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The Perception of Psychology and the Frequency of Psychological Strategies Used by Strength and Conditioning Practitioners

Radcliffe, Jon N.; Comfort, Paul; Fawcett, Tom

Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research: April 2013 - Volume 27 - Issue 4 - p 1136–1146
doi: 10.1519/JSC.0b013e3182606ddc
Original Research
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Radcliffe, JN, Comfort, P, and Fawcett, T. The perception of psychology and the frequency of psychological strategies used by strength and conditioning practitioners. J Strength Cond Res 27(4): 1136–1146, 2013—The study aimed to first examine the frequency of the psychological skills and strategies of strength and conditioning practitioners and second distinguish between demographic differences in relation to psychological skills and strategy use. The Strength and Conditioning Sport Psychology Questionnaire was developed to measure the frequency of use of 11 subscales. These consisted of goal setting, imagery, self-talk, mental toughness, attention control, relaxation, stress management, adherence, activation, self-confidence, and ego management. Each subscale demonstrated acceptable internal validity ale (mean interitem correlations ranged as 0.227–0.427). The instrument allowed up to 5 open-ended responses concerning skills considered most important to strength and conditioning practice and up to 5 psychological attributes considered detrimental within strength and conditioning. One hundred and two participants met the inclusion criteria (90 men and 12 women; age 34.7 ± 9.7 years; experience 7.4 ± 5.2 years; part time 36.5%; full time 63.5%). The respondents were registered with the following organizations: United Kingdom Strength and Conditioning Association: 41, National Strength and Conditioning Association: 48 and Australian Strength and Conditioning Association (ASCA): 48. Goal setting was found to be the most frequently used skill with mental imagery the least used with significant differences identified in the frequency of skill use. The strategies deemed to be most important were motivation and confidence with the most debilitating factors identified as a lack of motivation and a lack of confidence. When comparing demographics, overall skill use varied between practitioners with different experience with more experienced practitioners having greater skill use, both overall and particular individual skills. Participants accredited by the ASCA had a greater psychological skill use than those accredited by other bodies.

Directorate of Sport, Exercise, and Physiotherapy, The University of Salford, Salford, United Kingdom

Address correspondence to Jon N. Radcliffe, j.n.radcliffe@edu.salford.ac.uk.

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Introduction

Strength and Conditioning has developed from an amalgamation of various long-standing disciplines with the strength and conditioning practitioner being required to draw on knowledge from ranging disciplines such as psychology, biomechanics, nutrition, and exercise physiology. To date, the National Strength and Conditioning Association (NSCA) has conducted 2 studies into the job analysis of strength and conditioning practitioners (7,64), which has been used to determine both the NSCA professional guidelines and the examination criteria to for the Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist (CSCS) examination. As published by the NSCA, the Strength and Conditioning Professional Guidelines state that the ability to “use sport psychology techniques to enhance the training and/or performance of the athlete” is a scientific foundation required by certified strength and conditioning specialists (64). In addition, as a sport training practitioner in regular contact with the athlete, the strength and conditioning specialist is in an ideal position to contribute to the psychological aspects of training (5,33,53). Furthermore, the coach, rather than psychology titled professionals, has been previously identified as the favored provider of psychological support (53). As such, it would be beneficial for strength and conditioning practitioners to have knowledge of select psychological techniques and applications within applied practice.

The multifaceted role of a strength and conditioning practitioner has been examined in various contexts (21,22,24–27,56,57,68,77), ranging from the practices within various North American sports (22,24–27,77), the sources of scientific data and training upon which the strength and conditioner's practice is based (24), to job analysis, and demographics of coaches working at differing levels of competition (21,56,57,68). Despite the exploration of the responsibilities and practices of strength and conditioning practitioners, the research has focused predominantly on physical training strategies with a dearth of research examining the use of psychology within applied strength and conditioning practice. This is emphasized by the widely used “Strength and Conditioning Practices of Professional Strength and Conditioning Coaches” survey instrument (22,25–27,56,74), which focuses on various physical training practices with only the miscellaneous section of “unique aspects” offering scope to examine psychological skill use; consequently, such studies have failed to yield data indicating the use of psychological strategies within strength and conditioning practice.

