Athletic Insight - The Online Journal of Sport Psychology

The Use of the Person-Centered Approach
for the Reduction of the State-Trait
Anxiety in Volleyball Players

A. Patsiaouras, Z. Papanikolaou,
K. Haritonidis D. Nikolaidis, and P. Keramidas

University of Thessaly







Become Financially Fit For Life


The aim of this study was to investigate the effect of the person - centered intervention (reflection, congruence, respect, empathy) on anxiety (state - trait) which athletes have. Seventy -four volleyball players (male and females between the ages of 12 to15) completed the STAI 1 and STAI 2 questionnaires twice (1st - September, and 2nd phase - May). In the experimental group (E.G.) (male team N = 12; female team N = 11) Roger's person-centered method was applied in 15-20 minutes advising sessions once per week before and after practice for 32 weeks. In the control group (C. G.) (male team N = 12; three female teams N = 39), the coaches utilized their usual pedagogical - coaching techniques before and after practice. Statistically significant differences were observed between the E. G. and C. G. (females) in the 2nd phase - May of the state anxiety (p = .032), and males in the trait anxiety (p = .023). Significant differences among the 1st - September and the 2nd phase - May of the E. G. (males) in the trait anxiety (p = .023) were observed as well. The results indicate that the person - centered method positively influences the athletes who participate in team sports reducing their state and trait anxiety.


       For coaches, dealing with anxiety is especially important, because an anxious athlete does not function correctly, has trouble concentrating, remembering, and noticing things which are necessary for a good performance. The result of anxiety is that the athletes are not able to perform as well as they can, their performance is influenced during a game and they seldom reach the desired result, which is victory. Anxiety in general is defined as: a) a learned bodily reaction to danger (Euler, 1983), b) a form of self-centeredness which is characterized by self-observation, doubts and low self-esteem (Krohne, 1975; Krohne & Hock, 1994), c) one of the ten basic human emotions which is similar to instinct (Izard & Buechler, 1980), d) the result of the inconsistency between the inner and outer value system (Fisseni, 1996; Patsiaouras, 1999). In sport psychology theory, anxiety has been most often analyzed in terms of state, trait, cognition and somatic (Martens & Gill, 1976; Martens, Vealey & Burton, 1990; Spielberger 1966).

       The present paper was designed exactly for this reason. The basic principles in the person - centered approach in sports are based upon Rogers's (1985; 1991a,b) theories. The person -centered theory confronts human nature as a complicated, whole, organic being which has the tendency to survive, to differ, to improve, to evolve and develop to the fullest extent of his/her potential. The main goal of the method is to help the individual to desire and achieve full autonomy and self-realization. Rogers theories is built on a single ''force of life'' he calls the actualizing tendency. Rogers captures with this single great need or motive (actualizing tendency) all the other motives that other theorists talk about. In the person - centered method, the psychotherapist is not the expert who solves all of the individual's problems but, acting as a consultant helps the individual find his/her own way, personal solutions to various problems being confront.

       A coach can help an athlete complete his innate organic tendency, making it easier in this way for the athlete to develop his physical and mental abilities. In the person - centered method the coach has the opportunity to move between two different positions in relation to the athlete, between two different situations of the self (Brandt & Metzger, 1969; Nestoros & Ballianatou, 1996). In the first position, the coach is the expert who observes what is happening as a supervisor without influence or intervening in the situations. In the second position, the coach has the feeling of what occurs in the inner world of the athlete and lets himself/herself free for a deeper level of communication with the athlete. The medium which allows this effort to work consists of three basic conditions, as stated by Rogers (1985; 1991a,b). These three conditions are a) Congruence - genuineness (honesty with the client), which refers to how genuine the coach's behavior is towards the athlete without pretending; genuineness helps the communication and the communicative presentation of the facts which occur on a verbal level (Nemeskeri, 1992), b) respect - warmth (acceptance, unconditional positive regards towards the client), which refers to the coach's acceptance of the athlete's emotions, even if those emotions are negative, c) empathy (the ability to feel what the client feels), which refers to the understanding of the athlete's inner world, a type of identification with him/her on an emotional level, seeing the world through his/her eyes while parallel to that having an emotional perception of things (Parry, 1996). Rogers (1985; 1991a,b) says these qualities are ''necessary and sufficient''. If the therapist shows these three qualities then the client will improve, even if no other special ''techniques'' are used.

       The method that was used in the present study with the purpose of decreasing the levels of state and trait anxiety was based upon the conditions stated by Rogers (1985; 1991a,b). According to Nestoros and Ballianatou (1996), dealing with anxiety, but also being free from all of the above cognitive disfunctions, allows a person (athlete) to take advantage of his/her potential, his/her talents and simultaneously to find solutions to problems which he/she confronts. Psychotherapy is the most widely-used method for confronting psychological pressured situations which people find themselves in daily (Parry, 1996; Nestoros & Ballianatou, 1996). Unfortunately in sports there are not any known studies related to the affect of such psychotherapeutic methods in athletes. Until now, most research papers have focused on the use of psychotherapeutic methods as therapeutic methods, although the use of sports always was perceived as a supportive medium, mainly when dealing with people with special needs or individuals with health problems (Durak, Lilly, & Hackworth, 1999; Dench, 2002; Kolden, et al., 2002; Mascher, 2002). It is a fact as was pointed out above that there is an absence of studies which are related to the use of psychotherapeutic methods in sports, although extremely intense is the absence of studies which refer to the person-centered method (Brewer, Petitpas, & Van-Raalte, 1999; Slater, 2002; Storch & Farber, 2002).

