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Developing Competitive Endurance Performance Using Mental Skills Training

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The present study examined the effects of a mental skills training package on competitive gymnasium triathlon performance and evaluated the utilization and impacts of the mental skills during performance. Four participants competed against each other on ten occasions in a single-subject multiple baseline across individuals design, which was used to evaluate an intervention package including goal setting, relaxation, imagery, and self-talk. The results indicated the mental skills package to be effective in enhancing all participants' competitive triathlon performance and usage of mental skills from baseline to intervention phases. Qualitative data revealed that each of the mental skills were employed both prior to and during each triathlon and had varying impacts depending on when they were utilized. Issues regarding mental skill effectiveness and usage within competitive endurance performance are discussed.
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318 Thelwell and Greenlees
318
Developing Competitive Endurance
Performance Using Mental Skills Training
Richard C. Thelwell
University of Portsmouth
Iain A. Greenlees
University College Chichester
The present study examined the effects of a mental skills training package on
competitive gymnasium triathlon performance and evaluated the utilization
and impacts of the mental skills during performance. Four participants com-
peted against each other on ten occasions in a single-subject multiple baseline
across individuals design, which was used to evaluate an intervention pack-
age including goal setting, relaxation, imagery, and self-talk. The results indi-
cated the mental skills package to be effective in enhancing all participants’
competitive triathlon performance and usage of mental skills from baseline to
intervention phases. Qualitative data revealed that each of the mental skills
were employed both prior to and during each triathlon and had varying im-
pacts depending on when they were utilized. Issues regarding mental skill
effectiveness and usage within competitive endurance performance are dis-
cussed.
In recent years, applied sport psychology research has witnessed an increase
in studies that have investigated the effects of mental skills on athletic perfor-
mance. Despite a wealth of literature implying such skills to be beneficial for per-
formance (e.g., Patrick & Hrycaiko, 1998; Swain & Jones, 1995), there appears to
be a lack of studies examining the efficacy of such interventions on competitive
endurance-based athletic performance. In addition to the potential lack of ecologi-
cal validity within many of the studies, there also appears to be a failure in provid-
ing appropriate explanations as to why such skills are being included within the
interventions, as well as knowledge with respect to how the mental skills are being
The Sport Psychologist, 2003, 17, 318-317
© 2003 Human Kinetics Publishers, Inc.
Richard Thelwell is with the Department of Exercise Science at the University of
Portsmouth, Hampshire, UK P01 2UP. E-mail: Richard.thelwell@port.ac.uk. Iain Greenless
is with the School of Sport, Exercise, and Health at the University College Chichester, West
Sussex, UK. E-mail: i.greenlees@ucc.ac.uk..
Endurance Performance 319
utilized within competition. For example, although Bull (1989) found an interven-
tion program comprising mental imagery, self-talk, and relaxation strategies to be
beneficial for an ultra-distance runner, no rationale was provided to suggest as to
why the skills were selected, what the proposed benefits of the mental skills on
performance were, and how the mental skills were employed. Similarly, although
Patrick and Hrycaiko (1998) reported a mental skills training package comprising
relaxation, imagery, self-talk, and goal setting on 1,600m running to be beneficial,
no rationale for the inclusion of mental skills within the package or information on
their utilization were forwarded.
In an attempt to respond to these two concerns, Thelwell and Greenlees (2001)
examined the effects of a task specific mental skills training package on gymna-
sium triathlon performance in a simulated competition setting. Five participants
took part in a single-subject multiple baseline across individuals design whereby
they completed one gymnasium triathlon per week, over a ten-week period, and
received a mental skills intervention comprising goal setting, relaxation, self-talk,
and imagery at staggered intervals. The results suggested the intervention to be
effective in enhancing gymnasium triathlon performance for all participants.
As suggested, Thelwell and Greenlees (2001) attempted to provide a ratio-
nale for the inclusion of the mental skills within the task specific package. The
framework for the intervention was based on Taylors (1995) recommendations
for endurance-based activities. With Taylor, proposing that the psychological pri-
orities for endurance-based activities to be motivation, boredom control, and pain
control, the subsequent mental skill package was based on enhancing these as-
pects of psychological functioning. Secondly, the mental skills were matched to
the demands of the task. The specifics of the task included performing on a gym-
nasium rowing machine, a cycle ergometer, and a running machine in a triathlon
format, with each section representing gross body movements in a repeated man-
ner. The triathlon task can therefore be seen to be relatively simplistic in terms of
the motor characteristics of the skills (Landers & Boutcher, 1998). However, when
assessing the perception and decision-making characteristics, the task can become
increasingly difficult as the length of activity is prolonged (Taylor, 1995). Hence,
despite the motor act characteristics remaining similar, the efficacy of the motor
component in terms of maintaining performance can be negated should the sensi-
tivity of the perceptual mechanisms be reduced due to fatigue and pain. The men-
tal skills were subsequently included within the package to enable appropriate
allocation of resources on relevant aspects of the task (McMorris & Graydon, 1997).
