Training has traditionally been viewed in terms of the physical performance of the skill to be learned (Grouios, 1992); and historically, physical practice has been the predominant method used for helping athletes to improve their performance (Hird, Landers, Thomas & Horan, 1991). However, at increasingly higher levels of competitions where skills and physiological conditions of athletes are normally evenly matched, winning and losing are often not determined by inches and seconds, but millimeters and thousandths of a second. Thus, even the slightest performance gain among elite athletes is extremely important (Mujika et al., 1995). At such high levels of competitions, physical preparation alone may not be adequate because it is most probably a matter of who are stronger mentally which distinguishes between winners and losers. As cited in Seiler (1992), Rodionow (1979/1982) pointed out that the higher the level of performance, the more specialized the psychological functions that regulated the action. Hall, Rodgers and Barr (1990) also found that the higher the competitive level, the more often athletes reported using imagery (a kind of psychological preparation) in practice, in competition, and before an event.
Experimentally, Shelton and Mahoney (1978) found that psyching-up (psychological preparation used by athletes prior to performances) did influence performance. In their study, the group of weight lifters who were told to use a psyching-up strategy showed greater improvement on a hand dynamometer task than the control group. Similarly, Weinberg, Gould and Jackson (1980) also found that psyching-up facilitated isokinetic leg strength performance. The psyching-up group in their study exhibited significantly greater strength than the control group on a Cybex Orthotron machine. Thus, it is not difficult to understand why Serge Vaitsekhovsky, the head coach of the former Soviet National Swimming Team, declared that victory was not a question of training, but a question of psychology (as cited in Bell, 1983).
According to Williams and Straub (1993), the goal of psychological training was learning to consistently create the ideal mental climate that unleashed those physical skills that allowed athletes to perform at their best. Orlick and Partington (1988) found that of the three major readiness factors (mental, physical, and technical) rated by 160 Olympic athletes, mental readiness provided the only statistically significant link with final Olympic ranking, and many of these highly successful athletes felt that they could have reached the top much sooner if they had worked on strengthening their mental skills earlier in their careers.
As pointed out by Williams (1989), in sports, the mind and the body depended on each other for optimal functioning because what affected the body could affect the mind, and what affected the mind could also affect the body. Thus, it appears that an ideal mental climate may be important for enhancing physical performance. As stated in Murphy (1982), it was not the content of our belief, but the belief in our own mind that brought about the result. To illustrate the influence of the mind over physical performance, Ness and Patton (1979) have demonstrated that the "expected" resistance rather than the actual resistance is a determining factor in maximal-performance lifting. In their study, subjects under the "heavy" treatment condition (i.e., the weight lifted was believed to be lower than it really was) lifted weights significantly heavier than those under the "light" treatment and control conditions.
Certainly, our psyche will not dramatically improve our technical or physical conditioning. It may, however, allow us to draw the most from the conditioning we have (Orlick, 1986). Many studies also support that mental practice or psychological skills training facilitate the improvement of learning and physical performance (Grouios, 1992; Hanrahan, Tetreau & Sarrazin, 1995; Isaac, 1992; Lee, 1990; Whitmarsh & Alderman, 1993; Zervas & Kakkos, 1995; Zhang, Ma, Orlick & Zitzelsberger, 1992).
- Bell, K. (1983). Championship Sport Psychology. Austin, TX: Keel.
- Grouios, G. (1992). The effect of mental practice on diving performance. International Journal of Sport Psychology, 23, 60-69.
- Hall, C. R., Rodgers, W. M., & Barr, K. A. (1990). The use of imagery by athletes in selected sports. The Sport Psychologist, 4, 1-10.
- Hanrahan, C., Tetreau, B., & Sarrazin, C. (1995). Use of imagery while performing dance movement. International Journal of Sport Psychology, 26, 413-430.
- Hird, J. S., Landers, D. M., Thomas, J. R., & Horan, J. J. (1991). Physical practice is superior to mental practice in enhancing cognitive and motor task performance. Journal of Sport and Exercise Psychology, 8, 281-293.
- Isaac, A. R. (1992). Mental practice–does it work in the field? The Sport Psychologist, 6, 192-198.
- Lee, C. (1990). Psyching up for a muscular endurance task: Effects of image content on performance and mood state. Journal of Sport and Exercise Psychology, 12, 66-73.
- Mujika, I., Chatard, J-C., Busso, T., Geyssant, A., Barale, F., & Lacoste, L. (1995). Effects of training on performance in competitive swimming. Canadian Journal of Applied Physiology, 20, 395-406.
- Murphy, J. (1982). The Power of Your Subconscious Mind. New York: Bantam Books.
- Ness, R. G., & Patton, R. W. (1979). The effect of beliefs on maximum weight-lifting performance. Cognitive Therapy and Research, 3(2), 205-211.
- Orlick, T. (1986). Psyching For Sport: Mental Training for Athletes. Champaign, IL: Leisure Press.
- Orlick, T., & Partington, J. (1988). Mental links to excellence. The Sport Psychologist, 2, 105-130.
- Seiler, R. (1992). Performance enhancement–A psychological approach. Sport Science Review, 1(2), 29-45.
- Shelton, T. O., & Mahoney, M. J. (1978). The content and effect of psyching-up strategies in weight lifters. Cognitive Therapy and Research, 2(3), 275-284.
- Weinberg, R. S., Gould, D., & Jackson, A. (1980). Cognition and motor performance: Effect of psyching-up strategies on three motor tasks. Cognitive Therapy and Research, 4(2), 239-245.
- Whitmarsh, B. G., & Alderman, R. B. (1993). Role of psychological skills training in increasing athletic pain tolerance. The Sport Psychologist, 7, 388-399.
- Williams, J. M., & Straub, W. F. (1993). Sport Psychology: Pass, Present, Future. In J. M. Williams (Ed.), Applied Sport Psychology: Personal Growth to Peak Performance (pp. 1-10). Mountain View, CA: Mayfield.
- Williams, M. H. (1989). Beyond Training: How Athletes Enhance Performance Legally and Illegally. Champaign, IL: Leisure Press.
- Zervas, Y., & Kakkos, V. (1995). The effect of visuomotor behavior rehearsal on shooting performance of beginning archers. International Journal of Sport Psychology, 26, 337-347.
- Zhang, L. W., Ma, Q. W., Orlick, T., & Zitzelsberger, L. (1992). The effect of mental-imagery training on performance enhancement with 7-10-year-old children. The Sport Psychologist, 6, 230-241.