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Spawning sliding success: evaluating a stress management and cohesion development program for young lugers.

Luge is a winter sport that requires extensive physical and mental skill in order to precisely maneuver an uncovered sled down a 1-mile course at speeds up to 70 miles per hour. Lugers slide on their backs, feet first, with their head barely six inches off the ice, guiding by feel, and pulling 2-4 "G's" (i.e., normal pull of gravity) in the major turns. Because of the high risk of injury as well the normal performance demands of high level sport, young lugers seem to be a group who could significantly benefit from the development of effective mental skills.

Unfortunately, mental training has been largely ignored in the sport of luge, particularly among developmental-level athletes. Reviews of sport psychology intervention research (Greenspan & Feltz, 1989; Meyers, Whelan & Murphy, 1996; Vealey, 1994; Weinberg & Comar, 1994) have supported the positive impact of mental training programs. The most recent review, now over a decade old, is a meta-analysis by Meyers and his colleagues (1996) that found moderate to strong performance enhancement effects across over 90 sport intervention studies.

Although these reviews confirm the overall efficacy of mental training programs, only a few evaluation studies have been conducted with young athletes under 18 years of age and none with the sport of luge. Orlick (1982) has suggested that younger athletes may need mental training programs more than do their older teammates because they must train and compete under similar intense conditions as older performers, yet they lack the experience to understand how to cope with these stressful situations effectively. Similarly, Weinberg and Williams (2006) have suggested that the ideal time to begin MST is early in athletes' development.

Collectively, these reviews of intervention research in sport psychology (Greenspan & Feltz, 1989; Meyers, Whelan & Murphy, 1996; Vealey, 1994; Weinberg & Comar, 1994) have presented a strong case for additional evaluation research designed to examine the effects of MST programs that include such mental training tools and skills as goal setting, relaxation, team building, imagery, and concentration. Evaluation research with younger athletes is more limited and includes only a few studies investigating the effectiveness of MST programs designed to teach relaxation and achievement motivation skills to skiers (Heilstedt, 1987), stress management techniques to junior volleyball players (Crocker, Alderman & Smith, 1988), goal setting skills to junior high gymnasts (Pierce & Burton, 1998) and goal setting, imagery, and relaxation skills to high school basketball (Hughes, 1990; Wrisberg & Anshel, 1989) and football (Hughes, 1990) players. Although the consensus of evaluation research suggests that mental training programs can effectively enhance athletic performance, more intervention research is needed under real world conditions, particularly with entire teams (Daw & Burton, 1994; Holliday, 2007; Pierce & Burton, 1998; Sky, 2006) and using tighter experimental controls including control and placebo groups and manipulation and maintenance checks (Meyers et al., 1996; Smith, 1989; Vealey, 1994). Thus, the purpose of this study is to assess the effectiveness of a MST intervention on the cohesion and anxiety of young luge performers.

Cohesion Development

Cohesion is a multidimensional phenomenon reflecting a number of reasons groups stick together (Eys, Burke, Carron & Dennis, 2006). One of the major factors binding groups together is group integration or the overall attractiveness of group goals, teamwork and the collective process, while another factor is individual attraction to the group which focuses on how well the group meets each member's personal goals or needs (Eys et al., 2006). Both individual attraction and group integration can focus on task and social factors, creating four major types of cohesion (i.e., group integration task, group integration social, individual attraction to the group task, and individual attraction to the group social; Carron, Brawley & Widmeyer, 1998).

Cohesion is strongly related to a number of affective and behavioral variables. Carron, Colman, Wheeler and Stevens' (2002) meta-analysis of 46 studies found a moderate to strong relationship between cohesion and team success. More interestingly, they found that both task and social cohesion demonstrated moderate to strong relationships with performance, and cohesion was equally important to both coactive and interactive sport teams. However, Carron and Brawley (2008) caution that task-oriented groups such as sport teams typically develop task cohesion more quickly than social cohesion, which emerges later in the team's development after relationships stabilize and task-related interactions become more structured.

