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Perceptual & Motor Skills: Physical Development & Measurement

2012, 115, 3, 865-880. © Perceptual & Motor Skills 2012

PSYCHO-SOCIAL FACTORS DETERMINING SUCCESS IN HIGH-


PERFORMANCE TRIATHLON: COMPARED PERCEPTION
IN THE COACH-ATHLETE PAIR1, 2

GERMÁN RUIZ-TENDERO JUAN JOSÉ SALINERO MARTÍN

Complutense University of Madrid Camilo José Cela University

Summary.—High-level sport can be analyzed using the complex system mod-


el, in which performance is constrained by many factors. Coaches’ and athletes’
perceptions of important positive and negative factors affecting performance were
compared. Participants were 48 high-level international triathletes (n = 34) and their
coaches (n = 14). They were personally interviewed via a questionnaire designed by
four accredited experts, who selected groups of both positive and negative factors
affecting performance. A list of factors was developed, in order of greater to lesser
importance in the opinion of athletes and coaches, for subsequent analysis. Two
ranked lists (positive and negative factors) indicated that athletes appear to rate
personal environment factors (family, teammates, lack of support from relatives)
higher, while the coaches tended to give more importance to technical and institu-
tional aspects (institutional support, coach, medical support). There was complete
agreement between coaches and triathletes about the top five positive factors. Neg-
ative factor agreement was somewhat lower (agreement on 3/5 factors). The most
important positive factor for coaches and athletes was “dedication/engagement,”
while the most important factor adversely affecting performance was “injuries.”

In spite of the sport’s short history, the number of participants in tri-


athlon events has considerably increased over the last few years. As a mea-
sure of this, in Spain the number of triathlon licences (allowing competi-
tion) has risen from 4,036 licences in the year 2000 to 15,624 in 2010, a rise
of almost 400%. This fast growth is surprising considering the physical and
psychological demands required to perform well in the sport, as reported
in several correlational performance studies (Dengel, Flynn, Costill, & Kir-
win, 1986; Zhou, Robson, King, & Davie, 1997; Baker & Deakin, 2003) and
in personal commitment studies (Clingman & Hilliard, 1988; Augaitis &
Crocker, 2005). For this reason, it is understandable that most research has
focused on physiological performance variables (O’Toole, Douglas, Hiller,
Crosby, & Douglas, 1987; Sleivert & Rowlands, 1996; Hue, Le Gallais, &
Boussana, 2001; Knechtle, Wirth, & Rosemann, 2010), economy of energy
expenditure (Guezennec, Vallier, Bigard, & Durey, 1996; Chollet, Hue, Au-
clair, Millet, & Chatard, 2000) and nutritional determinants (Brisswalter,
Hausswirth, Vercruyssen, Collardeau, Vallier, Lepers, et al., 2000; Holly,
Barnard, Rosenthal, Applegate, & Pritikin 1986). There are no clear con-
clusions when it comes to associating sporting success with anthropomet-
1
Address correspondence to Germán Ruiz-Tendero (german.ruiz@edu.ucm.es).
2
The authors wish to thank the Spanish Triathlon Federation.

