Predicting Athletic Performance in Anxious Individuals: Combining The SAS-2 and the DSS

When competing in sporting events, I have always had an internal struggle between my instincts and my conscious. I would always worry about making mistakes and how I could potentially lose us the game. However, if I was able to immerse myself completely, without any input from my conscious, I could be the best player on the court. Why in some games could I play extremely well, while in other games I could be completely consumed by anxiety?

One theory behind this phenomenon is based on the Attentional Control Theory developed by Eyseneck et al., (2007). Athletes with high attentional self-control are able to perform based on their ability to eliminate distractions such as anxiety, by selectively controlling their attention towards the goal. In a study regarding a dart tournament, “there was a significant relation between state anxiety and dart performance only for participants in a state of ego depletion” (Englert, 2012). Ego depletion is a state in which one’s limited reserve of willpower or self-control is depleted. Not every anxious athlete performs poorly, only those who are ego-depleted were affected by their anxiety, presumable due to a lack of attentional self-control found in a depleted state.

Based on the Eyesneck’s ACT theory, one can predict if anxiety will affect performance in a sporting event based on two factors: one’s level of sports anxiety and one’s attentional self-control. A popular measure of sports anxiety is the “Sports Anxiety Scale-2” (SAS-2) developed by Smith (2006). This psychological test can be broken down into 4 scales, “Somatic”, “Worry” and “Concentration Disruption”, all derived from a factor analysis, and a “total score”. “Somatic” sports anxiety subscale focuses upon self-reported bodily sensations such as “My body feels tense” whereas the “Worry” subscale targets thoughts such as “I worry that I will mess up during the game”. Lastly, the “Concentration Disruption” subscale consists of attentional difficulties with items including “I cannot think clearly during the game”. The “Concentration Disruption” subscale is not sufficient to predict performance anxiety impairment because the lack of concentration described in the SAS-2 may not be due to states of ego-depletion but perhaps other variables such as apathy. Test re-test reliability is strong with an r= .87 for total scores and subscale coefficients of .76, .85, and .87 respectively. SAS-2 shows convergent validity with other measures of sports anxiety such as the “Motivational Climate Scale for Youth Sports” and the “Perception of Success Questionnaire” and the “Washington Self-Description Scale” with correlations of .35, .25 and .53 respectively (Smith et al., 2006).

The second factor affecting performance is self-control. Measuring one’s susceptibility to self-control lapses can be done through the 11-item “Depletion Sensitive Scale” (DSS), developed by Salmon et al. (2014). The theory states that if one cannot successfully exercise self-control over distracting anxious feelings, as seen in an ego-depleted state, they will expect to see impairments in performance. Validity for this test can be proven as, someone who scores high on the DSS is much more likely to become depleted than someone who scores low on the DSS. A depletion-sensitive individual will have more opportunities in which the athlete will be unable to block out anxiety-related feelings; thus, causing performance impairment on a more regular basis. In terms of reliability, this test has a respectable Cronbach’s alpha of .83.

The combination of the two aforementioned tests would theoretically be essential to predict who experiences a performance impairment due to sports anxiety. An athlete with a high SAS-2 total score but low DSS scores will still have the mental energy to orient themselves towards the goal and to block out distracting feelings of anxiety. Conversely, a non-anxious athlete will be “less likely” to experience impaired performance than someone with high sports anxiety (Englert, 2006). However, when scores on the SAS-2 and DSS are both high, this is where we are likely, according Eyesneck’s Attentional Control Theory, to predict impairments in performance from sport anxiety more reliably. I play most of my sporting events late at night, usually after busy days. Perhaps, I may be more sensitive to depletion than most people. If this theory holds true, combining my high SAS-2 and potentially high DSS score may explain why my performance is subpar on some days compared to my ability to be immersed into the game on others.

Smith, R.E., Smoll, F.L., Cumming, S.P. & Grossnard, J.R., (2006). Measurement of multidimensional sport performance anxiety in children and adults: the sports anxiety scale-2. Journal of Sport and Exercise Psychology, 28, 470–501

Englert, C., (2012). Anxiety, ego depletion, and sports performance. Journal of Sport and Exercise Psychology.

Salmon, S.J., Adriaanse, M.A., De Vet, E., Fennis, B.M. & De Ridder, D.T. (2014). “When the going gets tough, who keeps going?” Depletion sensitivity moderates the ego-depletion effect. Frontier Psychology.

One clap, two clap, three clap, forty?

By clapping more or less, you can signal to us which stories really stand out.