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A Method For Enhancing The Psychological Skills 

 

Of Track And Field Athletes

 

By Daniel Wann and Brian Church, Murray State University

 

 

    During the last few decades, coaches and athletes from a wide variety of sports have begun to realize the importance of the mental side of athletic performance. More specifically, individuals involved with organized sport now understand that for athletes to perform at their peak level of efficiency, they must possess and use a number of psychological skills. This is also true within the world of track and field as coaches and athletes have become interested in enhancing their athletes' psychological skills (Caudill, Weinberg, & Jackson, 1983; Ungerleider & Golding, 1991). For instance, articles appearing in Track Coach have discussed the importance of the mental preparation (e.g., Anderson, 1997; Sing, 1986; Vernacchia, 1997; Yingbo, 1992).
     Although mental training for athletes has been used for a number of years, it is only within the last decade that comprehensive mental training programs have become popular. These programs are commonly referred to as psychological skills training (or PST) programs. PST programs are comprehensive intervention pack- ages designed to educate and train athletes in mental preparation (Vealey, 1994; Wann, 1997; Weinberg & Gould, 1995). Because PST programs involve assisting athletes in the improvement of multiple psychological skills, these programs have a distinct advantage over pro- grams designed only to improve an athlete's ability in one area. The current article reviews a PST program for intercollegiate track and field athletes that was successfully used to improve the athletes' mental skills.

 

A PSYCHOLOGICAL SKILLS TRAINING PROGRAM FOR TRACK

 

AND FIELD ATHLETES


     
PST programs can incorporate a number of different mental skills. The program described here involved five different mental skills: anxiety control, mental imagery, attentional focus and control, self-confidence (also called self-efficacy), and the ability to handle adversity (e.g., poor performances, home sickness, conflicts with coaches, etc.). These five psychological skills were chosen for inclusion in the current program because of three factors. First, discussions with the team's coaches revealed that, in the impressions of the coaches, these five skills were lacking in many of the athletes. Second, these skills are particularly important for optimal performance in track and field events. And third, research has documented the importance of these skills (see Singer, Murphey, & Tennant, 1993; Wann, 1997; Weinberg&Gould, 1995). Because the psychological skills needs of teams can differ, PST pro- grams for other teams may need to include other mental skills such as goal setting (Vealey, 1994) or injury interventions (Wann, 1997).
     The PST program involved five stages: (I) initial meetings with track and field coaches, (2) psychological skills testing on the athletes, (3) meetings with athletes on an individual basis to review their test scores, (4) meetings with athletes on a group basis to provide the psychological skills training, and (5) meetings with athletes on an individual basis at the track to begin assist the athletes in implementing their new psychological skills.


STAGE 1: INITIAL MEETINGS WITH TRACK AND FIELD COACHES

 


     
There were two initial meeting with the track and field coaches. These meetings were designed to accomplish two important tasks. First, the sport psychologist explained the strengths and limitations of the proposed PST . This explanation included a description of the difference between clinical sport psychology interventions and educational sport psychology interventions. Clinical sport psychologists are specifically trained to deal with the emotional problems and personality disorders experienced by athletes (for example, depression and eating disorders). Conversely, educational sport psychologists are individuals with an understanding of the principles and importance of mental preparation who transmit this information to athletes and coaches (see Wami, 1997, for a description of clinical and educational sport psychologists). The coaches were told that the current PST would focus solely on educational sport psychology and would not involve clinical services. The coaches were also told that any athlete who revealed an emotional problem to the sport psychologist would be referred to an appropriate professional.
     The second purpose of the initial meetings with the coaches was to allow the coaches to describe their impressions of the psychological skills of the team. Because coaches work so closely with athletes and spend a great deal of time evaluating them, coaches are able to provide valuable and unique insights into the mental skills of athletes. The coaches were also able to articulate the psychological strengths necessary for optimal performance in track and field. Based of these discussions, the sport psychologist was able to construct a PST that specifically targeted the needs of the team.


