The Effects Of Relaxation Training On Competitive Anxiety
Cate McDermod



The current study investigated the effect of psychological skill training techniques such as progressive muscle relaxation on competitive a-state anxiety.  The three sub-scales of a-state competitive anxiety were also examined; cognitive a-state, somatic a-state, and state self-confidence.

The study consisted of 12 female cross-country runners from Saint Anselm College, ages 18-22.  The Sport Competition Anxiety Test (SCAT) Form A, developed by Martens, Vealey, &Burton (1990) along with the Competitive State Anxiety Inventory-2 (CSAI-2), also developed by Martens, Vealey, & Burton (1990) were used.  Subjects were randomly assigned to either a relaxation training experimental group, or a no relaxation training control group.  Dependent variables were analyzed by an independent samples t-test.  It was hypothesized that the group that received progressive muscle relaxation would have lower levels of competitive a-state anxiety and lower anxiety levels on the sub-scales, compared to the control group.  No statistical significance was found for state or trait anxiety between the two groups.  However, statistical significance was found on the somatic a-state, a sub-scale of state.  Practical implications and improvements are discussed.

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The impact of anxiety on sport performance has become an interest in the field of Sport Psychology within the last decade.  Performance related anxiety, also referred to as competitive a-state anxiety is composed of three states.  The cognitive a-state is responsible for cognitive concerns such as worry and negative expectations about oneself or one's performance.  The somatic a-state accounts for autonomic arousal such as muscle tension and increased heart rate.  High levels of either cognitive a-state or somatic a-state negatively effect state self-confidence.  Overall, competitive state anxiety is defined as an emotional response to an unpleasant stimulus (Jones, Swain, & Cale, 1990).

Typical responses to an anxiety provoking stimulus include: muscle tension, increased breathing, and decreased concentration (Onestak, 1991).  It has been suggested that athletes are prone to experience this negative emotion for two reasons.  First, they frequently find themselves in situations in which others can assess their success or failure.  Second, the degree of success achieved by an athlete is measurable by goals such as distance, scores, or time (Onestak, 1991).  Furthermore, an examination of sport competition literature exemplifies the causes of competitive a-state anxiety.  Some of the commonly cited causes include fear of failure (Gould, Hom, & Spreeman, 1983), ego threat/fear of evaluation (Fisher & Zwart, 1982), and poor preparation or lack of perceived physical readiness (Jones, Swain, & Cale, 1990).  Generally, both psychological and physiological ramifications reveal the athlete's response to anxiety (Petrie & Diehl, 1995).

In addition, studies have indicated that a reduction in competitive a-state anxiety may enhance athletic performance.  Recently, the emphasis placed on the psychological aspect of athletics has exhibited psychological skill training to be equally important as physical training.  Psychological skill training such as relaxation training can be used to lower both somatic a-state and cognitive a-state anxiety.  Hence, such a training method can be implemented to reduce competitive a-state anxiety and in turn, enhance athletic performance (Onestak, 1991).  Moreover, relaxation techniques include: progressive muscle relaxation that is induced by instructions to tense and relax major muscle groups of the body; deep breathing which ensures calm respiration; and visualization techniques (Jacobson, 1938).  The purpose of relaxation strategies is to allow the athlete to decrease anxiety prior to performance and in turn, reach his or her full athletic potential (Onestak, 1991).

Previous research explored the effect of various relaxation training techniques on competitive a-state anxiety and performance.  Anshel and Porter (1996), Bethany and Forrest (1998), and Savey and Beital (1997) have demonstrated further collective evidence that the application of psychological skill training programs can reduce competitive a-state anxiety as well as improve athletic performance.  For example, Bethany and Forrest (1998) found that visuo-motor behavioral rehearsal, when employed by athletes can decrease stress and state anxiety.  In support of this finding, Anshel and Porter (1996) also found that athletes who employed stress management techniques expressed better athletic performance.  Future research may extend the examination and see exactly which sub-scale, somatic a-state, cognitive a-state, or state self-confidence is most effected by the psychological skill training.

