Sports Psychology

Sport   psychology   is   a   subdiscipline   of   psychology applied to a  competitive  sport  as a  specific context of organized physical (motor) activity. Competitive sport is focused on high achievement and consistent excellence, in contrast to other settings in which exercise is used for physical education, leisure, or rehabilitation. The major emphasis  in  sport  psychology  is  on  the  study  and application  of  psychological factors  enhancing athletic performance and on the impact of sport participation on a person’s (or team’s) development.

  1. Introduction
  2. Competitive Sport as a High Achievement Setting
  3. Performance Enhancement
  4. Athletic Excellence from a Developmental Perspective
  5. Conclusion: Future Directions in Sport Psychology

1. Introduction

1.1. Defining Sport Psychology

What  is  sport  psychology?  How  is  it  different  from other  subdisciplines  of  psychology?  How  is  it  related to sport sciences? Although many definitions of sport psychology  have  been  suggested,  there  has  been  no comprehensive and internationally accepted definition of sport psychology. In its Position Stand # 1 (1995), the    European    Federation    of    Sport    Psychology (FEPSAC)  proposed  that  ‘‘sport  psychology  is  concerned with the psychological foundations, processes, and  consequences  of  the  psychological  regulation  of sport-related activities of one or several persons acting as the subject(s) of the activity’’ (p. 4). This definition indicates  that  sport  psychology  attempts  to  improve athletic performance and help athletes to concentrate better, deal effectively with competitive stress, and to practice  more efficiently.  Moreover,  sport  psychology also  attempts  to  understand  the  impact  of  long-term sport    participation    on    development    of    personal resources of athletes in the setting of organized competitive sport. The term ‘‘sport’’ is used as an umbrella term  that  includes  different  kinds  of  sport,  exercise, and  other  physically  active  pursuits.  These  types  of physical  activity  are  also  used  in  other  settings  such as organized physical education, leisure, and rehabilitation  (healing).  Another  important  feature  of  sport psychology  is  its  double  nature.  On  the  one  hand,  it is a part of psychology; on the other hand, its knowledge  base  is  related  to  sport  sciences  focused  on  understanding human activity in this particular context. Thus, in applications, these two sources of knowledge help to better understand a person, the environment, and the key aspects of the sporting activity.

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sports-psychologyThe  major  focus  of  this  article  is  the  context  of competitive    (high-achievement)    sport.    From    this perspective,  sport  psychology  examines  mainly  the short-  and  long-term  impact  of  psychological  factors on   athletic   performance   and   the   potential   effects of   systematic   participation   (involvement)   in   sport. Applied  sport  psychology  attempts  to  solve  specific practical problems by improving athletic performance and thus helping athletes to develop their potential in the sport setting.

This article briefly reviews selected aspects of applied sport   psychology   within   the   framework   of   three basic   constructs:   athletic   excellence,   performance- related subjective experiences, and individual resources (psychological  strengths).  The  key  aspects  of  athletic performance are examined from the short-term (readiness for competition and performance excellence) and long-term  (consistent  excellence,  career  development) perspectives.

1.2. Major Focus and Trends in Sport Psychology

What   are   the   major   focuses   in   sport   psychology research?  What  are  the  main  trends  in  applied  psychological  work  with  athletes,  teams,  and  coaches? Noteworthy are two major focuses in sport psychology research,  with  two  corresponding  trends  in  applied work.  The  first  is  understanding  the  psychological factors   that   affect   athletic   performance   and   how athletes   realize   their   potential   in   sport.   Applied aspects  here  include  high-quality  practices,  optimal performance, and adequate recovery at the level of an individual  athlete  and  team.  The  second  important objective  of  sport  psychology  is  to  understand  how athletes  develop  in  sport  and  what  are  the  ‘‘benefits’’ and   ‘‘costs’’   of   their   multiyear   sport   participation. Applied aspects here include the need to help athletes cope successfully with career transitions and find a balance  between  sport  and  other  spheres  of  life.  In  team sports,  this  also  involves  dealing  with  team-building issues  and  helping  individual  athletes  find  a  balance between individual and team interests and values.

In   competitive   sport,   applied   psychologists   deal with   healthy,   motivated,   and   high   achievement- oriented   people   striving   for   consistent   excellence, performance  up  to  their  potential,  and  continuous self-development. Thus, the focus on enhancement of athletic    performance    and    empowering    approach reflect  a  positive,  proactive,  and  constructive  nature of  applied  sport  psychology.  Interestingly,  Seligman and   Csikszentmihalyi   (2000)   called   upon   applied psychologists to move beyond studying psychological disorders   and   problems   and   spend   greater   efforts studying positive psychology that can be used to facilitate  and  enhance  human  functioning.  This  emphasis on   positive   psychology,   or   psychology   of   human resources  and  strengths,  is  not  new,  but  has  been occurring for the last 25 years. However, there is still an urgent need to attend to current concerns of athletes and coaches and examine more closely their successful experiences   by   bridging   the   gap   between   group- oriented  and  individualized  approaches.  Therefore,  it is  argued  that  sport  psychology  is  the  psychology  of personal and athletic excellence and as such, from the very  beginning  was  oriented  to  identifying  a  person’s resources (strengths) to facilitate consistently successful performance up to the person’s potential.

1.3. How Sport Psychologists Work

Who are applied sport psychologists? What do they do, and how and why do they work with athletes, teams, and  coaches?  These  questions  are  important  for  an understanding  of  what  sport  psychologists  can  and can not do in the field of competitive sport.

First,  sport  psychologists  as  a  professional  group are  experts  with  different  backgrounds.  They  may  be clinically oriented consultants, educationally oriented consultants,    mental    trainers,    applied    researchers specializing  in  performance  enhancement,  or  social or personality psychologists. However, whatever their specialization, applied sport psychologists are usually required  to  be  well  versed  not  only  in  psychology but also in sport and sport sciences. This helps them to establish and develop working relationships with individual athletes, teams, coaches, parents, managers, etc.

Second, it is well known that the science of coaching focuses on the use of general principles. Per Weinberg and Gould (1999), ‘‘the art of coaching is recognizing when  and  how  to  individualize  these  general  principles’’ ( p. 15). As with coaching, the practice of applied sport  psychology  is  both  a  science  and  an  art.  As  a science, it is based on various theoretical models and results of  empirical  studies  describing what  is typical for  athletes  in  particular  sport  situations.  As  an  art, sport  psychology  is  grounded  in  the  personality  as well  as  personal  and  professional  experiences  of  the consultant, and it is expressed in his or her ability to understand the particular athlete within a psychological  context  and  to  choose  the  most  effective  applied approach  or  intervention.  That  is  why  different  consultants may work differently with the same athlete yet be equally successful.

Art and science aspects are sport psychologists’ tools to help athletes and coaches, who often focus mainly on  the  symptoms  or  consequences  of  psychological problems, deal with real causes of the problems (challenges, task demands).

