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Taking Action or Thinking About It? State Orientation and Rumination Are Correlated in Athletes


Abstract and Figures

Athletic performance in competitive sports relies heavily on the ability to cope effectively with stressful situations. In contrast, some athletes report that their thoughts revolve around the future or past and not around the actual demands during competitions. In those specific stressful situations, the lack of focus like an unintended fixation on repetitive cognitions can have fatal consequences with regard to the performance. Especially when competitors are close in their athletic capabilities, differences in effectively coping with stress and mental stability may decide about winning and losing. One established factor of performing effectively under pressure is the individual tendency to either focus on taking action (i.e., action orientation) or on focusing on the own emotions (i.e., state orientation). It is widely acknowledged that state-oriented athletes have disadvantages in performing under stress. Moreover, the action control theory claims that state orientation is related to ruminative cognitions, which itself is assumed to impair performance in the long term. We tested this hypothesis in 157 competitive athletes from different sports (including individual and team sports). Regression analysis demonstrates a substantial correlation of failure-related action orientation (i.e., state orientation) with different measures of rumination (including general, clinically relevant, and competition-related rumination). In addition, general (i.e., content independent) rumination also correlated substantially with a rumination scale adapted specifically to sports-related competition. These results suggest (1) that a sports and competition-related ruminative mechanism exists and (2) that ruminative cognitions are related to the cognitive basis of state orientation. While our study does not allow for a causal interpretation, it provides an additional approach to investigate mental factors underlying inter-individual differences in athletic performance under stress and pressure.
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Frontiers in Psychology | 1 March 2019 | Volume 10 | Article 576
published: 26 March 2019
doi: 10.3389/fpsyg.2019.00576
Taking Action or Thinking About It?
State Orientation and Rumination Are
Correlated in Athletes
AlenaKröhler and StefanBerti*
Department of Clinical Psychology and Neuropsychology, Institute for Psychology, Johannes Gutenberg-University Mainz,
Mainz, Germany
Athletic performance in competitive sports relies heavily on the ability to cope effectively
with stressful situations. In contrast, some athletes report that their thoughts revolve
around the future or past and not around the actual demands during competitions. In
those specic stressful situations, the lack of focus like an unintended xation on repetitive
cognitions can have fatal consequences with regard to the performance. Especially when
competitors are close in their athletic capabilities, differences in effectively coping with
stress and mental stability may decide about winning and losing. One established factor
of performing effectively under pressure is the individual tendency to either focus on taking
action (i.e., action orientation) or on focusing on the own emotions (i.e., state orientation).
It is widely acknowledged that state-oriented athletes have disadvantages in performing
under stress. Moreover, the action control theory claims that state orientation is related
to ruminative cognitions, which itself is assumed to impair performance in the long term.
Wetested this hypothesis in 157 competitive athletes from different sports (including
individual and team sports). Regression analysis demonstrates a substantial correlation
of failure-related action orientation (i.e., state orientation) with different measures of
rumination (including general, clinically relevant, and competition-related rumination). In
addition, general (i.e., content independent) rumination also correlated substantially with
a rumination scale adapted specically to sports-related competition. These results
suggest (1) that a sports and competition-related ruminative mechanism exists and (2)
that ruminative cognitions are related to the cognitive basis of state orientation. While our
study does not allow for a causal interpretation, it provides an additional approach to
investigate mental factors underlying inter-individual differences in athletic performance
under stress and pressure.
Keywords: rumination, action control theory, state orientation, action orientation, failure-related behavioral
adaptation, competitive sports, competition-related rumination, competitive athletes
Competitive athletes distinguished themselves through conscious permanent acting under stressful
conditions ascribable to their special environment, the participation in competitions, and the
immediate consequences of their actions. In general, those situations require a high degree of
immediate and long-term self-regulatory capabilities. erefore, successful athletes were attributed
Edited by:
Marc Jones,
Manchester Metropolitan University,
Reviewed by:
Selenia Di Fronso,
Università degli Studi G. d’Annunzio
Chieti e Pescara, Italy
Emmanouil Georgiadis,
University of Suffolk,
Stefan Berti
Specialty section:
This article was submitted to
Movement Science and Sport
a section of the journal
Frontiers in Psychology
Received: 05 October 2018
Accepted: 01 March 2019
Published: 26 March 2019
Kröhler A and Berti S (2019) Taking
Action or Thinking About It? State
Orientation and Rumination Are
Correlated in Athletes.
Front. Psychol. 10:576.
doi: 10.3389/fpsyg.2019.00576
Kröhler and Berti Rumination and State Orientation in Sports
Frontiers in Psychology | 2 March 2019 | Volume 10 | Article 576
to problem-focused, resilient coping-strategies (Henkel and
Schneider, 2014). However, in the high demanding domain of
competitive sports, inter-individual dierences in the competence
of adaption to stressful situations are observable and can have
an enormous positive or negative impact on the athletic behavior
and performance, especially throughout a competitive season
or in the period of a training camp (Filho et al., 2013, 2015;
Kölling et al., 2015). One theory that is well established in
this context is the action control theory (Beckmann and Kossok,
2018), which was originally developed by Kuhl (1983, 1994a)
and represents one of the most prominent theories in the
context of volition. In essence, this theory assumes that regulation
becomes necessary if conicts between competing action
tendencies occur (Beckmann and Kossok, 2018). Take, for
instance, a soccer player who has to decide how to act aer
playing a bad pass during an attack: there might be dierent
options for taking immediate action (like tackling an opponent
to regain the ball or running back to support the defense)
but it is also possible to focus on the lost (i.e., by cursing
the conditions or the teammates or feeling guilty or incompetent).
According to the theory of action control, in such situations,
volitional processes are inuenced by individual dierences in
action orientation. In detail, the theory distinguishes between
action and state orientation, two extremes on a continuous
scale describing the likelihood whether people respond with
action-taking when situational demands are increasing. Action-
oriented individuals distinguish themselves through solving
problems intuitively in adverse conditions (e.g., bad weather,
broken equipment, and poor eld or arena conditions), rapid
acting without excessively thinking about the source or the
person responsible, and developing dierent possibilities to act
in demanding situations (Kuhl and Kazén, 2003). ey typically
act in high demanding situations as eciently or even better
as in comparable relaxing situations (Koole and Jostmann,
2004; Koole et al., 2012). Athletes with an action orientation
can also handle failures in high demanding situations more
eciently and draw the attention to forthcoming challenges.
