The Open Sports Sciences Journal


ISSN: 1875-399X ― Volume 10, 2017
RESEARCH ARTICLE

Norwegian Football Academy Players – Player´S Self-Assessed Skills, Stress and Coach-Athlete Relationship



Stig Arve Sæther1, *, Nils Petter Aspvik1, Rune Høigaard2
1 Norwegian University of Science and Technology, NTNU, Trondheim, Norway
2 University of Agder, Norway

Abstract

Background:

Being part of a football academy environment is associated with many advantages. Even so, academy players will also encounter a range of personal and interpersonal challenges that might affect their development, including stress and the coach-athlete relationship.

Objective:

This study’s purpose was to investigate how football academy players assessed their own skills compared to their teammates, and how this is associated with perceived stressors and their perceived relationship with their coach.

Method:

Participants (N= 122) represented 3 football academies (12-19 years old). Instruments used were CART-Q and a modified version of the Adolescent Stress Questionnaire.

Results:

The results showed that the players with high-perceived skill reported a higher amount of self-organized training, more playing time, and a lower level of performance stress compared to the low perceived skill players. The results also indicate that the players perceived they had a close coach-athlete relationship and a low level of stress.

Conclusion:

The results suggest that low perceived skill players should receive equitable focus from coaches, especially related to their performance stress.

Keywords: Talent development, Football academies, Stress, Coach-Athlete relationship, Self-assessed skills.


Article Information


Identifiers and Pagination:

Year: 2017
Volume: 10
First Page: 141
Last Page: 150
Publisher Id: TOSSJ-10-141
DOI: 10.2174/1875399X01710010141

Article History:

Received Date: 06/12/2016
Revision Received Date: 6/07/2017
Acceptance Date: 21/07/2017
Electronic publication date: 31/08/2017
Collection year: 2017

© 2017 Stig Arve Sæther.

open-access license: This is an open access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International Public License (CC-BY 4.0), a copy of which is available at: https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/4.0/legalcode. This license permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original author and source are credited.


* Address correspondence to this author at the Associate professor, sports science, Norwegian University of Science and Technology, Trondheim, Norway; Tel: +47 73551133; E-mail: stigarve@ntnu.no




INTRODUCTION

Becoming an elite soccer player is a challenging and demanding process which requires both talent and an extensive time of deliberate practice over several years [1Reeves CW, Nicholls AR, McKenna J. Stressors and coping strategies among early and middle adolescent premier league academy football players: Differences according to age. J Appl Sport Psychol 2009; 21: 31-48.
[http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/10413200802443768]
]. In order to foster talented young players, football academies have become an important development arena. Being part of a football academy environment is associated with many advantages, such as; high-level coaches, skilled teammates, and training facilities [2Ashworth J, Heyndels B. Selection Bias and Peer Effects in Team Sports: The Effect of Age Grouping on Earnings of German Soccer Players. J Sports Econ 2007; (8): 355-77.
[http://dx.doi.org/10.1177/1527002506287695]
], which often result in increased motivation to continue training for a potential professional career [3Fraser-Thomas J, Côté J, Deakin J. Understanding dropout and prolonged engagement in adolescent competitive sport. Psychol Sport Exerc 2008; (9): 646-62.]. An important part of the development process is the constant skill-assessment that the players face. Such assessments are usually done by expert coaches [4Elferink-Gemser MT, Visscher C, Richart H, Lemmink KA. Development of the Tactical Skills Inventory for Sports. Percept Mot Skills 2004; 99(3 Pt 1): 883-95.
[http://dx.doi.org/10.2466/pms.99.3.883-895] [PMID: 15648483]
]. However, the players’ ability to self-assess their own skills, in addition to engage in critical reflection on their training, could beregarded as important parts of the development process [5Kannekens R, Elferink-Gemser MT, Post WJ, Visscher C. Self-assessed tactical skills in elite youth soccer players: a longitudinal study. Percept Mot Skills 2009; 109(2): 459-72.
[http://dx.doi.org/10.2466/pms.109.2.459-472] [PMID: 20038000]
, 6Andersen SS, Hansen PØ, Hærem T. How elite athletes reflect on their training: Strong beliefs –ambiguous feedback signals. Reflective Pract 2015; (16): 403-17.
[http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/14623943.2015.1052387]
] in terms of addressing their potential lack of skills. As a result, academy players will encounter a range of personal and interpersonal challenges that might affect their development [7Richardson D, Gilbourne S, Littlewood M. Developing support mechanisms for elite young players in a professional football academy: Creative reflections in action research. Eur Sport Manag Q 2004; (4): 195-214.
[http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/16184740408737477]
]. For example, the players are expected to perform at a high level on a weekly basis, experiencing a high level of pressure. This pressure may be warranted, necessary, and integrated content in the development process to become a more elite player. Even if players are expected to regulate this pressure, a high level of pressure may be a double-edged sword; it can lead to the development of mental toughness and strategies to cope with pressure and stress, but it can also be damaging and hamper the development process, resulting in choking under pressure or potentially withdrawing from competitions.

Even among talented football academy players, there are large differences in the players’ skill level and one could therefore expect the players to assess their own skills accordingly, and this assessment could also be an important part of the further development of these players skills, and play a significant part of their role in the group.

