The guru-driven nature of sport psychology has contaminated the field and how it is perceived, evaluated, and valuated by coaches, athletes, and decision makers in organizations who may want to utilize the services of sport psychology practitioners. This chapter provides a foundational and fundamental rationale for advancing evidence-based and validated athlete assessment and intervention protocols. The prevalent approach to applied sport psychology is practitioner-centered. The American Board of Sport Psychology (ABSP) mission is to advance practice, education, and training standards in the field of applied sport psychology as well as provide licensed psychologists the opportunity to achieve board certification in sport psychology. Sport psychologists and sport psychology practitioners must distinguish themselves from coaches and other practitioner-advisors who work with athletes. Sport psychology offers practitioners of highly disparate education, training, experience, and credentials an unparalleled opportunity to break into the elite strata of sports.
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Psychophysiological stress testing (PST) should be routinely administered to all athletes at intake. This test provides an additional layer in the evidence hierarchy by extending Athlete’s Profile Primary Higher Order (AP PHO) constellation self-report and behavioral measures to underlying mind-body responding. Feelings of discomfort, worry, nervousness, and overall stress are expected to heighten in athletes with the most detrimental AP PHO constellation or in athletes who score high for neuroticism/subliminal reactivity (N/SR), and induce changes in heart rate variability (HRV) that are associated with increases in sympathetic nervous system (SNS) activity. While differential levels of activation are usually necessary for sport performance, in the context of a static situation and cognitive stressors, greater low frequency (LF) and accompanying SNS is hypothesized to be disruptive and interfere with mental tasks, such as strategic planning as a precursor to motor action.
Mental imagery (MI) or visualization can be considered the go-to mental training (MT) method and is used by the vast majority of sport psychology practitioners. MI is addressed in the context of the Theory of Critical Moments and athlete’s profile (AP) models of peak performance construct bases and the brain-heart-mind-body-motor dynamics they advance in regard to intervention efficiency and efficacy. Athlete is tested for Visualization Responsivity (VR) using the Carlstedt Protocol Visualization Responsivity Test-Athlete Version (CPVR-A). This chapter provides some consecutive autonomic nervous system (ANS)-heart rate variability (HRV) reports that emanate from a professional tennis player who was high in hypnotic susceptibility (HS)/subliminal attention (SA), namely the baseline condition, positive-negative and relaxation visualization scenario-based HRV responses. It presents an MI intervention efficacy case study in the context of actual competition using a repeated A-B-A design. Variance explained in a visualization-based or associated outcome measure should be the intervention efficacy benchmark.
- Go to chapter: Neurocognitive Testing and Quantitative Electroencephalography: Brain Functioning and Athlete Performance
Neurocognitive Testing and Quantitative Electroencephalography: Brain Functioning and Athlete Performance
Neurocognitive testing (NCT) and quantitative electroencephalography (qEEG) are brain assessment procedures that are used to investigate relationships between cortical functioning and context-specific outcome measures to arrive at clinical diagnoses or better informed patient and client evaluations. Research is ongoing to test the premise that NCT and qEEG can serve as reliable criterion-referenced measures for athletes profile primary higher order (AP PHO) constellations, heart rate variability (HRV) responding and eventually macro- and micro-performance outcome. Low/high ratio (L/H) was associated with numerous conceptually relevant NCT tests, including motor tapping variability, motor tapping, and switching of attention completion time. This chapter reviews the results from pilot research encompassing over 50 athletes from the sports of baseball, tennis, and ice hockey prior to presenting a case study of an ex-world class professional tennis player who underwent NCT and qEEG as part of the American Board of Sport Psychology-Carlstedt Protocol (ABSP-CP) pre-intervention evaluation process.
Behavioral-Motor-Technical (BMT)-based intervention attempts to help support an athlete’s mental game using exposure, confrontation, threshold, and learning principles to improve attention, motor control, and self-confidence, as well as reduce nervousness associated with pressure moments of competition. BMT-based intervention is a direct approach to mental training (MT). Conceptually, BMT MT’s utility and potential to enhance psychological performance is based on motor learning, technical repetition, and exposure/habituation principles. The central nervous system mechanisms that are thought to be associated with BMT-MT-induced habituation or inoculation to competitive stress are discussed under brain-based interventions of the athlete’s profile (AP) brain-heart-mind-body conceptual model and construct bases. The goal of BTM-MT is to consolidate optimum technical and motor patterns in long-term procedural memory as well as repetitively attempt to demonstrate peak technical performance under greatest situational pressure, first in training and then during official competition.
- Go to chapter: Sport Psychological Performance Statistics and Analysis I: Technical and Focus Threshold Training
Technical and focus threshold testing is a low-tech method that is used to help determine the extent to which an athlete exhibits technical/motor control and concomitant focus or attention in the context of sport-specific task challenges of increasing level of difficulty. It is an important first step in on-the-playing-field assessment of technical/physical and psychological performance, allowing a coach and sport psychology practitioner to quantify technical-psychological balance or how much of an athlete’s performance equation can be explained on the basis of mind-body factors. It provides criterion-referencing for in-office self-report and psychological test scores as well as practitioner intuition. A major issue in the technical-focus threshold equation involves temporal dynamics or time that it takes to achieve enduring change (TAC). TAC can be operationalized as the amount of time that it takes to achieve neuronal consolidation of a technical skill, context-specific attention span, or any other performance-relevant psychological tendency or behavior.
Heart rate deceleration biofeedback (HRD BF) is a relatively unknown intervention whose origin can be traced to an extensive body of research on pre-stimulus or pre-action cardiac activity. HRD BF is a very mechanistic approach, whose effects can be immediately documented independent of speculative interpretive components associated with more cognitively based interventions. BF attempts to induce or shape mind-body responses by first showing baseline autonomic and/or central nervous system activity as reflected in waveform oscillations or other representations that are observable on a computer screen, and then reinforcing prescribed performance or wellness-related target psychophysiological responses. In multi-modal HRD BF, video and visualization components are integrated into the mental training process. In terms of intervention efficacy, the tested player won more and lost fewer games in the HRD BF compared to the no-intervention condition. Conceptually consistent intervention efficiency and efficacy findings support its utility as an athlete assessment and intervention approach.
Neurofeedback (NF) is a brain-based procedure that has made its way into the sport performance mental training (MT) arena. Athlete-specific NF protocols have also been used in an attempt to enhance performance. However, there are conceptual and methodological issues and problems associated with NF, more so in sport performance contexts. The current state of NF mirrors that of the field of sport psychology in general. According to the Dietrich’s Transient Hypofrontality Hypothesis (THH), the brain must make do with a finite amount of metabolites and blood flow. The THH can be difficult to test due to motion artifact issues associated with most brain imaging instruments, including positron emission tomography (PET) and functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI). THH-based NF may have the potential to reprogram/program performance adaptive brain-heart responses in athletes who are burdened with the worst athlete’s profile (AP) by taking the frontal lobes out of the performance disruption equation.
Practitioners should be aware of and critically appraise the conceptual bases and construct validity of an intervention or mental training (MT) method. Intervention dose–response relationships (IDRR) and time to achieve enduring change (TAEC) is a conceptual issue that is closely related to temporal properties of MT. Evidence-based approaches to MT and intervention must take temporal and time to achieve enduring change parameters into account using the systematic methodologies. Ecological validity is a vital prerequisite for high evidentiary athlete assessment and intervention. The Polar heart rate variability (HRV)/heart rate deceleration (HRD) paradigm allows for more extensive and time-locked predictive validity statistical analyses so that in-the-moment MT over the course of entire official games/matches/competition can be delineated and quantified in terms of MT’s predictive validity.