Notes on Emotions in Sport

By Yuri L. Hanin

Chapter 1 – The Study of Emotion in Sport and Exercise

Emotions are present in all aspects of human life, meaning they are also present in sport (Hanin, 3). For example, anxious athletes’ performance might suffer and embarrassed exercise participants could quit attending their exercise classes (Hanin, 3).In 1983, Vallerand noticed that emotional research in sports was very uncommon. This changed over the span of 15 years, after which notable researchers would say, “There has been a surge of research activity” (Hanin, 3).

Emotion lacks a concrete definition due to the ambiguity of it as a concept. To combat this, there are three methods of classifying emotions (Hanin, 4). 

The first classification method is “emotional dimension” (Hanin, 4). The majority of emotions have been found to have at least two commonly agreed upon emotions — pleasure/displeasure and activation (Hanin, 4). The emotion of interest is viewed as high in pleasure and low in activation, whereas anger is low in pleasure and high in activation (Hanin, 4).

The second classification method is “discrete emotion” (Hanin, 5). This method, in combination attempts to provide some form of differentiation between different types of emotion. For example, anger at a superior is experienced completely differently from anger at a peer or competitor (Hanin, 5). Researchers have used seven different basic, fundamental emotions to describe the whole of emotion: anger, disgust/contempt, fear, happiness, interest, sadness, and surprise (Hanin, 5).

The third and final classification method is composed of three ‘dimensions’ (Hanin, 5). These dimensions are: physiological changes, action tendencies, and subjective experience (Hanin, 5-6). Physiological alterations during emotion happen in the autonomic system, meaning elevations in heart rate, change in blood pressure, and response of the skin (Hanin, 5). For example, fear could cause elevated heart rate and goosebumps on the skin or anger could cause redness in the face (my examples). Action tendencies are exactly what they sound like — behavioral tendencies of a person experiencing a given emotion (Hanin, 6). Finally, subjective experience is used to describe the conscious experience of an emotion (Hanin, 6).

These combine to yield the most accurate definition of emotion. While this definition does not encompass all of the research into emotion, it does adequately describe the idea of an emotion (Hanin, 6). The definition is as follows:

“An emotion is a reaction to a stimulus event (either actual or imagined). It involves change in the viscera and musculature of the person, is experienced subjectively in characteristic ways, is expressed through such means as facial changes and action tendencies, and may mediate and energize subsequent behaviors” (Hanin, 6).

There is one main genre of experiencing feeling, called affect (Hanin, 6). This is used to describe both mood and emotion (Hanin, 6). Emotion is an instantaneous reaction to a specific event (Hanin, 6). Mood is a long-lasting feeling, that dissipates slower than an emotion, but can have similar effects (Hanin, 7). Notably, moods can arise from emotions (Hanin, 7).

Emotional tendency of an individual describes an individual’s predisposition to experience certain emotions (Hanin, 7). It is postulated that emotional tendency is largely hereditary and not environmental (Hanin, 7).

An emotional scale called CSAI-2 (Competitive Sport Anxiety Inventory-2), which was created in 1990, has repeatedly and reliably been used to classify emotion to some merit (Hanin, 7). Other commonly used tools include Exercise-Induced Feeling Inventory, established in 1993, and the Subjective Exercise Experience Scale, which was conceptualized in 1994 (Hanin, 7). Thse measure “transient affective states” that “are not directed at specific objects” (Hanin, 7).

Affective phenomena have five groups: emotions, feelings, moods, emotional traits, and temperaments (Hanin, 8). These are differentiated by their durations. Emotions are the shortest lived, lasting a few hours to a day at most (Hanin, 8). Feelings last slightly longer and can last a few days (Hanin, 8). Moods can last anywhere from hours to months (Hanin, 8). Emotional traits can last from a few years to an entire lifetime (Hanin, 8). Finally, temperaments are strictly lifetime affects and can be the root of emotions’ conversion to moods (Hanin, 8).

Antecedents, or the production of emotions, feed into mood, feeling, and emotion, which in turn convert to intrapersonal consequences (Hanin, 9). One proposed method of modeling and predicting individual emotion is the “Individual Zones of Optimal Functioning,” or IZOF model (Hanin, 10). This model attempts to link antecedents to their corresponding emotions, then link those to their corresponding intrapersonal consequences based on the individual being modeled (Hanin, 10).

