Effectiveness of psychological interventions for performance enhancement
Effectiveness of interventions generally in sports
Greenspan and Feltz (1989) reviewed studies that used regular athletes and that measured performance and examined interventions including relaxation training, behavioral techniques, and cognitive restructuring. The authors concluded that educational relaxation-based interventions and remedial cognitive restructuring are effective for enhancing sports performance.
A review by Weinberg and Comar (1994) of previous reviews looking at the effectiveness of psychological skills training (PST) in competitive sport. Of these studies, 85% showed significant effects for PST and the more recent reviews showed an even higher percentage of positive effects perhaps because PST has become more developed utilizing more individualized, systematic methods over a longer time period with a variety of psychological techniques.
To determine factors that affect Olympic performance, Gould et.al (1999) interviewed four U.S. Olympic teams that met the National Governing Body’s (NGB) expectations and four teams that failed to meet the NGB’s expectations. Generally, they found that teams that failed to meet performance expectations reported that they did not spend enough time in mental preparation or did not stick to a mental preparation routine. In addition, they tended to lack planning or follow through on plans such as having more travel problems. Often there were team cohesion problems, coaching problems, lack of Olympic experience by athletes and coaches, lack of focus and commitment, and problems with overtraining. Whereas teams that met performance expectations were more likely to have trained together prior to the games, felt support from the crowd, were mentally prepared to deal with stress, had families who were educated on how to support the athlete, and felt a total commitment and ability to reframe negative events more positively. Interviews with the successful athletes indicated that the coping skills needed to be so well learned that they were automatic; learning psychological skills immediately prior to competition was not effective.
Effectiveness of interventions specifically in martial arts
Based on research conducted in collaboration with Weinberg using martial artists, Seabourne (1998) concludes that:
- Relaxation and imagery together are more effective for martial artists than either alone
- Martial artists practicing relaxation and imagery ten minutes a day performed better than those who do it immediately before competition
- Individualized techniques, even when taught in a group format, are better than standardized group techniques
- There is no difference between instructor guided imagery and self-guided imagery
- Individualized cognitive techniques improve performance.
He recommends the use of diaphragmatic or focused breathing, muscle relaxation and body awareness, meditation, and internal imagery rather than external imagery. Internal imagery is visualization from the perspective of the athlete whereas external imagery is from the perspective of watching the athlete perform. Overall, the martial artist research suggests that techniques found useful for athletes in general are effective for enhancing performance in the martial arts, both in katas as well as sparring.