DOI 10.2466/08.25.PMS.115.6. 865-880 ISSN 0031-5125


866 G. RUIZ-TENDERO & J. J. SALINERO MARTÍN

ric variables (Knechtle, Knechtle, & Rosemann, 2010), so there is a need


to study cognitive and emotional variables in order to better explain per-
formance in ultra-endurance events (Knechtle, Duff, Schulze, Rosemann,
& Senn, 2009). Sometimes, data are contradictory when relating perfor-
mance with skills such as cycling (Townsend, 1995) or swimming (Hendy
& Boyer, 1995).
It seems that on the path to success one may find many influential
variables, which means that there is not just one path, but several. The
studies of Bouchard, Malina, and Pérusse (1997) and Bouchard (1997)
show a genetic factor in human physical performance of up to 50%, while
the theory of deliberate practice (Ericsson, Krampe, & Tesch-Römer, 1993)
highlights the importance of training and environmental factors. In the
last decade, the theoretical framework of complex systems has progressed
considerably and has been shown to be highly suitable for the study of
human performance. Davis (2001) states that this framework may be ap-
propriate for discovering, and making a practical use of, the interactions
that occur among a large number of factors that define the complexity
of each individual. The conception of sport as a complex system, as op-
posed to a linear system, comes from General System Theory (Bertalanffy,
1968), according to which it is not only necessary to study isolated parts
and processes, but also to resolve the decisive problems within the orga-
nization and the order which results from the dynamic interaction of the
parts, and which changes behaviour when parts are studied in isolation
or as a whole. From this point of view, competitive sport has indeed been
studied as a complex system (Balyi, 2001; Digel, 2002, 2005). As Sánchez-
Bañuelos (2009) states, since the beginning of the 1970s, systemic mod-
els have been proposed to describe and explain the processes which lead
to the attainment of success in sporting events. One of these was that of
Matting (1970), who focused on the exchange of information between the
coach and the athlete in whom the interdependent actions of both parties
are combined, within the context of training.
The current view of high-level sport as a complex and dynamic sys-
tem has superseded the traditional dualism of the nature-nurture debate.
This theory tries to explain, for example, the changes in the control of hu-
man movement (Davids, Glazier, Araújo, & Bartlett, 2003), but also the
large number of factors which determine whether a sportsperson is suc-
cessful, based on “constraints.” In the words of Davis (2001), “constraints
are factors that shape or guide the organization of multi-component nat-
ural systems including, for example, weather systems, termite colonies,
and movement systems.” In the athlete’s environment, we can say perfor-
mance is constrained by many factors: training load and genetics, family
and financial support, injuries, success or competitive failure, anxiety, ex-
posure to high quality coaching, etc.
Psycho-social Factors in Triathlon 867

Few studies have researched the psychosocial dimensions of triathlon


performance (Hilliard, 1986; Bell & Howe, 1988; Ruiz, Salinero, & Sánchez,
2008), and how this can underlie success or failure. The present study fo-
cuses on the international high-level coach-athlete “micro system,” which
exists within the so-called “athlete’s close environment.” This environ-
ment focuses on the athlete himself, and is subject to many external and
internal influences. When sport is studied as a system in which multi-
ple factors play a part, it is usually divided into three levels to make it
easier to understand (De Bosscher & De Knop, 2002): (1) the micro system
in which the athlete, influenced by the close environment of parents and
coach, is at the center; (2) the meso system including sport policies and their
influence on sporting success; and (3) the macro system, the social and cul-
tural context explaining national sporting success, including population,
climate, model of government, customs, etc.
Specific variables in the micro system include the role of the signifi-
cant others (Wold & Andersen, 1992) as well as the family in the initia-
tion and continuation of the athletes’ training, both of which have been
highlighted as positive factors (De Knopp, Wylleman, Theeboom, De Mar-
telaer, Van Puymbroek, & Wittock, 1994; Babkes & Weiss, 1999; Smoll &
Smith, 1999). Parental pressure also can negatively affect young athletes
(Hellstedt, 1990), especially in pre-adolescence. However, as the child
reaches adolescence the influence shifts from parents to the teacher/coach
(Higginson, 1985). Additionally, the figure of the coach, both with regard
to his immediate personal affect as well as his role as a secondary core
in the micro system, has been studied in team sports (Bloom & Salme-
la, 2000), as well as in individual sports (Côte, Salmela, Trudel, Baria, &
Russell, 1995; Moraes & Salmela, 2001). Other factors include the impor-
tance of intrinsic motivation in a difficult and non-professionalized sport,
and the support of the coach and other athletes. Being in agreement about
different factors which affect performance can be essential in building a
common path followed by the coach and athlete toward success. Several
studies suggest that the coach who considers the opinions and feelings of
athletes seems to have the best relationship with athletes (Salminen & Li-
ukkonen, 1996). Comparative models of the athlete’s and coach’s self- and
meta-perceptions, such as that of Kenny and Acitelli (2001), illustrate the
diversity of directions that can be taken by the coach-athlete relationship
on the basis of perceptions ( Jowett & Clark-Carter, 2010).
Where coach-athlete perceptions have been compared in the litera-
ture, in most cases reference is made to psychological aspects. For exam-
ple, Hanson and Gould (1988) showed how only one out of every four uni-
versity cross-country coaches accurately estimated their athletes’ trait and
state anxiety. When it comes to comparing the athletes’ competitiveness
868 G. RUIZ-TENDERO & J. J. SALINERO MARTÍN

