The purpose of this study was to examine the differing stress levels of college students while looking at their year in college and whether or not they are a member of an athletics team. This study utilized a consent form, a demographic form, a survey to determine the stress level of the participant, and a debriefing form for each of the participants. The results of this study showed that only the athletic status of the participant had an impact on the stress level of the participant. The students who were athletes had higher stress levels than those students who were non-athletes. However, it turned out that the year in college had no impact on the stress of the participant.
Stress Levels among College Students
Stress is defined as “a mentally or emotionally disruptive or upsetting condition occurring in response to adverse external influences and capable of affecting physical health, usually characterized by increased heart rate, rise in blood pressure, muscular tension, irritability, and depression” (McCleod). Stress and anxiety are the top reported impediments to academic performance in college students, both in the undergraduate and graduate levels. Between 2010 and 2014, the level of students reporting stress as an issue rose from 25 to 31%, while anxiety rose from 17 to 22%. (Miller). While having some stress is a normal occurrence, having too much stress can have negative side effects.
Some of these side effects include excessive anxiety, depression, digestive problems, heart disease, sleep problems, weight gain, and impairment with memory and concentration (Chronic stress puts your health at risk). One of the most stressful times in a young adult’s life is the transition into college. But for some students, life after that initial transition only becomes more stressful. Some of those students are the students who are members of their school’s athletics teams.
In the past, many researchers had agreed that participating in athletics could serve as an outlet for people to relieve stress from their lives. However, recently some research has indicated that playing sports can actually result in an increase in the amount of stress in a person’s life. For example, a recent study found that nearly 50% of male athletes and a little more than 50% of female athletes indicated that “stresses associated with sport participation, such as pressure to win, excessive anxiety, frustration conflict, irritation and fear significantly affected their mental and emotional health” (Wilson). One of the biggest obstacles that student athletes report as the cause of their stress is time related factors. In other words, they felt that there was not enough time to fully complete their academic and athletic duties to the best of their abilities. This is natural, since student athletes are balancing higher level education with higher level athletics, and are bound to show some strain when compared to their peers.
Another issue that arises from being a student athlete is the issue of burnout. It has been shown that it takes 10 years or 10,000 hours of practice to create a talent in any field, and this pertains in particular to athletics. Given this incredible time commitment to one’s practice, it is common for athletes to suffer from what is referred to as burnout. Burnout can be defined as “physical, social, and emotional withdrawal from a formerly enjoyable activity as a result of chronic stress and motivation concerns that is typically characterized by feelings of emotional exhaustion, reduced accomplishment, and depersonalization/devaluation” (Gould).
So, for athletes, another side effect of excessive stress is burnout. As with the amount of stress in athletes lives, the rate of burnout has also been increasing in the past few years. In a study done in 2007, it was found that nearly 10% of athletes tested had symptoms of high-level burnout. The researchers hypothesized that the number would actually be higher since they did not look at what they called “senior elite athletes”, meaning professional athletes and high level college athletes. They also suggested that this burnout rate could be lowered if athletes went through stress management programs to lower the amount of stress that they had to cope with on a daily basis. (Gould).
Lastly, one study looked at the relationship between athletic participation and academic performance. Over a four year period, the researchers conducted an observational study of a college basketball program in the mid-south-central part of the United States. At the beginning of their college career, the athletes were excited about the prospect of putting athletics and academics together to create opportunities for themselves in the future. One of the freshmen that was interviewed said, “If I can use my basketball ability to open the door to get an education, hopefully I can use my degree to open up the door to get a good job” (6).
However, as time went on and the stress of being a student athlete increased, the views of the basketball players changed. One of the upperclassmen on the team stated, “If I was a student like most other students I could do well, but when you play the caliber of ball we do, you just can’t be an above-average student. What I strive for now is to be an average student. My best GPA was 2.75. You just don’t find the time to do all the reading” (Adler). This just reinforces the idea that the student athletes are under the stress that they are mainly due to the huge time commitment that comes with being a higher level athlete. All of these studies and articles on how student athletes are prone to burnout and stress and have increased time commitments led to the hypothesis that the student athletes in college will be more stressed than the non-student athletes in college.
There were a total of 40 participants used in this study; 62.5% were female and 37.5% were male. The age range was 18 to 22, with the average age of the participants being 20.
For this study, we utilized a consent form, a demographic form, a survey to determine the stress level of the participant, and a debriefing form for each of the participants.
Each participant received a consent form after they confirmed that they are an Iona College student. The participants were then asked to read the consent form along with the experimenter, allowed to ask any questions that they might have had and then asked to sign the consent form. Once they signed the consent form, the participants were given a survey to determine the level of stress that they had in their life at that time. Next, they filled out a demographic form that asked them for their year in college. Once both the survey and the demographic form were filled out, the participants were thanked for their time and given the debriefing form for the study.
A 2×2 analysis of variance was in order to determine the effect of athletic status on stress level. The results indicated that there was a significant main effect of athletic status of the participant on the stress level of the participant, F (1, 36) = 13.99, p=.00. As illustrated in Figure 1, the students who were athletes (M=11.23, SE=0.91) scored higher on the stress test than those students who were non-athletes (M=6.31, SE=0.95).
A 2×2 analysis of variance was also conducted to determine the effect of year in school on stress level. The results indicated that there was not a significant main effect of participant’s year in school on the stress level of the participant, F (1, 36) = 0.43, p= .52.
The purpose of this study was to examine whether the athletic status and the school year of a participant have an impact on their stress level. Our hypothesis was that the upperclassmen who are athletes will have the largest amount of stress, while the underclassmen who are not athletes will have the lowest level of stress.
This hypothesis was supported, but only to a certain extent. While the factor of school year did not have an effect on the stress level of the participants, the factor of athletic status did. Just as we predicted, the participants who were athletes reported having more stress than the participants who were non-athletes. When the stress levels were looked at across the different years in school, there was not a significant difference between the underclassmen and the upperclassmen.
These results are supported by the findings of the study done by Quinton McCleod, who had 30 athletes and 30 non-athletes complete a questionnaire about the time that they spend studying, their GPA, and whether or not they consider themselves to be stressed and what types of stress they were under. He found that the athletes had a significantly lower GPA, spent less time studying outside of the classroom, and had more stressors in their lives than the non-athletes. The athletes said that they were losing motivation to go to class and that caused them to turn in poor work, and that this was due to the fact that they did not have an adequate amount of time to spend on all of the schoolwork that they had to complete, in addition to the amount of time that they had to designate for their sport (McCleod).
If the sample size had been larger and included a wider gender range, the grade level of the participants may have had a more significant impact on the results. Also if the participants had been randomly selected instead of convenience sampled the results may have been more similar to what was originally hypothesized in regard to the year in school playing a part in the stress of the participant.
Adler, P., & Adler, P. (1985). From Idealism to Pragmatic Detachment: The Academic Performance of College Athletes. Sociology of Education, 58, 241-250 Chronic stress puts your health at risk. (2013). http://www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-lifestyle/stress-management/in-depth/stress/art-20046037 Gould, D., & Whitley, M. (2009). Sources and Consequences of Athletic Burnout among College Athletes. Journal of Intercollegiate Sports, 2, 16-30 McCleod, Q. (2015) Stress Levels among Student Athletes and Non Student Athletes. Elon University Miller, J. (2014, December 3). Students see rise in stress levels, studies indicate. Retrieved April 2, 2015, from http://www.michigandaily.com/news/stress-college-feature Wilson, G., & Pritchard, M. (2005). Comparing Sources of Stress in College Student Athletes and Non-Athletes. The Online Journal of Sport Psychology, 7
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