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.
Krista J. Munroe-Chandler and Michelle D. Guerrero
Imagery, which can be used by anyone, is appealing to performers because it is executed individually and can be performed at anytime and anywhere. The breadth of the application of imagery is far reaching. Briefly, imagery is creating or recreating experiences in one’s mind. From the early theories of imagery (e.g., psychoneuromuscular) to the more recent imagery models (e.g., PETTLEP), understanding the way in which imagery works is essential to furthering our knowledge and developing strong research and intervention programs aimed at enhanced performance. The measurement of imagery ability and frequency provides a way of monitoring the progression of imagery use and imagery ability. Despite the individual differences known to impact imagery use (e.g., type of task, imagery perspective, imagery speed), imagery remains a key psychological skill integral to a performer’s success.
Britton W. Brewer
In addition to the disruptive impact of sport injury on physical functioning, injury can have psychological effects on athletes. Consistent with contemporary models of psychological response to sport injury, aspects of psychological functioning that can be affected by sport injury include pain, cognition, emotion, and behavior. Part of the fabric of sport and ubiquitous even among “healthy” athletes, pain is a common consequence of sport injury. Postinjury pain is typically of the acute variety and can be exacerbated, at least temporarily, by surgery and some rehabilitation activities. Cognitive responses to sport injury include appraising the implications of the injury for one’s well-being and ability to manage the injury, making attributions for injury occurrence, using cognitive coping strategies, perceiving benefits of injury, and experiencing intrusive injury-related thoughts and images, increased perception of injury risk, reduced self-esteem and self-confidence, and diminished neurocognitive performance. Emotional responses to sport injury tend to progress from a preponderance of negative emotions (e.g., anger, confusion, depression, disappointment, fear, frustration) shortly after injury occurrence to a more positive emotional profile over the course of rehabilitation. A wide variety of personal and situational factors have been found to predict postinjury emotions. In terms of postinjury behavior, athletes have reported initiating coping strategies such as living their lives as normally as possible, distracting themselves, seeking social support, isolating themselves from others, learning about their injuries, adhering to the rehabilitation program, pursuing interests outside sport, consuming alcohol, taking recreational and/or performance-enhancing substances, and, in rare cases, attempting suicide. Psychological readiness to return to sport after injury is an emerging concept that cuts across cognitive, emotional, and behavioral responses to sport injury.
Gershon Tenenbaum and Edson Filho
This is an advance summary of a forthcoming article in the Oxford Research Encyclopedia of Psychology. Please check back later for the full article.
Trustworthy measurement is essential to making inferences about people and events, as well as to making scientific inquiries and comprehending 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 disciplines: psychology and kinesiology (the science of movement and exercise). As such, the measurement methods used by both 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, GSR, and EEG), and psychological measures including introspective instruments in the form of questionnaires, interviews, and observations.
Sport psychology entails the measurement of motor performance, 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). The measures in exercise psychology pertain to 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 domain (e.g., self-efficacy, self-control, motivation), and brain plasticity and human functioning (e.g., genetic factors, changes in brain structure/regeneration, neurological and chemical measures). The measures in the sport and exercise domain are used to establish linkages among the emotional, cognitive, and motor systems. The measures of neural activity, through the emergence of neuroscientific technologies, are linked to measures of overt behaviors to better account for human function, performance, and health.
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.
The Roles of Psychological Stress, Physical Activity, and Dietary Modifications on Cardiovascular Health Implications
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.
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).
E. Whitney G. Moore
Strength training sessions are developed and overseen by strength and conditioning coaches, whose primary responsibilities are to maximize individuals’ athletic performance and minimize their injury risk. As the majority of education and certification for being a strength and conditioning coach focuses on physiology and physiological adaptations, biomechanics, and related scientific areas of study, there has been less emphasis on coaching behaviors, motivational techniques, pedagogical approaches, or psychological skills. These are important areas because to accomplish both long-term and short-term training goals, strength and conditioning coaches should use and train their athletes in the use of these techniques.
Motivation of training session participants is essential to being an effective strength and conditioning coach. Coaches motivate their athletes through their behaviors, design and organization of the training sessions, teaching techniques, role modeling, relationships with the athletes, and the psychological skills they incorporate within and outside of the training sessions. Coaches also often teach athletes about psychological skills not to motivate the athlete but to assist the athlete in their performance, mental health, or general well-being. Some of these psychological skills are so ingrained in the strength and conditioning discipline that coaches do not recognize or categorize them as psychological skills. Because of the relationship built between strength coach and athlete, the strength and conditioning coach often provides informal knowledge of advice on topics regarding general life lessons or skills that can actually be categorized under psychological skills. However, the lack of formal education and training in sport psychology techniques also means that strength and conditioning coaches do not take full advantage of many behaviors, motivational techniques, and other psychological skills. These areas remain an area for further professional development and research within the strength and conditioning field.
Aidan Moran, Nick Sevdalis, and Lauren Wallace
This is an advance summary of a forthcoming article in the Oxford Research Encyclopedia of Psychology. Please check back later for the full article.
There are close parallels between surgical performance and performance in competitive sports. For example, both require significant gross and fine motor ability and effective concentration skills, and both are routinely performed in dynamic environments under significant time constraints. Given such parallels, it is not surprising that there has been an upsurge of research interest in the psychological processes that underlie expertise in surgical performance. Of these processes, perhaps the most frequently studied in recent years is that of motor imagery (MI; also known as “mental practice” or MP), the cognitive simulation skill that enables us to “see” and “feel” actions in our imagination without engaging in the physical movements involved. Current research interest in the role of motor (or “feeling oriented”) imagery in surgical performance is attributable to a combination of theoretical and practical factors. Specifically, at a theoretical level, hundreds of experimental studies in psychology have demonstrated the efficacy of MI/MP in improving skill learning and skilled performance in a variety of fields such as sport and music. The most widely accepted explanation of these effects comes from simulation theory, which postulates that executed and imagined actions share some common neural circuits and cognitive mechanisms. Put simply, imagining a skill activates some of the brain areas that are involved in its actual execution. Accordingly, systematic engagement in MI/MP appears to “prime” the brain for optimal skilled performance. Turning to the practical level, as surgical instruction has moved largely from an apprenticeship model (the so-called, “see one, do one, teach one” approach) to a model based on simulation technology (e.g., the use of virtual reality equipment), there has been a steady growth of interest in the potential of cognitive training techniques (e.g., MI/MP) to improve surgical skills and performance. Although these cognitive training techniques suffer both from certain conceptual confusion (e.g., with regard to the clarity of key terms) and inadequate empirical validation, they offer considerable promise in the quest for a cost-effective supplementary training tool in surgical education. Against this background, it is important for researchers and practitioners alike to evaluate progress in understanding the cognitive psychological factors (such as motor imagery) that underlie surgical skill learning and performance.
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.