with the coaches’ perceptions (Huddleston, Ahrabi-Fard, & Garvin, 1995),


athletes perceived themselves to be significantly more competitive than
their coaches estimated. Differences have also been found between coach-
es’ and athletes’ ratings of leader behavior in coaching, as coaches seem to
evaluate themselves in a more positive way than athletes do (Salminen &
Liukkonen, 1996). Discrepancies between the athletes’ perceptions of, and
preference for, coaching behavior are related to athletes’ performance per-
ceptions (Horne & Carron, 1985).
This study uses the framework of complex systems as a basis for
studying a number of variables (not only of a psychological nature),
which were proposed by a group of experts in sporting systems and tri-
athlon, as aspects that may affect sporting performance in either a posi-
tive or negative manner. The presence or absence of these variables cov-
ers areas related with the personal and competitive environment (family
support, coach, competitive pressure), intrinsic motivation (dedication,
perseverance on training), material or personal extrinsic motivation (eco-
nomic incentives, competitive success/failure), scientific and technologi-
cal support, psychological vulnerability (anxiety, lack of self-confidence),
and physical condition (injuries, plateau performance). Some factors, such
as competitive failure or the figure of the coach, can be interpreted as ei-
ther a positive or negative influence, and therefore they have been includ-
ed in both groups of factors for this study. With regards to competitive
failure, and despite the social norm which attributes an undesirable qual-
ity to failure (Malico, Rosado, & Lancho, 2010), research has shown that
sporting failure may arouse both positive and negative emotions depend-
ing on the attribution made by the athletes (Cantón & Checa, 2012). In a
study of 63 high-level Spanish karatekas (Ruiz & Hanin, 2003), it was ob-
served that the majority felt sad or angry with themselves after competi-
tive failures, yet for 42.9% of them their motivation increased, being ea-
ger to train harder or with more courage. The figure of the coach can also
be placed at both poles. According to cognitive evaluation theory (Deci &
Ryan, 1985), a person of authority (coach) can be autonomy-supportive,
taking the other’s perspective and minimizing the use of pressure and de-
mands. In contrast, controlling behaviours lead to an increase in pressure
on the athlete, ignoring their needs and feelings (Mageau & Vallerand,
2003). Coaches’ influence has a predictable effect on anxiety trends in their
triathletes (Lane, Terry, & Karageorghis, 1995).
Several studies have made evident the constant communication that
takes place between coach and athlete, not only since the beginnings of
systems theory applied to high-level sport (Matting, 1970), but also in de-
scriptive studies which have highlighted the continuous communication
and contact between high-level Spanish triathletes and their coaches, es-
Psycho-social Factors in Triathlon 869