There are two scientific groups that postulate different causes of emotion (Hanin, 10). One of them postulates that cognition is the necessary cause of emotion, whereas the other believes that information processing experienced at a cellular level produces emotion (Hanin, 10). While both groups are correct, it appears that cognitions are the most important and fundamental aspect of emotional experience (Hanin, 11).

James’ theory of emotion was that peripheral body cues were responsible for the interpretation of an emotion (Hanin, 11). Essentially, the stimulus would trigger the cues, which makes for the interpretation of emotion (Hanin, 11).

Cannon’s theory was that “central factors including the thalamus” generated emotion (Hanin, 11).

Schachter’s Two Factor theory argued that both Cannon and James were correct (Hanin, 13). He stated that both arousal of peripheral cues and central response were necessary to the experience of emotion (Hanin, 13).

Magda Arnold’s Appraisal Theory proposed that how an athlete appraises a situation then determines the emotion (Hanin, 14). According to her theory, there are two types of appraisal. The first is automatic and the second is intuitive (Hanin, 14).

Weiner’s Attributional Theory of Emotion reconciled that the method of assessing an event determines what emotion that event produces (Hanin, 15). This theory postulates three sources of this assessment: impact of the event, attributions for the outcome, and casual dimensions (Hanin, 15). The impact-based emotions are the first ones experienced and include joy after success and sadness after failure (Hanin, 15). Attributions for the outcome can be displayed as blame or gratefulness (Hanin, 15). Finally, the “casual dimensions” of emotional experience are long-lasting feelings that follow attributions and produce the most distinct emotion of the experience (Hanin, 15).

The Intuitive-Reflective Appraisal Model, proposed by Vallerand in 1987, created an “intuitive-reflective appraisal model for self-related affects in achievement situations” (Hanin, 17). One of the most important forms of reflective appraisal is called “task/event importance” (Hanin, 18). This is also called “intellectualization function,” meaning that after an event, an individual can decide whether or not that event was important and will then be affected based on that assessment (Hanin, 18). This model is well-supported by research (Hanin, 19).

Smith’s Sport Performance Anxiety Model, created in 1996, included both determinants and consequences of anxiety (Hanin, 20). Similar to The Intuitive-Reflective Appraisal Model, this model first details that the importance of the game has a large influence on what the athlete feels (Hanin, 20). If the game is important, the player is more likely to feel anxious (Hanin, 20). Secondly, the “sport-specific trait anxiety of the person” determines the state and level of anxiety experience by the player (Hanin, 20). Finally, an athlete can develop “psychological defenses for coping with anxiety-arousing competitive situations” (Hanin, 20).

Other theories suggest that goals and motivation may play an important role in the experience of emotion (Hanin, 21). One of these theories, the Self-Determination Theory, argues that the experience of emotion is determined by where one’s motivation comes from (Hanin, 21).

The Social Cognitive Theory of Self-Regulation, proposed by Bandura in 1991, theorized that individuals can “coordinate internal and external influences according to goals and standards they set for themselves” (Hanin, 24).

Affective phenomena are either disruptive or facilitative (Hanin, 26). High levels of emotional arousal are facilitative to physically demanding tasks, whereas low levels are generally more facilitative (Hanin, 27). This can vary between individuals (Hanin, 26). Additionally, focusing on cues for an emotion can intensify the extent of that emotion (Hanin, 28). This means that an athlete focusing on the crowd will become more anxious as a result of the crowd (Hanin, 28). Notably, emotions are capable of influencing personal judgements of strategy (Hanin, 28). According to the Affect Infusion Model, there are four main cognitive processing strategies that are used to form evaluative judgements (Hanin, 28). These are direct access strategy, meaning the retrieval of pre-formed evaluations; motivated reasoning strategy, which is a “partial and somewhat biased search of information”; heuristic strategy, or “judgements made with little effort”; and substantive strategy, otherwise known as a “full-fledged search for information in the hope of attaining an accurate judgement” (Hanin, 28).