Academic interest in psychophysiological research has led to a wealth of research exploring how psychological interventions affect variables pertinent to strength and conditioning with psychological interventions such as mental imagery (50,62), attentional focusing (34,54,82), video modeling (15,71,72), increased self-confidence (32,59,83), goal setting (8,38,80), and arousal-increasing strategies (58,79,81) examined. Holloway (45,46) suggested that it would be beneficial for strength and conditioning specialists to apply key psychological self-regulatory and self-expectancy theories and concepts such as imagery, goal setting, motivation, and self-talk to their clients individualized programs; however, there is limited research suggesting the use of such skills. Literature has examined the behavior of strength and conditioning professionals without objectively exploring the extent to which key psychological strategies (45,46) are implemented, or the perceptions towards the importance of such strategies. Such studies have used a combination of self-report inventories (12,52) and observation (37,55) with focus on coaching styles and behaviors. Through observational techniques, Massey et al. (55) led the way in determining the frequency of psychological skills used by strength and conditioning coaches. The study highlighted the value of motivational techniques within strength and conditioning with behaviors such as “hustle” and “praise” being observed however served as a concern that particular psychological strategies such as positive modeling were neglected in the observed sample.

The examination of how the psychological interventions are used by the strength and conditioning practitioner and the perceived importance of psychological components are vital steps in facilitating the development of strength and conditioning as an expanding discipline. This would therefore offer guidance in regard to scope for practitioner development. This study hypothesized that because of the documented benefits brought through the utilization of particular strategies, strength and conditioning practitioners will indeed use psychological strategies as part of their applied practice. It would be expected that strategies such as those to increase adherence to exercise and motivation will be valued as important and will be expected to be used frequently reflecting the existing work of Massey et al. (55). Conversely, it is to be expected that because of a perceived lack of awareness and time restraints particular strategies will be perceived as unimportant and underused. However, owing to lacking previous studies, it is unclear as to which skills will be neglected and the mechanisms for which the selection of psychological skills is based. This study will consider the perceptions of accredited practitioners from leading strength and conditioning professional bodies with an aim to quantify the frequency to which practitioners use psychological skills, the particular strategies perceived to be most important to strength and conditioning and to identify possible factors such as experience, and practitioner accreditation programs that account for variations in the use of psychological strategies. It is through analyzing such previously neglected variables that professional development can be targeted toward promoting the use of such key psychological strategies.

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Methods

Experimental Approach to the Problem

To address the research question, this study had 3 objectives: (a) To quantify the frequency of psychological skills and strategies used by accredited strength and conditioning practitioners, (b) to identify the most important psychological strategies and the most debilitating psychological characteristics as perceived by practitioners, and (c) to identify if any difference exists in terms of frequency of use between varying participant demographics.

The study required the construction and validation of a suitable survey instrument, the Strength and Conditioning Sport Psychology Questionnaire (SCSPQ). A sample of accredited strength and conditioning practitioners were requested to complete the instrument regarding the frequency of selected psychological strategies and open-ended questions allowing space to identify the most important and the most debilitating strategies and characteristics for their athletes. Through quantifying, the frequency of psychological skill usage measured using the SCSPQ comparisons could be made between the perceived frequency of psychological skill usage depending on both participant demographics and the psychological strategy in question. Nonparametric statistical analysis identified significant differences between the frequencies of psychological skill use. The alpha level from which to identify significant differences between subscale scores was set at <0.05. Open-ended questions invited participants to list the 5 most beneficial qualities and the 5 most detrimental qualities with the strength and conditioning environment. Subsequent qualitative analysis adopted the thematic analysis approach (28).

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Subjects

Before commencing the study, the Ethical Review Board of the University of Salford provided approval for the experimental procedures. Before participation, all subjects received an invitation containing participant information including clear explanation of the potential benefits and risks associated with the research, how the data will be handled, the dissemination of findings, and voluntary nature of the study. An e-mail contact was provided for the lead investigator should any potential applicants request additional information. Subsequent to receiving the participant information, participants' informed consent was received when participants clicked they wished to take part in the study (3). Participants were recruited through practitioner databases in which the participants were registered as an accredited member of either Australian Strength and Conditioning Association (ASCA) level 1 or above or United Kingdom Strength and Conditioning Association (UKSCA) Accredited Strength and conditioning Coach (ASSC). Mail shots were distributed via the NSCA through distribution channels that requested response from only accredited strength and conditioning practitioners accredited by the UKSCA (ASSC), the NSCA (CSCS), or the ASCA (ASCA level 1 or higher). The survey instrument directions reinforced that only strength and conditioning practitioners were eligible to take part. One hundred and four participants responded. Two participants did not meet the eligibility criteria of being accredited as a strength and conditioning practitioner by a recognized strength and conditioning association (UKSCA, NSCA, and ASCA). One hundred and two participants met the eligibility criteria comprising 90 men and 12 women with a mean age of 34.7 ± 9.7 years. Participants had a mean experience of 7.4 ± 5.2 years working as strength and conditioning practitioners; 36.5% of respondents were working part time, whereas 63.5% as full-time practitioners. Participants were registered with the following organizations: UKSCA Association: n = 41, NSCA: n = 48, and ASCA: n = 48. A number of participants were affiliated with more than one organization. Participants had ranging educational backgrounds (bachelors, masters, and doctoral qualifications in addition to vocational qualifications in related disciplines); however, there seems to be no relationship between the accredited practitioners affiliation and their educational background.

