Sport Psychology Consultants’ Views on Working With Perfectionistic Elite Athletes

in The Sport Psychologist

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Ellinor KlockareDepartment of Educational Studies, Karlstad University, Karlstad, Sweden

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Luke F. OlssonSchool of Science, Technology, and Health, York St John University, York, United Kingdom
School of Sport, Rehabilitation, and Exercise Sciences, University of Essex, Colchester, United Kingdom

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Henrik GustafssonDepartment of Educational Studies, Karlstad University, Karlstad, Sweden
Department of Sport and Social Sciences, Norwegian School of Sport Sciencese, Oslo, Norway

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Carolina LundqvistDepartment of Behavioral Sciences and Learning, Linköping University, Linköping, Sweden
Athletics Research Center, Department of Health, Medicine and Caring Sciences, Linköping University, Linköping, Sweden

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Andrew P. HillSchool of Science, Technology, and Health, York St John University, York, United Kingdom

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The purpose of this study was to explore the views and experiences of sport psychology consultants who have worked with perfectionistic elite athletes and, particularly, their views on the use of cognitive behavioral therapy. Semistructured interviews were conducted with four professional sport psychology consultants who identified themselves as having experience of working with athletes they consider to be perfectionistic. Two themes were generated: manifestations of perfectionism and management of perfectionism. The consultants found perfectionistic athletes to have rigid attitudes and strong negative emotional experiences, to use safety behaviors, and to regularly underperform. Cognitive behavioral therapy techniques such as mindfulness, cognitive restructuring, and psychological skills training were most commonly used and were largely viewed as effective against a backdrop of sporting environment that could often encourage athletes to be perfectionistic. The findings highlight the complexity of perfectionism from a consultancy perspective and the potential challenges associated with working with perfectionistic athletes.

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