Certain affects can lead to motivation, rather than the inverse (Hanin, 29-30). Additionally, poor management of inner emotional conflict can lead to illness (Hanin, 30). There are immune differences between those experiencing life stresses and those who are not, meaning that individuals who express their emotions are less likely to contract illnesses (Hanin, 30). Additionally, emotion can both determine the degree of athletic injury and influence recovery from said injury (Hanin, 31).

Research suggests that an optimal level of arousal exists in which all tasks are easier and that lower levels of arousal make more complex tasks easier (Hanin, 32).

Chapter 2 – Cognitive-Motivational-Relational Theory of Emotion

Generally, theories of emotion must have two main elements. First, they must “offer general propositions about the emotion process, including setting for the key variables and the ways they operate” (Hanin, 40). Second, they should encompass a number of interrelated cause-and-effect variables (Hanin, 40).

Emotional theories must be relational, motivational, and cognitive (Hanin, 40). Relational means that emotions are always the relation between a person and their environment (Hanin, 40). Motivational means that “acute emotions and moods are reactions to the status of goals in everyday adaptational encounters and in our lives overall” (Hanin, 41). Finally, cognitive means “knowledge of appraisal of what is happening in adaptational encounters” (Hanin, 41).

Currently, there is debate as to whether or not physiological change should be a defining attribute of emotion (Hanin, 44). Most negative emotions have very evident physiological cues, however precise expressions of positive emotions are harder to identify (Hanin, 44).

Additionally, there is some debate over whether or not emotional meanings should be fully dimensionalized with concrete factors or whether they should be treated as “discrete categories” (Hanin, 46). The first method means that one would consider the factors, then display them in a dimensional space, therefore limiting the amount of variance (Hanin, 46). The second method means that one would first determine the categories of the emotions, then determine what intensity the emotion is in each category (Hanin, 46).

There are four main categories of emotion used to classify each experience, which are as follows:

  • Emotions resulting from harms, losses, and threats
  • Emotions resulting from benefits
  • Borderline cases, including hope, contentment, relief, and other aesthetic emotions
  • Nonemotions, which are not considered discrete emotions, but have multiple subcategories, including complex negative states like grief and depression; ambiguous positive states, such as challenge and confidence; mental confusion; contentless excitement, including upset and distress; and pre-emotions like interest, curiosity, and anticipation (Hanin, 52-53).

Appraisal can be divided into two categories — primary and secondary appraisal (Hanin, 54). Primary appraisal is the concern for one’s own stake in the outcome of an event, whereas secondary appraisal is concern for the “options and prospects for coping” with the outcome of the event (Hanin, 54).

Anger is a very controversial emotion, however this paper will hold that anger is the result of an appraisal that one’s own ego identity is at stake (Hanin, 55).

Anxiety is related to appraisals of threat to “vague and symbolic existential meanings” (Hanin, 57).

Sadness is stimulated by an irrevocable loss of any commitment important to an individual, such as that of a job, loved one, or long-term goal (Hanin, 57).

While emotion is more instantaneous and impulsive, coping with emotion is very complex, deliberate, and planful (Hanin, 58). Coping is a necessary response to all emotions, especially negative ones (Hanin, 59). There are two methods of coping: problem-focused coping and emotional coping (Hanin, 59). Problem-focused coping consists of attempting to change the environment of the individual, whereas emotional coping deals with only the mental side of the emotion (Hanin, 59). Emotional coping is done through one of two methods — either avoidance through denial or distancing, or reinterpretation of the relationship (Hanin, 59).

Chapter 3 – Individual Zones of Optimal Functioning (IZOF) Model

The IZOF Model is designed to analyze the high-level competitive performance of an athlete by assessing the ranges of emotional arousal in which that player performs optimally (Hanin, 66-67). There are two ways that emotion and performance are studied — in combination and separately (Hanin, 70-71). Performance involves three stages: preparation, execution, and evaluation (Hanin, 71).

The IZOF Model assumes that emotion is a component of response to person-environment interactions; “an integral part of a person’s psychobiosocial state, performance process, and total functioning; triggered by appraisals of the relationship between environment and performer; and “a reflection of critical moments of imbalance in person-environment interactions” (Hanin, 72).