Third,   there   are   certain   organizational   working models,  assessment  technologies,  and  interventions based on specific ethical norms that characterize how sport psychologists work. For instance, sport psycho- logy  research  and  effective  delivery  of  psychological services  to  elite  athletes  and  coaches  usually  focuses on   two   closely   related   aspects:   (1)   performance enhancement  in  practices  and  competitions,  and  (2) optimization of interpersonal and intragroup communication,  creating  optimal  team  climate  and  effective management.  Sport  psychologists  use  several  guide- lines  or  principles  to  enhance  their  work,  including action and growth- orientation; an emphasis on developing individualized strengths rather than on repairs of deficiencies; empowering athletes, coaches, and teams rather  than  developing  over-dependency  on  outside experts;  and  enhancing  active  participation,  partnership,  and  cooperation  between  sport  psychologists, athletes, and coaches.

In  brief,  working  with  an  elite  athlete  or  coach usually includes several action-oriented steps: (1) listening to the coach and athlete’s account of the current situation and past performance history to identify their concerns  that  need  to  be  addressed;  (2)  providing  a general summary of how similar situations are usually handled  in  sport  and  suggesting  a  tentative  plan  of joint work on the problem at hand; (3) collecting the data and providing a detailed feedback with the interpretation   of   results   using   context-related   language clear to the athlete and coach; (4) preparing an action plan for further analysis, change, and monitoring of the key  parameters involved;  (5) evaluating  the effective- ness of the initial steps and developing an individualized intervention program with clear criteria to assess the athlete’s progress on a daily, weekly, monthly, or seasonal basis; and (6) contacting (by phone, e-mail, or fax) the athlete and coach systematically, which is an important part of their work during the entire season. A wrap-up, ‘‘lessons learned’’ session is also a good way to summarize experiences of all participants by the end of  the  season.  It  is  important  to  realize  that  this  approach is different from the traditional role of an out- side expert telling the client what to do or not to do. Sport psychologists’ main task is to empower athletes and  coaches  via  an  individualized  approach  focusing on  their  strengths  and  successful  experiences  rather than on deficiencies and limitations.

2. Competitive Sport As A High Achievement Setting

2.1. Sport and Competition

What is an athletic competition? Why is it so important in  sport?  These  questions  relate  to  the  psychological characteristics  of  sport  and  to  social  psychological contexts of competitions. Sport as a part of the world and national cultures is also a human activity in which people find, realize, and further develop their individual  potentials.  Organized  competitive  sport  is  characterized   by   a   clear   focus   on   high   achievement, exceptional level of skills, enhanced working capacity supplemented by health, well-being concerns, and prevention of injuries. However, the key aspect in under- standing the psychology of high achievement sport is competition as a social comparison process.

The  essence  of  sport  competition  is  an  evaluation and  a  social  comparison  of  athletes  according  to  the specially  developed  and  approved  rules  of  that  sport. Observable  competitive  performance  is  a  process  of delivering  sport  results by athletes  or teams. Usually, judges  measure  results  in  competitions,  and  on  the basis   of   the   comparison   between   the   participants, rank each athlete. In addition, athletes often use self- referenced (process- and/or outcome-oriented) criteria to interpret their results in terms of personal success or failure. To demonstrate athletic excellence in competitions, athletes have to practice regularly and continuously   develop   their   resources.   Both   practices   and competitions contribute to the development of athletes’ physical and mental competencies and skills required in  their  chosen  sport  event.  However,  only  participation in competitions allows the athlete to demonstrate her excellence in public and thus to win social recognition and prestige.

Rules of competition in different sports create three distinct psychological contexts for competing athletes: (1)  ‘‘one-by-one’’  performances  (with  no  physical  or psychological contact between opponents during performance);   (2)   ‘‘one-near-one’’   performances   (with only  psychological  contact  between  opponents);  and (3)  ‘‘face-to-face’’  performances  (with  both  physical and  psychological  contacts  between  the  opponents during  performance).  Each  of  these  contexts  creates specific  challenges  for  athletes  and  requires  specific resources  to  cope  with  task  demands.  Moreover,  a competitor  can  be  either  an  individual  athlete  or  a team. A sport team has specific structural and dynamic features, such as values, cohesion, communication, and leadership. Group processes can either expand or drain the individual resources of team members, thus affecting  the  quality  of  practices  and  achievement  level  in competition.

Since the beginning of the modern Olympic movement in 1896, sport has been developing immensely. Contemporary   sport   has   become   an   international phenomenon  and  also  a  part  of  the  world  business. Increased mass media  involvement  has  turned inter- national  competitions  into  prestigious  social  events where  athletes  often  feel  extremely  high  pressure from  the  social  environment.  The  intensity  of  com- petition    in    high    achievement    and    professional sports has increased dramatically, and in many sports the  current  level  of  results  is  close  to  the  natural limits   of   human   abilities.   All   this   explains   the increased  role  of  psychological  factors  in contemporary  sport,  creating  a  challenge  for  applied  sport psychologists   to   develop   effective   approaches   in helping sport participants.

2.2. Individual and Team Excellence

What  is  athletic  excellence?  How  is  it  related  to  the individual athlete and to the team? Is team excellence simply  the  sum  of  individual  excellences?  How  do athletes in team sports find a balance between individual and team goals?

Athletic  excellence  is  defined  as  an  athlete’s  exceptionally    good    performance    compared    with    the previously achieved standards. The standards of performance can be self-referenced, i.e., based on a particular athlete’s record of achievements and performance history. In contrast, normative standards reflect performance levels of other top performers in a particular sport event. In  both  cases, the  indicators  of  athletic  excellence are results (outcomes) achieved and the quality of performance process (task execution). Athletic excellence is an indicator of athletes’ ability to perform consistently up to their  potential  by  recruiting  and  using  effectively  the available resources matching the task demands. On the other hand, the notion of personal excellence reflects a high level of ability to function effectively as a human being in different settings, including sport.

Depending  on  the  type  of  sport  activity,  athletic excellence  can  be  divided  into  individual  excellence (demonstrated  by  an  athlete)  or  team  (or  collective) excellence (achieved by a team). Although team excellence depends on individual contributions,  it is often not  equal to the  sum of  the individual  performances. Therefore, a team composed of ‘‘star’’ athletes does not always demonstrate team excellence, whereas average players working for the team and sharing team values and  high  work  morale  can  achieve  outstanding  team excellence.   Research   shows   that   team   excellence requires   not   only   individually   outstanding   performances  but  also  adequate  interpersonal  and  intra- group communication. These communication processes reflected  in  the  team’s  values,  norms,  and  leadership processes   can   provide   substantial   support   for   the unique  resources  of  team  members  and  compensate for the lack of other resources.

To achieve a collective excellence, it is important to find an adequate balance between the athletes’ individual goals and the team goals. These goals usually over- lap, but they often do not perfectly match. However, a coach should realize that the degree of this match or mismatch between individual and team goals can result in  a  balance  or  imbalance  between  cooperation  and competition processes in the team. Specifically, higher overlap (a match) between individual and group goals leads to better cooperation between teammates, where- as a lower overlap (a mismatch) can result in competitive behavior among the players (e.g., competing for starting positions, playing time, etc.). To find an adequate balance between stimulating athletes to develop their  individual  excellences  and  encouraging  them to contribute  maximally  to  the  team  is  one  of  the  key issues for coaches.

