Spiritual well-being and its influence on athletic coping profiles.
Abstract: Spiritual well-being appears to be associated with most aspects of good physical and mental health. However, the evidence is far from conclusive as to how spiritual well-being relates with athletic coping skills. This study explored the hypothesis that spiritual well-being may positively influence psychological variables, such as athletic coping skills, that are important for sport performance. Participants were 142 NCAA Division I athletes at a mid-sized university in the Pacific Northwest. Athletes completed the Spiritual Well-Being Scale, the Athletic Coping Skills Inventory, and a demographic questionnaire. Results showed that athletes who scored higher in spiritual well-being also displayed a better athletic coping skills profile for sport performance. These results suggest that spiritual well-being may be a construct that is useful in developing enhanced coping aptitude necessary for excellence in sport.
Article Type: Report
Subject: Life skills (Religious aspects)
Athletic ability (Religious aspects)
Spirituality (Influence)
Authors: Ridnour, Heather
Hammermeister, Jon
Pub Date: 03/01/2008
Publication: Name: Journal of Sport Behavior Publisher: University of South Alabama Audience: Academic Format: Magazine/Journal Subject: Psychology and mental health; Sports and fitness Copyright: COPYRIGHT 2008 University of South Alabama ISSN: 0162-7341
Issue: Date: March, 2008 Source Volume: 31 Source Issue: 1
Topic: Event Code: 290 Public affairs
Geographic: Geographic Scope: United States Geographic Code: 1USA United States
Accession Number: 175351093
Full Text: Recently, the hypothesis that spiritual well-being can have a positive influence on most aspects of health has been given increasing consideration in the social science literature (Carson, Soeken, & Grimm, 1988; Ellison & Smith, 1991; Hammermeister, Flint, Havens, & Peterson, 2001; Hammermeister & Peterson, 2001; Hawks, & Gast, 1999; Hodges, 1988; Landis, 1996; Manne, & Sharon, 1992; Miller, 1985; Waite, Zautra, Fehring, Brennan, & Keller, 1987). The role of spirituality and religion in issues of mental health and psychotherapy also has gained considerable attention in recent years (e.g., Kelly, 1995; McMinn, 1996; Richards & Bergin, 1997). Even the American Psychological Association (APA, 2002) has included religion, as a subset of spiritual well-being, in their standard on human differences in the "Ethical Principles of Psychologists and Code of Conduct." Furthermore, the recent call for, and subsequent interest in, "positive psychology" (Seligman & Csikszentmihalyi, 2000) provides further strength for the argument that the spiritual side of human existence plays an important role in fostering not only mental health and physical well-being, but excellence in human activities as well. The purpose of this paper will be to expand on the notion that a strong sense of spirituality may be able to promote human excellence by examining the relationship between spiritual well-being and athletic coping skills.

Defining Spirituality

While the acceptance of spirituality as a firm component of good mental and physical health is becoming more standardized (Moberg & Bruseck, 1978; Osman & Russell, 1979), the fact remains that an orthodox operational definition of spirituality and spiritual well-being has yet to be agreed upon. The terms religion and spirituality are often confused and misrepresented. In an attempt to differentiate the terms "religion" and "spirituality" Emblen (1992) screened the nursing literature for definitions of both. In definitions of religion, six words appeared most frequently including system, beliefs, organized, person, worship, and practices. In definitions of spirituality, nine words appeared most frequently, personal, life, principle, animator, being, God (god), quality, relationship, transcendent. Emblen (1992) concluded that spirituality is currently the broader term and may subsume aspects of religion.

Hawks and colleagues (Hawks, Hull, Thalman, & Richins, 1995) broaden the definition of spirituality by defining it as (a) a sense of relatedness or connectedness to others which provides terms for meaning and purpose in life, (b) the fostering of well-being through a stress buffering effect, as well as (c) having a belief in and a relationship with a power higher than the self.

In an attempt to further explore the covariates of religiosity and spirituality, Ellison and Paloutzian (Ellison, 1983; Paloutzian & Ellison, 1982) coined the term "spiritual well-being" in their development of the Spiritual Well-Being Scale (SWBS). The SWBS provides an overall measure of the perception of spiritual quality of life, as well as subscale scores for two dimensions of spiritual well-being: religious and existential well-being. The religious well-being subscale provides a self-assessment of one's relationship with God, while the existential well-being subscale gives a self-assessment of one's sense of life purpose and life satisfaction. Thus, the SWBS provides an overall measure of the perception of spiritual quality of life and will act as the operational definition of "spiritual well-being" for this investigation.