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Instrumentation

The SCSPQ initially comprised 44 items measuring the frequency of goal setting, imagery, self-talk, mental toughness, attention control, relaxation, stress management, adherence, activation, self-confidence, and ego management. Responses were on a 5-point Likert scale from “not at all” to “all the time.” The subscales were composed after a review of literature indicating the salient psychological strategies to strength and conditioning. Questionnaire content and wording was validated through expert critique of both a Chartered Sport Psychologist (BPS C. Psychol.) and Strength and Conditioning Specialist (CSCS*D, ASCC). Subsequent pilot testing used a sample of students from the MSc Degree in Strength and Conditioning at a United Kingdom university. Subsequent minor changes were made to the wording of questions, for example, “increasing arousal” was changed to “psyching-up.” An additional open-ended question required the respondents to identify up to 5 skills they felt most important to strength and conditioning practice and up to 5 psychological attributes that are detrimental within strength and conditioning. Participants were asked to provide select demographic data including age, years of experience, accrediting body, and the sports they were predominantly involved in (individual, team, or both equally) before completing the survey.

Using SPSS 16 (SPSS, Inc., Chicago, IL, USA), internal consistency of each subscale was measured using Cronbach's alpha. The reliability criterion was set at >0.6 because of the low number of items within each subscale (51). Subsequent item reduction was conducted to increase internal reliability (19). Thirteen items were removed resulting in a 31-item scale resulting in acceptable internal consistencies (α > 0.6) for goal setting (0.677), ego management (0.679), imagery (0.684), relaxation (0.658), stress management (0.608), and activation (0.675) subscales. Authors have documented the difficulty in achieving acceptable Cronbach's alpha levels with small number of items (42,51); therefore, Briggs and Cheek (11) recommend examining interitem correlations with mean interitem correlations ideally between 0.2 and 0.4. All subscales were deemed to have adequate internal consistency, correlations ranging from 0.227 (attentional control) to 0.427 (imagery and ego management).

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Procedure

Before approaching participants, ethical approval for the research procedure was granted by the Research Ethics Panel of the University of Salford. The survey was administered in electronic format using the Bristol Online Survey instrument (Bristol University, Bristol, United Kingdom). Convenience sampling used contacts collected from publicly available databases (UKSCA, n = 101; ASCA, n = 425) and through distribution on behalf by organization administration staff (British Association of Sport and Exercise Sciences [BASES], n = 111). The instrument was e-mailed with a covering letter introducing the research stating the demands, potential benefits, potential risks, and the voluntary nature of the study as well as dissemination procedures for the research findings. Participants received 2 follow-up reminders via e-mail and were thanked upon completion. The National Strength and Conditioning Association distributed the survey in the NSCA December e-bulletin to members on the mailing list (NSCA, n ≈ 26,000). The survey was active for a 7-month period (August 2010 to February 2011).

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Statistical Analyses

Descriptive statistics including mean values, SDs, and mean ranks for each of the subscales and subsequent a posteriori analysis with appropriate nonparametric tests was conducted using SPSS 16 (SPSS, Inc.). Nonparametric analysis was used because the data failed to satisfy criteria for parametric analysis owing to the wording of the Likert scale being subjective and not applicable to interval-level measurement, the convenience sampling methods used, and the data not having normal distribution (44). The Holm-Bonferroni method was used to counter family-wise type I error (47) because it is more powerful yet less conservative than the traditional Bonferroni procedure (1,30,75). The debate over the need for multiple comparison corrections is documented with advocates for and against using corrected levels of significance (30). Multiple comparison corrections serve to prevent the family-wise type I error; however, dispute lies with the apparent extent of the family (14,30) with the consequences of excessive corrections threatening type II error (70). For the purpose of this study, a family is termed as a number of comparisons directly relating to a single null hypothesis (30); statistical power was calculated using G*Power software, version 3.1.3 (29).