Generally, researchers can agree that a unidimensional approach to mapping anxiety and stress is ineffectual (Hanin, 73). One common model of anxiety is the State-Trait-Anxiety Inventory, which is used in sport settings to model anxiety (Hanin, 74).

The IZOF model uses five dimensions “as a foundation for the systems description of performance psychobiosocial states and emotion-performance relationships” (Hanin, 75). These are form, intensity, content, time, and context (Hanin, 75). Form is the way that a phenomenon occurs (Hanin, 75). Content is a “qualitative characteristic of the performance state” (Hanin, 77). Intensity is “a quantitative characteristic of affect or any other modality of psychobiosocial state” (Hanin, 79). Time is used to reflect the dynamic of the emotion before, during, and after performance (Hanin, 81). Finally, context is used as a descriptor of environmental characteristics, “including situational, interpersonal, and intragroup antecedents or consequences that determine emotion intensity and content” (Hanin, 81).

The IZOF model’s method of analyzing function includes two dimensions (Hanin, 84-85). First, M, which is the mobility of energy or focus, and second, U, which is the proper utilization of this energy (Hanin, 85).

Chapter 4 – Competitive Anxiety

Anxiety is often considered the most important psychological factor in sports performance (Hanin, 93).

Anxiety can be defined as “an emotional reaction to a stimulus perceived as dangerous” (Hanin, 93). Anxiety, although sometimes detrimental, can be an important facilitator in performance (Hanin, 95). One hypothesis is called the “Inverted-U Hypothesis,” which postulates that both high and low levels of anxiety can be detrimental to the performance of an athlete (Hanin, 95).

While the Inverted-U Hypothesis is almost universally accepted, it also has exclusively weak evidence to back it up (Hanin, 97).

According to the IZOF model, there are two ways to establish optimal anxiety zones (Hanin, 100). The first is called the direct method. In this method, the athlete undergoes an assessment of pre-performance anxiety before each performance until he or she reaches a personal-best, thus establishing an optimal zone of anxiety (Hanin, 100). The second method is to have athletes complete the STAI (Hanin, 100).

Chapter 5 – Anger, Aggressive Behavior, and Athletic Performance

First, a definition — anger is “an emotion that involves a physiological arousal state coexisting with fantasised or intended act culminating in harmful effects on another person” (Hanin, 113).

Anger is an emotional state, hostility is a personality trait, and aggression is the behavioral version of both of them (Hanin, 113). Aggression can be a positive behaviour only when it is accompanied by another adjective. For example, pseudoaggressive behaviour, or an act causing unintended injury, can be a positive trait (Hanin, 115). 

There are two main methods of aiding in anger management which can work together (Hanin,131). The first is exposure to an understanding of anger as a child and increasing communicative expectations between children (Hanin, 131). Second is the CALMER method, proposed by Freeman in 1992 (Hanin, 131). CALMER stands for learn to Check if there is a problem, Assess the problem, List possible solutions, Make a choice, Evaluate, and Repeat (Hanin, 131). Very little research has gone into anger management in sports settings, however anger management interventions from outside the realm of sports have been used within the context of sports to some effect (Hanin, 131).

Chapter 6 – Joy, Fun, and Flow State in Sport

Joy, fun, and flow aid to describe and explain positive sport experiences (Hanin, 137). Joy is a “core positive emotion” and is a “peak emotion” (Hanin, 138). Peak experiences are “moment[s] of highest happiness, or intense joy” (Hanin, 138). 

Fun is very difficult to define, but can be understood as a “positive affective experience” (Hanin, 138). Enjoyment, also known as fun, has been linked with the experience of flow (Hanin, 139). Some scientists even maintain that enjoyment in the absence of pleasure is what stimulates psychological growth and complexity (Hanin, 139).

Flow is a necessary condition to positive experience in sport (Hanin, 140). Flow is an “optimal psychological state in which complete absorption in the task at hand leads to a number of positive experiential qualities” (Hanin, 140).

