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Abstract

Pain is a mental construct that is seen as a warning signal to avoid injury. Athletes are able to overcome the mental roadblock of pain with many different coping strategies. Research has shown that pain coping mechanisms can help athletes to avoid the negative effect of pain on performance (Thelwell, Weston, Greenlees, 2005). Ignoring pain can be used to change pain perception. Pain tolerance has also been shown to increase with mental training during exercise, suggesting that specific coping mechanisms can have a strong impact on an athletes ability to maintain a high performance level during competition (Thelwell, 2005). The purpose of this research is to distinguish between different coping mechanisms and the role they have in maintaining a high performance level in colligate skiers, specifically between perceived mentally tough and non-mentally tough athletes, and between gender and discipline. The participants of this study included 16 competitive, collegiate Nordic and alpine ski racers (11 women, 5 men) on the Montana State University Ski Team. The subjects were chosen from a convenience sample, and limited by time constraints. Data gathered for this study was conducted by the administration of three surveys. Two of these estimated the athletes’ total mental toughness. The other was a series of 11 questions using a Likert scale and free response, asking about different coping styles used when under stress or fatigue during competition, and mental toughness. The data was first analyzed quantitatively using descriptive statistics, and qualitatively by text analysis, triagulation, and constant comparison to find a general understanding of each participant’s mental toughness and coping styles. Data was then compared between gender and discipline. Individual case studies were developed to understand how each person handled stress mentally, and what they did to reduce stress during higher performance. Trends in the data were found when examining the most stressful aspect of skiing and specific coping mechanisms used to handle stress, and what actually works mentally and physically. Results from this study reveal that mental toughness does not factor into high performance levels quite as much as coping strategies. Mental toughness does play a part in particular coping mechanisms (Nicholls, 2007), but from this sample size, there was no clear association between a high mental toughness and better results. However, coping styles did contribute to better performances among colligate skiers suggesting that coping styles have a more prominent role in obtaining a high performance.