Applied sport psychology: enhancing performance using psychological skills training

Richard Thelwell*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapter (peer-reviewed)peer-review


As you will see from the chapters within this book, athletes at the top of the sporting ladder have a number of challenges put before them: these take the form of opponents, environmental conditions and their own mindset, to name but a few. One excellent example of this comes from Usain Bolt, the six-time Olympic champion who, until the Diamond League meeting in Rome on 6 June 2013, had remained unbeaten at major international meetings since his false-start disqualification at the World Championships in South Korea in August 2011. Having been placed second in the Diamond League event, Bolt was quoted as saying, 'I would say that my determination is not as much as it used to be . . . you have to try to find things to motivate you and push yourself harder'. Further to his reflections on his first 'major' defeat, and given the new world acclaim that he has received since winning three gold medals at the London Olympics, Bolt commented that: Starting the season was the roughest part for me - trying to drive myself . . . it has been really crazy since the Olympics. It has been hard for me to get everything together because there are more demands, it is tough. Of course, even the most talented of athletes, ones who can be categorized as truly elite, have varying demands placed upon them, and, although one does not know the extent to which Bolt engaged with a sport psychologist, or whether he employed psychological skills, what we do know, from varying laboratory and empirically based peer-reviewed research, is that employing psychological skills increases the chances of going into competition in a positive mindset, and, if this coincides with being physically ready, then positive performance experiences tend to follow. With this in mind, the purpose of this chapter is to explore how sport psychologists can help athletes enhance their performance via the use of psychological skills training (PST), which, for this chapter, will primarily focus on the skills of self-talk, imagery, relaxation and goal setting. Throughout, we will explore the concept of PST with a specific focus on whether it appears to enhance performance. However, it is worth reminding oneself that psychological skills can affect psychological concepts such as emotion, coping, mood, self-efficacy and anxiety, topics covered in other chapters in this book. Psychological skills have pervasive effects, but this chapter will attempt to delimit itself to focusing on research that looked at their influence on performance. To enable this to be achieved, we will commence the chapter by reviewing literature that has supported the use of PST in sport and provide suggestions to propose why performers have been resistant to the use of such skills. We will then turn our attention to some of the models associated with PST development that link the assessment process to the integration and implementation of psychological skills. After reviewing the models, the final section of the chapter will focus on the different research approaches that have examined the impact of PST on performance. In addition to the above, throughout this chapter, readers will be asked to reflect on their own experiences as an athlete, or a coach, or a spectator, with reference to the material presented.

Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationSport and Exercise Psychology
Subtitle of host publicationTopics in Applied Psychology
EditorsAndrew M. Lane
Number of pages21
ISBN (Electronic)9781315713809
ISBN (Print)9781848722248
Publication statusPublished - 26 Aug 2015


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