In contrast, athletes with a tendency to state orientation
are focused on their emotions and thoughts. An unintended
xation on the own situation is mostly the consequence, which
is why they do not solve problems easily and refocus on the
actual task (Kuhl and Kazén, 2003; Koole etal., 2012). Moreover,
state-oriented athletes think a lot about their goals but fail to
take immediate action. is behavior, therefore, could inhibit
the readiness and the implementation of action (Dibbelt and
Kuhl, 1994). Finally, in the theory of action orientation, ruminative
cognitions are described as the most immediate and conscious
consequence of a dispositional state orientation (Kuhl, 1994a).
A number of studies tested whether these hypothesized
dierences of action- and state-oriented individuals comply in
the context of competitive sports. e previous ndings pointed
mainly in the same direction, suggesting disadvantages of state-
oriented athletes compared to action-oriented athletes in dierent
aspects that are relevant for athletic performance particularly
in stressful situations. Two studies found dierences in the
level of action orientation and risk-taking behavior in the sense
of measuring accuracy and time of the individual
decision-making process (Stiensmeier-Pelster et al., 1989; Raab
and Johnson, 2004). Further studies with dierent experimental
paradigms showed dierences in depletion of self-control resources
(Gröpel etal., 2014) and in the eciency of intention initiation
(Kazén et al., 2008). is picture is generally supported by a
review of Koole et al. (2005) who provided a summary of
disruptive eects of stress on state-oriented individuals. In
addition, Koole et al. (2005) described also potential positive
eects of state orientation. In detail, state orientation can
be adaptive (1) through external support, (2) in dangerous,
unpredictable environments and (3) in interpersonal relationships.
is applies to sports, too: for instance, Beckmann and Kazén
(1994) reported inverse eects of state orientation in the sense
of a positive consequence by maximum power. is shows that
state orientation does not necessarily exhibit only negative eects
on sport performance (see also Beckmann and Kossok, 2018,
for a summary of advantages and disadvantages of the individual
action orientation). However, the majority of studies demonstrated
the disadvantage of state orientation in sports performance
and the question arises whether this eect is related to the
higher tendency of state-oriented persons to focus on thoughts
and the assumed higher level of rumination (Kuhl, 1994a).
e eect of rumination on athletic behavior and performance
has frequently been stated but was only rarely explicitly
investigated. Only a few studies examined the mediating role
of rumination indirectly in the process of athletic performance:
one study with 305 competitive athletes examined the relationship
between anger rumination and athlete aggression based on
the Anger Rumination Scale (Maxwell, 2004). Results revealed
a signicant correlation between anger rumination and the
athletes’ reported aggressive behavior. However, a direct relation
of rumination and the athletes’ performance was not investigated.
A study by Scott etal. (2002) conrmed a negative correlation
between an overall measure of rumination (Scott-McIntosh
Rumination Inventory; Scott and McIntosh, 1999) and a
composite of measure of athletic performance of tennis players.
e main limitation of this study was the small sample size
(N = 10), which did not advocate a broad generalization. Roy
et al. (2016) investigated the relation between rumination and
performance in soccer and eld hockey players using the
Ruminative Response Scale (RRS; Treynor et al., 2003). ey
found an expertise eect mirrored in lower reective rumination
in athletes (professionals and nonprofessionals) compared with
non-athletes. Furthermore, Roy et al. (2016) assumed that low
scores on the RRS are associated with a longer career at a
higher level in soccer players. Here, the level of expertise
(professional vs. nonprofessional players) and the duration of
a successful sports career dened the athletes’ performance.
is suggests that at least success over the long term is correlated
with rumination. However, a recent study also suggests that
the achievement of short- and mid-term sports-specic goals
is related to rumination (see Kröhler and Berti, 2017).
e aim of the study was to investigate the assumed relation
between action orientation and rumination (see Kuhl, 1983,
1994a). As summarized above, the action control theory claims
that rumination is an eect of a lower action orientation (i.e.,
higher state orientation) under stress. As both, the individual
Kröhler and Berti Rumination and State Orientation in Sports
Frontiers in Psychology | 3 March 2019 | Volume 10 | Article 576
degree of action orientation as well as rumination, show
associations with sports performance, it remains open whether
a correlation of state orientation and rumination really exists
in athletes. erefore, we tested whether state orientation in
the context of failure is correlated with rumination in general.
e action control theory does not limit the theoretical claim
to a specic situation, which implies that such a correlation
should be observable in this highly selective population, too.
In contrast, competitive athletes are highly trained in performing
under pressure (i.e., in highly competitive situations) and,
therefore, might exhibit competences in coping especially with
potential or actual failures, which would result in increased
stress in a normal population. From this point of view, athletes
may not demonstrate a correlation between their levels of action
orientation and rumination (i.e., on the trait level). However,
even if athletes acquired specic competences in performing
under stress, it remains open whether these competences are
eective in general or in competitive situations only.
To date, dierent scales exists to measure action or state
orientation either in general (Kuhl, 1994b) or in sports-related
(Beckmann and Wenhold, 2009) context. Both measurements,
the general Action Control Scale (ACS-90; Kuhl, 1994b; German
Version: HAKEMP-90; Kuhl, 1990) and the sports-specic
measure of action orientation in competitive sports (German:
Handlungsorientierung im Sport; HOSP; Beckmann and Wenhold,
2009), consist of three subscales, namely (1) action orientation
subsequent to failure scale (German: Handlungsorientierung
nach Misserfolg; HOM), (2) prospective and decision-related
action orientation scale (German: Handlungsorientierung bei
Entscheidungs- und Handlungsplanung; HOP), and (3) action
orientation during (successful) performance of activities (German:
Handlungsorientierung bei Tätigkeitsausführung; HOT). Here
we focus on the rst subscale (HOM), which describes the
capability to suppress failures and refocus on the following
task immediately. With regard to rumination, we applied
rumination questionnaires from three dierent contexts: clinically
relevant rumination (RRQ, König, 2012), rumination in general
(PTQ, Ehring et al., 2011), and competition-related rumination
(modied from Krys et al., 2018).
