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Psychological Correlates of Performance in Female Athletes During a 12-Week Off-Season Strength and Conditioning Program

Jones, Margaret T1; Matthews, Tracey D1; Murray, Mimi1; Raalte, Judy Van2; Jensen, Barbara E1

Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research: March 2010 - Volume 24 - Issue 3 - p 619-628
doi: 10.1519/JSC.0b013e3181cc23c3
Original Research
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Jones, MT, Matthews, TD, Murray, M, Van Raalte, J, and Jensen, BE. Psychological correlates of performance in female athletes during a 12-week off-season strength and conditioning program. J Strength Cond Res 24(3): 619-628, 2010-Examination of the relationship between performance testing and psychological measures before and after a 12-week strength and conditioning program was the study's purpose. Female NCAA Division-III soccer (n = 28), field hockey (n = 28), and softball (n = 19) athletes completed pre- and post-testing held 12 weeks apart. On day 1, athletes completed informed consent, 3 psychological measures (Profile of Mood States [POMS], Physical Self Perception Profile [PSPP], and Athlete's Self Perception of Physical Abilities [ASPPA]), and 2 strength tests (1 repetition maximum [1RM] bench, 1RM back squat). Day 2 consisted of the 30-yd sprint, pro agility run (PRO), vertical jump (VJ), and standing long jump (SLJ). All sports improved (p < 0.01) in 1RM bench and squat and reported increases in perceived Physical Strength on the PSPP (p < 0.01). Soccer athletes improved (p < 0.01) in VJ, SLJ, and PRO (p < 0.05). No differences were found in POMS scores. The POMS scores indicated that the athletes were not overtrained or experiencing staleness. A series of correlations showed relationships between physical and psychological measures. Specifically, Physical Strength was correlated with 1RM upper-body (r = 0.49, p < 0.01) and lower-body (r = 0.42, p < 0.01) strength. The PSPP Physical Strength was correlated with ASPPA ratings of upper-body (r = 0.68, p < 0.01) and lower-body (r = 0.57, p < 0.01) strength. The PSPP Sport Competence correlated with ASPPA ratings of power (r = 0.45, p < 0.01) and PRO (r = 0.38, p < 0.05). The study's results highlight the benefits of strength and conditioning. Furthermore, these results demonstrate how physical changes are related to athletes' physical self-perceptions and self-assessment of ability within their teams.

1Departments of Exercise Science and Sport Studies; and 2Psychology, Springfield College, Springfield, Massachusetts

Address correspondence to Dr. Margaret T. Jones, mjones@spfldcol.edu.

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Introduction

Off-season strength and conditioning programs for collegiate female athletes are instrumental in helping to prepare for the sport season. The strength and conditioning professional's primary responsibility is to design and implement the off-season program. Common program goals are to reduce injury and improve performance. Documentation of change in performance testing helps strength and conditioning professionals to assess whether athletes are reaching specific goals. Published norms of performance tests are available (10); however, although valuable tools, they only provide information on physiological measures. What about the athlete's mood state or perceived readiness for competition? Has the training program adequately prepared the athlete in this area or has it resulted in overreaching or staleness? Does the athlete perceive the off-season training as beneficial? If strength and conditioning professionals are able to better understand and document psychological correlates of the performance variables measured during the off-season program, then they may become better able to help athletes enter their seasons well prepared for competition.

Mood states and their relationship to exercise have been widely assessed using the Profile of Mood States (POMS) (13,14,18,20,27). Those completing the POMS use rating scales from 0 (not at all) to 5 (extremely) for 65 words that describe feelings people have. Responses are grouped into 6 categories: Tension-Anxiety, Depression-Dejection, Vigor-Activity, Anger-Hostility, Fatigue-Inertia, and Confusion-Bewilderment (14,20). Previous research has addressed the mood states of athletes as related to their sports performance (26) as well as the profiles that depict their various mood states (17,19,25). The POMS is useful for predicting performance outcome but less effective in prediction of level of achievement (5). Of particular interest are the changes in the profiles of moods of athletes who are overtrained or in a stale mood state (4,12,16). Psychological and physiologic assessments have been found to be in close agreement in competitive swimmers, thereby indicating the importance of monitoring both psychological and physical factors for prevention of staleness (24).

