitted, received, and modified within groups and teams?” and “what effect does
an individual athlete's emotion regulation have on other team members?”
Studies examining interpersonal processes of emotion regulation are relatively sparse
compared with intrapersonal research examining athletes’ stressor appraisals, coping, and
emotion regulation in sport (52). However there is some evidence that illustrates the impact of
the team or group environment on athletes’ emotions and performance in sport. For example,
Totterdell (53) examined emotional contagion among professional cricket players, which is a
process whereby individuals consciously or unconsciously influence the emotions or behaviors
of others (54). Totterdell found that athletes’ positive, happy moods were linked to the collective
happy mood of their teammates, and the collective team mood was also associated with players’
subjective assessments of their own individual performances. Another study that examined
emotional contagion among soccer players reported that behaviors associated with the display of
pride after a successful penalty kick (e.g., both arms extended above head, hands made into fists)
were associated with the team’s eventual success winning the shootout (55). These findings
support previous research suggesting that body language and non-verbal communication affect
interactions between athletes and their teammates, opponents, and coaches during competition
Drawing on the organizational psychology literature, Wagstaff, Fletcher, and Hanton (58)
explored social dynamics and emotion regulation within a national sport organization to examine
the processes by which individuals regulate their own and others’ emotions. Wagstaff and his
colleagues reported that individuals perceived their emotion regulation was influenced by their
own emotion abilities (e.g., their ability to identify, process, comprehend, and manage emotions)
and the organization’s social norms regarding emotion expression. Individuals’ emotion
regulation was thought to affect intrapersonal outcomes (e.g., individuals’ own behavior,
motivation, and emotions) as well as interpersonal outcomes (e.g., relationships within the
organization). An intervention using educational workshops to improve members’ emotion
regulation abilities was effective in increasing regulation strategy use, perceptions of relationship
quality, and closeness between members of the sport organization (59).
Recent research has extended this line of work beyond administrative sport organizations
and into a competitive team sport context. Tamminen and Crocker (60) conducted an
ethnographic case study among a team of high-performance female curlers to further explore
emotion regulation and interpersonal emotion regulation over the course of an entire season.
Interviews and observations with the team demonstrated how athletes regulated their own
emotions through body language and by using self-censorship to avoid upsetting teammates. The
athletes also cued one another about their emotions (i.e., reminding teammates to breathe to
reduce anxiety) and athletes regulated their teammates’ emotions with humor, positive feedback,
prosocial actions (i.e., accommodating others’ needs by adjusting one’s own behaviors during
competition), and through indirect actions (i.e., protecting teammates from potential stressors or
direct criticism). Athletes expressed emotions differently depending on the context (e.g.,
self-regulation of emotions in competition versus expressing emotions between teammates
post-competition), and the authors also suggested that the team’s emotional regulation was
related to the provision of support outside the team. For example, one athlete reported seeking
support from her husband and coaches when dealing with stressors, and she avoided seeking
support from teammates due to concerns that she should maintain an image of a leader on the
team and to avoid ‘burdening’ her teammates with her stressors. The athletes also reported
challenges in managing their own emotions while also attempting to help regulate their
teammates’ emotions during competition.
To summarize, some initial research has begun to explore interpersonal processes of
emotion regulation in sport contexts, although further work is required to explore these processes
within teams. For example, interpersonal emotion regulation between teammates may vary
depending on the size of the team, or within teams with ‘lines’ or ‘units’ of players who perform
together consistently during competitions (e.g., ice hockey or American football). Athletes’
perceived roles on the team (e.g., leaders) may influence the extent to which they regulate
teammates’ emotions, and research is required to determine whether athletes who regulate
others’ emotions are also skilled at effectively regulating their own emotions. Furthermore, while
it is logical that interpersonal emotion regulation should be theoretically related to team
cohesion, additional research is required to examine this relationship. Finally, athletes’
competitive experience, personality characteristics, preferences for providing and receiving
support, and power dynamics (e.g., between coaches and athletes or between rookie and veteran
players) are likely to influence interpersonal emotion regulation within teams, and these remain
valuable areas for future research.