pecially in those cases where they spent time living together at high per-
formance centers or sport technification centers (Ruiz & Salinero, 2011).
The importance of coach–athlete relationships in achieving a sense of sat-
isfaction and performance accomplishment has also been shown in other
sports (Salminen & Liukkonen, 1996; Jowett & Clark-Carter, 2010). The
sporting context of Spanish triathlon has been very positive in the last few
years with regards to results (with two male world champions, 2002 and
2010), and at the Olympic Games in London 2012 (a silver medal in the
men’s event and a diploma in the women’s event).
The aim of this study is to compare the coaches’ and athletes’ per-
ceptions of positive and negative factors affecting performance, focusing
this research on the high-level microsystem (athlete’s close environment)
to assess differences in the opinions of triathletes and coaches about each
one of the factors. Given the disparity of the variables analyzed, it is diffi-
cult to try to hypothesize an agreement or disagreement between the ath-
letes and their coaches for each one of the variables. However, on the basis
of the literature reviewed, it is expected that the triathletes will place the
coach in a higher rank on the list of positive compared to the list of nega-
tive factors. Likewise, coach-athlete agreement is expected when it comes
to defining the most influential factors. One expects to see the family and
the coach in the top five positive factors. Considering the global aspect
of the scale, and given the different roles that the coach and athlete play
in the system, it is probable that the coach will choose technical factors
and factors relating to their institutional environment, whereas the ath-
letes may be more likely to pick factors from their personal environment.
Lastly, this study is also intended to offer valuable information to athletes
and coaches, and to contribute to better mutual understanding.
Method
Participants
Spanish high-level active triathletes (n = 48; 19 women, 29 men) and
their coaches (n = 14, all men) were surveyed. The entire sample volun-
tarily accepted to participate in the study. The average age was 37.4 yr.
(SD = 7.3) for coaches and 25.5 yr. (SD = 4.9, range = 17–38) for triathletes.
Coaches had an average experience of 19.2 yr. in endurance training plus
10 yr. of specific triathlon coaching. The criteria for inclusion in the sample
were to be actively competitive when the study was carried out, as well
as to have been selected at least once to compete in an international com-
petition for the Spanish Triathlon Team (Olympic Games, World Cham-
pionships, World Cup, European Championships). Two databases were
consulted in order to select the triathletes: the Leipzig Institute for Ap-
plied Training Science (Institut für Angewandte Trainingswissenschaft in
Leipzig) database, in which all the international results since 1989 are col-
870 G. RUIZ-TENDERO & J. J. SALINERO MARTÍN

lected; and the Spanish Sports Council (Consejo Superior de Deportes) da-
tabase, which lists those triathletes who are considered high-level athletes
(those who have participated in Olympic Games or non-Olympic compe-
titions organized by international federations in which the Spanish Triath-
lon Federation is present). Triathletes had an average of 9.2 yr. (SD = 4.0)
experience in triathlons.
Measures
A questionnaire was designed and reviewed by four experts to
strengthen its validity: two of these researchers belong to the field of sports
systems (one with a Ph.D. in Sport Psychology and the other with a Ph.D.
in Sport Science and accredited experience in sports systems), a third is
an experienced researcher in triathlon and sports systems also holding a
Ph.D., and the fourth person is a member of the Spanish Triathlon Federa-
tion who is in contact with the coaching staff of the Spanish national team.
The questionnaire was designed based in three steps: (1) the experts
proposed pertinent variables based on their experience to define the vari-
ables and then grouped them; (2) a previous study on competitive region-
al level athletes (Ruiz, et al., 2008), and (3) a review of the literature on
sociological studies and questionnaires related to elite athletes which con-
sidered the effects of a coach (García-Ferrando, 1996; Hill, McConnell, For-
ster, & Moore, 2002). The questionnaire included sociodemographic data
and two scales to assess the influence of positive and negative factors on
performance. The scale of positive factors was made up of 13 items and
the scale of negative factors contained 15 items. The items were defined
on the basis of the variables proposed by the expert judges. Both groups
of factors were rated on a 5-point Likert-type scale with anchors 1: No in-
fluence and 5: Very influential. The order of the items in the final model
of the questionnaire was established randomly. Internal consistency anal-
ysis (Cronbach model) for the present sample reported adequate values
(alpha = .89 for the negative factors scale and .68 for the positive factors
scale). Additionally, triathletes were asked about their sports origins by
means of two types of questions:
Dichotomous-closed question: “Did you compete and train in any endurance
sport prior to triathlon? No/Yes: r Swimming r Cycling r Running”).
Two multiple-choice questions: “People that influenced the triathlete’s decision to
start/continue training in triathlon: r Himself, r Parents, r Other acquain-
tances (specify:______), r Any friend, r Any teacher, r Any coach, r Your
boy­friend/girlfriend, r Nobody specifically, r Other people (specify____).”