We expect a relationship between HOM and rumination
because the action control theory assumes that higher failure-
related action orientation is associated with lower individual
rumination. To test this hypothesis, we rst conduct a
correlational analysis. In addition, weinvestigate this relationship
by applying linear robust regression analysis to quantify the
potential association.
Subjects and Procedure
Within a period of 3 months (October–December 2016), athletes
from dierent sports, including team sports as well as individual
sports, participated in an online study voluntarily. Weconducted
the study in compliance with the Declaration of Helsinki (World
Medical Association, 2013). e online instruction contained
information about the nature and the procedure of the study
and all participants gave consent before completing the
questionnaires. e participants received no incentives for
completion of the survey. For athletes under the age of 18,
we obtained additional consent from the legally authorized
representatives. e participants completed the action orientation
subsequent to failure scale (HOM, Beckmann and Wenhold,
2009), the Perseverative inking Questionnaire (PTQ; Ehring
et al., 2011), the Rumination scale from the Rumination-
Reection Questionnaire (RRQ; nig, 2012) and a competition-
related rumination scale (KSR-WK; modied from Krys et al.,
2018). In addition to these, the participants lled out biographical
and sports-related questions as well as other questionnaires,
which were unrelated to the present study. We describe the
utilized questionnaires below.
Overall, 210 athletes participated in our online survey.
Criteria for selecting the subjects for our analysis were as
follows: athletes between 15 and 30years of age corresponding
to the athletic high-performance age (Willimczik et al., 2006;
Conzelmann, 2017) and a background in competitive sports.
e nal sample of athletes who met these criteria was 157
(female: n = 80, male: n = 77). Mean age was 21.57 years
(SD = 3.63). e athletes averaged 10.00 h (SD = 5.60) of
discipline-specic training in 4.46 training sessions (SD=2.54)
and 2.54 additional sessions (SD= 1.99; e.g., weight or athletic
training) per week. e averaged participation in competitions
per year was 13.40 (SD = 8.02). Besides, 32 athletes were
already part of the junior national team and 16 athletes were
part of the senior national team in their sports. Ten of these
48 athletes were in the junior as well as in the senior national
team of their sports. According to the categorization of Beckmann
and Wenhold (2009), the sample was assigned into six dierent
sport categories and two performance levels (see Table 1).
Depending on the organizational form of the disciplines (leagues
or squads system), the sample was divided into two performance
levels: performance level 1 includes all athletes belonging to
highest to the third highest national level (comparable with
A- to C-squad or First German Bundesliga as well as
participations in German/European/World Championships or
TABLE 1 | Distribution of athletes separated in sport categories, gender and
performance level.
Sport category
level 1
level 2
Female Male Female Male Sum
Ball sports-individual 1 1 3 2 7
Ball sports-team 7 5 13 23 48
Endurance sports-individual 24 25 19 15 83
Coordinative-compositional 6 2 5 0 13
Martial arts 0 2 1 2 5
Target focus 1 0 0 0 1
Sum 39 35 41 42 157
Examples: ball sports-individual=(table) tennis; ball sports-team=basketball, football;
conditioning-individual=swimming, athletics; coordinative-compositional=rhythmic
gymnastics, snowboard; martial arts=boxing, taekwondo; target focus=billiard, sport
Kröhler and Berti Rumination and State Orientation in Sports
Frontiers in Psychology | 4 March 2019 | Volume 10 | Article 576
Olympic Games; n = 74). Performance level 2 includes all
athletes belonging to the fourth highest or subjacent level
(comparable with D-squad, Second German Bundesliga or
below as well as participation in German Junior or regional
championships; n = 83).
Failure-Related Action Orientation
We measured the failure-related action orientation with the
German action orientation in sports questionnaire (HOSP,
Beckmann and Wenhold, 2009). e HOSP is a standardized
self-evaluation assessment with 36 items, consisting of three scales:
action orientation subsequent to failure, decision-related action
orientation, and action orientation during performance. Each
scale consists of 12 items, which describe a particular situation.
Each item has two alternative answers (A or B), one of which
is indicative of action orientation and the other of state orientation.
For the present study, only the action orientation subsequent to
failure scale is relevant (HOM). e HOM measures the athletes
ability to cope with failures and focus again on new demands.
For athletes with lower values on this scale compared to those
with higher values, it is dicult to cope with failures. ey ght
intensively with the setback, by what they may aect the execution
of following tasks. For instance: “If I miss a clear chance of
winning …” then A: “it sticks in my mind during the rest of
the competition” (state orientation), or B: “I forget this failed
attempt and concentrate on the next chance” (action orientation)
[translations from the German original by AK].
Athletes earn one point for choosing the action-oriented
answer. e sum of the action-oriented answers for each scale
is between 0 and 12. e following applies: the higher the
characteristics in the action orientation subsequent to failure
scale, the higher the action orientation in this context.
Perseverative Thinking
e German version of the Perseverative inking Questionnaire
(PTQ; Ehring etal., 2011) is a questionnaire independent from
content for measuring repetitive negative thoughts. e PTQ
consists of 15 items and is rated on a 5-point Likert scale,
ranging from “0” (never) to “4” (almost always). In each case,
three items correspond to a process characteristic of repetitive
negative thinking, building one subscale: (1a) repetitive (e.g.,
“e same thoughts keep going through my mind again and
again”), (1b) intrusive (e.g., “oughts come to my mind without
me wanting them to”), (1c) dicult to disengage from (e.g.,
“I can’t stop dwelling on them”), (2) unproductive (e.g., “I keep
asking myself questions without nding an answer”), (3) capturing
mental capacity (e.g., “My thought prevent me from focusing
on other things”; all items are taken from the English original).
e PTQ provides three scores for the particular subscales
as well as a general PTQ score, which is the sum of the three
subscales’ scores. Here, we report the general PTQ score. e
internal consistency (Cronbachs alpha: α) for the entire PTQ
is α = 0.95 for the original and α = 0.94 for the present
sample. erefore, the analysis of the internal consistency in
the present sample supports previous ndings.
