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The present study examined the effects of a soccer, midfielder-specific psychological skills intervention comprising relaxation, imagery and self-talk on position-specific performance measures. Using a multiple-baseline-across-individuals design, five participants had three per-formance subcomponents assessed across nine competitive matches. The results of the study indicated the position-specific intervention to enable at least small improvements on the three dependent variables for each participant. Social validation data indicated all participants to perceive the intervention as being successful and appropriate to their needs. The findings provide further evidence to suggest the efficacy of sport, and position-specific interventions. Suggestions for future research are provided.
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JOURNAL OF APPLIED SPORT PSYCHOLOGY, 18: 254–270, 2006
Copyright
C
Association for Advancement of Applied Sport Psychology
ISSN: 1041-3200 print / 1533-1571 online
DOI: 10.1080/10413200600830323
Using Psychological Skills Training to Develop
Soccer Performance
RICHARD C. THELWELL
University of Portsmouth, U.K.
IAIN A. GREENLEES
University of Chichester, U.K.
NEIL J. V. WESTON
University of Portsmouth, U.K.
The present study examined the effects of a soccer, midfielder-specific psychological skills
intervention comprising relaxation, imagery and self-talk on position-specific performance
measures. Using a multiple-baseline-across-individuals design, five participants had three per-
formance subcomponents assessed across nine competitive matches. The results of the study
indicated the position-specific intervention to enable at least small improvements on the three
dependent variables for each participant. Social validation data indicated all participants to
perceive the intervention as being successful and appropriate to their needs. The findings
provide further evidence to suggest the efficacy of sport, and position-specific interventions.
Suggestions for future research are provided.
In recent years the applied sport psychology literature has seen an increase in the number of
experimental studies examining the efficacy of psychological skills on sporting performance
(e.g., Patrick & Hrycaiko, 1998; Rogerson & Hrycaiko, 2002; Thelwell & Greenlees, 2003).
Within this increase, some studies have focused on single psychological skill approaches (e.g.,
Johnson, Hrycaiko, Johnson, & Halas, 2004; Shambrook & Bull, 1996), while others have
adopted multi-modal package approaches (e.g., Hanton & Jones, 1999; Thelwell & Maynard,
2003).
The development in the applied-based knowledge has brought with it two shortcomings
in the research reported that need to be addressed. First, there has been an inconsistency
for making a justification to why specific psychological skills should be included within
interventions. While some recent work (e.g., Thelwell & Greenlees, 2001; 2003) has provided
a rationale for skill inclusion, it represents a small proportion of studies that have taken this
Received 28 May 2004; accepted 21 June 2005.
Address correspondence to Richard Thelwell, Dept. of Sport and Exercise Science, Univer-
sity of Portsmouth, Spinnaker Building, Cambridge Road, Portsmouth, PO1 2ER, U.K. E-mail:
Richard.thelwell@port.ac.uk
254
SOCCER SUB-COMPONENTS 255
approach. A second issue is that the majority of the published applied-based studies have
examined performance outcomes alone, and neglected performance subcomponents (e.g.,
tackling and passing in soccer), which may in turn provide a greater understanding and insight
into the performance outcomes (Rogerson & Hrycaiko, 2002).
Studies that have examined performance subcomponents have provided several important
implications for the applied practitioner. Examples of these include Swain and Jones (1995)
who employed a goal-setting intervention where specific basketball subcomponents (offensive
rebounds, defensive rebounds, steals and turnovers) were targeted and analyzed over a
series of performances. Using a multiple-baseline design across subjects, each participant’s
performance subcomponents were assessed for the first half of the competitive season.
Mid-season, each participant was requested to select one performance subcomponent that they
perceived would benefit from improvement in the second half of the season. Using goal-setting
approaches specific to the targeted behavior, 3 of the 4 participants experienced an increase
in their targeted area post-intervention. No changes were evident in non-targeted behaviors.