The first skill included within the package by Thelwell and Greenlees (2001)
was goal setting, which was included on two accounts. First, and based on recent
research evidence (e.g., Filby, Maynard, & Graydon, 1999), goal setting techniques
may enhance feelings and perceptions of control via a combination of process,
performance, and outcome goals, which can ultimately benefit motivation. More
specifically, adopting such an approach may assist the athletes’ feedback mecha-
nisms during an event rather than a reliance on outcome performance measures
(Stevinson & Biddle, 1998). Furthermore, the inclusion of a multiple goal strategy
is designed to compliment the other elements of the intervention whereby
appropriate focus via relaxation, imagery, and self-talk can enable the athlete to
direct attention toward controllable performance variables. Second, goal setting
can work in a motivational manner via SMART goals (Locke & Latham, 1985,
1990) that are specific, measurable, attainable, realistic, and time-phased.
320 Thelwell and Greenlees
Relaxation strategies were included on the premise that the performers need
to be at their optimal arousal state prior to performing, in addition to during perfor-
mance (Hanin, 2000). With regard to the recommendations forwarded by Taylor
(1995), relaxation strategies can benefit performers’ perceptions of pain to enable
enhanced athletic performance by having appropriate resources available for the
decision-making and perceptual characteristics of the task (Landers & Boutcher,
1998). Specifically, when fatigue builds up, relaxation strategies may enable the
athlete to maintain focus on bodily feelings including breathing patterns and muscle
tension, in addition to other task relevant thoughts so that performance elements
such as running stride, running speed, and goals can be modified for maximal
athletic performance.
The inclusion of imagery within the intervention was complimentary to each
of the recommendations forwarded by Taylor (1995). First, imagery was employed
to benefit motivation for various stages of the triathlon. Specifically, this included
performers imagining themselves completing each section of the triathlon and cop-
ing with additional concerns throughout the performance, which can include pain
and fatigue (Munroe, Giacobbi, Hall, & Weinberg, 2000). When considering the
task demands of the triathlon, it would seem appropriate to suggest that imagery
may be relevant for preparatory issues such as decision making for the latter stages
of the task (e.g., kicking for the finish) where perceptual sensitivity may be re-
duced due to task-irrelevant factors causing decrements in motor performance
(Munroe et al., 2000).
Finally, Thelwell and Greenlees (2001) based the inclusion of self-talk within
the package on Taylors (1995) recommendations and the positive findings of pre-
vious research (e.g., Hardy, Gammage, & Hall, 2001). First, motivational self-talk
can be utilized for issues relating to drive (maintaining and increasing drive) and
arousal (psyching up and relaxation), each of which are essential for the endurance
athlete prior to and during a performance to enable appropriate motivation and
focus on task-relevant resources for each section of the event (Bull, 1989). Sec-
ond, mastery self-talk, including issues of focus, self-confidence, and coping with
difficult situations is relevant to enable appropriate focus on process goals and
motor coordination throughout a performance, rather than allowing a focus on
task-irrelevant factors that may be present due to pain, fatigue, or boredom (Hardy
et al., 2001).
Despite the attempt to provide an empirical rationale for the inclusion of the
mental skills within the specific endurance-based gymnasium triathlon interven-
tion, Thelwell and Greenlees (2001) failed to provide supporting evidence for the
efficacy of the intervention within an ecologically valid setting. Although Thelwell
and Greenlees attempted to simulate a competitive setting via the introduction of
an incentive, ecological validity could not be assumed due to the artificial setting
and because participants did not compete against each other in a coactive manner.
A further omission from the Thelwell and Greenlees study was information de-
rived from participant feedback specifically relating to how each of the mental
skills delivered in the intervention were employed prior to, during, and following
performance. Indeed, while recent evidence exists as to the use of various mental
skills (e.g., Hardy et al., 2001; Munroe et al., 2000) across sporting activities, there
is no evidence to date identifying the ways in which mental skills are specifically
employed for individual athletic activities.
Endurance Performance 321
In acknowledging the requirement for further quasi-experimental studies
investigating mental skill packages and the need for knowledge as to how mental
skills are employed during performance, there were two main aims to the present
study. The first aim was to examine the effectiveness of an intervention combining
goal setting, relaxation, imagery, and self-talk for enhancing competitive gymna-
sium triathlon performance. A second aim of the study was to identify how the
mental skills were being utilized by endurance athletes before and during perfor-
mance.
Method
Participants
The participants were four male members of a university gymnasium (age range =
19-21 yrs). All self-reported themselves as being of White-European ethnicity.
Each of the four participants were recreational athletes who occasionally com-
peted in local road running competitions in addition to other endurance based sport-
ing activities. Despite none of the participants having actually competed in a full
competitive triathlon event, the local gymnasium organizes sessions whereby mem-
bers (including the participants) have the opportunity to “try out” for their best
time and subsequently monitor improvements via completion times. All four par-
ticipants reported having a knowledge of sport psychology and suggested that al-
though they perceived themselves to utilize what they considered to be mental
skills during performance, none of them had received a structured psychological
training package.
