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.
Martin Turner and Marc Jones
This article aims to provide a narrative overview on injury prevention in sport and performance psychology. Research and applied interest in psychological injury prevention in sport and performance psychology has risen in popularity over the past few decades. To date, existing theoretical models, pure and applied research, and practice-based evidence has focused on conceptualizing and examining psychological injury occurrence and prevention through stress-injury mechanisms, and predominantly in sport injury settings. However, given the inherited similarities across the different performance domains however, it is the authors’ belief that existing injury prevention knowledge can be transferable beyond sport but should be done with caution. A range of cognitive-affective-behavioral strategies such as goal setting, imagery, relaxation strategies, self-talk, and social support have been found beneficial in reducing injuries, particularly when used systematically (a) prior to injury occurrence as part of performance enhancement program and/or as a specific injury prevention measure, (b) during injury rehabilitation, and (c) as part of a return-to-activity process to minimize the risk of secondary injuries and reinjuries. Existing theoretical and empirical evidence also indicates that using cognitive-affective-behavioral strategies for injury prevention are effective when used as part of a wider, multi-modal intervention. Equally, such interventions may also need to address possible behavioral modifications required in sleep, rest, and recovery. Considering the existing empirical and anecdotal evidence to date, this paper argues that injury prevention efforts in sport and performance psychology should be cyclical, biopsychosocial, and person-centered in nature. In short, injury prevention should be underpinned by recognition of the interplay between personal (both physical and psychological), environmental, and contextual characteristics, and how they affect the persons’ cognitive-affective-behavioral processes before, during, and after injury occurrence, at different phases of rehabilitation, and during the return to activity or retirement from activity process. Moreover, these holistic injury prevention efforts should be underpinned by a philosophy that injury prevention is inherently intertwined with performance enhancement, with the focus being on the individual and their overall well-being.
Gershon Tenenbaum and Edson Filho
Trustworthy measurement is essential to make inferences about people and events, as well as to make scientific inquiries and comprehend human behaviors. Measurement is used for validating and building theories, substantiating research endeavors, contributing to science, and supporting a variety of applications. Sport and exercise psychology is a theoretical and practical domain derived from two domains: psychology and kinesiology. As such, the measurement methods used by scientists and practitioners relate to the acquisition of motor skills (i.e., genetics and environment-deliberate practice), physiological measures (e.g., heart rate pulse, heart rate variability, breathing amplitude and frequency, galvanic skin response, and electrocardiogram), and psychological measures including introspective instruments in the form of questionnaires, interviews, and observations. Sport and exercise psychology entails the measurement of motor performance (e.g., time-trials, one repetition maximum tests), cognitive development (e.g., knowledge base and structure, deliberate practice, perception-cognition, attention, memory), social aspects (e.g., team dynamics, cohesion, leadership, shared mental models, coach-performer interaction), the self (e.g., self-esteem, self-concept, physical self), affective and emotional states (e.g., mood, burnout), and psychological skills (e.g. imagery, goal-setting, relaxation, emotion regulation, stress management, self-talk, relaxation, and pre-performance routine). Sport and exercise psychologists are also interested in measuring the affective domain (e.g., quality of life, affect/emotions, perceived effort), psychopathological states (e.g., anxiety, depression), cognitive domain (e.g., executive functioning, information processing, decision making, attention, academic achievements, cognition and aging), social-cognitive concepts (e.g., self-efficacy, self-control, motivation), and biochemical markers of human functioning (e.g., genetic factors, hormonal changes). The emergence of neuroscientific methods have ushered in new methodological tools (e.g., electroencephalogram; fMRI) to assess central markers (brain systems) linked to performance, learning, and well-being in sport and exercise settings. Altogether, the measures in the sport and exercise domain are used to establish linkages among the emotional, cognitive, and motor systems.
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.
Stiliani "Ani" Chroni and Frank Abrahamsen
The evolution in sport, exercise, and performance psychology in Europe goes back to the 1800s and spread from the east (Germany and Russia) to the west of the continent (France). Modern European sport psychology theorizing started with Wilhelm Wundt, who studied reaction times and mental processes in 1879, and Philippe Tissié, who wrote about psychological changes during cycling in 1894. However, Pierre de Coubertin was the one to put forward the first definition and promotion of sport psychology as a field of science. From there on, and despite obstacles and delays due to two world wars in Europe, sport psychology accelerated and caught up with North America. Looking back to the history of our disciplines, while sport, exercise, and performance psychology evolved and developed as distinct disciplines in Europe, sport and exercise psychology research appear to be stronger than performance psychology. The research advancements in sport and exercise psychology led to the establishment of the European sport psychology organization (FEPSAC) in the 1960s, as researchers needed an umbrella establishment that would accept the cultural and linguistic borders within the continent. From there on, education programs developed throughout Europe, and a cross-continent program of study with the collaboration of 12 academic institutions and the support of the European Commission was launched in the late 1990s. Applied sport psychology was practiced in the Soviet Union aiming to enhance the performance of their teams in the 1952 Olympics. Unfortunately, in many countries across Europe, research and practice are not comprehensively integrated to enhance sports and sportspersons, and while applied practice has room to grow, it also has challenges to tackle.