Although positive findings were reported, the important practical implication was that while
psychological skills can be seen to benefit performance, it is assumed that performers cannot
simply just transfer them to alternative situations, without understanding how and why they can
be employed. A more recent example of performance subcomponent analysis is the work of
Johnson et al. (2004) where the effectiveness of self-talk strategies on soccer low-drive shooting
in elite female youth soccer players was assessed. Using a multiple-baseline-across-individuals
design, three participants were sequentially introduced to what Hardy, Gammage and Hall
(2001) would classify as cognitive-specific self-talk that was perceived by the coaches to
be appropriate for the low-drive shooting skill (a fourth participant was used as a control
throughout the data collection period). The results indicated that two of the three participants
improved their performance following the intervention. This again suggests the potential
benefits from the adoption of psychological skills for specific performance subcomponents,
and raises further questions regarding the sensitivity of global performance scores and their
appropriateness for the applied practitioner.
In addition to the single-skill interventions, Rogerson and Hrycaiko (2002) examined
the effect of two psychological skills on subcomponent performance of junior ice hockey
goaltenders. Here, the save percentage ratios of five junior participants were recorded both
pre and post to a position and task-specific intervention comprising centering and self-talk.
Employing a single subject multiple-baseline-across-individuals design, results indicated an
improvement in the save percentage of the goaltenders. Additionally, social validation data
confirmed the satisfaction with the intervention, suggesting the selected psychological skills
to be appropriate for the position and task requirements of a goaltender.
As has been highlighted thus far, there has been an increase in the number of
studies examining the efficacy of psychological interventions on sporting performance and
performance subcomponents. Despite such developments, there remains a limited knowledge
base as to the efficacy of psychological skills within an open-skilled, team sport setting
(Kendall, Hrycaiko, Martin, & Kendall, 1990; McPherson, 2000), where performers are
subjected to continually changing environmental situations, mostly governed by behaviors
of other performers (cf. Martin, 1997, p. 86). With this in mind, and in the knowledge that
very little literature has focused on the use of psychological skills within a soccer setting
(Reilly & Gilbourne, 2003), the purpose of the present study was to develop a role-specific
intervention for soccer midfielders. Furthermore, the present study was designed to examine
the intervention’s efficacy on role-specific subcomponents which include the ability to bring
the ball under control, complete successful passes and make successful tackles, each of which
are reported as the most pertinent technical skills for soccer midfielders (Luongo, 1996).
256 R. C. THELWELL ET AL.
To utilize psychological skills with the soccer midfielder, it is important to identify the
varying requirements for a player who plays in this position. When analyzing the requirements
of the soccer midfielder, one can see that the main requirement is to have the physical capability
to cover a great distance throughout a 90-minute match. This is supported by a proliferation of
motion analysis-based studies within the sports science literature (e.g., Reilly, 1996; Rienzi,
Drust, Reilly, Carter & Martin, 2000), which has reported elite English Premier League
midfield soccer players to run in the region of 12,000m per match (Strudwick & Reilly, 2001).
When compared to other positions (e.g., defender or forward), it is evident that midfielders
have a greater physical requirement due to them being the unit between the defenders and the
forwards. Herein, a midfielder is required to link both the defensive and forward units, while
also acting in both a defensive and attacking manner as required. In addition to the physical
demands, a soccer midfielder is required to carry out complex motor skills (e.g., tackling
while in motion, receiving the ball and passing it on as an opponent approaches), perceptual
skills (e.g., knowing when the ball will arrive, bringing the ball under control, timing a tackle)
and decision-making skills (e.g., knowing the correct pass to make, knowing when to tackle).
Moreover, such skills can become increasingly difficult as the length of activity is prolonged
due to the effects of fatigue (Taylor, 1995).
Acknowledging the many requirements for a soccer midfielder, it is imperative that the
development of any psychological skills intervention is done so with the requirements of the
role in mind. Using Taylor’s (1995) conceptual framework, it could be argued that for the
specific performance subcomponents (i.e., ball control, passing and tackling) examined within
the present study, relaxation, imagery and self-talk skills would be beneficial. Relaxation
strategies, predominantly in the form of progressive muscular relaxation and centering, appear
appropriate for the soccer midfielder on the premise that they are required to be at their optimal
arousal state prior to performing, in addition to during performance (Hanin, 2000). With regards
to the recommendations forwarded by Taylor, relaxation strategies may benefit performers’
perceptions of pain and fatigue (Thelwell & Greenlees, 2003), which may ultimately influence
an individual’s resources being available for the decision-making and perceptual characteristics
of the task (Humpreys & Revelle, 1984; Landers & Boutcher, 1998). Specifically, relaxation
strategies would benefit attentional focus when playing well, or when incorrect decisions or
errors in perception and decision-making are made. Therefore, the relaxation strategies may
enable performers to maintain appropriate levels of activation rather than experience rapid
increases following errors.
