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The Acquisition and Development of Cognitive Skills and Strategies: I. Making the Butterflies Fly in Formation

Sheldon Hanton and Graham Jones

This study presents the first in a series of two articles extending previous findings that elite performers, compared to nonelite performers, interpret their preperformance cognitive and somatic anxiety symptoms as more facilitative than debilitating to performance (Jones, Hanton, & Swain, 1994; Jones & Swain, 1995). In-depth interview techniques were employed to investigate the cognitive skills and strategies underlying elite swimmers’ interpretations of their prerace thoughts and feelings. Participants were 10 male elite swimmers who consistently maintained facilitative interpretations. Data were drawn from verbatim transcripts and were inductively content analyzed. Four general dimensions traced the acquisition and development of the cognitive skills and strategies underlying facilitation from early competitive experiences to the present day. It was concluded that participants’ skills and strategies were acquired via natural learning experiences and various educational methods. These results extend the research literature on facilitative anxiety by identifying and clarifying the mechanisms underlying the phenomenon.

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The Effects of a Multimodal Intervention Program on Performers: II. Training the Butterflies to Fly in Formation

Sheldon Hanton and Graham Jones

The purpose of this study was to examine the effects of a multimodal intervention on swimmers debilitated by anxiety. A staggered single-subject multiple-baseline across-subjects design was used over 10 competitive races for 4 swimmers. Baseline observations on cognitive and somatic anxiety “direction” (facilitative/debilitating) scores were collected for three, four, and five races for Participants 2, 3, and 4, respectively, prior to treatment. The intervention was designed based on qualitative data from Hanton and Jones’s (1999) study and included the skills of goal setting, imagery, and self-talk. These psychological skills emerged as particularly important from Hanton and Jones’s investigation as a means of maintaining facilitative interpretations of precompetition anxiety symptoms. Preintervention, all participants reported debilitating interpretations of cognitive and somatic anxiety symptoms. However, post intervention, the 3 participants who received treatment reported facilitative interpretations. Performance improvements were also evident for these swimmers. A postintervention follow-up showed that swimmers’ interpretations were still facilitative.

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Sources of Organizational Stress in Elite Sports Performers

David Fletcher and Sheldon Hanton

This study extends recent research investigating organizational stress in elite sport. Fourteen international performers (7 men and 7 women) from a wide range of sports were interviewed with regard to potential sources of organizational stress. Consistent with Woodman and Hardy’s (2001a) theoretical framework of organizational stress in sport, four main categories were examined: environmental issues, personal issues, leadership issues, and team issues. The main environmental issues that emerged were selection, finances, training environment, accommodation, travel, and competition environment. The main personal issues were nutrition, injury, and goals and expectations. The main leadership issues were coaches and coaching styles. The main team issues were team atmosphere, support network, roles, and communication. The findings are discussed in relation to previous research and in terms of their implications for sport organizations and personnel working with elite performers.

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Interpretation of Competitive Anxiety Symptoms and Goal Attainment Expectancies

Graham Jones and Sheldon Hanton

Using Jones’s (1995) control model of debilitative and facilitative competitive anxiety, competitive swimmers (N = 91) were assessed on the intensity and direction of their cognitive anxiety and somatic anxiety responses one hour before an important race, and they completed scales examining outcome, performance, and process goals. It was hypothesized that there would be no difference in intensity of cognitive and somatic anxiety but that swimmers with positive expectancies of goal attainment would report their symptoms as being more facilitative. Forty-five swimmers who had set all three types of goal were divided into positive and negative/uncertain goal attainment expectancy groups for analysis. MANOVA supported the hypothesis in the case of cognitive anxiety and provided partial support in the case of somatic anxiety across all three goal types. Cognitive and somatic anxiety direction scores were the largest contributors to the significant multivariate effects. Eta-squared calculations showed that the predictions of Jones’s model were best supported in the case of performance goals.