Task
The present study utilizes a gymnasium triathlon task, which is normally com-
pleted by gymnasium members in an attempt to monitor fitness, in terms of time
taken to complete the task. The task comprised rowing for 2,000m on a Concept II
Indoor Rower, cycling for 5,000m on a Life Fitness Life Cycle 9500, and running
for 3,000m on a Powerjog J Series Running Ergometer. Within the present study,
all participants competed against each other at the same time in an attempt to
simulate competitive conditions to increase ecological validity.
Materials
Use of Mental Skills.To monitor the participants’ use of mental skills, a Modi-
fied Mental Skills Questionnaire (MMSQ) adapted from Bull, Albinson, and
Shambrook’s (1996) Mental Skills Questionnaire (MSQ) was employed. The
MMSQ comprises five subscales (imagery ability, mental preparation, self-confi-
dence, concentration, and arousal regulation). For the purposes of this study, a
single global MMSQ score was calculated for each athlete after each of the ten
trials to provide an overview of each participant’s mental skill usage. Global scores
ranged from 20 (little use of mental skills) through to 120 (high use of mental
skills) for the combined five subscales.
Incentive to Win. In addition to the MMSQ and to further create competi-
tive conditions, an incentive was introduced in the form of a prize for the person
322 Thelwell and Greenlees
who achieved the most victories over the testing period of ten triathlons. In an
attempt to monitor participants’ incentive levels to win the prize offered, they were
asked, “How much of your motivation to compete in this experiment is governed
by the chance to win the prize offered?” The participants had to respond on a 9-
point Likert-type scale, where 1 = not at all motivated and 9 = very much moti-
vated (Greenlees, Graydon, & Maynard, 1999). A second Likert-type scale ques-
tion was asked following each competitive time trial as to what level of exertion
the participant exerted for each trial, where 1 = very little exertion and 9 = maximal
exertion.
Social Validation. A social validation questionnaire was administered to
the participants at the completion of the study. This process attempts to assess
participant reactions to treatment procedures and experimental outcomes (Pates,
Maynard, & Westbury, 2001). The social validation was designed to provide infor-
mation concerning the importance of the study and the effectiveness of the inter-
vention via the following questions: (a) “How important is an improvement in
performance to you?” with responses ranging from 1 (not at all important) to 7
(extremely important); (b) “Do you consider the changes in performance to be
significant?” with responses ranging from 1 (not at all significant) to 7 (extremely
significant); (c) “How satisfied were you with the mental skills training program?”
with responses ranging from 1 (not at all satisfied) to 7 (extremely satisfied); (d)
“Has the intervention proved useful to you?” with responses ranging from 1 (not
at all useful) to 7 (extremely useful).
Qualitative Data Collection. On completion of the testing period, each of
the four participants took part in a structured interview in an attempt to develop an
understanding as to how the mental skills were being employed within the com-
petitive triathlon environment. The interviews were conducted by the same re-
searcher, who was experienced in qualitative research methods. Each interview
was based upon four main questions for each mental skill within the intervention.
For example, when discussing imagery, the questions asked included “How was
imagery used before the triathlon?” “How was imagery used when on the rowing
machine?” “How was imagery used when on the cycling machine?” and “How
was imagery used when on the running machine?” The same questions were then
asked for the other mental skills included within the intervention. In addition to the
structured questions used across each of the interviews, additional predetermined
probe and elaboration questions as recommended by Patton (1990) were utilized
for each new data source.
Mental Skills Training Package. The package including goal setting, re-
laxation, imagery, and self-talk was the same as the intervention employed by
Thelwell and Greenlees (2001). The intervention was delivered across a four-day
period to each of the participants with each skill being introduced in a daily meet-
ing lasting a maximum of one hour. For each component, a series of workbook
exercises were provided in the form of “homework” and were discussed at the
next meeting.
First, goal setting was introduced where participants were encouraged to use
and set both long and short-term goals. Additionally, participants were educated
on the use of outcome, performance, and process goals (Filby et al., 1999) and the
necessity to maintain a balance between the three types of goals.
Second, relaxation strategies were introduced in a three-stage approach. In
the first stage, participants were able to feel what it is like to relax via progressive
Endurance Performance 323
muscle relaxation. The second stage included centering to enable participants to
relax while they stretch and prepare for performance. Additionally, this strategy
enables a mechanism for quick and effective relaxation while focusing attention
on relevant cues in the environment (Hardy & Fazey, 1990). The third stage was to
enable relaxation during performance. Breathing strategies, as forwarded by Hogg
(1995) where performers are encouraged to monitor breathing and tension levels,
were completed. To aid learning of relaxation during performance, participants
were requested to monitor their tension levels prior to and following the relaxation
session by responding to a series of bipolar descriptors on a scale from 0 (very
tense) to 10 (very relaxed).