STAGE 2: PSYCHOLOGICAL SKILLS TESTING ON THE ATHLETES


     
The next stage involved determining the mental strengths and weaknesses of each athlete. This was accomplished through a 60 minute meeting with the track and field team. During this meeting, the athletes were asked to complete a battery of tests designed to measure their anxiety control, mental imagery, attentional focus and control, self confidence, and ability to handle adversity. The questionnaires included the 68-item Ways of Coping checklist (Crocker, 1992; Crocker & Graham, 1995), the 28-item Athletic Coping Skills Inventory (Smith, Schutz, Smoll, & Ptacek, 1995), the 13-item Trait Sport-Confidence Inventory (Vealey, 1986), and the 15-item Sport Competition Anxiety Test (Martens, Vealey, & Burton, 1990).
      Two important points concerning the psychological skills testing warrant mention. First, for ethical reasons, each athlete was asked to read and sign an informed consent statement prior to completing the questionnaire battery .This statement described the nature of the tests as well as their intended use. Second, there are a number of other tests that would also have been appropriate. Coaches and sport psychologists with a desire to use other tests should consult Ostrow's (1996) Directory of Psychological Tests in the Sport and Exercise Sciences (2nd ed.). This volume provides a detailed description of several hundred tests measuring many different psychological skills


STAGE 3: MEETING WITH THE ATHLETES TO REVIEW THEIR TEST SCORES

     The third stage involved meeting with the track and field athletes to discuss their test scores. These meetings were conducted on an individual basis in order to insure the confidentiality of the athletes' scores. The purpose of these meetings was to provide the athletes with an overview of their psychological skills. That is, they received a report describing their psychological skills and whether their scores indicated that the skill was a strength or a weakness. Thus, the athletes were able to determine which psychological skills they were lacking. At the conclusion of the meeting, the athletes were given a schedule of the psychological skills training sessions. The athletes were told that although they should attempt to attend each of the training sessions, they should make certain that they attend the sessions targeting their weaker skills.


STAGE 4: MEETINGS WITH THE ATHLETES TO PROVIDE THE 

PSYCHOLOGICAL SKILLS TRAINING

     The final stage of the PST involved meeting with the track and field team to provide the psychological skills training. The PST sessions were conducted once a week. The sessions lasted between 30 and 60 minutes and they were video taped for athletes who were unable to attend. At the conclusion of a session, the athletes received a handout de-scribing the activities completed during that session. Additional copies of the handouts were available to athletes who were unable to attend. The meetings were not required. Rather, the athletes were free to choose whether or not to participate in the PST program.
     Session 1. Anxiety Control I. The first session was the first of two meetings targeting anxiety control. Anxiety control was selected as the first psychological skill to be introduced because possessing the ability to relax is beneficial to other psychological skills as well. For example, controlling one's anxiety may lead to better concentration and better use of imagery (Wann, 1997).
     The Anxiety I session began with an explanation of the relationship between anxiety and athletic performance. The athletes were shown the diagram presented in Figure I.

 

 

