Psychology 85
2011. Vol.2, No.2, 85-90
Copyright © 2011 SciRes. DOI:10.4236/psych.2011.22014
Gender Differences in the Relationship between
Competitiveness and Adjustment among Athletically
Identified College Students
Michele M. Carter, Carol S. Weissbrod
Department of Psychology, American University, Washington, DC., USA.
Received November 12th, 2010; revised January 12th, 2011, accepted January 20th, 2011
This study explored the relationship between gender and enjoyment of competition and various indicators of
mental health and adjustment in a sample of college students who report that they highly value athletics. One
hundred and thirty-seven students completed the Sports Anxiety Scale, Multi-perfectionism Scale, State-Trait
Anxiety Inventory (Trait), Beck Depression Inventory, and Perception of Competition Scale. Results indicated
that among women, enjoyment of competition was associated with decreased levels of athletic anxiety and a
positive correlation between positive self-perception when winning and self-and socially oriented perfectionism,
and between negative perception when losing and self-and socially oriented perfectionism. Among males, en-
joyment of competition was related to decreased levels of general anxiety and depression, but not athletic anxi-
ety. Furthermore, among men there was a positive correlation between enjoying competition and self-oriented
perfectionism and between negative self-perception when losing and socially-oriented perfectionism. These data
indicate gender differentially impacts the benefit of valuing athletics on measures of athletic anxiety and general
measures of psychological well being.
Keywords: Gender Differences, Athletic Identification, Competitiveness, Adjustment
Interest in college students’ health and activity are important
topics as they relate to well-being and adjustment (Montgomery
& Côté, 2003). One activity that now holds value for many
students is athletics. Although interest in athletics has histori-
cally involved men more than women, since Title IX, an in-
creasing number of women have valued athletics in their lives
(Gill, 2001). Researchers have wondered about the potential
health and performance outcomes for older adolescents who
value athletics and/or compete (Carodine, Almond, & Gratto,
2001; Fletcher, Benshoff, & Richburg, 2003; Weiss, 2004).
Steiner and colleagues (2000), for example, found evidence of
increased mental health benefits (as measured by a general
measure of psychological health) among high school students.
Further, Melendez (2006) found that athletic participation was
related to academic and institutional adjustment is a sample of
college students. The former, however, did not examine gender
differences and neither study assessed the impact of enjoying
competition on psychological functioning. We address these
issues by assessing men’s and women’s enjoyment of competi-
tion, sport-specific and general anxiety, perfectionism and de-
pression in a sample of students who report that athletics is
important to them. Particularly since it has been found that
whether an individual succeeds or fails at activities important to
them can produce significant variation in self esteem (Crocker,
Sommers, & Luhtanen, 2002; Crocker, Karpinski, Quinn, &
Chase, 2003).
Arnett (2000) described the period of time between the ages
of 18 and 25 as a period of “emerging adulthood,” during which
students engage in extended self exploration. During this period,
it is often the case that students also experience anxiety as they
explore various features of themselves and are evaluated in
their various pursuits Arnett, 2007). Of interest in this study are
factors that could influence whether athletic interest contributes
to personal adjustment in college. When athletic interest in-
volves individual competitiveness, for example, it has been
found that some aspects of competitiveness, (e.g., when indi-
viduals focus on enjoyment and task mastery) can be facilita-
tive of identity development and adjustment (Ryckman, Ham-
mer, Kaczor, & Gold, 1996). Personal development competitive
attitude does not by definition exclude the desire to win, but
operates in contrast to “hypercompetitiveness,” or a win-at-all
cost attitude that has been associated with neuroticism and poor
adjustment (Ryckman, Libby, van den Borne, Gold, & Lindner,
1997; Ryckman, Thornton, & Butler, 1994). In addition to
competitiveness, factors such as gender and concern about
evaluation issues (i.e., perfectionism) may be related to adjust-
ment among students who value athletics.
Researchers have consistently reported that participating in
sports has been more important to boys than to girls in child-
hood (Eccles, Wigfield, Harold, & Blumenfeld, 1993; Fredricks
& Eccles, 2005; Wigfield, Eccles, Yoon, Harold, Arbreton,
Freedman-Doan, & Blumenfeld, 1997) and adolescence (Eccles
& Harold, 1991). Yet, it has been shown that women report
more competitive anxiety than men (Lorimer, 2006; Wong, Lox,
& Clark, 1993) and often underestimate their abilities in com-
petitive situations (Corbin, 1981). Explored in the current study
is the issue of whether male and female college students who
value athletics show different associations between athletic
interest and adjustment.