Procedure
The present study was developed using a descriptive and compara-
tive design, based on the questionnaire as an instrument to collect qualita-
tive and quantitative data.
Psycho-social Factors in Triathlon 871

The study was carried out with the approval of the Spanish Triath-
lon Federation. The questionnaire was implemented by the same research-
er throughout the non-competitive period. Triathletes and their coaches
were located and interviewed in person in the places where they were
training in Spain. In the interview, they rated each factor that the four orig-
inal experts had generated previously in the process of questionnaire con-
struction. Then the factors were ranked according to the average ratings
given by the athletes and coaches to the factors.
Analysis
Data were coded and analyzed using SPSS Version 19.0. Statistical
analysis consisted of extracting the descriptive statistics and the applica-
tion of Hotelling’s T2 test as a global measure to find the differences be-
tween the coaches’ and athletes’ assessment of the positive factors on the
one hand, and of the negative factors on the other. Then Student’s t test for
independent samples was applied to compare factor by factor. The p value
was adjusted to .025 to correct for the increase in the Type One error rate
from the multiple individual tests.
Results
Most of the sample had participated in competitive sports practice
prior to triathlon (79.2%, n = 38). These sports are related to triathlon as an
individual discipline: 56% of the total sample were swimmers, 13% endur-
ance athletes and 10% cyclists. People who most influenced the triathlete’s
decision to start triathlon training included the coach (26.7%), parents
(24.4%), and friends (24.4%). People who most influenced the triathlete’s
continuation in the sport were parents (54.4%) and coaches (52.2%).
Comparison of Positive and Negative Factor Ratings
In order to globally analyze the existence of significant differences be-
tween coaches’ and athletes’ ratings of positive factors, Hotelling’s T2 test
was applied. Where differences were found (Hotelling’s T2 = 0.70; p = .02),
an individual analysis was performed by means of the Student’s t test, as
is shown in the Tables 1 and 2.
Significant differences were also found between coaches’ and ath-
letes’ ratings of all but three of the negative factors (Hotelling’s T2 = 2.69;
p < .001; Table 3). The order of importance is shown in Table 4.
When coaches were asked about their perception of the factor that
most encouraged triathletes to keep on training, intrinsic motivation (love
for practicing triathlon) was the most common answer (53.8%). The other
factors cited were eagerness to improve themselves (46.2%), desire for victory
(38.5%), training variety of triathlon (15.4%), training environment (15.4%),
perspectives of sport recognition (15.4%), sharing spaces with a sports idol (for
872 G. RUIZ-TENDERO & J. J. SALINERO MARTÍN

Table 1
Comparison of Ratings by Athletes and Coaches of Positive
Influential Factors in Sports Performance

Positive Factors Group M SD t p d


Dedication / Engagement* Triathletes 4.60 0.77 −2.40 0.02 −0.55
Coaches 4.92 0.28
Volitional capacity Triathletes 4.36 0.89 −0.97 0.33 −0.36
Coaches 4.62 0.50
Competitive success Triathletes 4.00 1.06 0.22 0.82 0.07
Coaches 3.92 1.19
Competitive failure Triathletes 3.11 1.37 1.00 0.32 0.33
Coaches 2.69 1.11
Economic incentives* Triathletes 2.28 1.23 −2.50 0.02 −0.72
Coaches 3.08 0.95
Perseverance on training Triathletes 4.59 0.77 −1.67 0.10 −0.43
Coaches 4.85 0.37
Training partners Triathletes 3.19 1.13 0.10 0.91 0.03
Coaches 3.15 1.07
Training environment Triathletes 3.17 1.15 −1.27 0.20 −0.42
Coaches 3.62 0.96
Scientific-technological Triathletes 2.57 1.21 −1.34 0.20 −0.43
Coaches 3.08 1.11
Family support Triathletes 4.51 0.85 1.87 0.06 0.57
Coaches 4.00 0.91
Institutional support* Triathletes 2.34 1.14 −2.29 0.02 −0.73
Coaches 3.15 1.07
Medical support Triathletes 2.81 1.36 −1.58 0.12 −0.52
Coaches 3.46 1.12
Coach Triathletes 4.33 0.64 1.27 0.21 0.39
Coaches 4.08 0.64
*Significant difference between coaches’ and athletes’ ratings at p < .03.