    As shown in the figure, there are actually two different types of anxiety that are relevant to athletic performance. One form of anxiety is called somatic anxiety. This type of anxiety is physiological in nature and resembles what many people refer to as arousal. The second type of anxiety is cognitive anxiety. Cognitive anxiety is the mental component of anxiety and involves fear, apprehension, and worry about an upcoming athletic event. As seen in Figure I, somatic and cognitive anxiety have different relationships with athletic performance. With regard to somatic anxiety, research indicates that athletic performance is facilitated by moderate levels of arousal while high and low levels of arousal are associated with lower levels of performance (Martens & Landers, 1970; Sonstroem & Bemardo, 1982; Yerkes& Dodson, 1908). Concerning the relationship between cognitive anxiety and performance, research has found a negative relationship involving these variables. Higher levels of cognitive anxiety are associated with lower levels of performance (Burton, 1988; Motowildo, Packard, & Manning, 1986; Rodrigo, Lusiardo, & Pereira, 1990). Thus, the athletes were informed that it was in their best interest to maintain low levels of cognitive anxiety (i.e., apprehension and worry) while maintaining moderate levels of somatic anxiety (i.e., physiological arousal). The athletes were further informed that they would be given training in lowering their cognitive anxiety during the second anxiety session while the current session involved the ability to lower one's somatic anxiety.
     The athletes participated in two related activities designed to lower somatic anxiety to moderate level. First, they were trained to breathe in a manner that facilitates relaxation by using their mouth, noise, and diaphragm. The athletes were asked to lie on the floor in a comfortable position and to remove their shoes (the lights in the room were dimmed as well). The athletes were then asked to breathe in through their nose and out through their mouth. They were instructed to use their diaphragm during the exercise. Each breath lasted for approximately six seconds (three seconds each for inhaling and exhaling). The athletes practiced their breathing for five minutes.
     Once the athletes were comfortable with the breathing technique, the second activity was begun. This activity involved a programmatic relaxation technique called developed by Jacobson (1929, 1976). Jacobson's technique, called progressive relaxation, involves the systematic tension and relaxation of muscle groups. An athlete is asked to inhale and tense a specific muscle group for approximately five seconds. The athlete then exhales and releases the tension from the specified muscle group, concentrating on the feelings of relaxation. This procedure is repeated for a number of muscle groups with each group begin tensed and relaxed three times. The muscle groups used with the track and field team are listed in Table I. 

 

 

