Sport psychology can be described as the science of behaviour in relation to participation in sport and exercise. An increasing number of performers and athletes seek out psychologists to assist improving performances. The following case study is on a 20 year old male named Matthew. He is a good performer, reaching a top junior level and progressing to men’s participation, training at the Royal Canoe Club in Teddington, Matthew has found that over the past 3 – 4 years when it comes to important, high profile races, he will become anxious in the lead up to the race, place pressure on himself to do well and feel disappointed with the result of the race. The application of an intervention for an athlete is determined from assessing the individual. Numerous methods of assessment have tested and there are two types of assessment; subjective and objective assessment methods. Taylor (1995) states it is essential that out of these varying methods of assessment the sport psychologist only uses methods which the performer can agree and accept, also linking with the goal of the performer’s consultation.
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Interviews should be used by sports psychologists as they assist with developing an understanding of the athlete, and minister to the production of an adequate treatment process for problems related to sport (Taylor and Schneider, 1992). Interviews can also assist with the building of rapport between the client and the sport psychologist (Fontana & Frey, 2000). Taylor (1995) supports this by claiming interviews aid the process of building trust and show the clients attitudes, beliefs and self perceptions. The limitations within interviewing are discussed by Taylor (1995), who suggests a client may show inadequate insight as they answer what they believe the interviewer wishes to hear, be deficient in self awareness and show self presentation bias (answering a question to maintain a certain image by diverting from the truth). Lazarus (1971) proposed the multimodal approach to interviewing and considers BASIC- ID, which is the following components; Behaviour, Affect, Sensations, Imagery, Cognitions, Interpersonal and Drugs/Diet. They do not have to occur in this order and relatively influence one another. The interview protocol used in assessment was one similar to The Sport Clinical Intake Protocol (Taylor & Schneider, 1992) this was used to gain an in depth knowledge of the participant.
Taylor (1995) states observations can be used to monitor the relationship between competition performances and training performances. A pattern in behaviour, in relation to differing situations with similar circumstances, is sought to develop real time behavioural information which is unambiguous. Observations are used as an assessment method to investigate an athlete’s apparent gestures and self talk, detect defining behaviours and responses when competing, strengths and weaknesses in performance, how the individual reacts to errors, intra individual variation between competing and training and interpersonal relationships. Van Raalte, Brewer, Rivera and Petitpas (1994) use the Self-Talk and Gestures Rating Scale (STAGRS) to analyse these various responses and research found that losers use negative self talk more than winners, however the use of positive self talk does not differ between the two.
Performance Profiling developed by Butler (1996) allows an athlete to form a visual construct which includes aspects of performance they perceive to be crucial in relation to performing optimally. Also performance profiles can highlight what the athlete perceives to be their strengths and weaknesses. The principle, locus of causality, within performance profiling is supported by Cognitive Evaluation Theory (Deci & Ryan, 1985). Sports scientists, in differing disciplines, use performance profiling with the aim of developing psychological, technical and physical skills (Butler & Hardy, 1992; Dale & Wrisberg, 1996; Jones, 1993). Triangulation of assessment methods is used to ensure a decrease in bias of information gained, such as self presentation bias, including observation after an interview without the participant’s knowledge.
The assessment process has been completed, the findings will be analysed and the most suitable psychological intervention determined. Through the assessment methods it can be said that Matthew suffers from high anxiety, which is affecting his performance in important competitions. The pressure that Matthew believes is coming from parents, living up to the expectations of Danny (an active role model in his junior years), also places himself under high levels of pressure and arousal (see Appendix) could be the reasons for his high anxiety levels before important races. Athletes at various levels of competition suffer with stress and social connotations may be the influencing factor to high levels of anxiety (James & Collins, 1997).
Anxiety is a negative emotive state experienced whilst competing. Anxiety can be clarified as bodily feelings of apprehension, worry, nervousness and bodily arousal. Weinberg and Gould (1995) state anxiety can have both positive and negative effects on an athlete’s performance in sport. Anxiety is believed to induce a decrease in coordination and increase muscular tension (Weinberg & Gould, 1995), Nideffer (1976) found that anxiety affects an athlete through altering their concentration, it is also suggested anxiety causes attention to be narrowed (Landers et al., 1985). The research into anxiety and arousal has developed theories such as Inverted-U Theory (Yerkes and Dobson, 1908), Hanin’s (1997) Individualised Zones of Optimal Functioning (IZOF), Reversal Theory (Apter, 1989), Catastrophe Model (Hardy & Fazey, 1987) and Martens et al. (1990) Multidimensional Theory.