Player Self-Assessment of Skill

An important part of the development process is the constant skill-assessment that the players face in their competitive environment. Such assessments are usually done by expert coaches [4Elferink-Gemser MT, Visscher C, Richart H, Lemmink KA. Development of the Tactical Skills Inventory for Sports. Percept Mot Skills 2004; 99(3 Pt 1): 883-95.
[http://dx.doi.org/10.2466/pms.99.3.883-895] [PMID: 15648483]
]. Coaches could also be introducing a self-fulfilling prophesy in selecting players for their team, which, in turn, affects these players’ assessments of their skills and their lack of such skills if they do not get the opportunity to play. This would give the selected players the advantages, since the coach-athlete relationship has been found to enhance mental toughness [8Rodahl S, Giske R, Peters DM, Høigaard R. Satisfaction with the coach and mental toughness in elite male ice hockey players. J Sport Behav 2015; 38: 419-31.], potentially affecting the athlete’s ability to cope with stress [9Holt NL, Dunn JG. Grounded theory of the psychosocial competencies and environmental conditions associated with soccer success. J Appl Sport Psychol 2004; (16): 199-219.
[http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/10413200490437949]
, 10Nicholls AR. Mental toughness and coping in sport. In: Gucciardi DF, Gordon S, Eds. Mental Tougness in Sport. New York: Routledge 2011; pp. 30-46.]. However, even if the coach is the most important supplier of a stable and predictable social environment, the players are also faced with their own expectations. The players’ ability to self-assess their own skills, in addition to engage in critical reflection on their training, could be regarded as important parts of the development process [5Kannekens R, Elferink-Gemser MT, Post WJ, Visscher C. Self-assessed tactical skills in elite youth soccer players: a longitudinal study. Percept Mot Skills 2009; 109(2): 459-72.
[http://dx.doi.org/10.2466/pms.109.2.459-472] [PMID: 20038000]
, 6Andersen SS, Hansen PØ, Hærem T. How elite athletes reflect on their training: Strong beliefs –ambiguous feedback signals. Reflective Pract 2015; (16): 403-17.
[http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/14623943.2015.1052387]
]. It is, however, important to acknowledge the possibility of a social desirability bias when players are assessing their own skills. For example, in a study of young talented football players they found that the youngest players overestimated their own skills compared to their older teammates [11Nerland E, Sæther SA. Norwegian football academy players – Players self-assessed competence, Perfectionism, Goal orientations and Motivational climate. Sport Mont Journal 2016; 2: 7-11.]. However, despite a potential bias, the player`s feeling will be the same. If you don`t feel good enough, it doesn`t matter if you are underestimating your skills compared to the coaches’- or teammate`s perception. The player`s feeling will be the same, hence a potential increased stress level in this regard.

Stress

Stress is often defined as an imbalance between the situation and a player’s resources [12Lazarus RS, Folkman S. Stress, appraisal and coping. New York: Springer 1984.]. The term “stress” has been widely discussed: Fletcher, Hanton, and Mellalieu [13Fletcher D, Hanton S, Mellalieu SD. An organizational stress review: Conceptual and theoretical issues in competitive sport. In: Mellalieu SH, Ed. Literature reviews in sport psychology. New York: Nova Science 2006; pp. 321-74.] suggested that stress should represent an overall process incorporating stressors, appraisals, strains, and coping responses. According to Fletcher et al. [13Fletcher D, Hanton S, Mellalieu SD. An organizational stress review: Conceptual and theoretical issues in competitive sport. In: Mellalieu SH, Ed. Literature reviews in sport psychology. New York: Nova Science 2006; pp. 321-74.], a stressor is the environmental demand or stimulus encountered by an individual, while strain is defined as an individual’s negative response to stressors (e.g., burnout, dropout).

