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Article

Religion and Spirituality in Sport  

Ivo Jirásek

Religion, spirituality, and sport is an increasingly popular discipline in the sport psychology framework, often based on one’s own faith and religious beliefs. The spiritual dimension of the human experience first focused on religious and mystic experiences; later, various other states of mind, such as peak experiences, flow, and “being in the zone,” were discussed using the framework of humanistic and positive psychology, including in the context of sports. Human movement activities were part of religious cults and rites in ancient societies, for example in the Greek Olympic Games. Thanks to this tradition, the father of the modern Olympic Games, Pierre de Coubertin, wrote about religio athletae when discussing the transcendent aspects of modern sport. Contemporary sport is not connected to religion in such a direct way, however. The modern athlete normally follows his or her own religious tradition in a private manner. This does not mean, however, there is no connection between religion and sport. On the contrary, religious and quasi-religious behavior is commonly found in the sport environment, including superstitious rituals of athletes and fans, prayer in sporting areas, and application of non-Christian practices in sports psychology consulting. Furthermore, deeper values and meanings can be attributed to sport activities as a kind of nonreligious spirituality. It is possible to observe an increasing interest in the religious and spiritual aspects of sports in the new millennium, which can be seen in the establishing of specific professions like sport psychologists or chaplains, as well as university centers for the study of religion and spirituality in sport.

Article

Research Methods in Sport and Exercise Psychology  

Sicong Liu and Gershon Tenenbaum

Research methods in sport and exercise psychology are embedded in the domain’s network of methodological assumptions, historical traditions, and research themes. Sport and exercise psychology is a unique domain that derives and integrates concepts and terminologies from both psychology and kinesiology domains. Thus, research methods used to study the main concerns and interests of sport and exercise psychology represent the domain’s intellectual properties. The main methods used in the sport and exercise psychology domain are: (a) experimental, (b) psychometric, (c) multivariate correlational, (d) meta-analytic, (e) idiosyncratic, and (f) qualitative approach. Each of these research methods tends to fulfill a distinguishable research purpose in the domain and thus enables the generation of evidence that is not readily gleaned through other methods. Although the six research methods represent a sufficient diversity of available methods in sport and exercise psychology, they must be viewed as a starting point for researchers interested in the domain. Other research methods (e.g., case study, Bayesian inferences, and psychophysiological approach) exist and bear potential to advance the domain of sport and exercise psychology.

Article

The Role of Mental Processes in Elite Sports Performance  

Joan N. Vickers and A. Mark Williams

Considerable debate has arisen about whether brain activity in elite athletes is characterized by an overall quieting, or neural efficiency in brain processes, or whether elite performance is characterized by activation of two simultaneous networks. One network exercises cognitive control using increased theta activation of premotor and cingulate gyrus, whereas the second reduces alpha activation in an inhibitory network that prevents the intrusion of debilitating thoughts emanating from the temporal lobe and other areas. Also, there is controversy about how a long-duration “quiet eye” (QE) can fit within a single efficient neural system, or whether a dual system where both increased cognitive control and reduced inhibitory processes has advantages. The literature on neural efficiency, the QE, and theta cognitive control, suggest that a long-duration QE promotes both an increase in theta band activation of the medial prefrontal cortex and anterior cingulate and reduced activation and inhibition of the temporal regions during high-pressure situations when a high level of focused, cognitive control is essential.

Article

The Roles of Psychological Stress, Physical Activity, and Dietary Modifications on Cardiovascular Health Implications  

Chun-Jung Huang, Matthew J. McAllister, and Aaron L. Slusher

Psychological stress disorders, such as depression and chronic anxiety contribute to increased risk of cardiovascular disease and mortality. Acute psychological and physical stress exacerbate the activity of sympathetic-adrenal-medullary system, resulting in the elevation of cardiovascular responses (i.e., heart rate and blood pressure), along with augmented inflammation and oxidative stress as major causes of endothelial and metabolic dysfunction. The potential health benefits of regular physical activity mitigate excessive inflammation and oxidative stress. Along with physical exercise, complementary interventions, such as dietary modification are needed to enhance exercise effectiveness in improving these outcomes. Specifically, dietary modification reduces sympathetic nervous system activity, improve mitochondrial redox function, and minimize oxidative stress as well as chronic inflammation.