The importance of cohesion for individual, co-acting sport teams may be attributed to a number of factors, including: minimizing rivalry among team members, increasing intra-team cooperation, enhancing social support, raising norms for productivity, increasing satisfaction and enjoyment, and lowering anxiety. Not all of these potential mediators of the cohesion-performance relationship for co-acting teams have been investigated, but research has confirmed the positive impact of several of these variables. Prapavessis and Carron (1996) found that athletes in a variety of sports who possessed high task cohesion perceptions reported less cognitive state anxiety, and Eys, Hardy, Carron, & Beauchamp (2003) also reported athletes higher in task cohesion perceived their cognitive and somatic state anxiety as more facilitative. Additionally, Widmeyer and Williams (1991) demonstrated that satisfaction with team membership was the best predictor of both task and social cohesion among collegiate golfers. Finally, Prapavessis and Carron (1997) revealed that athletes from a number of sports who felt their team was cohesive worked significantly closer to their capabilities than did performers from less cohesive teams. Overall, the cohesion literature suggests that enhancing cohesion among athletes in a co-acting, individual sport such as luge should help to reduce anxiety and enhance performance. Additionally, task cohesion should demonstrate greater changes than social cohesion in a time-limited intervention.

Relaxation-Based Stress Management

Stress can be manifested both mentally and physically, and both cognitive-behavioral and relaxation-based strategies are effective techniques for enhancing sport performance (Zinsser, Bunker & Williams, 2006). The most recent meta-analysis of intervention research (Meyer et al., 1996) demonstrates strong effect sizes for both types of interventions (i.e., cognitive restructuring interventions n = 4, d = .79, SD = .36; relaxation interventions n = 25, d = .73, SD = 1.65). Although both types of stress management strategies have been shown effective in enhancing performance, relaxation is typically quicker and easier to learn for most athletes.

Research (e.g., Jones, Bray, Mace, McRae & Stockbridge, 2002; Nagel, 2001) has shown that using relaxation and stress management techniques can lead to enhanced performance. Furthermore, relaxation interventions have proved effective in both team and individual sports, including: hockey (Rogerson & Hrycaiko, 2002), tennis (Mamassis & Doganis, 2004) and distance running (Miller & Donohue, 2003).

A variety of relaxation strategies have been shown to reduce anxiety (e.g., Haney, 2004; Robb, 2000). For example, Robb (2000) found that music paired with progressive muscle relaxation (PMR), PMR alone, listening to music and silence/suggestion all significantly reduced anxiety levels, although music paired with PMR produced the greatest decline in anxiety levels. Jones and his colleagues (2002) also demonstrated that a combination of motivational general-mastery and motivational general-arousal imagery was successful in decreasing levels of perceived stress and increasing self-efficacy for novice female climbers. Thus, relaxation strategies do seem to be effective at reducing anxiety, increasing confidence and enhancing performance.

Therefore, the purpose of this study was to evaluate the impact of a mental training program designed to develop stress management and cohesion skills on the competitive cognitions of young lugers. Because of the exploratory nature of this study, it was predicted that any group differences in competitive state anxiety, state self-confidence, and cohesion should favor MST lugers.

Method

Participants

Participants consisted of 38 adolescents, including 23 boys and 15 girls between the ages of 12 and 16 years (M = 14.1 years) who were invited to participate in one of three national U.S. Luge Development Camps. Although initial exposure to most sports occurs through school or community-based programs, equipment and training facility limitations drastically reduce the opportunities to expose young athletes to the sport of luge. In an attempt to rectify this problem and get more talented young athletes into the sport, U.S. Luge sponsors a series of regional clinics throughout the Summer that provide athletes around the country with initial exposure to the sport, including: instruction, training, and actual dry-land sledding. The series annually exposes over 1,500 adolescent boys and girls to luge, and the top athletes from these regional clinics are invited to attend one of the three national training camps held in Lake Placid, New York. Athletes attending these national training camps not only received more instruction and luge practice, but they also have the opportunity to be selected to the U.S. Luge Development Team, along with current Developmental Team members who must requalify.

Instrumentation

Four instruments were employed to assess the impact of this MST program on athletes' competitive cognitions and performance, including the Competitive State Anxiety Inventory-2, the Group Environment Questionnaire, the Luge Post-Camp Intervention Effectiveness Inventory, and the Luge 3-Month Follow-up Questionnaire.

Competitive State Anxiety Inventory-2 (CSAI-2). The CSAI-2 is a 27-item self-report inventory containing three 9-item subscales designed to measure cognitive and somatic state anxiety and state self-confidence in competitive situations. Participants responded to each item on a 4-point Likert scale, from 1 (not at all) to 4 (very much so), resulting in subscale scores ranging from 9 to 36. The anti-social desirability instructions recommended by Martens, Burton, Vealey, Bump, and Smith (1990) were employed during administration to reduce reactivity and enhance measurement sensitivity. Extensive research has demonstrated all three CSAI-2 subscales to be reliable (i.e., alpha internal consistency coefficients ranging from .79--.90) and valid (Martens et al., 1990).

