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.
Martin Turner and Marc Jones
Sport and stress are intertwined. Muhammad Ali once said, “I always felt pressure before a big fight, because what was happening was real.” As this quote attests, sport is real, unscripted, with the potential for psychological, and often physical, harm. The response to stress, commonly described as “flight or fight,” is an evolutionary adaptation to dangerous situations. It guides behavior and readies a person to respond, to fight, or flee. However, the stress response is not evoked solely in situations of mortal danger; it occurs in response to any situation with the potential for physical or psychological harm, such as sport. For example, the possibility of missing out on a life-changing gold-medal win in an Olympic Games, or losing an important competition that you were expected to win.
Stress in sport is often illustrated by the archetypal image of an athlete choking; snatching defeat from the jaws of victory. But stress can also help athletes perform well. Stress also plays a role in behavior away from the competition arena, influencing interactions with significant others, motivation and performance in training, and how athletes experience and manage injury and retirement from sport. In sport stress, the psychophysiological responses to stress are not just abstract theoretical concepts removed from the real world; they reflect the thoughts, feelings, and experiences of athletes.
It is important to understand the arousal response to stress in sport. Both theory and research suggest a connection between arousal and athletic performance. Recent approaches propose ideas about how the nature of arousal may differ depending on whether the athlete feels positively (as a challenge) or negatively (as a threat) about the stressor. The approach to seeing stress as a challenge supports a series of strategies that can be used to help control arousal in sport.
Aidan Moran and John Toner
We are constantly bombarded by information. Therefore, during every waking moment of our lives, we face decisions about which stimuli to prioritize and which ones to ignore. To complicate matters, the information that clamors for our attention includes not only events that occur in the world around us but also experiences that originate in the subjective domain of our own thoughts and feelings. The end result is that our minds can consciously attend to only a fraction of the rich kaleidoscope of information and experiences available to us from our senses, thoughts, memories, and imagination. Attentional processes such as “concentration,” or the ability to focus on the task at hand while ignoring distractions, are crucial for success in sport and other domains of skilled performance. To illustrate, Venus Williams, one of the greatest tennis players of all time, proclaimed that “for the players it is complete and pure focus. You don’t see anything or hear anything except the ball and what’s going on in your head.” For psychological scientists, concentration resembles a mental spotlight (like the head-mounted torch that miners and divers wear in dark environments) that illuminates targets located either in the external world around us or in the internal world of our subjective experiences. A major advantage of this spotlight metaphor is that it shows us that concentration is never “lost”—although it can be diverted to targets (whether in the external world or inside our heads) that are irrelevant to the task at hand. Research on attentional processes in sport and performance has been conducted in cognitive psychology (the study of how the mind works), cognitive sport psychology (the study of mental processes in athletes), and cognitive neuroscience (the study of how brain systems give rise to mental processes). From this research, advances have been made both in measuring attentional processes and in understanding their significance in sport and performance settings. For example, pupillometry, or the study of changes in pupil diameter as a function of cognitive processing, has been used as an objective index of attentional effort among skilled performers such as musicians and equestrian athletes. Next, research suggests that a heightened state of concentration (i.e., total absorption in the task at hand) is crucial to the genesis of “flow” states (i.e., rare and elusive moments when everything seems to come together for the performer) and optimal performance in athletes. More recently, studies have shown that brief mindfulness intervention programs, where people are trained to attend non-judgmentally to their own thoughts, feelings, and sensations, offer promise in the quest to enhance attentional skills in elite athletes. By contrast, anxiety has been shown to divert skilled performers’ attention to task-irrelevant information—sometimes triggering “choking” behavior or the sudden and significant deterioration of skilled performance. Finally, concentration strategies such as “trigger words” (i.e., the use of short, vivid, and positively phrased verbal reminders such as “this ball now”) are known to improve athletes’ ability to focus on a specific target or to execute skilled actions successfully.
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.
Leslee A. Fisher and Lars Dzikus
Bullying is a growing problem in sport and performance settings. Bullying falls under the umbrella of “athlete maltreatment,” which includes any form of harm and all relationships where harm could occur in sport and performance. Specifically, bullying is defined as repeated hostile and deliberate behavior from one person (the perpetrator) to another (the target) with the intent to harm or threaten harm to the target; it is marked by an imbalance of power. Often, after extreme bullying, the target feels terrorized.
Athlete maltreatment in sport and performance has been categorized into one of two forms: relational maltreatment and nonrelational maltreatment. Bullying is a relational problem. In particular, sport and performance bullying can occur from coach to player, parent to player, or player to player, and often takes the form of (1) making unreasonable performance demands of the target, (2) repeated threats to restrict or remove the target’s privileges or opportunities, (3) screaming or yelling directed at the target that is unwarranted, (4) repeated and continual criticism of the target’s abilities, (5) discounting or denying the target’s accomplishments, (6) blaming the target for his or her mistakes, (7) threats of and/or actual physical violence toward the target, and (8) social media or e-mail messages with threats or insults toward the target.
Sport and performance organizations should develop and implement antibullying policies. Six potential steps toward policy development and implementation include: (1) defining bullying behaviors, (2) referring to existing “best-practice” bullying policies, (3) specifically outlining the reporting of bullying incidents, (4) outlining clearly investigation and disciplinary actions to be taken, (5) outlining specific assistance for bullying targets, and (6) including prevention and training procedures. In the meantime, coaches as well as parents and players can recognize that they are role models for everyone with whom they come into contact in sport and performance settings. Coaches, parents, and players can also accept responsibility for creating a respectful and safe sport and performance environment, have a pre-season meeting to discuss antibullying policy, foster open and honest communication, accept critical feedback, not engage or allow bullying behavior themselves, create acceptable boundaries between themselves and others, and teach players to trust their instincts when things do not feel right. More advanced bullying prevention and training procedures can then take place.