Article

Self-Talk in Sport and Performance  

Judy L. Van Raalte and Andrew Vincent

Self-talk has been studied from the earliest days of research in experimental psychology. In sport psychology, the cognitive revolution of the 1970s led researchers and practitioners to explore the ways in which self-talk affects performance. Recently, a clear definition of self-talk that distinguishes self-talk from related phenomena such as imagery and gestures and describes self-talk has emerged. Self-talk is defined as the expression of a syntactically recognizable internal position in which the sender of the message is also the intended received. Self-talk may be expressed internally or out loud and has expressive, interpretive, and self-regulatory functions. Various categories of self-talk such as self-talk valence, overtness, demands on working memory, and grammatical form have all been explored. In the research literature, both instructional and motivational self-talk have been shown to enhance performance. Negative self-talk increases motivation and performance in some circumstances but is generally detrimental to sport performance. Matching self-talk to the task (e.g., using motivational self-talk for gross motor skills such as power lifting) can be a useful strategy, although findings have been inconsistent, perhaps because many individual sport performances involve diverse sport tasks that include both fine and gross motor skills. Research on athletes’ spontaneous self-talk has lagged behind experimental research due in large part to measurement challenges. Self-talk tends to vary over the course of a contest, and it can be difficult for athletes to accurately recall. Questionnaires have allowed researchers to measure typical or “trait” self-talk. Moment-by-moment or “state” self-talk has been assessed by researchers observing sport competitions. Descriptive Experience Sampling has been used to study self-talk in golf, a sport that has regular breaks in the action. Some researchers have used fMRI and other brain assessment tools to examine brain function and self-talk, but current brain imaging technology does not lend itself to use in sport settings. The introduction of the sport-specific model of self-talk into the literature provides a foundation for ongoing exploration of spontaneous (System 1) self-talk and intentionally used (System 2) self-talk and highlights factors related to self-talk and performance such as individual differences (personal factors) and cultural influences (contextual factors).

Article

Sociocultural Aspects of Sport Injury and Recovery  

Diane M. Wiese-Bjornstal

The sociocultural aspects of sport injury and recovery include the broad landscape of social beliefs, climates, processes, cultures, institutions, and societies that surround the full chronological spectrum of sport injury outcomes, ranging from risk through to rehabilitation and retirement. A social ecological view of research on this topic demonstrates that sociocultural influences affect sport injury outcomes via interrelated sport systems extending from the intrasystem (i.e., within sports persons) through the microsystem (i.e., sport relationships), mesosystem (i.e., sport organizations), exosystem (i.e., sport governing bodies), and macrosystem (i.e., sport cultures). Affected sport injury outcomes include sport injury risks and responses during rehabilitation, return to play, and retirement from sport. Some specific examples of sociocultural themes evident in research literature include personal conformity to the cultural expectation to play hurt, social conventions of behavior when sport injuries occur, institutional character or ethics when making return to play decisions, guidelines for the care of athletes prescribed by sport governing bodies, and the economic costs to society for sport injuries. Many elements of sport injury are affected by these sociocultural influences, such as the risk of injuries, rehabilitation processes, and career terminations. Continuing debates and discussions include advocacy for sport rule changes, bans on dangerous sports, institutional responsibility, and global sport safety efforts. These form the basis for recommendations about sociocultural interventions designed to reduce sport injury risks and optimize effective injury recoveries through social and cultural best practices.

Article

Sport Psychology Considerations in Intercollegiate Athletics in the United States  

Christopher M. Bader and Scott B. Martin

As a field of study, sport psychology is relatively young, gaining its formalized start in the United States in the 1920s. Then and now, the practice of sport psychology is concerned with the recognition of psychological factors that influence performance and ensuring that individuals and teams can perform at an optimal level. In the past 30 years, sport psychologists have made their way into intercollegiate athletics departments providing mental health and performance enhancement services to intercollegiate student-athletes. The differentiation between mental health practice and performance enhancement practice is still a source of some confusion for individuals tasked with hiring sport psychology professionals. Additionally, many traditionally trained practitioners (in both mental health and performance enhancement) are unaware of the dynamics of an intercollegiate athletic department. The interplay of the practitioner and those departmental dynamics can greatly influence the efficacy of the practitioner.