Additionally, there is little information addressing how gen-
der may differentially influence the relationship between per-
fectionistic attitudes and psychological adjustment. In the per-
fectionism literature, perfectionistic attitudes are described as
either self or socially oriented. Self oriented perfectionism in-
volves setting stringent self standards and evaluations to attain
perfection; such individuals work hard to achieve goals. In
contrast, socially oriented perfectionism involves individuals’
perceived need to meet standards set by others and has strong
associations with maladjustment and fear of negative evaluation
(Blankstein & Dunkley, 2002; Flett & Hewitt, 2002a, 2002b;
Hewitt & Flett, 1991). Understanding whether perfectionism
type and intensity is related to adjustment measures could assist
in the potential planning of interventions to enhance students’
overall well being. It is possible that a specific type of perfec-
tionism may be more associated with adjustment among stu-
dents interested in athletics.
Given that many research findings involve data collected
more than a decade ago (ryckman et al., 1997, 1994; Wigfield
et al., 1997), and that college aged women have increased their
interest in athletics (Gill, 2001), the current study sought to
address whether or not liking competition in college students
who identify athletics as highly important to them, is associated
with indicators of perfectionism, anxiety, and depression and
whether these associations differ in men and women. As de-
pression and anxiety are among the most commonly reported
psychological concerns among college students (18% for de-
pression and 14% for anxiety) measurement of these concepts
represents a reasonable assessment of psychological function-
ing (American College Health Association/National College
Health Assessment web summary, 2007).
This study was reviewed and received approval by the De-
partment of Psychology Human Subjects Committee. All par-
ticipants were provided written informed consent. The initial
sample consisted of 349 undergraduate students attending a
mid-sized Mid-Atlantic university. This sample was used to
explore the psychometric properties of the Perception of Com-
petition Scale (PCS). The final sample used to explore the
questions addressed in this study consisted of 137 undergradu-
ate students who indicated that athletics was important to them
on the demographics questionnaire. Participants who rated the
importance of athletics as either a 4 or 5, on a 5 point Likert
scale were selected as participants in this study.
General Information Questionnaire
This measure inquired about basic demographic information
(i.e. age, sex, year in school and ethnicity) as well as how im-
portant athletics is to the participants. Additional measures
selected for this study were chosen to capture the principle
concepts of interest. That is, sports anxiety and its components,
general measures of pathology, and a measure to help quantify
the importance of sports and competition to participants.
Sport Anxiety Scale (SAS)
The SAS was used to measure sport specific anxiety. This
21-item scale measures somatic anxiety, worry and concentra-
tion disruption (Smith, Smoll, & Schutz, 1990). The SAS has
demonstrated a high degree of internal consistency (Cronbach’s
alpha coefficients = .88 for somatic anxiety, 0.82 for worry, and
0.74 for concentration disruption. As suggested by Smith,
Cumming and Smoll (2006), we deleted two items from the
original Concentration Disruption subscale, and one from the
Somatic subscale as these items were found to cross-load in
factor analytic studies of the SAS. Using the recommended
scoring in the current study, Cronbach’s alpha was 0.92 for
somatic anxiety, 0.90 for worry and 0.80 for concentration dis-
Multidimensional Perfectionism Scale (MPS)
The MPS is a 45-item questionnaire consisting of three sub-
scales: self-oriented perfectionism (a tendency to strive for
perfectionism for self-related motives), socially prescribed
perfectionism (placing importance on being perfect to please
others) and other-oriented perfectionism (setting unrealistically
high standards for others). As the latter is unrelated to the pur-
pose of this study, it was removed from the scale. The MPS is
rated on a seven point Likert scale with higher scores indicating
higher levels of perfectionism (Hewitt and Flett, 1991; Smith et
al., 2006). The internal consistencies for this scale are typically
high, ranging from 0.86 to 0.88 for self-oriented perfectionism,
and 0.81 to 0.97 for socially prescribed perfectionism. The
internal consistencies for this sample were .88 for self-oriented
perfectionism and 0.85 for socially oriented perfectionism.