example, sharing the swimming pool with somebody who has been a
world champion) (7.7%) and economic rewards (7.7 %).
Discussion
The objective of this study was to assess the importance given by
coaches and athletes to a given number of positive and negative factors
affecting performance. In order to do this, two ranked lists (positive and
negative factors) and mean comparisons were established.
Comparisons between coaches and athletes indicated that both are in
good agreement about the selection of the five most influential factors re-
lated to performance. With regard to the positive factors, and with only
small variations in ranking, the top five factors were the same for coaches
and athletes. Among these factors are two of the three key elements pro-
posed by Ericsson, et al. (1993) for the acquisition of expert performance:
Psycho-social Factors in Triathlon 873

Table 2
Order of Importance of the Positive Factors

Rank Coaches’ Evaluation M Rank Triathletes’ Evaluation M


1 Dedication / Engagement 4.92 1 Dedication / Engagement 4.60
2 Perseverance on training 4.85 2 Family support 4.51
3 Volitional capacity 4.62 3 Perseverance on training 4.59
4 Coach 4.08 4 Volitional work capacity 4.36
5 Family support 4.00 5 Coach 4.33
6 Competitive success 3.92 6 Competitive success 4.00
7 Training environment 3.62 7 Training partners 3.19
8 Medical support 3.46 8 Training environment 3.17
9 Institutional support 3.15 9 Competitive failure 3.11
9 Training partners 3.15 10 Medical support 2.81
11 Economic incentives 3.08 11 Scientific-technological 2.57
12 Scientific-technological 3.08 12 Institutional support 2.34
13 Competitive failure 2.69 13 Economic incentives 2.28

motivation, effort and resources. These correspond to the factors involv-


ing effort (dedication/engagement and perseverance on training), which are
rated as one of the most valued by both coaches and athletes. Success in
this sport requires voluntary involvement day by day, and reinforces the
importance of commitment, as Hilliard (1988) pointed out. Although there
were no significant differences in the comparison of mean item ratings,
the item ranks from athletes’ ratings placed family support second in or-
der of importance, whereas the coaches ranked this factor three places
lower. The importance of the family as a source of support is not only re-
flected with regard to performance, but family also was cited by athletes
as a direct influence, together with the coach and friends, on the initia-
tion of training and continuation in triathlon. In other studies with elite
young athletes in direct relation to the triathlon, 70% of the athletes rated
their parents as positive influences in the beginning (Baxter-Jones & Maf-
fulli, 2003).
The comparisons of item means show that there was no agreement
among coaches and athletes when attaching importance to economic in-
centives, the coaches giving this factor significantly greater importance.
Despite the differences, this factor is situated toward the bottom of the list
for both (11th place for coaches and 13th place for athletes). Contextual-
izing this data, the triathlon is not as economically viable as other profes-
sional sports (football, basketball) and therefore the intrinsic motivation
of the athletes must be higher. For example, the Spanish government only
awards financial support on the basis of results to triathletes in the first
three places in the world or European championships (Ministry of Edu-
cation-Culture and Sport, 2004), a goal which is too high to motivate the
majority of triathletes.
874 G. RUIZ-TENDERO & J. J. SALINERO MARTÍN

Table 3
Comparison of Assessment (Scale 1–5) That Athletes and Coaches
Make of Negative Influential Factors in Sports Performance