Article

Strength Training and Sport Psychology  

E. Whitney G. Moore

Strength training sessions are developed and overseen by strength and conditioning coaches, whose primary responsibilities are to maximize individuals’ athletic performance and minimize their injury risk. As the majority of education and certification for being a strength and conditioning coach focuses on physiology and physiological adaptations, biomechanics, and related scientific areas of study, there has been less emphasis on coaching behaviors, motivational techniques, pedagogical approaches, or psychological skills. These are important areas because to accomplish both long-term and short-term training goals, strength and conditioning coaches should use and train their athletes in the use of these techniques. Motivation of training session participants is essential to being an effective strength and conditioning coach. Coaches motivate their athletes through their behaviors, design and organization of the training sessions, teaching techniques, role modeling, relationships with the athletes, and the psychological skills they incorporate within and outside of the training sessions. Coaches also often teach athletes about psychological skills not to motivate the athlete but to assist the athlete in their performance, mental health, or general well-being. Some of these psychological skills are so ingrained in the strength and conditioning discipline that coaches do not recognize or categorize them as psychological skills. Because of the relationship built between strength coach and athlete, the strength and conditioning coach often provides informal knowledge of advice on topics regarding general life lessons or skills that can actually be categorized under psychological skills. However, the lack of formal education and training in sport psychology techniques also means that strength and conditioning coaches do not take full advantage of many behaviors, motivational techniques, and other psychological skills. These areas remain an area for further professional development and research within the strength and conditioning field.

Article

Supervision in Exercise Settings  

Sam Zizzi and Jana L. Fogaca

The process of learning to be a licensed and competent service provider in psychology typically involves supervision by a seasoned professional. Quality supervision is the cornerstone of effective, ethical practice in psychology. This process of supervision can take on many structures and involves a series of informal and formal meetings between the student and the professional. Sometimes, this supervision will involve co-therapy where the supervisor leads a session with the client while the student watches, or vice versa. The supervisor will direct students in how to prepare for and conduct their work and how to document their sessions and give them specific feedback to improve their skills. As students build competence, the supervisor may decide to give them more independence so they can make their own decisions about treatment plans and take a leadership role with clients. In exercise settings, this supervision process is a little different from sport settings. The focus of most exercise consultations with clients will be on changing health behavior instead of improving sport performance. Also, instead of spending time at practice fields or athletic events in a sport consultation, the students would be expected to spend time in fitness and wellness centers around clients with myriad health issues. These experiences are designed to help students feel autonomous in their decision-making, and to reduce their anxiety working with clients. This process may take a few months to a couple of years depending on the skills and training of the student before supervision.

Article

Supervision in Performance Settings (Dance, Music, Acting)  

Gene M. Moyle

Literature regarding supervision and related supervisory and training models applied within the field of sport, exercise, and performance psychology (SEPP) has grown exponentially as the field continues to define and redefine itself. A range of supervision models from mainstream psychology has been explored and applied within SEPP settings, with research indicating that regardless of the preferred model of supervision, a key component of effective supervision is the supervisor’s knowledge and skills related to the area of service delivery. Whilst the supervision of psychologists-in-training within performing arts settings presents similar challenges faced by those working in sport and exercise settings, the social, cultural, and artistic considerations embedded within these performance contexts necessitates a nuanced approach. The provision of supervision for psychologists within performing arts (e.g., dance, music, acting) requires scaffolded learning opportunities that assist the practitioner to gain an in-depth understanding of the context, including how to best tailor, translate, and communicate psychological concepts and skills to their clients that will address their unique challenges and meet their distinctive needs. Furthermore, clarity regarding the roles and responsibilities of the supervisee within the organizational context of an artistic setting is vital to ensuring that effective and ethical service delivery can be provided.

Article

Surgical Performance From a Psychological Perspective  

Aidan Moran, Nick Sevdalis, and Lauren Wallace

At first glance, there are certain similarities between performance in surgery and that in competitive sports. Clearly, both require exceptional gross and fine motor ability and effective concentration skills, and both are routinely performed in dynamic environments, often under time constraints. On closer inspection, however, crucial differences emerge between these skilled domains. For example, surgery does not involve directly antagonistic opponents competing for victory. Nevertheless, analogies between surgery and sport have contributed to an upsurge of research interest in the psychological processes that underlie expertise in surgical performance. Of these processes, perhaps the most frequently investigated in recent years is that of motor imagery (MI) or the cognitive simulation skill that enables us to rehearse actions in our imagination without engaging in the physical movements involved. Research on motor imagery training (MIT; also called motor imagery practice, MIP) has important theoretical and practical implications. Specifically, at a theoretical level, hundreds of experimental studies in psychology have demonstrated the efficacy of MIT/MIP in improving skill learning and skilled performance in a variety of fields such as sport and music. The most widely accepted explanation of these effects comes from “simulation theory,” which postulates that executed and imagined actions share some common neural circuits and cognitive mechanisms. Put simply, imagining a skill activates some of the brain areas and neural circuits that are involved in its actual execution. Accordingly, systematic engagement in MI appears to “prime” the brain for optimal skilled performance. At the practical level, as surgical instruction has moved largely from an apprenticeship model (the so-called see one, do one, teach one approach) to one based on simulation technology and practice (e.g., the use of virtual reality equipment), there has been a corresponding growth of interest in the potential of cognitive training techniques (e.g., MIT/MIP) to improve and augment surgical skills and performance. Although these cognitive training techniques suffer both from certain conceptual confusion (e.g., with regard to the clarity of key terms) and inadequate empirical validation, they offer considerable promise in the quest for a cost-effective supplementary training tool in surgical education. Against this background, it is important for researchers and practitioners alike to explore the cognitive psychological factors (such as motor imagery) that underlie surgical skill learning and performance.

