How Psychological Interventions and Skills can Improve Performance through the Production of Self-Confidence, Motivation and Facilitative Anxiety and Arousal in Athletes
This paper examines and analyses psychological interventions and skills that are being utilised by competitive athletes in today’s world. It reviewed the past and present literature on the role of imagery, pre-performance routines, goal-setting and self-talk. The aim was to analyse the literature in relation to their ability to improve overall athletic performance. With the ever expanding world of psychology and the increasing competition within all sports, athletes are attempting to seek an advantage wherever possible and it is now believed various psychological methods and interventions can help achieve this.
In theory, all interventions or skills could have some positive effect on overall athletic performance but this paper applies the theoretical knowledge to a real life athletic situation. The paper investigates the effect of these psychological interventions on an injured athlete and their contribution to his psychological mood after injury, his rehabilitation and his return to competitive sport. If all processes were engaged in and the athlete bought in to each process with a positive mind set, the athlete would return to sport and return to his previous pre-injury level of performance with no psychological worry of re-injury.
Therefore the main focus of the paper was to examine the academic literature on the four psychological skills and interventions in relation to their effect on overall athletic performance within a competitive sport and consequently apply the knowledge gained from the literature to an athlete looking to return from injury and continue to improve performance on his return to competitive sport.
TABLE OF CONTENTS
CHAPTER 1 LITERATURE REVIEW
1.3 Pre-Performance Routines
CHAPTER 2 STRATEGY
2.3 Rehabilitation Phase
2.4 Return to Sport
Sport has become one of the most competitive environments in modern day life which results in an ever changing approach from both athlete and coach. One of the changes or alterations from sport in the past century comes in the form of psychology. The world of psychology is being exploited by all athletes, competing at any level, in an attempt to seek a competitive advantage. This exploitation of psychology has led to the formation and research of sport psychology. Sport psychology is a science in which the principles of psychology are applied within an exercise or sport setting and are often applied to enhance performance (Cox, 2002)
This paper will investigate the world of sport psychology and how performance can be achieved and improved through the correct use and application of the literature within this wide domain. Specifically it will focus on psychological and emotional attributes such as; motivation, self-confidence and arousal in opposition to anxiety. Some athletes may suffer from a lack of motivation or perhaps be motivated entirely by the unstable environment around them, a deficiency in self-confidence, and anxiety whereas others will view similar situations as arousing and thrive in that situation. The following paper addresses these issues using key sport psychological skills. The key concept is that athletic performance can be influenced by psychological and emotional factors that can be learned and altered effectively.
Within this paper it will focus on the athlete as opposed to focusing on the parent or coach within the sporting environment. The term athlete relates to any man or woman who takes part in sport that involves physical strength, speed or endurance, at a competitive level (En.wikipedia.org, 2017). In the literature review it won’t focus on any one athlete, in fact it will be quite a generic approach in terms of the role the psychological skills can play. The strategy will then specifically focus on one athlete and follow their journey from where they are currently to where they strive to be, applying the psychological skills to aid in the process. Also for clarification, the paper focuses on adults as opposed to kids within the competitive sporting environment. It attends to the current and past sport psychological literature with some proposals for future research within the sport psychology domain.
The sport psychological skills that will be discussed below are self-talk, goal-setting, pre-performance routines and imagery. Individually they all have a role to play in the enhancement of performance from an athletic perspective (Matthews, 2013), combined they may transform a mediocre athlete in to a high achieving, successful athlete, with success being determined by an improvement in performance. A combination of self-talk, imagery and goal-setting was seen to be effective in enhancing athletes’ competitive performance when compared with a control group who did not indulge in any of these three skills (Thelwell & Greenless, 2003). However, the common denominator between all skills enhancing performance may come in the form of positivity as the fastest man in the world once said ‘I won because I stopped worrying about my start’ (Bridges and Tangents, 2017). A positive attitude in relation to his performance helped him achieve unprecedented success and become the fastest man in history. All the sport psychological skills discussed will be deliberated with a positive, rather than negative, outlook. Each skill will be critically analysed in terms of its accreditation to be regarded as an athletic performance enhancing skill. The objectives of this paper will be to truly analyse the worthiness of applying these skills for an athlete striving to improve athletic performance. Whether correct understanding and application can have an impact on the athlete’s athletic performance or does it require more? Either from within the athlete or from the environment surrounding him or her. First I will critically review the literature available today and build more of an understanding for the effects of the various sport psychology skills.