In consideration of the previous evidence that psychological skill training can reduce competitive a-state anxiety, the present study will further investigate the impact of progressive muscle relaxation, a type of psychological skill training, on a-state competitive anxiety with an emphasis on the three sub-levels of a-state anxiety.  Cognitive a-state, somatic a-state, and state self-confidence will be examined.  It will be beneficial to test if in fact, psychological skill training such as relaxation training lowers competitive a-state anxiety and if so, which of the three sub-scales are most effected.

Moreover, the present study will examine competitive a-state anxiety and the impact of relaxation training.  The variable being manipulated is the relaxation training, which is defined as progressive muscle relaxation.  Progressive muscle relaxation generates relaxation by systematically progressing through skeletal muscles.  The variables being measured are the subject's trait anxiety level, state anxiety level and the three sub-levels of state anxiety: somatic a-state, cognitive a-state, and state self-confidence.  Prior to training, a sport competition trait anxiety questionnaire will assess the trait anxiety and a sport  competition inventory post relaxation training will assess the various anxiety levels.  It is hypothesized that athletes administered progressive muscle relaxation training will express lower overall competitive anxiety levels.  The lower competitive a-state level in the experimental group will be a result of lower anxiety of the sub-levels, somatic a-state and cognitive a-state.  In turn, an increase of the level of state self-confidence will be exhibited compared to athletes in the control group.

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The study consisted of twelve female collegiate cross-country runners from Saint Anselm College, participating on a voluntary basis.  The sample consisted of freshman, sophomores, juniors, and seniors ranging from ages 18-22.  Subjects were scheduled to read and sign a consent form.  The criterion for inclusion was being free of any injury that would impede on running ability.  The criterion for exclusion was having an injury that would negatively effect running ability.  Subjects were randomly assigned to one of two groups, and then administered a trait anxiety survey.

 A one part Sport Competition Anxiety Test (SCAT), Form A (Martens, Vealey, & Burton, 1990) was used to measure each subject's competitive trait anxiety.  The SCAT measures an individual's tendency to perceive competitive situations as anxiety provoking.  The SCAT takes less than 5 minutes to complete and consists of 15 items including 10 anxiety related statements and five filler items, each rated on a Likret scale from A (hardly ever) to C (often).  Subjects are requested to blacken in one of three circles that best describe how they feel in general.  Some examples of statements include, "Before I compete I feel uneasy" or "Before I compete I am calm".  The SCAT is used extensively in sport psychology research, and has sufficient test-retest reliability, r = .61 to .95; and internal consistency, alpha coefficients ranging from .95 to .97.

The Competitive State Anxiety Inventory-2 (CSAI-2) (Martens, Vealey, & Burton, 1990) was also used.  The CSAI-2 was developed to measure the dimensions of state anxiety.  The CSAI-2, a multidimensional state measure of competitive anxiety, measures respondents' feelings and thoughts about competition at a given time or moment.  The CSAI-2 takes approximately 5 minutes to complete and consists of 27 items each rated on a Likert scale from I (not at all) to 4 (very much so).  Participants are asked to read each statement carefully and blacken in one of the four circles that accurately describe their feelings at that moment.  Participants are also reminded that there are no right or wrong answers and they are told not to spend too much time on any one statement but give the answer which best describe present feelings.  The 27 items represent three 9-item sub-scales: cognitive a-state anxiety, "I am concerned about losing", somatic a-state, I feel jittery", and state self-confidence, I feel secure".  Scoring for each factor on the CSAI-2 ranges from a possible 9 to 36. Several studies support the three sub-scales as sport specific measures of state anxiety. Alpha coefficients ranging from .79 to .90 have demonstrated a high degree of internal consistency.

A Script for Relaxation, was also used to teach subjects how to employ progressive muscle relaxation techniques to ease tension in major muscle groups in the presence of anxiety (Jacobson, 1938).  Subjects were instructed for approximately 15 minutes each day for a one-week period on how to progressively
tense and relax skeletal muscles throughout the body.