Article

Team Building and Group Cohesion in the Context of Sport and Performance Psychology  

Mark Eys and Jeemin Kim

Over the past 30 years, researchers studying group dynamics in sport have provided insight regarding the importance of considering a team’s environment, structure, and processes for its effective functioning. An emergent property resulting from activities within the group is cohesion. Cohesion is a dynamic property reflecting members’ perceptions of the unity and personal attractions to task and social objectives of the group. Generally speaking, cohesion remains a highly valued group property, and a strong body of evidence exists to support positive links to important individual and group outcomes such as adherence and team performance. Given the importance attached to cohesion and other group variables for sport teams, coaches and athletes often attempt to engage in activities that facilitate group functioning. Team building is a specific approach designed to facilitate team effectiveness and individual members’ perceptions of their group. Cohesion has been the primary target of team-building interventions in sport, although recent work on team-building outcomes suggested that the effects of these interventions on cohesion may be limited. The most effective team-building approaches include a goal setting protocol, last at least two weeks in duration, and target a variety of outcomes in addition to cohesion, including individual cognitions and team performance. There is a clear need to identify a team’s requirements prior to intervening (i.e., a targeted approach), consider a variety of approaches to team building, and investigate the effects of team building via more stringent research methods.

Article

Theoretical Approaches to Physical Activity Promotion  

Nikos Ntoumanis, Cecile Thørgersen-Ntoumani, Eleanor Quested, and Nikos Chatzisarantis

Compelling evidence worldwide suggests that the number of physically inactive individuals is high, and it is increasing. Given that lack of physical activity has been linked to a number of physical and mental health problems, identifying sustainable, cost-effective, and scalable initiatives to increase physical activity has become a priority for researchers, health practitioners, and policymakers. One way to identify such initiatives is to use knowledge derived from psychological theories of motivation and behavior change. There is a plethora of such theories and models that describe a variety of cognitive, affective, and behavioral mechanisms that can target behavior at a conscious or an unconscious level. Such theories have been applied, with varying degrees of success, to inform exercise and physical activity interventions in different life settings (e.g., schools, hospitals, and workplaces) using both traditional (e.g., face-to-face counseling and printed material) and digital technology platforms (e.g., smartphone applications and customized websites). This work has offered important insights into how to create optimal motivational conditions, both within individuals and in the social environments in which they operate, to facilitate long-term engagement in exercise and physical activity. However, we need to identify overlap and synergies across different theoretical frameworks in an effort to develop more comprehensive, and at the same time more distinct, theoretical accounts of behavior change with reference to physical activity promotion. It is also important that researchers and practitioners utilize such theories in interdisciplinary research endeavors that take into account the enabling or restrictive role of cultural norms, the built environment, and national policies on physical activity.

Article

Use of Wearable Activity Trackers for Physical Activity Promotion  

Nicola D. Ridgers and Samuel K. Lai

Commercially available wearable activity trackers are small, non-invasive electronic devices that are worn on the body for the purposes of monitoring a range of outcomes including steps, energy expenditure, and sleep. These devices utilize sensors to track movement, and these recorded data are provided to the user via a visual display on the device itself and/or by syncing the device with an accompanying app or web-based program. Combined together, these devices and accompanying apps incorporate a broad range of behavior change techniques that are known to change behavior, including self-monitoring, goal setting, and social support. In recent years, wearable activity trackers have become increasingly popular, and the growth in ownership within different populations has occurred at an exponential rate. This growth in appeal has led to researchers and practitioners examining the validity and reliability of wearable activity trackers for measuring a range of outcomes and integrating the results into physical activity promotion strategies. Acceptable validity has been reported for steps and moderate validity for measuring energy expenditure. However, little research has examined whether wearable activity trackers are a feasible and effective method for changing physical activity behaviors in the short- and longer-term, either alone or in combination with additional strategies. Some initial results are promising, though concerns have been raised over longer-term use and impacts on motivation for physical activity. There is a need for research examining the longer-term use of wearable activity trackers in different population groups, and establishing whether this technology has any positive effects on physical activity levels.