Aggressive behaviors and attitudes are investigated first of all from the viewpoint of psychology, sociology, and philosophy. These three disciplines could provide a coherent groundwork for the science on aggression in sport. The science on aggression in sport would be a discipline united by a bond between related issues and a unity of subject, and not by one uniform method.
There are two different viewpoints concerning aggression in sport: the cognitive and the ideological. The cognitive viewpoint approaches sports phenomena objectively in order to describe, explain, and compare them—that is, to present the real situation. The ideological viewpoint approaches the subject in an ideological way; that is, it strives for to presenting sport in the most favorable light, while attempting to hide its vices. This viewpoint makes it nearly impossible to diagnose the existing state of affairs, Attitudes towards aggression in sport, while taking into account other criteria, may be divided into the cognitive and the commonsense interpretations. Proponents of the commonsense viewpoint suggest that aggression is a solely negative entity and that it takes place only in the form of emotionally driven aggression meant to do harm. The cognitive interpretation suggests that there exist two forms of aggression in athletic rivalry: emotional aggression aimed at doing harm to an opponent and necessary aggression resulting from the regulations of a given sport.
Aggression in sport—considered from the viewpoint of regulations of particular sports—may be either necessary (that is, instrumental) or non-instrumental (that is, potential in the sense that it enables expression of emotions which are not provided for by regulations). Aggressive behavior is necessary when called for by the regulations of a given sport, specifically, among others, combat sports such as boxing, judo, or wrestling. Competitors who avoid fighting and who do not manifest aggressive behaviors in such a field are induced to manifest them and—if this does not bring results—may be punished by referees and, as a last resort, sent off.
Matthew P. Martens
Issues associated with athletics, alcohol abuse, and drug use continue to be salient aspects of popular culture. These issues include high-profile athletes experiencing public incidents as a direct or indirect result of alcohol and/or drug use, the role that performance-enhancing drugs play in impacting outcomes across a variety of professional and amateur contests, and the public-health effects alcohol abuse and drug use can have among athletes at all competitive levels. For some substances, like alcohol abuse, certain groups of athletes may be particularly at-risk relative to peers who are not athletes. For other substances, participating in athletics may serve as a protective factor. Unique considerations are associated with understanding alcohol abuse and drug use in sport. These include performance considerations (e.g., choosing to use or not use a certain substance due to concerns about its impact on athletic ability), the cultural context of different types of sporting environments that might facilitate or inhibit alcohol and/or drug use, and various internal personality characteristics and traits that may draw one toward both athletic activity and substance use. Fortunately, there are several effective strategies for preventing and reducing alcohol abuse and drug use, some of which have been tested specifically among athlete populations. If such strategies were widely disseminated, they would have the potential to make a significant impact on problems associated with alcohol abuse and drug use in sport and athletics.
Shuge Zhang, Tim Woodman, and Ross Roberts
Anxiety and fear are unpleasant emotions commonly experienced in sport and performance settings. While fear usually has an apparent cause, the source of anxiety is comparatively vague and complex. Anxiety has cognitive and somatic components and can be either a trait or a state. To assess the different aspects of anxiety, a variety of psychometric scales have been developed in sport and performance domains. Besides efforts to quantify anxiety, a major focus in the anxiety-performance literature has been to explore the impact of anxiety on performance and why such effects occur. Anxiety-performance theories and models have increased the understanding of how anxiety affects performance and have helped to explain why anxiety is widely considered a negative emotion that individuals typically seek to avoid in performance settings. Nonetheless, individuals approach anxiety-inducing or fear-provoking situations in different ways. For example, high-risk sport research shows that individuals can actively approach fear-inducing environments in order to glean intra- and interpersonal regulatory benefits. Such individual differences are particularly relevant to sport and performance researchers and practitioners, as those who actively approach competition to enjoy the fear-inducing environment (i.e., the “risk”) are likely to have a performance advantage over those who compete while having to cope with their troublesome anxiety and fear. Future research would do well to: (1) examine the effects of anxiety on the processes that underpin performance rather than a sole focus on the performance outcomes, (2) test directly the different cognitive functions that are thought to be impaired when performing under anxiety, (3) unite the existing theories to understand a “whole picture” of how anxiety influences performance, and (4) explore the largely overlooked field of individual differences in the context of performance psychology.
Martin Turner and Marc Jones
Sport and stress are intertwined. Muhammad Ali once said, “I always felt pressure before a big fight, because what was happening was real.” As this quote attests, sport is real, unscripted, with the potential for psychological, and often physical, harm. The response to stress, commonly described as “flight or fight,” is an evolutionary adaptation to dangerous situations. It guides behavior and readies a person to respond, to fight, or flee. However, the stress response is not evoked solely in situations of mortal danger; it occurs in response to any situation with the potential for physical or psychological harm, such as sport. For example, the possibility of missing out on a life-changing gold-medal win in an Olympic Games, or losing an important competition that you were expected to win.