Another important factor in developing a collective excellence   is   to   identify   individual   resources   and strengths  of  the  players  in  order  to  give  the  players clearly formulated and interrelated roles as the components of specific tasks. Each task may be perceived as a challenge, a routine, or a risk, depending on the perceived relationships between the demands of the task and  the  available  resources  (individual  and  team). When resources and task demands match each other, the  team  has  a  set  of  challenges.  Successful  coping with challenges results in the development of available resources.  However,  if  available  resources  exceed  the task demands, the task may be perceived as too easy or routine, not requiring recruitment and effective use of resources.  This  may  lead  to  boredom  and  low  task involvement. Finally, if the task demands exceed avail- able  resources,  then  the  task  is  perceived  as  a  threat and a risk (of failure).

The  distinction  between  challenges,  routines,  and risks  is  important  for  understanding  the  players’  (and team’s) development. Per Hendry and Kloep (2002), the lifespan   model   of   developmental   challenge   states that  development  occurs  when  the  ‘‘pool’’  of  potential resources is added to and resources are strengthened. By contrast, stagnation describes a condition in which no new  resources  are  added  to  the  pool,  or  they  are  not strengthened. Finally, a developmental decay in an individual  or  a  team  performance  is  expected  if  the  task demands exceed the potential (available) resources and thus drain the pool ceaselessly. The task of the coach is then  to  create  specific  challenges  for  an  athlete  (or  a team) that will stimulate the effective recruitment, use, and development of existing resources (strengths).

2.3. High-Quality Practice

How much time do athletes have to spend in practice in order  to  achieve  athletic  excellence?  What  is  the  difference  between  high-  and  low-quality  practice?  The major  focus  in  sport  psychology  since  the  late  1960s was on successful and poor performances in competitions.  Although  competitive  stress  is  still  a  popular topic of research, it is clear that excellence in competitions  depends  on  how  much  and  how  well  athletes practice. Research shows that top performers typically engaged  in  10,000  hours,  or  10  years,  of  deliberate (effortful)  and  sometimes  non-enjoyable  preparation to become experts in their domain. Although becoming an  expert  does  require  a  lot  of  work,  practices  must also be high-quality. Moreover, it is important to realize  that  there  is  a  time  limit  of  what  is  possible to   achieve   in   quantity-oriented   practice,   whereas quality-oriented practice is limitless.

High-quality  practices  have  several  important  features.  First,  they  require  an  athlete  to  be  very  aware of his or her individual strengths and limitations, optimal  emotional  states,  and  bodily  signals.  An  athlete should know how to recognize and monitor this working state during the entire practice and how to recover effectively.  Moreover,  each  training  session  should have a special meaning for the athlete in relation to a long-term perspective of the season goals and specific tasks.  One  of  the  top  Finnish  alpine  Skiers,  Tanja Poutiainen,  explained  in  a  television  interview  the ‘‘secret’’  of  her  successful  performances  in  the  World Cup by emphasizing the role of high-quality practices. Specifically, she said, ‘‘Now I train differently. I focus thoroughly for each downhill race in practices. I know exactly what I want to achieve and I know what I am working  on.  It  makes  much  more  sense  in  what  I’m doing now. Before I just did it, too often mechanically practicing  different  movement  patterns.’’  This  athlete created   a   mind-set   for   a   task   that   matched   her resources, and these challenges helped her develop as an athlete and a competitor. She was able to learn more about  herself  and  how  to  use  her  resources  (skills) under different conditions from every practice.

Another important  feature  of  high-quality  practices is a simulation of specific competition conditions (e.g., time, competition rhythm, organization, track profile). Learning  to  focus  on  one’s  own  game  is  another  important   characteristic   of   effective   pre-competition simulations. If practices during the competitive season are  more  directly  related  to  competition  tasks,  they serve as a more focused preparation for competitions. On  the  other  hand,  lessons  learned  in  competitions provide   useful   ideas   for   more   effective   practices. Especially important are high-quality practices during a  competitive  season  (training  between  and  during several competitions). Basically, the focus of high quality practice is on recuperating, improving, and further developing one’s physical, technical, tactical, and psychological  resources.  Such  an  approach  is  especially relevant  in  professional  sport.  For  example,  NHL  ice hockey players usually play over 80 games during the season. The players do not have time for much practice,  and  it  is  not  uncommon  that  the  skills  of  these talented performers begin to deteriorate. Thus, consistent  athletic  excellence  requires  the  conservation  of available  resources  (physical,  technical,  tactical,  and psychological  strengths)  through  their  recruitment, use, recuperation, and ongoing development.

3. Performance Enhancement

3.1. Performance Related Experiences and Athletic Excellence

What  is  the  difference  between  peak,  optimal,  and sub-standard performance? What are the optimal and dysfunctional    experiences    accompanying    athletic performance?  How  do  athletes  develop  competitive experiences?

As  mentioned  previously,  athletic  excellence  is  an extended period of exceptionally good performance by an athlete or a team that exceeds previously established or  situationally  acceptable   self-referenced  standards. The  usual  level  of  performance  provides  the  frame  of reference for defining individually successful (optimal, peak), less than successful (sub-standard, below average, plateaus),  and  poor  (choking,  slumps)  performances. Peak   performance   describes   an   ideal   (outstanding, desired) performance. In contrast, optimal performance is  the  greatest  degree  attained  (or  attainable)  under implied or specified conditions (e.g., skill level, health status,   opponents,   weather   conditions,   competition site). Optimal performance is evaluated using the individualized (self-referenced) criteria based on an athlete’s past   performance   history   and   present   performance status.  From  this  perspective,  any  athlete  can  attain an optimal performance, whatever her skill level.

Athletes’    behaviors    and    subjective    experiences accompany  successful  and  less  than  successful  performances.   Pre-event   emotional   experiences   affect performance,   whereas   ongoing   performance   affects the dynamics of mid- and post-event emotional experiences. There are three interdependent levels of human experiences related to and induced by athletic performance: (1) situational transitory emotional experiences (psychobiosocial states) such as anxiety, anger, joy, or excitement, (2) relatively stable patterns of experience (traits,    dispositions),    and    (3)    meta-experiences (experiences about experiences). For instance, an athlete  can  experience  a  high  level  of  anxiety  prior  to  a competition.  This  situational  state  manifests  itself  in negative  thoughts  and  expectations,  such  as  feeling nervous,  worried,  and  apprehensive.  This  experience is  very  individual  (idiosyncratic),  and  for  different athletes it can be harmful, can be helpful, or may not affect athletic performance in a particular competition. If   anxiety   is   experienced   repeatedly,   a   consistent pattern of experiences or a typical response disposition (trait  anxiety)  is  formed.  However,  the  athlete  often reflects    on    significant    emotional    experiences    in particular situations and their effects upon athletic performance.  As  a  result,  meta-experiences  are  formed, and  this  self-knowledge,  beliefs,  and  attitudes  can strongly affect the athlete’s interpretations of different performance situations and the choice of adequate (or inadequate) coping strategy.