CHAPTER 1: LITERATURE REVIEW
Coaches often use verbal persuasion to build self-confidence in an athlete, however an intervention such as; self-talk allows the athlete to control their own confidence levels by comprising statements addressed to oneself and not to others (Hardy, 2006). Self-talk can comprise of many different components and take the form of one or more performance enhancing methods. Firstly, the content of self-talk can be either positive or negative (Hardy et al., 2001) in nature. Secondly, it consists of statement or verbalisations addressed to oneself that are multidimensional and serve at least two functions; instructional or motivational (Hardy, 2006).
Positive self-talk can build and develop self-confidence through the thoughts and feelings leading to the belief that the athlete is able and competent to perform a specific task effectively and to the best of their ability (Cox, 2002)As Hays et al. (2009) demonstrate that one of the most consistent findings in the high performance or achievement literature is the correlation between self-confidence and successful sporting performance. Therefore as self-confidence is about believing in your own ability, interventions that promote positive thinking such as the use of positive statements can be very effective in promoting confidence and hence improve performance on a consistent basis. With positive self-talk improving performance through building self-efficacy, it is assumed negative self-talk would have a detrimental effect to performance through the lowering or abolishment of self-confidence. However, Hardy et al. (2001) conducted a study in to the effect of negative self-talk and found it to be motivational in nature to some athletes.
Successful performance not only requires physical capabilities and talent, athletes have also acknowledged the importance of psychological strength also with elite and successful athletes accrediting motivation in sport as highly important (Vallerand & Losier, 1999). Consequently motivational self-talk was found to increase self-confidence and reduce cognitive anxiety which in turn enhanced performance (Hatzigeorgiadis et al., 2009). However, the levels of anxiety experienced by the athletes during the study may be viewed and perceived as negative anxiety and damaging to performance to a less established or non-elite athlete. One athlete may use it as arousal to better their performance while another may suffer from anxious thoughts and tendencies resulting in a reduced performance (Matthews, 2013).
The effects of instructional self-talk on performance are essentially viewed to be positive with numerous studies finding an improvement in performance when instructional self-talk is applied and is particularly affective when it focuses on fine motor skills rather than a general overall endurance performance (Theodorakis et al., 2000). It was found that instructional self-talk can counteract the feelings of anxiety and low self-confidence but it is relatively inadequate for some athletes and their training methods, such as an endurance three minute sit up or a leg extension strength task (Theodorakis et al., 2000).
Another psychological intervention viewed to enhance performance is goal-setting. Similarly to self-talk there are limitations and necessities for the intervention to prove successful in improving performance. The first and most important factor of any goal to enhance performance is that the goal must be specific and challenging rather than a vague or non-challenging goal (Kingston & Hardy, 1997; Locke et al., 1981). Essentially goal setting is a theory of motivation that invigorates athletes to achieve more or become more productive (Locke & Latham, 1985). However, by themselves goals do not enhance performance through motivation, it is the properties of the goal such as specificity and difficulty that do (Schunk, 2003). As motivation will increase the athlete’s performance through striving for improvements, it is the achievement of one’s goals that can also improve performance as success increases self-efficacy (Sellars, 2002)
Often athletes follow the S.M.A.R.T goal setting construct in order to maintain the motivational aspect of each goal in an attempt to improve performance (Botell et al., 2009). The characteristics of a S.M.A.R.T goal are each goal must be specific as to measure them, measurable in nature, challenging but achievable, relevant to the athlete and be placed under a time schedule (Botell et al., 2009). Therefore the key to the process of improving performance is that the goals provide a sufficient challenge to motivate the athlete in to working to achieve the goal. It is with this motivational climate in place that an athlete will perceive lower levels of performance anxiety and hence improve performance as anxiety can decrease performance, in contrast to a control group where no motivational climate was established or attained (Smith et al., 2007).