Stress in sport is often illustrated by the archetypal image of an athlete choking; snatching defeat from the jaws of victory. But stress can also help athletes perform well. Stress also plays a role in behavior away from the competition arena, influencing interactions with significant others, motivation and performance in training, and how athletes experience and manage injury and retirement from sport. In sport stress, the psychophysiological responses to stress are not just abstract theoretical concepts removed from the real world; they reflect the thoughts, feelings, and experiences of athletes.
It is important to understand the arousal response to stress in sport. Both theory and research suggest a connection between arousal and athletic performance. Recent approaches propose ideas about how the nature of arousal may differ depending on whether the athlete feels positively (as a challenge) or negatively (as a threat) about the stressor. The approach to seeing stress as a challenge supports a series of strategies that can be used to help control arousal in sport.
Aidan Moran and John Toner
We are constantly bombarded by information. Therefore, during every waking moment of our lives, we face decisions about which stimuli to prioritize and which ones to ignore. To complicate matters, the information that clamors for our attention includes not only events that occur in the world around us but also experiences that originate in the subjective domain of our own thoughts and feelings. The end result is that our minds can consciously attend to only a fraction of the rich kaleidoscope of information and experiences available to us from our senses, thoughts, memories, and imagination. Attentional processes such as “concentration,” or the ability to focus on the task at hand while ignoring distractions, are crucial for success in sport and other domains of skilled performance. To illustrate, Venus Williams, one of the greatest tennis players of all time, proclaimed that “for the players it is complete and pure focus. You don’t see anything or hear anything except the ball and what’s going on in your head.” For psychological scientists, concentration resembles a mental spotlight (like the head-mounted torch that miners and divers wear in dark environments) that illuminates targets located either in the external world around us or in the internal world of our subjective experiences. A major advantage of this spotlight metaphor is that it shows us that concentration is never “lost”—although it can be diverted to targets (whether in the external world or inside our heads) that are irrelevant to the task at hand. Research on attentional processes in sport and performance has been conducted in cognitive psychology (the study of how the mind works), cognitive sport psychology (the study of mental processes in athletes), and cognitive neuroscience (the study of how brain systems give rise to mental processes). From this research, advances have been made both in measuring attentional processes and in understanding their significance in sport and performance settings. For example, pupillometry, or the study of changes in pupil diameter as a function of cognitive processing, has been used as an objective index of attentional effort among skilled performers such as musicians and equestrian athletes. Next, research suggests that a heightened state of concentration (i.e., total absorption in the task at hand) is crucial to the genesis of “flow” states (i.e., rare and elusive moments when everything seems to come together for the performer) and optimal performance in athletes. More recently, studies have shown that brief mindfulness intervention programs, where people are trained to attend non-judgmentally to their own thoughts, feelings, and sensations, offer promise in the quest to enhance attentional skills in elite athletes. By contrast, anxiety has been shown to divert skilled performers’ attention to task-irrelevant information—sometimes triggering “choking” behavior or the sudden and significant deterioration of skilled performance. Finally, concentration strategies such as “trigger words” (i.e., the use of short, vivid, and positively phrased verbal reminders such as “this ball now”) are known to improve athletes’ ability to focus on a specific target or to execute skilled actions successfully.
Amanda L. Rebar
Much of our sport and physical activity behavior is regulated by processes occurring outside of conscious awareness. In contrast, most sport and physical activity research focuses on processes that are easily accessible by conscious introspection. More and more, however, research is demonstrating that automatic regulation is instrumental to our understanding of how to get people to maintain a physically active lifestyle and how to get the most out of people’s sports performance potential. Automatic regulation is the influence on our thoughts and actions that result from the mental network of associations we use to make sense of the world around us. Habits are automatic associations of cues with behavioral responses. Automatic evaluations are automatic associations of cues as being good or bad. Automatic schemas are automatic associations of cues with actual or ideal self-identity. These processes have been assessed with implicit measures by making indirect inferences from self-report or response latency tasks. Emerging research demonstrates that automatic associations influence sport performance and physical activity behavior, but further work is still needed to establish which type of automatic regulation is responsible for these influences and how automatic regulation and reflective processes interact to impact movement.
Leslee A. Fisher and Lars Dzikus
Bullying is a growing problem in sport and performance settings. Bullying falls under the umbrella of “athlete maltreatment,” which includes any form of harm and all relationships where harm could occur in sport and performance. Specifically, bullying is defined as repeated hostile and deliberate behavior from one person (the perpetrator) to another (the target) with the intent to harm or threaten harm to the target; it is marked by an imbalance of power. Often, after extreme bullying, the target feels terrorized.
Athlete maltreatment in sport and performance has been categorized into one of two forms: relational maltreatment and nonrelational maltreatment. Bullying is a relational problem. In particular, sport and performance bullying can occur from coach to player, parent to player, or player to player, and often takes the form of (1) making unreasonable performance demands of the target, (2) repeated threats to restrict or remove the target’s privileges or opportunities, (3) screaming or yelling directed at the target that is unwarranted, (4) repeated and continual criticism of the target’s abilities, (5) discounting or denying the target’s accomplishments, (6) blaming the target for his or her mistakes, (7) threats of and/or actual physical violence toward the target, and (8) social media or e-mail messages with threats or insults toward the target.