Using Taylor’s (1995) conceptual model, it would also be suggested that imagery would
be of benefit to the soccer midfielder. Imagery would be employed to benefit motivation
and perceived competence for various aspects of performance. Specifically, this would
include performers imagining themselves successfully completing motor, perceptual and
decision-making acts during performance, and coping with additional concerns throughout the
performance. This can include performing the requirements when experiencing fatigue. When
considering the task demands of the midfielder, it would seem appropriate to suggest that
imagery may be relevant for preparatory issues such as passing strategies, how the opposition
may play and what tactical system their own team is playing. Furthermore, imagery may
be beneficial to provide confidence for decision-making and perceptual elements in the latter
stages of performance (which are often slower due to fatigue) where perceptual sensitivity may
be reduced due to task-irrelevant factors causing decrements in motor performance (Munroe,
Giacobbi, Hall, & Weinberg, 2000).
A final psychological skill of benefit to the soccer midfielder would be self-talk. Based on
Taylor’s (1995) recommendations and the positive findings of previous research (e.g., Hardy
et al., 2001), motivational self-talk can be utilized for issues relating to effort (maintaining and
SOCCER SUB-COMPONENTS 257
increasing drive) and arousal (activation and relaxation). Both effort and arousal are essential
for the midfielder prior to and during a performance due to the heavy physiological component
of their role. Also, motivational self-talk would be of importance for the soccer midfielder
to enable appropriate and consistent motivation and focus on task-relevant resources for each
role-specific action (Bull, 1989). Secondly, mastery self-talk, which may include issues such as
focus, self-confidence and coping with difficult situations, is relevant to the position. It would
appear that this form of self-talk would enable an individual to achieve appropriate focus on
process goals, and have appropriate motor coordination throughout a performance, rather than
allowing a focus on task-irrelevant factors, which may occur when fatigued or following an
error (Hardy et al., 2001).
In summary, the main purpose of the study was to examine the effectiveness of a
psychological skills intervention, developed with a soccer midfielder’s specific requirements
in mind, throughout a competitive league season. Further, the study also attempted to develop
the knowledge and understanding of psychological skill interventions within an ecologically
valid, open-skill, team-sport setting.
METHOD
Participants
The participants were five male members (age range = 19–23 yrs) of a University soccer 1st
team squad who participated in the British University Sports Association (BUSA) South-East
region league. All participants were midfield players and reported that they had played in a
midfield position for the majority of their soccer playing careers. The participants reported
having “a limited knowledge” of sport psychology and none of them had previously undertaken
a structured psychological skills training package. All participants volunteered for the study
and signed informed consent forms prior to participating in the study. They were also informed
that all data would remain anonymous and that confidentiality would be maintained at all times.
Dependent Variables
The dependent variables were 1st touch percentage, pass percentage, and tackle percentage.
Each of the dependent variables were defined as the number of 1st touches, passes, tackles,
that were successful, divided by the total number attempted, and multiplied by 100. Three
United European Football Association (UEFA) B License coaches suggested the performance
subcomponents to be pivotal to the role of a midfield player and defined a successful 1st touch
as where the ball is brought under control within one touch with no additional movements
being required to shield the ball from an opponent, a successful pass as one that reaches its
destination (a team member), and a successful tackle as one where you complete a legal tackle
and gain possession of the ball.
Experimental Design
To examine the effects of the psychological skills intervention package on subcomponents
of soccer performance, a single-subject, multiple-baseline-across-individuals design was
employed (Martin & Pear, 2003; Thelwell & Greenlees, 2003). The testing took place
over a nine-match period (all fixtures being BUSA South-East region league matches). The
introduction of the intervention typically takes place when a stable baseline of the dependent
variable is achieved, or performance moves in a direction opposite to that expected following
treatment (Kazdin, 1992). With the present study having three dependent variables, the typical
258 R. C. THELWELL ET AL.
approach to introducing the intervention was not appropriate. Therefore, the research team
made an ‘a priori’ decision as to when the introduction of the intervention would take place
for each of the participants. Whiles this was is not in accord with the recommendations
forwarded by Martin and Pear (2003), it was deemed inappropriate to employ a ‘primary’
dependent variable to be used to determine the time of intervention. Following this, there was
a sequential introduction of the intervention over the nine-match data collection period. For
example, participant 1 received the intervention after match 3 and participant 2 received the
intervention after match 4. The same pattern was evident until all participants had received
the intervention.