       Because of the importance of person - centered theory in the field of psychology and its results in the psychotherapy, it seemed appropriate to investigate the application of person - centered method in sports. The purpose of the study was with the person - centered approach in a time period of eight months to reduce the levels of state and trait anxiety in volleyball players (males and females) and specifically: a) between the 1st September and the 2nd phase -May of the study, and b) between the experimental group (E.G) and control group (C.G) in the 2nd - May phase of the study.


       A synoptic description of the study was made to the participating athletes, without revealing participation as control or the experimental. The questionnaires (STAI 1 & STAI 2) were administrated 10-15 minutes before the end of practice, without the presence of the coach responsible for the team, to avoid possible bias in the opinion of the athletes caused by coach presence. The completion of the questionnaire took about 10-15 minutes. The athletes completed the questionnaires (STAI 1 week 1 and STAI 2 week 2) at the beginning of the season (Phase 1-September) and once at the end of the regular championship season, 8 moths later (Phase 2-May).


       In the experimental group (a team of boys and a team of girls), the Roger's person-centered method was applied in the form of advisory meetings at least once a week for 15-20 minutes before practice and with feedback for 15 minutes after practice. The person - centered method was applied to the E.G (males and females) by one of the researchers. The researcher was a sport psychologist as well as a volleyball coach who was familiar with the person - centered approach. Much attention was drawn to the creation of a safe environment for the participants, so as to feel comfortable to talk about personal problems, which they confront, without the fear of rejection of the coach -researcher or the other players in the team as minor. There is only one technique that Rogerians are known for and that technique is called reflection (Rennie, 1998). Reflection is the mirroring of emotional communication (Rogers, 1991). For example if a player says "I feel very bad" the coach may reflect this back to the player by saying something like ''so, the training is getting you down, hey?'' Also, using open-ended questions the coach is communicating with the player and is showing him that he is indeed listening, questioning about his/her condition and cares enough to understand.

Role of the Coach

       From the above example we can conclude that during oral intervention (consulting the athletes) the coach and athletes use the technique of paraphrasing. By paraphrasing the athlete's wording the coach tries: a) to investigate what exactly is happening inside the athlete, which emotions, thoughts and theories etcÉ are coming to the surface, b) with the use of a question at the end of paraphrasing the athlete is given the opportunity to agree or disagree with what the coach has to say and c) the athlete can go a step further in the investigation of the events that are pre-occupying him. Parallel to this the coach does not drive the athlete to a certain point (thoughts, decisions) which he considers important, but allows the athlete to choose his own way in solving the problems that are pre-occupying him. Special emphasis during the phase of person-centered intervention has been given to athletic issues - problems which consumed the athletes. Also, the possibility was given to the athletes to have individual consulting after practice, when issues came up which were very personal, did not have direct relations to the volleyball sport, but with each player's personal life (e.g. family, school problems), we saw that indirectly their performance in the sport was altered. In the C.G (one male group and three female groups), no particular method was applied and the coaches of the teams had the freedom to apply the pedagogical and coaching methods they saw fit. Also, no particular direction or guideline was given to them in terms of the intervention method used in the experimental group. They simply knew that a study was taking place investigated the levels of trait and state anxiety in volleyball players. The participation of the coaches and the players in the study was voluntary and they were assured that the questionnaires were anonymous and confidential. Due to the fact that there isn't any known data for any existing differences between the two genders and because females practiced separately from males as they were in different teams, the statistical evaluation of the results was calculated separately for the two genders.


       The sample was made up of 74 children participating on five volleyball teams in the championship tournament of their category (Under 15). The distinction and classification of the players in the control and experimental teams was natural, according to the team which the player was a member of. The teams had five different coaches and practiced on separate courts. The control group (C.G.) was made up of 51 players, and in particular one team of boys (N=12) and three teams of girls (N=39) coached by four different coaches (three male and one female, between ages of 33-45). All the coaches had a coach A' category license (International Level III) and had experience playing on high level team. The experimental group (E. G.) was made up of one team of boys (N=12) and one team of girls (N=11) which was coached by the coach - researcher. The following table (table 1) presents the demographic characteristics of the players who participated in the study.