Independent of its definition, stress is experienced at different intensities and durations during adolescence and has different effects on each individual [14Grant KE, Compas BE, Stuhlmacher AF, Thurm AE, McMahon SD, Halpert JA. Stressors and child and adolescent psychopathology: moving from markers to mechanisms of risk. Psychol Bull 2003; 129(3): 447-66.
[http://dx.doi.org/10.1037/0033-2909.129.3.447] [PMID: 12784938]
], and it seems to increase during the players’ adolescence. An example of such stressors could be a player who is coping with a transition into academy football [15Finn J, McKenna J. Coping with academy-to-first-team transitions in elite English male team sports: The coaches’ perspective. Int J Sports Sci Coaching 2010; 5: 257-79.
[http://dx.doi.org/10.1260/1747-9541.5.2.257]
], and the fear of failure regarding performance and development [16Sager SS, Busch BK, Jowett S. Success and failure, fear of failure, and coping responses of adolescent academy football players. J Appl Sport Psychol 2010; 22: 213-30.
[http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/10413201003664962]
]. Players must learn to cope with stressors if they are to pursue a career in professional sports [9Holt NL, Dunn JG. Grounded theory of the psychosocial competencies and environmental conditions associated with soccer success. J Appl Sport Psychol 2004; (16): 199-219.
[http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/10413200490437949]
], as failure to cope can lead to decreased performance [17Lazarus RS. How emotions influence performance in competitive sports. Sport Psychol 2000; 14: 229-52.
[http://dx.doi.org/10.1123/tsp.14.3.229]
]. The stress-recovery balance has been found to be related to injuries and illnesses in youth elite football players [18Brink MS, Nederhof E, Visscher C, Schmikli SL, Lemmink KA. Monitoring load, recovery, and performance in young elite soccer players. J Strength Cond Res 2010; 24(3): 597-603.
[http://dx.doi.org/10.1519/JSC.0b013e3181c4d38b] [PMID: 20145570]
]. It is reasonable to believe that the players could experience the perception of stress differently based on the skill level of the player [1Reeves CW, Nicholls AR, McKenna J. Stressors and coping strategies among early and middle adolescent premier league academy football players: Differences according to age. J Appl Sport Psychol 2009; 21: 31-48.
[http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/10413200802443768]
]. One could expect the players with the highest skills to experience the highest pressure to perform, and thereby, the highest level of stress. On the contrary, players who are experiencing a lack of mastery could have a high degree of stress because they may not be selected for the playing squad or they may be afraid of losing their place in the academy. This could potentially contribute to reduced well-being [19Ivarsson A, Stenling A, Fallby J, Johnson U, Borg E, Johansson G. The predictive ability of the talent development environment on youth elite football players’ well-being: A person-centered approach. Psychol Sport Exerc 2015; 16: 15-23.
[http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.psychsport.2014.09.006]
], hope [20Gustafsson H, Skoog T, Podlog L, Lundqvist C, Wagnsson S. Hope and burnout: Stress and affect as mediators. Psychol Sport Exerc 2013; 14: 640-9.
[http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.psychsport.2013.03.008]
], and player burnout [21Gustafsson H, Skoog T. The mediational role of perceived stress in the relation between optimism and burnout in competitive athletes. Anxiety Stress Coping 2012; 25(2): 183-99.
[http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/10615806.2011.594045] [PMID: 21726158]
, 22Raedeke TD, Smith AL. Coping resources and athlete burnout: An examination of stress mediated and moderation hypotheses. J Sport Exerc Psychol 2004; 26: 525-41.
[http://dx.doi.org/10.1123/jsep.26.4.525]
]. Furthermore, according to Rudolph [23Rudolph KD. Gender differences in emotional responses to interpersonal stress during adolescence. J Adolesc Health 2002; 30(4)(Suppl.): 3-13.
[http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/S1054-139X(01)00383-4] [PMID: 11943569]
] and Rudolph and Hammen [24Rudolph KD, Hammen C. Age and gender as determinants of stress exposure, generation, and reactions in youngsters: a transactional perspective. Child Dev 1999; 70(3): 660-77.
[http://dx.doi.org/10.1111/1467-8624.00048] [PMID: 10368914]
], boys seem to experience the most stress in relation to external events. Examples of such external events might be their coach, their teammates, and their performance. A qualitative study of early (12-14 years) and middle adolescent (15-18 years) Premier League Academy players found making errors, team performance, coaches, and selection to be the most important stressors among the middle adolescent players, while making errors, team performance, opposition, and family were the most important stressors among early adolescent players [1Reeves CW, Nicholls AR, McKenna J. Stressors and coping strategies among early and middle adolescent premier league academy football players: Differences according to age. J Appl Sport Psychol 2009; 21: 31-48.
[http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/10413200802443768]
].

Coach-Athlete Relationship

In the sports context, the coach-athlete relationship plays a central role in the athletes' physical and psychosocial development [25Jowett S, Cockerill I. Incompatibility in the coach-athlete relationship. In: Cockerill I, Ed. Solutions in sport psychology. London: Thompson Learning 2002; pp. 16-31., 26Fraser-Thomas JL, Côte J, Deakin J. Youth sport programs: An avenue to foster positive youth development. Phys Educ Sport Pedagogy 2005; 10: 19-40.
[http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/1740898042000334890]
]. More specifically, the coach-athlete relationship has been reported to have a significant impact on athlete satisfaction, performance, perceived skill, and self-esteem [27Bloom BS. Developing talent in young people. New York: Ballantine 1985.-29Lorimer R, Jowett S. Coaches. In: Hackfort AG, Ed. Routledge companion to sport and exercise psychology New York:. Routledge 2014; pp. 171-86.]. Several research studies have underlined the importance of high quality coach-athlete relationships in reducing stress, performing well, and enjoying competitive experiences [30Kristiansen E, Roberts GC. Young elite athletes and social support: coping with competitive and organizational stress in “Olympic” competition. Scand J Med Sci Sports 2010; 20(4): 686-95.
[http://dx.doi.org/10.1111/j.1600-0838.2009.00950.x] [PMID: 19793212]
]. Similarly, Rodahl, Giske, Peters, and Høigaard [8Rodahl S, Giske R, Peters DM, Høigaard R. Satisfaction with the coach and mental toughness in elite male ice hockey players. J Sport Behav 2015; 38: 419-31.] demonstrates that satisfaction with the coach relates positively to mental toughness, with the most important aspect being personal treatment, which subsequently may increase the athlete’s ability to cope with stress [9Holt NL, Dunn JG. Grounded theory of the psychosocial competencies and environmental conditions associated with soccer success. J Appl Sport Psychol 2004; (16): 199-219.
[http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/10413200490437949]
, 10Nicholls AR. Mental toughness and coping in sport. In: Gucciardi DF, Gordon S, Eds. Mental Tougness in Sport. New York: Routledge 2011; pp. 30-46.]. A study conducted by Lorimer and Jowett [31Lorimer R, Jowett S. Feedback of information in the empathic accuracy of sport coaches. Psychol Sport Exerc 2010; 11: 12-7.
[http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.psychsport.2009.03.006]
] revealed the importance of empathic coaches. An emphatic coach has a capacity to accurately perceive, from moment-to-moment, the psychological condition of an athlete, such as feelings, mood and motivation behind his/her behaviour. Lorimer and Jowett found that having an emphatic coach might have a positive impact on athletes’ performance and success, and the authors implied a need for coaches and athletes to work closely together. Jowett and Ntoumanis [32Jowett S, Ntoumanis N. The Coach-Athlete Relationship Questionnaire (CART-Q): development and initial validation. Scand J Med Sci Sports 2004; 14(4): 245-57.
[http://dx.doi.org/10.1111/j.1600-0838.2003.00338.x] [PMID: 15265147]
] identified three dimensions in describing the coach-athlete relationship: Commitment, Closeness, and Complementarity. Commitment represents coaches’ and athletes’ shared perspectives (common goals, values, beliefs) which are developed as a result of open channels of communication. Closeness refers to feeling emotionally close with one another in the coach-athlete relationship. The construct of Complementarity reflects coaches’ and athletes’ complementarity or co-operative interactions, especially during training [32Jowett S, Ntoumanis N. The Coach-Athlete Relationship Questionnaire (CART-Q): development and initial validation. Scand J Med Sci Sports 2004; 14(4): 245-57.
[http://dx.doi.org/10.1111/j.1600-0838.2003.00338.x] [PMID: 15265147]
].