Another theoretical perspective that may inform future research involving groups and
teams is communal coping (61). Communal coping is a process whereby stressors are appraised
and acted upon in the context of close relationships, and it describes the efforts of individuals in
a group as they collectively cope with stressors (61). Communal coping occurs when a stressor is
viewed by one or more individuals as ‘our’ problem and not ‘my’ or ‘your’ problem, and
individuals appraising the stressor share the responsibility for dealing with it. According to this
perspective, one athlete may appraise a stressor that could indirectly impact other members of
the team (e.g., if an athlete becomes injured or if an athlete has an argument with the coach), or
the group members may all appraise a stressor directly (e.g., a team faces a particular opponent).
Lyons and colleagues (61) described three components of communal coping: (a) group members
holding a communal coping orientation, which is a belief that joining together to deal with a
problem is beneficial, (b) communication about the stressor and the meaning of the situation for
the group, and (c) cooperative action to construct strategies to deal with the stressor.
There are several factors that could affect communal coping within a group or team (61).
While communal coping is likely to occur in both well-established and recently established
groups, the history and shared experiences of a team might facilitate communal coping,
particularly in relation to communication about stressors. Furthermore, members of the group
may have varying experience in dealing with particular stressors, which would suggest some
members would adopt a leadership role in dealing with the stressor if they have previous
experience with it. For example, veteran players may adopt a leadership role in dealing with
team stressors associated with play-off games or championship games if they have previous
experience performing at that level. Thus, communal coping may be initiated or sustained by
leaders depending on the hierarchical structure of the group (e.g., if there is a defined ‘leader’
within the team). The effects of communal coping in relation to adaptive emotional and
behavioral outcomes may also be moderated by an individual’s desire to maintain relationships
(e.g., athletes may wish to avoid placing a burden on other members of the team and keep
stressors to themselves). We suspect that additional factors such as group norms, cohesion,
intra-team competition, and interpersonal conflicts between members and/or subgroups are also
likely to influence communal coping in teams (i.e., main effects) and/or moderate the relation
between communal coping and consequential team outcomes. For example, it is possible that
athletes who perceive greater team identification may engage in more social sharing of their
emotions with teammates, and teams with higher levels of team cohesion are likely to engage in
more communal approaches to dealing with stressors as a group. Conversely, teams with more
interpersonal conflicts between teammates should theoretically engage in less communal coping,
however these propositions remain to be verified through future research.
Communal coping has been posited as a construct for addressing concerns such as
adolescent obesity (62), aging (63), and health behavior change (64). For example, a communal
coping intervention that emphasized couples working together for smoking cessation was found
to be effective in reducing smoking and contributed to long-term abstinence from smoking (65).
The intervention consisted of ten consultations with couples to address the role of smoking in the
relationship, partners’ roles in smoking cessation, and to help partners collectively identify
difficulties in smoking cessation and jointly plan alternative rituals or activities. Research
examining psychosocial distress among sisters with breast and ovarian cancer found that
communal coping was negatively related to indices of distress among cancer patients (66).
Another study of patients with heart failure provided evidence of better health outcomes over six
months among those patients whose spouses used the terms ‘we’ and ‘ours’ more frequently
when discussing health problems (instead of the terms ‘mine’ and ‘yours’) (67). These findings
provide evidence that a communal coping orientation is useful for groups of individuals dealing
Lyons and colleagues noted that “the impact of communal coping is obvious in team
sport”(61 p592); however, to our knowledge no research to date has specifically examined
communal coping in sport contexts. One recent advancement is the concept of team resilience,
which is defined as a “dynamic, psychosocial process which protects a group of individuals from
the potential negative effect of stressors they collectively encounter … whereby team members
use their individual and collective resources to positively adapt when experiencing adversity” (68
p552). Team resilience is conceptually similar to communal coping, and it emphasizes the
importance of interpersonal relationships for effective team functioning. Communal coping
approaches could extend the coping and social support literature by examining how teams come
together to deal with a shared stressor, and also by examining how communal coping efforts
reciprocally influence team members.