Psychological Skills Training Package
The package including relaxation, imagery, and self-talk was delivered to each of the
participants across a three-day period by a British Association of Sport and Exercise Science
(BASES)-accredited sport psychologist. For each component, a series of workbook exercises
were provided in the form of “homework” and were discussed at the next meeting.
Relaxation strategies were introduced in a three-stage approach. Having been introduced
to what relaxation is, and when it may be beneficial within a soccer setting, participants
were enabled to feel what it is like to relax via Progressive Muscle Relaxation (PMR). From
experiencing PMR, participants were able to develop an understanding as to when varying
states of tension and relaxation may be of benefit throughout a competitive match. The second
stage saw the introduction of the centering strategy, which was designed to enable participants
to relax while not being physically involved with play. Additionally, each participant was
informed that the primary objective of this strategy was to enable a mechanism for quick and
effective relaxation while focusing attention on relevant cues in the environment (Hardy &
Fazey, 1990). Participants were encouraged to use the strategy in training sessions when they
were not involved with play, and in particular when there was a break in play, or they had just
made an error. The third stage included breathing strategies (Hogg, 1995) to enable relaxation
during performance. Specifically, each participant was encouraged to identify what happens
to their breathing when they are not performing well. One recurring example throughout the
delivery of the interventions was when performers were trying to get the ball under control
(first touch). When they had a bad touch (lost control) they would tend to have increased tension
coupled with uncontrolled breathing, which would tend to lead to further performance errors.
Participants were encouraged to become more self-aware of when their breathing became
inappropriate, and as a result, know when to employ the appropriate breathing strategy.
Next, imagery was introduced with an explanation of how it could benefit the role of a
soccer midfielder. The participants completed exercises to help demonstrate the difference
between internal and external imagery, varying speeds of images, and seeing images related
to performance success and recovery. With regard to the performance subcomponents, players
were required to use imagery that employed as many senses as possible to see and feel a
successful first touch, recovery from a poor first touch, a successful pass, recovery from an
incomplete pass, completion of a successful tackle or recovery from a missed and/or mistimed
tackle in a variety of competition scenarios. To benefit the acquisition and development of
imagery skill, each participant was encouraged to develop a competition-specific imagery
script, encompassing all aspects of imagery.
Finally, different elements of self-talk were introduced to the participants with examples
of each type that may be of relevance to the midfielder within competition. Participants’ use
of self-talk was discussed and having developed an understanding of the types of self-talk
employed, the final stage of the intervention followed a three-step approach. First, participants
SOCCER SUB-COMPONENTS 259
were aided in the construction and use of appropriate positive self-talk, via use of key words
and competition affirmations that would be of benefit to them both before and during a
competition. The benefits of the varying forms of self-talk were discussed in the light of each
performance subcomponent and the participants developed a list of affirmation statements that
they were able to use in a competitive setting. The second stage consisted of identifying when
participants use negative self-talk and understanding as to how it may affect performance.
Each participant completed an exercise designed to restructure unwanted negative thoughts to
positive, motivational or challenging thoughts, which would be more conducive to effective
focused performance. A final aspect of the self-talk was to identify when instructional/focus
talk would be appropriate for each participant. To achieve this, participants completed an
exercise to identify what they say to themselves when carrying out each of the performance
subcomponents, and discover if they could employ more appropriate self-talk.
Procedure
Initial contact was made with the participants and the head coach of the squad on a
volunteer basis. Having provided the coach with a brief oral overview of what was required
from the participants, the same process was completed with the potential participants who
were also provided with information sheets. Having completed the procedure, each of the five
participants gave written consent to participate in the research study.
On average, each participant played one competitive match per week (BUSA South-East
region league) and attended two training sessions per week throughout the data collection
period, which also resembled their normal training and competitive participation behaviors.
Typically, one of the training sessions would be based on fitness aspects (including both general
aerobic training and anaerobic maintenance training), while the other would be skills-based,
including match preparation.