The development of a close and empathic coach-athlete relationship is a long-term process, and it is shaped by the environment in which it unfolds. In team sports, and perhaps especially in a football academy context, there are several challenges that may hinder or hamper the possibility for all players to establish a close and productive coach-athlete relationship. Firstly, coaches in team sports are more likely to interact with the whole group of athletes (i.e., the team), because more focus is on developing the team as a whole, in contrast to individual sports, where the focus is more likely to be individually focused. In addition, in team sports, the group is often larger, and consequently, less time and recourse are available for interactions with each member of the group [33Rhind DJ, Jowett S, Yang SX. A comparison of athletes’ perceptions of the coach-athlete relationship in team and individual sports. J Sport Behav 2012; 35: 433.]. Lorimer and Jowett [34Lorimer R, Jowett S. Empathic accuracy in coach-athlete dyads who participate in team and individual sports. Psychol Sport Exerc 2009; 10: 152-8.
[http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.psychsport.2008.06.004]
] found that coaches and athletes demonstrate a better empathic understanding in individual sports compared to team sports. A similar finding is apparent in Rhind et al.’s [33Rhind DJ, Jowett S, Yang SX. A comparison of athletes’ perceptions of the coach-athlete relationship in team and individual sports. J Sport Behav 2012; 35: 433.] study, in which individual athletes were much closer, more committed, and more complementarity to their coach than athletes in team sports. Secondly, in a talent academy, the pressure and expectation to develop elite players also embrace the coaches. It is therefore more likely that the coaches will invest more time and interact more closely with some of the players (i.e., most talented) and will also give them more playing time, because the coach believes and expects that their probability of becoming new elite players is greater. Based on this, it may be reasonable to expect that the best players, indicated by the most playing time, may experience a closer coach-athlete relationship than players with less playing time. Furthermore, a close and empathic coach-athlete relationship may also be a significant factor in coping with different stressors in the environment. However, if the quality of the coach-athlete relationship is poor, athletes may not be able to utilize their coaches as a coping mechanism and instead may experience the coach as a new stressor for them.

According to Reeves et al. [1Reeves CW, Nicholls AR, McKenna J. Stressors and coping strategies among early and middle adolescent premier league academy football players: Differences according to age. J Appl Sport Psychol 2009; 21: 31-48.
[http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/10413200802443768]
], adolescent athletes in team sports are under-represented within the stress and coping literature, and research in this area is highly recommended. This article will therefore examine football academy players’ perceived stress, and coach-athlete relationships, and how they are related to self-assessed skills. More specifically, it was investigated that whether there were differences in perceived stress and the coach-athlete relationship between athletes with high perceived skill, average perceived skill, and low perceived skill.

MATERIALS AND METHODS

Participants

One hundred and twenty-two Norwegian male youth football players (mean age = 14.0 yrs, SD 2.0 yrs) representing two football academies, one top-level club (31%) and one league two club (69%), respectively, were included in the present study. All of the players in both academies participated in this study.

Procedure

The data were collected after a training session in the respective academies following the end of their season. Before answering the questionnaire, all the participants were informed about the purpose of the study, that their participation was voluntary, that the survey was anonymous, and that all information would be treated confidentially. All players were given an information letter for their parents. The study (ethics clearance) was in accordance and approved by the Norwegian Social Science Data Services.

Instruments

Demographics. The participants were asked five questions about their player Characteristics. They were asked about their age, month of birth on a 4-point scale ranging from 1 = January-March, and 4 = October-December. The participants were asked to rank their playing time in the ended season on a 4-point scale from 1 = Few of the matches, 2 = Some of the matches, 3 = Most of the matches, 4 = All the matches. They were also asked about their amount of organized and self-organised training, both on a 7-point scale from 1 = one day a week, to 7 = seven days a week.

Self-assessed skills. The participants rated their skills (technical, tactical, mental, social, and physical) on a 5-point scale ranging from better than most on my team [1Reeves CW, Nicholls AR, McKenna J. Stressors and coping strategies among early and middle adolescent premier league academy football players: Differences according to age. J Appl Sport Psychol 2009; 21: 31-48.
[http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/10413200802443768]
] to worse than most on my team [5Kannekens R, Elferink-Gemser MT, Post WJ, Visscher C. Self-assessed tactical skills in elite youth soccer players: a longitudinal study. Percept Mot Skills 2009; 109(2): 459-72.
[http://dx.doi.org/10.2466/pms.109.2.459-472] [PMID: 20038000]
]. By adding these values together, we obtained a total average rated assessment of the players’ skills. Furthermore, the players’ assessment of their own skills was divided into three categories: ‘High perceived skill’ (HPS; the 25% with the highest average score); ‘Average perceived skill’ (APS; 50%); ‘Low perceived skill’ (LPS; the 25% with the lowest average score). Such a division of players into three groups has been done previously in a similar study, although this study mostly studied the perceived talent development environment [19Ivarsson A, Stenling A, Fallby J, Johnson U, Borg E, Johansson G. The predictive ability of the talent development environment on youth elite football players’ well-being: A person-centered approach. Psychol Sport Exerc 2015; 16: 15-23.
[http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.psychsport.2014.09.006]
].

