Psychology, 2016, 7, 901-913
Published Online June 2016 in SciRes. http://www.scirp.org/journal/psych
How to cite this paper: Golby, J., & Wood, P. (2016). The Effects of Psychological Skills Training on Mental Toughness and
Psychological Well-Being of Student-Athletes. Psychology, 7, 901-913. http://dx.doi.org/10.4236/psych.2016.76092
The Effects of Psychological Skills
Training on Mental Toughness
and Psychological Well-Being
Jim Golby, Phillippa Wood*
Carnegie School of Sport, Leeds Beckett University, Leeds, UK
Received 28 April 2016; accepted 19 June 2016; published 22 June 2016
Copyright © 2016 by authors and Scientific Research Publishing Inc.
This work is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution International License (CC BY).
This study examined the effects of a psychological skills intervention (PST) designed to enhance
the mental toughness and psychological well-being of student-athlete rowers (N = 16). Within this
context, PWB was conceptualized by an amalgamation of the following psychological constructs;
self-esteem, perceived self-efficacy, positive affect and dispositional optimism. Progress was ex-
amined at three times evenly dispersed over the course of the six-month intervention, pre-, mid-
and post-intervention. The intervention was solution-focused and informed by Dweck’s (2009)
theory of a growth mindset and Goldberg’s (1998) psychological strategies to develop mental
toughness. The study design was a 2 (group) × 3 (time) two-way MANOVA with repeated measures
on one factor (time). Various measures of mental toughness and positive psychological constructs
were utilised. Over the course of the intervention, MT significantly improved, in addition to per-
ceived self-efficacy, self-esteem and positive affect. Positive significant relationships were ob-
served between components of MT and each of the positive measures; which lends support to the
conceptualization of MT as a positive psychological construct which fosters positive psychological
states (Clough & Strycharczyk, 2012). Further research is warranted to examine the development
of MT on negative psychological constructs.
Mental Toughness, Psychological Well-Being, Positive Psychology, Psychological Skills Training
J. Golby, P. Wood
1.1. The Concept of Mental Toughness
The concept of mental toughness (MT) originated from the literature on hardiness (Maddi, 2002). Hardiness is
defined by three characteristics; commitment (an involvement in life regardless of stress), control (made evident
by a belief that the individual has the power to influence outcomes) and challenge (viewing it as a positive op-
portunity to develop and grow; Kobasa, 1979; Maddi, 2006). With these constructs in common (Golby & Sheard,
2004; Sheard, 2009), both hardiness and mental toughness possess the propensity to enhance performance,
whilst evoking a buffering effect against psychological distress (Gerber et al., 2013; Sheard, 2012). Clough and
colleagues (2002) drew attention to a prominent discrepancy, arguing that hardiness failed to capture the
“unique nature of the physical and mental demands of competitive sport” (Sheard, 2012: p. 61), whereas mental
toughness could better account for this with the inclusion of confidence as a dominant construct. An “unshakea-
ble belief in ones abilities” is a pertinent feature of MT and widely supported to be key to athletic success (Lane,
2014). Definitional consensus of MT is yet to be established (Gucciardi et al., 2015) however the four key
attributes alluded to within this paper are supported throughout the extant literature (Bull et al., 2005; Clough et
al., 2002; Gucciardi et al., 2008), in addition to other qualities such as positive cognition, the ability to visualize
success and constancy when in the pursuit of goals (Golby, Sheard, & van Wersch, 2007; Sheard, Golby, & van
1.2. Mental Toughness as a Proponent of Positive Psychology
Whilst researchers have been examining the defining of mental toughness, many have also explored suitable pa-
radigms. Extensive research supports the application of MT to the paradigm of Positive Psychology (PP) espe-
cially within the context of sport. Positive psychology closely examines orientations of psychological well-being
(PWB; Lambert, Passmore, & Holder, 2015) and generates knowledge which endeavors to increase human flou-
rishing and thriving (Hefferon, 2013: p. 2). MT appears to imitate these effects amongst athletic populations.
Research to support this alludes to the promotion of markers of psychological health as a result of self-reported
MT (Rusk & Waters, 2013). Stamp et al. (2015) noted a close association between MT and constructs closely
associated to psychological well-being, such as positive affect (Mahoney et al., 2014) and dispositional flow
(Crust & Swann, 2013).