Whether mood state changes are related to strength and conditioning program effects has been the focus of only a few studies (23). Assessment of changes in mood states during a 5-week strength and conditioning program for male collegiate basketball players found all of the mood scores, except for Confusion-Bewilderment, became more negative as the training regimen increased (23). However, when the training volume was reduced, the mood scores returned to baseline, indicating the POMS may be an adequate assessment tool for strength and conditioning professionals (23). Using the POMS could provide information about staleness and overtraining in relation to an off-season strength and conditioning program.

In addition to determining the athlete's mood around the training program, it may also be of use to determine the athlete's self-perception of the training. How do they feel about themselves as the training progresses? Self-perception can be assessed by the Physical Self-Perception Profile (PSPP), which was developed by Fox and Corbin (8) using a college student population. The PSPP includes the following subscales: Sports Competence, Attractiveness of Body, Physical Condition, Physical Strength, and a general or overall measure of Physical Self-Worth. With this multidimensional scale, it is possible to assess changes in specific physical self-perceptions that may be associated with specific strength and conditioning programs.

The PSPP has been used in studies that assess changes in physical self-perceptions as a consequence of conditioning programs. Caruso and Gill (6) conducted a quasi-experimental pretest-post-test analysis of changes in self-perceptions of female undergraduate students involved in resistance training, aerobic exercise, or an activity class control group. Although there were changes in physical self-perceptions over the 10-week program, these changes were unrelated to a specific exercise/activity group (6). To more effectively observe differences, it was suggested that future researchers randomly assign subjects to groups and include no-activity control groups (15).

Asci et al. (2) randomly assigned female university students to an aerobic dance, a step aerobic, or no-activity control group for training. All subjects were pre- and post-tested with the PSPP. No significant group effects were found. However, concerns about insufficient training intensity were raised. Training intensity was increased in a subsequent study, with university students randomly assigned to either a step aerobic or no-activity control group, supporting the hypothesis that physical training did produce positive change in PSPP scores from pretest to post-test (1).

Time is always of concern to those working with athletes; therefore, scales must be quick to administer if adding psychological measures to the performance testing battery is to be a viable option. With this in mind, we developed a scale entitled the Athlete's Self-Perception of Physical Abilities (ASPPA), which consists of 5 items that must be ranked by the athlete.

The current study consisted of a 12-week off-season strength and conditioning program as well as pre- and post-testing sessions that included physiologic performance testing and psychological measures of collegiate women who were members of varsity field hockey, softball, and soccer teams. These 3 teams were chosen because they have accomplished records in both conference and postseason play. In addition, all 3 teams were successful participants in the college's strength and conditioning program. The primary purpose of the study was to establish how physical and psychological measures were related in 3 different sport groups of female athletes completing a 12-week strength and conditioning program. It was hypothesized that improvements in performance testing would be positively correlated with psychological measures. Given that the ASPPA has not been used before, a secondary purpose of the current study was to assess for construct validity evidence by correlating scores from the ASPPA with post-test performance and PSPP subscales.

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Methods

Experimental Approach to the Problem

All athletes participated in a supervised off-season strength and conditioning training program, which lasted approximately 12 weeks with performance testing in weeks 1 (pre test) and 14 (post-test). Testing was completed over 2 days separated by 48 hours under the direct supervision of a certified strength and conditioning specialist (CSCS). On day 1, the women completed the informed consent, psychological measures (POMS, ASPPA, PSPP), and the upper- and lower-body maximal strength tests. Psychological measures were completed before physical testing in a quiet classroom and were always supervised by the same trained test administrator. Athletes were instructed to complete the POMS, ASPPA, and PSPP on the basis of how they were feeling at that moment. There was no time limit placed on the subjects, and all worked independently of one another. On day 2, the athletes completed the 30-yd sprint (30 SP), pro agility run (PRO), vertical jump (VJ), and standing long jump (SLJ). Adequate recovery time between tests and trials was provided. Data were included in an analysis if the subject completed both the pretest and post-test for that particular variable.