The Friedman test was used to identify significant differences in the frequency of psychological skill use with the critical value for significance set at <0.05. Subsequent analysis of variance between the frequencies of skill use was conducted using the Wilcoxon signed-ranks test with a Holm-Bonferroni correction to control for family-wise type I error (47). The pairs were nominated for analysis on the basis of the observed difference in the mean rank scores with the intention to identify the differences most relevant to this study on the presumption that larger z-values, effect sizes, and smaller alpha values will lie within other comparisons. The stringency of the criteria to be nominated for analysis was on the basis that excessive comparisons will be detrimental to the adjusted alpha value and risk type II errors.

Subjects were then categorized based on demographic criteria. This included experience, working predominantly with teams or individual athletes, and accrediting body. The Kruskal-Wallis test identified the presence of significant differences between the groups when split by experience, accrediting body, and working with team or individual athletes. Mann-Whitney tests highlighted location of the differences using the Holm-Bonferroni correction.

Open-ended questions asked respondents to list up to 5 psychological skills critical to the athlete's successful performance and up to 5 psychological factors that are detrimental to the athlete's performance. The responses were subjected to thematic analysis using NVivo 8 [QSR International Pty, Ltd., Version 8, 2008 (69)].

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Results

Frequency of Use of Psychological Skills Measure Using the Strength and Conditioning Sport Psychology Questionnaire

The results identify the rank order of the psychological strategies used by strength and conditioning practitioners. To the authors' knowledge, this is the first article to rank the order of the frequency of psychological strategies use as perceived by practitioners.

Descriptive statistics were calculated for the 11 subscales and the total subscale scores (Table 1). The Friedman test identified that there were significant differences between psychological skills in terms of frequency of use in the frequency of psychological skill use (χ2 = 293.053, df = 2, p < 0.000). This therefore supports the hypothesis that differences exist between the frequencies of use of particular strategies.

Table 1

Table 1

Subsequent pairwise analysis was performed with pairs selected subjected to the Holm-Bonferroni correction. Six pairs were identified on the basis to identify the smallest significant differences while preserving an appropriate significance value.

Thus, after scrutinizing the data for apparent mean and mean ranked subscales differences, 6 pairs were identified for a posteriori analysis using one-tailed Wilcoxon signed-ranks test. Significant differences existed between goal setting and adherence (z = −2.678, p = 0.004, d = 0.38, power = 0.98), self-talk and activation (z = −1.728, p = 0.042, d = 0.17, power = 0.53), activation and attention control (z = −2.892, p= 0.002, d = 0.29, power = 0.88), stress management and relaxation (z = −2.750, p = 0.006, d = 0.23, power = 0.71), self-confidence and ego management (z = −2.005, p = 0.023, d = 0.27, power = 0.83), and imagery and ego management (z = −2.270, p = 0.012, d = 0.24, power = 0.75). It must be acknowledged that additional larger differences are assumed to exist between subscales.

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Comparison of Strategy Use Between Experience Levels

When comparing differing demographics, there were significant differences in the frequency of skill use depending on the respondents' experience thus fulfilling a subsequent aim of the study by identifying differences between demographics relating to skill use. Table 2 shows the comparison between the frequencies of psychological skills of practitioners with differing levels of experience.

Table 2

Table 2

When grouped by experience, 0–4 years (n = 33, age 29.21 ± 8.1 years), 5–9 years (n = 34, age 32.8± 6.1 years), and 10 years and more (n = 35, age 42.5 ± 9.4 years), the Kruskal-Wallis between groups test yielded significant differences in the frequency of use of imagery2 = 15.293, df = 2, p < 0.001), attentional control (χ2 = 6.669, df = 2, p = 0.036), stress management (χ2 = 9.327, df = 2, p = 0.009), self-confidence2 = 8.746, df = 2, p = 0.013), and total skill use (χ2 = 12.927, df = 2, p = 0.002).

Subsequent a posteriori analysis using Mann-Whitney test with a Holm-Bonferroni corrected significance values identified that the imagery (z = −3.700, p < 0.001, d = 1.21, power = 0.999), attentional control (z = −2.480, p = 0.007, d = 0.61, power = 0.78), stress management (z = −2.951, p= 0.002, d = 0.83, power = 0.96), self-confidence (z = −2.953, p = 0.002, d = 0.76, power = 0.92), and total skill used (z = −3.499, p < 0.001, d = 0.96, power = 0.99) was significantly greater in the 10 years and more group compared with the 0–4 years experience group.