Factor Group M SD t p d
Competitive pressure Triathletes 2.43 1.26 −1.87 0.06 −0.64
Coaches 3.17 1.03
Lack of support from rela-Triathletes 1.98 1.03 −1.95 0.05 −0.69
tives Coaches 2.77 1.23
Parents’ pressure* Triathletes 1.43 1.13 −3.13 0.00 −1.00
Coaches 2.58 1.16
Financial constraints Triathletes 2.23 1.40 −1.49 0.14 −0.48
Coaches 2.92 1.44
Injuries* Triathletes 2.52 1.47 −5.08 0.00 −1.39
Coaches 4.23 0.92
Coaches’ pressure* Triathletes 1.36 0.87 −5.47 0.00 −1.65
Coaches 3.00 1.13
Sport-work conflicts* Triathletes 1.76 1.24 −3.82 0.00 −1.15
Coaches 3.31 1.43
Sport-studies conflicts* Triathletes 1.98 1.24 −3.49 0.00 −1.13
Coaches 3.31 1.11
Family Issues * Triathletes 1.62 1.19 −4.43 0.00 −1.35
Coaches 3.31 1.31
Lack of self-confidence* Triathletes 2.00 1.35 −5.16 0.00 1.57
Coaches 4.23 1.48
Plateau performance* Triathletes 1.74 1.07 −4.07 0.00 −1.23
Coaches 3.15 1.21
Competitive failure* Triathletes 1.70 1.02 −3.85 0.00 −1.20
Coaches 3.00 1.13
Lack of understanding Triathletes 1.43 0.97 −5.79 0.00 −1.68
with coach* Coaches 3.31 1.25
Boredom / lack of moti- Triathletes 1.81 1.13 −5.63 0.00 −1.59
vation * Coaches 4.00 1.58
Competitive anxiety* Triathletes 2.11 1.33 −3.25 0.00 −1.04
Coaches 3.46 1.26
*p < .025.

In this study, the triathletes were asked if they practiced another sport
before taking up triathlon; 79.2% had trained in a one prior sport. These
data are similar to amateur triathletes (68.3%; Ruiz, et al., 2008). These
data demonstrate the dynamism by which complex systems are defined
(Davis, 2001; Sánchez-Bañuelos, 2009) in the sense that in triathlon it is
usual to share training space and maintain contact with different athletes
and coaches from other sports directly or indirectly, because triathletes
usually come from an earlier stage in which they competed in a single
sport (swimming, cycling, or endurance running) before starting triath-
lon (Ruiz, 2005; Ruiz, et al., 2008). From the point of view of the develop-
Psycho-social Factors in Triathlon 875

Table 4
Order of Importance of the Negative Factors

Rank Coaches’ Evaluation M Rank Triathletes’ Evaluation M


1 Injuries 4.23 1 Injuries 2.52
1 Lack of self-confidence 4.23 2 Competitive pressure 2.43
3 Boredom/lack of motivation 4.00 3 Financial constraints 2.23
4 Competitive anxiety 3.46 4 Competitive anxiety 2.11
5 Sport-work conflicts 3.31 5 Lack of self-confidence 2.00
5 Sport-studies conflicts 3.31 6 Lack of support from relatives 1.98
5 Family Issues 3.31 6 Sport-studies conflicts 1.98
5 Lack of understanding with 3.31 8 Boredom/lack of motivation
coach 1.81
9 Plateau performance 3.15 9 Plateau performance 1.74
10 Competitive pressure 3.17 10 Competitive failure 1.70
11 Coach’s pressure 3.00 11 Sport-work conflicts 1.76
11 Competitive failure 3.00 12 Family Issues 1.62
13 Financial constraints 2.92 13 Parents’ pressure 1.43
14 Lack of support from relatives 2.77 13 Lack of understanding with coach 1.43
15 Parents’ pressure 2.58 15 Coach’s pressure 1.36