The third component of the intervention was imagery. Within this section,
varying imagery perspectives were explored including internal and external imag-
ery, speed of images, vividness and control of images, and images including com-
petition success. The follow-up activities covered all material discussed, while
additional exercises supplemented the session with the examples of how to use
imagery (Hale, 1998). Each of the participants were encouraged to develop a com-
petition-specific imagery script, which encompassed all previously mentioned as-
pects of imagery. Each participant was instructed to record imagery sessions on a
series of Likert scales for timing (where 0 = out of time and 10 = perfect timing),
vividness (where 0 = blurred and 10 = totally vivid), controllability (where 0 =
uncontrollable and 10 = totally controllable) and physical simulation (where 0 =
could not feel anything and 10 = felt all movements).
Self-talk was the final mental skill within the intervention and was delivered
via a two-stage approach. First, participants 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 either before or during a competition. The second
stage consisted of restructuring negative to positive thoughts while also being con-
ducive to the participants being able to use the negative thought to trigger a reac-
tive strategy (Hanton & Jones, 1999). Specifically, there were three components to
this routine: breathe (relax), talk (regroup / refocus), and perform (Maynard, 1998).
Procedures
Initial contact was made with the participants on a volunteer basis, where a notice
was placed in the university gymnasium asking members to enroll to participate in
a sport psychology research project. Due to equipment availability, a total of four
gymnasium members were recruited following the advert from a total of eleven
who forwarded their names. Following an overview explanation of the study, each
of the four participants gave their consent to participate.
On average, each participant attended individual conditioning training ses-
sions three occasions per week prior to the study. For all participants, one of the
training sessions included completing a gymnasium triathlon, where they attempted
to achieve a personal best. The remaining training sessions included general aero-
bic (including rowing, stepping, running, and cycling) and anaerobic maintenance
training (general weight training) in addition to their sporting activity. While no
specific measures were taken as to how well conditioned the participants were
prior to the study, attendance at conditioning training sessions was monitored with
all participants attending a minimum of three sessions per week. The participants
were also requested to ensure that all conditioning sessions during the testing pe-
riod were similar to those prior to the study to reduce the potential for improved
324 Thelwell and Greenlees
conditioning being a determinant for improved performance times. Similarly, the
participants were asked not to complete the triathlon during the testing period un-
less it was for the purposes of the study.
When each participant’s turn came to receive the intervention, it was admin-
istered over a four-day period. Goal setting was covered on day one, relaxation
skills on day two, imagery skills on day three, and self-talk skills on day four. Each
session was conducted at the university gymnasium and lasted for a maximum of
one hour, and participants met with the experimenter on the four consecutive days
at the same time of day.
Experimental Design
To examine the effects of the intervention package on competitive triathlon perfor-
mance, a single-subject, multiple-baseline across individuals design was employed
(Martin & Pear, 1996). The introduction of the intervention took place when the
dependent variable was consistent over a period of time or performance moved in
the opposite direction to that expected when the treatment was introduced (Kazdin,
1992). A sequential introduction of the intervention took place until all partici-
pants had received the intervention package.
Dependent Variables
The primary dependent variable within the study was that of the total time to com-
plete each competitive gymnasium triathlon trial. All participants completed the
stages of the triathlon in the same order on every trial, these being rowing, cycling,
and running and were also informed that the time to move between equipment for
the differing activities would be included in the total triathlon completion time.
Following the completion of each competitive time trial, performers were pro-
vided feedback on their performance to enable them to monitor their progression
throughout the testing period.
A secondary dependent variable recorded throughout the study was that elic-
ited from the MMSQ data. The rationale for measuring mental skill usage was to
monitor whether the use of skills was influenced by the introduction of the inter-
vention and as to whether performance improvement could be inferred by im-
proved mental skill use.
Treatment of Data
Participants’ performance scores were plotted according to how long it took each
participant to complete each triathlon (in seconds). Global MMSQ scores were
also plotted for each participant for each of the trials. Visual inspection recommen-
dations as forwarded by Martin and Pear (1996) were adhered to in order to establish
the occurrence of any experimental effects. These included (a) crossover of data
points between the preintervention and postintervention phases, where the lack of
overlapping data points supports the effectiveness of the intervention; (b) imme-
diacy 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.
Endurance Performance 325
Qualitative Data Analysis
The qualitative data collected from the structured interviews were analyzed by
inductive content analysis. Following the transcription of the interviews, the first
researcher independently identified raw data units from participants’ words, phrases,
quotes, and sayings and placed similar themes expressed by participants into a set
of common topics in accord with the recommendations by Côté, Salmela, Baria,
and Russell (1993). Initially, raw data units that were viewed to be similar were
placed into meaningful categories of higher generality and finally into general
dimensions, where above this, no general meaning could be identified. The final
phase of analysis was dependent upon triangular consensus between the second
researcher and an independent researcher unconnected to the study. They acted as
“critical friends” (Faulkner & Sparkes, 1999) and confirmed or otherwise the allo-
cation of raw data themes to meaningful higher order categories. In this stage of
the analysis, the second researcher and independent researcher thoroughly exam-
ined all steps taken by the first researcher in the inductive content analysis of the
interview data. For each of the four questions, triangular consensus was 100%,
whereby each researcher agreed on the placing of all raw data.