Subjects were selected from a convenient sample of female cross-country runners from Saint Anselm College.  A total of seven subjects were dismissed from the study due to injury.  Remaining subjects were asked to read and sign a consent form.  Subjects were randomly assigned to one of two groups, an experimental group or a control group.  Six athletes were assigned to the experimental relaxation training group; (group 1) and the remaining six were placed in a non-training group (group 2).  Subjects were then administered the SCAT to determine trait anxiety levels.  For the purpose of this study, the trait anxiety levels were pre-tested to allow the experimenter to examine the general range of trait anxiety levels.  Next, group I was exposed to progressive muscle relaxation, involving first tensing and then relaxing major muscle groups.  The training lasted approximately 15 minutes, each day for a period of one week. During this time, group 2 received no training.  At the end of the one-week period, which was also the day of race, both group I and group 2 were required to answer the CSAI-2.  Finally, a debriefing form was distributed to all subjects describing the nature of the study, subjects were thanked for their participation in the study and all questions were answered regarding the study.

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Participants undergoing progressive muscle relaxation training and participants not experiencing relaxation training were compared on anxiety levels.  There was an overall average of trait anxiety score taken from the Sport Competition Anxiety Test (SCAT) (Martens, Vealey, & Burton, 1990).  There was also an overall (full scale) average of state anxiety score.  State anxiety was composed of three sub-scales (somatic a-state, cognitive a-state, and state self-confidence) that were also averaged.  All were taken from the Competitive State Anxiety Inventory-2 (CSAI-2) (Martens, Vealey, & Burton, 1990).
An independent-samples t-test was conducted on the trait and state anxiety levels of the two groups.  The alpha level p< .05 was used consistently.  No statistically significant effects were found between the experimental group (group 1) and the control group (group 2) for trait anxiety, t(10)=1.403, p=0.191. No statistically significant effects were found between group I and group 2 for state anxiety, t (I 0)=-1.449, p=O.178 (see Table 1).  Hence, no significant differences existed between group I and group 2 on their full-scale trait and state anxiety levels.

Table 1.

T-Test for the Sport Competition Anxiety Test
t-value df 2-tailed sig.
 Trait  1.403  10 0.191
-1.449  10 0.178
Note: Equal variance is assumed for trait and full scale state anxiety.  The results of the independent-samples t-test for the three sub-levels of state anxiety: somatic a-state, cognitive a-state, and state self-confidence were also examined.  Amongst the three sub-levels the only statistically significant difference between group 1 and group 2 occurred on the somatic a-state anxiety level, t (10)= -3.068, p=0.012.  No statistically significant effects were found between group 1 and group 2 on the cognitive a-state level, t (10)= -1.762, p=0.109.  No statistically significant effects were found between group 1 and group 2 on the state self-confidence level, t (10)= 1.941, p=0.081 (see Table 2).

Table 2.

T-Test for Competitive State Anxiety Inventory-2, Three Sub-Scales
t-values df 2-tailed sig.
Somatic A-State  -3.068  10  0.012
Cognitive A-State -1.762 10 0.109
State Self-confidence  1.941  10  0.081
Note:  Equal variances assumed for each sub-scale of CSAI-2, somatic a-state, cognitive a-state, and state self-confidence.
Means and standard deviations wee also calculated for all variables (see Table 3).  No statistical significance was found between group 1 and group 2 for (full-scale) state anxiety.  However, according to the means for (full-scale) state anxiety, compared to the initial trait score, group 1 had lower state anxiety levels after the manipulation than group 2.

Table 3.

Mean Statistics for Scales of the Sport Competition Anxiety Test and the Competitive State Anxiety Inventory-2
Group  N Mean Standard Deviation
 Trait     1  26* 2.5884
     2 6 24 3.8687
 State    1 6 20*  1.7224
      2 6 21 1.8619
 Som. A-State      1  6 18 2.4833
      2 6 22 1.7889
 Cog. A-State     1  6 21 1.7512
      2  25 4.2895
State Self-Conf.      1 22 3.4059
      2  6 18 2.8107
Note:  Group1= experimental group; Group 2= control group; Trait= overall score on the SCAT; State= overall score (full scale) on CSAI-2; Som. A-State= somatic a-state anxiety (sub-scale of CSAI-2); Cog. A-State= cognitive a-state anxiety (sub-scale of CSAI-2); State Self-Conf.= state self-confidence (sub-scale of CSAI-2).