For  instance,  Michael  Johnson  is  often  quoted  as saying  that  ‘‘he  was  really  nervous  when  he  was  not nervous  prior  to  an  important  race.’’  From  previous experiences,   he   knew   that   high   situational   anxiety was   an   optimal   experience   for   his   performance. Specific meta-experiences usually trigger corresponding self-empowering  or  self-defeating  thoughts  and  self- statements  and  thus  determine  the  beneficial  or  detrimental  impact  of  emotional  state  upon  performance. Therefore,  there  is  a  special  need  for  psychological help  for  athletes  who  are  unaware  of  their  optimal experiences  or  whose  meta-experiences  are  less  than effective (self-defeating).

There  is  ample  research  examining  situational  emotional states accompanying individually optimal (successful)  and  less  than  successful  (poor)  performances  in different athletes across different and similar sports. For instance,  the  individual  zones  of  optimal  functioning (IZOF) model as an individual- and action-oriented framework developed in high achievement setting focuses on  optimal  and  dysfunctional  situational  experiences accompanying  both  successful  and  poor  performances. This individualized approach to description, prediction, and  explanation  of  emotion–performance  relationships employs  a  multidimensional  conceptualization  of  emotion as a component of psychobiosocial state. The model predicts  interindividual  variability  of  emotion  content and intensity and their effects on individual athletic performance based on the ‘‘in/out of the zone’’ principle. It is argued that different forms of psychobiosocial state (cognitive, affective, motivational, bodily, motor-behavioral, operational,  and  communicative)  reflect  availability  of (or a lack of) resources, their recruitment and utilization, and a need for recovery (recuperation).

Briefly described, these findings indicate that (1) negative situational emotional experiences (such as anxiety or anger) are not always harmful for individual performance;   (2)   positive   emotional   experiences   are   not always helpful or optimal for performance; (3) optimal and dysfunctional emotional experiences are highly individual  (idiosyncratic).  An  optimal  emotional  performance  state  is  the  one  most  favorable for  a  particular individual (or a team) under specified conditions, and usually results in an individually successful performance that is equal to or better than realistically expected.

Research  also  shows  that,  in  contrast  to  an  ideal performance state (flow state) triggered by outstanding performance, optimal emotional states can be positive and  negative  prior  to, during,  and  after performance. Positive  optimal  states  are  experienced  when  an  athlete’s resources match well with current task demands; positive  dysfunctional  states  reflect  a  routine  performance  situation  in  which  resources  are  available  but are  neither  recruited  nor  used  properly.  The  task  is perceived   as   too   easy,   which   results   in   excessive (demotivational) satisfaction (leading to complacency and less involvement in the task) and even boredom. Negative optimal states (anger, anxiety) reflect a threat (or a risk) situation (task demands exceeding available resources)  in  which  an  athlete  attempts  to  actively cope  with  this  imbalance.  Finally,  negative  dysfunctional  states  reflect  a  situation  when  an  athlete  is unable to cope, with task demands exceeding currently available  resources.  Repeated  experiences  related  to unsuccessful  performance  (slumps)  and  a  failure  to recuperate  existing  resources  could  result  in  chronic staleness, overtraining, and burnout.

Sport   psychology   describes   different   aspects   of performance-related situational experiences that actually characterize a state of readiness for competition. These include self-confidence (state and trait), attention and concentration,  experiential  and  behavioral  manifestations of intrinsic and extrinsic motivation at the situational    and    dispositional    levels,    and    individually optimal levels of anxiety. This research indicates that the  intensity  of  anxiety  (as  well  as  other  emotions) associated with optimal sport performance varies considerably across athletes, even for those competing in the  same  event.  It  also  indicates  that  a  substantial percentage  of  athletes  actually  benefits  from  elevated anxiety; in these cases, interventions aimed at reducing anxiety   may   be   counterproductive.   These   findings illustrate   the   notion   that   optimal   anxiety   reflects attempts  to  situationally  compensate  for  an  apparent lack   of   resources   as   related   to   task   demands   as a  person-specific  coping  strategy.  The  effect  is  further  enhanced  by  an  optimal  self-empowering  meta- experience, i.e., the athlete knowing that such a level of anxiety  is  useful  and  helpful  for  him.  The  previously cited example of Michael Johnson illustrates this point.

On  the  other  hand,  athletic  excellence  requires  an optimal  and  sustained  effort,  and  the  athlete’s  body must  be  appropriately  energized,  with  physiological and  psychological  resources  prepared  for  the  stresses and  physical  demands  of  competition.  Arousal  as  a component of the psychobiosocial state manifests itself in  physiological  reactivity  and  physical  energy.  It  is also paired  with varying  levels of  concomitant  cognitive, affective-volitional, and motivational activity, and behavioral display.

Typically, the physiological component of arousal is measured  through  muscle  tension,  cortical  activity, electro-dermal  activity,  respiration,  and  biochemical markers  such  as  epinephrine  and  cortisol.  However, in recent years, there have been numerous attempts to identify  idiosyncratic  markers  of  perceived  subjective bodily response to competitive stress both in best and worst  competitions.  This  line  of  research  has  a  great potential for the practice of sport psychology by pro- viding a tool to enhance an athlete’s bodily awareness.

3.2. Resources as Performance Enhancement Strategies

What are the internal and external resources that can enhance  athletic  performance?  How  can  athletes  and teams use their resources more effectively?

The construct of internal and external resources pro- posed here is not entirely new. For example, it is used in the conservation of resources (COR) model proposed by Hobfoll   to  define   and   explain   psychological  stress. Examples  of  broadly  defined  resources  include  not only   personal   characteristics   (self-esteem,   mastery, well-being) but also interpersonal, material, and work- related resources. The basic tenet of the COR model is that people strive to retain, protect, and build resources because the potential or actual loss of these resources is a threat and  a  source  of psychological stress.  Then  psychological stress is defined as a reaction to the environment  in  which  there  is  (1)  the  threat  of  a  net  loss  of resources, 2) the net loss of resources, or (3) a lack of resource gain following the investment of resources.

Hendry  and  Kloep  proposed  the  lifespan  model  of developmental challenge, which employs the constructs of  resources  and  challenges  to  explain  the  processes of  human  growth.  Examples  of  potential  resources include   biological   dispositions   (health,   personality, talents, intelligence, body shape, attractiveness); social resources  (trust,  attachment,  size  and  quality  of  net- work);  skills   (basic,   learning,   social,   psycho-motor, etc.); self-efficiency (self-efficacy appraisals, experience with success, assurance from others, locus of control); and  structural  resources  (country,  race,  class,  family, income, gender).

In  competitive  sport,  resources  are  defined  as  psychobiosocial  assets  that  determine  athletes’  ability  to consistently  perform  up  to  their  potential.  Here  the emphasis is on how available resources are identified and then systematically and effectively recruited, used, recuperated,  and  further  developed.  There  are  four closely related approaches to the enhancement of athletic performance: situational and individually optimal states,  relatively  stable  experience  patterns  (dispositions,  personality  traits,  and  sport-specific  qualities), psychological skills, and group dynamics factors. The strategies  used  in  each  of  these  four  approaches  to performance    enhancement    are    actually    different groups  of  internal  and  external  resources.  There  is considerable  overlap  between  these  four  groups  of resources,  and  they  also  concur  well  with  the  COR model   and   the   lifespan   model   of   developmental challenge.