Results
Incentive to Win and Physical Exertion
The results of the question regarding the incentive to win suggested that the four
participants were very motivated to win the prize (mean score of 8.32 ± 0.34). The
second question given to the performers with reference to level of energy exerted
for each trial showed all mean scores for the four participants to be greater than
8.4, suggesting that on all occasions, participants exerted maximal or near maxi-
mal energy.
Procedural Reliability Evaluations
All participants completed the exercises within each of the mental skills work-
books. An external researcher, unrelated to the study, verified that all aspects of
the intervention were applied consistently and correctly to each participant by re-
cording when a new mental skill was introduced and what activities were com-
pleted in the workbook. Additionally, a qualified gymnasium instructor was made
aware of the purposes of the study and verified the triathlon times for each
participant’s ten trials.
Intervention Effects
The results of the competitive gymnasium triathlon performance data for each
participant are presented in Figure 1. All four participants improved their triathlon
times following the intervention, with participant one showing the greatest differ-
ence between the two phases. Global MMSQ scores for pre and postintervention
across each participant are in Figure 2. Similar to the triathlon time data, all four
participants increased their mental skills usage following the introduction of the
introduction.
326 Thelwell and Greenlees
Figure 1 — Time taken for each participant to complete the competitive gymnasium
triathlon during the baseline and intervention phase.
Endurance Performance 327
Figure 2 — Mental skills usage before and during competitive triathlon time trials for
baseline and intervention phases.
328 Thelwell and Greenlees
Participant 1 experienced an immediate effect having received the interven-
tion. While Participant 1 improved his overall triathlon time from baseline to
postintervention by 128 seconds (showing the largest size of an effect following
the intervention), there were also no overlapping data points across the two phases.
Participant 1 also showed an increased global score on the MMSQ following the
intervention, which suggests that there was an improved usage of mental skills
following the intervention.
Participant 2 also showed an immediate effect in completion time following
the intervention. Similar to Participant 1, Participant 2 had no overlapping data
points. Despite being injured for the sixth trial, average times improved by 40
seconds across the two conditions, which signified a significant effect following
the intervention. Average global MMSQ scores also increased following the inter-
vention (77.5 to 98.4) to coincide with improved triathlon times.
The data for Participant 3 showed an improvement of 63 seconds following
the intervention for average completion times. Despite the improvement in aver-
age times and the immediacy of the effect following the intervention, there were
two data points following the intervention that crossed over with the final trial
prior to the intervention. Participant 3 also had an improvement in global MMSQ
scores from 56 to 92.4 for the baseline and postintervention phases, respectively.
Finally, Participant 4 showed an immediate effect in completion times fol-
lowing the intervention. There were no overlapping data points across the two
phases and an improvement of 93 seconds was witnessed even though Participant
4 was injured for the final trial. In addition to improved performance times, Par-
ticipant 4 also had improved global MMSQ scores following the intervention (65.3
to 86.30) with no overlapping data points.
Qualitative Data
Having transcribed verbatim each of the four interviews and inductively analyzed
interview content, the raw data themes and subsequent higher order themes were
developed and can be seen in Figures 3-6.
Goal Setting. Raw data suggested that all participants employed a variety
of goal-setting strategies in accord with the directions of the intervention. Each
participant set an outcome goal to win the competition in addition to performance
and process-oriented goals to benefit the process. While the performance goals
were predominantly based on achieving times for each section of the race, the
process goals were based on specific elements for each section and also included
the need to employ psychological skills such as relaxation strategies and self-talk
to benefit performance. For example, Participant 3 commented “I needed to use
my cues and my breathing . . . they helped me to focus and I knew that if I talked
to myself I’d concentrate better and the breathing helped me keep calm, I knew
that if I achieved that throughout then I’d go faster and perform better.”
The main impact of setting goals was to increase motivation. Indeed Partici-
pant 4 stated that “setting myself manageable goals helped me to keep going, even
if I couldn’t win the race, I knew that I could then challenge myself and I believed
I could improve.” Further impacts of having structured goals, with specific regard
to process goals, were to enhance strategy development for each section of the
race and increase confidence on each section of the race. An example of this is
illustrated by Participant 4 who said, “although I was motivated by the goals, they
Endurance Performance 329
Figure 3 — Goal-setting strategies and impacts for endurance performance.
helped me to set out a path as to how I was gonna get them which also kind of
made me more confident about myself and my chances of getting what I wanted.”
Relaxation. Participants employed relaxation strategies before the event
to enable them to get into their optimal arousal zone for the start of the race as
instructed within the intervention. Participant 1 claimed that “the relaxation stuff
helped me when I was getting ready, it made me feel good before my performance
so that I didn’t start slowly . . . I was ready to go straight away.” When on the
rowing machine, strategies were typically employed to enhance focus on the pro-
cess goals for that section, with the main impact being the ability to relax and
330 Thelwell and Greenlees
Figure 4 — Relaxation strategies and impacts for endurance performance.
reduce focus on the initial pain. This was supported by Participant 2 who stated,
“the relaxation on the rower helped me to feel good and stay focussed on my
rowing style, I made sure that my breaths matched the rows . . . it also helped me
not to think of the pain in my arms toward the end of the row . . . it was as though
each breath out took the pain away from me and made the pull stronger.” When
cycling, the participants suggested that they used relaxation strategies to prepare
themselves for the pain on the running machine, with the main impact being that
they had stronger focus on their race strategy.
