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14 August 2012 | PR 12/152

Research reveals the best psychological techniques to improve performance

As the 2012 London Olympic Games close and the country reflects on the record breaking performance of Team GB, sport and performance psychologists at Loughborough University have revealed the top psychological strategies to overcome competitive stress and optimize performance.

During the Games some athletes commented on the considerable pressure of competing at a home Olympic Games, as well as the doubts and nerves they experienced before competing. In addition, some of Britain’s most successful Olympic medal winners in London have highlighted the mental strategies they used to manage their nerves before competition.

Dr David Fletcher and James Rumbold from the University’s School of Sport, Exercise and Health Sciences conducted a systematic review of stress management interventions that have been used with competitive sport performers. The aim of the research was to identify the most successful techniques for managing athletes’ stress and optimising their performances.

After reviewing 64 intervention studies, the authors concluded that a combination of certain psychological techniques is the most effective strategy for managing stress and optimising sport performance. The most effective combined technique includes using the following:

Positive self-talk: Positive statements help to reduce any negative doubts and provide athletes with reassurance; boosting their self-belief prior to performing.

Relaxation: Muscular or mental relaxation allow athletes to reduce any tension before competing, calm their thoughts, think rationally under pressure and focus on their  performance.

Visualisation: Imagining a successful outcome or the perfect performance under pressure provides athletes with a great deal of confidence in the lead up to a pressurising competitive event.

James Rumbold explains: “This review has incorporated over 30 years of work in the area of stress management with competitive sport performers. Although there have been a variety of successfully used techniques, what is particularly interesting is that positive self-talk, relaxation and visualisation combined together is the most effective strategy for managing athletes’ stress, and, optimising their performances. This combined approach is more powerful than using any single technique in isolation and this also holds true across a range of competitive standards.”

Dr David Fletcher adds: “After the wonderful spectacle of a home Olympic Games, one thing was very clear: the athletes who handled the pressure the best were the ones who performed the best.  As we seek to build on these performances and begin preparations for Rio 2016, the findings from this study will help sport psychologists and other professionals better advise athletes on how to prepare for the most important performances of their lives.”

This study was conducted in collaboration with Professor Kevin Daniels from the Norwich Business School at the University of East Anglia.

Findings are from the paper ‘A Systematic Review of Stress Management Interventions with Sport Performers’ published in Sport, Exercise, and Performance Psychology.

For further information about the research, contact James Rumbold at J.L.Rumbold@lboro.ac.uk

To view the full journal article please go to the following link:
http://www.apa.org/pubs/journals/spy/

−ENDS−

For all media enquiries contact:

Alison Barlow
PR Officer
Loughborough University
T: 01509 228696
E: A.J.Barlow@lboro.ac.uk 

Notes for editors:

Loughborough is one of the country’s leading universities, with an international reputation for research that matters, excellence in teaching, strong links with industry, and unrivalled achievement in sport and its underpinning academic disciplines.

It was awarded the coveted Sunday Times University of the Year 2008-09 title, and is consistently ranked in the top twenty of UK universities in national newspaper league tables. In the 2011 National Student Survey, Loughborough was voted one of the top universities in the UK, and has topped the Times Higher Education league for theBest Student Experience in England every year since the poll's inception in 2006. In recognition of its contribution to the sector, the University has been awarded six Queen's Anniversary Prizes.

Loughborough is also the UK’s premier university for sport. It has perhaps the best integrated sports development environment in the world and is home to some of the country’s leading coaches, sports scientists and support staff. It also has the country’s largest concentration of world-class training facilities across a wide range of sports.

It is a member of the 1994 Group of 19 leading research-intensive universities. The Group was established in 1994 to promote excellence in university research and teaching. Each member undertakes diverse and high-quality research, while ensuring excellent levels of teaching and student experience.

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