Group Environment Questionnaire (GEQ). The GEQ is an 18-item self report questionnaire comprised of four subscales designed to measure social and task cohesion on sport teams from both individual and group perspectives (Carron, Widmeyer, & Brawley, 1985). Individual Attraction to Group-Task (ATG-T) assesses athletes' personal involvement with the group' s task and goals, whereas Individual Attraction to Group-Social (ATG-S) measures athletes' perceptions of social involvement and social interaction within the group. Group Integration-Task (GIT) assesses athletes' perceptions about and bonding around team tasks or goals, whereas Group Integration-Social (GIS) assesses athletes' perception of similarity and closeness on the team as a social unit. Participants respond to each item on a 9-point Likert scale, from 1 (strongly disagree) to 9 (strongly agree), with subscale totals calculated as means due to the unequal number of items across the four subscales. Extensive research has demonstrated all four subscales to have acceptable reliability ( i.e., alpha internal consistency coefficients ranging from .64-.76) and validity (Brawley, Carron, & Widmeyer, 1987).

Luge Post-Camp Intervention Effectiveness Inventory (LPCIEI). The LPCIEI is a 4-item self report inventory designed for this study to assess MST lugers' perceptions of mental training program effectiveness. The first two questions examined how effectively MST lugers could relax and how cohesive the team became during camp, whereas the other two questions assessed satisfaction with MST strategies taught to enhance stress management and cohesion. Participants responded to each item on a 7-point Likert scale from 1 (not at all relaxed/ together/satisfied) to 7 (extremely relaxed/together/satisfied).

Luge 3-Month Follow-up Questionnaire (L3MFQ). The L3MFQ is a 2-item self report inventory designed for this study to assess how well attitudes towards and skills learned during the mental training program were maintained over three months. The first question asked how many times per week MST lugers practiced their stress management techniques on their own, whereas the second question inquired about how desirable it was to make mental training a permanent part of luge training. Participants responded to the first question in an open-ended fashion, whereas the second item was rated on a 7-point Likert scale from 1 (strongly disagree) to 7 (strongly agree).

Design and Procedure

This investigation employed a quasi-experimental, pretest-posttest design. Intervention research designs often represent a tradeoff between precision (i.e., experimental control)

and reality of measurement (i.e., external validity). Although conceptually the advantages of random assignment of participants to treatments is readily apparent for maximizing measurement control and minimizing the plausibility of rival hypotheses, the numbers of participants in most sport intervention studies is too small to ensure equality of groups and randomization of error variance. Moreover, such procedures are often difficult to sell to coaches and athletes in the real world and they further weaken the power of the treatment and erode external validity.

In determining a research design for this study, reality of measurement (i.e., external validity) was identified as the highest priority. Thus, a field study was chosen as the most theoretically relevant and practical research design, even though field studies have several internal validity limitations, the most problematic being (a) difficulty in precise measurement of critical dependent variables and (b) lack of experimental control that fails to eliminate plausible rival hypotheses. Moreover, this MST program used intact groups rather than attempt to employ random assignment of lugers to treatments for two reasons. First, randomization would have minimal benefit for a sample this small. Second, the relative short intervention period made demonstration of intervention effects difficult and intact groups offered greater environmental support for the change process to enhance MST effectiveness. Runkel and McGrath (1971) strongly support this approach and suggest compromise research strategies such as field experiments which try to maximize both internal and external validity generally have few of the advantages of either field studies or lab experiments but have all of the disadvantages of both. Therefore, using intact groups maximized treatment impact while maintaining reasonable experimental control.

In assigning treatments to training camps, the head coach requested that re-qualifying athletes receive the MST treatment. Obviously, the greater experience of the re-qualifiers represented an experimental confound no matter which condition they were assigned. However, because the study was interested in stress management and cohesion development effects, selecting re-qualifiers as the MST treatment group served to decrease alternative validity threats because normal physical training should reduce anxiety and enhance cohesion more for athletes who had no previous exposure to the sport and didn't know each other compared to re-qualifiers. Thus, if re-qualifiers improved stress management and cohesion more over the 2-week training camp than the other two groups, it would be easier to conclude that these changes were due to treatment effects.

Thus, re-qualifying candidates in Training Camp 1 received the MST program (n = 10; five males and five females), Training Camp 2 athletes were assigned to the attention control group (n = 13; eight males and five females), and lugers attending Training Camp 3 were designated as control performers (n = 15; 10 males and five females). All participants had no previous experience with any type of formal mental training, and all groups received the same amount and type of physical and skill training for luge. Each participant and their parents also completed informed consent statements.