    It should be noted that although other relaxation techniques are available (such as biofeedback and meditation, see Wann, 1997), progressive relaxation was selected for use because of its simplicity, cost effectiveness, and because researchers have documented the sport performance benefits of progressive relaxation (e.g., Carlson & Hoyle, 1993; Greenspan & Feltz, 1989; Onestak, 1991).
      Using progressive relaxation for the entire body can be a lengthy process. However, after a few weeks of training, the athlete is usually capable of tensing and relaxing several muscle groups simultaneously (for example, he or she may tense both feet and both legs at the same time). This shortens the amount of time needed to complete the process. To help the athletes become more comfortable with the procedure (and thus, to shorten the time required), progressive relaxation was done at the beginning of each session. The muscle groups became progressively larger thereby shortening the procedure.
     Session 2: Anxiety Control II. Session 2 began with the breathing and progressive relaxation exercises. Certain muscle groups were combined in order to quicken the procedure. Specifically, the arm muscle groups (each arm separately), shoulders and face, torso (chest, stomach, and abdomen), and leg groups (each leg separately) were combined. This resulted in a total of six muscle groups. Each group was tensed and relaxed three times.
      The second portion of session 2 involved training the athletes in positive self-talk. Positive self-talk involves reassuring oneself with positive and rational thoughts and statements. A number of studies have indicated that positive self-talk is associated with successful athletic performance (e.g., Kirschenbaum, Ordman, Tomarken, & Holtzbauer,1982; Rushall, Hall, Roux, Sasseville, & Rushall, 1988; Van Raalte, Brewer , Rivera, & Petitpas, 1994). Because it can help build confidence and eliminate worry arid apprehension, positive self-talk can be effective in decreasing an athlete's cognitive anxiety.
     The track and field athletes began the positive self-talk training by dividing up into pairs. The athletes were asked to team up with an individual who participated in an event similar to theirs. Each pair of athletes was given a list often negative statements such as "You are going to lose" and "You are lazy." One member of the pair was asked to read the statements to the other individual. The second athlete was asked to re-word the statements in a positive fashion. For example, if the statement read "You don't have the skill to compete at this level", the athlete was to state, out loud, something to the effect of "I DO have the skill to compete at this level." Thus, the athlete learned to change a negative self-statement into a positive one. After the pair had completed the entire list, they were asked to reverse roles.
    Session 3: Imagery. Session 3 dealt with imagery. Imagery involves the mental visualization of a task prior to or while engaging in the task (Wann, 1997). Before beginning the imagery exercises, it was important to provide the athletes with information on the imagery process. The athletes were told that there are different classifications of imagery. First, imagery can be classified as internal or external. When using internal imagery, athletes imagine their surroundings and behaviors from their own vantage point. Conversely, when athletes imagine the situation from the perspective of someone else and see themselves in the image, they are using external imagery. Because both internal and external imagery may facilitate athletic performance (Murphy, 1994; Ungerleider & Golding, 1991; Wang & Morgan, 1992), the athletes were encouraged to use each type. A second classification of imagery involves positive and negative imagery. Positive imagery involves visualizing a successful outcome while negative imagery involves visualizing an unsuccessful outcome. Research indicates that positive imagery will enhance performance while negative imagery can be detrimental to performance (Martin & Hall, 1995; Murphy, 1994; Powell, 1973; Woolfolk, Murphy, Gottesfeld, & Aitken, 1985). Thus, the athletes were told that simply imagining themselves competing was not enough to produce the desired effect of enhanced performance. Rather, they would have to develop their imagery skills to the point where they could control the image thereby
insuring a positive outcome.
    Once the athletes understood the different types of imagery, they were given an explanation of the potential uses of imagery in sport. They were told that there were at least three important uses for imagery. First, imagery can be used prior to one's performance as a form of mental practice. For example, a high jumper could spend 30 minutes each night visualizing successful jumps. Second, imagery can be used to improve one's positive thinking. That is, by imagining a successful performance, an athlete gains self-confidence. And third, imagery can be used immediately prior to a performance. For instance, the high jumper could visualize his or her jump just prior to the attempt.
     The athletes were then given information on developing positive and vivid images. They were told that they should seek out a quiet setting and become as relaxed as possible. The images should be sharp, include color, and realistically reflect the surroundings. Further, the athletes were told to use as many senses as possible. For example, they should include the crowd noise, feel of the track, and other such sensations when visualizing. They were also told to use both the internal and external perspectives and to make certain that the images remained positive.
     Once the information was presented to the track and field athletes, the psychological skills training exercises were begun. As with the first two sessions, session 3 began with the breathing and progressive relaxation exercises. Muscle groups were again combined in order to expedite the procedure. Specifically, both arm muscle groups (both arms simultaneously), shoulders, face, and torso, and both leg groups (both legs simultaneously) were combined. This resulted in a total of three muscle groups. Once again, each group was tensed and relaxed three times.
     When the relaxation exercise was complete, the athletes were introduced to the imagery exercise. First, they were asked to visual themselves using an external perspective. That is, they were instructed to imagine the situation from the perspective of someone else and to see themselves in the image. They were told to see themselves at the track, getting ready for their event. They were to see the other athletes, as well as the coaches, officials, and spectators. They were asked to imagine the sounds and tactile sensations they would experience as they got ready for their event. They were then asked to see themselves moving to the starting line, getting ready for their jump, their run, or getting ready for their throw. They were again reminded to use all their senses in the image and to develop as vivid an image as possible. They were then asked to see themselves performing their event. They were told to see themselves beginning the event. They were then told to see themselves completing the event ( distance runners were asked to move forward to the conclusion of a race). Finally, the athletes were told to keep the image positive, that is, to see themselves winning the race, successfully completing the jump, or winning the throwing event. Once the external imagery exercise was complete, the exercise was repeated using an internal perspective.