When examining PWB, the literature advises the use of both hedonic (assessment of positive emotions and
sensations) and eudemonic (measuring constructs which enhance a great sense of life satisfaction; Russel, 2007)
related measures (Henderson & Knight, 2012; Huta & Ryan, 2010). Dispositional optimism and positive affect
are categorised as hedonic. However they differ in the sense that positive affect is derived from a bottom-up
theory of PSW which suggests that it is the accumulation of positive affective experiences which dictate the
overall sense of wellness. Alternatively, dispositional optimism encompasses a top-down approach as it assesses
PWB as an innate propensity to view the world in a certain way (Lambert, Passmore, & Holder, 2015). Per-
ceived self-efficacy and self-esteem are more closely related to eudemonic strands; self-efficacy beliefs are in-
trinsically linked to autonomy and a greater sense of control outlined by the Self-Determination (Ryan & Deci,
2000); whereas self-esteem relates to self-acceptance which is highlighted in Ryff’s theory of psychological
well-being (Ryff, 1989). Both positive constructs represent cognitions which may prove useful to individuals
looking to bolster their psychological health and create a more satisfactory life. Thus, the inclusion of each of
the four measures within the present study provided a comprehensive view of the participant’s state of psycho-
1.3. Implications of Psychological Skills Training for Student-Athlete’s Psychological
Protection and promotion of psychological well-being is of the utmost importance to student-athletes; unlike
other athletic groups, student-athletes have the challenging task of balancing athletic, social, as well as academic
commitments (Surujlal, Van Zyl, & Nolan, 2013). Unique stressors this population face include the demands of
a regimented schedule (Carodine, Almond & Gretto, 2001) and the experience of mental as well as physical fa-
tigue (Van Zyl, Surujlal, & Singh, 2009). In addition common athlete stressors such as seclusion from social
encounters (Martens et al., 2006) and lack of security due to the persistent prospect of being eliminated from the
J. Golby, P. Wood
squad (Ford, 2007). Additionally, the age of the average student-athlete population coincides with the age of
onset for many common psychological disorders (e.g., depression and anxiety) (UK Royal College of Psychiatr-
ists, 2011). Enhanced psychological well-being has been found to coincide with a reduction in negative emo-
tional and physical states, which helps athletes create the optimum training environment, to foster performance
(Hardy et al., 1996). Coaches and practitioners are now recognizing the importance of psychological, as well as
physical health (e.g., Mahoney et al., 2014) and despite psychological well-being being identified as important
by practitioners from the Institute of Sport, pragmatic interventions to protect and promote psychological
well-being are rarely documented; recently, they urged fellow practitioners “to evolve to meet this demand”
(Marshall & Harrison, 2015).
An earlier study found psychological skills training increased mental toughness, promoted psychological de-
velopment, and aided the performance of adolescent swimmers (Sheard & Golby, 2006). The present study built
upon this research by employing equivalent strategies and positive measures amongst an arguably more vulner-
able athletic sample to assess the psychological implications. One key discriminating factor was the implicit ap-
plication of Dweck’s theory of a growth mindset (2012). This theory defines two binary mindsets and their as-
sociation to performance, namely fixed and growth. Within the context of sport, a fixed mindset attributes supe-
rior performance to natural ability, therefore hours of practise are redundant and avoidance of failure is a top
priority. Alternatively, an athlete with a growth mindset believes reaching one’s potential is a result of consistent
effort and practise, supporting the view that failure should be embraced as an opportunity to identify and de-
velop weaknesses (Dweck, 2009).
