Background: Athletes who play contact sports are regularly exposed to pain, yet manage to perform complex tasks without significant decrement. Limited research has suggested that superior pain tolerance in contact athletes may be important in this context and this may be altered via experience of pain. Other psychological variables such as challenge states, pain bothersomeness and coping style may also influence skill execution during pain. Methods: Forty experienced contact athletes (>3 years experience), 40 novice contact athletes (<6 months experience) and 40 non-contact athletes performed a motor task both in pain and without pain. During the pain condition, pressure pain was induced and half of each group were given challenge instructions and the other half threat based instructions. Measures of cognitive appraisal, heart rate variability, pain bothersomeness, tolerance and intensity and coping styles were taken. Results: Contact athletes, regardless of experience, performed better during pain compared to the non-contact athletes, this relationship was mediated by pain tolerance and physical bothersomeness. During the threat condition, experience of contact sports moderated performance. Contact athletes were challenged by the pain, regardless of the instructions given, had higher direct coping and found pain less psychologically bothersome. Experienced contact athletes had higher pain tolerance and reported pain as less intense than the other groups. Conclusions: Athletes who play contact sports may have better coping and adjustment to experimental pain, especially during threatening conditions. Performance during experimental pain is mediated by pain tolerance and physical pain bothersomeness. Significance: Athletes with even relatively small amounts of contact sport experience perform better during experimental pain than athletes who play non-contact sports. Experienced contact athletes had higher levels of direct coping and were more challenged and less threatened by pain than non-contact athletes.