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The effect of visuo-motor behavior rehearsal (VMBR) and videotaped modeling on the free-throw performance of intercollegiate athletes.

Of the techniques developed to enhance athletic performance, mental practice has undoubtedly received the most empirical support. Its theoretical antecedents are traceable to the late nineteenth century, when W.B. Carpenter (1894) postulated the "videomotor principle," which suggests that any idea occupying one's mind will also be expressed in one's muscles. In the past, sport researchers and practitioners have looked at mental practice as a vehicle to: (1) learn new skills, (2) further improve one's skills after initial physical training, (3) rehearse before skilled performance, (4) formulate strategy, (5) focus attention, (6) reduce anxiety, and (7) analyze the technical aspects of performance (Gilmore, 1973; Nideffer, 1976).

Perhaps the most studied mental practice procedure within the sport psychology literature is Visuo-Motor Behavior Rehearsal (VMBR; Suinn, 1984). Working under the assumption that high levels of anxiety interfere with the generation of "successful" images of performance, Suinn (1972, 1976) proposed VMBR as a cognitive training technique combining progressive relaxation and mental practice. Specifically, VMBR training consists of three stages: (1) relaxing the athlete's body by means of a brief version of Jacobson's (1938) progressive relaxation technique; (2) mental practice related to the demands of the athlete's sport; and (3) using imagery to mentally practice a specific skill in a lifelike stressful environment (Suinn, 1972, 1976). In the past, the content of the mentally practiced scenes has been modified to achieve a number of goals, including technique enhancement, error analysis and correction, and enhancement of the athlete's sense of self-efficacy (Cox, 1985).

While the earliest reports of VMBR were mainly anecdotal studies lacking in scientific controls (e.g., Lane, 1980; Titley 1980), the technique has more recently received a good deal of empirical support. For example, VMBR training has been shown to enhance the performance of a variety of athletic tasks including free throw shooting (Kolonay, 1977), karate (Weinberg, Seabourne, & Jackson, 1981; Seabourne, Weinberg, & Jackson, 1982), tennis serving (Noel, 1980), and pistol marksmanship (Hall & Hardy, 1991).

More directly related to the present study, Hall and Erffmeyer (1983) introduced a videotaped modeling strategy to enhance the effectiveness of the VMBR technique. Subjects were ten female members of an intercollegiate basketball team who were assigned to one of two conditions: (1) a simple VMBR condition or (2) a VMBR with videotaped modeling condition in which subjects also viewed a videotape of a model female basketball player executing ten consecutive foul shots with perfect form. After the tape, subjects in the VMBR with videotaped modeling condition were asked to again view themselves as shooting without errors in form or consequence. The pre-post findings from this study showed that the addition of videotaped modeling to the VMBR technique produced significantly better free throw shooting performance than VMBR training alone. The results suggested that more traditional mental practice techniques may be at a disadvantage without some sort of visual aid to assist the athlete in the process of image formation (LeUnes & Nation, 1989).

The Hall and Erffmeyer (1983) study generated other empirical investigations of the suggested benefits of including videotaped modeling in the VMBR procedure. For example, using a pre-post design, Gray and Fernandez (1989) extended the number of dependent measures (continuous free throws, noncontinuous "game simulated" & free throws, and outside shots) and found the combination of VMBR and videotaped modeling improved only noncontinuous free throw shooting among intercollegiate athletes on a women's basketball team. In a second study conducted by Gray (1990), beginning racquetball players assigned to a VMBR with videotaped modeling group exhibited greater performance in forehand test of racquetball skill than did subjects in a relaxation/mental practice group. No significant differences were found on tests of backhand shot-making.

The purpose of the present study was to provide further empirical support for the results reported by Hall and Erffmeyer (1983) and subsequent studies and to extend the experimental methodology used in these investigations. In addition to the simple VMBR and VMBR with videotaped modeling included in the previous research, a videotape alone was included to examine the independent effects that such a treatment may have on free-throw shooting performance. Second, a preliminary assessment of free-throw shooting skill and the subsequent assignment to groups based on demonstrated ability level permitted an analysis of the interaction between this factor and the treatment conditions. The inclusion of ability level in the design is important, as previous research has indicated that highly-skilled athletes better utilize mental practice procedures than do novice performers (Clark, 1960; Corbin, 1972; Epstein, 1980; Noel, 1980; Start, 1960).