Interventions designed to foster a growth-mindset include subtle strategies such as modifying feedback,
avoiding statements which attribute success to innate qualities and instead praising effort and practise (Ratten et
al., 2015). Within this study the analysis of past performance was also encouraged so weaknesses could be iden-
tified and targeted, instilling the belief that consistent practise is the key to success, in turn promoting a growth
mindset and healthier attitude towards failure (Dweck, 2009). Encouraging a growth mindset has been found to
foster psychologically safe learning environments (Spitzer & Aronson, 2015). The utilisation of the simplistic
strategies mentioned has generated significant improvements in motivation and performance; despite not being
the panacea for poor performance, they appeared to prime individuals to perceive and respond to situations in a
more efficient manner (Dweck, 2012; Rattan et al., 2015; Yeager et al., 2016). Beyond anecdotal evidence,
studies have reported neurological differences, those allocated to the growth mindset condition demonstrated
greater error-related attention allocation, whereas the fixed mindset group attended to adaptive post-error per-
formance to a greater extent. This highlights how a growth mindset increases awareness of weaknesses/mistakes
(Schroder et al., 2014). The notion of a growth mindset is supported by newly emerging research on the neuro-
plasticity of mature brains (Yamaguchi et al., 2016) which demonstrate how adult brains form new neural path-
ways and develop in response to practise (Ericsson, Krampe, & Tesch-Romer, 1993).
There is evidence that mental toughness can be developed in a number of ways (Bull et al., 2005), however
there is no research to date identifying the superiority of any method (Clough & Strycharczyk, 2012). Psycho-
logical skills training remains one of the most utilized procedures which has been demonstrated simultaneously
to foster positive psychological development (Beauchemin, 2014; Williams & Krane, 2001). This makes it a fa-
vourable approach for the vulnerable athletic populations (e.g., Olympic athletes, student-athletes). PST was
developed to enhance performance by providing athletes with an enhanced sense of control over effective
movement coordination during training and competition (Martens, 1987; Rushall, 1992) and is underpinned by
cognitive-behavioural techniques (e.g., Meichenbaum, 1977). The present study adopted a collaborative, adap-
tive approach, whereby assessments of the psychometric measures of mental toughness were used to assess and
identify weakness from the onset and throughout the intervention, to inform the content of subsequent PST ses-
sions. This approach made better use of the restricted time and enhanced the individualisation of the psycholog-
ical skills training session
This study was designed to examine the effects of PST on MT and psychological well-being amongst a sample
of female student-rowers over the course of the competitive season. More specifically, to assess whether PST
improved MT in addition to constructs closely associated to psychological well-being. Furthermore, the purpose
of secondary analysis was to examine the relationship between MT and PWB.
J. Golby, P. Wood
Informed consent was received and participants were reassured of their right to withdraw at any time in accor-
dance with the BPS Code of Ethics (BPS, 2009). Due to training and academic commitments, allocated session
time was limited to four sessions of approximately one and a half hours duration; thus replicating real-world
conditions. In conjunction with group-based sessions, each participant received one-to-one support via e-mail.
There was approximately three months between each group session which attenuated any potential learning ef-
The initial session included an introduction from the researchers and discussion around the concept of mental
toughness and positive psychological well-being, applied to their chosen sport. Prior to this, the first measure-
ments were conducted online; similar methods have been utilised within the nascent literature (Gucciardi et al.,
2016). The software package SurveyMonkey (SurveyMonkey Inc., 1999-2016) was used to administer the
measures of MT and PWB electronically via the coach to the participant’s personal e-mail. There were 96 ques-
tions in total. Pilot testing (N = 5) reported an average completion time of 20 minutes. Each participant was in-
formed of the importance of completing the questionnaire independently, in an open and honest manner, whilst
being reassured of the confidentiality of their data. The participants were asked to complete the survey in their
own time prior to the following session. To ensure subsequent sessions catered for the requirements of the squad,
the survey results informed their focus. The data indicated very low levels of confidence, the researchers then
collaborated with the coaches to confirm this and then dedicated time to constructing the following session. The
work of Goldberg (1998) informed the structure and content of the session (Sheard & Golby, 2006).
Three months later, the squad were invited to attend the subsequent session designed to enhance the facet of
MT in which performed least well, self-confidence. Each rower was granted permission to take notes throughout.
Upon completion of the session they were advised to practise the skills they had learnt during the following
weeks, and to log their progress in a journal. A journal was advised to promote self-reflection, however to pro-
mote confidentiality there was no measures in place to assess journal completion, or content. Immediately after
the session, each participant was sent the link to the second questionnaire, which they were asked to complete in
their own time. The questionnaire was a replication of the first however questions were randomised to reduce
the effects of familiarity (Martin, 2008). The same method of analysis and collaboration was employed to for-
mulate the following session. Based on previous findings the penultimate session was designed to continue to
build confidence and promote positive cognitions (with a particular focus on reducing negative thoughts regard-
ing their ability to perform at their important upcoming race). Participants were advised to practise and reflect
on the skills discussed in the sessions. Immediately after, the surveys were distributed in the same manner.
