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Performance Enhancement and the Young Athlete: Mapping the Landscape and Navigating Future Directions

Chris G. Harwood and Sam N. Thrower

The aim of this paper is to provide a comprehensive narrative review of extant scientific knowledge on the effectiveness of performance-enhancement-based interventions in youth sport settings. Specifically, the authors explore the effects of psychological interventions on the sport performance of young athletes (18 yr of age or under). Drawing on over 80 published studies that have attempted to enhance young athletes’ performances using a range of methodological and strategic approaches, four main clusters of research are presented. These clusters include single-strategy psychological-skills-training (PST) interventions, multimodal PST interventions, alternative single-strategy interventions, and alternative multimodal interventions. In each of these clusters, the landscape of work is overviewed and papers of particular methodological interest are highlighted before the authors draw out critical reflections, future research directions, and recommendations for supporting further scholarship and practice with young athletes.

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Evaluating the “Optimal Competition Parenting Workshop” Using the RE-AIM Framework: A 4-Year Organizational-Level Intervention in British Junior Tennis

Sam N. Thrower, Christopher M. Spray, and Chris G. Harwood

The purpose of the current study was to utilize the RE-AIM (i.e., reach, effectiveness, adoption, implementation, and maintenance) framework to evaluate the national-level scale-out of the Lawn Tennis Association’s “Optimal Competition Parenting Workshop” (OCPW) across a 4-year period. During 2018, 65 workshops were run across the United Kingdom, 1,043 parents registered, and 933 parents attended. Adopting a quasi-experimental design, multilevel analyses revealed significant increases in parents’ (n = 130) task goal orientation and competition tennis parenting efficacy, as well as significant decreases in ego goal orientation and unpleasant emotions. Children’s perceptions of both mother- and father-initiated ego-involving motivational climate and their own ego goal orientation significantly decreased across time. From 2019 to 2021, a further 64 workshops were delivered to 1,110 parents with no significant differences in parents’ satisfaction, enjoyment, instructor evaluation, or transfer intention over time when compared against workshop evaluations in 2018. Overall, the OCPW represents a well-received, practical, and effective brief intervention for enhancing parental involvement in junior tennis.

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Psychosocial Development in Youth Soccer Players: Assessing the Effectiveness of the 5Cs Intervention Program

Chris G. Harwood, Jamie B. Barker, and Richard Anderson

This study examined the effectiveness of a longitudinal 5C coaching intervention (Harwood, 2008), focused on promoting behavioral responses associated with commitment, communication, concentration, control, and confidence in youth soccer players. Five players, their parents and a youth academy soccer coach participated in a single-case multiple-baseline across individuals design with multiple treatments. Following baseline, the coach received sequential education in the principles of each C subsequent to integrating relevant strategies in their coaching sessions. During the five intervention phases, players completed assessments of their behavior in training associated with each C, triangulated with observationbased assessments by the coach and the players’ parents. Results indicated psychosocial improvements with cumulative increases in positive psychosocial responses across the intervention for selected players. Changes in player behavior were also corroborated by parent and coach data in conjunction with postintervention social validation. Findings are discussed with respect to the processes engaged in the intervention, and the implications for practitioners and applied researchers.

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On the Same Page in Sporting Dyads: Does Dissimilarity on 2 × 2 Achievement Goal Constructs Impair Relationship Functioning?

Ben Jackson, Chris G. Harwood, and J. Robert Grove

This study examined the extent to which 2 × 2 achievement goal constructs (Elliot, 1999) were associated with key relational perceptions (i.e., relationship commitment, relationship satisfaction) for members of athlete-athlete dyads. Both members from 82 regional-level partnerships (mean age = 22.72, SD = 3.83) were recruited from a variety of dyadic sports (e.g., tennis, badminton, rowing). Actor-partner interdependence model analyses revealed that greater dissimilarity between partners on mastery-approach and performance-approach goals was associated with lower commitment and satisfaction. Mastery goals displayed positive actor effects with respect to both relationship perceptions, whereas performance-avoidance goals were negatively related to commitment (i.e., actor and partner effects) and satisfaction (i.e., partner effect). These results indicate that achievement goal constructs may align with important interpersonal perceptions in athlete dyads.

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Using Goal Setting to Enhance Positive Affect Among Junior Multievent Athletes

Paul J. McCarthy, Marc V. Jones, Chris G. Harwood, and Laura Davenport

Positive affect is linked to enhanced motivation, commitment, and performance among youth sport performers; yet, few psychological interventions have specifically attempted to enhance positive affect among these athletes. To address this circumstance, we implemented a single-subject multiple-baseline design to examine the effects of a goal-setting intervention on the positive and negative affective responses of three competitive youth athletes. Statistical analysis coupled with visual inspection criteria revealed a significant overall increase in positive affect for participants 1 and 2. A statistically significant increase in positive affect also emerged for participant 3, yet it was not possible to detect a significant experimental effect using visual inspection criteria. No statistically significant decreases in negative effect emerged for any of the three participants. These results show some support for the hypothesis that goal setting may enhance positive affect among junior multievent athletes.

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What Do Young Athletes Implicitly Understand About Psychological Skills?

Paul J. McCarthy, Marc V. Jones, Chris G. Harwood, and Steve Olivier

One reason sport psychologists teach psychological skills is to enhance performance in sport; but the value of psychological skills for young athletes is questionable because of the qualitative and quantitative differences between children and adults in their understanding of abstract concepts such as mental skills. To teach these skills effectively to young athletes, sport psychologists need to appreciate what young athletes implicitly understand about such skills because maturational (e.g., cognitive, social) and environmental (e.g., coaches) factors can influence the progressive development of children and youth. In the present qualitative study, we explored young athletes’ (aged 10–15 years) understanding of four basic psychological skills: goal setting, mental imagery, self-talk, and relaxation. Young athletes (n= 118: 75 males and 43 females) completed an open-ended questionnaire to report their understanding of these four basic psychological skills. Compared with the older youth athletes, the younger youth athletes were less able to explain the meaning of each psychological skill. Goal setting and mental imagery were better understood than self-talk and relaxation. Based on these fndings, sport psychologists should consider adapting interventions and psychoeducational programs to match young athletes’ age and developmental level.

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A Collective Case Study of Parent–Athlete–Coach Triads in British Youth Tennis

Ella F. Tagliavini, Chris G. Harwood, Sophia Jowett, and Sam N. Thrower

While important for athletic development and well-being in youth sport, knowledge remains limited around the processes underpinning triadic relationships between parents, athletes, and coaches. This study aimed to examine the relational processes that drive the functioning of parent–athlete–coach triads across three developmental stages of youth tennis. Using a collective-case-study design, 10 players, 10 coaches, and 9 mothers completed preinterview tasks and semistructured interviews and provided conversational history. Reflexive thematic analysis led to the generation of two higher order themes: foundations of relationship quality and factors enabling team effectiveness. Findings highlighted how specific relationship qualities (i.e., commitment, trust, respect, and parent–coach proximity) and team effectiveness constructs (i.e., shared goals, collaborative and adjusted roles, support, and role-specific communication) served to facilitate the tennis experience for triads. Scholars are encouraged to consider integrating small-group principles (e.g., team building) into tailored support programs that address the psychosocial needs of the triad.