Trapnell and Campbell (1999) developed the Rumination-
Reection Questionnaire (RRQ), for dierentiating rumination
and reection, two relevant factors of private dispositional self-
focus. e original version comprises 24 items in two scales:
12 items for rumination as well as for reection. In the present
study, weutilized the German version (König, 2012) and applied
only the Rumination scale. is scale measures the self-attentiveness
motivated by perceived threats, losses, or injustices to the self
(Trapnell and Campbell, 1999). For instance, “Oen I’m playing
back over in my mind how Iacted in a past situation.” Athletes
rate the dierent statements on a 5-point Likert scale presenting
the level of agreement ranging from “1” (strongly disagree) to
“5” (strongly agree). e value of the items 6, 9, and 10 should
bereversed. e individual test score can becalculated by adding
up all values of the 12 items. erefore, the scores are ranging
between 12 and 60, and the higher the scores the higher the
individual level of rumination. e internal consistency for the
original sample is α = 0.90 (Trapnell and Campbell, 1999) and
for the present sample α = 0.88.
Competition-Related Rumination
We used a questionnaire from Krys etal. (2018) for measuring
the handling with diculties in the context of a competition.
e original version contains eight items according to learning-
related diculties during the preparation for a statistic exam
(for instance, “I cant stop thinking about learning-related
problems”). e original questionnaire was developed in the
way that the problem-related context is changeable. erefore,
we modied the items (Krys et al., 2018) to competition-
related problems (KSR-WK); e.g., “I cant stop thinking about
competition-related problems.” Athletes respond on a 5-point
Likert scale, ranging from “1” (does not apply at all) to “5”
(fully applies).
e individual test score can be calculated by adding up
all values of the eight items. erefore, the scores are ranging
between 8 and 40 and; again, the higher the scores the higher
the individual level of rumination. e internal consistency
for the original sample lies between α = 0.91 and α = 0.94
(Krys et al., 2018) and for the present sample α = 0.92.
Data Analysis
We analyzed the relationship between failure-related action
orientation and rumination by means of three single robust
regression models. In doing so, failure-related action orientation
represents the independent variable and the scales of PTQ,
RRQ and KSR-WK represent the dependent variable for each
single regression model. Beforehand, wechecked the requirements
for the application of regression analyses. We generated Q-Q
plots for testing the assumption of normal distribution (Kabaco,
2015), conducted analyses for testing the independence of the
predictor variable including the standard errors (Durbin-Watson
Test; Field et al., 2012) as well as the multi-collinearity of all
used variables (VIF: variance ination factor; Field etal., 2012).
Except the normal distribution, all requirements for regression
analyses were fullled. In addition, we analyzed outliers and
inuential cases using Cook’s distance, leverage values, and
Kröhler and Berti Rumination and State Orientation in Sports
Frontiers in Psychology | 5 March 2019 | Volume 10 | Article 576
the proportion of co-variances (Field etal., 2012). While there
were no outliers in the data, Cooks distance revealed the
existence of inuential cases. ese could have a considerable
impact of the constant and the gradient of the regression
model. We decided not to exclude the inuential cases from
further calculation. Instead, weapplied robust regression analyses
with a MM-estimation (a kind of maximum-likelihood estimation;
Susanti and Pratiwi, 2014). is method uses a criterion, which
is less vulnerable for inuential cases. It has also a high
breakdown value (general measurement of the proportion of
inuential cases, which are edited before inuencing the
regression model; Susanti and Pratiwi, 2014). Hence, the robust
method is more appropriate in calculating regressions. Moreover,
it is possible to conduct the regression analyses with all observed
cases by restricting the eect of inuential cases via Coo k’s
distance and high leverage values at the same time.
Table 2 sums up the descriptive statistics among the study
variables for all competitive athletes (N = 157).
e results of the correlational analysis revealed signicant
associations between failure-related action orientation (HOM)
and the three rumination scales (PTQ, RRQ, KSR-WK; p<0.05;
alpha corrected with Holm, see Figure 1). Figure 2 demonstrates
that there is a substantial, inter-individual variation in all three
rumination measures in the participating athletes but the robust
regression analyses indicated that failure-related action orientation
signicantly predicts rumination (see Tab le 3). In addition,
wedetermined the power of our regression analyses (G*Power
3.1.; Faul etal., 2009) with the sample size N = 157, an alpha
level α = 0.001, and the obtained medium eect sizes; this
analyses revealed a power of 0.9998 for the PTQ regression
(f 2 = 0.30), 0.9997 for the RRQ regression (f 2 = 0.28), and
0.9999 for the KSR-WK regression (f 2 = 0.32).
Our study demonstrates in competitive athletes a direct
relationship of rumination and action orientation aer failure.
is supports the claims of the action control theory (Kuhl,
1983, 1994a) and does suggest an expansion to context-specic
situations (here, competitive sports). e correlational analyses
show middle to strong association between failure-related
action orientation and all three rumination scales. Findings
of the regression analyses support our hypothesis, in the
way that failure-related action orientation is a signicant
predictor for rumination as reected in a general, a clinically
oriented as well as a competition-related measure. It is worth
noting that the explained variance in the regression analyses
is about 20% for all three rumination measures. On the one
hand, this indicates that a general “ruminative” factor is
shared by these dierent measures and that this aspect of
rumination indeed is linked to action control (as assumed
by Kuhl, 1983, 1994a). On the other hand, this leaves a lot
of variability in the data, which is not explained by individual
level of action orientation. While this might be attributed
to dierent specic characteristics of rumination captured
by these particular scales (e.g., well-being in a clinical context
vs. negative outcome in the context of a competition), this
may also suggest that neither of the applied rumination scales
is already suitable for a competitive athletes’ population.
However, the correlation between the competition-related
rumination (KSR-WK) and the general rumination scale (PTQ)
indicates that the applied variant of the KSR-WK (Krys etal.,
2018) does tap rumination in a specic context. Both variables
share a common variance of nearly 40%, indicating that
besides the general factor an independent competitive specic
factor emerged.