Spirituality in Sport

The psychological construct of flow (Csikszentmihalyi, 1975) is generally understood to be a spiritual experience and is often considered to be the basis for the exploration of spirituality in sport settings (Watson & Nesti, 2005). However, only recently have studies emerged that shed light on the importance of spirituality in sport (Dillon & Tait, 2000; Storch, Storch, Kolsky, & Silvestri, 2001; Vernacchia, McGuire, Reardon, & Templin, 2000). For example, Vernacchia and colleagues (2000) found that many successful Olympic track and field athletes frequently utilized prayer throughout their careers. Similarly, Czech, Wrisberg, Fisher, Thompson, and Hayes (2004) found that, in a sample of NCAA Division I athletes, many used prayer as a method for coping more effectively with athletic stress. In another example of athletes utilizing components of spirituality for enhancing their ability to cope, Storch et al. (2001) found that athletes rely more on organizational, non-organizational, and intrinsic religiousness than non-athletes, which suggests that athletes may be utilizing these spiritual concepts more than was previously believed by researchers.

Although the evidence is increasing that spirituality may aid athletes, the proof that confirms this relationship is far from conclusive. Thus, the purpose of this study was to try and fill the gap in the spirituality and sport psychology literature by examining if "spiritually well" athletes display a better athletic coping skills profile compared with their "less spiritually well" peers.



Participants in this study consisted of 142 scholarship athletes at a mid-sized NCAA Division I university. From within the same university, athletes were recruited from NCAA Division I-A football, NCAA Division I track, tennis, soccer, volleyball, and basketball teams and completed the Lifestyle Balance Survey. Sixty-eight percent of the sample was male, while 32% were female. Ages ranged from 18 to 24 years (M = 19.9, SD = 1.46). Thirty-nine percent of the athletes were college freshman, 24% were sophomores, 23% were juniors, 12% were seniors, and 2% were 5th year seniors.


For this investigation three questionnaires were utilized: a demographics questionnaire assessing age, gender, year in school, athlete status, and sport; the Spiritual Well-Being Scale (Ellison & Smith, 1991); and the Athletic Coping Skills Inventory (Smith et al., 1995).

The Spiritual Well-Being Scale (SWBS). The SWBS was developed by Ellison and Paloutzian (Ellison, 1983; Paloutzian & Ellison, 1982) as a 20-item measurement tool with two subscales: (a) the existential well-being scale, which measures the participants' environmental relationship meaning, the conditions that surround people affecting the way they live, and (b) the religious well-being scale, measuring the subjects' relationship with a higher power (God) in regards to commitment, behavioral interaction, communication, cooperation, level of friendship or degree of intimacy. The two subscales were combined to produce a total overall spiritual well-being score using a 6-point Likert-type scale (1 = strongly disagree to 6 =strongly agree). The SWBS has been used in over 300 research endeavors and has consistently demonstrated its validity and reliability in measuring spiritual health (Ellison, 1983; Paloutzian & Ellison, 1982). The SWBS has been administered to a number of populations, including individuals in the health care profession and people suffering from chronic illness. It enables people to identify their relationship with God regardless of religious affiliation (i.e., "I feel most fulfilled when I'm in close communion with God"). In addition to correlating positively to lowered blood pressure and ideal body weight, individuals scoring high in spiritual well-being also tend to score high on psychological and relational scales (Ellison, 1983; Paloutzian & Ellison, 1982). The Spiritual Well-being scale has consistently shown to be reliable and internally consistent. Hammermeister and Peterson (2001) reported alpha coefficients of the religious well-being scale to be .94, the existential well-being scale to be .80, and the spiritual well-being scale to be .89.

The Athletic Coping Skills Inventory (ACSI). The ACSI, developed by Smith et al. (1995), consists of 28 self-report questions scored on a 4-point Likert-type scale (1 = almost never to 4 = almost always) and measures athlete response to questions regarding athletic performance (i.e., "I tend to play better under pressure because I think more clearly"). The ACSI has seven subscales measuring an athlete's ability to cope with adversity, coachability, concentration skills, goal setting and mental preparation, confidence and achievement motivation, ability to peak under pressure, and freedom from worry. Internal consistency for the ACSI has been reported by Smith and colleagues (1995) with alpha reliability coefficients ranging from .62 to .78.


The questionnaires were given to the athletes during team practices with coach permission. Time was set-aside during practice hours for survey distribution and completion. The athletes were informed that participation was anonymous and voluntary, and all participants complied. The survey took approximately 30 minutes to complete.

Data Analysis

First, Analysis of Variance (ANOVA) was employed to examine gender effects across the ACSI and SWBS variables. Because no gender effects were found (p > .05), subsequent analyses were conducted with males and females grouped together. Participants were then grouped based on median splits of the spiritual well-being distribution. The ANOVA procedure, with least squares means follow-up, was then utilized to identify differences between the SWBS groups and the ACSI variables of interest. A multivariate procedure, stepwise discriminate analysis, was also conducted to determine which of the dependent variables best discriminated between the high and low spiritual well-being groups. Due to the exploratory nature of the study, the. 15 level was set for entry into the stepwise discriminant analysis equation.


