“Evidence-Based Applied Sport Psychology:” A Layperson’s Review of the Gold Standard for Athletes’ Mental Training

Image courtesy of dream designs / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Image courtesy of dream designs / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

“About 80% of all athletes and clinical patients that I see who come to me voluntarily (not part of team and mandatory sport psychology services) are in the high range for hypnotic susceptibility (HS; a cognitive style independent of being hypnotized) making them extremely ‘placebo’ prone and likely to believe whatever they are told and are thus vulnerable and apt to ‘see’ and ‘feel’ effects that often can not be documented. All athletes should be tested on this measure and two others (neuroticism and repressive coping) that are strong predictors of pressure performance tendencies, intervention amenability and suggestibility/placebo proneness. Practitioners should especially be tested for hypnotic susceptibility so as to recognize outcome biases that are associated with high HS that can lead to a dual-pseudo placebo effect that will do little for your game/performance.” ~Dr. Roland Carlstedt

Every so often, I read a training book that impacts the way I look at an aspect of training or training in its entirety on a deep, foundational level – a book that transforms my approach to and perspective on the subject matter at hand, shedding clarity and deepening my insight in ways I never imagined it would when I first picked it up. “Evidence-Based Applied Sport Psychology: A Practitioner’s Manual,” by Roland A. Carlstedt, Ph.D. (Springer Publishing Company: New York; 2012) is such a book – it has profoundly altered my comprehension of mental training, much in the same way that “Periodization-5th Edition: Theory and Methodology of Training first opened my eyes up to the wide world of evidence-based physical training, and the way that “Advanced Sports Nutrition: Second Edition” did for my understanding of the ideal athlete diet.

This book has proven so fascinating to me that I got in touch with Dr. Carlstedt, who graciously provided me with a few direct quotes (including the one at the top of this entry) to complement the quotes I’ve pulled from the book and included at the end of this entry.

“Mental training has its place and can be beneficial, it’s just that the onus is on the practitioner to demonstrate the extent to which it is or is not having an impact using rigorous empirical investigative methods.” ~ Dr. Roland Carlstedt

Image courtesy of Master isolated images / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Image courtesy of Master isolated images / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

First, I’ll warn you, though; if you buy this book and you’re not a sport psychologist (I’m not), be prepared for a staggering amount of statistics, acronyms and studies that can prove quite difficult to follow at times. Instead of allowing these to overwhelm you, I suggest that you focus your attention on trying to grasp the conceptual ideas that are presented as a result of all of the research and evidence backing them.

I am most certainly not an expert in this area after reading this book – not at all. I’m not a sport psychologist, and I won’t be able to implement all or even most of the protocols Dr. Carlstedt suggests in his book to help clients or other climbers/athletes achieve better mental outcomes. I simply do not have the resources or expertise to do so. However, what I can do is a) help guide clients toward a more thorough understanding of the role that mental training should play in their overall climbing/training plans, b) try to dispel some of the rampant and unproven misconceptions and myths surrounding mental training, c) explain that mental and physical training are inextricably interlinked, not separate entities that can or should be treated as such, and d) explain that just as with physical training, there is no one-size-fits-all or quick-fix paradigm for mental training; appropriate interventions vary from individual to individual and depend largely on each person’s psychological profile.

“It’s all about variance explained, or how much of the performance equation (outcome or mental training effects) can be explained on the basis of predictor variables (e.g., a mental training method). If your practitioner has no clue what this means and is incapable of designing an intervention efficacy study of your mental training regime, you will not be an informed athlete. Athletes need as much reliable information on the mental games as most have acquired or sought regarding the physical and technical game.” ~Dr. Roland Carlstedt

Image courtesy of dream designs / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Image courtesy of dream designs / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

When I find myself highlighting and wanting to share quotes from virtually every page of a book, I know it’s worth its weight in gold. I’ve picked out six (of so many!) tantalizing nuggets to whet your appetite below – but really, if you want to learn about what the science says about psychological training for athletes, Roland Carlstedt, Ph.D. is the probably the No.1 person on the planet to listen to (just check out the link above for his credentials – pretty impressive).

Image courtesy of ddpavumba / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Image courtesy of ddpavumba / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

“Previous research, in its totality, has been unable to explain more than 1% to 3% (per predictor measure and less than 10% on the basis of all psychological factors combined) of the variance in the performance equation that can be attributed to psychological factors, despite anecdotal notions that sport performance is mostly ‘mental.’”

“…[A]thletes are often quick to attribute their performance woes to psychological factors when, in reality, technical and/or physical deficiencies are at the heart of their inability to perform as well as they think they should.”

“…[W]hat you do on the playing field will be the final benchmark of performance. The same applies to other interventions or mental training. I will never guarantee that a procedure will work, as should no other practitioner.”

“Being told to apply some generic visualization intervention or engage in progressive relaxation or a patterned breathing routine is unlikely to improve a tennis player’s poor backhand.”

“Ultimately, the goal of mental training is to get an athlete to unconsciously set off a cascade of brain–heart–mind–motor events that occur without any effort or thought when things are going well, regardless of the situation (whether routine or critical moments).”

And finally: “The lack of systematic evidence-based approach to applied sport psychology can significantly hinder athletes from achieving peak psychological performance and obtaining valid and reliable information on their psychological response tendencies and mental performance during training and competition. Unfortunately, many practitioners are not aware that something may be missing from their practice repertoire, training/education, and knowledge base, or are reluctant to admit to such (even more so among highly credentialed or “experienced,” “star,” or supposed stalwart practitioners). Yet, the field and many of its practitioners continue to tout and promote their methods with utmost confidence to the extent of guaranteeing the validity and efficacy of their methods or approach.”

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2 thoughts on ““Evidence-Based Applied Sport Psychology:” A Layperson’s Review of the Gold Standard for Athletes’ Mental Training”

  1. Thank you for your interest in my work and taking the time to help spread the word about higher evidentiary approaches to the mental game. The mental game takes effort, there are no quick fixes and both the practitioner and athlete need to view the process critically.

    Roland A. Carlstedt

    1. I’m so glad to help spread the word — and thanks again to you for all the research, effort and time that has gone into this work.

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