Since the 1890s, the field of applied sport psychology has gained increasing visibility within the sport and exercise science, psychology, and mainstream communities. Associated with this enhanced visibility has been an increase in the numbers of education and training pathways, registration and licensure schemes, and people offering services. At the same time, there has also been increasing recognition that applied practitioners operate in a range of domains, including sport, where there is a need for clients to respond to stressful, often competitive, environmental demands and perform to high levels, such as the performing arts and music, business, medicine, the military, and public speaking. These practitioners do not need to be interested in sport, and they come from a diverse range of backgrounds. As sport and performance psychologists have emerged and formed a loose and porous community, researchers have documented their technical and personal competencies, the ways in which they help clients, the principles guiding their development toward expertise, and some of the ethical and other demands placed on them as helping professionals. This knowledge can be used to identify ways that these individuals can be helped to develop their knowledge, skills, and character so they can form salubrious relationships with clients and assist performers across various domains to achieve their goals and resolve issues.
The Paralympics are the pinnacle of sporting competition for athletes with physical and intellectual impairments. Most Paralympians have intellectual or sensory (e.g., visual) or physical (e.g., amputation, spinal cord injury, cerebral palsy) impairments. The Paralympics have become increasingly competitive and larger over the years as they have grown from two countries and 150 athletes in 1952 to 150 countries and about 4,000 athletes in 2012. In the last 10 to 20 years there has been significant interest and growth in the psychology of Paralympic athletes. Researchers are slowly starting to support the value of psychological skills training. Typically, a humanistic personal developmental model that equally values athletes’ well-being and their athletic performance has been advocated. Understanding the various influences on performance and well-being specifically for Paralympians is particularly important given the stress of the Paralympic experience. Research on Paralympians has focused on foundational qualities, which are psychological factors, such as feelings of control, self-awareness, self-esteem, and personality factors. Often these foundation qualities are framed as having an indirect influence on performance through factors like training quality and lifestyle choices (e.g., alcohol consumption). In additional to foundational qualities, a second area of research targets the psychological methods that are used to develop mental skills and qualities. For instance, competition plans, positive self-talk, and goal setting are all methods used to enhance positive thoughts (e.g., confidence) and reduce negative affect (e.g., anxiety). A third area of focus has to do with facilitative and debilitative factors that influence Paralympic performance. For instance, many Paralympians have to manage chronic pain and avoid overtraining and injury. Many Paralympians have difficulty training, as sport facilities are not always accessible for training. Travel to competition sites, especially involving air travel (with effects such as jet lag), is particularly challenging and can negatively influence performance. Sleeping in the Paralympic village can also be difficult, with many athletes reporting inferior sleep quality. Finally, a small body of research has examined the challenges Paralympians face when retiring from sport.
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).
Ryan E. Rhodes and Patrick Boudreau
The physical, psychological, and economic benefits of regular moderate-to-vigorous-intensity physical activity are well substantiated. Unfortunately, few people in developed countries engage in enough physical activity to reap these benefits. Thus, a strong theoretical understanding of what factors are associated with physical activity is warranted in order to create effective and targeted interventions. Social/ecological approaches to understanding physical activity demonstrate the breadth of correlates that encompass intra-individual, inter-individual, environmental, and policy-related variables in physical activity performance. One longstanding intrapersonal correlate of interest is the relationship between personality traits—enduring individual-level differences in tendencies to show consistent patterns of thoughts, feelings, and actions—and physical activity. Personality trait theories are broad in focus and differ in terms of proposed etiology, yet much of the recent research in physical activity has been with super traits in the five-factor model: neuroticism, extraversion, openness, agreeableness, and conscientiousness. Meta-analytic reviews suggest that conscientiousness and extraversion are positively associated with physical activity with some mixed evidence for a small negative relationship with neuroticism. The effect appears to be most pronounced with vigorous physical activities and less so with lower-intensity lifestyle activities and shows mixed evidence for whether proximal social cognitive variables (intention, self-efficacy) can mediate this relationship. More specific sub-traits show that facets of extraversion (excitement-seeking, activity) or conscientiousness (self-discipline, industriousness/ambition) have larger and more specific associations with particular types of physical activity or moderate key processes like the intention-behavior gap. Furthermore, personality appears to be linked to higher-intensity and adventure activities more than lower-intensity leisure physical activities. Contemporary longitudinal assessments of the bi-directionality of personality and physical activity have begun to advance our understanding of interconnectedness. Interventions that target personality traits to improve physical activity have been relatively understudied but hold some promise when used in tandem with larger theoretical approaches and behavioral change strategies.