The inverted U theory suggests performance will be influenced by both cognitive anxiety and physiological arousal, and while in a condition of minimal cognitive anxiety the relationship between performance and physiological arousal will follow an inverted U shape, however, if in a state of elevated cognitive anxiety the relationship can lead to a catastrophe in performance. Cottyn et al., (2006) states this means performance will decrease remarkably after physiological arousal has surpassed an optimal level, incurring a catastrophe in performance. Within Catastrophe theory it is believed a negative comparative of physiological arousal to performance should only be made when under a high level of cognitive anxiety (Fazey & Hardy, 1988), the theory also states performance and anxiety have a dynamic relationship which could alter quickly. With relation to Matthew’s performance, Catastrophe Theory suggests that high self confidence, low cognitive anxiety and physiological arousal at a moderate level will lead Matthew to perform well. It can be derived from Matthew’s assessment in the interview that he is self confident, ‘I know I can beat’ other opponents in races, and in his performance profile that he has a very positive attitude. Catastrophe theory can explain Matthew’s decline in performance at important competitions due to Matthew’s high levels of cognitive anxiety.
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Catastrophe Theory considers three different factors, somatic, cognitive and self confidence, this is not contemplated by previous theories and can be considered a strength of catastrophe theory (Horn, 2002). Limitations of the theory include, the number of assessments made on an athlete can be vast and complex (Horn, 2002). Conflicting research (Hardy, Parfitt & Pates, 1992) suggested the prediction made by Hardy & Fazey (1988), that when physiological arousal is low and cognitive anxiety is high, performance will be high, may not certainly be true. Hardy, Parfitt & Pates although further mention that there was implications with the methodology for the study (e.g a small sample size). After conscientious deliberation it was concluded that flaws in methodology could have caused unpredicted results. Hardy & Fazey (1988) development of the theory however is still regarded as a credible alternative to a perhaps outdated multidimensional theory.
Reversal Theory (Apter, 1989) can be used to support the catastrophe theory and Matthew’s problems with high cognitive anxiety and arousal. The theory suggests that when an athlete experiences high arousal (e.g feeling pumped or emotive, see appendix) joint with a serious mental approach, driven towards goals and vulnerable to consequences of performance (e.g ‘I can do it’) the athlete will be in a telic state and suffer an unpleasant emotive experience of anxiety. Perkins, Wilson & Kerr (2001) however state that an experience of excitement will be felt with high arousal only if the athlete takes a playful approach to competing and focuses on the present and not the consequences performance, this is known as a Paratelic state (Apter, 1989). Previous research into Reversal Theory (Kerr, 1997; Males et al., 1998; Perkins et al., 2001) supports the premise that enhanced performance and a high level of positive arousal can be associated. The reason for Matthew’s predisposition to a telic state is explained by Kerr (1987) as his day to day life is increasingly goal focussed and effort in competition and training will be compared to goals (See Appendix). It is suggested by Perkins et al. (2001) that to evade increased anxiety an inverted U approach could highlight a reduction in anxiety by managing arousal.
An assortment of anxiety reduction techniques can influence the intensity of symptoms linked to anxiety, multiple studies suggest interventions designed to moderate the intensity of anxiety can induce positive interpretation of symptoms linked to anxiety (Maynard, Hemmings, & Warwick-Evans, 1995; Maynard, Smith, & Warwick-Evans, 1995; Maynard, Hemmings, Greenlees, Warwick-Evans, & Stanton, 1998). Principles of Reversal theory would suggest that Matthew would need to be trained in altering his motivational state to paratelic (Perkins et al., 2001), this will ensure that Matthew’s arousal does not decrease as a reduction in arousal could lead to performance being affected negatively (Perkins et al., 2001). Kerr (1993) suggests that intervention methods, e.g cognitive reconstruction, could be used to elicit a reverse in motivational states.
In conclusion it is imperative for a sport psychologist to research and choose the assessment methods used on a client accordingly. Diagnosis should analyse the methods of assessment and draw attention to the athlete’s problem (Anxiety). Due to a combination of high arousal and the pressure Matthew places on himself is causing Matthew’s high anxiety at important competitions. The problem is then related to appropriate theories (Reversal Theory/Catastrophe Theory), then related further to the athlete and critiqued. The intervention (cognitive reconstruction) is then chosen in an attempt to reduce the feelings of anxiety and potentially benefit Matthew’s performance.