Future Research Directions
Mounting theoretical and empirical attention has already been allocated to the coping of
individuals who participate in competitive sports. Nevertheless, it might be time to envision an
extension of coping frameworks in which coping is operationalized at two levels of analysis;
namely, individual coping and team coping (see Figure 13.1). Two different approaches could be
explored to operationalize coping at the team level: (a) coping in a team to examine how each
individual in a team is coping and how it influences other individuals or group-level outcomes
such as performance or cohesion, and (b) coping of a team to examine athletes’ perceptions of
how “we as a team are coping.”
Level 2 effect
Level 1 effect
Figure 1. Multilevel model of coping. Level 1 effect denotes between-person differences in
coping. Level 2 effect denotes between-team differences in coping. Cross-level effect
denotes the moderating role of team-level coping in the relation between person-level
coping and person-level outcomes.
Figure 13.1 Multilevel model of coping. Level 1 effect denotes between-person differences in
coping. Level 2 effect denotes between-team differences in coping. Cross-level effect denotes the
moderating role of team-level coping in the relation between person-level coping and
On the one hand, coping in a team could be investigated by asking athletes to evaluate
their own coping and then aggregating the individual coping efforts of each individual in a team.
Imagine a first team in which most of the athletes are using high levels of task-oriented coping.
Then, imagine a second team in which most of the athletes are using low levels of task-oriented
coping. Once aggregated, the coping scores of team members could perhaps offer a useful
account of coping in a team that might be predicted by team-level processes while predicting
consequential team-level outcomes. Would the first team be more likely to attain desirable
group-level outcomes? What could explain between-team differences in such team-level coping?
By examining coping in a team, researchers could consider how each individual in a team is
coping and how it influences the outcomes of the individuals (e.g., a level 1 effect), and a natural
extension of this research would be to consider how aggregates of individual athletes’ coping
efforts on a team might predict group-level outcomes such as team performance (i.e., level 2
effect). Researchers could also examine “weakest links effects” to see if the lowest level of
coping in a team (i.e. the score of the worst athlete in a team) can bring down an entire team’s
coping and possibly their performance.
On the other hand, communal coping offers a promising perspective to investigate coping
of a team—that is, how the team as a whole copes with the requirements of a collectively shared
stressor (e.g., preparing to play a game, managing the injury of the team’s captain). Specific
coping behaviors of teams might be quite distinct from the individual coping behaviors generally
reported by athletes in qualitative studies and available self-reported questionnaires. Therefore,
further research is needed to investigate the many cooperative coping actions through which a
team, as a whole, attempts to manage the demands associated with their participation in
sport-related activities. Focus groups with entire teams or randomly selected team members
would offer a nice methodological platform to explore coping as a team-regulatory process that
emerges at the group level, over and above the coping of individuals in a team. A cooperative
coping actions questionnaire could then be developed and administered using a referent-shift
approach (69) in which each athlete would rate the extent to which the team, as a whole, is
coping with the demands of a sport situation.
As displayed in Figure 13.1, at least three types of effects could easily be tested in a
multilevel coping framework. Consistent with the extant literature, researchers could keep on
examining how individual coping influences individual outcomes of athletes. As such, we might
expect a positive relationship between task-oriented coping of individual athletes and their
likelihood of attaining achievement goals and sustaining a high level of sport satisfaction (e.g.,
my coping influences my performance). Researchers could also extend both theoretical and
empirical knowledge on coping by examining whether teams with higher levels of task-oriented
coping are more likely to reach high levels of goal attainment and sport satisfaction at the team
level (e.g., our coping influences our performance). Finally, a multilevel extension of the coping
framework would enable the examination of complex models in which team-level processes
might moderate the relationship between individual-level coping and individual-level outcomes
(e.g., our coping influences the relationship between my coping and my performance).