     Session 4: Self-confidence Building and Coping with Adversity. The fourth session dealt with two topics: self-confidence building and coping with adversity. The session began by providing the athletes with information on building their self-confidence. First, they were told to be realistic about their athletic ability because unrealistically high (i.e., over-confidence) or unrealistically low (i.e., diffidence) perceptions can impede performance. Second, they were told to establish challenging but attainable goals. They were asked to set process goals rather than outcome goals. Process goals are goals that involve the athletic activity itself and, thus, have the advantage of being controllable. For example, process goals for a high jumper could include attendance at all practices, successfully completing 75% of jumps each practice, and establishing a personal record at some point in the season. Conversely, outcome goals focus on the final outcome of a competition (i.e., winning and losing). Because athletes are unable to control the outcome of an event (e.g., a high jumper could set a personal record but still not win), these types of goals are less desirable.
     Third, the athletes were told to use positive mental imagery because seeing oneself performing well can enhance one's self-confidence. Fourth, the athletes were told to be physically and mentally prepared. In this way, they would feel ready to compete, a belief that increases confidence. Fifth, they were told to use positive self-talk to remove negative and catastrophic thinking (see activity below). And finally, they were asked to develop a list of positive affirmations (see activity below).
     At this point the topic was switched to coping with adversity. The athletes were told that individuals can choose between two types of coping strategies when attempting to deal with adversity. Passive coping strategies involve attempts to deal with or manage the anxiety in a temporary manner without confronting the stressor itself (for instance, drinking alcohol or taking a nap). Although these tactics may offer temporary relief from the stressor, they are less than optimal because they do not change, alter, or remove the stressor . As a result, when one stops using a passive strategy, the stressor is still present. Active coping strategies involve attempts to change, alter, and/ or remove the stressor thereby reducing or eliminating its impact. Because these strategies actively engage the problem, they are more successful and, thus, preferable to passive coping strategies.
     Once the information described above was presented to the athletes, the psychological skills training exercises were begun. Once again, the session began with the breathing and progressive relaxation exercises. Muscle groups were again combined to expedite the procedure. The athletes were asked to tense and relax their entire body (i.e., all muscle groups) three times.
     When the relaxation exercise was complete, the athletes were asked to repeat the positive self-talk exercise learned during see session 2. In addition to reducing an athlete's cognitive anxiety, positive self-talk can effectively promote self-confidence and, therefore, was relevant to the topics covered in session 4.
     Once the athletes had completed the positive self-talk exercise, they began a second exercise designed to enhance their self-confidence. This exercise involved the use of positive affirmations. The athletes were given a pencil and a piece of paper and asked to write down five affirmations. The athletes were asked to keep the statements short (i.e., 3 to 5 words) and positive (for example, "I am strong" "I will win" and "I am ready"). The athletes were given five minutes to develop their list. Once all athletes had completed their lists, they were read a list of ten negative statements such as "You are going to lose" and "You are lazy ." The athletes were told to repeat each of their positive affirmations after the negative statements.
     The final exercise involved assisting the athletes in the development of positive coping strategies. The athletes were presented with a list of stressful situations (e.g., an angry coach, a bad performance, home sickness, etc.) and asked to develop examples of passive coping strategies that could be used to combat the stressor. They were then asked to develop examples of active coping strategies that could be used to com- bat the stressor. The benefits of the active coping strategies were then discussed.
      Session 5: Attention Control Training. The fifth session dealt with attention control training and began with a presentation of the two different dimensions of attentional focus. The first dimension is attentional width. Attentional width concerns the number of stimuli to which an individual is focusing and ranges from narrow to broad. A narrow attentional focus involves focusing on just one or a few stimuli (e.g., a high jumper concentrating solely on the bar) while a broad attentional focus involves focusing on a large number of stimuli (e.g., a distance runner focusing on his or her surroundings). The second dimension of attentional focus is attentional direction, which concerns the degree to which an individual's attention is focused internally or externally. An internal attentional focus occurs when an athlete directs his or her attention inwardly toward his or her own thoughts and feelings (e.g., a distance runner concentrating on his or her predetermined race strategy). An external attentional focus involves the directing of attention outwardly toward environmental stimuli (e.g., a hurdler concentrating on the first hurdle). The athletes were told that the ability to use multiple forms of attentional focus and the ability to shift to the most appropriate form were extremely important to athletic performance.
     Once the athletes understood the different forms of attentional focus, they completed two exercises de- signed to help them gain a greater intensity of attentional focus. First, they were asked to develop an attentional cue word. Attentional cue words are words or short phrases that remind the athlete of the proper attentional focus for a given situation. Attentional cues such as "Stay focused" or "Relax" can help an athlete maintain his or her concentration. Once the athletes had developed their cues, they were read a list of ten negative statements. The athletes were asked to state their attentional cue after each statement.
      The second activity called one-pointing (Schlnid & Peper, 1993). One pointing is an attentional focus strategy used prior to competition. In this exercise, athletes are asked to examine an object while being presented with a set of distractions. The athlete should attempt to maintain his or her focus on the object throughout the distractions. If distracting thoughts enter the athlete's consciousness, the thoughts should be redirected back to the object. This exercise can successfully train athletes to refocus their attention toward proper cues. Bach athlete was given a sheet of paper with a single dot in the middle. They were asked to maintain their focus on the dot throughout the exercise. The athletes were then presented with the list of negative statements and asked to maintain their focus on the dot and try to disregard the distracting statements.


