Publication Date


Date of Final Oral Examination (Defense)


Type of Culminating Activity


Degree Title

Master of Science in Kinesiology



Major Advisor

Eric Martin, Ph.D.


Kathryn Demps, Ph.D.


Heather Van Mullem, Ph.D.


Introduction: In sports, pre-competition stress responses can influence performance. Mental skills training is a strategy used to successfully mitigate stress responses and positively impact performance. Psychological (e.g., anxiety) and physiological (e.g., cortisol) stress responses are not often measured in a single study, providing an incomplete picture of athlete experiences. When researchers have measured these constructs together, studies have excluded endurance athletes and ways to effectively buffer stress responses. Purpose: The current study had two aims. 1. How will athlete’s perceptions of stress and physiological markers of stress be related to each other? 2. How will athlete’s perceptions of stress and physiological markers of stress be impacted by a mental skills training program? Hypothesis: H1: It was hypothesized that perceptions of stress will be positively correlated to physiological markers of stress. H2: It was hypothesized that athletes who participate in the three mental training sessions would have lower levels of acute pre-competition psychological (anxiety) and physiological (salivary cortisol levels) stress responses prior to races. Methods: Twenty-one endurance athletes were recruited from two local high school cross country running teams. Cortisol and anxiety testing occurred on three occasions (Baseline, Time 1, and Time 2). Participants completed three mental training sessions between Time 1 and Time 2. Mental skills training included relaxation and breathing, imagery, and self-talk. Anxiety was quantified using the Competitive State Anxiety Inventory (CSAI-2R). Salivary cortisol levels were analyzed at the Salimetrics lab. Statistical Analysis: A one- way repeated measures ANOVA (Time) assessed anxiety, and cortisol levels. Bivariate correlations were conducted to assess the relationships between the study variables. One-way ANOVAs also assessed the association between reported stress the week prior to testing, school, gender and cortisol, self-confidence, and anxiety Results: The ANOVA results showed no statistically significant changes between variables of cortisol, anxiety and self-confidence at different times. Statistically significant positive correlations were found between self-confidence at B, T1 and T2 testing, and significant a negative correlation was found between anxiety and self-confidence at Baseline testing. The relationship between reported high levels of stress the week prior to T2 and high levels of cortisol at T2 testing was statistically significant as was the relationship between cortisol and school at Baseline testing. Discussion: A small sample size likely contributed to the low number of statistically significant results. The relationship between stress the week prior to T2 and cortisol points to the importance of focusing on mental skills training through an entire season versus just the few days prior to competition. The significance between cortisol and school at B testing was a result of cold weather during testing conditions and points to the need to consider time of day and other conditions when interpreting cortisol results. Future studies should include more participants in a longer study design.