Mental toughness in elite Kenyan marathon runners

Fullerton, Christopher and Crust, Lee and Thomas, Catherine (2011) Mental toughness in elite Kenyan marathon runners. In: BASES Annual Conference, September 6th-8th 2011, University of Essex.

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Abstract

Background: Kenyan marathon runners are one of the most dominant forces in worldwide sport, attracting considerable research attention across disciplines. While past research has focused upon physiological differences when compared to other groups of runners, little attention has been given to psychological processes involved in the Kenyans’ unparalleled success. No previous studies have explored the subjective experiences of Kenyan runners themselves. Recently researchers have reported key processes involved in developing mental toughness, but these studies have ignored the role of cultural differences.

Purpose: Significant shortcomings are still apparent in the mental toughness literature, notably understanding the process of an athlete’s psychological development. Therefore, the purpose of this study was to explore the meaning and development of mental toughness in Kenyan marathon runners by asking athletes to provide detailed descriptions of their lived experiences.

Methods: In-depth interviews were conducted with four elite Kenyan male marathon runners all of whom had completed at least two city marathons and had a personal best time of between 126 and 140 min. Interviews lasted between 67 and 107 min. Data was transcribed verbatim before three researchers independently content-analysed the transcripts. The research team then discussed their interpretations before agreeing on key themes.

Results: Mental toughness was conceptualised as coping with the challenge of opponents and emerging victorious. Participants reported tough early life experiences: competitive environment, lack of employment opportunities and loss of one or more parent, as influential to their development by instilling a number of attitudes (hard-work ethic, responsibility, patience and independence) which they considered fundamental cornerstones of mental toughness and key to success in the marathon. In contrast to past studies that have reported the importance of intrinsic motivation, these athletes were more fundamentally motivated by extrinsic rewards such as prize-money.

Discussion: Identified themes appear to be consistent with previous mental toughness findings. However, a number of environmental influences apparent in this study provide avenues for future researchers to explore. Specific cultural influences, such as tribal heritage, strongly influenced a competitive mindset with a warrior-like attitude towards defeating their opponent characteristic of a “never-say-die” and “push beyond the limits” attitude.

Item Type:Conference or Workshop Item (Presentation)
Additional Information:Background: Kenyan marathon runners are one of the most dominant forces in worldwide sport, attracting considerable research attention across disciplines. While past research has focused upon physiological differences when compared to other groups of runners, little attention has been given to psychological processes involved in the Kenyans’ unparalleled success. No previous studies have explored the subjective experiences of Kenyan runners themselves. Recently researchers have reported key processes involved in developing mental toughness, but these studies have ignored the role of cultural differences. Purpose: Significant shortcomings are still apparent in the mental toughness literature, notably understanding the process of an athlete’s psychological development. Therefore, the purpose of this study was to explore the meaning and development of mental toughness in Kenyan marathon runners by asking athletes to provide detailed descriptions of their lived experiences. Methods: In-depth interviews were conducted with four elite Kenyan male marathon runners all of whom had completed at least two city marathons and had a personal best time of between 126 and 140 min. Interviews lasted between 67 and 107 min. Data was transcribed verbatim before three researchers independently content-analysed the transcripts. The research team then discussed their interpretations before agreeing on key themes. Results: Mental toughness was conceptualised as coping with the challenge of opponents and emerging victorious. Participants reported tough early life experiences: competitive environment, lack of employment opportunities and loss of one or more parent, as influential to their development by instilling a number of attitudes (hard-work ethic, responsibility, patience and independence) which they considered fundamental cornerstones of mental toughness and key to success in the marathon. In contrast to past studies that have reported the importance of intrinsic motivation, these athletes were more fundamentally motivated by extrinsic rewards such as prize-money. Discussion: Identified themes appear to be consistent with previous mental toughness findings. However, a number of environmental influences apparent in this study provide avenues for future researchers to explore. Specific cultural influences, such as tribal heritage, strongly influenced a competitive mindset with a warrior-like attitude towards defeating their opponent characteristic of a “never-say-die” and “push beyond the limits” attitude.
Keywords:Mental Toughness
Subjects:C Biological Sciences > C800 Psychology
C Biological Sciences > C820 Developmental Psychology
Divisions:College of Social Science > School of Sport and Exercise Science
ID Code:6273
Deposited By: Lee Crust
Deposited On:27 Sep 2012 10:25
Last Modified:12 Jun 2014 07:53

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