Two months later the final session was held whereby participants were fully debriefed and questions or que-
ries were addressed in this session (see Table 1 for session content and rationale).
Access to the sample of rowers was granted on the terms that each rower received one-to-one psychological
support over the course of the competitive season. The female rowers (N = 16) including regional and national
level performers, voluntarily participated (ages ranged from 18 - 31 years, M = 21.42, SD = 3.75). From an ini-
tial intake of N = 31, N = 16 completed in all three assessments and psychological skills training sessions.
2.3.1. Mental Toughness
The Sports-related Mental Toughness Questionnaire (SMTQ; Sheard, Golby & van Wersch, 2009) is a 12-item
tool and one of the first psychometrically-sound tools to measure sports-related MT. The sub-categories origi-
nated from themes and definitions of qualitative data (see Clough et al., 2002; Jones et al., 2002; Thelwell et al.,
2005 for details). The measure includes dimensions of confidence, constancy and control. This was used in con-
junction with The Psychological Performance Inventory - Alternative (PPI-A; Golby, Sheard & van Werch,
2007), which is a 14-item measure adapted from the Psychological Performance Inventory (Loehr, 1986) which
calculates a total measure of mental toughness, as well as four independent sub-components (namely self-belief
and determination, in addition to psychological skills such as positive cognitive and visualisation). Adequate
J. Golby, P. Wood
Table 1. Session content and rationale for use of specific strategies and techniques.
Session Content Rationale/Advice from Goldberg (1998)
Personal Introductions Lead and supporting researcher introduce themselves to the group, provide a background and focus
on building a rapport.
Purpose of the PST Highlight the importance of psychological characteristics in rowing, concepts of psychological
well-being and mental toughness introduced.
Athletes were asked to record their physical and psychological preparations, progress, general
thoughts and concerns in a personal logbook. They were advised to keep this up to date and granted
the freedom to complete this however they wished. This practise has been found to increase athlete’s
sense of self-awareness (Hardy, Roberts & Hardy, 2009), developing an awareness of one’s
cognitions is a fundamental part of psychological skills training (Gould, 1998).
Assessment 1—Rowers received a link to the online survey (October 14th 2014)
Feedback from the squad’s
As a squad, from the psychological constructs assessed, confidence was particularly low. This is
understandable due to the nascent nature of the squad and lack of success to date. Placing this into
context, the Lead Researcher discussed the importance of formulating task-oriented goals, which
focus on mastery; rather than ego-oriented goals driven by success, encouraging athletes to aspire
to perform better than their previous each time.
This session outlined how self-talk is nothing more than internal dialogue/thoughts (Bunker,
Williams & Zinnser, 1993). Following this, the lead discussed the implications of negative self-talk
on athletic performance, drawing upon real life examples from professional practise and asked
athletes to become more aware of their thoughts during practise and performance, whilst
monitoring which thoughts hinder and which seem to facilitate their performance.
This is an inhibition strategy whereby athletes use a verbal or nonverbal cue to acknowledge and
suspend unhelpful thoughts (Zinsser et al., 2010). The disruption of the thought has been found to
increase the athlete’s sense of self-awareness - however rowers were made aware of the detrimental
effects which may arise when they focus on what “not” to think (i.e., hyper accessibility).
To avoid “hyper accessibility” (Wegner & Erber, 1992) athletes were informed not to consciously
try to diminish the thought, but to demonstrate an awareness and observe it passing through their
consciousness. Athletes were advised to incorporate idiosyncratic positive, supportive thoughts,
daily (Gould, 1998: p. 29). Such as “I will always strive to do the best I can”.
Skills & Focus
The rowers were introduced to the “here and now principal”, importance of “controlling their eyes
and ears” and effective ways to do this (e.g., performance rituals). They were asked to consider
what performance rituals they currently engage with to help get “in the zone”.
Feedback from the squad’s
Confidence had improved but it was still relatively low, visualisation was still quite low at this point
too. Feedback and session content was geared towards enhancing confidence in preparation for the
rowers upcoming race.