Earlier discussion of individually optimal situational states and relatively stable experience patterns indicates that  an  athlete’s  awareness  of  her  optimal  states  and adequate meta-experiences can be a very effective internal  resource.  Furthermore,  personality  characteristics and  sports-specific  qualities  (e.g.,  winner’s  profiles,  a wheel   of   excellence)   are   also   important   potential resources  for  achieving  athletic  excellence.  Although personality characteristics do not directly predict situational performance, they could be instrumental in predicting   long-term   effects   of   sport   participation,   for example the mental health model proposed by Morgan (1985). However, it is important to realize that athletes can achieve success even if they lack certain personality traits  and  qualities.  The  implication  for  a  consultant working  with  an  athlete  (or  a  team)  is  clear:  he  or she  should  focus  on  developing  available  individual strengths rather than repair apparent deficiencies.

Psychological skills as a set of techniques and coping strategies aiming to produce an optimal state of readiness  are  valuable  resources  that  successful  athletes learn and use systematically to achieve consistent excellence. These resources are usually targeted at some specific modality. Therefore, the classifications of psychological  skills  usually  include  implicit  or  explicit reference  to  some  form  of  human  functioning  (e.g., cognitive,    affective,    motivational,    bodily,    motor- behavioral, operational, communicative). At the same time,  these  different  forms  of  functioning  as  components of psychobiosocial state can also be employed to describe different task demands.

Group dynamics and environmental factors are also important personal and team resources. These potential resources include cohesion, psychological climate in the team, patterns of interpersonal communication among the teammates and between the coach and the players, leadership style, and group norms and values reflecting  sport  subculture.  For  instance,  high  work morale  and  honesty  as  accepted  values  and  group norms in a sport team could promote fair play behaviors and considerably minimize cheating in sport.

From    social    psychological    and    environmental perspectives, it is important to realize that competitive sport is a part of the society at large. Therefore, equitable  or  non-equitable  conduct  found  in  society  is generally  reproduced  in  sport  settings.  When  sport traverses  racial,  ethnic,  social,  national,  and  gender boundaries,  it  has  the  power  to  bring  diverse  people together while de-emphasizing social or cultural differences. In other words, fair treatment in sport, in contrast  to  other  settings,  can  provide  conditions  that significantly   extend   existing   personal   (or   team’s) resources.  As  an  external  resource,  while  sport  offers the opportunity to traverse cultural identities and unite different peoples, it also can have the opposite effect. Thus, unfair treatment or even discrimination in sport can  overtax  the  athletes’  and  teams’  resources  and considerably  slow  down  their  situational  success  and long-term  development.  In  some  cases,  however,  this negative treatment can be a strong motivator for athletic and personal excellence.

As Krane argues, fair treatment in sport occurs only when there are equitable resources and opportunities for all participants, regardless of social group member- ship  (e.g.,  gender,  race,  ethnicity,  nationality,  sexual orientation,  and  social  class).  In  reality,  that  is  not always  the  case.  In  some  cases,  differential  treatment occurs,  in  which  minority  social  group  members  are treated unfairly. In other situations, sport is an avenue for educating people and increasing awareness about a wide  range  of  social  issues,  fighting  social  injustice, and   providing   humanitarian   assistance.   Therefore, applied  sport  psychologists  may  employ  a  variety  of strategies to promote fair and equitable sport.

3.3. Barriers to Athletic Excellence

What are the barriers to optimal athletic performance? How can athletes (and teams) minimize or cope with them? The threat of a net loss of resources, the net loss of  resources,  or a lack  of  resource gain following  the investment of resources can be strong barriers to successful performance.

Four   groups   of   internal   and   external   resources (situational   states,   personality   traits,   psychological skills,  and  group  dynamics  factors)  proposed  earlier can provide a framework for describing potential barriers to athletic excellence.  Specifically, the notion of resources  and their  role in enhancing athletic  performance is dialectic. A lack of resources or a failure to identify,  recruit,  and  use  them  effectively  could  be- come a potential serious barrier to consistent athletic excellence.  Examples  of  such  barriers  are  dysfunctional  emotional  states,  an  overemphasis  on apparent deficiencies,  and  a  lack  of  performance-related  skills. Finally,   environmental   barriers   include   inadequate motivational  climate  in  the  team,  selfish  behaviors  of teammates,  media  pressures,  and  conflicts  between  a coach and an athlete. The typical consequences of the impact of barriers include performance slumps, over- training, burnout, and injuries.

To  minimize  detrimental  effects  of  internal  and external  barriers,  it  is  recommended  that  an  athlete’s awareness  of  available  resources  and  the  strategies  of their  ongoing  development  is  enhanced.  Such  aware- ness should be extended to a better understanding of causes of sub-standard performance and learning better risk management by maintaining self-efficacy, emotional control, and individually effective coping skills. Although the emphasis here is on situationally effective coping strategies, their role should also be understood from a wider (career development) perspective.

4. Athletic Excellence From A Developmental Perspective

4.1. Athletic Career Demands, Coping Resources, and Barriers

What  do  athletes  have  to  go  through  in  order  to achieve athletic excellence? Can any athlete reach it? What  factors  help  athletes  to  reach  excellence,  and what might act as barriers along the way? These questions  relate  to  the  athletes’  development  during  their athletic career and the demands they have to cope with by using specific resources.

A rapidly growing body of research in sport psycho- logy focuses on ‘‘athletic careers’’ in an attempt to better understand  how  different  athletes  in  different  sports become  expert  performers  and  how  they  reach  and maintain   consistent   excellence.   Metaphorically,   the athletic career (from initiation of sport participation to the   retirement   from   sport)   can   be   described   as a  miniature  lifespan  course  involving  a  number  of important   transitions   between   the   predicted   stages. Understanding   the   mechanisms   of   these   transitions and  stages  is  important  for  coaches,  athletes,  parents, and sport psychologists.

It is very common for an athlete taking the first steps in  his  sport  to  dream  of  reaching  athletic  excellence, turning  professional,  and  winning  the  world  championship or Olympic games. However, it usually takes a long time to make this dream true. A so-called ‘‘athletic pyramid’’ shows metaphorically that only a few athletes achieve  athletic excellence  and have successful (elite, recognized, professional) athletic careers. For instance, a  pyramid  with  one  professional  soccer  player  at  the top contains 6000 soccer players at bottom; a pyramid with  one  professional  basketball  player  at  the  top has   14,000   players   at   the   bottom.   According   to Csikszentmihalyi   and   Robinson   (1986),   ‘‘in   highly competitive domains, such as music, math, or sports, the way down is always much broader than the way up. Year by year, it becomes more difficult to catch up, and dropping out becomes increasingly easy’’ (p. 275).