Subjects were 48 male athletes at the University of South Carolina (21 football players, 14 baseball players, four basketball players, four track and field athletes, three swimmers, one golfer, and one tennis player) ranging in age from 18 to 25 (M=19.8). They received extra credit in psychology courses at the university in exchange for their participation. The study purposely chose to include only intercollegiate athletes because of: (1) the consistent finding that highly-skilled athletes more effectively utilize mental practice procedures than do novice performers; and (2) the enhancement of the study's external validity based upon the similarity of subjects to those to whom application will ultimately be directed.

Based on information obtained from an introductory questionnaire, 38 (79%) of the subjects indicated that they had participated in organized basketball at least to the junior high level, and 19 (409%) reported having high school varsity level experience. When asked how often they had played basketball in the past month, 28 (58% responded) claimed to have played more that they had never played in the past month, and 8 (17%) than two times a week.

Design and Procedure

The experiment took place over a three-week period and involved 15 sessions. During the first three days of the experiment, a pre-assessment of subjects' free throw shooting abilities was conducted by having them shoot 25 free throws each day and recording the number of successful attempts. All equipment and dimensions of the task were within the NCAA guidelines for men's competitive basketball. Following the last of the three days, the three recorded scores were totaled, and subjects were then assigned through a median-split procedure to one of two ability levels (High or Low) based upon this total score. Each subject was then matched with two other subjects of equal ability and randomly assigned to one of three experimental conditions: (1) Visuo-Motor Behavior Rehearsal (VMBR), (2) Videotaped Modeling (VM), or (3) a combination of Visuo-Motor Behavior Rehearsal and Videotaped Modeling (VMBR+VM).

The next two days of the experiment involved specialized training for each of the experimental groups. The VMBR and VMBR+VM conditions engaged in a 30-minute training exercise designed to help develop the subjects' relaxation and mental imaging abilities. The procedure was presented in a group format by means of an audiotape and consisted of progressive relaxation (Jacobson, 1938) followed by three mental practice exercises asking the subject to visualize a number of different scenes designed to incorporate visual, auditory, tactile, and kinesthetic components. The training for the VM condition consisted of watching two videotapes of elite professional basketball players, Julius Erving (Sports Legends Video, Inc., 1985) and Michael Jordan (CBS/FOX Video Sports, 1990).

The next six days of the experiment were spent developing the three experimental techniques that were the object of this study. Subjects in the VMBR group were exposed to a 30-minute audiotaped procedure in which they first were taken through progressive relaxation exercises and then given instructions to help them mentally practice successful free throw shooting. The mental practice exercise was carefully designed to include visual, auditory, tactile, and kinesthetic components, and it consisted of the activities involved in free throw shooting from initially approaching the line to watching the ball as it "swishes" through the basket. Subjects repeated this mental practice exercise a total of four times each session. Subjects were encouraged to use an internal perspective during mental practice (i.e., imagining the free throw shooting scene as if they were in their own bodies), as previous research has indicated that mental practice from an internal perspective leads to better performance (Mahoney & Avener, 1977; Start & Richardson, 1964; Waterland, 1956) than mental practice from an external perspective.

Subjects in the VMBR+VM condition also practiced relaxation and mentally practiced successful free throw shooting for the first 20 minutes of each session via the audiotaped procedure described above. Subjects repeated this exercise a total of three times each session. Subjects then spent the final 10 minutes watching a videotape of a skilled individual performing ten consecutive free throws with perfect form and consequence. The first five free throws were shown at normal speed; the second five free throws were shown in slow motion to help subjects identify important aspects of free throw shooting form. After viewing the entire videotape, subjects were asked to close their eyes and visualize themselves performing a free throw flawlessly from an internal perspective. This procedure employing the videotape was then completed two additional times and extended until the end of the session.

The subjects in the VM condition spent the entire session watching the videotape of a skilled individual flawlessly shooting free throws. Following the completion of the ten free throws, a brief clip of an instructional tape produced by Red Auerbach and Larry Bird (Kodak Video Programs, 1987) was presented to the subjects in an attempt to keep the experimental task interesting. These clips included suggestions for improving shooting in general, and free throw shooting in particular. The above procedure was followed a total of 6 times and extended until the end of each session.

In addition to the procedures presented to subjects in the experimental groups, a manipulation check specifically designed for each of the three conditions was completed during the experimental manipulation. These questionnaires consisted of seven-point items anchored by extremely negative and positive evaluations of various aspects of the experimental procedure. Taken cumulatively, the scores indicated that subjects were practicing the prescribed techniques with success and that the experimental manipulations were perceived to be well-designed, credible, and likely to enhance free throw shooting.