The majority of raw data themes related to relaxation were discussed with
regard to the running section of the triathlon. During the final phase, breathing
strategies were largely employed to enable performers to take their mind off of the
pain that they were experiencing. Although this was recommended in the interven-
tion, the impacts of relaxation reported by the performers included being able to
have alternative focus while keeping to their process-based goals and overall race
plan. Participant 1 said “the breathing was important to help me forget about the
running, I just needed to run without thinking and the breathing helped me to focus
Endurance Performance 331
Figure 5 — Imagery strategies and impacts for endurance performance.
332 Thelwell and Greenlees
Figure 6 — Self-talk strategies and impacts for endurance performance.
Endurance Performance 333
on keeping a steady pace and avoid any tension in my legs and body.” Similarly,
alternative strategies including thought control and imagery were also employed
by the participants in an attempt to relax and maintain appropriate focus. Indeed
Participant 3 commented that “I kind of used thoughts to take my mind off of how
far there was to go, cos as soon as I thought about distances I felt tired . . . I kept
telling myself I’d done it before which helped me relax and keep my running
simple.”
Imagery. The raw data specific to imagery centered on the issue of pain,
which was a central tenet of the intervention and in particular, being prepared for it
and being able to cope with it. Prior to the event, images were typically employed
to enable the performers to be prepared for what was going to happen, with subse-
quent impacts being that the participants knew what to expect and could see how
they were going to cope with it. This can be witnessed in Participant 3’s comments
where he suggested that “I saw myself later in the race and I knew what to expect,
so when the pain came, I knew what to do, it kind of helped me set goals to be able
to deal with it too.” Furthermore, the images of experiencing pain enabled the
participants to increase their motivation so that they were able to push themselves
further, thus utilizing the pain as a challenge for them, rather than a concern. In-
deed Participant 2 claimed that “the images of pain helped to motivate me cos I
wanted to get further each time before it really started to hurt, it was like each race
was a challenge to myself which helped motivate me.”
For the rowing and cycling stages of the race, imagery was employed largely
to enable the performers to maintain their relaxed state and enhance focus on the
process-oriented goals. These findings were reflected in the interview with Par-
ticipant 1, who said that he imagined himself rowing on water and cycling on a
road to benefit the process goals, while relaxing images were mainly employed to
increase confidence and motivation. For the running machine, all participants re-
ported that they tried to image themselves being relaxed. The main purpose was to
focus on appropriate goals and to avoid pain. The impacts associated with relax-
ation-based images were mainly associated with enhancing confidence in dealing
with the pain and enhancing focus on appropriate cues for the final section of the
race. Two raw data themes were related to participants seeing themselves getting
through the pain, which subsequently helped them come to terms with the pain in
addition to enhancing their motivation to overcome it. Indeed, Participant 4 imag-
ined himself on a running track because it enabled him to break the race down into
small pieces, therefore increasing his confidence but also enabling him to focus on
smaller goals associated with his race plan.
Self-Talk. Similar to imagery, most of the raw data themes for self-talk
were with regard to before the event and when nearing completion of the event.
Before the event, self-talk employed was an even split of motivational (desire to
achieve), mastery based (to enhance confidence), and instructional (reaffirming
race plans, employing other psychological skills, focus on process goals). Partici-
pant 2 claimed, “I used different types of sayings before the race. I made myself
get up for it and told myself that I could improve, but I also made myself aware of
what I had to do and told myself that I had done it before. I suppose it helped me
get motivated and kept me focused and confident about what I was going to do in
the next twenty minutes or so.” Therefore, the main impacts for motivational de-
sire, mastery oriented, and instructional forms of self-talk were to increase moti-
vation, increase confidence, and increase focus, respectively.
334 Thelwell and Greenlees
For the rowing machine, similar methods of self-talk were employed prior
to the event, but to a lesser degree. A change in self-talk was observed on the cycle,
where instructional talk was employed to increase focus. Participant 3 said, “lots
of little reminders I used, just to keep me going, I told myself what to do, when to
do it and how to do it so that the rowing was made easier.” Furthermore, arousal-
related talk was employed for two main reasons. First, the cycle was perceived to
be the easier section of the triathlon, so arousal-related talk helped the participants
monitor their performance in terms of momentum and intensity. Second, the arousal
talk was employed to get them ready and prepared for the final stage of the event,
which was also seen to be the hardest. This was commented on by Participant 3
who said, “I used the talk to help me get up for the run, the cycle was the nice easy
bit where I used little goals to keep me on track but the talk got me ready.” Partici-
pant 4 also commented, “I needed to get myself ready for the hard bit, the running,
it helped me prepare myself for what was to come, it kind of made me psyched up
and ready for the challenge of the run.”