ment of athletes within triathlon competitions, this influx of athletes from


different backgrounds produces a constant flow of information and influ-
ences that feed triathlon as a sport system. It is possible that training will
improve in this respect (more technification centers, programs to promote
triathlon in schools, etc.), and that a greater number of athletes will direct-
ly take up triathlon without previously passing through another sport. In
this respect, the results of this study should therefore be compared with
others gathered in the meanwhile, to observe changes in the system.
When analyzing the negative performance factors, for most of the
items, significant differences were observed between coaches’ and ath-
letes’ ratings. For example, coaches perceive themselves as more negative
for the athletes than the athletes rate them. The triathletes do not rate the
coach’s pressure as a strong negative factor and they place it in penulti-
mate place. Although athletes and coaches share many hours of training
and experience, perceptions of specific negative factors are very different.
In future research one could study these differences, under the hypothesis
that coaches attribute this negative factor to the pressure on themselves,
being aware of the responsibility of their job, while athletes, totally com-
mitted to training, may have great confidence in the work of their coaches.
On the item competitive pressure, we found some controversy during inter-
views with some coaches, as it is not perceived as something negative but
as something that athletes have to learn to live with and control. However,
results show that these situations worry many of the triathletes and they
think that competitive pressure negatively influences them.
876 G. RUIZ-TENDERO & J. J. SALINERO MARTÍN

Parents’ and coaches’ pressure was rated as the least negative factor, al-
though it may be due to the absence of pressure rather than adapting to
it, as parental influence is particularly present in pre-adolesence (Hellstedt,
1990), whereas this influence shifts towards the coach in adolesence (Hig-
ginsson, 1985). Our sample had an age range of 17 to 38 years and there-
fore may not have been much influenced by family pressures. The percep-
tion of anxiety has been another feature studied in the literature (Hanson &
Gould, 1988). In the current study, competitive anxiety had considerable im-
portance. Although there was mutual agreement between coaches and ath-
letes in their ranking of this item (fourth place for both), statistical analysis
indicated that the coaches attributed a significantly greater negative effect
to competitive anxiety compared with the opinions of the triathletes. The
studies related to this factor indicate a poor capacity to predict the athletes’
competitive anxiety on the part of their coaches (Hanson & Gould, 1988).
Although the aim and methodology of the current study was different from
that of Hanson and Gould, when competitive anxiety was assessed in rela-
tion to other variables affecting performance, the order of importance given
to it by coaches and athletes coincided exactly (4th place).
The competitive failure factor requires special attention, as it was placed
purposefully in both positive and negative lists of factors. With regards to
its classification as a negative factor, coaches and triathletes placed it at
nearly the same rank (11th and 10th places, repsectively), in the bottom
third of the list. If we regard this factor as a positive aspect, the coaches
ranked it in last place; however, in competitive failure, athletes did discern
this factor to have a certain positive aspect, ranking it 9th place in the list
of positive factors. In existing studies that consider competitive failure as
either positive (Ruiz & Hanin, 2003) or negative reinforcement (Malico, et
al., 2010), there were no clear distinctions from the reactions of the current
sample.
As for the hypotheses put forward, three of the negative factors were
ranked in the top five by both coaches and athletes. Although this coinci-
dence is high, it does not match the level obtained in the groupings of the
top five positive factors. It is also worth pointing out that, regardless of the
ranked list of the 15 negative factors, for 12 of them there were significant
differences when comparing the mean scores of triathletes and coaches,
and for all factors it was the coaches who rated the factors higher (as more
negative). It may be that the coaches, as external observers and with their
greater experience, are more sensitive to the negative influences that all
the different factors in the system can have on the athletes’ performance.
Nevertheless, with these data a new line of research opens up to study this
aspect in greater depth.
In conclusion, when identifying a number of factors as more critical to
sports success, there was agreement between coaches and triathletes on al-
Psycho-social Factors in Triathlon 877

most all the most important positive factors, and, albeit to a lesser extent,
also on the most important negative ones. When one takes into account
all the factors within the so-called high-level sports microsystem, the ath-
letes appear to be more sensitive to the personal level (family, teammates,
lack of support from relatives), while the coaches tend to give more impor-
tance to technical and institutional aspects (institutional support, coach,
medical support). Financial incentives were positioned as the least impor-
tant factor for the triathlete in terms of their influence on the path to sports
success. The family and the coach appear in the top five places in the list
of positive factors, although the most influential factor in the path toward
success, according to both athletes and coaches, is dedication and personal
involvement. The most important factor adversely affecting performance
was considered to be injuries.
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Accepted November 16, 2012.