Nevertheless, the athlete must feel competent and experience success along the route to the main objective to keep motivation levels high and that is where the three basic types of goals come into affect, they are, outcome goals, performance goals and process goals (Cox, 2002, Cabral and Crisfield, 2003). Kingston & Hardy (1997) investigated the contrast between process goals and performance goals against a control group and found that both improved performance yet process goals were superior to performance goals in reducing anxiety. Consequently, both groups improved performance to a similar degree which opens the debate to the impact anxiety has on performance. Research supports the use of a multiple goal strategy in enhancing performance in terms of psychological development as well as athletic performance (Cox, 2002).
1.3 Pre-Performance Routines
Another psychological skill or intervention to be analysed under its performance enhancing properties is the use of Pre-Performance routines. Developing and enhancing an athlete’s preparation for performance has been seen as a way of ultimately improving performance level and consistency (Cotterill, 2010). Marlow et al. (1998) also found that if an athlete is to find consistently high levels of performance, it is important that he/she is able to create a stable environment in which to compete.
Within this environment it is through the alleviation of performance-induced anxiety that athlete’s will feel the benefit of a Pre-Performance routine, as all participants improved performance after implementing a Pre-Performance routine under pressure sporting situations (Mesagno et al., 2008). The pre-performance routines focus psychological functions away from potentially threatening stimuli or thoughts (Mesagno et al., 2008). It is viewed as planning their own success by focusing on things they can control rather than the uncontrollable conditions that they may be faced with (Cabral and Crisfield, 2003).
Perhaps we are forgetting the true importance of physical practice amidst all these psychological interventions as neither combined performance nor mental practice alone was as effective as physical performance on enhancing overall performance (Herd et al., 1991). A key component of pre-performance routines is that they always remain the same, under the different circumstances faced (Foster et al., 2006), giving the athlete confidence as a result.
Nevertheless, Jackson (2003) analysed pre-performance routines in the 1999 Rugby World Cup and found a correlation between longer concentration levels, hence longer routines, and the difficulty of the task perceived at that time. Whilst Cox (2002) stating the consistency of a routine has been validated by research, however Jackson’s (2003) findings contradict this common belief and the idea of performance being enhanced through increasing the consistency of a routine lacks sound empirical support (Jackson, 2003).
The last and perhaps the most exploited psychological intervention to be analysed is the use of Imagery to enhance performance. Imagery has been defined as creating or recreating an experience in one’s mind through use of all the senses (Vealey & Greenleaf, 2001). The performance enhancing effects of imagery were examined by Callow et al. (2006) in terms of dynamic imagery and static imagery. Dynamic imagery increases the vividness of an image which will perhaps provide information that may be related to performance accomplishments and hence providing the athlete with the strongest source of self-efficacy (Callow et al., 2006). With dynamic imagery providing a more vivid image in one’s mind it is said to be an important factor in the imagery-performance relationship (Callow et al., 2006).
There is also internal imagery, first person perspective, and external imagery, third person perspective (White & Hardy, 1995). It was shown that internal imagery use was not beneficial for the learning and performance of a complex movement skill whilst the external imagery intervention improved the early learning and retention of a specific skill (White & Hardy, 1995). Imagery can also be a facilitative factor in terms of anxiety with athletes reporting less cognitive and somatic anxiety after an imagery based intervention which utilised challenging rather than threatening situations (Hale & Whitehouse, 1998). However, it is athlete sensitive as one must understand the athlete’s perception of anxiety to fully diagnose the affects anxiety has on performance (Hale & Whitehouse, 1998).
Imagery may also improve rehabilitation as well as having performance enhancing properties. Jackson et al. (2001) found imagery to provoke a beneficial effect on the rehabilitation process for neurological patients but it is still an under researched area in determining what is the best way to implement the psychological intervention.
Imagery can undoubtedly improve performance by helping athletes recreate sensations associated with good performance and therefore produce self-belief and self-confidence. However, today’s research fails to address whether cognitive style, duration of imagery rehearsal or multiple imagery use at one time influence imagery’s effectiveness to improve performance (Sellars, 2002; Martin et al., 1999).
