The field of applied sport psychology has traditionally grounded its performance enhancement techniques in the cognitive-behavioral elements of psychological skills training. These interventions typically advocate for controlling one’s cognitive and emotional processes during performance. Mindfulness-based approaches, on the other hand, have recently been introduced and employed more frequently in an effort to encourage athletes to adopt a nonjudgmental acceptance of all thoughts and emotions. Like many applied interventions in sport psychology, however, the body of literature supporting the efficacy of mindfulness-based approaches for performance enhancement is limited, and few efforts have been made to draw evidence-based conclusions from the existing research. The current paper had the purpose of systematically reviewing research on mindfulness-based interventions with athletes to assess (a) the efficacy of these approaches in enhancing sport performance and (b) the methodological quality of research conducted thus far. A comprehensive search of relevant databases, including peer-reviewed and gray literature, yielded 19 total trials (six case studies, two qualitative studies, seven nonrandomized trials, and four randomized trials) in accordance with the inclusion criteria. An assessment tool was used to score studies on the quality of research methodology. While a review of this literature yielded preliminary support for the efficacy of mindfulness-based performance enhancement strategies, the body of research also shows a need for more methodologically rigorous trials.
Ryan Sappington and Kathryn Longshore are with the Department of Kinesiology at Temple University in Philadelphia, PA.