- Awareness of “U”
According to Goldstein (1998) confidence is the product of hard work. Psychological skills and a
positive outlook must be accompanied by consistent effort and dedication to training. The
“no deposit, no return” formula was discussed with the athletes.
Expect success and
This session touched upon the importance of expecting success after doing all you can to perform to
your best and introduced athletes to coping and mastery imagery (including ways in which they can
be implemented and the importance of ample practise and individual reflection). Imagery works well
for some athletes, and not so well for others, therefore athletes were advised to practise different
techniques at different times (days before a race versus just before the race), to decipher “what
Individual sessions to reiterate the information covered and address personal issues and concerns
4 Psychometric scores The athletes received the squads results over the three assessments, the findings were interpreted by
the lead researcher.
Debrief of the session Athletes were fully debriefed of the nature of the research and questions were welcomed.
J. Golby, P. Wood
psychometric properties have been reported for both measures (Golby et al., 2007; Sheard et al., 2009) and the
approach of applying both has been applied within the extant literature (Chen & Cheesman, 2013; Wieser &
2.3.2. Psychological Well-Being
Self-esteem: The Rosenberg Self Esteem Scale (RSES; Rosenberg, 1965) was used, the RSES is a 10-item
measure which denotes a global feeling of self-worth utilising a four-point Likert scale ranging from “strongly
agree” to “strongly disagree” to statements such as “I feel I have a number of good qualities”.
Perceived self-efficacy: Self-efficacy was assessed using The Generalised Self-Efﬁcacy Scale (GSES;
Schwarzer & Jerusalem, 1993). The GSES is a 10-item measure based on a Four-point Likert scale whereby
agreement is categorised as “not at all true”, progressing through to “extremely true” to statements such as “I am
confident I could deal efficiently with unexpected events”.
Dispositional optimism: The Life Orientation Test (LOT; Scheier & Carver, 1985) was administered to ex-
amine dispositional optimism. The LOT is contrived of eight items on a Five-point Likert scale. The items de-
note level of agreement ranging from “I agree a lot” to “I disagree a lot” to statements such as “most days, life is
really interesting for me”.
Positive affect: The Positive and Negative Affect Schedule (PA-NAS, Watson, Clark, & Tellegen, 1988) was
used to assess experiences of positive affective states. The PANAS is a 20-item measure based on a Five-point
Likert scale. Each item requires the participant to retrospectively sum-up the degree to which they feel a certain
way (i.e., interested, inspired…). Items range from “not at all to” to “extremely”. Adequate psychometric prop-
erties have been reported for each of the four measures (Makikangas & Kinnunen, 2003; Schwarzer & Jersalem,
1993; Iwanaga et al., 2004; Crocker, 1997).
A 2 (group) × 3 (time) two-way MANOVA with repeated measures on one factor (time) was implemented. The
two levels of the independent group variable of perceived performance was senior boat rowers (N = 4), versus
the remaining rowers. The three levels of the repeated time variable were classified as pre-, mid- and post-in-
2.5. Statistical Analysis
Analysis was conducted using SPSS 21.0. The data was screened for normality and outliers. Significant correla-
tions were interpreted with Pearson’s moment-correlation (Hinkle, Wiersma, & Jurs, 1998) and a two-way mul-
tivariate analysis of variance with repeated measures on one factor (time) was administered followed by
post-hoc testing to examine differences. As the success of psychological skills training was dependent not only
on the progress of the squad, but each participant’s progress, the reliable change index (RCI; Jacobson and
Traux, 1991) was calculated (Zahra, 2010). This warranted a test-retest study on a representative sample of stu-
dent-athletes (N = 30) over a two-week period. Due to the limited sample size, a two-way random effect inter-
class correlation was used to establish a measure of reliability for both measures of MT (SMTQ; ICC(3) = 0.915,
p < 0.001 and PPI-A; ICC(3) = 0.948, p < 0.001) (see Table 2 for reliability statistics).
Descriptive statistics suggested a discernible improvement over time in MT, self-efficacy, positive affect, self-
esteem and dispositional optimism; however not all improvements were statistically significantly (see Table 3
Table 2. Reliability statistics.
Measure Alpha Pearson’s correlation
co-efficient Inter-class correlation
PPI-A 0.913 0.840** 0.915**
SMTQ 0.948 0.903** 0.948**
**p < 0.001.
J. Golby, P. Wood
for descriptive statistics and Figure 1 for bar charts).