State-Trait Anxiety Inventory–Trait Version (STAI-T)
The STAI-T consists of 20 items was designed to assess par-
ticipants’ trait or ‘general’ anxiety. Each item is rated from 1
(almost never) to 4 (almost always) for how often each state-
ment applies to them in general. The average score on this
measure for a college population is approximately 38 with an
approximate standard deviation of 9. This measure also has
high internal consistency (0.91) in college student samples
(Knight et al., 1983). Internal consistency for the trait scale for
this sample was Cronbach’s α = .90.
Beck Depression Inventory (BDI)
The BDI is a 21-item questionnaire used to provide informa-
tion regarding subjects’ level of depressive symptoms during
the past week (Beck & Steer 1987). Each item is rated from 0 to
3, with higher scores reflecting greater depressive symptoma-
tology. The internal consistency coefficient has been reported
as 0.81 among non-psychiatric populations (Beck, Steer &
Garbin, 1988). Internal consistency for the BDI in this sample
was Cronbach’s α = .87.
Perception of Competition Scale (PCS)
The PCS is a 38-item questionnaire developed for this study.
The items were designed to assess how much participants enjoy
competition, and the positive and negative perceived impact of
winning and losing. While this scale is similar to previous
scales (e.g., Ryckman et al., 1996), earlier scales did not in-
clude assessment of the consequences of winning and losing.
Each item was rated from 1 to 5. As the PCS was developed for
this study, we first subjected this new scale to an Exploratory
Factor Analysis (EFA) with oblique rotation. The results of the
EFA as determined by eigenvalues (in descending order: 7.95,
5.18, 2.81, 1.77), greater than 1 and an examination of the scree
plot, revealed the presence of four factors. However, the inter-
nal consistency for one of the factors was less than optimal (α
= .54) and this factor was consequently removed from consid-
eration. Loadings of the variables on each factor are presented
in Table 1. Communalities were relatively high. With a cut of
0.40, 16 of the CPQ items were retained. The three extracted
factors can be described as enjoying competition, positive
self-perception when winning, and negative self perception
when losing, respectively. Subsequent analyses involve only
these three factors of the PCS.
Participants individually completed the packet of self-report
measures. Each packet contained the measures in a pre-deter-
mined random order, with instructions to complete the meas-
ures in the order in which they were presented. As incentive for
participation, each person who completed the packet of ques-
tionnaires was entered into a drawing for two randomly
awarded monetary honoraria.
Demographic Informa tion
As indicated in Table 2, the sample can best be described as
approximately 19 years of age, freshman in college, and pri-
marily Caucasian (approximately 85%) followed by Hispanic
(approximately 3%). The sample also scored within normal
limits for a college sample on all instruments.
Gender Differences
To investigate gender differences, the means on each of the
dependent variables were compared between genders (see Ta-
ble 3). A two way (gender: female or male) MANOVA indi-
cated no gender differences on any of the measures (F(10, 106) =
1.46, p = .16). However, to examine the interrelationship be-
tween the dependent variables by gender, we conducted a
Pearson’s correlation. As indicated in Table 4, among the
women students, there was a significant negative correlation
between enjoying competition and worry, somatic anxiety and
concentration disruption on the SAS. Men evidenced a signify-
cant negative correlation between enjoying competition and
concentration disruption on the SAS, general anxiety, and de-
pression; for men, enjoying competition was also positively
associated with self-oriented perfectionism. Positive self per-
ceptions after winning were positively correlated with self-
oriented perfectionism for men and women and with socially-
oriented perfectionism only for women. As expected, negative
self perceptions after losing were positively correlated for both
men and women with general anxiety, depression, socially-
oriented perfectionism and worry on the SAS. Negative self
perceptions after losing were also positively associated with
women’s self-oriented perfectionism, somatic anxiety, and
concentration disruption.
Self-oriented perfectionism was positively correlated with
depression but not trait anxiety for both groups. Socially-oriented
perfectionism, however, was associated with trait anxiety and
depression. Furthermore, self-oriented perfectionism was asso-
ciated with athletic worry among males, but not females. So-
cially-oriented perfectionism was positively correlated with
Table 1.
PCS Loadings of all items after principal axis factor analysis with vari-
max rotation.
