From stress to sporting success – a Q&A with Dr James Rumbold

Dr James Rumbold (senior lecturer in sport and exercise psychology) recently published his research paper An experience sampling study of organizational stress processes and future playing time in professional sport in the Journal of Sports Sciences. We’ve been speaking with James to find out how his research came about, its potential groundbreaking significance, and what advice he’d offer to colleagues about to start their own research projects.

Dr James Rumbold

Dr James Rumbold

What was your motivation for carrying out the research project?

My motivations for doing this research came about from my previous personal experiences. I competed to a high level in athletics as a junior athlete and became very interested in how handling pressure seemed to explain why some people perform better at major competitions. In addition, between my undergraduate and postgraduate studies I worked in investment banking for a couple of years and this interest in handling pressure arose again, but in relation to the workplace environment. After reading some research, it became apparent that professional athletes may experience pressure that is based on being part of an organisational environment and not just purely competition pressure to perform.

Were you faced with any challenges in carrying out the research?

Plenty! The research was conducted on site of the professional sport organisation, so lots of travelling was required as we went about collecting data. In addition, we used personal digital assistants (PDAs) to collect daily and weekly questionnaire data, but the challenge of using this equipment was that the PDAs tend to have a battery life of one working week. Therefore, as we collected daily and weekly data over a 5-week period, we had to collect the PDAs from the organisation at the end of each week, download participant data from each of the 40 PDAs, then recharge each one over the weekends before returning them to the participant organisation for further data collection.

Did the findings surprise you?

The main findings didn’t surprise us in too many ways. However, we had the (strange) benefit that our research article got rejected from a couple of high-profile psychology journals, and, as time passed by, we were able to track whether the participants in our study had achieved success in their sport at the professional level five years later. We discovered that the participants better able to cope under stress achieved greater playing time at professional level five years later. This was quite surprising since the way people cope can (but not always) fluctuate over time and change with experience.

How can your research be applied to professional sport? What are the next steps?

The research helps illustrate to researchers and those working in professional sport that we need to monitor how people’s stress levels may fluctuate on a daily and weekly basis throughout key periods of a year. This helps in identifying when (work)loads are high and difficult to cope with, and, subsequently when organisational support initiatives may be useful for combating stress in vocational /occupational environments.

How does your research benefit the work we do here at Hallam?

Given its professional sport organisational context, the research fits well with the University’s ambitions to be a leading applied university. For readers less familiar with research in sport, the topic area of stress and coping within one’s vocation may be useful to helping those colleagues at Hallam consider the ways in which they evaluate, respond and deal with their own experience of workplace stress.

What advice would you give to colleagues currently undertaking research or about to start on a project?

Be honest with yourself about what your current research capabilities are and consider who in your university (or externally) may be able to upskill you to do the research that you want to do. Are there CPD opportunities that you should attend before beginning your research to help with the rigour of your work later down the line? Think carefully about the original contribution that your work could make and ensure that you leave no stone unturned in being as rigorous as you possibly can, because this is what makes your work credible and respected. In developing your research ideas, considering how your work can translate / transfer to other related areas is also very important.

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