The   athletic   career   of   each   individual   athlete   is unique, and there are still debates in sport psychology about  factors  contributing  to  individual  differences  in sport  achievements.  It  is  becoming  increasingly  clear that  interplay  of  several  groups  of  factors  can  help  or hinder  an  athlete’s  development  and  achievement  of athletic  excellence.  These  factors  include  an  athlete’s innate  talent/potential,  environmental  factors  (competent  coaches,  family  support,  adequate  conditions  for practice,  etc.),  and  an  athlete’s  ability  to  develop,  recruit, and use effectively all resources necessary to cope with the increasing demands of the athletic career.

An  athletic  career  usually  starts  at  the  age  of  7  to 10  years,  sometimes  even  earlier  depending  on  the sport event (e.g., in swimming, artistic gymnastics, figure skating, and ice-hockey). First, children perceive sport as merely ‘‘playing a game,’’ however, later their attitudes change  and  sport  becomes  as ‘‘a  sphere  of  education’’. Much later for those who reach the top it becomes a job or professional activity. It takes usually about 10 years of deliberate practice to reach an expert performance level in sports, and once there, the period before retirement usually lasts between 5 and 15 years. At the most general level,  an  athletic  career  typically  consists  of  several stages:    initiation,    development,    mastery/perfection/ culmination, maintenance, and discontinuation.

Athletes  striving  for  athletic  excellence  and  staying at the top have to cope with increasingly complicated demands related to their practice, competitions, communication,  and  life  outside  of  the  sport.  There  are specific  demands  at  the  beginning  (transitional)  part of   each   athletic   career   stage.   Research   findings summarized  in  the  1997  FEPSAC  Position  Stand  #  3 indicate   that   the   beginning   of   sport   specialization requires  adjustments  to  the  demands  of  the  sport event,  coach,  sport  group,  and  a  new  schedule  of everyday  life.  Young  athletes  must  ensure  the  right choice  of  sport,  show  ability  in  learning  sport  skills, and test themselves  in their first competitions.  When the athlete and coach decide to work for results, they enter the transition to the development stage or intensive  training  in  the  chosen  sport,  characterized  by more intense and specialized practice and participation in  higher  level  competitions.  This  transition  requires that athletes adjust to higher physical and psychological  loads,  improve  their  technical  and  tactical  skills, achieve  relatively  stable  results  in  competition,  and balance the time and energy taken by their sport with other activities (studies, leisure, etc.).

The  first  significant  success  brings  the  athlete  to top-level  sport  with  its  tough  competitions,  and  that indicates a transition to high-achievement and ‘‘adult’’ sport, or to the mastery/perfection/culmination stage of athletic career. Further progress requires that athletes revise  their  lifestyle  so  that  it  works  for  their  sport goals. They should also find their individual paths in sport, the ways to cope with pressures of selection to important  competitions,  and  to  gain  respect  of  the team,  opponents,  and  judges.  In  short,  this  stage  is where  an  athlete  earns  her  reputation,  which  later will work for her. Transition from amateur to professional   sport   is   marked   by   adaptation   to   specific requirements   and   pressures   of   professional   sports, competitions with very strong opponents, more independent training, and striving not only for the victory but also for fans’ sympathies. The transition from the culmination  to  the  maintenance  stage  of  an  athletic career  is  characterized  by  the  necessity  to  search  for additional resources in order to maintain a high level of  achievements  and  to  plan  athletic  retirement.  The termination  of  athletic  career  is  marked  by  leaving sports  and  transitioning  to  some  other  professional career, with adjustments to a new status, lifestyle, and social network.

The career demands briefly described above characterize  so-called  normative  transitions.  However,  each athlete  also  experiences  a  number  of  non-normative (idiosyncratic) transitions related to his or her particular situation or environment. Transition demands create  developmental  conflict  between  ‘‘what  the  athlete is’’ and ‘‘what he or she wants or ought to be,’’ which stimulates   the   athlete   to   find   additional   coping resources. The effectiveness of coping depends on the dynamic   balance   between   transition   resources   and barriers.   Transition   resources   includes   all   internal and  external  factors  that  facilitate  the  coping  process (e.g.,  the  athlete’s  self-knowledge,  skills,  personality traits, motivation, availability of social and/or financial support).  Transition  barriers  include  all  internal  and external  factors  that  interfere  with  effective  coping (e.g.,  a  lack  of  necessary  knowledge  or  skills,  inter- personal conflicts, difficulties in combining sport and studies  or  work).  Interestingly,  the  same  experience may  be  either  a  resource  or  a  barrier  depending  on the  situation.  For  example,  athletic  identity,  which according  to  Brewer  et  al.  (1993)  is  ‘‘the  degree  to which the individual identifies herself with the athletic role’’ (p. 237), is usually an important resource for an athlete, especially when she is at the peak of her career. However, it can turn into a serious barrier in the process of adaptation to post-athletic career life.

Typically,  at  the  beginning  of  their  athletic  career, athletes experience a lack of internal resources (sport- specific knowledge and skills), which are compensated for  by  social  support  from  a  coach,  the  family,  and peers. At the culmination of their athletic career, athletes  are  usually  at  their  most  resourceful  and  their career  demands  are  the  highest.  Elite  athletes  often rely  very  much  on  their  relatively  stable  experience patterns  and  meta-experiences.  At  the  maintenance stage of their athletic career, athletes often lack social support; their health deteriorates; they are bothered by the  consequences  of  injuries,  a  lack  of  energy,  and pressures  in  other  spheres  of  life.  However,  all  these concerns can be compensated for by the individualization  of  all  aspects  of  the  athletes’  preparation.  For example,   veteran   athletes   typically   train   less   than their younger counterparts, but they use their individual  strengths  more  effectively.  This  allows  them  to maintain  results  at  a  high  level  until  the  very  end  of their athletic career.

4.2. Athletes’ Successful Transitions and Crisis Transitions

What happen in a career transition when the athlete is either able or fails to cope with transition demands? Do athletes  need  any  psychological  help  while  in  such  a transition? If yes, what kind of help would be useful? These questions relate to the coping process, the out- comes, and consequences of career transitions.

The  coping  process  is  central  in  a  transition  and includes all strategies the athlete uses in order to adjust to  particular  transition  demands.  An  adequate  match between the perceived demands and available resources creates a state of readiness to the career transition and a higher  probability  of  successful  transition.  Successful transition is associated with effective coping when the athletes are able to recruit, use, or rapidly develop necessary resources and avoid (or overcome) potential transition barriers. One of the principles in effective coping is relying on athletes’ strengths, which can compensate for potential and existing weaknesses or barriers.

An alternative outcome is a crisis transition, when an athlete is unable to cope effectively on his own with the demands of the  transitional situation. Research identified  a  set  of  symptoms  or  markers  describing  typical reactions  of  athletes  in  crisis  transition,  including  a decrease in self-esteem (as a first reaction to ineffective coping) and chronic emotional discomfort. Athletes also report new fears, increased sensitivity to failures, poor decision-making, and inadequate behaviors. Attempts to change the situation are usually ineffective, and instead of improvement  new mistakes (and  failures)  are  com- mitted.  Therefore,  athletes  in  a  crisis  transition  often describe feeling like they are in a blind alley or a dead end.  For  instance,   as  reported  by  Stambulova   and Lindwall in 2002, one elite athlete who dropped out of sport after becoming caught up in doping described her feelings in the crisis as follows: ‘‘I totally panicked and did a terrible error … I took … forbidden substances as a final effort to get away from the feeling of being useless. My head was in chaos and there were no open roads left to take’’ (Svensk Idrottspsykol., 2, 2–5).