On the final three days of the experiment, subjects shot 25 free throws daily, and the outcomes of these performances were combined and served as the post-test dependent measures in the data analysis. After this post-assessment of free throw shooting ability, subjects completed a short closing questionnaire asking which, if any, of techniques they had used while shooting and how useful they thought the experimental procedures had been in enhancing their performance. Overall, 46 of the 48 subjects indicated that, while shooting free throws, they had employed some aspect of the experimental manipulation to which they had been exposed. The majority of VMBR subjects (56%) felt that the mental imagery component was most useful for improving free throw shooting, 2570 felt relaxation was most useful, and 18% claimed both procedures equally effective. For the VMBR+VM condition, 50% felt mental imagery was most useful, 31% suggested relaxation, and 19% claimed the videotape modeling component to be most effective in improving free throw shooting performance. VM subjects listed a number of suggestions provided by the video (e.g., concentrating on correct free throw shooting form, focusing on the rim, etc.) as helpful in improving performance. On an item assessing the confidence subjects in all conditions had in the experimental manipulations (1 = not at all useful; 7 = extremely useful), 77% of subjects had scores of five or higher.


Table 1 contains the overall means and standard deviation scores for all groups and abilities across the two time periods. Figure 1 demonstrates graphically the pre-to-post charges in mean performance for each condition and each level of ability.

Free throw shooting performance was analyzed by means of a two-way analysis of variance with repeated measures. Condition (VMBR, VMBR+VM, VM) constituted the first between factor and ability level (High, Low) constituted the second between factor. Time of measurement (Pre, Post) was treated as a repeated measures factor. The results of the ANOVA for free throw shooting performance is presented in Table 2.

When assessing condition effects in repeated measures ANOVAs, a significant F for the interaction between condition and time of measurement is often more indicative of differential treatment effects than is a significant F for the main effects of treatment. Because condition effects cannot influence pre-treatment data, the finding of such an interaction would be mathematically equivalent to finding significant F's for the analysis of "change" scores. In the present study, the condition by time interaction was not statistically significant, indicating that there were no differential effects of the conditions on free throw shooting performance. Additionally, the interaction between condition and ability level was not statistically significant indicating that subjects in each ability level responded similarly across the three levels of condition.

One interaction that did approach significance (p[less than].09) was the interaction between ability and time. This suggests that, across the experimental conditions, initial ability level may have had an effect on improvement of free throw shooting from pre to post-assessment.

Finally, a main effect for the within-subjects factor time was observed. This result indicates that, across the levels of condition and ability, there was a significant improvement in free throw shooting from pre- to post-assessment. Additionally, a one sample chi-square test was conducted to determine whether the number of athletes demonstrating improved performance was greater than that which would be expected by chance alone. Overall, 35 of the 48 subjects improved their performance, while the performance of the other 13 remained the same or declined. The obtained [X.sup.2] = 10.08, df= 1, was significant at the .01 level and paralleled the results of the ANOVA.
Table 1

Means and Standard Deviations of Free Throw Shooting Performance
Scores by Condition, Ability Level, and Time (#/75)


Time VMBR VMBR+VM VM Marginals

High Ability


Mean 48.6 48.4 48.3 48.4
SD 4.6 5.3 5.2


Mean 48.9 50.8 53.1 50.9
SD 9.3 8.6 7.1

Low Ability


Mean 31.9 32.0 32.2 32.0
SD 6.1 6.1 6.5


Mean 36.4 42.8 36.8 38.7
SD 10.9 9.8 7.5

Pre-Means 40.2 40.2 40.2
Post-Means 42.6 46.8 45.0
Table 2

Analysis of Variance of Free-Throw Shooting Data

Source df Mean F

Between-Subjects 47

Condition (A) 2 33.22 .42
Ability (B) 1 2465.33 61.91(*)
A x B 2 32.51 .41
Error-Between 42 1672.44

Within-Subjects 48

Time (C) 1 495.04 15.12(*)
A x C 2 35.20 1.08
B x C 1 100.04 3.06
AxBxC 2 38.32 1.17
Error-Within 42

Total 95

* p [less than] .001


The conclusions of Hall and Erffmeyer (1983) and subsequent studies were not supported by the results of the statistical analysis. There was no significant condition by time interaction, indicating that none of the experimental conditions was more effective in enhancing free throw shooting performance than the others. Additionally, the absence of a significant interaction between condition and ability suggests that subjects in each of the two ability levels responded similarly across the three conditions. That is, no one of the three conditions was more or less effective than the others in improving the performance of subjects of a particular ability level.