In order to facilitate the description of the procedures employed in this investigation, separate sections are devoted to detailing the MST, placebo and control treatments as well as to identifying the protocol used to evaluate treatment effectiveness.

MST Program for Luge. Staff, facilities, equipment, and time constraints necessitated holding three separate training camps, each 2 weeks in length. Each training camp was organized and conducted using as similar a protocol as possible, including the same living conditions, coaching staff, and standard daily training protocol in the primary areas of skill development, physical conditioning, and competitive sledding. In addition to luge training, MST lugers received a mental skills training program designed to develop important stress management and cohesion skills. Access to this group of lugers was possible, in part, because the second author was serving in his second year as an assistant coach with the U.S. Luge Developmental Team, assuring a close working relationship with both the athletes and the head coach. The MST program for luge was conducted in three phases, including: education, acquisition and implementation phases that were accomplished during 12 2-hour sessions (Burton & Raedeke, 2008). Although individual sessions were somewhat longer than those used in most previously-published mental training interventions (Meyers et al., 1996), this 24-hour mental training intervention represents a total treatment length comparable to MST programs identified in previous sport psychology research.

Education phase. The investigators spent several sessions with the coaching staff attempting to identify the primary psychological needs for young luge performers. The consensus of this semi-structured psychological needs assessment was that fear of failure and injury often create stress and anxiety problems for young lugers. The coaching staff was also frustrated by frequent intra-team rivalry problems during training camp as athletes competed for spots on the Developmental Team that reduced team cohesion and decreased camaraderie, mutual support, and teamwork. Therefore, stress management and team cohesion were identified by the coaching staff as the mental skills to focus on in this initial MST program for luge. Furthermore, development of these mental skills was believed to have the added benefit of being important life skills that should help lugers enhance satisfaction and productivity in other areas of their lives outside of sport.

The short duration, training camp format created several challenges in MST program design, particularly related to the range of stress management and cohesion techniques taught. Initially, a program was proposed that taught a limited number of stress management and cohesion skills, allowing maximal practice time to enhance treatment impact. However, the coaching staff identified long-term retention of MST skills as more important than short-term changes during training camp, so the MST program was refocused to emphasize long-term skill retention. More stress management and cohesion skills were taught to provide athletes with greater choice of activities and a better match with their existing skills. Training manuals and logs were also developed to allow for continued development of skills beyond the camp setting.

During Session l, the MST group was given a brief overview of the mental skills approach, and critical mental training tools such as goal setting and imagery were briefly described. Examples were provided of high-profile athletes who have utilized mental training techniques. Next, athletes were given a brief orientation about the MST program being conducted during the training camp, along with a rationale for how anxiety management and cohesion enhance competitive cognitions and performance and strategies for developing these skills.

Acquisition/implementation phases. The remainder of Session I and Sessions 2-12 were devoted to helping athletes try out, develop and implement critical stress management and cohesion skills to enhance luge performance. Several different relaxation and cohesion strategies were taught that were commonly used by applied sport psychology consultants (e.g., Burton & Raedeke, 2008; Eys, Burke, Carron & Dennis, 2006; Vealey, 2005), and lugers were encouraged to be eclectic and use those techniques that they felt worked best for them. Throughout training camp, a nontechnical, hands-on protocol was used to present information, questions were encouraged, and feedback was actively sought.

For the first portion of the MST program, concentrated skill practice in stress management was conducted during guided group instruction. Initially, participants watched the video Sports Mental Training: Relaxation and Energy Management for Athletes (Murphy, Carr, Swoap, & Muerhoff, 1994), which reviewed many of the concepts and techniques presented in Session 1. The subsequent practice sequence over Sessions 2-8 included: (a) practicing rhythmic breathing separately (Sessions 2 & 3); (b) rhythmic breathing combined with general (e.g., scenes of nature) and then performance-related (e.g., being relaxed while sledding) imagery relaxation, (c) development of positive self-talk/affirmations (Sessions 3-5); (d) autogenics (Sessions 6-8); and (e) progressive muscle relaxation (Sessions 7 & 8). In Sessions 9-12, athletes applied the skills on their own using self-directed practice with help provided if needed. A Stress Management Training Manual provided athletes with a written protocol for correctly performing each technique and provided a resource for practice at home following the training camp.