Athletes  in  crises  need  psychological  assistance  to shift them from a ‘‘dead end’’ situation to a ‘‘cross-road’’ situation  and  to  see  several  new  coping  alternatives. Moreover,   psychological   intervention   influences   the consequences  of  the  transition.  Effective  intervention leads to successful but delayed transition. Alternatively, ineffective or no intervention situations are followed by negative  consequences  or  so-called  costs  for  failure  to cope with the transition. Possible costs include decline in sport results, injuries, overtraining, neuroses, psycho- somatic illnesses, prematurely quitting sports, and also different  forms  of  rules  violation  and  degradation  of personality (e.g., alcohol and drug use, criminal behaviors). All these costs can be seen as negative effects of sport participation and also as barriers to coping with forthcoming career demands.

A  developmental  perspective  provides  a  framework for   a   better   understanding   of   career   transitions. For  instance,  Vygotsky’s   constructs   of  the   zone   of actual  development  (ZAD)  and  the  zone  of  proximal development (ZPD) could be instrumental in prediction of transition consequences. The ZAD is a range of the tasks that a person can solve on her own; the ZPD is a range of the tasks that a person can solve only if assisted by others. If most of the athlete’s coping resources are in her  ZAD,  a  successful  transition  can  be  predicted;  in contrast,  a  crisis  transition  is  expected  if  most  of  the athlete’s resources are in her ZPD. Therefore, a psycho- logical intervention should focus on helping an athlete to develop new resources and overcome potential transition barriers, especially if transition demands exceed available resources.

The lifespan model of developmental challenge earlier applied to athletic performance (from a short-term perspective) can also be used for the interpretation of career  transitions.  Typically,  transition  demands  re- quire a long-term coping process and many resources. Successful coping means adding new resources and an outcome   in   the   form   of   development.   If   no   new demands are made and the athlete simply repeats everyday  routines,  development  eventually  turns  into positive  stagnation.  Crisis  transition  can  be  seen  as negative  stagnation,  which  might  turn  into  development (under condition of qualified psychological assistance   to  the  athlete)   or  into  decay  (i.e.,   negative consequences of not coping with the transition).

Developmental  psychology  interpretations  demonstrate  the  dialectic  nature  of  career  transitions  and their role in achieving athletic excellence. Each career transition with its accompanying demands is a step to athletic excellence. There is a risk of not meeting the demands, resulting in negative stagnation or decay. But there is also a chance to develop further and to experience positive stagnation on a higher level.

Three  types  of  psychological  interventions  can  be useful  for  helping  athletes  in  career  transitions:  (1)  a crisis  prevention,  (2)  psychological  crisis  coping,  and (3)  psychotherapeutic  (clinical)  interventions.  Crisis prevention  involves  career  planning  and  goal  setting, mental skills training, and organization of a social sup- port system. This intervention aims to prepare athletes for a transition in advance by developing their resources for  effective  coping.  This  approach  actually  enhances their readiness for the transition either on their own or by using an expert assistance. Psychological crisis coping is an intervention for athletes already in crisis transition; it  includes  mainly  individual  counseling  and  psycho- correction  programs.  The  focus  here  is  on  helping the  athlete  to  analyze  her  situation,  to  find  the  best option for coping, and to develop and realize the action plan.  These  interventions  usually  deal  with  negative stagnation   and   help   the   athlete   to   turn   it   into   a development  situation.  Psychotherapeutic  or  clinical interventions are applied when the athlete has already experienced  one  or  several  of  the  above-mentioned negative consequences of not coping with a crisis transition.  In other  words, these  interventions  deal with a decay situation, trying to stabilize and then to improve the athlete’s situation.

4.3. From Athletic to Personal Excellence

What are the benefits and costs of many years of participation  in  sport?  How  can  sport  psychologists  help athletes  to  maximize  the  benefits  of  an  athletic  career and to minimize its costs? How can a successful athletic career contribute to the athlete’s life outside sport?

An athletic career can be evaluated not only as a stage- like developmental process, but also as a developmental event  contributing to the lifespan development  in and outside sport. From this perspective, several parameters characterize an athlete’s development during his or her athletic career. These include duration of sport participation from start to peak and finish, the sport event(s) practiced,  the  degree  of  specialization,  and  achieved sport titles/records/results. Subjective indicators include perceived benefits of sport participation and its costs (in terms  of  time,  energy,  health,  money,  etc.)  as  well  as career  satisfaction  (one’s  self-esteem  in  regard  to  the athletic career) and career successfulness (social recognition of one’s athletic career).

Successful  (or  elite)  careers  are  usually  associated with  athletic  excellence,  whereas  satisfactory  careers are  associated  with  achieving  individual  peaks  corresponding to the individual resources and environment. Satisfaction is based on a set of self-referenced criteria, but  most  often  it  consists  of  perceived  potential  in relation  to  level  of  achievements  and  athletic  career costs.  Interestingly,  some  athletes  are  often  satisfied with non-elite careers, if they value the developmental effects   (benefits)   of   sport   participation   (e.g.,   self- knowledge, physical fitness, good health, skills, qualities, social contacts that can be used in other spheres of life). In contrast, other athletes may be dissatisfied with their elite careers, especially if they perceive the costs as too high (e.g., deteriorated heath, deficits in education, a lack of close personal contacts or any interests outside sports).

To achieve athletic excellence, athletes have to start and  specialize  in  a  particular  sport  event  quite  early.

This can facilitate young athletes’ progress in a chosen sport,  but  it  also  can  result  in  several  negative  consequences  such  as  high  pressures,  fears,  and  one-sided development. To avoid this, coach effectiveness training encourages coaches working with children and youth to focus more on optimal development of young athletes than on ‘‘winning  at all  costs.’’ Positive  developmental effects  related  to  athletes’  self-esteem,  skills  level,  and satisfaction  with  various  aspects  of  sport  participation should  be  provided  for  all  young  athletes,  and  then allowing the most talented of them to move further to the athletic excellence level.

In  a  broader  sense,  sport  psychology  aims  to  help all  athletes,  including  top  performers  facing  tough transitions  and  pressures  of  their  careers,  to  achieve optimal  development  and  their  individual  peaks  in sport.   Therefore,   career/developmental   perspective in applied work with athletes includes several aspects: (1) ‘‘whole career’’ approach, which spans the athletic career—from   initiation   to   termination—as   well   as the  post-athletic  career;  (2) ‘‘whole  person’’  approach (taking  into  account  not  only  athletic  but  also  non- athletic  developments  of  athletes);  (3)  developmental approach  (links  between  past,  present,  and  future); (4) activity-specific approach (taking into account general  and  sport  event-specific  factors);  (5)  individual approach  (taking  into  account  typical  and  individual patterns);  and  (6)  transferable  skills  approach.  For instance, the latter refers to a series of sport-based life skills programs that aim to teach physical and mental skills  (e.g.,  emotion  self-regulation,  effective  communication, goal setting, coping with success and failure), which  can  be  generalized  to  various  spheres  of  the participants’  life  outside  sport.  This  approach  can  be useful  at  each  stage  of  athletic  career,  especially  for retired  athletes,  to  help  them  adapt  their  skills  and experiences   acquired   during   sport   participation   to their post-athletic career life.