Such a multilevel coping framework might be applicable in team sports, dyadic sports,
and some individual sports. Individual sport activities can be divided according to the team’s
structural interdependence (70) and distinctions can be made depending on whether athletes
interact during competitive tasks, or whether athletes’ individual performances contribute to
group outcomes (e.g., golfers’ points contributing to a team score). As such, future research is
needed to investigate team level coping, not only in the more traditional teams and dyadic sports
but also in some individual sports in which athletes frequently train with one another or are under
the influence of the same coach or sporting organization.
The research and theories reviewed in this chapter provide a starting point for improving
coping and emotion regulation within teams of competitive athletes, although the literature in
this area is emergent and more studies are required. First and foremost, it is apparent that
athletes’ stressor appraisals, coping efforts, and emotion regulation exist within a social context
and have social consequences for those around them. Whereas in the past researchers provided
applied implications in terms of describing strategies athletes can use to cope with stressors or
regulate their emotions before or during performance (71,72), it is also important to consider
how an individual’s coping or emotion regulation fits within the social context of the team. With
these points in mind, we provide some practical suggestions for improving athletes’ social
support, coping, and emotion regulation in teams:
Esteem support: Esteem support is associated with increases in performance and
self-confidence. It can be provided by someone who reinforces the positives in a
situation, tells you ‘you can do it,’ someone who believes in you, encourages you, and
Supportive and unsupportive behaviors: Coaches should monitor their behaviors and
emphasize positive feedback and encouragement, providing athletes with clear goals and
instructions, while minimizing unsupportive behaviors such as yelling, manipulating, and
Positive emotions: Athletes’ and coaches’ emotional displays can positively and
negatively influence others around them, and positive emotional expressions (e.g.,
cheering, celebrating) have been associated with subsequent team success. Athletes’
positive emotions can engender favorable emotions among their teammates, therefore
positive and encouraging behaviors should generally be promoted within teams.
Negative emotions: Athletes’ negative emotional displays may negatively affect their
teammates. Thus, athletes may need to engage in self-regulatory behaviors to diminish
the expression of negative emotions. Teammates can also help athletes reduce their
negative emotions by using humor, positive feedback, and by adjusting their own actions
to support others on the team.
Communal coping: A communal coping orientation should emphasize the value in
working together to deal with ‘our’ problems. To increase communal coping, coaches and
athletes should: (a) communicate openly about the problem or stressor, (b) approach
problems as ‘ours’ and not ‘yours’ or ‘mine’ to deal with alone, and (c) develop
cooperative strategies to reduce the negative impact of the stressor.
Athletes do not train or perform in a ‘social vacuum’ and their stressors, emotions, and
coping are influenced by (and subsequently influence) others around them, and interpersonal
approaches to studying coping, social support, and emotion regulation provide a useful way of
understanding the complexity of athletes’ social interactions in sport. Indeed, Vallerand and
Blanchard (73) noted that athletes’ emotions have consequences for interpersonal appraisals and
behaviors and they called for research examining emotions and interpersonal relations in sport.
In this chapter we have reviewed theory and research highlighting the social nature of stressors,
coping, and emotion regulation, and we distinguished between research focusing on
intrapersonal and interpersonal processes among athletes. As researchers continue to move
toward a focus on interpersonal processes related to coping, social support, and emotion
regulation, researchers can make use of the theoretical approaches and the novel multilevel
models and qualitative approaches reviewed in this chapter to examine the effects of athletes’
coping and teammate interactions nested within teams, thereby contributing to a better
understanding of the individual and team level effects of social interactions in sport.
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