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Open Access

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Master of Science (M.S.)

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mental toughness, intervention, athletes, mood states


Intense training for prolonged periods of time without adequate recovery can result in psychological problems and increased susceptibility to illness and injury in collegiate athletes. The Cognitive-Affective Model of Athletic Burnout (Smith, 1986), a framework for understanding the relationships among stressors, identifies cognitive appraisal as the mediating factor between negative or positive health outcomes, and therefore could be a target of interventions to reduce overtraining, burnout, injury, and illness. Mental toughness, the ability to perform at one’s best regardless of the circumstances, is a modifiable psychological construct that may influence cognitive appraisal. Altering an athlete’s interpretation of stressful situations through mental toughness training could change how the athlete evaluates his/her ability to handle the stressors of training and competition, and may attenuate negative psychological outcomes associated with increased illness and injury risk. The purpose of this study was to establish cross-sectional relationships among mental toughness and psychological and physical variables, implement an online Mental Toughness Training Program, and evaluate the impact of the training on changes in mental toughness, mood disturbances, athlete burnout, coping ability, depression, physical symptoms, and perceived stress before, during, and after the intervention program. Female student athletes from a private Division III institution on the varsity Field Hockey (N=19) and Soccer (N=28) teams participated in this study. All participants (N=47) provided cross-sectional data demonstrating that mental toughness was significantly correlated with total mood disturbance (ρ=-0.51, p≤.01), depression (ρ=-0.49, p≤.01), perceived stress (ρ=-0.53, p≤.01), and athlete burnout (ρ=-.46, p≤.01). Thirty-seven athletes (N= 16 Field Hockey, N=21 Soccer) were randomly assigned by team to the six-week Mental Toughness Training Program, involving psychological skills training, or control condition, and had longitudinal data available for analysis. Mental toughness levels were significantly increased in the intervention group from pre- to post-training. The training led to significant attenuations in levels of athlete burnout, depression, physical symptoms, and perceived stress. These findings show that mental toughness is associated with psychological variables, and mental toughness training had a positive impact on variables that have been associated with increased risk of injury in collegiate athletes.


First Advisor

Erin M Snook