Athletes, like the rest of us, deal with some kind of stress every day of their lives. Interestingly, it is not the stressor(s) that bogs down athletes, but instead how they cope with the stress they experience. The sport psychology literature offers two types of stress response (coping) mechanisms to be considered depending on the type of stress an athlete experiences:
A.) Problem- based coping
B.) Emotion-based coping
These types of coping are probably exactly what you think simply based on their respective names — with problem-based coping, the emphasis is geared toward strategies designed to fix the problem. Emotion-based coping, on the other hand, is the type of coping used to develop better emotional responses to a problem.
Problem-based coping strategies should be employed when an athlete has control over a situation and can develop new ideas and approaches in order to have better future results. For example, if an athlete is stressing out over losing a starting position, she might look at the ways in which she can improve her athletic skill set, thereby giving her a better chance to start again in the future.
Emotion-based coping is better used in situations where the athlete has little, if any control over a situation. For example, during the sport retirement transition most athletes are no longer able to simply think up new ways to extend a career (as what might be done if using a problem-based coping approach). In these instances, athletes often struggle to varying degrees trying to re-establish their personal identity and move on in their lives without sports. An emotion-based coping approach might include learning healthier ways to cope with this type of stress rather than turning to reckless behaviors, drinking, or any other form of self-sabotage. Examples of a better, healthier ways to cope might include establishing a physical workout routine, meditation, or learning relaxation techniques to help lower anxiety.
Both problem and emotion-based coping are important tools for athletes to use to help with overall mental toughness and success — both on and off the field. The best part about both types of coping is that they are life skills, and will come in handy for athletes long after their playing days are over.