Cognitive behavioral strategies in athletic performance enhancement

A W Meyers, J P Whelan, S M Murphy
Progress in Behavior Modification 1996, 30: 137-64
While we might debate the role of sport in our culture, its influence is certainly pervasive. Each day millions of Americans engage in some form of competition, training, or physical exercise. Such popularity and the value our culture places on competition have made sport a valid area of psychological inquiry. Within the cognitive behavioral model, sport psychology and, specifically, athletic performance enhancement have experienced vigorous growth over the past two decades. Behavior change strategies familiar to most cognitive behaviorists form the core of virtually all athletic performance enhancement interventions. Goal setting, imagery or mental rehearsal, relaxation training, stress management, self-monitoring, self-instruction, cognitive restructuring, and modeling interventions dominate this literature. Our examination of these performance enhancement programs, both through a qualitative review and the Whelan et al. (1989) meta-analysis, supports the efficacy of cognitive behavioral interventions for the enhancement of sport performance. First, the average effect size across the empirical literature indicates that these interventions are reliably effective. Furthermore, this positive result is observed across variations in treatment conditions, control conditions, and across different types of dependent measures. Evidence on goal setting, imagery, arousal management, cognitive self-regulation, and packaged programs specifically support the behavior change efficacy of these interventions. These findings are encouraging, but much work needs to be done. Few investigators cited in this review attend to crucial internal and external validity issues. Attention to treatment integrity, including training of behavior change agents, verification of intervention implementation, and verification of reception of the treatment, is sorely lacking. Psychological skill development and its relationship to performance improvements are rarely checked. Now that cognitive behavioral interventions appear to be reliably effective at posttreatment, we must have meaningful evaluation of maintenance of psychological skill and performance changes. Six-month, 12-month, and longer follow-up evaluations are necessary. We must also begin more detailed evaluations of these effective interventions.(ABSTRACT TRUNCATED AT 400 WORDS)

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