Barbi Law, Phillip Post, and Penny McCullagh
Modeling and imagery are distinct but related psychological skills. However, despite sharing similar cognitive processes, they have traditionally been investigated separately. While modeling has shown similar psychological and physical performance benefits as imagery, it remains an understudied technique within applied sport psychology. Social cognitive and direct perception approaches remain often-used explanations for the effectiveness of modeling on skill acquisition; however, emergent neuropsychological explanations provide evidence to support these earlier theories and a link to the imagery literature. With advances in technology and the development of applied frameworks, there is renewed interest in exploring modeling effects and how they parallel imagery use in applied settings. Specifically, modeling research has expanded beyond controlled laboratory settings to explore the effect of various theoretical models on motor performance and related cognitions within practice and competitive settings. The emergence of affordable video editing technology makes it easy for coaches and athletes to incorporate modeling into practice. The accessibility of video technology has sparked applied research on how various forms of modeling influence motor performance and cognitions, such as confidence and motivation. These applied investigations demonstrate the complementary nature of modeling and imagery in enhancing sport performance and skill acquisition, while highlighting the challenges in separating modeling and imagery effects. Both literatures offer possibilities for new methodological approaches and directions for studying these psychological skills in tandem as well as independently. Thus, there is much that imagery and modeling researchers can learn from each other in sport and other performance settings.
Katherine A. Tamminen and Courtney Braun
Adolescent athletes face increasing opportunities for competition at higher levels, as well as increasing demands on their time, pressure from parents and coaches, and conflicts with teammates and opponents, all during a time when adolescents are exploring different aspects of their identity and sense of self. Sport is a context for adolescent development, and despite the wide array of positive benefits that have been associated with sport participation during adolescence and into adulthood, it is also acknowledged that sport participation does not automatically confer benefits to adolescent athletes, and it may lead to potentially negative experiences and poor psychosocial outcomes. Key concerns for researchers and practitioners working with adolescent athletes include managing various stressors and the development of adaptive coping strategies, the risk of experiencing sport burnout, bullying, and the potential for withdrawing or dropping out of sport. Despite these concerns, a large body of research among adolescent athletes provides evidence that athletes’ performance and positive psychosocial development may be enhanced among adolescent athletes by intentionally structuring the sport environment to promote positive outcomes; in particular, coaches, parents, and peers play an important role in shaping the sport experiences of adolescent athletes. Furthermore, the psychosocial characteristics and competencies associated with sport participation may not automatically transfer to other areas of adolescents’ lives unless they are intentionally and systematically structured to do so. It is important for coaches, parents, and sport administrators who are involved in developing and delivering programs for adolescent athletes to be aware of some of the psychosocial concerns that are relevant for this population, and to consider intentionally structuring sport programs to promote high levels of achievement as well as healthy psychological and social development among young athletes.
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.
W. James Weese and P. Chelladurai
The study of leadership has a long and distinguished history. Over the past 100 years, researchers have pursued distinct lines of inquiry summarized in the trait theories, the behavioral theories, the contingency theories, and the transactional/transformational theories of leadership. More recent cognitive approaches have dominated the leadership literature base with emphasis on the areas of emotional intelligence and servant leadership. Even as new leadership models emerge, it is important to note that portions of the older theories continue to inform our understandings. The voluminous research base confirms three things about leadership. Leadership is a social process, involving people and engaging their emotions, motivations, and moods. Secondly, leadership is about influence. True leaders influence the thoughts and behaviors of people and groups without the manipulation of rewards or punishments. Some writers suggest that leadership is synonymous with influence. Finally, leaders focus, inspire, and motivate people and groups toward the accomplishment of a predetermined goal or objective. They bring clarity to a desired end and they inspire colleagues to channel their talents and energies toward its attainment. The theoretical developments of leadership, and the latest developments in particular (i.e., emotional intelligence and servant leadership), hold great promise for application in the sports domain.
Felipe B. Schuch and Brendon Stubbs
Depression is a leading cause of global burden affecting people across all ages, genders, and socioeconomic groups. Antidepressants are the cornerstone of treatment, yet treatment response is often inadequate. While some psychological interventions such as cognitive behavioral therapy can also help alleviate depressive symptoms, alternative and complimentary treatment options are required. In particular, therapeutic interventions that also address the greatly increased levels of obesity and cardiovascular disease among people with depression may offer added value. With the rising burden of premature mortality due to cardiovascular disease in people with depression and promising evidence base for physical activity to improve depressive symptoms, it is important to review the role, benefits, and underlying neurobiological responses of exercise among people with depression. There has been a growing body of evidence to suggest that higher levels of physical activity reduce a person’s risk of incident depression. It appears that lower levels of cardiorespiratory fitness increase an individual risk of depression, suggesting that physical activity and physical fitness have a key role in the prevention of depression. Moreover, exercise can improve depressive symptoms in those with subthreshold depressive symptoms and major depressive disorder. Despite the effectiveness of exercise, the optimal dose and frequency are yet to be fully elucidated. Nonetheless, exercise appears to be well accepted by people with depression, with relatively low levels of dropout from interventions, particularly when supervised by qualified professionals with expertise in exercise prescription. Various barriers to engaging in exercise exist and motivational strategies are essential to initiate and maintain exercise. A number of hypotheses have been postulated to determine the antidepressant effect of exercise; however, most are based on animal models or models elucidated from people without depression. Therefore, future representative research is required to elucidate the neurobiological antidepressant response from exercise in people with depression. Physical activity interventions targeting fitness should be a central part of the prevention and management of depression. In particular, physical activity interventions offer a viable option to prevent and address cardiometabolic abnormalities and cardiovascular disease, which account for a significant amount of premature deaths in this population and are not addressed by standard pharmacological and psychological therapies.