Item 1 2 3
1. I like competition 0.89 0.03 –0.04
2. I prepare thoroughly prior to competition 0.33 0.070.34
3. I have been courteous to my competitors –0.07 –0.00–0.16
4. If I lose, I will think less of myself 0.01 0.220.73
5. If I win, I will think more of myself 0.02
0.75 0.09
6. I am negative towards others when they win 0.02 0.090.24
7. It may take a few days for me to recover after
a loss –0.01 0.130.27
8. I tend to withdraw from others following a loss 0.01 0.030.29
9. I have praised others when they performed well 0.00 0.030.10
10. I handle losing as well as winning –0.09 –0.17–0.26
11. I often feel nervous before competitions –0.12 0.310.09
12. I am a competitive individual 0.79 0.18 0.05
13. I get satisfaction from competing with others 0.82 0.16 0.03
14. I find competitive situations unpleasant 0.87 –0.02 –0.09
15. I perform my best when I am under pressure 0.27 0.070.18
16. I am confident of doing well and showing my
ability 0.36 0.11–0.39
17. I’m not above cheating to win –0.01 0.070.08
18. I take care not to injure opponents –0.08 –0.070.12
19. I enjoy competing against an opponent 0.89 0.06 –0.00
20. I often try to out perform others 0.51 0.38 0.15
21. When I don’t win, I have told myself that I am
a failure –0.08 0.110.75
22. I try to avoid competing with others 0.86 0.00 –0.05
23. I have bounced back quickly from competitive
setbacks 0.05 0.18–0.26
24. If I lose, others will think less of me –0.10 0.190.72
25. I don’t like competing against other people 0.90 0.02 –0.07
26. If I win others will think more of me 0.06 0.76 0.22
27. I do not control my emotions well in
competitive situations –0.05 –0.060.05
28. While competing, I am unaware of how my
emotions are affecting me –0.04 0.020.05
29. I often “choke” under pressure –0.37 0.110.16
30. I take reasonable risks to succeed 0.36 0.09–0.03
31. I have acted unprofessionally to win 0.02 0.050.06
32. I compete to measure myself against my
personal standards 0.32 0.23 0.15
33. I dread competing against other People 0.79 –0.02 –0.06
34. I have had dreams about winning 0.31 0.240.08
35. I have failed to perform in the zone –0.13 –0.030.20
36. Nothing feels better than winning an important
competition 0.35 0.58 0.14
37. When I win, I have told myself that I am a
success 0.11 0.74 0.02
38. I don’t mind losing as long as I perform well –0.03 0.06–0.40
Table 2.
Participant demographic i n formation.
Female Male
X (sd) X (sd)
Age 19.13 (2.80) 19.32 (1.87)
Education N % N %
Freshman 45 51.7 23 46.0
Sophomore 27 31.0 19 38.0
Junior 9 10.3 5 10.0
Senior 5 5.7 3 6.0
Ethnicity N % N %
Caucasian 74 85.1 43 86.0
Hispanic 3 1.1 1 2.0
Asian 0 1.1 3 6.0
African-American 1 1.1 1 2.0
Other 9 10.3 2 4.0
Table 3.
Mean scores by gender.
Females Males
Mean (sd) Mean (sd)
PCScomp 36.50 (7.18) 37.98 (5.44)
PCSpos 15.10 (2.77) 14.94 (2.82)
PCSneg 7.66 (2.95) 7.36 (2.40)
STAI-T 40.98 (9.29) 37.82 (9.67)
BDI 10.42 (8.16) 8.75 (8.03)
Selfop 73.15 (15.30) 68.57 (13.36)
Socialop 50.54 (13.79) 50.93 (9.40)
SAS-somat 14.67 (5.12) 13.25 (4.83)
SAS-worry 16.90 (4.84) 15.16 (4.11)
SAS concent 4.80 (1.83) 4.84 (1.59)
somatic, worry and concentration disruption for women.
