Posted 04/20/2020 in Category 1

Evaluating Sport Psychology Mental Skills Interventions

Evaluating Sport Psychology Mental Skills Interventions


In putting together an intervention for a client it is important to be aware of a number of issues relating to the delivery and evaluation of psychological skills training. In particular it is important to be aware of factors that may impact athlete(s) adherence to the programme proposed. Psychological skills are just like physical skills and require training and effort to master. This is illustrated in the quote below by Sally Gunnell (Olympic 400 metre hurdles champion) 

Although you can train your body physically by sheer persistence, it’s, much harder to train your mind ... All this visualisation did not come to me in a flash. I had to work at it, and learn how to use it.”  (p. 187, as cited in Bull et al., 1996) 

Despite the hard work and effort associated with psychological skills training (or possibly because of it) many athletes do not adhere to their psychological skills training programme. For example, in a study which monitored psychological skills training over an eight week period athletes (who incidentally had volunteered for the programme) engaged in mental training for an average of 17 minutes per week (Bull, 1991). While this relatively low mean masked a high degree of variability across the participants it is a particularly interesting finding given that most athletes acknowledge the 

importance of psychological factors in sports performance. Of interest to psychologists are the three factors identified by the participants as having a perceived influence on adherence levels: 

  • Need to have an individualised training package 
  • Not enough time 
  • Disruptive home environment. 

When planning an intervention it is important to ensure that any perceived barriers to change are addressed. In order to increase adherence to Psychological Skills Training a number of strategies have been proposed (Bull et al., 1996): 

  • Personalise the Psychological Skills Training 
  • Establish the importance of Psychological Skills Training 
  • Establish an appropriate structure 
  • Use a mental training diary 
  • Constantly review the programme to prevent boredom 
  • Integrate mental and physical training 

Whatever intervention is chosen it often comprises one of more of the basic psychological skills. Often these interventions are combined in the form of a competition routine. There are two types of routines: pre-event routines and pre-performance routines (Lavallee et al., 2004). As the name suggests pre- event routines are sequences of actions that that athletes engage in during the run up to an event. For example, on the morning of an important competition an athlete may read through some key cards outlining what is important for them, use imagery to mentally prepare for competition, and give themselves enough time to go through the same physical warm up routine. Pre-performance routines are sequences of preparatory actions which an athlete engages in before they perform a key skill (Moran, 2004). For example, before serving a tennis player may bounce the ball a set number to times, take a deep breath, and visualize where he/she wants the serve to go. Pre-performance routines are proposed to be effective because they get athletes focused on task relevant information, the focus is on the present, and the athlete is prevented from devoting too much attention to the mechanics of the skill, which can impact automaticity (Moran, 2004). It is important that any pre-performance or pre-event routine is kept short and simple, and involves things that are easy for the athlete to do and under their control (Goldberg, 1998). For example, in tennis it is possible to control how many times you breathe before serving but it is not possible to control being able to have exactly two hours to prepare for competition. This can distinguish routines from superstitions where the essence of superstitious behaviour is that one’s fate is governed by factors outside of one’s control, such as an athlete thinking ‘I will only play well if I can get changed in certain corner of the changing room’ (Moran, 2004). 

EVALUATING PSYCHOLOGICAL SKILLS TRAINING 

It is important to outline how any proposed intervention is to be evaluated. Many interventions are done with a single athlete. However, even with only one person it is possible to scientifically evaluate the impact of any intervention. In evaluating an intervention you would typically (although not always) wish to evaluate the following: 

  • Performance (e.g., first serve percentage, tackle count etc.) 
  • Response of Athlete (e.g., confidence, anxiety levels etc.) 
  • Psychological Skills (e.g., imagery use, use of self-talk etc.) 
  • Consultant Effectiveness 

When planning your data collection it is also worth considering having a retention test – that is you go back to collect data in a few months time after the intervention to ensure that any changes you have observed remain. This helps eliminate the Hawthorne effect as a possible cause of any changes.

You should also give some consideration to how often you would collect pre- and post intervention data. In general you need to be sure that you have collected sufficient data so that you have a detailed knowledge of the problem. If appropriate and it is feasible you may also want to collect a number of measures of any variable (e.g., > 8) so that you can spot trends in the data. This may be more applicable to state measures than more general trait measures (which typically have less variability). 

We hope these reflections on evaluating sport psychology mental skills have been helpful. Whether you are a client or a consultant then this brief overview outlines some of the things to consider. 

If you are looking for someone to work on your mental game then the sport psychologists who list on our site are very capable of working with you to help develop your mental skills for sport performance. Visit our home page to search our directory for the wide range of consultants we have from the USA, UK, Australia and Ireland.  

You will be able to find the right consultant to help you get your sporting bounce! If you have any queries or need some advice then please contact us and the sporting bounce team will be delighted to help.

If you are a qualified consultant and would like to list with us then please list the join today link in our homepage. We would be delighted to host you. 

References

Bull, S. J. (1991). Personal and situational influences on adherence to mental skills training.  Journal of Sport and Exercise Psychology, 13, 121-132. 

Bull, S. J., Albinson, J. G., & Shambrook, C. J. (1996).  The mental game plan: Getting psyched for sport.  Eastbourne.  Sports Dynamics.  

Lavallee, D., Kremer, J., Moran, A., & Williams, M. (2004). Sport psychology: Contemporary themes. London: Palgrave.

Moran, A. P. (2004). Sport and exercise psychology: A critical introduction. Hove, England: Routledge.