Self-confidence (z = −2.088, p = 0.019, d = 0.52, power = 0.66) was used significantly more by the 5–9 years experience group than the 0–4 years experience group.

Imagery (z = −2.828, p = 0.003, d = 0.67, power = 0.67), stress management (z = −2.050, p = 0.020, d = 0.48, power = 0.60), and total skill use (z = −2.216, p = 0.019, d = 0.56, power = 0.71) were used significantly more in the 10 years and more group compared with the 5–9 years group

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Comparison Between Respondents Accrediting Bodies

With respect to identifying potential difference between accrediting bodies, a subsequent objective of the study was achieved by identifying potential factors relating to the use of psychology within strength and conditioning practice.

Respondents were grouped into categories according to the respective accrediting bodies. These were ASCA (n = 36, age 36.6 ± 10.2 years, experience 9.22 ± 7.4 years), NSCA (n = 24, age 33.75 ± 9.8 years, experience 6.58 ± 5.5 years), both NSCA and ASCA (n = 12, age 35.8 ± 8.3 years, experience 11. 3 ± 6.3 years), and both NSCA and UKSCA (n = 20, age 33.8 ± 11.5 years, experience 8.0 ± 7.0 years). Using the Kruskal-Wallis test, the results yielded significant differences between the frequencies of total psychological skill use of respondents from different accrediting bodies (χ2 = 10.220, df = 3, p = 0.017). The Kruskal-Wallis test show that significant differences existed between the frequencies of select psychological skill usage of respondents from different accrediting bodies. Differences existed in the frequency of attentional control strategies (χ2 = 10.865, df = 3, p = 0.12), relaxation strategies (χ2 = 10.673, df = 3, p = 0.014), stress management strategies (χ2 = 8.129, df = 3, p = 0.43), and ego management (χ2 = 13.351, df = 3, p = 0.004).

One-tailed a posteriori Mann-Whitney test with the modified Holm-Bonferroni correction (47) identified differences between the ASCA group and both the NSCA and UKSCA groups with ASCA having a greater total psychological skill (z = −2.892, p = 0.002, d = 0.94, power = 0.95), attentional control (z = −2.904, p = 0.002, d = 0.88, power = 0.95), relaxation strategies (z = −2.295, p < 0.001, d = 1.00, power = 0.97), stress management strategies (z = −2.571, p = 0.005, d = 0.74, power = 0.82), and ego management strategies (z = −3.153, p = 0.001, d = 1.01, power = 0.97) than both the NSCA and UKSCA groups.

Furthermore, differences existed, although not achieving significance when subjected to the modified Holm-Bonferroni correction (47), between the ASCA and the NSCA groups. The ASCA having a greater total psychological skill use (z = −2.348, p = 0.019, d = 0.61, power = 0.71), with use of greater attentional control strategies (z = −2.323, p = 0.020, d = 0.59, power = 0.70) than the NSCA group.

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Factors Important to Success and Factors Debilitating to Performance

Table 3 shows the most commonly cited psychological aspects critical to an athletes' success and judged by the sampled practitioners. Respondents highlighted that the most important psychological attributes relevant to strength and conditioning were motivation, confidence, and commitment with 63.37, 51.49, and 48.51%, respectively, of respondents identifying such characteristics as important for success within strength and conditioning. Table 4 presents factors considered detrimental to strength and conditioning training by strength and conditioning practitioners. This showed that a lack of motivation, a lack of confidence, stress, and anxiety were the most often reported causes of a poor performance with 54.46, 45.54, and 32.67%, respectively, of the respondents stating such issues.

Table 3

Table 3

Table 4

Table 4

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Discussion

As was hypothesized, it was apparent that strength and conditioning coaches use and value psychological skills; however, as expected, an imbalance between the use of particular strategies was observed. As predicted, adherence-increasing strategies and goal setting were widely used, whereas complex strategies, namely mental imagery, were used the least. It was highlighted that there is a difference in the frequency of using psychological strategies within the prescribed practice of strength and conditioning practitioners. Furthermore, when comparing between groups, it was apparent that there are differences in psychological skill use depending on the level of experience of the practitioner and also the body through which the practitioner gained accredited status.