In general, our ndings are in line with previous studies
(e.g., Beckmann and Trux, 1991; Beckmann and Kazén, 1994)
and indicated that rumination might be a relevant factor for
individual requirements in competitive sports. As the aim of
coaches in competitive sports is to help athletes to gain their
optimal performance, additional information about athletes
disposition in relevant mental factors may allow coaches to
adapt to the individual needs of their athletes. For instance,
in team sports, the knowledge about the athletes’ level of
action or state orientation could be benecial when selecting
playing positions or deciding ball allocation strategies depending
on dierent gaming situations. is is suggested by a study
of Beckmann and Trux (1991), who showed that key players
in high-performance professional sports tend to bestate oriented
rather than action oriented, whereas the strikers were mainly
action oriented. Beckmann and Kossok (2018) suggested applying
the knowledge of athletes’ dispositions in order to selectively
introduce them to dierent disciplines or positions in which
their personal dispositions might promise particular success.
erefore, from the perspective of applied sports psychology,
the concept of rumination oers a number of potential
applications. For instance, athletes and coaches typically
perceived ruminative thoughts (especially with negative content)
as a limiting factor for gaining high performance. One aim
could be to identify athletes with a predisposition toward
extensive rumination especially in younger ages. It is also
promising to support young talents in their ability to control
repetitive disruptive thoughts, because many athletes perform
suboptimally in pressure situations despite a high motivation
to succeed (Baumeister and Showers, 1986). Well-known
moderators for suboptimal performance in pressure situations
TABLE 2 | Descriptive statistics among the study variables for all competitive
athletes (N=157).
M SD SE Median Skew Kurtosis 95% CI
HOM 6.35 3.12 0.25 6 .0.09 0.83 [5.86, 6.84]
PTQ 25.5 10.66 0.85 24 0.52 0.52 [23.82, 27.18]
RRQ 37.07 9.02 0.72 38 0.06 0.39 [35.65, 38.49]
KSR-WK 19.37 7.11 0.57 19 0.51 0.36 [18.25, 20.49]
M, mean; SD, standard deviation; SE, standard error of mean; 95% CI, 95% condence
Kröhler and Berti Rumination and State Orientation in Sports
Frontiers in Psychology | 6 March 2019 | Volume 10 | Article 576
(choking under pressure) are among others trait anxiety,
reinvestment, and perfectionism, which are all closely related
to rumination (Flett etal., 2002; Nolen-Hoeksema etal., 2008;
Kinrade et al., 2010). To this end, early identication of the
individual dispositional rumination at the beginning of a sports
career might enable a more eective support by application
of treatments to avoid rumination (and thereby potential stress)
in the long run. For instance, Roy et al. (2016) report a
relationship between a successful sports career and a low
reective rumination style. Existing therapeutic interventions
related to rumination (see Broderick, 2005; Nolen-Hoeksema
etal., 2008; Watkins, 2008; Van Aalderen etal., 2012; Querstret
and Cropley, 2013) therefore, might beadapted to the non-clinical
group of athletes on the one hand. On the other hand, recent
studies (Birrer et al., 2012; Mosewich et al., 2013; Josefsson
et al., 2017) deal with rumination-related interventions in
competitive sports. Contents of these interventions focused
mainly on self-compassion (Mosewich et al., 2013) and
mindfulness (Josefsson et al., 2017). Results already show an
improved regulation of maladaptive thoughts, feelings, and
behavior and therefore provide a promising approach for
future research.
Study Limitations and Future Directions
Our study revealed correlations between failure-related action
orientation and rumination in three dierent contexts in
competitive athletes. However, the time of survey was far away
from the actual competition or a special failure-related situation.
erefore, weonly received information about individual traits
and cannot rule out that the obtained correlations are modulated
by the experience of an upcoming or actual competition. is
limits also our current understanding of whether the action
orientation and rumination link is more of a trait or state.
One future direction is to survey athletes immediately aer
the competition or a failure-related situation. For instance,
ambulatory assessment with an event-based design could provide
a promising approach: within a dened period, athletes could
complete a short questionnaire related to action orientation
and rumination immediately aer the experience. is could
also serve as an interesting starting point in gaining more
information about dierences in individual action orientation
and the consequences of it. An open question is whether there
is a direct link between failure-related action orientation and
individual rumination. Due to the cross-sectional design (only
one measurement), the results are only correlational in nature.
FIGURE 1 | Summary of the Pearson correlations coefcients (r) between action orientation subsequent to failure scale and three rumination scales. The diagonal
depicts the individual scales used in this study. The arrays under the diagonal depict the correlational coefcients of the particular scales (all ps<0.05 [Holm
corrected ps for multiple comparisons]; all df s=155). The arrays above the diagonal illustrate these values in a symbolic way with the size of the circles specifying
the extent of the parameter value (values between 0 and 1) and the color of the circles depicting the direction of the parameter value (positive or negative; see color
scale at the right).
Kröhler and Berti Rumination and State Orientation in Sports
Frontiers in Psychology | 7 March 2019 | Volume 10 | Article 576
In other words, additional research is required to investigate
whether the relation of failure-related action orientation and
rumination is replicable and generalizable in a broader population.
e action control theory by Kuhl (1983, 1994a) claimed a
link of rumination and state orientation and, therefore, provides
a theoretical framework for examination of the negative eect
of both on athletic performance. Here we demonstrate that
this hypothesis in general holds in a very specialized population,
namely competitive athletes. is suggests that both, the action
control theory and the theoretical considerations related to
rumination may oer further routes of investigating the nature
of individual performance variations in athletes under stress,
e.g., in the context of a competition.
e datasets generated for this study are available on request
to the corresponding author.
e study was conducted in accordance with the Declaration
of Helsinki and the Ethical Code of the German Society for
Psychology (DGPs) and all subjects gave written informed
consent prior to their participation in the study. In the case
of our selection of participants (all healthy persons) and our
study design the local ethics committee at the Institute for
Psychology do not ask for an approvement.
FIGURE 2 | Scatterplots of failure-related action orientation (HOM; range 0–12) and rumination (N=157). In detail, HOM is plotted with (A) rumination in general
(PTQ; range 0–60), (B) clinically relevant rumination (RRQ; range 12–60), and (C) competition-related rumination (KSR-WK; range 8–40). The regression lines are
based on robust linear regressions of HOM with the respective rumination measure (for details see text).
