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Cognitive Resilience and Psychological Responses across a Collegiate Rowing Season


Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise: November 2017 - Volume 49 - Issue 11 - p 2276–2285
doi: 10.1249/MSS.0000000000001363
Applied Sciences

Introduction Student-athletes face numerous challenges across their competitive season. Although mood states have been previously studied, little is known about adaptations in other psychological responses, specifically cognition. The purpose of this study was to characterize cognitive function, mood, sleep, and stress responses at select time points of a season in collegiate rowers. It was hypothesized that during baseline, typical training, and recovery, athletes would show positive mental health profiles, in contrast to decreases in cognition with increases in negative mood and measurements of stress during peak training.

Methods Male and female Division I rowers (N = 43) and healthy controls (N = 23) were enrolled and assessed at baseline, typical training, peak training, and recovery. At each time point, measures of cognitive performance (Stroop color-naming task), academic and exercise load, perceived cognitive deficits, mood states, sleep, and stress (via self-report and salivary cortisol) were recorded.

Results Repeated-measures ANOVA revealed significant group–time interactions for perceived exercise load, cognitive deficits, mood states, and perceived stress (P < 0.05). For athletes during peak training, the perception of cognitive deficits was positively correlated with mood disturbance (r = 0.54, P < 0.05) and perceived stress (r = 0.55, P < 0.05) and negatively correlated with response accuracy during incongruent Stroop trials (r = −0.38, P < 0.05). Cognitive performance did not change over the course of the season for either group. Cortisol and sleepiness changed over the course of the season but no significant interactions were observed.

Conclusion These results demonstrate that various psychological responses change over the course of a season, but they also highlight adaptation indicative of cognitive resilience among student-athletes.

1Department of Kinesiology, University of Wisconsin-Madison, Madison, WI; and 2Research Service, Department of Veterans Affairs, William S. Middleton Memorial Veterans Hospital, Madison, WI

Address for correspondence: Dane B. Cook, Ph.D., 2000 Observatory Drive, Madison, WI 53706; E-mail:

Submitted for publication December 2016.

Accepted for publication June 2017.

© 2017 American College of Sports Medicine