Our findings suggest that college aged men and women in
the current era who identify athletics as important to them differ
in how enjoyment of competition is related to adjustment. In
our sample, it appears that enjoyment of competition is primar-
ily associated with decreased athletic somatic anxiety, worry,
and concentration disruption among women, while it was asso-
ciated with a decrease in general trait anxiety, depression, and
concentration disruption among males. It is possible that for
males, competition decreases general pathology, perhaps by
providing them with an acceptable outlet to express negative
emotions, a tendency that has been previously reported in col-
lege aged men (Flynn, Hollenstein, & Mackey, 2010). There-
fore, liking competition may actually be a protective factor for
athletically identified college men. Interestingly, this was not
the case for women. It may be that for athletically identified
women, the benefit of enjoying competition is limited specifi-
cally to sports-related worry and somatic anxiety. Lorimer
(2006), for example, found that while concern about self pres-
entation was related to all athletes’ competitive anxiety, the
relationship was stronger for women. It may also be that
women have alternative outlets for the expression of negative
emotions and, therefore, are less generally influenced by the
benefit of sports participation. In either case, the meaning of
these findings deserves further exploration. As one might ex-
pect, enjoying competition was associated with decreased con-
centration disruption for both men and women and at the same
relative strength of correlation.
An additional interesting gender difference that emerged was
that among men, there was a positive association between en-
joying competition and self-oriented perfectionism and between
negative self-perception when losing and socially-oriented per-
fectionism. Among women, however, there was a positive cor-
relation between positive self-perception when winning and
self- and socially oriented perfectionism, as well as a positive
correlation between negative self-perception when losing and
self- and socially-oriented perfectionism. This may suggest that
for men, enjoying competition is consistent with a self oriented
mastery concern (self oriented perfectionism). Among women,
it suggests that positive self-perception after winning is associ-
ated with a tendency towards both self-oriented mastery con-
cerns (self oriented perfectionism) and the concern about oth-
ers’ evaluation of them (socially oriented perfectionism). These
results are consistent with research findings that describe the
pressure that women feel when they participate in activities
(often male stereotyped) in which they have to prove them-
selves (Corbin, 1981; Heilman & Haynes, 2005; Lorimer, 2006;
Parker & Griffin, 2002). Of some interest, males exhibited the
same level of correlation between positive self-perception when
winning and self-oriented perfectionism, although the correla-
tion did not reach significance (likely due to a smaller sample
of males in the current study). Males and females were both
concerned about the perception of others when they reported a
negative self-perception of losing, indicating that under condi-
tions of failure, both men and women have a tendency to be
concerned about what others think of them, supporting findings
from research in other achievement domains about the rela-
tionship of success and failure to self esteem (Crocker et al.,
2002, 2003).
It should be noted that the data is largely correlational and an
experimental design would help to determine the direction of
any causal relationship that exists. Furthermore, although par-
ticipants were selected because they indicated that athletics was
important to them, we did not obtain information regarding
actual athletic membership or compare them to students not
interested in athletics. It may be that those in this study were
members of collegiate teams, club teams, or former high school
athletes. The results could potentially be different depending on
one’s actual level of sports participation or interest in athletics.
Additionally, the mechanism accounting for the apparent bene-
fit of athletic identification on psychological adjustment re-
mains unknown. It may be that enjoying competition increases
one’s sense of self-efficacy which, in turn, increases one’s abil-
ity to manage the stress that is typically associated with ele-
vated levels of anxiety and deression. It may also be that p
Table 4.
Correlations by gender.
2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10
1. PCScomp 0.35**
–0.34* 0.05
2. PCSpos ---- 0.39**
0.17 –0.00
0.31* 0.03
3. PCSneg ---- ---- 0.48**
0.22 0.62**
4. STAI-T ---- ---- ---- 0.61**
5. BDI ---- ---- ---- ---- 0.44**
0.33* 0.18
6. selfp ---- ---- ---- ---- ---- 0.66**
0.47** –0.02
7. socialp ---- ---- ---- ---- ---- ---- 0.25*
0.19 0.33**
8. somatic ---- ---- ---- ---- ---- ---- ---- 0.62**
0.37** 0.38**
9. worry ---- ---- ---- ---- ---- ---- ---- ---- 0.46**
10. concentrat ---- ---- ---- ---- ---- ---- ---- ---- ----
participation in athletics and athletic identification increases
available social support which helps to improve psychological
adjustment (Csikszentmihalyi, 1982). Such issues will need to
be explored in future studies. Nonetheless, the results from this
study clearly suggest that men and women who value athletics
are differentially impacted by their enjoyment of competition,
although there was some positive benefit for both groups. These
results, if supported in future research, suggests that promoting
athletic participation and enjoyment will produce psychological
benefits in the future. It may be that encouraging sports partici-
pation in school settings, community organizations, or through
parental involvement teaches a specific set of coping skills (e.g.,
coping with adversity) that can have a lasting impact on the
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