Robert C. Eklund and J.D. Defreese
Athlete burnout is a cognitive-affective syndrome characterized by perceptions of emotional and physical exhaustion, reduced accomplishment, and devaluation of sport. A variety of theoretical conceptualizations are utilized to understand athlete burnout, including stress-based models, theories of identity, control and commitment, and motivational models. Extant research has highlighted myriad antecedents of athlete burnout including higher levels of psychological stress and amotivation and lower levels of social support and psychological need (i.e., autonomy, competence, relatedness) satisfaction. Continued longitudinal research efforts are necessary to confirm the directionality and magnitude of these associations. Moreover, theoretically focused intervention strategies may provide opportunities for prevention and treatment of burnout symptoms via athlete-focused stress-management and cognitive reframing approaches as well as environment-focused strategies targeting training loads and enhancement of athlete psychological need satisfaction. Moving forward, efforts to integrate research and practice to improve burnout recognition, prevention, and intervention in athlete populations likely necessitate collaboration among researchers and clinicians.
Ronald E. Smith and Frank L. Smoll
Coaches occupy a central role in sport, fulfilling instructional, organizational, strategic, and social relationship functions, and their relationships with athletes influence both skill development and psychosocial outcomes of sport participation. This review presents the major theoretical models and empirical results derived from coaching research, focusing on the measurement and correlates of coaching behaviors and on intervention programs designed to enhance coaching effectiveness.
A strong empirical literature on motor skill development has addressed the development of technical sport skills, guided in part by a model that divides the skill acquisition process into cognitive, associative, and autonomous phases, each requiring specific coaching knowledge and instructional techniques. Social-cognitive theory’s mediational model, the multidimensional model of sport leadership, achievement goal theory, and self-determination theory have been highly influential in research on the psychosocial aspects of the sport environment. These conceptual models have inspired basic research on the antecedents and consequences of defined coaching behaviors as well as applied research on coach training programs designed to enhance athletes’ sport outcomes. Of the few programs that have been systematically evaluated, outcomes such as enjoyment, liking for coach and teammates, team cohesion, self-esteem, performance anxiety, athletes’ motivational orientation, and sport attrition can be influenced in a salutary fashion by a brief intervention with specific empirically derived behavioral guidelines that focus on creating a mastery motivational climate and positive coach-athlete interactions. However, other existing programs have yet to demonstrate efficacy in controlled outcome research.
Anthony P. Kontos and Jamie McAllister-Deitrick
Concussions affect millions of athletes of all ages each year in a variety of sports. Athletes in certain sports such as American football, ice hockey, rugby, soccer, and combative sports like boxing are at higher risk for concussion. Direct or indirect mechanical forces acting on the skull and brain cause a concussion, which is a milder form of brain injury. Conventional neuroimaging (e.g., computerized tomography [CT], magnetic resonance imaging [MRI]) for concussion is typically negative. Concussions involve both neurometabolic and subtle structural damage to the brain that results in signs (e.g., loss of consciousness [LOC], amnesia, confusion), symptoms (e.g., headache, dizziness, nausea), and functional impairment (e.g., cognitive, balance, vestibular, oculomotor). Symptoms, impairment, and recovery time following concussion can last from a few days to weeks or months, based on a variety of risk factors, including younger age, female sex, history of concussion, and history of migraine. Following a concussion, athletes may experience one or more clinical profiles, including cognitive fatigue, vestibular, oculomotor, post-traumatic migraine (PTM), mood/anxiety, and/or cervical. The heterogeneous nature of concussion warrants a comprehensive approach to assessment, including a thorough clinical examination and interview; symptom inventories; and cognitive, balance, vestibular, oculomotor, and exertion-based evaluations. Targeted treatment and rehabilitation strategies including behavior management, vestibular, vision, and exertion therapies, and in some cases medication can be effective in treating the various concussion clinical profiles. Some athletes experience persistent post-concussion symptoms (PCS) and/or psychological issues (e.g., depression, anxiety) following concussion. Following appropriate treatment and rehabilitation strategies, determination of safe return to play is predicated on being symptom-free and back to normal levels of function at rest and following exertion. Certain populations, including youth athletes, may be at a higher risk for worse impairment and prolonged recovery following concussion. It has been suggested that some athletes experience long-term effects associated with concussion including chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE). However, additional empirical studies on the role of concussion on CTE are needed, as CTE may have multiple causes that are unrelated to sport participation and concussion.
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.
Zella Moore, Jamie Leboff, and Kehana Bonagura
Major depressive disorder, dysthymia, and bipolar disorder are very common diagnoses seen among athletes, and they are serious conditions that can be debilitating if not properly addressed. These disorders warrant careful attention because they can adversely affect multiple domains of an athlete’s life, including athletic motivation, performance outcomes, interpersonal well-being, health, and overall daily functioning. Key foci include the prevalence of, clinical characteristics of, causes of, and risk factors for major depressive disorder, persistent depressive disorder/dysthymia, bipolar I disorder, and bipolar II disorder. Sport psychologists should integrate such important information into their overall case conceptualization and decision-making processes to ensure that athletes and performers at risk for, or struggling with, such mental health concerns receive the most effective, efficient, and timely care possible.