In the cohesion development portion of the MST program, the initial objective was to establish an atmosphere of trust, understanding, and mutual support designed to help shape positive team cohesion. A team icebreaker exercise concluded Session 1 in which team members introduced themselves, told how and why they got involved in luge, and gave one suggestion for improving performance. In Session 2, a personal sharing strategy was employed in which small groups were formed and personal experiences from various life encounters (e.g traveling to a foreign country) were shared. Sessions 3-12 included daily nonsport team activities, such as going out for pizza, hiking, and swimming, as well as a variety of group discussions.

For example, during Session 6 a group discussion focused on how both positive (e.g., encouragement and constructive feedback) and negative (e.g., jealousy) team influences might impact luge performance. Personal sharing was repeated during Session 10 that allowed athletes to discuss the level of social support they received from family, friends, and teammates for their luge participation. MST lugers were also encouraged to provide each other with constructive feedback, social support, and encouragement throughout training camp, and daily journals were kept in which athletes described their mental training experiences throughout training camp.

Attention Control and Control Treatments. In addition to luge training, the attention control group received a treatment that participants believed would help their luge performance, even though it was designed to not enhance any of the dependent variables of interest in this investigation. The original protocol was designed so placebo lugers received comparable amounts of training on irrelevant topics to the MST treatment, but logistical constraints reduced the length of this attention control treatment to 4 45-minute sessions on: (a) sled design and the role of aerodynamics in luge, (b) the nature of luge competition compared to other sports, (c) intrinsic versus extrinsic motivation and its relationship to performance, and (d) description of the stages of motor skill development and their application to learning luge skills. The control group received only luge training, with no extra time spent on other types of specialized mental training.

Treatment Evaluation. Before starting any mental training, baseline psychological testing was conducted in which MST lugers completed the GEQ prior to practice and the CSAI-2 prior to their first practice run. Similarly, post-testing for MST lugers required them to complete the GEQ and LPCIEI at the end of their final mental training session and the CSAI-2 prior to a competitive practice run during their final practice session. Attention control and control lugers completed the CSAI-2 and GEQ at similar times during their training camps. Finally, the L3MFQ was mailed to each MST luger 3 months after the conclusion of the training camp and completed questionnaires were returned in stamped, self-addressed envelopes.

Results

In order to assess whether MST lugers experienced a greater increase in state self confidence, social cohesion, and task cohesion and a greater decrease in cognitive and somatic state anxiety than would lugers in the other two treatments, analysis of variance was conducted on change scores for each dependent variable using procedures for analyzing nonequivalent groups recommended by Cook and Campbell (1979). Significant group differences were probed using Duncan's multiple range post hoc tests. Initial analyses revealed no gender differences on any dependent measure, thus all subsequent analyses were conducted on the entire sample.

CSAI-2 Results

Analysis of variance results revealed significant treatment differences for cognitive state anxiety, F(2, 35) = 18.03;p < .001, somatic state anxiety, F(2, 35) = 7.97: p < .001, and state self confidence scores, F(2, 35) = 9.11; p < .001, although Duncan' s post hoc comparison data indicated that only the cognitive anxiety results were completely consistent with predictions that MST lugers would reduce their cognitive anxiety scores significantly more than would attention control and control performers (see Table 2). Consistent with predictions, post hoc comparison data for somatic anxiety indicated that the MST treatment group significantly lowered their somatic anxiety scores more than did the attention control group, but contrary to predictions, so did the control group. Similar follow-up analyses on self confidence data demonstrated that, as predicted, the treatment group increased their self confidence scores significantly more than did the control group, but unexpectedly the placebo group demonstrated similar significant gains compared to control lugers (see Table 2).

GEQ Results

As predicted, analysis of variance results revealed significant treatment differences for individual task cohesion, F(2, 35) = 4.76;p < .02, and group task cohesion, F(2 35) = 14.25;p < .001, whereas findings evaluating treatment differences for individual social cohesion, F(2, 35) = 2.76; p < .08, and group social cohesion, F(2, 35) = 2.34; p <. 11, approached significance. Again, Duncan' s post hoc comparison results revealed that only the group task cohesion results were completely consistent with predictions, with MST lugers increasing their group task cohesion scores significantly more than did attention control or control groups (see Table 2). Post hoc comparison data for individual task cohesion indicated that MST lugers improved their personal task cohesion significantly more than did control performers (see Table 2).

LPCIEI and L3MFO Results

Descriptive results for responses to the LPCIEI and L3MFQ shown in Table 3 revealed that MST lugers were highly positive toward the mental training program, reporting being extremely satisfied with relaxation training and only slightly less positive about cohesion development. All MST lugers responded to the 3-month followup, confirming that they were continuing to practice relaxation skills approximately 8 times per week. MST lugers also had a strong group consensus favoring continued inclusion of mental training as part of the overall luge training program.