During the final stage of the event, the use of self-talk increased. The two
most frequent forms of self-talk were motivational desire, where the impacts were
the ability to maintain motivation, ability to beat the pain, and taking confidence
from achieving and instructional talk where the participants were able to focus on
their process goals rather than task irrelevant cognitions and feelings. For example,
instructional talk such as “get that stride right,” “long hard breaths,” and “upright
stance” enabled the participants to focus on appropriate cues when the pain began.
Finally, mastery-oriented self-talk during the final section of the race enabled the
performers to have increased belief and confidence in themselves due to the ben-
eficial effects that the motivational desire and instructional talk were having on
actual performance.
Social Validation
The results of the social validation questionnaire indicated that all of the partici-
pants perceived themselves to have improved significantly in their triathlon per-
formance. Furthermore, they all indicated that they were satisfied with the deliv-
ery and content of the intervention, suggesting that the intervention was useful and
that they would proceed with mental training for competitive performance.
Discussion
The findings of the present study indicate that the mental skills training package
consisting of goal setting, relaxation, imagery, and self-talk enhanced competitive
gymnasium triathlon performance. An overall evaluation demonstrates that fol-
lowing the introduction of the intervention, all four participants improved perfor-
mance times. Similarly, all participants’ usage of mental skills increased consider-
ably from the baseline to intervention phase.
The results of the study also provide further support to previous literature
evidence, suggesting that mental skill packages can be efficacious for endurance-
based events. Despite being in a noncompetitive setting, Patrick and Hrycaiko
(1998) and Thelwell and Greenlees (2001) reported beneficial effects of a similar
intervention package on endurance performance. Subsequently, the present study
was successful in employing a procedure that utilized a more ecologically valid
Endurance Performance 335
environment, in comparison to previous studies that have failed to invoke simu-
lated competition.
A second aim of the study was to evaluate how performers utilized the men-
tal skills delivered in the intervention during each triathlon. Specific findings re-
vealed that a variety of goal-setting strategies were employed that concur with
contemporary literature findings (Filby et al., 1999) and the directions advocated
within the intervention that were to employ process goals to benefit the attainment
of performance and outcome goals. A primary finding with regard to relaxation
strategies was that they were predominantly employed before the race to enable
the performers to achieve their optimal arousal zone and while running on the
machine where the breathing techniques enabled enhanced focus on the process
based goals rather than inappropriate focus on pain. In a similar manner, imagery
was employed with particular regard to pain and fatigue, which reflects the method
of the skill delivery in the intervention phase. Finally, self-talk was utilized most
frequently prior to the event and during the final stages of each triathlon. The main
explanation for this was that participants could employ a combination of motiva-
tional, mastery, and instructional elements, with the main impacts being enhanced
motivation, confidence, and focus prior to commencement of each triathlon. When
in the final phase of each race, performers reported that the self-talk was related
more to motivation to overcome the fatigue, with complimentary talk being in-
structional to enhance focus on process goals and task relevant cues. Similar to
imagery and relaxation, the employment of self-talk was in the manner suggested
in the intervention.
While the present study attempted to examine the utilization of mental skills
prior to and during an endurance event, it did so via the use of a mental skills
package. The findings indicate that the “package approach” positively influenced
endurance performance, thus supporting the contentions of Patrick and Hrycaiko
(1998), which further suggest the requirement for additional research that evalu-
ates the efficacy of mental skills packages as compared to the more traditional
method of employing single mental skill interventions. Indeed, it is becoming in-
creasingly necessary for practitioners to have a thorough understanding as to why
mental skills packages may be of more benefit than single skill delivery and as to
how performers interchange from one skill to another during a performance. Within
this empirically based study, although not directly examined, the qualitative data
indicates that performers used a combination of the skills to benefit each other. For
example, to experience relaxation, performers utilized a combination of breathing,
self-talk, and imagery. While such findings are descriptive in nature, further evi-
dence is required with regard to the mechanisms that underpin multiusage and
interchanging between mental skills. Further to this debate, the present study only
utilized MMSQ global scores. Had an examination of the subscale scores been
employed, then specific strengths and weaknesses of each participant may have
been identified. While to begin with, these data may have been triangulated with
the qualitative data to gain a further insight with regard to each skill, such data
may also have identified the most effective component or combination of compo-
nents within the intervention.
The main thrust of the present study was to employ a mental skills package
to enhance endurance performance in simulated competitive situations, to further
the literature that has employed methodologies in nonsimulated environments
(Patrick & Hrycaiko, 1998; Thelwell & Greenlees, 2001). Despite the study being
336 Thelwell and Greenlees
controlled, in terms of taking place in a gymnasium as opposed to in a triathlon
tournament, it was still perceived that a simulated competitive environment, where
participants race against each other, was created. Furthermore, it was assumed that
mental states associated with competition were invoked due to the coacting re-
quirement of the task, thus enhancing the ecological validity of the findings. Over-
whelming evidence for the effects of an enhanced competitive environment can be
witnessed by contrasting the triathlon times from the Thelwell and Greenlees (2001)
study and the present study. Despite both studies employing similar methodolo-
gies, the average of each performers fastest time in the present study was 28.54
minutes, as compared to 34.56 minutes reported by Thelwell and Greenlees (2001).