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The Development and Maintenance of Mental Toughness in the World’s Best Performers

Declan Connaughton, Sheldon Hanton, and Graham Jones

Eleven superelite participants (7 performers, 2 coaches and 2 sport psychologists) were interviewed regarding the development and maintenance of mental toughness. Findings revealed that this process occurred over four distinct career phases: three developmental phases, and one maintenance phase. Factors influencing development and maintenance included: skill mastery, competitiveness, successes, international competitive experience, education and advice, the use of psychological skills, access to an understanding social support network, and reflective practice. In addition, positive and negative critical incidents were perceived by participants to act as catalysts in initiating or enhancing specific components of mental toughness. Practical implications highlight the importance of a mental toughness attitude/mindset to development, while future directions are discussed in relation to measurement and intervention strategies.

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Temporal Aspects of Competitive Anxiety and Self-Confidence as a Function of Anxiety Perceptions

Owen Thomas, Ian Maynard, and Sheldon Hanton

Competitive anxiety and self-confidence were examined temporally in “facilitators,” “debilitators,” and “mixed interpreters” using the modified CSAI-2 (intensity, direction, frequency). MANOVA’s (group X time-to-competition) and follow-up tests revealed no significant interactions but revealed significant main effects for both factors. Facilitators displayed increased intensities of self-confidence, more positive interpretations of cognitive and somatic symptoms, increased frequency of self-confidence, and decreased frequency of cognitive symptoms than debilitators through performance preparation. Time-to-competition effects indicated intensities of cognitive and somatic responses increased, and self-confidence decreased near competition. Directional perceptions of cognitive and somatic responses became less positive, and the frequency of these symptoms increased toward the event. Findings have implications for intervention design and timing and emphasize the importance of viewing symptoms over temporal phases.

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A Framework of Mental Toughness in the World’s Best Performers

Graham Jones, Sheldon Hanton, and Declan Connaughton

The authors conducted an investigation of mental toughness in a sample population of athletes who have achieved ultimate sporting success. Eight Olympic or world champions, 3 coaches, and 4 sport psychologists agreed to participate. Qualitative methods addressed 3 fundamental issues: the definition of mental toughness, the identification of its essential attributes, and the development of a framework of mental toughness. Results verified the authors’ earlier definition of mental toughness and identified 30 attributes that were essential to being mentally tough. These attributes clustered under 4 separate dimensions (attitude/mindset, training, competition, postcompetition) within an overall framework of mental toughness. Practical implications and future avenues of research involving the development of mental toughness and measurement issues are discussed.

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Exploring the Relationship Between Effective and Reflective Practice in Applied Sport Psychology

Brendan Cropley, Sheldon Hanton, Andy Miles, and Ailsa Niven

This study offers an investigation into the concept of effective practice in applied sport psychology (ASP) with emphasis being placed upon the role that reflective practice may have in helping practitioners to develop the effectiveness of their service delivery. Focus groups (n = 2), consisting of accredited and trainee sport psychologists, were conducted to generate a working definition of effective practice, and discuss the concept of effectiveness development through engagement in reflective practices. The resulting definition encapsulated a multidimensional process involving reflection-on-practice. Initial support for the definition was gained through consensus validation involving accredited sport psychologists (n = 34) who agreed with the notion that although effectiveness is context specific it is related to activities designed to meet client needs. Reflective practice emerged as a vital component in the development of effectiveness, with participants highlighting that reflection is intrinsically linked to service delivery, and a key tool for experiential learning.

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Emotional Labeling and Competitive Anxiety in Preparation and Competition

Stephen D. Mellalieu, Sheldon Hanton, and Graham Jones

The purpose of this study was to extend the work of Jones and Hanton (2001) by examining differences in affective states of performers who reported facilitating or debilitating interpretations of symptoms associated with precompetitive anxiety. Competitive athletes (N = 229) completed state and trait versions of the CSAI-2 (Martens, Burton, Vealey, Bump, & Smith, 1990), including intensity and direction subscales (Jones & Swain, 1992) and an exploratory measure of precompetitive affective responses in preparation and competition. “Facilitators” reported significantly greater positive labeling of affective experiences than “debilitators,” while cognitive interpretations of symptoms were reported to change with regard to preparation for and actual performance. The findings further support the need to examine the labeling and measurement of precompetitive affective states.