Felipe B. Schuch and Brendon Stubbs
Depression is a leading cause of global burden affecting people across all ages, genders, and socioeconomic groups. Antidepressants are the cornerstone of treatment, yet treatment response is often inadequate. While some psychological interventions such as cognitive behavioral therapy can also help alleviate depressive symptoms, alternative and complimentary treatment options are required. In particular, therapeutic interventions that also address the greatly increased levels of obesity and cardiovascular disease among people with depression may offer added value. With the rising burden of premature mortality due to cardiovascular disease in people with depression and promising evidence base for physical activity to improve depressive symptoms, it is important to review the role, benefits, and underlying neurobiological responses of exercise among people with depression.
There has been a growing body of evidence to suggest that higher levels of physical activity reduce a person’s risk of incident depression. It appears that lower levels of cardiorespiratory fitness increase an individual risk of depression, suggesting that physical activity and physical fitness have a key role in the prevention of depression. Moreover, exercise can improve depressive symptoms in those with subthreshold depressive symptoms and major depressive disorder. Despite the effectiveness of exercise, the optimal dose and frequency are yet to be fully elucidated. Nonetheless, exercise appears to be well accepted by people with depression, with relatively low levels of dropout from interventions, particularly when supervised by qualified professionals with expertise in exercise prescription. Various barriers to engaging in exercise exist and motivational strategies are essential to initiate and maintain exercise. A number of hypotheses have been postulated to determine the antidepressant effect of exercise; however, most are based on animal models or models elucidated from people without depression. Therefore, future representative research is required to elucidate the neurobiological antidepressant response from exercise in people with depression. Physical activity interventions targeting fitness should be a central part of the prevention and management of depression. In particular, physical activity interventions offer a viable option to prevent and address cardiometabolic abnormalities and cardiovascular disease, which account for a significant amount of premature deaths in this population and are not addressed by standard pharmacological and psychological therapies.
W. James Weese and P. Chelladurai
The study of leadership has a long and distinguished history. Over the past 100 years, researchers have pursued distinct lines of inquiry summarized in the trait theories, the behavioral theories, the contingency theories, the transactional/transformational theories of leadership. More recent cognitive approaches have dominated the leadership literature base with emphasis on the areas of emotional intelligence and servant leadership. Even as new leadership models emerge, it is important to note that portions of the older theories continue to inform our understandings. The voluminous research base confirms three things about leadership. Leadership is a social process, involving people and engaging their emotions, motivations, and moods. Secondly, leadership is about influence. True leaders influence the thoughts and behaviors of people and groups without the manipulation of rewards or punishments. Some writers suggest that leadership is synonymous with leadership. Finally, leaders focus, inspire, and motivate people and groups toward the accomplishment of a predetermined goal or objective. They bring clarity to a desired end and they inspire colleagues to channel their talents and energies toward its attainment. The theoretical developments of leadership, and the latest developments in particular (i.e., emotional intelligence and servant leadership), hold great promise for application in the sports domain.
Rebecca A. Zakrajsek and Jedediah E. Blanton
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.