Performance data were collected using match analysis procedures (Reilly, 1996) for
each competitive league match over the nine-match period for the three role-specific
sub-components, and when each participant’s turn came to receive the intervention, it was
administered over a three-day period. Relaxation was covered on day one, imagery skills on
day two, and self-talk skills on day three. Each session was conducted at the University campus
where the first author was based and lasted for a maximum of one hour.
Treatment of Data
Participants’ performance scores for passing, tackling and 1st touch were plotted for each
of the nine competitive league matches. Visual inspection recommendations by Martin and
Pear (2003) and Hrycaiko and Martin (1996) were adhered to, to establish the occurrence
of any experimental effects. These include: (a) crossover of data points between the pre-
intervention and post-intervention phases, where the lack of overlapping data points supports
the effectiveness of the intervention, (b) immediacy of an effect following intervention, (c) the
size of an effect after intervention, and, (d) the number of times that effects were replicated
across the participants, where increased consistency indicates a generalized pattern of the
experimental effects.
Social Validation
Social validation questionnaires were administered to the participants at the completion
of the study. This process attempted to assess participant reactions to treatment procedures
and experimental outcomes (Pates, Maynard, & Westbury, 2001). The social validation was
260 R. C. THELWELL ET AL.
designed to provide information concerning the importance of the study and the effectiveness
of the intervention via the following questions: (a) “How important was an improvement in
performance to you?” with responses ranging from 1 (not at all important)to7(extremely
important); (b) “Do you consider the changes in performance to be significant?” with responses
ranging from 1 (not at all significant)to7(extremely significant); (c) “How satisfied were
you with the psychological skills training program?” with responses ranging from 1 (not at
all satisfied)to7(extremely satisfied); (d) “Has the intervention proved useful to you?” with
responses ranging from 1 (not at all useful)to7(extremely useful).
RESULTS
Data and Procedural Reliability
Prior to the collection of performance data, the researchers and a fourth individual who
was independent to the research group attended a series of training sessions and competitive
matches to attain accuracy and consistency in their methods of identifying data for each of
the three performance sub-components. In each of the training sessions and matches, the
researchers and independent researcher individually rated the performance sub-components.
Attendance at training and matches took place until inter-observer reliability was greater than
0.8 (Hrycaiko & Martin, 1996) where it was then assumed that all individuals were correctly
assessing performance behaviors. Having achieved suitable inter-observer reliability, it was
agreed that the independent researcher would collect the performance data throughout the
study. This was achieved for each participant for each performance subcomponent across
the matches except for participant 1 in match 6 and participant 5 in match 1 where they
were absent due to injury. In addition to achieving appropriate inter-observer reliability for
the performance data, the research team also ensured procedural reliability by requesting the
independent researcher to check that each intervention had been applied consistently and
correctly, and that participants had completed the necessary exercises following each section
of the intervention.
Intervention Effects
1st Touch. The results for the 1st touch data are presented in Figure 1. Although all
5 participants improved their 1st touch performance following intervention, there were
numerous overlapping data points and the size of improvement varied across participants.
For example, the post-intervention data for participant 2 was consistently higher than
pre-intervention with no data points regressing below the pre-intervention average. This was
equally applicable for participants 4 and 5. Participants 1 and 3 had smaller increases in
the mean scores post-intervention, and although their data points were relatively consistent
around the post-intervention mean, there were occasions where there were overlapping data
points.
Passing. In support of the 1st touch data, all participants improved their percentage of
successful passes (Figure 2). Again, the magnitude of the effect varied as did the number of
overlapping data points across individuals. Participants 1 and 2 had the greatest increase in
performance post-intervention with no overlapping data points. Participants 4 and 5 had smaller
improvements in performance post-intervention, and they also each had one overlapping data
point from pre- to post-intervention periods. Participant 3 had performance improvement, but
less than the other participants. However participant 3’s post-intervention performance, like
participant 4 was very consistent (stable).
SOCCER SUB-COMPONENTS 261
Figure 1. Successful 1st touch percentage rates across competitive matches, for participants
a) 1; b) 2; c) 3; d) 4; and e) 5. (Continued)
262 R. C. THELWELL ET AL.
Figure 1. (Continued)
Tackling. The data for the tackling performance of the five participants is shown in Figure 3.