Although a potential explanation of faster times within the present study could be
that of social facilitation and coaction (Zajonc, 1965), all four participants strived
for their fastest times in anticipation of winning a prize (as measured by the Likert-
type scale question). A further potential explanation for the faster times in the
present study relative to those in the Thelwell and Greenlees (2001) study may be
due to faster athletes within the present study. Despite fitness assessments not
being undertaken by the participants preceding the present study, the requirements,
in terms of exercising regularly and completing the gymnasium triathlon once a
week, remained consistent.
To conclude, the present study demonstrated that a mental skills training
package combining goal setting, relaxation, imagery, and self-talk was beneficial
in enhancing competitive gymnasium triathlon performance. More importantly,
the qualitative data provide some useful insights as to how the mental skills deliv-
ered in the intervention were utilized to benefit a simulated competitive endurance
task.
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Many sport psychologists have been fighting against the pervasive “winning is everything” mentality and have encouraged athletes to set only self-referenced performance and process goals. However, studies that have explored the practices of successful performers have found that they do in fact make effective use of outcome goals (Weinberg, Burton, Yukelson, & Weigand, 1993; Jones & Hanton, 1996). The aim of this study was to examine empirically Hardy, Jones, and Gould's (1996) suggestion, that consultants should now be promoting the use of a multiple-goal strategy. Forty participants were split into five groups of equal number and matched for ability on a soccer task. Four of the groups used different combinations of outcome, performance, and process goals while the other acted as a control group. Performance on the soccer task was measured over a 5-week training period, and then in a competition. Two-factor (Group X Test) ANOVA's indicated significant differences (p < .05) between the groups for both training and competition performance. The superior performance of the groups using multiple-goal strategies provided evidence to support the efficacy of maintaining a balance between the use of outcome, performance, and process goals.
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This article presents a case study describing the contribution of a sport psychology consultant to an ultra-distance runner’s attempt to complete 500 miles (800 kilometers) in 20 days through the deserts of North America. The contribution can be considered in four phases that provide a descriptive framework for the role of a sport psychology consultant: (a) establishing a rapport with the athlete, (b) formulating a psychological profile, (c) evaluating the demands of the athletic pursuit and planning an appropriate mental training program, and (d) ongoing evaluation of progress and crisis intervention.
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As part of the emergence of alternative research paradigms in exercise and sport psychology, we draw upon data from an ethnographic study of 3 individuals with schizophrenia to explore the use of exercise as an adjunct therapy for schizophrenia. A 10-week exercise program of twice-weekly sessions was implemented. Participant observation and interviews with participants and their assigned key-workers were the primary sources of data collection used. The influence of exercise on the lives of participants and their mental health and the underlying mechanisms of change were explored. Our findings indicate that exercise has the potential to help reduce participants' perceptions of auditory hallucinations, raise self-esteem, and improve sleep patterns and general behavior. The process of exercising, via the provision of distraction and social interaction rather than the exercise itself, was very influential in providing these benefits. In conclusion, we strongly recommend the inclusion of exercise as an adjunct treatment in psychiatric rehabilitation.
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This study aimed to examine the effects of a mental training package on the performance of a 1600-m run. Participants were 3 male triathletes and 1 male elite runner. A single-subject multiple baseline across individuals design was employed to evaluate the treatment package. Results demonstrated that the mental training package was effective in improving the running performance of the three participants who received intervention. Social validation results were favorable and indicated that participants enjoyed using the mental training package and were pleased with the results. Further, coaches felt that the results were important, especially those for the elite track athlete.
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A solution is suggested for an old unresolved social psychological problem.
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This [textbook] deals equally with both the principles and the tactics (i.e., the rules and guidelines for specific applications) of behavior modification. [It] is addressed to 2 audiences: (a) college and university students taking courses in behavior modification, applied behavior analysis, behavior therapy, the psychology of learning, and related areas; and (b) students and practitioners of various helping professions . . . who are concerned directly with enhancing various forms of behavioral development. (PsycINFO Database Record (c) 2012 APA, all rights reserved)
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Presents a conceptual model which deals with the critical issues that need to be considered in developing effective competitive mental preparation strategies for athletes. It emphasizes the importance of (1) a complete understanding of the specific needs of the athlete, (2) detailed knowledge of the particular demands of the sport, (3) integration of this information to identify the most critical psychological factors that will affect performance, and (4) development of the most effective competitive mental preparation strategies for the specific athlete. The model is illustrated with the detailed description of how it may be applied to endurance sports like running and swimming, high-risk sports like motorized racing, and team sports such as football and basketball. (PsycINFO Database Record (c) 2012 APA, all rights reserved)