Measures related to psychological well-being were significantly correlated; positive affect and perceived
self-efficacy demonstrated the strongest positive relationship (r.70, p < 0.001). With regards to MT and PWB,
the strongest positive correlations were observed between the SMTQ and positive affect (r.67, p < 0.001) and
the PPI-A and perceived self-efficacy (r.64, <0.001). Both measures of MT were also significantly related (r.69,
p < 0.001) (see Table 4).
MANOVA denoted a significant difference over time on measures of MT, perceived self-efficacy, self-esteem,
positive affect and dispositional optimism, Wilks √ = 0.023, F(12, 50) = 4.208, p < 0.001, partial η2 = 0.50, ob-
served power = 0.998. Post-hoc results yielded statistically significant improvements for PPI–A F(2,30) = 11.98,
Table 3. Descriptive statistics.
Pre-intervention Mid-Intervention Post-intervention
Mean (SD) Mean (SD) Mean (SD)
SE 31.2 (3.1) 32.0 (4.2) 34.8 (3.2)
DO 24.3 (3.8) 24.7 (3.4) 25.5 (3.3)
PSE 32.9 (3.6) 32.8 (3.7) 34.6 (3.4)
PA 37.3 (5.4) 41.3 (4.9) 42.7 (5.2)
SMTQ 42.0 (5.0) 44.0 (5.0) 48.0 (3.0)
Conf. 17.3 (2.9) 18.1 (3.6) 20.7 (2.1)
Const. 14.3 (1.4) 14.8 (1.0) 14.7 (1.0)
Cont. 10.1 (2.8) 11.4 (2.2) 12.6 (2.0)
PPI-A 53.0 (6.0) 55.0 (7.0) 59.0 (4.0)
D 13.2 (1.5) 13.3 (1.6) 14.0 (1.0)
SB 14.8 (2.8) 15.1 (2.9) 16.4 (2.0)
PC 14.6 (2.5) 15.0 (2.4) 16.5 (1.6)
V 10.7 (2.4) 11.6 (2.8) 12.1 (2.0)
SE = Self-Esteem; DO = Dispositional Optimism; PSE = Perceived Self Efficacy; PA = Positive Affect;
SMTQ; Total MT Score of Sports-related Mental Toughness Questionnaire; Conf. = Confidence; Const.
= Constancy; Cont. = Control; PPI-A; Total MT Score of Psychological Performance Inventory-Alter-
native; D = Determination; SB = Self-Belief; PC = Positive Cognition; V = Visualisation.
Colour of pre-intervention included.
Figure 1. Bar chart depicting changes over time.
J. Golby, P. Wood
Table 4. Correlations.
SI DO PSE PA SMTQ Cont. Const. Conf. PPIA D SB PC V
DO 0.384 1.00
PSE 0.477* 0.490* 1.00
PA 0.159 0.601** 0.701** 1.00
SMTQ 0.317 0.204 0.553* 0.665** 1.00
Cont. 0.430 0.652** 0.202 0.434 0.719** 1.00
Const. 0.003 0.236 0.229 0.468* 0.670** 0.400 1.00
Conf. 0.129 0.421 0.662* 0.557* 0.802** 0.237 0.343 1.00
PPI-A 0.432 0.204 0.641** 0.373 0.689** 0.357 0.324 0.725** 1.00
D 0.155 −0.037 0.540* 0.407 0.296 −0.148 0.191 0.522* 0.473* 1.00
SB 0.343 0.241 0.402 0.188 0.507* 0.409 0.192 0.441 0.722** −0.136 1.00
PC 0.106 0.298 0.474* 0.411 0.735** 0.606** 0.400 0.572* 0.756** 0.331 0.555* 1.00
V 0.465* −0.060 0.286 0.020 0.167 −0.124 0.043 0.357 0.554* 0.342 0.147 −0.020 1.00
SE = Self-Esteem; DO = Dispositional Optimism; PSE = Perceived Self Efficacy; PA = Positive Affect; SMTQ; Total MT Score of Sports-related
Mental Toughness Questionnaire; Conf. = Confidence; Const. = Constancy; Cont. = Control; PPI-A; Total MT Score of Psychological Performance
Inventory-Alternative; D = Determination; SB = Self-Belief; PC = Positive Cognition; V = Visualisation; *p < 0.05; **p < 0.001.