The most used strategy was the use of goal setting. This was in line with the existing research showing that short-term goals are among the most commonly used psychological skills in physiotherapy (4,5,43) and in athletic training (84). The perceived increased use of goal setting is most likely owing to the nature of strength and conditioning practice using established targets and physiological benchmarks from which to determine the effectiveness of a training intervention. It is also probable that the increased use of goal setting is dependent upon the strength and conditioning specialists' perception of the previous success using the strategy. Indeed, Sullivan and Hodge (76) have previously identified goal setting as a strategy coaches had most success using. Furthermore, with the reported lack of time to use psychological strategies (17), it is likely that coaches will focus their use of psychological strategies on those perceived as most beneficial to the neglect of other skill sets. The high frequency of goal-setting strategies is encouraging with numerous academics advocating such strategies with the use of goal setting being a major determining factor between successful and unsuccessful athletes (23,66).

Conversely, the least used strategy was imagery, mirroring the existing knowledge that imagery was considered unimportant and difficult to prescribe by athletic trainers (40,84) and underused within physiotherapy (4,5). The lack of prescribed imagery interventions could be for numerous reasons. Primarily, it is possible that there is uncertainty of the applications of imagery within strength and conditioning, either the benefits of imagery interventions or the methods of instructing imagery. The lacking promotion of imagery is supported by the widely documented reason for neglecting psychological being a lack of understanding (5,20,40,43,63,85) with sports coaches and athletes previously reporting that among other skills, imagery and visualization are areas in which they would like more information (39). An important consideration is time demands required for the athlete to become adept at using prescribed imagery strategies. Consequently, athletes may perceive imagery as an ineffective tool causing practitioners to have a negative attitude toward the use of imagery as was observed in a sample undergoing physiotherapy rehabilitation (35). The lacking use of imagery is problematic, notably because of the benefits elicited through imagery training toward increased strength (50,89), electromyographic activity (87), technique development (65,73), stress regulation (86), and program adherence (61).

The lacking use of imagery, and indeed additional psychological strategies, may be accounted for because of the nature of the discipline; previous studies show that coaches working with athletes in both practice and competition were reported to encourage the use of imagery in a competition setting compared with practice (48). Thus, with the strength and conditioning practitioner being concerned with training, it is possible that use of particular psychological strategies are undervalued and perceived less relevant to training compared with competition, reflected in various studies when mental skills have been shown to be used less in training compared with competition (36,78). The perceived lack of importance of psychological strategies in practice has been identified previously and serves as a concern that skills are being used less in a practice setting. Durand-Bush and Salmela (23) have identified that the use of psychological strategies by expert performers are shaped through practice, during daily activities, and in conjunction with training activities. This would suggest that the strength and conditioning practitioner could play a critical role in the development of psychological skills with transfer of such skills into competition to compliment physical development. Therefore, education into the importance of psychological skills in training and indeed transfer to completion should receive increased emphasis within practitioner development.

In identifying critical psychological strategies, motivation and confidence were among the most important, whereas correspondingly a lack of confidence and a lack of motivation were the most debilitating factors. Although the importance of motivation was reflected in the frequent use of certain strategies such as goal setting and increasing adherence, there is an imbalance between the perceived importance and the frequency of use of self-confidence shaping strategies. Possible reasons for such a disparity may be either that practitioners feel that confidence is an innate characteristic unable to be modified or that there is lacking knowledge in the techniques to increase self-confidence. Likewise, it is possible that the respondents are using strategies promoting confidence that are not included within the survey instrument. The survey instrument focused on established sources of self-efficacy such as vicarious experiences and past accomplishments, the latter being regarded as the most influential source of self-efficacy (9,10,88); however, the use of verbal persuasion received limited coverage within the self-confidence subscale. The effects of verbal encouragement have previously been shown to benefit lifting performance significantly (60), and the use of “hustle” and “praise” have been observed previously within strength and conditioning (55). Despite not observed in this study, it is therefore probable that practitioners use verbal persuasion as a source of increasing confidence; however, they are not using additional strategies to increase athlete's self-confidence.