There are nine defining factors of flow:

  • “a balance between perceived challenges and skills” (Hanin, 141)
  • “a merging of action and awareness” (Hanin, 141)
  • “having clear goals” (Hanin, 141)
  • “receiving unambiguous feedback” (Hanin, 141)
  • “being totally concentrated on the task” (Hanin, 141)
  • “having a sense of control over what one is doing” (Hanin, 141)
  • “not being self-conscious” (Hanin, 141)
  • “losing track of time” (Hanin, 141)
  • “experiencing high levels of intrinsic satisfaction from the activity” (Hanin, 141)

Notably, Csikszentmihalyi is one of the most important researchers on the subject of flow (Hanin, 144).

There are two prominent ways of measuring flow state (Hanin, 145, 146). The first is the Experience Sampling Method, or ESM (Hanin, 145). The ESM process involves strapping a beeper to oneself, which randomly goes off 8 times per day over the course of one week and reminds the wearer to fill out a questionnaire on their subjective state (Hanin, 145). The second is the Flow State Scale, or FSS (Hanin, 146). The FSS is a retrospective questionnaire that quantifies the level of flow an athlete experiences (Hanin, 146).

Related, but separate from flow is peak experience, a term used to describe “the moments of highest happiness that lead to growth, or actualization” (Hanin, 149). Both peak experience and peak performance share many of the base factors of flow (Hanin, 150). Although flow is not necessary to the peak performance or peak experience of an athlete, flow can be sufficient to provide these phenomena (Hanin, 150).

Some athletes believe that flow occurs outside of their input, whereas some believe that one can “set up” for it to occur (Hanin, 152).

Chapter 7 – Successful and Poor Performance and Emotions

(Using the IZOF model to determine the effects of emotions on performance)

 In order to create individualized emotion profiling, athletes use a list of 77 positive-negative affects stimuli (PNA-77) to determine which emotions were felt during a performance and to what degree (Hanin, 162). Using a separate scale, optimal emotion zones are established for each emotion (Hanin, 163). Athletes are then assessed based on their performances at competitions, given their emotional data (Hanin, 164). There are also individual mood scales that are used in the company of the IZOF model and can aid in performance determination (Hanin, 164, 165).

Emotion and performance are bi-directionally related, meaning one can affect the other and vice versa (Hanin, 174).

Essentially, the relationships between emotions and performance vary on a per-emotion and per-player basis. This means that, for each individual, there are certain emotions that are positive and negative effectors in performance. Where one emotion may be beneficial for one player at a particular intensity, it may be detrimental to another at all intensities (Hanin, 168-182).

Chapter 8 – Overtraining in Athletes

As time has progressed, individuals have begun to train more and more (Hanin, 191-192). For example, what used to be olympic swimming training numbers previously are now averages for college athletes (Hanin, 191).

First, there are a few key terms to be noted about overtraining. Overtraining itself has been listed as both positive and negative, depending on the researcher conducting the experiment (Hanin, 192). Staleness is the undesirable outcome of overtraining and can be categorized as the athlete’s inability to adapt to their training regimen (Hanin, 192). Burnout is often accompanied by staleness, however some researchers use burnout to denote a negative emotional response to training or participation in sport (Hanin, 192).

As a general rule of thumb, success in endurance sports depends upon the progressive incrementation of the training load of an athlete beyond what is required of him or her to maintain physical fitness (Hanin, 193).

The traditional definition of overtraining is “a means of stressing the athlete to the point where incomplete recovery occurs between training sessions” (Hanin, 193).

Staleness is chronic. Where an overreaching athlete may require a rest period of a day or two, or a temporary reduction in training intensity, athletes who have staleness syndrome can require weeks to months of rest to completely recover (Hanin, 194).

There are some physical indicators that are specific to staleness, including depleted muscle glycogen and neuroendocrine variations in the performer (Hanin, 196). Psychological responses to overtraining, however, are consistent from athlete to athlete (Hanin, 198). These are described as “mood disturbance[s]” in response to increased training load (Hanin, 198). Notably, the physiological markers of staleness precede the psychological ones (Hanin, 200).

Mood disturbance has been primarily studied in endurance sports, however some studies have found mood disturbances in non endurance sports, including judo, basketball, and wrestling training regimens (Hanin, 202).