p < 0.001, partial η2 = 0.44, SMTQ F(2, 30) = 18.64, p < 0.001, partial η2 = 0.55, positive affect F(2, 30) = 4.49,
p = 0.020, partial η2 = 0.23, self-esteem F(2, 30) = 13.98, p < 0.001, partial η2 = 0.48 and perceived self-efficacy,
F(2, 30) = 4.69, p = 0.017, partial η2 = 0.24 also significantly changed over the course of the intervention. How-
ever, no significant change was observed amongst group means for dispositional optimism F(2, 30) = 1.93, p =
0.16, partial η2 = 0.11. Pair-wise comparisons identified that the majority of significant change occurred pre- to
post-intervention (SMTQ p < 0.001; PPI-A p = 0.002; self-esteem p < 0.001; positive affect p = 0.037) exclud-
ing perceived self-efficacy and dispositional optimism; there were no significant differences between group
means when analysing pre- to mid-scores (SMTQ p = 0.08; PPI-A p.53; perceived self-efficacy p = 1.00; dispo-
sitional optimism p = 1.00; self-esteem p = 0.97; positive affect p = 0.09).
The RCI highlighted the number of individual significant improvements and deteriorations (p < 0.05) amongst
the squad (refer to Table 5 for details).
The objective of the study was to examine the effects of a psychological skills training (PST) intervention in-
corporating principals of Dweck’s (2009) theory of a growth mindset on the MT and psychological well-being,
namely self-esteem, perceived self-efficacy, positive affect, and dispositional optimism of a sample of student-
athletes, as well as to examine the relationship between MT and both eudemonic and hedonic measures of sub-
The total MT score (SMTQ; Sheard et al., 2009) was significantly related to perceived self-efficacy, disposi-
tional optimism and positive affect. This supports the claim that characteristics of MT are closely associated to
subjective psychological wellness (Mahoney et al., 2014; Sheard, 2012). However, the Adapted Psychological
Performance Inventory (PPI-A) measuring the athletes attributes and awareness of mental skills was not signifi-
cantly related to any of the following positive measures, despite the positive significant relationship between
sub-component determinism and perceived self-efficacy. The PPI-A captures unique components of MT, it is
also reasonable to argue that the discrepancies observed highlight how some, but not all characteristics of mental
toughness align with positive psychological well-being; whilst lending support to nascent research identifying
relationships between components of MT and characteristics detrimental to psychological health, such as those
J. Golby, P. Wood
Table 5. Reliable change index for measures of mental toughness. Green signifies a significant increase and red denotes a
Participant Pre-score Post-score RCI Participant Pre-score Post-score RCI
1 41.00 44.00 1.861 1 51.00 59.00 3.234
2 45.00 53.00 4.961 2 55.00 63.00 3.234
3 42.00 47.00 3.101 3 61.00 62.00 0.404
4 43.00 48.00 3.101 4 48.00 60.00 4.851
5 44.00 49.00 3.101 5 56.00 65.00 3.638
6 50.00 53.00 1.861 6 61.00 65.00 1.617
7 45.00 48.00 1.861 7 55.00 55.00 0.000
8 46.00 53.00 4.341 8 62.00 63.00 0.404
9 29.00 46.00 10.543 9 48.00 55.00 2.830
10 36.00 42.00 3.721 10 46.00 57.00 4.446
11 42.00 48.00 3.721 11 52.00 57.00 2.021
12 48.00 48.00 0.000 12 62.00 55.00 −2.830
13 42.00 51.00 5.582 13 47.00 58.00 4.446
14 35.00 49.00 8.682 14 42.00 57.00 6.063
15 43.00 45.00 1.240 15 55.00 57.00 0.808
16 42.00 51.00 5.582 16 48.00 65.00 6.872
17 36.00 45.00 5.582 17 50.00 53.00 1.213
18 42.00 45.00 1.861 18 54.00 57.00 1.213
19 40.00 47.00 4.341 19 59.00 58.00 −0.404
associated with the dark triad (specifically narcissism, psychopathy and Machiavellianism; Onley et al., 2013;
Sabouri et al., 2016). Alternatively, this result may be due to a reductionist approach adopted to the assessment
of psychological well-being. It is also important to be mindful that the measure itself was derived by earlier
work of Loehr (1986) and despite the years of practical experience which informed development, the psychome-
tric properties of the earlier measure came under scrutiny (Middleton et al., 2003; Sheard et al., 2009). Despite
the improvements made to the psychometric properties of the adapted Psychological Performance Inventory
(PPI-A Golby et al., 2007), this may well warrant further psychometric support.