CHAPTER 2: PROPOSED STRATEGY
An athlete approached me asking for advice on the use of psychological interventions as a mode of enhancing overall performance. For clarification we will call the athlete my client. My client is in a rehabilitation phase from a long-term injury he suffered playing his sport, soccer. He plays with his local club team who are one of the best teams in the county and are regularly challenging for trophies. He suffered an anterior cruciate ligament injury playing for his club and has spent over a year trying to make his comeback. He has had a few setbacks and is struggling to believe he will return to competitive sport at all. His physical rehabilitation training is improving but he feels he is missing something, yet he does not know entirely what it is. He has come to myself for some guidance on the theory and application of psychological interventions to see if this will aid him in his recovery with his main focus on improving performance through returning to sport. At this stage my client just wants to return to competitive sport and feel competent doing so. We agreed on a goal of breaking back in to his club side and being an instrumental figure in their league and cup runs come the end of the season and eventually becoming a better player.
The first part of the protocol was to perform a needs analysis on my client at this present moment. The needs analysis incorporated the following; his performance, his knowledge of performance enhancing psychological interventions, his physiological response to injury and his psychological response to injury.
My client was one of his team’s better players before his serious injury and was never short in self-confidence due to his physiological ability. Now he has doubts and disbelief over his ability and about his return to competitive soccer with low levels of self-esteem and negative thoughts circulating around his mind. He fears he is now physically behind his peers and competitors. However, he has never engaged in psychological skills or interventions nor does he have any beliefs or understandings regarding them which could be of benefit to both myself and my client. It could also be non-beneficial if not detrimental if he does not fully engage with them. He is faced with many expectancies regarding his return to play and his performance once he returns due to his status amongst teammates, coaches, family and friends of being a talented soccer player. All of which must be addressed if my client is to achieve his goal this season.
My client needs to feel he is not the first person to experience a serious injury and that in fact seventeen million sports related injuries were reported in 1997 in the United States alone (Cupal, 1998). Of course, all of these seventeen million people did not give up or end their sporting careers due to their injury. However, before moving on to dealing with the injury it is important to address issues that are associated with injury to ensure re-injury does not occur or that it has a minimal chance of reoccurring. Other than the well documented physiological factors, Davis (1991) found many psychosocial factors involved with the recurrence of injuries such as financial distress, divorce, changes in personal habits, marriage, feelings of depression or life dissatisfaction. Avoiding these stressful situations when possible or even interpreting these situations alternatively and thus in a more positive light may result in enhanced psychological but also physical health (Johnson et al., 2005). Consequently anxiety is a negative emotion we experience in response to how we interpret and evaluate an environmental situation that is out of our control (Cox, 2002) and as with all emotions it has an effect on performance. It has been hypothesised that athletes with high competitive anxiety, under stressful conditions, will demonstrate greater muscle tension and distractibility and hence be more liable to injury (Maddison & Prapavessis, 2005). Therefore, we must reduce as much negative anxiety as possible from my client’s mind through the various psychological interventions to reduce the possibility of re-injury upon return. However, it is increases in cognitive state anxiety (worry) that lead to a decrement in performance and increases in somatic state anxiety (physical activation) improve performance up until an optimal level before performance decreases thereafter (Weinberg & Gould, 4th Ed.). Consequently, we must help my client to find an optimal mix between physiological activation and his interpretation of that activation, to create arousal rather than anxiety within his mind, for optimal performance, therefore achieving his best performance (Weinberg & Gould, 4th Ed.).
Before beginning the rehabilitation phase it is important to note that one of the major cognitive responses associated with athletic injury is a decrease in the athletes’ self-confidence beliefs about returning to full participation or competitive sport (Magyar & Duda, 2000). Therefore we must first undergo the process of restoring my client’s self-efficacy beliefs regarding his capability to perform successfully in soccer. It is well documented and is one of the most consistent findings in peak performance literature that there is a significant correlation between self-confidence and successful sporting performance (Hays et al., 2009). With many non-academic people believing you either have self-confidence or you don’t, it is important to acknowledge that self-confidence can be improved in numerous ways such as thinking confidently, acting confident, using imagery, using self-talk and using goal setting (Weinberg & Gould, 4th Ed., Gould et al., 1989). Thinking confidently is a must for my client to continue his successful return to play and all the top athletes and coaches portray this every day in the sporting world, such as; Arsene Wenger, Arsenal manager, and one of the first to utilise sport psychology at an elite level, as he once said “If you do not believe you can do it then you have no chance at all” (O'Shea, 2017).