Discussion

This investigation was primarily designed to evaluate the effectiveness of a MST program to enhance the stress management and cohesion skills of adolescent lugers. Mental training program effectiveness was examined using both primary and secondary dependent measures. Primary dependent measures assessed the direct impact of the mental training program on the development of the target variables of stress management and cohesion skills using psychometrically sound instruments, with the GEQ employed to evaluate changes in cohesion and the CSAI-2 to investigate changes in state anxiety and self-confidence. Secondary dependent measures examined the indirect impact of mental training effectiveness, using instruments designed for this investigation to examine lugers' post-camp and 3-month follow-up perceptions of MST program effectiveness, frequency of stress management practice following the training camp, and desirability of making mental training a permanent part of lute training.

Primary Dependent Measures

Although limiting logistical constraints which typically operate in field settings (e.g., small sample size, intact groups) were unavoidably present in the current design, MST lugers generally improved their scores on state self confidence and cohesion measures and decreased their state anxiety scores more than did placebo and control lugers, with significant differences evident on 4 of the 6 dependent measures while the other two variables approached significance. Moreover, results for the two dependent measures most targeted for change in this mental training program were completely consistent with predictions as MST lugers reported significantly greater drops in cognitive anxiety and greater improvements in group task cohesion scores compared to placebo or control lugers.

Previous researchers (Martens et al., 1990) have confirmed that cognitive anxiety impairs performance significantly more than does somatic anxiety, so the significant reduction in cognitive anxiety for MST compared to placebo or control lugers has important performance enhancement implications. Somatic state anxiety and state self confidence results were only partially consistent with predictions. For somatic state anxiety, both treatment and control groups experienced reduced somatic anxiety across the treatment and did not differ from each other, while the placebo group actually increased their somatic anxiety level over time and was significantly different from the other two groups. Although this study does not allow accurate assessment of the reasons for these unexpected results, several explanations seem plausible. First, the groups may have differed on trait anxiety levels, prompting differential needs to increase or decrease arousal to perform optimally. Second, the CSAI-2 does not seem to accurately differentiate perceived arousal from somatic state anxiety, so these results may reflect this measurement artifact. Similarly, state self confidence results demonstrated similar gains across the intervention for treatment and placebo groups, whereas the control group suffered a decline in state confidence. The similar increases in confidence for treatment and placebo groups was unexpected, and possible explanations again would seem to be related to trait self confidence differences that may influence state confidence changes.

Task cohesion findings are also interesting because researchers have often assumed that cohesion among individual sport athletes may be detrimental to performance if teammates focus too much on cooperation rather than competition (Paskevich, Estabrooks, Brawley, & Carron, 2001). However, consistent with the recent meta-analysis by Carron and his colleagues (2002), task cohesion was enhanced during this two-week intervention. Anecdotal reports from coaches suggested a high degree of cooperation among MST lugers, extensive sharing of ideas to enhance performance, social support for goal attainment and enhanced opportunities to develop friendships that seemed to have a positive impact on athlete development.

One of the unique aspects of this intervention design was the addition of a placebo group to better assess the role of Hawthorne effects on treatment effectiveness, with the attention control lugers predicted to score between MST and control performers on primary dependent measures. Regrettably, logistic problems limited exposure of the attention control lugers to only 3 hours of treatment compared to the 24-hour program implemented with the MST lugers. The failure of the placebo treatment to engage lugers for a similar amount of time as the MST program resulted in attention control lugers being quite similar to their control counterparts, and not surprisingly, the placebo and control groups did not differ significantly on the two primary dependent variables (i.e., cognitive anxiety and group integration task). Although the effects of the placebo treatment cannot be fairly evaluated in this study, MST lugers clearly demonstrated enhanced stress management and cohesion skills compared to their counterparts in the control group, the typical comparison used in most previous intervention research.

Secondary Dependent Measures

Although secondary dependent measures were assessed with instruments that lack general psychometric rigor, descriptive results of the post-camp and 3-month follow-up evaluations of MST effectiveness were also highly supportive of MST program effectiveness. In their post-camp assessment, MST lugers not only reported being highly satisfied with both components of the mental training program, but they also indicated that the program was quite effective in helping them to achieve desired improvements in stress management and cohesion. Three-month follow-up responses also supported program effectiveness, demonstrating that athletes reported continuing to practice stress management skills frequently (i.e., approximately eight times per week) and revealing strong athlete support for inclusion of the MST program into overall luge training.