The adaptive PST was found to significantly increase levels of mental toughness according to both psycho-
metric measures. There was also a notable increase in levels of perceived self-efficacy, positive affect and self-
esteem reported. Therefore it was concluded that this demonstrated convincing evidence both for the trainability
of mental toughness and the development of psychological well-being as a result of adaptive-psychological
skills training. Post-hoc analysis denoted that there was no significant change in dispositional optimism; this
may have been due to the nature of the measure, since dispositional optimism is seen as a stable construct and
present findings support this interpretation.
4.1. Future Research
It is important to give consideration to the other variables which may have influenced the results; for instance,
visualisation scores may have been susceptible to athletes imaging ability (Issac, 1992; Rodgers, Hall & Buck-
holtz, 1991) and boat allocation (which took place mid-way through the intervention) may have had a direct ef-
fect on the rower’s confidence scores as perceived performance is closely associated to an athlete’s self-belief
J. Golby, P. Wood
(Krane & Williams, 2006). It is also important to note the findings are only applicable to female student-athletes
and therefore future research should consider the implications amongst a male sample. Another pertinent factor
may have been the participant’s involvement in a new training regime as the start date of the research coincided
with the beginning of the competitive season. There is evidence to suggest that physical training fosters the de-
velopment of MT as well as closely related constructs such as resilience (Deuster & Silverman, 2013), and plen-
tiful research highlighting the psychological benefits of exercise (e.g., Edwards, 2015). To substantiate findings,
further research should consider measures to help to control the variables. Before MT can be firmly placed
within the realms of positive psychology, research is warranted to explore other positive constructs associated to
psychological wellness, such as flourishing (Diener, 1984), as well as the negative constructs evoking a detri-
mental effect on psychological health (Sabouri et al., 2016). Researchers may also want to consider ways to
gather follow-up qualitative data to further validate their results.
This study demonstrates promising short-term effects of psychological skills training utilizing growth mindset
principals (Dweck, 2009), not only to enhance the mental toughness of athletes but also enhance their sense their
psychological wellness which can also have profound benefits to overall health and performance (Mahoney et
al., 2014). The use of RCI enabled an assessment of the individual participant’s progress with regards to their
MT and identified a greater proportion of participants experiencing a significant improvement in MT over the
course of the intervention. This provided a useful, time-saving tool to decipher which athletes are making
progress against those who were not, enabling the identification of athletes who may require further support.
Due to ease of administration, the use of the RCI is strongly advised for those examining the effectiveness of
psychological interventions amongst groups of athletes to enable assessment of individual psychological per-
formance; however one potential limitation is the requirement of a reliability assessment (Zahra & Hedge, 2010).
Overall, this study supports the basic principles of PST and encourages practioners and coaches to implement
and work collaboratively during its implementation. Positive psychology promotes optimal functioning amongst
healthy individuals, helping individuals who fall within normal parameters surpass boundaries and flourish
(Compton & Huffman, 2013), it is based on the premise of “not just fixing what is broken, but nurturing what is
best” (Seligman & Csikszentmihalyi, 2007: p. 7). Within the current study, the participants had not reported
signs of psychological distress or required treatment for a psychological problem. Therefore, the sessions were
designed to nurture what was there and develop a greater sense of mental toughness and psychological wellness
utilizing psychological strategies and encouraging a growth mindset (Dweck, 2006). Within sport, the pressure
the athlete’s experience, in addition to the focus and determination required to succeed mean it is paramount that
the athlete is psychologically equipped (Lawless & Grobbelaar, 2015). These findings support previous claims
that mental toughness development is primarily driven by the principals of positive psychology; to enable the
athlete to surpass the norm and experience optimum psychological functioning in both sport and everyday life
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