The data indicates that all participants improved on this performance subcomponent following
the intervention. Participants 1 and 4 had the greatest increases in performance with no
overlapping data points, with each participant having greater consistency around the post-
intervention mean. Participant 5 also had a large improvement in performance although there
was one overlapping data point from pre- to post-intervention. Participants 2 and 3, although
having fewer improvements post-intervention, compared to the other participants, had 2 and
1 overlapping data points respectively, but both had improved consistency around their post-
intervention mean level of performance.
Social Validation
Social validation was assessed via brief questionnaires on completion of the study. When
asked to rate the importance of a performance improvement, the average response from the
SOCCER SUB-COMPONENTS 263
Figure 2. Pass completion percentage rates across competitive matches, for participants a) 1;
b) 2; c) 3; d) 4; and e) 5. (Continued)
264 R. C. THELWELL ET AL.
Figure 2. (Continued)
participants was 5.8. Similarly, positive responses were obtained when participants rated how
significant an improvement in performance was to them. On average, the participants’ average
response was 5.6. The responses for the final two questions (satisfaction with the intervention,
and has the intervention proved useful) suggested overwhelming support for the efficacy of
the intervention with average ratings of 6.2 and 6.5 respectively.
DISCUSSION
The main aim of the present study was to examine the effectiveness of a psychological skills
intervention, developed with soccer midfielder-specific requirements in mind, throughout a
competitive league season. A further aim of the study was to develop the research base
that examines the use of psychological skills in an ecologically valid, open-skill, team-sport
SOCCER SUB-COMPONENTS 265
Figure 3. Successful tackle percentage rates across competitive matches, for participants a) 1;
b) 2; c) 3; d) 4; and e) 5. (Continued)
266 R. C. THELWELL ET AL.
Figure 3. (Continued)
setting. In providing an overview of the findings, it was apparent that the intervention
comprising relaxation, imagery and self-talk enabled each participant to achieve at least small
improvements for each of the dependent variables, which were deemed as being specific
to the position of a soccer midfielder. Further to this, four of the five participants had
clear improvements on all dependent variables. Participant 3, while experiencing only small
improvements for each of the dependent variables, produced a much higher level of consistency
around the mean, which could be argued as being as equally important to showing large, yet
potentially fluctuating improvements in performance post-intervention. Such findings provide
further evidence suggesting psychological skills training to be beneficial to both improving,
and increasing the consistency of performance, which in turn is of benefit to the performer,
coach and sport psychology consultant (Thelwell & Maynard, 2003). The findings also support
the importance of identifying specific roles within sports, and the psychological priorities for
the roles (Taylor, 1995).
SOCCER SUB-COMPONENTS 267
A possible explanation for the reason why participants experienced varied levels of
performance improvement can be explained by the belief that not all midfielders fulfill the same
roles in their position. Although the requirements of a good first touch, passing and tackling
may be of generic importance, midfielders who are more attack-minded (or commonly viewed
as “playmakers”) may not be so concerned with improvements in tackling because their game is
based more on the ability to have good control of the ball and the delivery of accurate passes.
Alternatively, more defensive midfielders may require greater focus on tackling capability
rather than passing due to the nature of their specific positional role. Within the present study,
the participants were not classified into the various types of midfielder, which may help to
explain the findings within the present study. For example, participant 3 may require all of
the dependent variables, which may explain why only small improvements, yet much greater
consistency was achieved. Participant 2 however, may be more attacking minded, which may
be attributed to the larger performance improvements in 1st touch and passing, with smaller
improvements in tackling. Thus from an applied perspective, practitioners need to be aware
of the role-specific requirements for the performers with whom they work. Further to this,
having identified the appropriate role requirements, the practitioner would then have to identify
the appropriate psychological priorities and methods for psychological skill development that
would maximize performance within the role (Thelwell & Greenlees, 2003).