STAGE 5: MEETINGS WITH THE ATHLETES AT THE TRACK


     
The final stage in the PST program involved meeting with athletes at the track on an individual basis. This stage was designed to assist the athletes in transferring what they had learned in the laboratory to the actual athletic environment. The athletes were asked to complete the anxiety control, mental imagery, attentional focus and control, and self-confidence exercises prior to attempting their event. For example, a discus thrower was asked to use positive mental imagery prior to an attempt while a runner was asked to maintain his focus on a single attentional cue while being distracted by the sport psychologist.


SUCCESS OF THE PROGRAM: CASE STUDY INTERVIEWS WITH TWO ATHLETES


      
The PST program described above was extremely successful as a number of athletes reported enhanced psychological skills and/or experienced personal records and performance gains throughout the season. To provide the reader with a picture of what the program meant to the athletes, two athletes were asked to answer a set of questions about their impressions of the program.
    Athlete 'A': The first athlete to be interviewed, Athlete' A', was a freshman discus thrower. Athlete A achieved a personal best discus throw during his freshman season, a throw that was the fifth best distance in school history. This athlete is also a walk-on offensive lineman for the university's football team. As indicated in his responses to the questions, Athlete A believed that the program not only helped with his discus performance but also with his football performance.
   Question: What was your overall impression of the psychological skills training program?"
   Athlete A: I really liked it and I thought that it helped me out a lot, especially in helping with my concentration."
   Question: "So overall your impression was quite positive?"
   Athlete A: "Sure."
   Question: "You mentioned that one positive aspect of the program was in the area of concentration, what else do you see as a positive of the program?"
   Athlete A: "I think that it got me more comfortable with the sport,
because you can do the sport but if you really concentrate and focus on what you have to do right it really helps you perform. It makes you feel more a part of the sport."
   Question: "So the program helped link you with your sport?"
   Athlete A: "Exactly."
   Question: "What do you see as some negatives about the program?"
   Athlete A: "The only things that I can think of would be to spend more time on the practice field to connect the sessions with practice more. Also, it would help to have the athletes be more ready for the sessions by, for example, having them bring in the negative comments with them."
   Question: "So you're saying that it would help if the athletes were asked to do some homework' before the session so that they are ready and have some idea of what to expect? So, for example, at the end of one session discuss what's going to happen in the next session to the athletes can be prepared?"
   Athlete A: "Yeah, exactly."
   Question: " Any other suggestions that you have for improving or changing the program?"
   Athlete A: "No-I can't think of anything else."
   Question: "In general, how do you feel that the program improved your psychological skills and mental preparation?"
   Athlete A: "Well, I am way more relaxed and focused now before games and practices."
   Question: "So would you say that you are more mentally prepared now?"
   Athlete A: "Definitely."
   Question: "In your subjective opinion, do you think that the program helped your performance?"
   Athlete A: "Yes, especially on those specific occasions where I really used the stuff that we learned. Over the next few years I really think that it will help because now I have learned it all, its just not step-by-step like when you're learning it-now I have it all at my disposal."
   Question: "So you'll have the whole package?"
   Athlete A: "Exactly ."
   Question: "Do you think you are more relaxed prior to a competition now?"
   Athlete A: "Yes. And in football I feel more relaxed and confident in the things that I have to do. For example, I'm still learning and I feel that now I'm more focused on what I have to do rather than thinking about other stuff I don't worry about what else is going on, I just worry about my guy (the guy to block)."
   Question: "So you have found that the things we did in the track program are benefiting your playas a football player as well ?"
   Athlete A: "Yeah. Like when we learned about controlling negative statements. There is constantly a lot of yelling going on in football and I was just recently moved to the offensive line and you've got to block out the defense and listen strictly to what the quarterback has to say."
   Question: "So certainly, the program has helped your concentration."
   Athlete A: "Definitely."
   Question: "Have you used any imagery?"
   Athlete A: Yes. Like in football, when I am long-snapping I see myself snapping and it really seems to help me."
