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.