A challenge for sport psychologists helping athletes to reach athletic and personal excellence is to find the right balance between situational current problems and future career development issues. For example, what is more  important  for  the  athlete:  to  prepare  well  for  a competition in the next week or to make sure she joins a national team in the next year? The other dilemma, for example, with a veteran athlete, is whether to focus on searching for additional resources to help him keep his sport results at a high level or to plan for retirement and   post-athletic   career   life.   The   best   answers   to these and other similar questions can be provided by viewing applied sport psychology as both a science and an art. The science viewpoint tells us that it is important  to  keep  in  mind  both  the  situation  and  career perspectives; whereas the art viewpoint, based on past experiences, skills, and intuition, can help answer the question of how to do this.

 5. Conclusion: Future Directions In Sport Psychology

What has been achieved in applied sport psychology? What  are  the  main  concerns  of  the  field  right  now? What is on its future agenda?

In  order  to  enhance  the  effectiveness  of  scientific support  in  elite  sport,  several  new  future  directions from  a  research-oriented  and  a  practical  (organizational)  perspective  can  be  identified.  These  include  a new emphases on the role of elite coaches in psycho- logical preparation of athletes and team, more focus on team-building, environmental, and organizational factors, and the development of closer international cooperation  between  scientists,  practitioners,  and  sports organizers.  Each  of  these  aspects  is  briefly  described in the sections that follow.

More  psychological  support  for  elite  coaches.  Initial focus of most sport psychology research and interventions on athletes and teams is well documented in the literature. However, the role of coaches in the psycho- logical  preparation  of  athletes  and  teams  should  be further  emphasized.  In  practice,  this  means  that  the coach  should  be  the  central  figure  in  preparation  of the  team,  and  sport  psychologists  should  work  more through  the  coach  and  with  the  coach-athlete  team rather than only with the athlete. Enhancing the psychological  competence  of  coaches  can  be  a  decisive factor in enhancing the quality of coaching.

In   the   past,   sport   psychology   interventions   and mental training programs usually focused on competing athletes who were coping with competition stressors. Less attention was paid to high-quality practices and prevention of overtraining, staleness, burnout, and injuries. Therefore, a most urgent and promising area of research and applications in sport psychology now and  in  the future  should  be the  optimal  performance of coaches and their coping skills for handling short- term  and  long-term  chronic  (e.g.,  burn-out)  stresses. Qualitative research on careers of outstanding coaches to  identify  the  factors  of  their  consistent  excellence would   be   a   challenge   for   future   researchers   and practitioners. On the applied side, it would be helpful to summarize experiences of how ongoing individualized   consultancy   (personal   coaching)   for   coaches has helped them anticipate the critical transition periods in their careers.

Team-building  and  effective  management.  In  the  past, social psychological research in sport psychology comprised 8–10% of all efforts, and the role of environmental and  organizational  factors  in  elite  sport  is  still  under- estimated.  Therefore,  sport  psychology  should  focus more  on  a  holistic  approach  to  the  interpersonal  and group processes that are determining performance and the  life  of  a  team  in  a  wider  social  and  cross-cultural context. Optimization of communication in the team is a very  promising  and  productive  area  of  research  and applications. Practically, very little is known about the psychology  of  effective  management  in  elite  teams, sports  federations,  and  clubs.  Considering  the  quick development of elite sports, such areas as organizational development,   change,   and   change   management   are potentially very important as new directions for research and applications. Experiences and practices of organizational psychology and management already available in non-sports high achievement settings could be beneficial for sport. On the other hand, the findings obtained in elite  sports  might  be  of  interest  to  top  management, business, army, and police.

Cross-cultural   adaptation   of   athletes   and   coaches. Recent developments in Europe and worldwide indicate that more and more elite athletes and coaches are working  abroad.  These  professionals  need  new  skills  for successful adaptation to a new environment and its constant changes. Quick adaptation to a new team, team- mates,  and  coach,  effective  contacts  with  the  media, and  negotiation  skills,  for  example,  are  much-needed resources for elite athletes and coaches. Moreover, with more migration and  higher mobility rates  among  elite coaches,  a  critical  factor  is  the  assessment  of  a  candidate’s potential for cross-cultural adaptation and individualized programs that could facilitate his or her entry to a host country. This is especially important in view of the fact that tradition and values vary by country, and, for  instance,  a  well-meaning  but  authoritarian  coach with  a  clear  orientation  on  success  can  be  less  than effective when starting his work in an amateur-oriented environment of the host country. A follow up with the coach or athlete could be instrumental in helping them to  quickly  adapt  and  effectively  function  both  professionally and personally in the new environment.

International  cooperation  of sport  psychologists.  There are indications that in the future, a better collaboration between  applied  sports  psychologists  from  different countries could be useful not only for research but also in consulting. With recent developments in world-wide communication, joint consulting and psychological sup- port for coaches and athletes across different countries seems like a reality in the near future. Developing such a network of sport psychologists could be an interesting initiative,  especially  in  places  where  there  is  a  lack  of experts who could provide high-quality services (in re- search and applications) for elite athletes and coaches. One possible solution would be to use the expertise of internationally recognized applied researchers and practitioners in sport psychology who could deliver the necessary services for elite athletes, teams, and coaches and provide hands-on experiences for the local young aspiring sport psychologists interested in working with elite performers.

To conclude, now as never before, the application of what  is  already  available  in  sport  psychology  is  extremely important. Practical experience and expertise available in sport psychology are important not only in competitive  and  elite  sport  settings  but  also  in  such high-achievement  settings  as  the  performing  arts  and business. There are promising indications that the gap between  theoretical  knowledge  and  experience-based knowledge   in   sport   psychology   is   gradually   being bridged.  Moreover,  there  is  a  clear  shift  in  applied sport   psychology   from   a   predominantly   negative, problem-oriented,  and  deficit-repairing  approach  initially borrowed from clinical psychology to a more positive psychology  focusing  on  optimal  performance  and  on an athlete’s and team’s strengths rather than limitations. Another   promising   trend   in   sport   psychology   is more   emphasis   on   idiographic   (individual-oriented) and experience-based approaches rather than on traditional   nomothetic   (group-oriented)   comparisons   of successful  and  less  than  successful  athletes.  Finally, early attempts  to  use personality tests  to  predict  situational  performance  proved  to  be  unsuccessful.  A  new and   more   promising   approach   is   to   conceptualize the   situationally   oriented   applied   work   focused   on enhancement of athletic performance within the frame- work  of  developmental  perspective.  This  may  provide an  opportunity  for  sport  psychology  to  become  the psychology of athletic and personal excellence.


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