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Subjects

Subjects were NCAA Division-III female collegiate varsity athletes (N = 75) from 3 sports: soccer (n = 28), field hockey (n = 28), and softball (n = 19). All women were medically cleared for participation and signed a consent form to participate in the study. Approval for the research was granted by the college's institutional review board.

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Procedures

Maximum Strength

The protocol established by the National Strength and Conditioning Association (3) was used to conduct 1 repetition maximum (1RM) bench press and back squat testing to measure upper-body strength and lower-body strength, respectively. Athletes completed a supervised warm-up before testing. A CSCS supervised the athletes and ensured that exercises were performed correctly. Standard weight lifting power racks (Samson Equipment, Las Cruces, NM, USA) were used for the 1RM tests. Athletes took a timed rest of 3 minutes between maximal attempts. After 2 failures, testing was stopped, and the best lift was recorded. A Safety Squat beeper (Bigger, Faster, Stronger, Salt Lake City, UT, USA) was used to ensure that each athlete squatted to the desired depth of 90o knee flexion.

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Lower-Body Power

The VJ and SLJ tests were used to measure power. For the VJ test, the Vertec (Sports Imports, Inc., Columbus, OH, USA) was used. Athletes were encouraged to use countermovements of the body and arms. The better of 2 jumps was recorded. For the SLJ, a standing long jump mat (SBP Products, Montreal, Canada) was used. Athletes completed 2 jumps, with the better of the 2 jumps recorded.

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Speed

Linear speed and lateral speed were measured with athletes permitted 2 trials of each test (Brower Timing Systems, Draper, UT, USA). The 30 SP was used to assess linear speed with timing gates set at 15 and 30 yd. Lateral speed was measured using the PRO test, which is also referred to as the 20-yd shuttle or 5-10-5 test. Athletes were permitted a 3-minute rest between trials, with the better of the 2 attempts being recorded.

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Mood States

The POMS (14) is an assessment of fluctuating and transient affective states measuring 5 negative moods (Tension-Activity, Depression-Dejection, Anger-Hostility, Fatigue-Inertia) and 1 positive mood (Vigor-Activity). Extensive factorial validity evidence and alpha reliability values are available (14), and the scale has been used in many studies with college students.

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Physical Self-Perceptions

The PSPP (8) is a 30-item scale designed to assess physical self-perceptions of college students. It consists of 5 6-item subscales including perceived Sports Competence, Attractiveness of Body, Physical Condition, Physical Strength, and an overall measure of Physical Self-Worth. Extensive validity and reliability evidence has been provided by the test developers (8).

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Athletes' Ratings (ASPPA)

The ASPPA was developed for this study to measure athletes' perceptions of their own upper-body strength, lower-body strength, power, linear speed, and lateral speed relative to their teammates. The women ranked themselves on a scale from 1 (much lower than others) to 7 (higher than others) on each of the 5 aforementioned items. Refer to Table 1 for the complete ASPPA scale.

Table 1

Table 1

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Off-Season Strength and Conditioning Training Program

Athletes from all 3 sport groups followed a similar 12-week off-season strength and conditioning program that was designed and implemented by the CSCS assigned to their team. Softball's training program took place in the fall semester, whereas field hockey and soccer athletes performed off-season training during the spring semester. Programs followed linear periodization and exercises were free-weight based. Training phases lasted 3 weeks; therefore, each team completed 4 training phases over the course of the entire semester. Specifically, athletes met 3 times each week to perform 2 whole-body lifting sessions and 1 speed/agility session. Refer to Table 2 for off-season lifting program template.

Table 2

Table 2

To remain in the program, all women were required to make up any missed workouts under the direction of their CSCS within 1 week of being absent. Weight selection for weekly workouts was based upon percentages of previously established 1RM values. Post-testing occurred in the 14th week. The weekly speed/agility session was typically arranged as follows: 15 minutes of dynamic flexibility warm-up; 30 minutes of agility, plyometrics or acceleration drills; 10 minutes of sport-specific conditioning drills; and 5 minutes of foam roller massage and stretching.