One interaction that did approach significance (p [less than] .09) was the interaction between ability and time of measurement, suggesting that initial ability level did have an effect on improvement of free-throw shooting performance from pre- to post-assessment. Contrary to what might have been expected based on previous research (e.g., Clark, 1960; Corbin, 1972; Epstein, 1980; Noel, 1980; Start, 1960), the descriptive statistics in Table 1 indicate that low-ability subjects seemed to benefit from exposure to the experimental manipulations to a greater extent than high-ability subjects. The free throw shooting accuracy of flow-ability subjects improved an average of 8.8%, while high-ability subjects improved only an average of 3.3% from pre- to post-assessment. A plausible explanation for this unsuspected finding is that a ceiling effect may have been operating for high-ability subjects. At pre-assessment, high-ability subjects had an average free throw shooting percentage of 64.6%, a degree of accuracy comparable to that found on many college basketball teams. The low-ability subjects, in contrast, had an initial free throw shooting average of 42.7%, making the demonstration of improved performance more likely for this group.

A significant main effect for the within-subjects factor time and a significant one sample chi-square test looking at performance gains were this study's most important findings. These results indicate that, across the levels of condition and ability, there was a significant improvement in free throw shooting performance from pre- to post assessment. Overall, subjects' free throw shooting accuracy improved from 53.6% at pre-assessment to 59.7% at post-assessment, an improvement of 6.1% Unfortunately, the absence of an attention placebo control condition, perhaps this study's most significant experimental design weakness, makes it difficult to draw clear inferences from this finding and also raises interpretive problems.

While it might be tempting to dismiss the pre-to-post improvement in free throw shooting as solely the result of physical practice of the selected skill during the experiment itself, several factors argue against such a sweeping conclusion. First, there was an extended period of time (13 days) between the pre- and post-assessment measurements. Additionally, subjects were not permitted to shoot free throws while warming up for each of their free throw shooting performances, and they were instructed to refrain from free throw shooting outside of the experimental requirements. 88% of subjects reported that they had followed these instructions completely, and the correlation between the number of outside free throws performed and pre-to-post change scores was not significant. Thus, to conclude that a practice effect was principally responsible for the observed improvement in free throw shooting performance across conditions and ability levels seems be a particularly myopic view which might overlook the potential benefits that each of the experimental conditions may have had on performance.

In a sense, this finding is conceptually similar to that observed in psychotherapy outcome research. The results of these studies typically suggest that the presence of "nonspecific" factors common to all psychotherapies (e.g., a confiding relationship, credible conceptual scheme explaining the client's problem, positive expectancies for change) is primarily responsible for the therapeutic improvement of subjects (Lambert, Shapiro, & Bergin, 1986). While acknowledging the need to be cautious when extrapolating from clinical to non-clinical populations, it seems likely that a number of nonspecific factors common to each of the experimental conditions are largely responsible for the demonstrated enhancement of free-throw shooting performance. For example, subjects' responses to the manipulation checks and the closing questionnaire indicated that they considered each of the experimental conditions (VMBR, VMBR+VM, VM) to be well-designed, of good technical quality, and likely to enhance free throw shooting performance. Moreover, all of the experimental conditions appeared to be equally credible and generated similar expectancies for improved performance. It is not surprising, then, that each of the conditions would facilitate improved free throw shooting performance, although no one condition appreciably more than the others.

This finding has important implications for both the clinical practice of sport psychology and future research assessing the effectiveness of mental practice procedures. First, the results of this study emphasize the importance of providing a credible treatment and developing participant confidence in the technique being employed. Focusing on such factors is likely to increase the athlete's expectation of personal effectiveness and maximizes the probability that enhanced performance will be demonstrated in the selected athletic skill.

Second, research examining the effects of mental practice and related strategies on subsequent athletic performance should begin to focus on the extent to which given procedures produce improved performance over and above the changes that would result from the presence of nonspecific factors alone. Numerous reviews of the enhancing influence of mental practice on athletic procedures have established this technique as an effective psychological method for performance enhancement. Mental practice researchers should now take a cue from their colleagues in psychotherapy research (Kazdin, 1986) and determine whether change results from characteristics unique to the specific technique or to more general factors that are common to all procedures (e.g., attention to an athletic skill, expectancy for improvement, engaging in prescribed tasks or activities that are perceived as beneficial, etc.). Future research addressing these issues will both accelerate our understanding of the psychological factors and processes affecting athletic performance and make obtained results increasingly applicable to the consumers of sport psychology.

For further information, please contact:

David Onestak Counseling & Student Development Center 334 William Pitt Union University of Pittsburgh Pittsburgh, PA 15260


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Author:Onestak, David Michael
Publication:Journal of Sport Behavior
Date:Jun 1, 1997
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