Sport and performance organizations should develop and implement antibullying policies. Six potential steps toward policy development and implementation include: (1) defining bullying behaviors, (2) referring to existing “best-practice” bullying policies, (3) specifically outlining the reporting of bullying incidents, (4) outlining clearly investigation and disciplinary actions to be taken, (5) outlining specific assistance for bullying targets, and (6) including prevention and training procedures. In the meantime, coaches as well as parents and players can recognize that they are role models for everyone with whom they come into contact in sport and performance settings. Coaches, parents, and players can also accept responsibility for creating a respectful and safe sport and performance environment, have a pre-season meeting to discuss antibullying policy, foster open and honest communication, accept critical feedback, not engage or allow bullying behavior themselves, create acceptable boundaries between themselves and others, and teach players to trust their instincts when things do not feel right. More advanced bullying prevention and training procedures can then take place.
Robert C. Eklund and J.D. Defreese
Athlete burnout is a cognitive-affective syndrome characterized by perceptions of emotional and physical exhaustion, reduced accomplishment, and devaluation of sport. A variety of theoretical conceptualizations are utilized to understand athlete burnout, including stress-based models, theories of identity, control and commitment, and motivational models. Extant research has highlighted myriad antecedents of athlete burnout including higher levels of psychological stress and amotivation and lower levels of social support and psychological need (i.e., autonomy, competence, relatedness) satisfaction. Continued longitudinal research efforts are necessary to confirm the directionality and magnitude of these associations. Moreover, theoretically focused intervention strategies may provide opportunities for prevention and treatment of burnout symptoms via athlete-focused stress-management and cognitive reframing approaches as well as environment-focused strategies targeting training loads and enhancement of athlete psychological need satisfaction. Moving forward, efforts to integrate research and practice to improve burnout recognition, prevention, and intervention in athlete populations likely necessitate collaboration among researchers and clinicians.
Laura D. Ellingson and Christopher D. Black
Exercise is known to exert an influence on pain. Specifically, sensitivity to pain decreases both during and following a single bout of exercise—a phenomenon that has been termed exercise-induced hypoalgesia (EIH). EIH has been shown to occur following a variety of types of exercise including aerobic, dynamic resistance, as well as intermittent and continuous isometric exercise, and with a variety of types of pain stimuli including pressure, thermal, and electrical, among others. Depending upon the type of exercise, the intensity and duration of the exercise bout may affect the magnitude of EIH observed. EIH also may be influenced by presence of chronic pain. In individuals with chronic pain conditions, exercise can have both hypo- and hyperalgesic effects, again depending on the specifics of the exercise stimulus itself.
The mechanisms underlying EIH have not been definitively established. However, a number of potentially viable mechanisms have been examined including: release of stress mediators such as adrenocorticotrophic hormone and growth hormone (GH), stimulation of the endogenous opioid system, interactions between the pain modulatory system and the cardiovascular system resulting from shared neurological pathways, activation of the endocannabinoid (eCB) system, and engagement of supraspinal pain inhibitory mechanisms via conditioned pain modulation (CPM). There is also some evidence that psychosocial factors, including pain-related beliefs like catastrophizing and expectation, may influence EIH.
Research in EIH has several important implications for research and practice. In healthy adults, reduced sensitivity to pain is a salient benefit of exercise and EIH responses may play a role in exercise adherence. For chronic pain patients, research on EIH has the potential to uncover mechanisms related to maintenance of chronic pain. Improving our understanding of how and why hyperalgesia occurs following exercise in these patients can aid in understanding central nervous system mechanisms of disease maintenance and ultimately may help to avoid symptom exacerbation with exercise. However, there remain practical and mechanistic questions to be examined. Translating reductions in pain sensitivity that occur with exercise under controlled laboratory conditions to situations that are more naturalistic will be an important next step for promoting physical activity as a treatment for pain.
Ronald E. Smith and Frank L. Smoll
Coaches occupy a central role in sport, fulfilling instructional, organizational, strategic, and social relationship functions, and their relationships with athletes influence both skill development and psychosocial outcomes of sport participation. This review presents the major theoretical models and empirical results derived from coaching research, focusing on the measurement and correlates of coaching behaviors and on intervention programs designed to enhance coaching effectiveness.
A strong empirical literature on motor skill development has addressed the development of technical sport skills, guided in part by a model that divides the skill acquisition process into cognitive, associative, and autonomous phases, each requiring specific coaching knowledge and instructional techniques. Social-cognitive theory’s mediational model, the multidimensional model of sport leadership, achievement goal theory, and self-determination theory have been highly influential in research on the psychosocial aspects of the sport environment. These conceptual models have inspired basic research on the antecedents and consequences of defined coaching behaviors as well as applied research on coach training programs designed to enhance athletes’ sport outcomes. Of the few programs that have been systematically evaluated, outcomes such as enjoyment, liking for coach and teammates, team cohesion, self-esteem, performance anxiety, athletes’ motivational orientation, and sport attrition can be influenced in a salutary fashion by a brief intervention with specific empirically derived behavioral guidelines that focus on creating a mastery motivational climate and positive coach-athlete interactions. However, other existing programs have yet to demonstrate efficacy in controlled outcome research.