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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.


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).