Although intervention research with lugers has not been previously investigated, Cogan and Petrie (1992) reported somewhat different results for a similar stress management and cohesion intervention with female collegiate gymnasts. They found their intervention had no impact on state anxiety or state self confidence, although they did report significant increases in group social cohesion for the trained group. The reason for these divergent findings comparing MST intervention results for different individual sports is not readily apparent, but further research is necessary to evaluate whether this MST program will work effectively with other adolescent lugers, other sports and/or other age groups.

Implications for Future Research

This investigation does provide several important implications for future research, particularly with young athletes or exotic sports such as luge. First, this MST treatment was massed over a relatively short interval. Even though this approach may be effective for selling mental training and teaching basic skills, a longer intervention period may be necessary to automate skills and foster long-term retention. For example, several researchers (Williams & Harris, 2006) suggest that lengthy time periods are necessary for effective learning and application of certain stress management techniques such as autogenics and progressive muscle relaxation. Similarly, longer time periods seem to be necessary for newly-formed groups to develop the foundation skills (i.e., communication, trust, and social support) necessary for the development of strong social cohesion. Thus, future researchers need to attempt to conduct lengthier interventions (i.e., 3-4 months) that provide sufficient time to maximize treatment effects.

Second, the makeup of these nonrandomized groups may have influenced results. Not only may the greater experience level of re-qualifiers in the MST group predisposed them to have initially lower cognitive state anxiety and higher task cohesion compared to less experienced lugers in the other two treatments, but the composition of placebo and control groups may have also influenced their response to key dependent variables in ways that are unique to this sample. Because re-qualifiers in the MST group were already more skilled than performers in the other two groups, it should have made it harder to demonstrate improvements in confidence or cohesion or reductions in anxiety during a 2-week training camp. Thus, future research should attempt to employ more equivalent groups that don't differ on experience or skill in order to better understand the true magnitude of treatment effects.

Third, the MST program employed in this study taught lugers a range of stress management and cohesion skills. Some individuals may have benefitted from this eclectic approach more than others who need more concentrated practice on a single technique. Thus, future research needs to provide longer intervention periods so athletes can both be exposed to a wide variety of techniques but still have extensive time for supervised practice with the technique of their choice.

Finally, although measurement concerns must be acknowledged in this study that may have influenced results, we must support Vealey's (1994) contention that ecological validity is probably a greater concern in intervention research than precision of measurement. While intervention research must recognize scientific concerns over precise measurement of dependent variables, most intervention research must sacrifice some precision of measurement in order to study valid real-world phenomena that can seldom be adequately simulated under artificial laboratory conditions (Burton, 1989; Martens, 1987; Smith, 1989). Consistent with previous sport intervention research (Burton, 1989; Crocker et al., 1988), the strength of this study was that it was a field study that maximized external validity by conducting mental training with real athletes under actual practice and competitive conditions. Future research of this type is needed that ensures ecological validity so findings can be generalized back to real world settings effectively.

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Barry Copeland, Robert J. Bonnell, and Lindsey Reider

Syracuse University

Damon Burton

University of Idaho

Address Correspondence To. Damon Burton, Division of HPERD, University of Idaho, Moscow, Idaho 83844-2401, E-mail: dburton@uidaho.edu.
Table 1. Session-by-Session Breakdown of the Focus, Length
and Sample Exercises/Activities for the Stress Management
and Cohesion Development Components of the Large PST Program

                             Stress Management

           Focus of            Sample
Session    Session             Exercises             Length

1          explain and         view PST              60 minutes
           discus PST          video
           techniques for
           stress
           management

2          rhythemic           hatha yoga            40 minutes
           breathing           breathing
           skills

3          imagery             "special place"       40 minutes
           relaxation

4          self talk           thoughts associated   40 minutes
                               with good & bad
                               performance

5          positive            personal scripts      40 minutes
           affirmations

6          autogenics          heavy limbs/quiet     60 minutes
                               mind/warm arms

7          autogenics          slow, calm            60 minutes
           progressive         breathing
           muscle              8 muscle groups
           relaxation

8          autogenics &        warm abdomen &        60 minutes
           progressive         cool forehead/
           muscle              4 muscle groups
           relaxation

9          selection/          guided individual     60 minutes
           mastery of          practice
           SM techniques

10         mastery of          guided individual     60 minutes
           personal SM         practice
           techniques

