Development of an Evidence-Based Sport Psychological Training Program for Young Elite Athletes
Abstract: Sport psychological training seems to be a viable way of facilitating development and performance for adult athletes, and even though sport psychological training for young athletes is less investigated, research indicates that talented athletes can benefit from sport psychological training as well. The aim of this thesis is to review and add to the current knowledge on sport psychological training for young elite athletes, and to investigate sport psychological interventions for young elite athletes. This will aid the development of sport psychological training programs for young elite athletes.This thesis investigates sport psychological training for young elite athletes through two approaches. First, three reviews are performed: a review of psychological skills and characteristics needed for successful talent development, a review of current talent development theories and models, and a review of sport psychological interventions for young athletes. Second, four research studies are reported. These studies investigate sport psychological interventions for young elite athletes.In the chapter entitled “Sport Psychological Training for Young Elite Athletes”, the three reviews of the literature are conducted. First, a review of studies investigating sport psychological skills and characteristics needed for successful development reveals three skills/characteristics that seems to be mentioned repeatedly in the literature, namely motivation, social skills, and self-regulation. Second, a theoretical introduction to current talent development theories and models is given. Here, the Theory of Deliberate Practice (Ericsson, Krampe, & Tesch-Römer, 1993), the Developmental Model of Sport Participation (Côté, Baker, & Abernethy, 2007), the Lifespan Model (Wylleman & Reints, 2010), and the normative transitions faced by the athlete (Stambulova, 1994) are viewed with a focus on sport psychological training, with the aim of uncovering which psychological skills and characteristics, young athletes need to possess in order to develop and become successful elite 6 athletes. The result is an overview of the psychological skills and characteristics, an overview which supports the conclusions from the first review of psychological skills and characteristics needed for successful talent development – that motivation, social skills and self-regulation are important for successful development.Third, a review of sport psychological interventions for young athletes is performed. The review reveals 37 studies, of which 10 used a sample that can be viewed as elite. Furthermore, the review reveals that interventions targeting the important skills and characteristics for talent development, motivation, social skills and self-regulation, are not thoroughly investigated with young participants. Therefore, it is decided to conduct four studies targeting motivation, social skills and self-regulation.In the chapter entitled “Methodology”, the methodology of the intervention studies in this thesis is discussed. The chapter starts with discussing important points regarding intervention studies, namely the theoretical underpinning of the intervention, randomised control trials compared with quasi-experimental studies, length of the intervention, whether the intervention had an effect, and the dual position of the researcher.This is followed by an introduction to mixed methods, namely the ontology, epistemology, and methodology of using both quantitative and qualitative methods to obtain data about the phenomenon under scrutiny, and it is defined, which methodological standpoint has supported the methods of this thesis, namely the pragmatic standpoint. Two mixed methods frameworks are presented (Leech & Onwuegbuzie, 2007; Östlund, Kidd, Wengström, & Rowa-Dewar, 2011), and the studies in the thesis are placed in these frameworks.Lastly, measurement issues of questionnaire studies are discussed, with focus on reliability and validity of the data produced with questionnaires. The “Methodology” chapter is then followed by the four research studies.Study 1 describes the effects of a three-month goal setting intervention on fear of failure in talented swimmers and track and field athletes. The goal setting group participated in 12 weekly goal setting sessions, while the control group did not. The effects were investigated primarily through questionnaire data gathered at baseline and at the end of the intervention, but qualitative interviews were also conducted to capture the participants’ experience of the intervention. It was concluded that goal setting can be used to decrease fear of failure in young elite athletes. This research article also includes a validation of the Achievement Motive Scale-Sport (Elbe & Wenhold, 2005) through confirmatory factor analysis.Study 2 describes the effects of a three-month team building intervention on social cohesion in young elite football players. The intervention group participated in 12 weekly team building sessions, while the control group did not. Effects were investigated with questionnaire data gathered at baseline and end of the intervention, as well as with qualitative interviews. Statistical results suggested that social cohesion increased in the intervention group compared with the control group, and qualitative interviews supported this conclusion. Cohesion seems to be a possible target for interventions, even with teams that spend a lot of time together. The Group Cohesion Questionnaire (Carron, Widmeyer, & Brawley, 1985), which was used in this study, seemed to have problems with reliability, and possible reasons for this are discussed.Study 3 describes the effects of a three-month relaxation intervention on levels of recovery in talented athletes attending high school. The effects in the intervention group compared with the control group were investigated via questionnaire data gathered with the Recovery-Stress Questionnaire for Athletes (Kellmann & Kallus, 2001) at baseline and at the end of the intervention, as well as with qualitative interviews with the intervention participants. While the statistical results indicated that there was no effect of the intervention, analysis of the qualitative interviews 8 suggested that the intervention had an impact on the participants. It was concluded that the intervention was effective. Suggestions for future interventions are given.Study 4 describes the effects of a narrative-collaborative group coaching intervention on the recovery levels in young elite athletes in high school. The intervention group participated in eight 90-minute group coaching sessions distributed over 12 weeks, while the control group did not. Questionnaire data was gathered with the Recovery-Stress Questionnaire for Athletes (Kellmann & Kallus, 2001) at baseline and at end of the intervention, and qualitative interviews were conducted with the participants in the coaching groups. Statistical analyses suggested that the coaching intervention had an effect on social recovery and general well-being. These results were supported by the analysis of the qualitative interviews.In the chapter “Main Findings”, the primary findings of the three reviews of current literature as well as the four intervention studies are reported. This is followed by the chapter “General Discussion”. Here, the four research studies are discussed in relation to existing literature, as well as in relation to the current talent development theories and models. This is followed by a general discussion not related to the literature reviews in the thesis. Limitations of the current thesis are described, as well as implications for future research and practice in talent development and sport psychological training.Findings suggest that sport psychological training for young elite athletes is possible and important in order to give young athletes the best conditions to develop successfully into elite athletes. The reviews of psychological skills and characteristics, talent development theories and models, and sport psychological interventions for young athletes, as well as the four research studies can be used to inform research and practice in the future. © 2015, Johan Michael Wikman
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