Positive imagery has been shown to enhance confidence, in particular kinaesthetic imagery, imagery focusing on the feel of the movement, the different forces or effort applied, improved sport performance the most (Weinberg & Gould, 4th Ed.). It can be most effective if you have successfully achieved a similar movement in the past, as it is like watching a replay of that incident which helps you believe you can do it again (Sellars, 2002).
Self-talk is based on the principle that what people say to themselves effects the way they behave, therefore if an athlete applies a positive or even a motivational self-talk approach, based on the evidence, it will result in a positive effect on self-confidence (Hatzigeorgiadis et al., 2009). Positive self-talk can be a powerful way through which performers can reinforce positive feelings and thoughts which in turn lessens the effects of negative distractions whilst motivational self-talk reduced performance anxiety and as a result improved self-confidence (Sellars, 2002; Hatzigeorgiadis et al., 2009).
Goals motivate athletes to exert extra effort to attempt to accomplish them, however there are a few variables involved for goal setting to produce an improvement in self-confidence with findings of short-term goals, rather than long-term goals, producing greater confidence within the athlete (Schunk, 2003). With success increasing self-confidence, goal-setting works off the pretence that by adopting a systematic approach to training, an athlete would increase their chances of success and the frequency of which it is experienced resulting in improved self-confidence (Sellars, 2002).
Now that my client knows of the psychological interventions that produce or enhance self-confidence we need to implement these interventions and techniques and address the results to see if they have worked. It will be a 10 week program whereby my client implements the psychological interventions and I assess him prior to the intervention and after the intervention. These interventions will be used throughout his recovery and continuing through to when he returns to competitive sport. I expect a full improvement in all interventions but will address the process and expectations throughout my recommendations.
2.3 Rehabilitation Phase
It is critical to the ultimate goal of recovery and their return to competition that an athlete engages in psychological interventions to ensure he/she is rehabilitated both physically and psychologically (Wiese & Weiss, 1987). It is found that approximately 3.5 million U.S children, ages 14 and under, are injured playing sports every year and that physical factors are the primary causes of the injuries but psychological factors can and do also contribute (Weinberg & Gould, 4th Ed.). Consequently we must address and apply these psychological factors and skills that have an affect on injury in relation to my client’s rehabilitation phase.
Cupal and Brewer (2001) examined the effects of imagery and relaxation on knee strength, anxiety and pain in athletes recovering from an anterior cruciate ligament injury to find that using both imagery and relaxation during rehabilitation was beneficial both psychologically and physically. Both interventions are among the most frequently advocated psychological interventions during the rehabilitation of a sports injury (Cupal & Brewer, 2001).
Many researchers place much emphasis on goal-setting within a competitive sport environment. Theodorakis et al. (1996) identified goal-setting as an important first step in initiating positive attitude and action toward a speedy recovery. Evans and Hardy (2002) reported significant increases in performance of athletes following a four week goal-setting intervention. An improvement in performance was identified when athletes engaged in personal goal-setting during the rehabilitation phase suggesting the importance of goal-setting in injury rehabilitation programs (Theodorakis et al., 1996).
Along with goal-setting, the use of positive self-talk was positively related to the adherence to rehabilitation exercise and completion, which can be a major problem in many injury rehabilitation programs (Weinberg & Gould, 4th Ed.). It coincides with the concept that as an athletes self-talk becomes more positive it is viewed as more motivating (Hardy et al., 2001), allowing the athlete to strive for their desired result.
2.4 Return to Sport
After my client’s completion of the rehabilitation phase we must follow our goal from when began and return him to his pre-injury level of performance if not better. Therefore we must utilise the different psychological interventions in order to do so. The various literature on the return to sport following serious athletic injury indicates that this transition may be difficult as the number of athletes returning to sport who are physically ready but not yet psychologically ready is on the rise (Podlog & Eklund, 2006).