Alpha Coefficients

The Spiritual Well-Being Scale was found to have acceptable internal consistency (alpha coefficients of >.7). Although only three of the ACSI subscales produced alpha coefficients of .7 or higher, the exploratory nature of this study, along with the previously reported reliability and validity standards for the ACSI (Smith et al., 1995), prompted us to use an alpha coefficient standard of .6 or higher for inclusion in subsequent analyses. Furthermore, previous studies have identified the .6 standard as an acceptable level of reliability for subscales with fewer than 5 items (Amorose & Horn, 2000; Smith et al., 1995). Therefore all of the ACSI subscales were retained (see Table 1).

Least Square Means Results for High and Low Spiritual Well-Being Groups on Athletic Coping Skills Inventory Variables

Significant main effects were found for four ACSI variables: coping with adversity (F(3, 117) = 4.79, p = .03), freedom from worry (F(3, 117) = 6.38, p = .01), goal setting/mental preparation (F(3, 117) = 8.39, p = .005), and confidence achievement motivation (F(3, 117) = 8.22, p = .005). Least squares means for ACSI variables according to the spiritual well-being group are reported in Table 2.

Discriminant Function Analysis

A three variable solution was found for the discriminant function model with confidence/achievement motivation, goal setting/mental preparation, and freedom from worry contributing significantly to the equation, accounting for 13% of the variability in SWBS levels (Wilk's Lambda = .8749, F(3, 117) = 5.57, p = .0013).


The results of this study appear congruent with earlier research (Dillon & Tait, 2000; Storch et al., 2001; Vernacchia et al., 2000) that suggests spirituality may be positively related to an athletes' psychological profile for sport. Several interesting results were found in relation to the sport psychology variables of interest. First, least squares means results showed that four ACSI variables (coping with adversity, freedom from worry, goal setting/mental preparation, and confidence achievement motivation) were found to differ in a meaningful way between the high- and low-spiritual well-being groups (see Table 2). Furthermore, stepwise discriminant analysis further confirmed the influence that confidence and achievement motivation, goal-setting/mental preparation, and freedom from worry had as discriminators between spiritual well-being groups (see Table 3). This result, although congruent with previous studies on religion and athletic performance (e.g., Dillon & Tait, 2000; Storch et al., 2001; Vernacchia et al., 2000), sheds a slightly different light on these relationships. The preponderance of previous data on spirituality in sport was based primarily on the use of religiosity as the primary measure. This investigation emphasized spiritual well-being (a much broader term) as opposed to religiosity (a more narrow term) as the independent variable. The athletes in this study who strongly displayed the characteristics of spiritual well-being (e.g., a strong sense of relatedness or connectedness to others--existential well-being, as well as having a belief in and a relationship with a power higher than the self (God)--religious well-being) arguably presented a "mentally tougher" profile for sport than their peers who had a less powerful display of the spiritual well-being characteristics.

The mechanism behind this finding appears to be congruent with the work of Hawks et al., (1995) who suggests that spiritual well-being may very well act as a buffer against stress (in this case, possibly the stresses of NCAA Division I athletic competition). These "spiritually well" athletes may rely on their spirituality as a powerful coping tool that may enhance their ability to persevere through adversity. Thus, spirituality may act as a "super" coping resource that influences many other coping tools necessary for excellence in sport. However, spirituality may also indirectly affect athletes' primary and secondary appraisals of athletic stress (Hammermeister & Burton, 2001). The ability to utilize this powerful mechanism helps to explain the strong relationships between spiritual well-being and ACSI variables such as freedom from worry, coping with adversity, confidence and achievement motivation, and to a lesser extent goal setting and mental preparation. Furthermore, Hawks et al., (1995) also hypothesized that the "spiritually well" also have a high level of commitment and personal faith in relation to their worldview and belief system. The presence of this commitment and faith also may include having more disciplined mental training habits such as setting goals and preparing for competition more systematically. Furthermore, Hawks and colleagues (1995) also postulate that spiritually-well individuals display other characteristics that are highly desirable for athletes such as (a) trust, (b) honesty, (c) integrity, (d) altruism, (e) compassion, and (f) service. Although these variables were not directly measured in this study, they may well represent an underlying covariate resulting in a more disciplined approach to sport that may have influenced the relationships found in this study.

The results surrounding the association between spiritual well-being and the ACSI variables of interest does raise some interesting questions. For example, does having a poor mental profile for sport performance lead to suppressed feelings of spiritual well-being? Or conversely, is being spiritually "unhealthy" a cause of a poor mental profile for sport? Can "spiritually well" athletes perform closer to their potential than their peers lacking this same attribute? This study does not conclusively answer these questions. However, the strong associations found in this study between spiritual well-being and ability to cope in athletic settings certainly provides a step in the right direction in understanding how spirituality influences sport performance.