TABLE 3 | Characteristics of the single robust regression analyses with failure-
related action orientation as predictor and three rumination scales as criterion.
Criterion Predictor B SE B βpR2
PTQ HOM 1.57 0.24 0.46 <0.001 0.23
RRQ HOM 1.25 0.17 0.48 <0.001 0.22
KSR-WK HOM 1.13 0.19 0.50 <0.001 0.24
Kröhler and Berti Rumination and State Orientation in Sports
Frontiers in Psychology | 8 March 2019 | Volume 10 | Article 576
AK and SB contributed with the conception and design of
the study. AK collected the data and performed the statistical
analysis, and AK and SB wrote the manuscript.
We would like to thank all clubs and sports organizations for
cooperating with us and all athletes, who participated in
our study.
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Conict of Interest Statement: e authors declare that the research was conducted
in the absence of any commercial or nancial relationships that could beconstrued
as a potential conict of interest.
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... Furthermore, the correlation between different measures of rumination and failure-related action orientation (i.e. state orientation) was verified in a study with 157 competitive athletes from different individual and team sports (Kröhler & Berti, 2019). According to the action control theory (Beckmann & Kossak, 2018), an action-orientated athlete acts more intuitively on problems in adverse situations whereas state-orientated athletes are more focused on their emotions and thoughts (Kröhler & Berti, 2019). ...
... state orientation) was verified in a study with 157 competitive athletes from different individual and team sports (Kröhler & Berti, 2019). According to the action control theory (Beckmann & Kossak, 2018), an action-orientated athlete acts more intuitively on problems in adverse situations whereas state-orientated athletes are more focused on their emotions and thoughts (Kröhler & Berti, 2019). Rumination might be the consequence of this state orientation. ...
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... Furthermore, self-compassion was negatively correlated with self-criticism in female athletes (Killham, Mosewich, Mack, Gunnel, & Ferguson, 2018) and positively correlated to eudaimonic well-being in young female athletes (Ferguson, Kowalski, Mack, & Sabiston, 2014). Regarding repetitive thinking, firstly a direct relationship between rumination and action orientation in competitive athletes has been demonstrated (Kröhler & Berti, 2019). Secondly, between 27 and 36% of the variance in ski flying results could be accounted for by the amount of worry (Sklett, Loras, & Sigmundsson, 2018). ...
... Mosewich, 2020) and repetitive thinking play an important role in this area (e.g. Kröhler & Berti, 2019). Semiprofessional football players were chosen because it has been shown that in this group the anxiety values were higher compared to the normal values in nonathletes of the same age group indicating a vulnerable group for negative psychological symptoms (Jansen, Lehmann, Fellner, Huppertz, & Loose, 2019). ...
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... This paradigm measures introjection by the number of tasks that participants misremembered as self-selected but that were imposed by an authority (such as an experimenter or a superior) (Kuhl and Kazén, 1994;Baumann and Kuhl, 2003;Kazén et al., 2003;Quirin and Kuhl, 2018). In these previous studies, introjection was predicted by trait rumination, conceived of as a tendency to be preoccupied with negative thoughts and emotions relating to adverse experiences (Kuhl, 1994;Nolan et al., 1998;Kuhl and Baumann, 2000;Beckmann and Kellmann, 2004;Watkins, 2008;Kröhler and Berti, 2019). ...
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... Rumination has been associated with athletes having a higher likelihood of experiencing clinical levels of depressive symptoms (Tahtinen et al., 2020), which is consistent with much research in clinical psychology (Nolen-Hoeksema et al., 2008). Moreover, rumination has been linked with the tendency to focus on problems instead of taking actions (Kröhler & Berti, 2019), which may explain why rumination predicts performance decrements in high-pressure situations (Kinrade et al., 2015). In line with attentional control theory (Eysenck et al., 2007), one explanation for this performance decrement may be that stimuli with high emotional significance to the individual (e.g. an own unnecessary mistake leading to impending defeat) may divert attention from task-relevant stimuli. ...
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... By contrast, state-oriented athletes would be less capable of regulating these processes in this way and would be more concerned about the future and would ruminate on the past. Previous research results indicate that state-oriented athletes have disadvantages compared to action-oriented athletes in various aspects that are relevant for athletic performance, particularly in stressful situations (Kröhler & Berti, 2019). ...
Endurance athletes attribute performance not only to physiological factors, but also refer to psychological factors such as motivation. The goal of this study was to quantify the proportion of the variance in endurance performance that is explained by psychological factors in addition to the physiological factor VO2max. Twenty-five athletes of the U17 Swiss Cycling national team (7f, 18 m, 15.3 ± 0.5 years) were examined in a cross-sectional study with psychological factors and VO2max as independent variables and endurance performance in road cycling as dependent variable. Questionnaires were used to assess psychological factors (i.e., use of mental techniques, self-compassion, mental toughness, achievement motivation, and action vs. state orientation). VO2max was measured by a step incremental cycle ergometer test of exhaustion. Endurance performance was measured in a cycling mountain time trial (1,320 m long, incline of 546 meters). A multiple regression model was created by using forward selection of regression model predictors. Results showed that higher VO2max values (β = .48), being male (β = .26), and higher achievement motivation (i.e., perseverance, β = .11) were associated with a better endurance performance. A more frequent use of one particular mental technique (i.e., relaxation techniques, β = .03) was associated with a worse endurance performance. Our study shows that a physiological factor like VO2max explains endurance performance to a large extent but psychological factors account for additional variance. In particular, one aspect of achievement motivation, namely perseverance, was associated with a better endurance performance.
... In contrast, state orientation describes a longer time to dwell when an error occurs (e.g., by ruminating about what happened, [1]). In most cases, this kind of sport specific rumination after failure [26] is a disadvantage for sport performance [2]. Athletes with an action orientation can handle failures in high demanding situations more efficiently and draw the attention to forthcoming challenges. ...