An issue worthy of further consideration with applied-based research and one which may
have influenced the interpretation of the findings within the present study is that of the method
of performance assessment. The present study employed an objective scoring measure for
the three dependent variables, although several factors may have influenced the validity of
the performance measures. In particular, it could be claimed that there are concerns with the
adoption of objective measures within a team setting, due to the number of uncontrollable
variables. For example, when assessing the passing component of performance, it could be
that the correct pass is identified by the player, but not read or anticipated by the recipient, and
consequently intercepted by an opponent. Objectively, such an example would be negatively
marked, whereas, from a subjective approach, the performer would have gained credit for
identifying the correct pass. Similarly, there could be varying categories of successful 1st
touch. It could be that the situation determines the type of 1st touch required. For example, a
player may use the 1st touch to turn away from a player to be able to gain extra time for decision
making for the next move, or it could be that the 1st touch is required to set an attack up, which
would mean that the player would run with the ball or pass straight away without bringing
the ball under control first. Each of the examples could be perceived in both a positive and
negative manner from an objective method of assessment, but by using a subjective method
greater consistency could be included as an improvement.
The aforementioned issues raise two interesting options for future research. First, it appears
appropriate that some form of subjective marking assessment for assessing performance levels
may be warranted when analyzing varying dependent variables, which would allow for the
erroneous uncontrollable factors that may influence objective performance measures to be
considered. There have been examples in contemporary literature where subjective methods
of assessment have been employed (e.g., Maynard, Hemmings, & Warwick-Evans, 1995;
Maynard, Smith, & Warwick-Evans, 1995; Thelwell & Maynard, 1998) and it may be of
value to compare the effects of psychological skills on performance subcomponents using
both subjective and objective methods of performance assessment, which would allow greater
sources of information for the performer, coach and sport psychologist alike (Randle &
Weinberg, 1997). Should such an approach be adopted, researchers would need to be aware
of the potential concerns, as documented in the abovementioned research, regarding the use
of inter-rater reliability scales and the concerns would need resolution. On a related point, it
268 R. C. THELWELL ET AL.
would also be advantageous for a subjective scoring system to consider the level of situational
difficulty in which the technical skills were being demonstrated. Within the present study, no
differentiation was made between situations where players may have made a good 1st touch
and pass with the opposition marking them tightly, and someone who completed the same
skill with more space in which to control and move. To achieve this however, more stringent
methods of inter-observer reliability (e.g., filming the behaviors being assessed) than those
demonstrated in the present study would be required throughout the data collection period
(Tkachuk, Leslie-Toogood, & Martin, 2003).
A second issue worthy of further examination is the influence of psychological skills on
the decision-making ability of performers. Within open skill activities, there are countless
examples where decision-making is critical, and there have been several examples of research
in soccer examining the effects of experience (McMorris & Beazeley, 1997; McMorris &
Graydon, 1996a), exercise (McMorris & Graydon, 1997; McMorris, Myers, MacGillivary,
Sexsmith, Fallowfield, Graydon, & Forster, 1999; McMorris, Sproule, Draper, & Child, 2000),
and task complexity (McMorris & Graydon, 1996b) on decision-making capability. Therefore,
investigating how psychological skills benefit decision-making may be worthwhile.
A final area that warrants attention is the potential influence of psychological skills on
performance in the second half of matches in the post-intervention period compared to the
second half of matches in the pre-intervention period. This appears even more appealing
with the knowledge that soccer has a heavy physiological requirement that may influence
deteriorated performance in the role-specific requirements (Strudwick & Reilly, 2001). While
a detailed discussion of this is beyond the scope of the present study, it has been reported (e.g.,
McMorris & Graydon, 1997; McMorris et al., 1999), that the level and intensity of exercise does
affect performance subcomponents. Therefore, it may be that the psychological skills enabled
participants to cope more efficiently with the endurance aspect, which may have benefited
their sub-component performance levels. In addition, recent insightful studies (e.g., Butt,
Weinberg, & Horn, 2003) have suggested significant fluctuations in anxiety states throughout
competition can influence performance. This further suggests that monitoring psychological
skills use and performance subcomponents throughout competition is necessary to enable a
greater understanding as to how enhanced performance consistency can be achieved (Thelwell
& Maynard, 2003). Finally, from a soccer specific perspective, this area of interest may be
worthy of attention in that it is often reported that the second half of performance includes
more performance errors that often cost the team as a whole (Beswick, 2001).
To conclude, the results of the present study indicate sport and position-specific
psychological skills to be beneficial to role-specific performance indicators. With all
participants making at least small improvements on each of the dependent variables there
are several potentially important implications and worthwhile avenues for future research to
inform the applied practitioner.
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