A qualitative investigation of self-handicapping in distance runners


Self-handicapping (SH) is a form of self-presentation that allows individuals to protect their self-esteem in the event of failure or enhance their self-esteem via successful performance (Coudevylle et al., 2011). Previous literature characterizes SH into two forms: Claimed SH (excuse making) and Behavioral SH (intentional withholding of effort; Martin & Brawley, 1999). Minimal attention has been paid to SH in sport, and even less so in exercise settings. The purpose of this study was to explore how self-handicapping manifests in distance running. Runners (N = 159) completed an online open-response survey that asked about their experience of Claimed and Behavioral SH by self and others. Claimed and Behavioral SH data were analyzed using thematic analysis. Claimed SH was reported with greater frequency than Behavioral SH. Major themes identified for Claimed SH include: (1) under/over training, (2) injury or illness, (3) poor nutrition practices, (4) lack of sleep/fatigue, (5) personal factors, and (6) external factors. Major themes identified for behavioral SH include: (1) poor preparation, (2) not hydrating or fueling properly, (3) equipment issues, and (4) illness/injury. Several sub-themes were also identified for each form of SH. Results indicated that Behavioral SH can extend beyond previous definitions of effort withholding to include self-sabotaging behaviors. The high frequency of claimed versus behavioral SH suggests that runners are using SH for self-presentation rather than self-sabotage. However, further research into the reasons why runners engage in SH is needed to test this assumption.