A comparison of coping strategies of ethnically diverse football players
Stress and coping are complex phenomena that are not always fully understood. They are psychological factors that impinge on individuals and people’s responses in dealing with them are described and interpreted in various ways. This study compared the coping strategies used by football players from ethnically diverse backgrounds. The aim was to explore the role that the environment, ethnicity and culture play in players' responses to stressful situations. A sample of 33 players was drawn from a professional club in the Professional Premier Soccer League in the Western Cape, Republic of South Africa. Subjects were representative in terms of race, age, years of experience and playing positions. Eleven black, coloured and white players for each group were selected for individual interviews. Their ages ranged between 15 and 32 years. An interpretive-qualitative research methodology was employed. Semistructured interviews and a biographical questionnaire were used as tools to gather information. The data were analyzed using interpretive analysis or the immersion crystallization method. The results revealed that football players were exposed to stress and there were differences and similarities in the way they conducted themselves. The similarities were recorded on matters related to match situations e.g., pressure to perform, inclusion in a starting line-up, and unruly behavior of supporters. Differences were cited on issues related to language, culture, financial matters, poor playing conditions, negative evaluation of the team by others, losing matches, referees' decisions and being away from home. These differences were found both between and within ethnic groups. Players' perceptions of stress showed that black players were experiencing more stress than the other two ethnic groups and white players were experiencing far less stress than the other two groups. Despite this finding, the majority of players reported to have been in control of stressful situations. The perception of lack of control was reported by black and coloured players only. It appeared that background experience of stressful events was producing greater psychosocial consequences for non-white players than white players. The football players used multiple strategies to cope with their sport challenges and there were both differences and similarities within and between the ethnic groups in the use of these strategies. Subjects used problem-focused coping, emotion-focused coping, passive coping, and avoidance coping in stressful situations. Problem-focused coping and emotion-focused coping were the dominant strategies employed by all three groups. Passive coping and avoidance coping were the lesser-used strategies and were employed by the three groups in situations where players felt that they could not exert control e.g., playing conditions or dubious referees' decisions. Self-criticism, not blaming others, adopting a negative approach, substance use/abuse and turning to religion were the strategies that appeared only in specific groups. This finding supports the hypothesis of differences in strategies related to differences in ethnic backgrounds. It was also revealed that football players were responding differently to stressful challenges that were presented at the different stages of the match. The dominant strategies used at the pre-match stage by the nonwhite group were: planning and preparation, relaxation, praying, focusing and concentration. At the same stage, white players used mostly focusing, concentration and planning. There were strong similarities between the groups in the use of these strategies. During the match stage, non-white players used active coping, positive approach, suppression of competitive activities, focusing and concentration. White players used similar strategies including emotional expression and mental disengagement. Different strategies were employed by players during the match stage, most of them being problem-focused strategies. In the post-match stage players used less-dominant coping strategies. Some strategies were used by players in all three ethnic groups and others appeared in specific groups only, e.g., substance use (coloured group) and passive thinking (white group). The study further revealed that coping strategies could be classified either as sport or non-sport related. A variety of sport-related strategies were found mostly during the pre-match and match stages. The nonsport related strategies appeared mostly during the post-match stage and were used mostly by non-white players. Concerning the processes involved in the selection of strategies, the study revealed that thought-out processes, automatic processes, influence of experience and a combination of processes were used to identify and select coping strategies. Processing of information was a preferred option used by the three groups of players to identify strategies and very few players used automatic processes. Between-group differences were found in the relationship between environmental background and previous experience and the players' selection of coping strategies. For black and coloured players this influence related mostly from factors outside their home environment. For white players it came from within their home situations. The study showed that factors that affected the players in selecting coping strategies, were both intrinsic and extrinsic. Intrinsic factors included personal safety and protection, performance, self-control and personal experience. Extrinsic factors included stress, influence of others, institutional influences, social background, pleasing others, family obligation, opponents and research. White players used intrinsic and extrinsic factors with equal frequency. Non-white players on the other hand, used fewer intrinsic factors than extrinsic factors. The results also showed that relatively less-experienced players were inclined to use achievement motivation as a determining factor. Black players were influenced by one other factor that did not appear in the other groups, that is, family obligations. Finally, exhaustion, cultural differences, language, absence of a family support structure, peer pressure, home circumstances, communication, diet, substance use/abuse, being in a new environment, personality differences and high expectations were identified as factors that restrict the use of coping strategy. Exhaustion and cultural differences appeared across all three groups. Group differences were however observed in language, absence of a family support structure, peer pressure, home circumstances, high expectations, and absence of compliments. These restrictive factors were experienced differently within and between the three ethnic groups and originated from exposure, challenges, and experiences that players encounter in their daily life situations.