An investigation into the perceptions of mental toughness of adventurers/explorers, elite athletes and elite coaches

Fawcett, Thomas (2006) An investigation into the perceptions of mental toughness of adventurers/explorers, elite athletes and elite coaches. Doctoral thesis, University of Northumbria at Newcastle.

Text (PhD thesis)
428862.pdf - Accepted Version

Download (16MB) | Preview


An in-depth qualitative investigation into mental toughness combining phenomenological interview, interpretative phenomenological analysis (IPA) and emergent grounded theory(EGT) was conducted, in order to understand how adventurers/explorers, elite coaches and elite athletes perceived the concept. Twenty-one adventurers/explorers, thirty-three elite coaches and thirty-seven elite athletes (total =91) were interviewed 'in depth' about their perceptions of mental toughness from which 3 discrete
grounded theories emerged. Strict sampling criteria were applied and 86% of elite athletes and 88% of elite coaches had either won medals or coached medal-winning athletes at World, Olympic or Commonwealth level. The adventurer/explorer sample contained successful Everest Mountaineers and world renowned climbers (11), polar explorers (3), round-the-world yachtswomen and travelling
adventurers (6). Phenomenological interviews were conducted, transcribed, member checked and returned by over 93% of the sample. Preliminary IPA analysis provided the resonant and meaningful data themes for the emergent grounded theory analysis (Glaser, 1989). The research approach was unique to the study of mental toughness from within the naturalistic paradigm and compliments existing research which has attempted to understand the phenomenon (Fourie and Potgietr., 2001; Jones et al., 2002; Middleton et al., 2004; Bull et al., 2005).
The findings demonstrate evidence of huge individual diversity of meaning of what mental toughness means to participants within all samples. Such diversity was clouded when findings were assumed under collective conceptual headings which combined related themes. When conceptual and category data is considered the findings show support for previous work. However, findings show the real meaning attached to what mental toughness is to people lies beneath the broader category and conceptual frameworks. Such meaning is only understood when deeper levels of analysis are explored. These findings offer evidence that such diversification of personal meaning exists when alternative methodology is applied. As a result there will be no attempt to offer an all-encompassing operational definition of what mental toughness is from within each of the three discrete samples.
Findings showed striking similarity in elite athletes and elite coach perceptions of mental toughness with major categories emerging in self confidence and belief, dealing with event pressure, effective mental application, physical coping ability, training and situational toughness and commitment and determination. Athletes perceived the additional category of self control and discipline to be centrally related to the concept, a category not strongly supported by elite coaches. The categories were supported by 20 and 24 inter-related concepts within the elite coach/ athlete samples and by 16 concepts within the adventure/explorer sample. Adventurer/explorers perceived mental toughness to be more related to safety and survival, coping with stress and anxiety, knowing oneself, coping with
success and failure, having undivided attention and physical coping ability.
Findings support preliminary work of Jones et al. (2002) Middleton et al. (2004)and Bull et al. (2005) which suggests mental toughness is strongly related to self belief, dealing with pressure and anxiety, focus and dealing with pain. The findings also show that mental toughness is perceived by all three samples to be a complex integration of psychological concepts that support the major categories and is contextually driven. It is a multi-dimensional psychological phenomenon. These findings provide a clearer conceptual understanding of mental toughness that may assist future research. Overall, this study has advanced existing research understanding in the provision of a well-grounded theoretical framework for mental toughness and provides evidence in the value of adopting a phenomenological approach which is unique in attempting to understand the concept. However, it also appeals for further qualitative studies which explore different methodologies within the naturalistic paradigm in an attempt to further explain mental toughness.
The investigation was principally focused on establishing what mental toughness 'is' based on people's perceptions and 'lived experience'. Future research should focus on how it can possibly be developed and if mental toughness transfers across different contexts. The nature of the situation (i.e. adventure v elite sport) is thought to be an influential factor in differing perceptions and future research may also target more diverse populations attempting to provide more evidence that it is situational specific, contextually driven or indeed transferable.

Item Type: Thesis (Doctoral)
Additional Information: Thesis digitised by the British Library e-thesis online service, EThOS.
Subjects: C600 Sports Science
Department: University Services > Graduate School > Doctor of Philosophy
Depositing User: Ellen Cole
Date Deposited: 25 Oct 2019 15:34
Last Modified: 12 Oct 2022 08:45

Actions (login required)

View Item View Item


Downloads per month over past year

View more statistics