Although our findings indicate a strong relationship between spiritual well-being and these indicators of mental toughness, readers should be careful not to assume a causal relationship between these two factors. Additional research is certainly needed to further elucidate and delineate the nature, direction, and meaning of these relationships

Conclusions and Practical Implications

Many college athletes and coaches may be "turned off" by the thought of participating in religiously based interventions designed to enhance spirituality, even if they realize that enhanced spirituality may improve athletic performance. Thus, interventions focusing on spiritual well-being, as opposed to traditional religious involvement, may provide meaningful results with some college athletes and coaches. For example, coaches and athletes may have a much easier time accepting the importance of developing a sense of connectedness to others, finding meaning and purpose in life, fostering well-being, and for cultivating a relationship with a power higher (God) than the self, versus active participation in traditional religious denominations. The pursuit of these aims, which constitutes the core definition of spiritual well-being (Hawks et al., 1995) can easily be accomplished by integrating these concepts into widely accepted team-building exercises. This type of intervention may well result in the important side benefit of improvements in a variety of mental and physical health conditions as well as enhancing one's mental profile for sport.

In order to support the above ideas, further research into the components of spiritual well-being and its role in the overall development of athletes is needed. Specifically, more research is needed establishing the role that spiritual well-being actually plays in sport performance, not just in developing positive mental profiles for sport performance.

Furthermore, the role that religious affiliation plays in the spiritual health of college athletes also remains largely unexplored. A significant amount of both material and emotional support could be provided to both athletes and coaches by regular involvement in local church-related activities. Therefore, given the large number of still unanswered questions surrounding religion and sport, continued research on issues related to religiosity in college athlete populations is highly recommended.

This exploratory study of the role spiritual well-being plays in the athletic coping patterns of college athletes reveals strong associations between spiritual well-being and a variety of athletic coping skills indicators. However, these findings should be taken with a degree of caution. Specifically, inferences regarding the directionality of the relationship between the ACSI variables and spiritual well-being cannot be made due to the cross-sectional design of this study. Future research should explore this promising area for health enhancement with designs that will allow for direct assessment of causality.


The findings of this study show that spiritual well-being is strongly associated with psychological factors related to athletic performance, which further supports the preliminary study by Hammermeister, Anderson, and Ridnour (2003) who found that spiritual well-being may be a missing link for maintaining balance in athletes searching for higher levels of performance. Readers should be cautioned that due to the cross-sectional nature of this study the directionality of these relationships cannot be shown. However, the results of this investigation provide a unique angle for understanding the relationship spiritual well-being has on psychological performance variables among college athletes.


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Heather Ridnour and Jon Hammermeister

Eastern Washington University

Address Correspondence To: Jon Hammermeister, Ph.D., PEB 200, Eastern Washington University, Cheney, WA 99004, Phone: (509) 359-7968, E-mail: jhammermeist@mail.ewu.edu
Table 1. Alpha Coefficients for the Spiritual Well-Being Scale (SWBS)
and the Athletic Coping Skills Inventory (ACSI)

Subscale                                  Alpha

Spiritual Well-being = EWB + RWB          = .92

Coping with Adversity                     = .66
Coachability                              = .69
Confidence and Achievement Motivation.    = .65
Concentration                             = .68
Goal Setting & Mental Preparation         = .73
Peaking Under Pressure                    = .77
Freedom from Worry                        = .70

Table 2. Descriptive Statistics and Least Square Means Results for
High and Low Spiritual Well-Being Athletes on ACSI Variables

                           High SWB       Low SWB
                            (n=54)         (n=67)

ACSI Variables             M      SD      M      SD     F      p

Peaking Under Pressure   12.52   2.65   11.72   2.90   2.90   .09
Coping with Adversity    12.22   4.91   10.67   2.42   4.79   .03
Freedom from Worry       10.83   2.63    9.82   2.69   6.38   .01
Goal Setting(Mental      11.00   3.12    9.54   2.71   8.39   .005
Concentration            12.26   2.29   11.69   2.02   1.61   .21
Confidence Achievement   12.67   2.24   11.51   2.14   8.22   .005
Coachability             13.37   2.39   12.37   2.52   2.95   .09

Table 3. Summary of Stepwise Selection in Discriminant Function
Analysis of Spiritual Well-Being on ACSI Variables

                          Step      Partial
ACSI Variables           Entered   [R.sup.2]    F       p

Confidence Achievement      1        .0660     8.41   .0045

Goal Setting/Mental         2        .0342     4.18   .0432

Freedom from Worry          3        .0301     3.63   .0590
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