As hypothesized, it was apparent that the use of psychological strategies is related to experience. Various reasons could account for this. First, it is possible that as previously identified practitioners develop their skills “on the job” as observed in physiotherapy and sports coaching (49,76) as such gain more experience and confidence in implementing psychological strategies and consequently prescribe more than their less experienced counterparts as reflected in the practices of athletic trainers (40). As a result, despite having the prerequisite knowledge of psychological skills and its importance, practitioners may not have sufficient confidence, fostered through experience, to implement such strategies. Second, strength and conditioning practitioners are required to maintain their respective accreditation. For example, the UKSCA, the ASCA, and the NSCA have the “Continual Professional Development (CPD) model,” the “updating procedure,” and the “Continuing Education Program,” respectively. An accredited practitioner must demonstrate advancement to maintain their accreditation status, usually via documented hours of practice or though attending relevant training (64). As a result, practitioners are required to attend training and reflect upon successful and unsuccessful aspects of their practice, thus potentially shaping their applied practice. It should however be noted that the training sessions attended are at the discretion of the practitioner; there is no requirement to attend CPD sessions with an emphasis on psychology per se. Furthermore, it has been documented that despite an interest in psychology and an awareness of the benefits of implementing such strategies, few physiotherapists, similarly having to maintain a CPD record, have attended training concerning the use of psychological strategies (49). The effectiveness of CPD training and procedures concerning the use of psychological strategies and indeed the sources influencing psychological skills is an area worthy of further investigation.

When drawing comparisons between practitioners accredited from various accrediting bodies, the NSCA, UKSCA, and ASCA, it is apparent that respondents accredited by the ASCA had a greater global psychological skill use, using such skills as imagery, self-talk, attentional control, relaxation, and stress management strategies more than their counterparts accredited by other organizations. Unfortunately, many of the respondents had duel accreditation; consequently, this study cannot differentiate between those accredited by the NSCA and UKSCA. Further research is required to ascertain if a difference exists between the psychological skills and strategy use of those practitioners having been accredited with the UKSCA and those accredited with the NSCA. There are proposed reasons for the increased use of psychology by practitioners. First, it is possible that culture has a pivotal role in the use of psychology with the majority of UKSCA accreditations practicing in the United Kingdom and similarly most ASCA practitioners surveyed being located in Australia (44 of 48 ASCA accredited practitioners). For example, Sullivan and Hodge (76) documented that coaches and athletes from New Zealand considered psychology as very important devoting on average 12% of their contact time to teaching psychological strategies to their athletes with some coaches reported to spending up to 30 hours per week teaching psychological strategies, despite 73% of coaches perceiving themselves to have insufficient knowledge. Conversely, it is apparent that within certain areas of sport in the United Kingdom such as Association Football in which with coaches portrayed a negative perception of psychology (67). The disparity between cultures has previously been identified with athletes from New Zealand being more open with less stigmatization toward the use of psychology than those observed in the United States and in the United Kingdom (2). Indeed, athletes from New Zealand demonstrated a greater positive perception toward using psychology than those athletes from the United States and the United Kingdom; furthermore, Anderson et al. (2) identified that “subjective norms” were predictive of athletes' likelihood to be receptive of psychological skill use suggesting cultural influences shaping the use of psychology. The reduced receptivity toward psychology use may have two implications. First, it is likely that the Strength and Conditioning practitioner may share a skeptical perception toward psychology fostered within cultural influences and thus be reluctant to use psychological strategies. Second, it is possible that the athletes' reduced receptivity will reduce the effectiveness of any psychological strategies consequently resulting in a reduced perception toward the effectives of psychology and subsequent reduced use of particular strategies.

A second potential explanation would be the perceived lack of understanding toward implementing psychological strategies. This is broadly cited as a major cause inhibiting the use of psychology (5,20,40,43,63,85). Thus, it is pertinent to examine differences in educational procedures between various accrediting bodies. The ASCA Strength and Conditioning coaching course is split into 3 levels with stage 1 having a component regarding “modifying training programs to suit the psychological development of the athlete” (6) with competence measured via direct observation. The NSCA CSCS assessment contains multiple choice questions to assess competence in using “sport psychology techniques to enhance the training and/or performance of the athlete.” Conversely, there is no apparent assessment of psychological competencies in the UKSCA Strength and Conditioner Practitioner assessment. It has been reported that when exposed to the use of psychological strategies, in turn gaining more understanding, practitioners are more likely to implement such psychological skills (33). This would indicate that strength and conditioning practitioners accredited through the ASCA may have increased exposure to psychological strategies though either initial training or applied practice, and CPD consequently may be a more beneficial CPD model to adopt to promote the use of psychological strategies.

