It is important for sport and exercise psychology (SEP) professionals to demonstrate that the interventions they employ make a difference. Assessing the degree of an intervention’s effectiveness depends first and foremost on the nature and scope of the intervention (i.e., the objective of the intervention) and its targeted group. Traditionally, interventions have been quite varied between the fields of sport psychology and exercise psychology; a common thread however, can be seen as an enhancement of the sport or exercise experience, along with an attempt to help the individual better self-regulate engagement with the targeted behavior or mindset. The central aim of enhancing the experience and increased self-regulation is oriented toward performance enhancement within sport psychology interventions, whereas within exercise psychology interventions the orientation is toward physical-activity adoption and better exercise program adherence. Although the two fields may have different objectives, it can be argued that sport psychology interventions—specifically psychological skills training (PST) interventions—can inform SEP professionals’ research and applied practices with both the sport and exercise populations. Psychological skills training includes the strategies and techniques used to develop psychological skills, enhance sport performance, and facilitate a positive approach to competition. Since the early 1980s, a growing body of evidence has supported that the PST interventions SEP professionals employ do make a difference. In particular, evidence from research in sport contexts supports the use of a multimodal approach to PST interventions—combining different types of psychological strategies (e.g., goal-setting, self-talk, imagery, relaxation)—because a multimodal approach has demonstrated positive effects on both psychological skills and sport performance. The research investigating the effectiveness of PST interventions in enhancing performance has primarily centered on adult athletes who compete at competitive or elite levels. Elite athletes are certainly important consumers of SEP services; however, SEP professionals have rightfully challenged researchers and practitioners to target other consumers of SEP services who they argue are as deserving of PST as elite athletes. For example, young athletes and coaches are two populations that have traditionally been overlooked in the PST research. PST interventions targeting young athletes can help them to develop (at the start of their sporting careers) the type of psychological skills that facilitate a positive approach to competition and better abilities to self-regulate their emotional responses to stressful competitive situations. Coaches are also performers with unique needs who could benefit from PST interventions. Researchers have begun to target these two populations and the results might be considered the most intriguing aspects of the current PST literature. Future research related to PST interventions should target exercise populations. Exercise professionals often operate as coaches in healthy behavior change (e.g., strength and conditioning coaches, personal trainers, etc.) and as such should also employ, and monitor responses to, PST. To facilitate further development and growth of PST intervention research in both sport and exercise settings, SEP professionals are encouraged to include a comprehensive evaluation of program effectiveness. In particular, four major areas to consider when evaluating PST programs are (a) the quality of the PST service delivery (e.g., the knowledge, delivery style, and characteristics of the SEP professional); (b) assessment of the sport psychological strategies participants used as a result of the PST program; (c) participants’ perceptions of the influence of the PST program on their psychological skills, performance, and enjoyment; and (d) measurement of participants psychological skills, performance, and enjoyment as a result of the PST program.
Rebecca A. Zakrajsek and Jedediah E. Blanton
Jack Watson, Robert Hilliard, and William Way
Although many sport and performance psychology (SPP) practitioners are not specifically practicing psychology or counseling, there are numerous counseling and communication skills that should be incorporated into one’s SPP practice for effective consulting. There have been numerous calls within the SPP profession to integrate concepts from counseling psychology because of the similarity of the two domains. One starting point is the use of theory-driven practice. There are a myriad of theories from which a SPP practitioner could operate, but the person-centered, cognitive-behavioral, and psychodynamic theoretical orientations provide useful foundations for effective consultation. Second, the counseling psychology literature is rife with skills that are useful for therapeutic change. Many of these skills appear to have applicability within the realm of applied SPP. One of the most robust findings in the counseling literature is the importance of the working alliance between the therapist and client. Generally speaking, research has consistently found a strong working alliance to be associated with improved client outcomes. Given these findings, many SPP researchers and practitioners have called for a stronger focus on alliance-building techniques within graduate training programs. Several additional characteristics of effective consultants have also been identified in the literature. These include being honest, trustworthy, respectful, approachable, and likable, and possessing good communication skills. Finally, there are several microskills that have been identified as important for effective SPP consulting. These include the use of attending behaviors (such as listening, questioning, paraphrasing, and reflecting meaning), confrontation, and self-disclosure. The incorporation of these skills and characteristics within a consultant’s practice is likely to improve the overall consulting process. However, unlike in counseling psychology, the outcome research in SPP is sparse. Therefore, the challenge for researchers is to examine how the use of these various skills influences outcomes in an applied SPP context.