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The purpose of the present study was to examine if progressive muscle relaxation decreased competitive a-state anxiety, and if so, which of the three sub-scales: cognitive a-state, somatic a-state, and self-confidence were most effected by the training.  The only statistically significant effects found between the experimental group and the control group occurred on the somatic a-state sub-scale of competitive a-state anxiety.

The trait anxiety of the subjects was tested first producing no statistical significant effects between the experimental and control group.  Hence, the mean score of the Sport Competition Anxiety Test (SCAT) (Martens, Vealey, & Burton, 1990) for both group I and group 2, exhibited no major difference. Statistical significance was not desired between the trait anxiety levels of the subjects.  The (SCAT) was simply administered as a check for extremely high or low levels of anxiety among individuals.  Moreover, if one subject exhibited excessively high levels of trait anxiety in one group, the mean for that particular group may have been affected.  More importantly, the present study investigated a specific type of psychological skill training, known as progressive muscle relaxation on competitive a-state anxiety.

Although, previous research suggests that various relaxation training techniques, including progressive muscle relaxation, decrease full-scale competitive a-state anxiety (Bethany & Forrest, 1998), the results of the present study did not confirm these observations.  The Competitive State Anxiety Inventory (CSAI-2) (Martens, Vealey, & Burton, 1990) produced no statistical significance for the overall a-state anxiety levels between the relaxation training experimental group (group 1) and the no training control group (group 2).  However, the mean scores of trait and state for group I exhibited a greater decrease from trait to state compared to the group 2.  There are several reasons for the lack of statistical significance between the groups.  Originally, the subject pool contained 19 subjects.  However, due to injuries that prohibited athletes from running, the sample size was decreased to 12 subjects.  Future studies should begin with a larger sample size to avoid the problem of injury among subjects.  Other limitations of the present study pertained to a restricted form of psychological skill training.

For example, when examining the full-scale score of competitive a-state anxiety, the three sub-scales are not inspected.  Therefore, a particular psychological training technique such as progressive muscle relaxation may only significantly effect one component of the a-state anxiety; hence, no statistical significance would be exhibited for the full-scale score.  Indeed, the study conducted by Bethany and Forrest (1998) used a psychological skill training technique known as visuo-behavior training.  This type of training employs both visual imagery techniques as well as relaxation training techniques.  Furthermore, cognitive aspects, such as visual imagery were manipulated in addition to somatic skill enhancement, such as relaxation training. The manipulation of the two components together may have had a greater effect on the full-scale a-state competitive anxiety.  Moreover, if the present study had employed additional techniques such as visual imagery along with muscle relaxation, the full-scale a-state score may have demonstrated significance.

In addition, the present study, which implemented progressive muscle relaxation, tested the three sub-scales of a-state anxiety.  Among the three sub-scales, cognitive a-state, somatic a-state, and state self-confidence, the only statistically significant difference between, group I and group 2 occurred on the somatic a-state anxiety level.  In support of the hypothesis that specific areas of anxiety are effected by certain psychological training techniques, progressive muscle relaxation training significantly effected somatic a-state anxiety.  Somatic a-state anxiety is responsible for autonomic arousal such as muscle tension.  Therefore, future research can employ a combination of relaxation techniques in order to manipulate all aspects of competitive a-state anxiety. Future research may also further investigate exactly which components of a-state competitive anxiety are present in an individual athlete and in turn implement a specific type of psychological skill training program.  For example, if particular athletes often experience negative self-evaluations that in turn negatively effect performance, cognitive psychological skill training is necessary.  In contrast, if particular athletes have trouble performing to their full capacity due to muscle tension, muscle relaxation techniques should be employed.

Evidence of the previous findings could be beneficial to collegiate athletes and coaches.  For example, coaches could regularly implement various
techniques that would benefit the team.  Further study of the effects of specific types of psychological skill training on competitive a-state anxiety including the sub-scales of a-state is warranted.  A larger sample size and more sensitive measures would be appropriate.

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