Stress. The Adolescent Stress Questionnaire is a scale measuring stress among adolescence in general [35Byrne DG, Davenport SC, Mazanov J. Profiles of adolescent stress: the development of the adolescent stress questionnaire (ASQ). J Adolesc 2007; 30(3): 393-416.
[http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.adolescence.2006.04.004] [PMID: 16750846]
, 36Moksnes UK, Byrne DG, Mazanov J, Espnes GA. Adolescent stress: evaluation of the factor structure of the Adolescent Stress Questionnaire (ASQ-N). Scand J Psychol 2010; 51(3): 203-9.
[http://dx.doi.org/10.1111/j.1467-9450.2009.00803.x] [PMID: 20149144]
], and not related to sport. The adolescent stress questionnaire was therefore a starting point when we developed a 12-item questionnaire related to stress in football (sport) among youths. As a result, a 12-item football players’ stressor questionnaire was developed for this study. The introduction to these questions was: “Here are some statements about things or situations that you may experience as stressful. Please tell us how stressful each of these things or situations have been for you over the past year.” The items were rated on a 5-point scale: 1 (Not stressful or irrelevant); 2 (A little stressful), 3 (Moderately stressful), 4 (Quite stressful), and 5 (Very stressful).

The 12 items were subjected to a principal component analysis (PCA) using SPSS version 21.0. Prior to performing the PCA, the suitability of the data for factor analysis was assessed.

An inspection of the correlation matrix revealed the presence of many coefficients of .3 and above. The Keiser-Meyer-Olkin value was .79, exceeding the recommended value of .6, and the Bartlett’s test of Sphericity reached statistical significance (p<.05), supporting the factorability of the correlation matrix [37Tabachnick BG, Fidell LS. Using multivariate statistics. Boston: Allyn and Bacon 2001.]. A principal component analysis revealed the presence of four components with an eigenvalue above 1, explaining 39.5%, 11.5%, 8.6%, and 8.1% of the variance, respectively Table (1). All four components were retained for further investigation. To aid in the interpretation of these four components, a Varimax rotation was performed. The four factor solutions explained a total of 67.8% of the variance.

Table 1
Principal component analysis (PCA).


The different factor combinations were labelled as “Evaluation stress,” indicating stress concerning evaluations of performance by your coach or teammates (i.e., being evaluated by your coach), “Performance stress,” concerning stress regarding performance in training and matches (i.e., training performance), ”Development stress,” indicating stress concerning expectations for development both from oneself and the coach (i.e., high expectations of coaches), and “Academic stress,” concerning stress regarding school attendance and lack of time for other activities (i.e., keeping up in school).

An internal consistency test was performed on the four factors (subscales). The test output was a Cronbach’s alpha value, which generally increases when the correlations between the items increase. The most traditional threshold for a “good” internal consistency is set to Cronbach’s alpha > 0.7. The Cronbach’s alpha for each subscale was 0.68 for Evaluation stress, 0.83 for Performance stress, 0.67 for Development stress, and .65 for Academic stress. Three of our four subscales are therefore scoring just below the 0.7 threshold. It is, however, important to acknowledge that an alpha is dependent not only on the magnitude of the correlations among items, but also on the number of items in the scale. For example, a subscale (index) can be made to look more 'homogenous' simply by doubling the number of items, even though the average correlation remains the same. Since the items related to the different subscales theoretically fit each other in the present study, and that the number of items in each subscale was low (3 items), all four subscales were created despite three alpha values below 0.7. For further analysis, the three items in each subscale were collapsed into indexes.

Coach-athlete relationship: To measure the players’ relationships with their coach, we used the Coach-Athlete Relationship questionnaire (CART-Q) [32Jowett S, Ntoumanis N. The Coach-Athlete Relationship Questionnaire (CART-Q): development and initial validation. Scand J Med Sci Sports 2004; 14(4): 245-57.
[http://dx.doi.org/10.1111/j.1600-0838.2003.00338.x] [PMID: 15265147]
]. The questionnaire contains an 11-item scale measuring three interpersonal constructs: Commitment, Closeness, and Complementarity. The participants rated how they perceive the quality of the relationship with their coach as follows: Commitment (3 items, e.g., I am committed to my coach), Closeness (4 items, e.g., I like my coach), and Complementarity (4 items, e.g., When I am coached by my coach, I am ready to do my best). The response to each item was based on a 7-point scale ranging from 1 (Strongly Disagree) to 7 (Strongly agree), and the Cronbach’s alpha for each subscale was .72 for Commitment, .89 for Closeness, and .76 for Complementarity.

Analysis

All analyses were conducted in SPSS version 21.0. Means and standard deviations were calculated for player characteristics, the four stress components, and the three coach-athlete components. Multivariate analyses of variance (MANOVAs) were used to identify the players’ self-assessed skills differences for player characteristics, player stress, and the coach-athlete relationship. Furthermore, a Bonferoni’s post hoc procedure was applied to assess the mean values between the three self-assessed skills groups (HPS, APS, LPS). The significance level (alpha) was set to 0.05.