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Statistical Analyses

Descriptive statistics were computed for each of the variables. To evaluate changes from pretest to post-test in each dependent variable for the 3 sport groups, a 2 (time of testing) × 3 (sport group) analysis of variance with repeated measures was computed. Two multivariate analysis of variance with repeated measures (MANOVA) were completed for each inventory, PSPP and POMS. For both MANOVAs, the independent variables included time of testing (pre and post) and sport group (soccer, field hockey, and softball). For the PSPP, the 5 self-perception subscales were used as dependent variables, and for the POMS, the 6 mood state subscale scores were used as the dependent variables. To explore relationships among physical and psychological variables, Pearson correlation coefficients were computed. The alpha level was set at 0.05 for testing correlations as significantly different from 0.

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Results

The primary purpose of this research was to determine how physical and psychological measures were related in a group of female athletes completing a 12-week strength and conditioning program. It was hypothesized that improvements in performance testing would be positively correlated with psychological measures. The secondary purpose was to assess the ASPPA for construct validity.

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Performance Tests

The descriptive statistics for the physical performance testing dependent variables for all athletes are in Table 3. The number of subjects varied across the set of dependent variables because of missing data. For all performance test variables, the interaction effect between sport group and time period was significant (p < 0.05).

Table 3

Table 3

All 3 sport groups' scores experienced significant (p < 0.01) mean gains from pre test to post-test for both 1RM bench (Figure 1) and 1RM squat (Figure 2). Soccer athletes experienced the greatest percent change from pretest to post-test in both 1RM bench (18%) and 1RM squat (18.9%) when compared with field hockey (2.7%, 1RM bench; 5.8% 1RM squat) and softball (8.6%, 1RM bench; 8% 1RM squat) athletes.

Figure 1

Figure 1

Figure 2

Figure 2

Soccer was the only sport group to experience significant (p < 0.01) improvements in either the VJ (+3.6 cm) or SLJ (+3cm) after completion of the 12-week training period. Soccer players were also the only sport group to improve significantly (p < 0.05) in PRO testing from pre (5.40 s) to post (5.28 s). Linear speed (30 SP) scores were not analyzed because of a lack of data from each of the 3 teams.

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Psychological Tests

No significant main effects or interaction effect was found for the POMS. No significant main effects were found for sport group, and no interaction was found when analyzing the PSPP scores; however, a significant main effect was found for the Time factor. Post hoc analyses revealed that subjects perceived an increase in Physical Strength, possibly as a result of the 12-week training program. Mean scores for all PSPP variables are presented in Figure 3.

Figure 3

Figure 3

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Post-Test Performance and Psychological Test Correlations

Correlations among the 6 performance test variables and the 5 PSPP subscales were calculated and are presented in Table 4. Post-test perceived Physical Strength scores were positively correlated with the post-test 1RM bench press scores (r = 0.49, p < 0.01) and the post-test 1RM squat scores (r = 0.42, p < 0.01).

Table 4

Table 4

Correlations among post-test POMS and the post-test performance scores were computed. None of the mood states correlated significantly with any of the physiological measures. The correlations among the post-test PSPP scores and POMS mood states were computed. The 5 POMS negative mood states were inversely related to PSPP Physical Strength, with r values ranging from -0.30 to -0.42 (p < 0.05), suggesting that athletes who perceived themselves as having low physical strength also experienced greater negative moods. Subjects' positive mood on the Vigor-Activity scale was unrelated to physical self-perceptions, suggesting that factors other than physical self-perception affected those athletes' positive mood states.