Maximilian Pelka and Michael Kellmann
The sport and performance environment is highly demanding for its actors. Therefore, recovery from work and sports requires special attention. Without adequate recovery, optimal performance is not attainable. It depends, however, on the individual what adequate recovery actually is. An extremely demanding event for someone may not be as demanding for someone else. Every individual perceives his or her environment differently and therefore has to choose his or her response or prevention strategy accordingly. Monitoring one’s recovery-stress states might be a promising starting point to establish individual baselines and further regulate training or work intensities. Relaxation in terms of implementing systematic relaxation techniques seems to be an adequate approach. These techniques can be divided into muscle-to-mind and mind-to-muscle techniques focusing either on the training of one’s sensitivity to muscle tension or on the cognitive processes involved in relaxation. Whether the recovery process is finally successful depends on if the chosen methods fit the purpose of recovery (i.e., response to cognitive or physical demands), the setting/circumstance (i.e., time and place), and how comfortable one feels with the specific recovery strategy.
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.
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.
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.
Stephen H. Boutcher
Cardiovascular disease has been estimated to be responsible for over 30% of deaths worldwide. The traditional cardiovascular risk factors of smoking, obesity, diabetes, physical inactivity, and family history predict about 50% of the variance of new cardiovascular disease cases; therefore, a number of other risk factors must contribute to cardiovascular disease development. One such factor is psychological stress, which has been identified as playing a role in the development of cardiovascular disease. The major research strategy for assessing the impact of psychological stress on cardiovascular disease development is to measure cardiovascular reactivity to laboratory mental stressors. Exaggerated mental stress-induced cardiovascular reactivity and slow stressor recovery have been associated with the development of cardiovascular disease. In contrast to exposure to psychological stress, there is strong evidence that participation in aerobic exercise leads to a reduction in cardiovascular disease. Participation in regular aerobic exercise generally reduces the cardiovascular response to acute exercise; therefore, researchers have hypothesized that the ability of aerobic exercise to enhance cardiovascular health works partly by modifying the cardiovascular reactivity response to mental stressors. There is mixed evidence to suggest that chronic aerobic exercise decreases or increases cardiovascular reactivity to mental challenge in normotensive, healthy individuals. A decrease in reactivity, however, has been found in those studies that have examined individuals at risk of disease or diseased adults. The optimal volume and intensity of aerobic exercise that brings about maximum decreases in cardiovascular reactivity has yet to be determined. The impact of other forms of exercise on reactivity such as resistance exercise and interval sprinting exercise is starting to be assessed. The challenge for researchers in this area is to identify the mode of exercise that takes the least amount of time but brings about the greatest reduction of levels of stress-induced cardiovascular disease.
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.
Vincent J. Granito
The history of sport, exercise, and performance psychology in North America dates back to the late 1800s. However, these professionals typically conducted research in the area of motor learning and development, with little connection to other efforts and researchers. They struggled to forge an identity with the parent disciplines of psychology and physical education. By the 1930s, sport psychology was beginning to take shape in the form of topics that would become the foundation of the field. Professionals were also starting to provide services to athletes, such as Coleman Griffith with the Chicago Cubs in 1938. The field came into its own during the 1950s and 1960s as established research labs and educational opportunities became available to students who would go on to develop further opportunities during the 1970s and 1980s. The scholarly journals were launched, professional organizations were set up, and graduate programs were created. Exercise psychology became a subdivision of the field during the 1970s fitness craze, and performance psychology developed into a specialty in the 1980s. This rich history provides a framework for the current makeup of the field and direction for the future.
Kate F. Hays
Performance psychology addresses issues of optimal performance across a wide range of fields. Optimal performance can be enhanced via psychological methods; psychology also addresses the mental barriers and detriments to performance. One major performance arena is the performing arts. The performing arts include music, dance, and theatre arts. In some instances, people are performing live in front of an audience; in other situations, their performance is prepared for a future audience (e.g., movie, TV, or video). A number of psychological aspects need to be addressed to produce optimal performance: flawless performance, optimal arousal, focus maintenance, competition and perfectionism, and artistic expression. Much of the knowledge concerning the enhancement of performance is derived from the field of sport psychology. Some common concerns include the management of performance arousal, developmental issues in relation to early training, injury recovery, and transitions within or out of the performance arena. Although many concerns and expectations are similar with regard to the end “product” of excellent performance, there are also vast differences in such aspects as the culture of the performing arts, historical roots, purpose of the activity, resources and supports, and the place of the particular performance arena within the larger culture. Both research and practice opportunities are increasingly of interest to academicians, practitioners, and performing artists themselves.