RESULTS

Our results showed no differences between the self-assessed perceived skills groups (HPS, APS, LPS) and age, birth month, and amount of organised training Table (2). Even so, the players categorised as LPS were somewhat younger (13.4 years), compared to the other groups (HPS, APS). The players categorised with HPS did, however, report a significantly higher amount of self-organised training and playing time during the last season (< 0.05), compared to the APS and LPS players.

Table 2
Anova analysis.


The players reported, below the midpoint of 3 on all the four stress components. In preliminary Pearson’s r correlation analysis revealed strong positive associations between the four stress components (0.46-0.59, P<0.01). This means that players who are reporting high on one of the stress components systematically report high on the other stress components. Only stress regarding performance was associated with self-assessed skills, as the LPS players reported significantly more stress, compared to the HPS players. The three coach-athlete dimensions, commitment, closeness, and complementarity were all reported as highly above average, with no significant difference between the self-assessed skills categories. A preliminary Pearson’s r correlation analysis did also find a strong positive association between the three coach-athlete dimensions (0.53-0.65, P<0.01).

DISCUSSION

The aim of this article was to examine football academy players’ perceived stress, and coach-athlete relationships, and how they are related to self-assessed skills. More specifically, it was investigated that whether there were differences in perceived stress and the coach-athlete relationship between athletes with high perceived skill, average perceived skill, and low perceived skill.

Self-Assessed Skills

This study showed that talented academy players’ self-assessed skills are related to playing time and self-organised training. These findings are in line with earlier research indicating a connection between the amount of training and skill levels [38Ericsson KA, Krampe R, Tesch-Römer C. The role of deliberate practice in the acquisition of expert performance. Psychol Rev 1993; 100: 363-406.
[http://dx.doi.org/10.1037/0033-295X.100.3.363]
]. Even so, much of the research claims that it is the amount of organised training, or more specifically, deliberate practice [38Ericsson KA, Krampe R, Tesch-Römer C. The role of deliberate practice in the acquisition of expert performance. Psychol Rev 1993; 100: 363-406.
[http://dx.doi.org/10.1037/0033-295X.100.3.363]
], that is the essential factor. However, we did not find any differences between the amount of organised training sessions and skill levels. One obvious reason for this would be that, these players are playing on the same team, so the number of hours of organised training is similar among these players, independent of the playing time given to the players. Another aspect is related to the qualitative aspect of deliberate practice. It is reasonable to believe that there is variation in quality and specificity within the relatively broad term deliberate practice, especially when it is measured as organised training among the players. The most highly skilled players may be better at perpetuating their adaption of the training, but also more sensitive, reflective, and self-regulated in their own development process, and thus, better at modifying their level of practice to match their current performance level [39Toering TT, Elferink-Gemser MT, Jordet G, Visscher C. Self-regulation and performance level of elite and non-elite youth soccer players. J Sports Sci 2009; 27(14): 1509-17.
[http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/02640410903369919] [PMID: 19967593]
]. Research on similar age groups has indicated that athletes who reflect and self-regulate well may benefit more from practice than others [39Toering TT, Elferink-Gemser MT, Jordet G, Visscher C. Self-regulation and performance level of elite and non-elite youth soccer players. J Sports Sci 2009; 27(14): 1509-17.
[http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/02640410903369919] [PMID: 19967593]
, 40Cleary TJ, Zimmerman BJ. 13. Self-regulation differences during athletic practice by experts, non-experts, and novices. J Appl Sport Psychol 2001; 13: 185-206.
[http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/104132001753149883]
]. In addition, recent qualitative research has found that athletes who have reached the top in their sports take responsibility for their learning [41MacNamara Á, Button A, Collins D. The role of psychological characteristics in facilitating the pathway to elite performance. Part 2: Examining environmental and stage-related differences in skills and behaviors. Sport Psychol 2010; 24: 74-96.
[http://dx.doi.org/10.1123/tsp.24.1.74]
].

Moreover, self-assessed skills were not related to birth-month, which is somewhat surprising, because the relative age effect is well documented in the literature (see Helsen et al. [42Helsen WF, Baker J, Michiels S, Schorer J, Van Winckel J, Williams AM. The relative age effect in European professional soccer: did ten years of research make any difference? J Sports Sci 2012; 30(15): 1665-71.
[http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/02640414.2012.721929] [PMID: 23005576]
], for a review). This effect has been found to be present among the most talented players, as well as among similarly talented Norwegian players [43Sæther SA. Selecting players for youth national teams – a question of birth month and reselection? Sci Sports 2015; 30(6): 314-20.
[http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.scispo.2015.04.005]
]. We also found a connection between the amount of playing time the players were given and their self-assessed skills. The more playing time the players were given, the higher they assessed their own skills. This could be interpreted that playing time could be just as good of an assessment as the players’ assessment of their own skills, indicating the value of a self-assessment of skills [5Kannekens R, Elferink-Gemser MT, Post WJ, Visscher C. Self-assessed tactical skills in elite youth soccer players: a longitudinal study. Percept Mot Skills 2009; 109(2): 459-72.
[http://dx.doi.org/10.2466/pms.109.2.459-472] [PMID: 20038000]
]. One obvious reason is the importance of the coach’s evaluation of the players’ skills, which ends in the players selected to play in the matches. Furthermore, studies show that the importance of playing time also affects the development of young talented players in terms of muscle strength and sprint ability, and this leads the authors to recommend that coaches incorporate a friendly competitive match in the weekly training cycle of nonstarting players [44Silva JR, Magalhães JF, Ascensão AA, Oliveira EM, Seabra AF, Rebelo AN. Individual match playing time during the season affects fitness-related parameters of male professional soccer players. J Strength Cond Res 2011; 25(10): 2729-39.
[http://dx.doi.org/10.1519/JSC.0b013e31820da078] [PMID: 21912284]
]. Coaches could therefore be introducing a self-fulfilling prophesy in selecting players for their team, which, in turn, affects these players’ assessments of their skills and their lack of such skills if they do not get the opportunity to play. This would give the selected players the advantages, since the coach-athlete relationship has been found to enhance mental toughness [8Rodahl S, Giske R, Peters DM, Høigaard R. Satisfaction with the coach and mental toughness in elite male ice hockey players. J Sport Behav 2015; 38: 419-31.], potentially affecting the athlete’s ability to cope with stress [9Holt NL, Dunn JG. Grounded theory of the psychosocial competencies and environmental conditions associated with soccer success. J Appl Sport Psychol 2004; (16): 199-219.
[http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/10413200490437949]
, 10Nicholls AR. Mental toughness and coping in sport. In: Gucciardi DF, Gordon S, Eds. Mental Tougness in Sport. New York: Routledge 2011; pp. 30-46.].