Person Centered Table 1


       For the measurement of trait and state anxiety the STAI 1 and STAI 2 (Spielberger, Gorsuch, Lushene, 1968; Laux, Glanzmann, Schaffner, Spielberger, 1981) were used. A sport specific questionnaire (e.g. CSAI 2) was not applicable for two reasons: 1) According to person-centered approach theory, the changes that occur are mostly in the general trait characteristics of a personality, and during this study, some issues have come to the surface that were only indirectly related to the sport (like problems in school or at home) but, which did affect the players during practice or a game. 2) the CSAI 2 has been criticized lately for its validity and reliability (Lane, Sewell, Terry, Bartram & Nesti 1999; Tsorbatzoudis, Barkoukis, Sideridis & Grouios, 2002). The STAI 1 (state) was used to measure state anxiety, a temporary situation of intensity, worry, insecurity and nervousness for situation to come. The STAI 2 (trait) was used to measure trait anxiety as a relatively standard trait characteristics of a personality which we perceive as an attribute or a tendency the player has. The trait characteristic according to the person-centered theory is the result of saved pieces of information, which have been created from the experiences that every person has and the interaction he/she has with his/her environment (Nemeskeri, 1992). The answers were given on a 4-point Likert type scale, from never (1) to always (4).


       Both scales of the STAI test revealed a high level of internal consistency in their questions, both in the first and in the second phase of the study. This result (table 2) shows that the questionnaire was reliable.

Person Centered Table 2

       The statistical test Kolmogorov - Smirnov was used in order to test the normally distribution of the samples. From the results, no statistical significant differences were observed, which leads us to conclude that the scores in the population are normally distributed and that there is no threat for the statistical analyses. The table below presents the results of the Kolmogorov - Smirnov test in the E.G and C.G separately for males and females.

Person Centered Table 3

Person Centered Table 4

       From reviewing the results of the STAI 1 with the independent sample t-test, we observed a statistically significant reduction of the state anxiety in the girls team in the experimental group, in the 2nd phase of the study (p=.032). The rest of the teams did not present significant statistical differences on state anxiety.

Person Centered Table 5

       Statistical significant differences were observed in trait anxiety between the E.G and C.G in the males (p = .023), but in the females no statistical significant differences were observed.

Person Centered Table 6

       Statistical significant differences between the 1st and the 2nd phase of the study were observed in trait anxiety between the E.G and C.G in the males (p = .023).

Person Centered Table 7

       No statistical significant differences between the 1st and the 2nd phase of the study were observed in trait anxiety between the E.G and C.G in the females.

Person Centered Table 8

       No statistically significant differences for the females in both groups.


       As far as the differences between the males and females are concerned, it was noticed that without the use of statistical analysis, the males used the help of a personal consultant much more than the females did, when they felt it was necessary. The females preferred to communicate on a personal level with the coach - researcher with the form of written communication, addressed to their coach. In this way, twenty letters were sent from the females in the E.G to their coach-researcher in which they analyzed the problems they confronted and their thoughts not only based on situations which took part in their team and with people in their team, but with events that took place in their families or personal lives.

       Statistically significant differences were observed in the state anxiety of E.G (females), where a reduction in the level of state anxiety was observed in the second phase in relation to the C.G. In the males of E.G, although a decrease in the level of state anxiety in the second phase was observed in relation to the C.G, the results however were not statistical significant. Perhaps the games and their opponents were of greater difficulty compared to the females and that is why no statistical significant differences were observed in the factor of state anxiety.

       In the factor of trait anxiety, significant statistical differences were found between the males of E.G and C.G in the second phases of the study, and between the first and the second phase (pre-, post-test) in the E.G. In the females, no statistical significant differences were observed, although there was a slight decrease in the levels of trait anxiety. Further research must examine if the absence of statistical differences in the females is due to the differences between the genders and/or if other factors (e.g. school, family, their social environment etc.) affects the specific factor.

       Even though there is a relatively small amount of research in the particular area, encouraging samples in the use of psychotherapeutic methods in sports are given in studies in the last few years, in which we conclude that the cohesion between the players of a soccer team improves with the use of a systemic family approach (Papanikolaou et al., 2003).

       It appears that the person-centered method is a reliable one as far as the control of the above factors are concerned, a fact that is also supported by Roger's theoretical model (1985; 1991a,b). A potential restriction the study might have is the small sample size, although the results indicate that the person-centered method positively influences the athletes of the team sports. Further research with a larger sample, and with athletes in individual sports is also recommended.


       The aim of a coach who follows the principles of the person-centered approach is to give his/her player the opportunity to choose and reach a decision that he/she (the player) considers to be right and not to try to solve the problems that every athlete must deal with by giving him/her ready solutions. Within the aims of a person-centered approach in sports is to reduce the state anxiety and trait anxiety that players of the team feel. Further research of this phenomenon is necessary in order to measure if there are any statistical differences in the way that personal counseling among the two genders (males and females) of the athletes in chosen. Also, it must be mentioned that the males in the particular time period took the first place in their category, something which they had never done before. The females moved up from the 8-9 position in the previous season to number 2 this season. Unfortunately, there is no available research data which supports a direct relationship among the person - centered method and the players' performance, which is a point that should be researched in studies in the future.


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Correspondence concerning this article should be sent to Patsiaouras Asterios, University of Thessaly, TEFAA, 42100 Karies, Trikala, Greece, Tel.: (+30) 24310 47039, Fax: (+30) 24310 47042, e-mail:

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