Many factors are associated with the inability to return to sport. Ardern and colleagues (2013) identified a negative outlook regarding injury, a lack of rehabilitation goals and a negative outlook regarding rehabilitation as predictive factors of an athlete who was unlikely to return to sport. This is why we ensured my client did not possess any of these feelings or thoughts early on in his recovery program to give him every opportunity to return to sport but it also helped that he was willing to return to sport and engage in whatever was necessary. Ardern et al. (2012) found significant evidence that positive psychological responses, for example confidence, perception of negative influence of injury on current life situation, psychological readiness to return to sport, subjective estimation of injury severity and competence needs satisfaction, were associated with a higher return to sport rate after injury and a greater likelihood of returning to the pre-injury competition level. Once my client has returned to this level of competition again it will be a matter of continuing his physical and psychological training techniques in order for him to become a better player than he was prior to this injury. The psychological interventions outlined and analysed in the academic literature review section will be of high importance to my client as he attempts to become a better player. The fact that he had not engaged in any psychological interventions or skills prior to his injury should mean, according to the literature, that they will aid and improve his all-round physical performance, albeit in tandem with his physical practice.
From analysing the role psychology now plays in modern sport it is clear that the world of sport psychology is an ever growing body of research and application that many coaches, athletes, academics and even parents of athletes have engaged in, in order to seek a competitive advantage. Previously it was a somewhat new phenomenon, now every athlete seeking an advantage on the field of play has applied, practiced or at the very least read or heard of the various psychological interventions that have been found to improve performance.
From the research above, it may look as if all emphasis is placed on the psychological aspect of sport and for the purpose of this paper they were. However, it is important to note that the main component and tool to enhance performance lies in the physical performance of a skill as opposed to the mental practice (Bird et al., 1991). The psychological tools and methods are performance facilitators and provide the athlete with essential psychological components that enhance physical performance such as confidence, motivation and arousal not anxiety. The psychological interventions should never be the primary method of training, they should always be used in conjunction with some sort of physical practice. The key concept is that athletic performance can be influenced through the use of psychological and emotional factors that can be learned and applied in a competitive setting.
The paper views the various psychological interventions from the athletes’ perspective in an attempt to get a first-hand insight in to their mind-set when applying such interventions to a training program and also to get a perception of what psychological issues they suffer from when coping with an injury. It is difficult to acknowledge and understand the full affect an injury has on an athlete until you engage with that athlete yourself, this is especially more applicable for the psychological affect rather than the physical effects. In my client’s case it was necessary to engage with him personally, to understand the psychological turmoil he was going through with his injury and to aid him psychologically in his recovery from the injury.
Therefore it was essential my client and I engaged with the psychological intervention program in order for him to recover from his serious injury and return to sport. His goal was to return to his team as a better player than he was when he suffered the injury. He had to return when he was physically and psychologically ready and he has done so yet upon his return to competitive sport it is very difficult to be a better player as he steps back onto the pitch in a competitive setting. Therefore, it is through the use of the psychological skills and through his adaptation to the physical aspect of the game going forward that he will improve performance and become a better player than he previously was. One of our goals for the rehabilitation phase was to focus on different psychological interventions along with his physical rehabilitation process due to physical and psychological readiness to return to sport not being always synonymous (Podlog & Eklund, 2006).
There are various other psychological interventions that different athletes use to improve overall performance due to the sporting world evolving and the psychological aspect of sport becoming more and more important. However, it is clear from the research previously conducted and today’s research that the psychological skills of self-talk, imagery, pre-performance routines and goal-setting all can have a beneficial effect on an athlete’s athletic performance once understood and applied correctly.
1. Outline and learn all psychological interventions and skills that can benefit performance within the first 3 months of returning to sport.
My client must learn all the psychological interventions outlined above. They now have a base of knowledge to begin this process but as the world of sports psychology is ever changing, they must keep up to date and learn what is relevant to them going forward. It is essential they adopt a strategy of learning all relevant material they can find on improving their performance and returning to sport efficiently.
2. Implement and evaluate all psychological interventions learned within the first three months over the next year.
Now that my client has outlined and addressed the psychological interventions that will be of benefit to them, it is time to implement them in everyday training and life. Once they have implemented the psychological interventions they wish to utilise moving forward it is necessary to evaluate them. This can be done through the use of myself but also my client himself can evaluate his progression. It is necessary to use two evaluations, one internally and one externally to ensure no bias is involved or no errors occur.
3. Educate team mates regarding the psychological interventions to improve team performance over the next five years, with the hope of winning trophies.
Now that my client has implemented and evaluated what went wrong or right, he is further able to educate others on the various psychological interventions and skills. Therefore moving forward, his team can implement the interventions and skills and look to improve their performance individually and collectively, hence making them a better team.
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