Chapter 9 – Burnout Syndrome in Athletes and Coaches

Most importantly, recovery from burnout is a process in time (Hanin, 210). It “is dependent on the type of and duration of strain” (Hanin, 210). Additionally, recovery is very closely related to conditions such as sleep and partner contact (Hanin, 210). Burnout can be defined as “a negative individual experience encompassing problems, distress, negative mood states, dysfunction, and negative consequences” (Hanin, 211). Within the field of sports psychology, it is widely held that burnout is very closely related to stress (Hanin, 211). As such, the stress model is helpful in preventing the onset of burnout (Hanin, 211).

Surprisingly, research on burnout in coaches occurred before that of athletes (Hanin, 214). Similar to athletes, coaches can burnout due to long hours and high emotional energy requirements (Hanin, 215). This, however, is easier to deal with in coaches (Hanin, 214). Research has provided substantive evidence indicating that coaches who experience less success during a given season are more prone to burnout than those who experience success (Hanin, 215).

The Maslach Burnout Inventory, used to measure burnout, relies upon three central metrics: emotional exhaustion, depersonalization, and decrement in personal accomplishment (Hanin, 215). Emotional exhaustion refers to feeling “emotionally worn out”; depersonalization refers to “loss of interest in other people”; and decrement in personal accomplishment refers to a feeling that the pursuit of goals is “no longer worthwhile” (Hanin, 215).

Chapter 10 – Maladaptive Fatigue Syndrome and Emotions in Sport

The five most commonly agreed upon principles of emotional theory are as follows:

  1. “Expression of emotions serves important communicative functions, especially apparent early in development” (Hanin, 231)
  2. “Emotional experiences influence perception, thought, and action” (Hanin, 231)
  3. “Emotions are central features of societal bonds and integral to temperament and personality” (Hanin, 231)
  4. “Knowledge of emotions is essential to the diagnosis and treatment of psychological disorders” (Hanin, 231)
  5. “Positive emotions enhance a variety of constructive psychological and physiological phenomena while negative emotions frequently impair healthy functioning” (Hanin, 231)

Chronic fatigue is one of the most ambiguous types of emotional and physical fatigue (Hanin, 232). Patients are suffering from it, however we do not know exactly what it is (Hanin, 232). In order to constitute chronic fatigue, the athlete must exhibit signs of fatigue for a period of 6 months for at least 50% of the time (Hanin, 232).

Patients with Maladaptive Fatigue Syndrome (MFS) has many of the same elements as burnout, chronic fatigue, overtraining, and staleness, however many sources synonymize it with chronic fatigue (Hanin, 232). Notably, the psychobiological markers of MFS are very difficult to identify and vary from patient to patient (Hanin, 233).

MFS develops as the result of a large amount of unmanaged stressors in an athlete’s life (Hanin, 234). These can include higher training loads, competitive pressures, relationship issues with other people, and social issues in the workplace (Hanin, 235).

Chapter 11 – The Injured Athlete

Injury is an emotionally provocative experience for athletes (Hanin, 245). Athletic response to injury is very similar to most people’s response to terminal illness (Hanin, 246). Athletes move through the same struggling phases of denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance (Hanin, 246). “Injury is a broadly disruptive experience” (Hanin, 249).

Focusing on culpability can make recovery issues more likely; as a general rule of thumb, athletes who successfully recover accept injury as part of the sport they engage in (Hanin, 258).

Chapter 12 – Exercise, Emotions, and Mental Health

How participants feel during physical activity affects their likeliness to continue that activity (Hanin, 269). There is some evidence to cautiously support a link between exercise and enhanced mood or affect (Hanin, 273). While most people do generally benefit from physical activity, there are some groups of people who do not emotionally benefit from it (Hanin, 276). Interestingly, there is more evidence to support the conclusion that exercise has the capacity to reduce anxiety and stress (Hanin, 281). A collection of research using the STAI concluded that, generally, exercise participants are less stressed than non-exercise-participants (Hanin, 281). Additionally, there is some evidence that indicates a positive relationship between exercise and depression (Hanin, 286).

Hanin, Yuri L. Emotions in Sport. Human Kinetics, 1999.

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