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ASPPA and Performance Test Correlations

To determine construct validity, post-test results from the ASPPA were correlated with the post-test scores of the performance testing variables (Table 5). The athletes' scores from the ASPPA post-test were correlated significantly (p < 0.01) with scores from the 1RM bench press (r = 0.63), 1RM back squat (r = 0.59), PRO (r = -0.30), and 30 SP (r = -0.54). Athletes' ratings of their own ability in relationship to other athletes were strongly related to their maximal strength, speed, and agility. However, the correlations between post-test ASPPA and the VJ and ASPPA and post-test SLJ were not significantly different from 0. Thus, the ASPPA appears to be an acceptable measure of strength, speed, and agility but has less predictive validity with regard to power.

Table 5

Table 5

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ASPPA and Post-Test PSPP Correlations

The ratings given by athletes of the performance testing variables at the post-test (ASPPA) were correlated with PSPP subscale scores, and the results are listed in Table 6. The athletes' ratings of their power (r = 0.46 ) and upper- (r = 0.68) and lower- (r = 0.57) body strength were significantly (p < 0.01) correlated with PSPP Physical Strength scores at the post-test. Also, the ratings of power (r = 0.45, p < 0.01), lateral speed (r = 0.38, p < 0.05), and linear speed (r = 0.33, p < 0.05) were significantly related to PSPP Sport Competence post-test scores. The results of Tables 5 and 6 provide preliminary evidence for the construct validity of the ASPPA and support the ability of athletes to effectively rate their physical self-perceptions.

Table 6

Table 6

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Discussion

The current study was designed to explore relationships among physical and psychological factors associated with a 12-week strength and conditioning program and to assess the validity of the ASPPA scale. Discussion of results is presented in the following order: performance testing, POMS and PSPP, correlations among performance testing and psychological measures, and construct validity of ASPPA.

Vertical jump, 1RM bench, and 1RM squat values obtained in the current study were comparable with those published for female lacrosse athletes (7), which support the effectiveness of the selected testing protocols. Field hockey, softball, and soccer athletes experienced significant gains in upper- and lower-body strength as a result of participation in the 12-week off-season strength and conditioning program. Improvements in upper-body strength ranged from 2.7% among the field hockey players to 18% in the soccer athletes. Lower-body strength varied from a 5.8% increase in field hockey to 18.9% with soccer. These findings are consistent with those previously demonstrated in 1RM bench for female subjects after 12 weeks of strength training (21,22). Female athletes in the current study experienced similar percent changes to those reported previously for male football athletes in 1RM squat (11-20%) and VJ (1-4%) after 15 weeks of off-season strength training (11). Soccer was the only sport of the 3 tested that experienced significant improvements in VJ (+7%), SLJ (+5.6%), and lateral speed (-2.2%) as a result of the 12-week training program. It is unclear why the soccer athletes experienced the greatest gains over the 12-week training period. All athletes, regardless of their sport, followed primarily the same strength and conditioning program. Lifting intensity and volume were comparable, as were the speed/agility sessions. The only difference in exercise selection was among the assistance exercises performed near the end of the lifting sessions, but the volume was held constant for all sport teams. It is possible that the soccer athletes were less experienced in the weight room, making them of a younger “training age.” In a previous study, male rugby athletes of a younger training age achieved an 8% gain in VJ after a 14-week strength and conditioning program compared with a 5% gain in rugby athletes of a higher training age (9). Another possibility to explain the difference may be that the soccer athletes exhibited more effort during training. However, effort was not measured, nothing unusual was observed, and all athletes in the study appeared to be in compliance during training sessions.

Athletes' mood states were assessed by the POMS. It had been expected that changes in physical performance might be related to changes in mood. However, no statistically significant relationships between mood and performance or changes in mood over time were found. It appears possible that the lack of significant mood effects are a reflection of the myriad factors that contribute to athletes' mood states. Few studies have focused on whether mood state changes are related to strength and conditioning programs. In one previously published study in which a 5-week strength and conditioning program was implemented with male basketball players, mood scores became more negative as the training increased (23). This finding could be attributed to a rapid increase in training volume and intensity, leading the athletes to become overtrained. The lack of significant increases in negative mood scores in the current study suggest that the training program volume and intensity were safely below levels that contribute to staleness and overtraining.

