Does Sport Psychology Work? A Systematic and Meta-Analytic Review of the Effects of Psychosocial Interventions on Sport Performance

Daniel James Brown, Loughborough University, United Kingdom

Theme: Mental training/interventions

Program ID: LEC-06D

Presentation: October 3, 2013 8:15 am - 9:30 am

Room: Magnolia


Intervention research in sport psychology has flourished over the past 40 years; however, to date, attempts to synthesize the literature have been limited to either narrative or intervention-specific reviews. The aim of this paper was, therefore, to systematically review published literature on the effects of psychosocial interventions on sport performance. Inclusion criteria stipulated that papers assessed the treatment effects of interventions on athletes completing tasks in the sport which they regularly competed. Study designs were required to be randomized and controlled. Systematic paper retrieval returned 1292 potentially relevant articles from database searches, journal hand searching, and citation pearl growing. Thirty-nine independent samples from 38 papers were reviewed in the final analysis. Performance enhancing effects were observed in 22 comparisons, seven comparisons were inconclusive, and 10 were non-significant; none of the interventions were detrimental to performance. Moderation effects were observed for the type of intervention, age and gender. For example and in reference to intervention type, physiological biofeedback, video feedback, pre-performance routines and written scripts received greatest support whereas inconclusive evidence was found for relaxation-based techniques and imagery. Overall, generally positive support was found for the short-term performance enhancing effects of the psychosocial interventions delivered and no negative effects were observed. However, the long-term effects of the interventions remain unknown. The papers included in this review draw almost exclusively from sub-elite populations and therefore caution is necessary when generalizing the findings to elite athletes. From an applied perspective, practitioners should consider athletes’ characteristics (e.g., gender, age) before deciding which strategies to implement and ensure that athletes have developed fundamental psychological skills before delivering more complex interventions. Future research needs to sample more elite and disabled athletes, evaluate team and organizational level interventions, and continue to strive to enhance treatment efficacy by adopting causal research designs and by implementing season-long follow-up assessments.

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