   Question: "Do you think that you are better able to handle adversity now?"
   Athlete A: "Oh definitely. I think so. Like in the rain and we had a day (meet) where it was really windy and you really had to concentrate to throw in the wind because if you thought about it (the bad, windy conditions) you were in trouble. There isn't a way to get off a good throw in a bad wind so I just did what I had to do and didn't worry about the wind."
   Question: "So you were able to deal with the bad conditions better?"
   Athlete A: "Yeah, it really didn't bother me."
   Question: "Would you recommend this program to other track and field athletes?"
     Athlete A: "Sure. Especially for people who may not have the best talent. If they get in here and do this stuff they will have the psychological edge which may put them up with the people with the talent whose mental skills are kind of weak."
     Athlete 'B': The second athlete to be interviewed, Athlete 'B', was a distance runner in his junior year . This athlete had been quite successful throughout his college career, posting several first place finishes in distance events. As a sophomore he was selected as the conference cross country runner of the year. As a junior he was selected as the conference indoor runner of the year. In addition, this athlete was so impressed with the impact that the psychological skills had on his mental preparation and performance, that he has decided to enter a graduate program in sport psychology.
     Question: "What was your overall impression of the psychological skills training program?"
     Athlete B: "I thought that overall it was beneficial to my performance. There were several things that I used and still use now that I learned from the program."
     Question: "What do you see as some of the positives of the program?"
     Athlete B: "Well, I feel that it certainly improved my performance for one thing."
     Question: "So you feel that the things we discussed in the program actually helped you perform better on the track?"
     Athlete B: "Yes. I could see my times drop whenever I used the methods we learned."
     Question: "What did you see as some of the negatives to the program? Do you have any suggestions for changing or improving the program?"
     Athlete B: "I think that I would make it a longer program, actually, so that you could spend more time doing and actually incorporating the methods into what we do on the track and going over the stuff more in class and refreshing our memory for what we have learned. But as for each method, I don' t think I would change any of those because some of them I use while some other people may use the others."
     Question: "In general, do you think that you are more prepared mentally now than before the program?"
     Athlete B: "Yes. I feel like I was pretty well mentally prepared before I went through the program but after going through the program I found that there were a few things that I learned that helped me concentrate and relax even more than before. So yes, there are improvements."
     Question: "And you mentioned that you do believe that the program lead to improvements in your performance?"
    Athlete B: "Yes because overall things like the relaxation and the focus improved how I ran."
     Question: "Do you feel more relaxed now prior to a competition?"
     Athlete B: "Yes I do, mainly because now I know both how to relax and that I should relax."
     Question: "Have you incorporated any imagery into your racing and/or training?"
     Athlete B: "Yeah. The night before I picture how I hope to run and picture myself actually going through it if I know the course. If I don't know the course then I will either try to ask someone who does know it to make the image more real or just make up a course in my mind. I try to feel myself relax and picture myself at certain times during the race."
     Question: "Would you recommend this program to other track and field athletes?"
     Athlete B: "Yes I would. Mainly for the fact that there is always a few points that will help anyone out. Because improving by even a second here or a second there is going to improve your time and that's what you want."


CONCLUSIONS


     
Thus, as revealed by the inter- views presented above, the psychological skills program described here can help improve a track and field athlete's mental preparation and performance. The athletes' suggestions could be used to strengthen the pro- gram. That is, it may be wise to conclude each session with a description of the upcoming session to help the athletes prepare for the sessions in advance. Also, the athletes felt that the program could be lengthened and that a greater amount of time should be spent at the track. By incorporating these suggestions into the program, the coach or psychologist should be able to strengthen an already successful program for enhancing the mental skills of their athletes.

 

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FROM: TRACK COACH 144--SUMMER 1998

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