Stress

Players who assess themselves as less skilled than their teammates reported a higher level of stress compared to the most skilful players, but only on the performance stress component. This indicates that the players only experience stress regarding their performance level and not about the surrounding components in the environment. Overall, the academy players report low levels of stress regarding the four components measured in this study, despite being part of a highly competitive context with many challenges [15Finn J, McKenna J. Coping with academy-to-first-team transitions in elite English male team sports: The coaches’ perspective. Int J Sports Sci Coaching 2010; 5: 257-79.
[http://dx.doi.org/10.1260/1747-9541.5.2.257]
, 21Gustafsson H, Skoog T. The mediational role of perceived stress in the relation between optimism and burnout in competitive athletes. Anxiety Stress Coping 2012; 25(2): 183-99.
[http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/10615806.2011.594045] [PMID: 21726158]
]. The reason for the low level of stress might be due to different explanations. One could be that the players find that high expectations are, or should be, normal in this context, and thus, they are not perceived as stressful. Another reason could be due to the age of the players in this study. We must also consider the fact that three of our four subscales measuring stress was just below the acceptable 0.7 value, potentially affecting the results. According to Grant et al. [14Grant KE, Compas BE, Stuhlmacher AF, Thurm AE, McMahon SD, Halpert JA. Stressors and child and adolescent psychopathology: moving from markers to mechanisms of risk. Psychol Bull 2003; 129(3): 447-66.
[http://dx.doi.org/10.1037/0033-2909.129.3.447] [PMID: 12784938]
], stressors are however experienced at different intensities and durations during adolescence. If we accept, the premise that the likelihood of becoming a professional football player lessens slightly as the age of the players increases due to tougher competition, older youth players might experience more stress related to their performance and development. Nevertheless, the finding that the LPS players are more susceptible to stress regarding both performance and team selection, compared to the HPS players, is important knowledge. Furthermore, the players’ ability to develop coping strategies [1Reeves CW, Nicholls AR, McKenna J. Stressors and coping strategies among early and middle adolescent premier league academy football players: Differences according to age. J Appl Sport Psychol 2009; 21: 31-48.
[http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/10413200802443768]
] could also be important, especially because the research indicates the difficulty of identifying potentially top-level players at an early age [43Sæther SA. Selecting players for youth national teams – a question of birth month and reselection? Sci Sports 2015; 30(6): 314-20.
[http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.scispo.2015.04.005]
, 45Deprez DN, Fransen J, Lenoir M, Philippaerts RM, Vaeyens R. A retrospective study on anthropometrical, physical fitness, and motor coordination characteristics that influence dropout, contract status, and first-team playing time in high-level soccer players aged eight to eighteen years. J Strength Cond Res 2015; 29(6): 1692-704.
[http://dx.doi.org/10.1519/JSC.0000000000000806] [PMID: 26010800]
].