In terms of athletes' self-perception on the PSPP, their perceived Physical Strength increased significantly from pre- to post-testing. This finding indicates that subjects felt stronger as a result of the 12-week strength and conditioning program, a finding also reported in previous research with male athletes (11). Pretest to post-test changes were not observed for athletes' Physical Self-worth, Sports Competence, Physical Condition, and Body Attractiveness. This may be a result of a lack of effects of the training program on these variables or to a ceiling effect on these PSPP subscales. The female athletes in this study indicated high levels of Physical Self-worth, Sports Competence, Physical Condition, and Body Attractiveness on the pretest, leaving little room for improvement on post-test scores. Indeed, the PSPP pretest means for the athletes in the current study averaged 15% higher than the mean values for the female subjects (n = 281) used by Fox and Corbin (8). Previous research in which no difference was found in PSPP scores cited training intensity as a possible explanation (2); however, the significant improvement found in performance testing in the current study supports the training intensity as being sufficient.

Post-test results from the 6 performance tests were correlated with post-test PSPP scores. A significant relationship was found between PSPP Physical Strength and 1RM strength testing. This finding appears to indicate that athletes understand the relationship between maximal strength testing and perceived physical strength. In other words, athletes who believed they possessed physical strength were, in fact, the ones who scored the best on the 1RM strength testing. It was of interest to the current researchers that the female athletes did not perceive a relationship to exist between the physical performance tests and Physical Conditioning or Sport Competence. However, upon closer examination of the 6 subscale items for the 2 respective PSPP subscales, it was concluded that the items may not effectively discriminate for the female collegiate athlete.

Post-test results from the 6 performance tests were correlated with the ASPPA ratings. The significant relationships observed between maximal strength testing and the ASPPA scores indicates that female athletes are quite competent at rating their strength levels in relation to those of their peers. Although a weaker relationship existed between variables, athletes were able to assess their linear and lateral movement ability relative to their teammates. Athletes appeared to be unclear about the role of power in sports performance as is evidenced by the lack of significant correlations among these variables.

When establishing construct validity, it is imperative to correlate new scale scores to similar testing instruments that have established measures of reliability and validity (28). Athletes' self-perception of strength on the ASPPA correlated significantly with their perception of Physical Strength on the PSPP, a well-established measure (8). In addition, athletes' self-perception of power and speed on the ASPPA was significantly correlated with their perceived Sport Competence scores on the PSPP. The correlations observed between the post-test performance measures and ASPPA ratings serve to further strengthen support for the establishment of construct validity of the ASPPA.

Future research is warranted to further examine the relationship between self-perception of performance and actual performance before and after training. It is uncertain as to what physiologic changes are mediating the psychological changes. It is possible that changes in muscle tone or body perception could be the cause. It is recommended that the training age of athletes be established and the perception of effort during workouts be assessed. In addition, it would be of interest to include both male and female athletes of similar sports.

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Practical Applications

The results of the current study suggest the following in female athletes: gains in maximal upper- and lower-body strength may be attained over a 12-week structured strength and conditioning program, but improvements in power and speed are more difficult to achieve. Athletes are able to effectively predict their strength levels relative to those of their teammates, but their assessments of power are less accurate. Athletes' changes in physical strength are matched by psychological changes in their self-perceptions.

The strength and conditioning professional should consider providing educational opportunities for athletes and sport coaches in which the relationship of strength, power, and speed development to sports performance is discussed, with particular emphasis given to the role of power. Goal setting for physical performance testing should occur in conjunction with the athlete, sport coach, and strength and conditioning professional. The ASPPA may be of use to the strength and conditioning professional for providing information on where athletes see themselves relative to their peers as well as in the establishment of goals for off-season performance testing. Consideration of psychological factors when training athletes may lead to higher-quality off-season training and better performance testing results.

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Acknowledgments

The authors thank the Springfield College student-athletes from field hockey, soccer, and softball who served as subjects as well as their sport coaches. They also acknowledge Matthew Stenson for his contribution to the study.

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Keywords:

agility; 1 repetition maximum testing; power; self-perception; speed; women

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