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Background Mental training intends to support athletes in mastering challenges in sport. The aim of our study was to investigate the differential and shared effects of psychological skills training and mindfulness training on psychological variables relevant to athletic performance (e.g., handling emotions or attention control). We assumed that each approach has its own strengths (e.g., mindfulness has a differential effect on the acceptance of emotions), but for some goals (e.g., attention control), both training forms are expected to be equally successful (i.e., shared effects). Methods A total of 95 athletes (Mage = 24.43, SDage = 5.15; 49% female) were randomly assigned into three groups: psychological skills training intervention (PST), mindfulness training intervention (MT), and wait-list control group (WL). Participants completed a questionnaire battery before and after the training (pretest and posttest). We assessed mindfulness, use of mental strategies, handling of emotions, attention in training and competition, as well as the dealing with failure. The two intervention programs each consisted of four 90-minute group workshops conducted over a period of four weeks. Results Both interventions passed the manipulation check, that is, PST led to more mental strategies being used (probabilities > 95%), and MT led to an increase in two of three aspects of mindfulness (probabilities > 98%) when compared to WL. Compared to WL, both interventions equally improved in the ability to not let emotions interfere with performance (probabilities > 99%) and in controlling attention in training and competition (probabilities > 89%). To a lesser extend, both interventions showed shared improvements in dealing with failure indicated by more action orientation (probabilities > 82%). We found a differential effect of MT on decreased experiential avoidance: MT decreased compared to WL and PST (probabilities > 92%), whereas PST did not differ from WL. Conclusion We conclude that both forms of mental training lead to improvements in performance-relevant psychological factors, especially concerning the handling of emotions and attention control. The results of our study suggest that different paths may lead to the desired outcomes, and accordingly, both forms of mental training seem justified.
... The detrimental effects of threat states and rumination on performance have been reported across a wide range of tasks and contexts, such as in cognitive tasks (Brinker, Campisi, Gibbs, & Izzard, 2013;Davis & Nolen-Hoeksema, 2000;Gildea, Schneider, & Shebilske, 2007;Mendes, Blascovich, Hunter, Lickel, & Jost, 2007), academia (Lyubomirsky, Kasri, & Zehm, 2003;Seery, Weisbuch, Hetenyi, & Blascovich, 2010) and sports (Jones, Meijen, McCarthy, & Sheffield, 2009;Kröhler & Berti, 2019;Nicholls, Polman, & Levy, 2012). For example, Mendes et al. (2007) conducted a series of studies with undergraduates who interacted with either stereotypical or counter-stereotypical partners and afterwards completed a word-finding task. ...
Individuals differ in how they deal with their emotions after failure. While some stay in a negative mood for hours, others recover quickly. The present study investigates whether prefrontal alpha asymmetry (PFA) influences affective recovery and cognitive performance following failure. Forty-seven participants completed two mental rotation tasks separated by a short break and received negative feedback on their performance. Electroencephalographic (EEG) data was collected before the first task and affective and cognitive changes were tracked using visual analogue scales throughout the experiment. In participants that felt upset, higher right-hemispheric PFA was associated with a persistence of negative affect. These participants showed poor performance on the second task. The findings suggest that PFA is a vulnerability factor that prevents individuals from regaining their initial affective state and impairs their cognitive performance.
This article presents the development and the preliminary validation of the Sports Competition Rumination Scale (SCRS). The SCRS is designed to measure ruminative thoughts referring to competition-related problems in athletes. It is an adapted version of an existing rumination scale in which we have changed the context for sport-specific purposes. The SCRS consists of eight items, which capture key characteristics of rumination (e.g., repetitiveness, intrusiveness) in the competitive context. In two studies, we investigated its construct validity in terms of its factorial validity and its position within a nomological network. Data collected from 355 athletes (NStudy1 = 157, NStudy2 = 198) revealed a good factorial validity for the scale across samples. The SCRS showed a good internal consistency. Moreover, moderate relations to established rumination measures from clinical and general psychology supported its position in the nomological network. In addition, the SCRS showed low to moderate relations to different general as well as sports-specific anxiety measures. The present study provides an important preliminary evidence for a useful, reliable, and ecological measure of rumination about competition-related problems. Lay Summary: Repetitive and intrusive thoughts (rumination) are a prominent topic in psychology due to the strong relation to depression, individuals’ well-being, and various performance parameters. However, little research has focused on rumination in the context of sports. Here we describe the development of a sports-specific rumination measure for the competitive context. • IMPLICATIONS FOR PRACTICE • The SCRS is a questionnaire to tap repetitive, intrusive thoughts related to competitions. • The SCRS is a reliable and easy-to-complete measure, which helps to track performance-limiting thoughts.
Identifying the correlates of competition anxiety is fundamental to athletes' well-being and performance. Self-compassion is gaining attention in sport psychology because of its associations with positive outcomes, while repetitive negative thinking (i.e. worry and rumination) is associated with negative conditions, such as anxiety. Building on previous evidence in the general population of associations between self-compassion, repetitive negative thinking, and trait anxiety, we investigated these relations in athletes of different sports. A total of 263 athletes (Mage = 23.72, SD = 6.97, 141 males) completed scales measuring self-compassion, repetitive negative thinking, and trait competition anxiety. Regression models showed the effects of self-compassion and worry on concern (the cognitive component of anxiety), and of worry on somatic anxiety. Gender, number of competitions a year, and years of practice were also associated with trait competition anxiety. A subsequent mediation model revealed significant direct and indirect effects of self-compassion on anxiety, mediated by worry. Results are discussed theoretically and considering their practical implications for athletes.
The aim was to explore depressive symptoms through the response styles theory in Icelandic elite athletes using a longitudinal research design. A total of 79 Icelandic elite and national team athletes were included in the study (M= 23.5, SD=4.8, age range 18-37, females 75.9%). Higher perceived stress and brooding rumination (maladaptive response to negative mood) independently predicted higher depressive symptom scores over the study period. Athletes who reported higher brooding tendencies in the beginning of the study, were significantly more likely than those reporting lower tendencies, to report higher increases in depressive symptoms when stress levels increased over the study period. The findings supported the validity of exploring individual differences in depressive symptoms through the lens of the response styles theory in the athletes. Future research could explore the relationship between brooding rumination, athletic performance, and mental health issues, and test interventions targeting brooding rumination in athletes.