Coach-Athlete Relationship

Earlier research has found that the coach-athlete relationship plays an important role in the players’ physical and psychosocial development [25Jowett S, Cockerill I. Incompatibility in the coach-athlete relationship. In: Cockerill I, Ed. Solutions in sport psychology. London: Thompson Learning 2002; pp. 16-31., 26Fraser-Thomas JL, Côte J, Deakin J. Youth sport programs: An avenue to foster positive youth development. Phys Educ Sport Pedagogy 2005; 10: 19-40.
[http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/1740898042000334890]
]. More specifically, a good relationship has been proven to be positively associated with a player’s satisfaction, performance, perceived skill, and self-esteem [27Bloom BS. Developing talent in young people. New York: Ballantine 1985., 28Coatsworth JD, Conroy DE. The effects of autonomy-supportive coaching, need satisfaction, and self-perceptions on initiative and identity in youth swimmers. Dev Psychol 2009; 45(2): 320-8.
[http://dx.doi.org/10.1037/a0014027] [PMID: 19271821]
, 31Lorimer R, Jowett S. Feedback of information in the empathic accuracy of sport coaches. Psychol Sport Exerc 2010; 11: 12-7.
[http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.psychsport.2009.03.006]
]. The low level of stress found among the academy players examined in the present study could be a result of good coach-athlete relationships. Moreover, one reason for the players to report a high level of Complementarity, Commitment, and Closeness towards their coach could be a result of having highly skilled coaches in highly professional top-level club environments. Ashworth and Heyndels [2Ashworth J, Heyndels B. Selection Bias and Peer Effects in Team Sports: The Effect of Age Grouping on Earnings of German Soccer Players. J Sports Econ 2007; (8): 355-77.
[http://dx.doi.org/10.1177/1527002506287695]
] highlighted the advantages of high-level coaches and training facilities as an essential part of talent development. Interestingly, the present study found no significant differences in the quality of the coach-athlete relationship for players of different levels of self-assessed skills. One could expect that the LPS players would have more imbalance between their resources (skills) and the situation, compared to the HPS players, i.e., the coach’s expectations (playing time). A reasonable question would therefore be if the players’ expectations of their relationship with the coach are related to their skill levels. For example, a LPS player might have a lower expectation of the coach-athlete relationship, compared to a HPS player. Nevertheless, it is important for coaches to develop a good coach-athlete relationship, independently of the players’ skill levels in general, and specifically, for the relatively lower skilled players. This should be regarded as especially important because the research indicates the difficulty of identifying potentially top-level players at an early age [43Sæther SA. Selecting players for youth national teams – a question of birth month and reselection? Sci Sports 2015; 30(6): 314-20.
[http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.scispo.2015.04.005]
, 45Deprez DN, Fransen J, Lenoir M, Philippaerts RM, Vaeyens R. A retrospective study on anthropometrical, physical fitness, and motor coordination characteristics that influence dropout, contract status, and first-team playing time in high-level soccer players aged eight to eighteen years. J Strength Cond Res 2015; 29(6): 1692-704.
[http://dx.doi.org/10.1519/JSC.0000000000000806] [PMID: 26010800]
]. Coaches should therefore aim to establish an inviting environment for future development, for example, by reducing the players’ strain in training and competition.

Limitations of the Study and Future Research

The authors acknowledge that the present study has some limitations. This is a study of 122 Norwegian youth academy players with ages ranging from 12 to 19. One should be aware of this before generalising the present study’s results. Furthermore, the measurements used in the present study are explorative and have not been validated in earlier studies. Thus, the choice of developing, assessing, and analysing new measurements was done with the aim of contributing to a better understanding of football academy players. The stress measurement is also a limitation in this study, since the Cronbach’s alpha was beneath the 0.7 threshold considered acceptable. The authors also acknowledge that only player data are included in the present study, and they recommend that future research also should include the coaches’ perspective. The study was conducted at the end of the season, which could mean the period where the players perceive the least stress during the season. Moreover, it is important to acknowledge that stress is a dynamic situation, constantly in change. A cross-sectional design, which is the case in the present study, will not take this into consideration. Therefore, we suggest more studies on stress in young talented football players with a longitudinal design. These changes in the design could offer vital information on the development process from both the player and coach perspectives.

CONCLUSION

This study found that the HPS players reported a higher amount of self-organised training, a higher degree of playing time, and a lower level of performance stress compared to the LPS players. Overall, the academy players reported a low level of stress on all four components and seem to have a good coach-athlete relationship. Because football academies are highly competitive environments [7Richardson D, Gilbourne S, Littlewood M. Developing support mechanisms for elite young players in a professional football academy: Creative reflections in action research. Eur Sport Manag Q 2004; (4): 195-214.
[http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/16184740408737477]
], they are largely dependent on offering stable environments for their players. Based on this fact, our results suggest that coaches should focus on the LPS players, especially related to their performance stress.

ETHICS APPROVAL AND CONSENT TO PARTICIPATE

Not applicable.

HUMAN AND ANIMAL RIGHTS

No Animals/Humans were used for studies that are base of this research.

CONSENT FOR PUBLICATION

Not applicable.

CONFLICT OF INTEREST

The author declares no conflict of interest, financial or otherwise.

ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS

Declared none.

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Philippe Hernigou
(Paris University, France)

"There are many scientists who can not afford the rather expensive subscriptions to scientific journals. Open access journals offer a good alternative for free access to good quality scientific information."


Fidel Toldrá
(Instituto de Agroquimica y Tecnologia de Alimentos, Spain)

"Open access journals have become a fundamental tool for students, researchers, patients and the general public. Many people from institutions which do not have library or cannot afford to subscribe scientific journals benefit of them on a daily basis. The articles are among the best and cover most scientific areas."


M. Bendandi
(University Clinic of Navarre, Spain)

"These journals provide researchers with a platform for rapid, open access scientific communication. The articles are of high quality and broad scope."


Peter Chiba
(University of Vienna, Austria)

"Open access journals are probably one of the most important contributions to promote and diffuse science worldwide."


Jaime Sampaio
(University of Trás-os-Montes e Alto Douro, Portugal)

"Open access journals make up a new and rather revolutionary way to scientific publication. This option opens several quite interesting possibilities to disseminate openly and freely new knowledge and even to facilitate interpersonal communication among scientists."


Eduardo A. Castro
(INIFTA, Argentina)

"Open access journals are freely available online throughout the world, for you to read, download, copy, distribute, and use. The articles published in the open access journals are high quality and cover a wide range of fields."


Kenji Hashimoto
(Chiba University, Japan)

"Open Access journals offer an innovative and efficient way of publication for academics and professionals in a wide range of disciplines. The papers published are of high quality after rigorous peer review and they are Indexed in: major international databases. I read Open Access journals to keep abreast of the recent development in my field of study."


Daniel Shek
(Chinese University of Hong Kong, Hong Kong)

"It is a modern trend for publishers to establish open access journals. Researchers, faculty members, and students will be greatly benefited by the new journals of Bentham Science Publishers Ltd. in this category."


Jih Ru Hwu
(National Central University, Taiwan)


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