11-12      application of      dealing with high     60 minutes
           SM skills to        stress, low control
           luge situations     situations

                                Cohesion

           Focus of            Sample
Session    Session             Exercises             Length

1          explain and         icebreaker-           60 minutes
           discuss PST         personal
           techniques to       introductions
           entrance cohesion

2          personal sharing    share travel          80 minutes
           promoting mutual    experiences
           understanding

3          social cohesion     team swim             80 minutes
           development

4          task & social       team hike             80 minutes
           cohesion
           development

5          leadership and      team hike &           80 minutes
           team structure      processing

6          impact of team      sharing successful    60 minutes
           dynamics on         & unsuccessful team
           performance         synergy experiences

7          developing group    team biking           60 minutes
           norms & goals       & processing

8          team                discussing            60 minutes
           communication       impact of
                               communication on
                               anxiety &
                               performance

9          respect for         team swim &           60 minutes
           teammates           processing

10         team social         discuss impact of     60 minutes
           support             social support on
                               mood & performance

11-12      team problem-       team hikes &          60 minutes
           solving & support   processing

Table 2
Means, Standard Deviations and Analysis of Variance Results
Comparing Three Treatments on CSAI-2 and GEQ Subscale Scores.

                          PST (n=10)

                  Pretest          Posttest

Measures         M       SD      M      SD    Diff

CSAI-COG         17.7    4.8    14.6    4.0   -3.1
CSAI-SOM         11.4    2.1     9.8    1.3   -1.6
CSAI-SC          29.3    3.6   322.0    3.7   29.0
GEQ-ATGT         27.7    7.2    31.7    6.0    4.0
GEQ-ATGS         32.6    7.3    36.7    6.8    4.1
GEQ-GIT          27.3    4.7   326.0    5.1    3.7
GEQ-GIS          25.9    5.8    29.6    5.4    3.7

                     Attention Control (n=13)

                  Pretest          Posttest

Measures         M       SD      M      SD    Diff

CSAI-COG         19.7    5.0    21.3    5.4    1.6
CSAI-SOM         16.4    5.2    17.4    5.5    1.0
CSAI-SC          27.3    5.7    30.0    6.4   27.0
GEQ-ATGT         28.8    7.5    30.2    4.5    1.5
GEQ-ATGS         39.2    7.4    33.7   11.0    3.5
GEQ-GIT           3.0    6.5    31.2    5.5   -0.8
GEQ-GIS          29.9    6.1    28.2    7.0    1.2

                      Control  (n=15)

                  Pretest         Posttest

Measures       M       SD      M      SD    Diff    F        p

CSAI-COG      19.5    4.8    M.5     5.5    3.0   18.0  .001 (a) (c)
CSAI-SOM      17.3    5.4    16.5    5.1   -0.8    8.0  .001 (b) (c)
CSAI-SC       28.1    5.2    26.3    5.2   -1.9    9.1  .001 (a) (b)
GEQ-ATGT      29.1    6.1    26.7    6.3   -2.3   14.3   .001 (a)
GEQ-ATGS      29.3    7.2    28.5    4.8   -0.8    2.3   .11
GEQ-GIT      320.0    6.6    26.7    4.3   -5.3    4.8   .02 (a)(b)(c)
GEQ-GIS       26.6    4.4    25.3    5.1   -1.3    2.8   .08

Note. Superscripts denote significant differences between
treatment, with a groups, with (a) = difference between and
control groups. (b) = differences between placebo and control
and (c) = differences between treatment and placebo groups.

Table 3. Means and Standard Deviations for Items on Post-Camp
and Three-Month Follow-up Evaluations.

Item                                        M      SD

Luge Post-Camp Intervention
Effectiveness Inventory

* Level of relaxation attained             6.0    .94
  using preferred technique
* Satisfaction with effectiveness          6.5    .71
  of relaxation techniques learned.
* Benefit of group discussions and         6.1    .74
  activities for bringing team together
* Satisfaction with PST program in         6.0    .82
  bringing team together as unit.

Luge Three-Month Follow-up Questionnaire

* Times per week practiced preferred       7.8    2.4
  relaxation technique at home.
* Degree of support for mental training    6.7    .95
  to be continued in luge training

Note. All items were rated on a 7-point Likert scale except
"times per week practicing preferred relaxation technique"
which included an upper endpoint of more than 12.
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Author:Copeland, Barry; Bonnell, Robert J.; Reider, Lindsey; Burton, Damon
Publication:Journal of Sport Behavior
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Date:Dec 1, 2009
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