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The main objective of the project was to examine a proposed theoretical model of mindfulness mechanisms in sports. We conducted two studies (the first study using a cross-sectional design and the second a longitudinal design) to investigate if rumination and emotion regulation mediate the relation between dispositional mindfulness and sport-specific coping. Two hundred and forty-two young elite athletes, drawn from various sports, were recruited for the cross-sectional study. For the longitudinal study, 65 elite athletes were recruited. All analyses were performed using Bayesian statistics. The path analyses showed credible indirect effects of dispositional mindfulness on coping via rumination and emotion regulation in both the cross-sectional study and the longitudinal study. Additionally, the results in both studies showed credible direct effects of dispositional mindfulness on rumination and emotion regulation. Further, credible direct effects of emotion regulation as well as rumination on coping were also found in both studies. Our findings support the theoretical model, indicating that rumination and emotion regulation function as essential mechanisms in the relation between dispositional mindfulness and sport-specific coping skills. Increased dispositional mindfulness in competitive athletes (i.e. by practicing mindfulness) may lead to reductions in rumination, as well as an improved capacity to regulate negative emotions. By doing so, athletes may improve their sport-related coping skills, and thereby enhance athletic performance.
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People high in rumination are good at tasks that require persistence whereas people low in rumination are good at tasks that require flexibility. Here we examine real world implications of these differences in dynamic, team sport. In two studies, we found that professional male football (soccer) players from Germany and female field hockey players on the US national team were lower in rumination than were non-athletes. Further, low levels of rumination were associated with a longer career at a higher level in football players. Results indicate that athletes in dynamic, team sport might benefit from the flexibility associated with being low in rumination.
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We sought to examine whether the relationship between recovery–stress factors and performance would differ at the beginning (Stage 1) and the end (Final Stage) of a multi-stage cycling competition. Sixty-seven cyclists with a mean age of 21.90 years (SD = 1.60) and extensive international experience participated in the study. The cyclists responded to the Recovery–Stress Questionnaire for Athletes (RESTQ-Sport) and rated their performance (1 = extremely poor to 10 = excellent) in respect to the first and last stage. Two step-down multiple regression models were used to estimate the relationship among recovery (nine factors; e.g. Physical Recovery, Sleep Quality) and stress factors (10 factors; e.g. Lack of Energy, Physical Complaints), as assessed by the RESTQ-Sport and in relation to performance. Model 1 pertained to Stage 1, whereas Model 2 used data from the Final Stage. The final Model 1 revealed that Physical Recovery (β = .46, p = .01), Injury (β = −.31, p = .01) and General Well-being (β = −.26, p = .04) predicted performance in Stage 1 (R2 = .21). The final Model 2 revealed a different relationship between recovery–stress factors and performance. Specifically, being a climber (β = .28, p = .01), Conflicts/Pressure (β = .33, p = .01), and Lack of Energy (β = −.37, p = .01) were associated with performance at the Final Stage (R2 = .19). Collectively, these results suggest that the relationship among recovery and stress factors changes greatly over a relatively short period of time, and dynamically influences performance in multi-stage competitions.
We investigated the level of rumination of elite athletes in relation to their personal goal achievement. Within the framework of a longitudinal analysis, 44 elite swimmers completed online questionnaires at four times during the competitive season of 2014 / 2015 including the German version of the Response Styles Questionnaire (RSQ-D; Kühner, Huffziger, & Nolen-Hoeksema, 2007), personal athletic goals, biographical, and sports-related questions. Regarding the reported individual goal achievement at the end of the season, participants were assigned to a realization (n = 17) or comparison group (n = 27). We applied a multivariate analysis of variance (MANOVA) to test overall differences in rumination between both groups at the beginning and at the end of the competitive season. Athletes who fulfilled their goals had lower rumination scores compared with athletes who did not. This suggests that rumination occurs during processes of goal achievement and that rumination might be a relevant factor in competitive sports.
Motivation and volition play an important role in sports. Professional athletes benefit from a strong achievement motivation, while findings on recreational sport show the importance of the affiliation motive. Sport psychological research has developed a large body of evidence on the conditions of motivation and volition in sports, including specific instruments for the measurement of motives as well as factors of motivation and volition. The distinction between implicit and explicit motives has only recently gained more attention. Through processes of self-regulation, volition is an essential component for persisting during training or succeeding in emotionally and physically exhausting competitions. Sport psychological interventions are primarily related to self-regulation.
Ach (1935) war in seiner Analyse des Willens häufig auf die Beziehung zwischen Perseveration und Willenstätigkeit eingegangen (s.o. 8.1.6). Trotz der Bedeutung, die er dem Perseverationskonzept zumaß, war für ihn die Beziehung zwischen Perseveration und der Willenstätigkeit keineswegs geklärt. Während er einerseits einen positiven Zusammenhang zwischen Perseveration („Ausdauer“) und dem „Wirkungsgrad des Wollens“ annahm, mußte er andererseits feststellen, daß z. B. Ermüdung die Perseveration erhöht, andererseits aber den Wirkungsgrad des Wollens herabsetzt. In diesem Kapitel soll versucht werden, einen Perseverationsbegriff in ein Modell der Handlungskontrolle einzuführen, welcher einige Schwierigkeiten von Achs Perseverationsbegriff dadurch überwinden soll, daß er spezifischer formuliert ist als Achs globaler Perseverationsbegriff.
Psychische Störungen werden im Leistungssport im Vergleich zu körperlichen Erkrankungen weniger erwartet und wahrgenommen. Hierzu zählen z.B. affektive Störungen, Suchterkrankungen oder Essstörungen. Die Phänotypen psychischer Störungen im Leistungssport können deutlich von denen in der Allgemeinbevölkerung abweichen oder sich mit physiologischen Reaktionen auf sportliche Aktivität überschneiden. In einigen Sportarten besteht, teils in Abhängigkeit vom Geschlecht der Athleten, ein besonderes Risiko für die Entwicklung dieser Störungsbilder. Diagnostische und therapeutische Leitlinien und Behandlungspfade, insbesondere unter Einbeziehung psychotherapeutischer und pharmakotherapeutischer Methoden sind noch unzureichend etabliert. In dieser Übersichtsarbeit werden Besonderheiten wichtiger psychischer Störungen im Sport zusammengefasst. Hierbei werden auch sporttraumatologische Aspekte beleuchtet. Ferner wird die Notwendigkeit adäquater Versorgungsstrukturen aufgezeigt.