It should be noted that this study had limitations. Importantly, it is noteworthy that completion of the survey was voluntary; therefore, it could be assumed that the findings are biased toward practitioners with an interest in sport psychology and possibly having an increased perception of skill use. The study was based on the perceptions of the respondents. Consequently, the subjective nature could have caused discrepancies of the rating scale with respondents potentially having different perceptions of time demands. The self-report survey could present a social desirability bias. Further research should consider using a multidimensional approach with triangulation including observational techniques to verify the responses. Additionally, the survey instrument subscales did not offer scope for assessing specific method of goal-setting strategies, the various styles of imagery, or methods of increasing self-confidence. Furthermore, it was beyond the scope of this study to identify the quality of the psychological skills and strategies used. Although it is encouraging that strength and conditioning practitioners are implementing psychological strategies, future studies must address the effectiveness of implementing such strategies. Furthermore, additional research would be well directed to the reasons why particular strategies are implemented or neglected. This would provide important consideration regarding the training and CPD that the strength and conditioners undergo and provide direction for future strategies to promote psychology within strength and conditioning.

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Practical Applications

The strength and conditioning practitioner is a valued member of the sport support team and coupled with being in a critical role should be well equipped to develop the psychological skills of the athlete, both to facilitate strength and conditioning training and to offer a valuable environment in which to rehearse assorted psychological strategies in preparation for competition. Areas should be addressed through CPD to offer a greater scope of strategies to the strength and conditioning practitioner thus benefiting the athletes and the profession as a whole. Practitioners would be well advised to attend sessions to gain confidence in using psychological strategies and likewise organizations should make such sessions readily available to attend and endeavor to promote the use of psychological strategies. Respective CPD programs should endeavor to promote the use of psychology within the discipline though offering training methods that incorporate the active practice of psychology. Strength and Conditioning professionals should critically reflect on the use of psychological strategies within their practice, identifying positive aspects brought through psychological interventions and areas in which improvements could be made. Through critical reflection, “on the job” learning can be enhanced. Reflection would promote a greater awareness and development of currently used strategies, for example, the use of goal setting, and encourage a problem solving mindset needed to select appropriate beneficial psychological strategies within the strength and conditioning field. Practitioners should be given the opportunity to attend active training sessions whenever possible in which the practitioner is exposed to practical scenarios and role-playing situations because this has many proven benefits at least in providing the practitioner with confidence to implement strategies and is the approach recommended for athletic trainers (16).

Strength and Conditioning practitioners should collaborate with additional support staff and athletes to foster an atmosphere receptive of psychological interventions liaising with additional support staff including coaches and psychologists where applicable to facilitate the psychological development of athletes. To promote the benefits of psychology, strength and conditioning practitioners should incorporate an education phase regarding the benefits of their prescribed psychological strategies in line with recommendations regarding psychological skills training (13). The education should not only be in respect to training improvements but also how psychology can be used in competition and the requirement to practice psychological skills in the same way physical skills are acquired. Strength coaches should recognize the potential influence they could have on the athletes they support and how they incorporate psychological strategies used in competition.

Such examples would exist through manipulations of self-efficacy through the use of goal setting. As previously identified, the manipulation of athlete perceived goal difficulty can have a facilitative effect on efficacy (31,83,88). Consequently, through the use of manipulated goals, it is possible that the athlete is able to progress from a training plateau and subsequently allow the practitioner to continue to progressively increase the athletes training loads. Further examples would concern the use of attentional focusing techniques. For example, simply instilling an external focus of attention has been shown to yield increased force production (54,90). Consequently, through instructing an athlete to focus on the bar when lifting or to jump and reach a target is likely to yield increased force production when compared with instructing using internal focusing cues such as drive with your legs. These are simplistic instances of using psychological strategies to provide training performance gains with direct implications for physical performance within competition. Furthermore, skills such as mental imagery and self-talk have been shown to facilitate power exercises (50,81) with both methods identified as adaptive strategies to increase confidence, motivation, focus, and technique (18,41). Thus, while particular skills can be used in training, for example, to improve motivation or to facilitate technique acquisition, such skills have direct applications toward competition, with parallels existing concerning the need to focus attention, increase confidence, or to regulate anxiety during competition. Consequently, the benefits of being adept at using psychological skills in competition is a crucial component of success and as such should be afforded time during practice to refine such skills.

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Acknowlegments

There are no conflicts of interest associated with the present research. There are no professional relationships with the authors and any potential organizations benefiting from the present research. The results of this study do not constitute endorsement of any of the accreditation or professional development programs processes discussed in the present study by either the authors or the National Strength and Conditioning Association. The authors are grateful for the help in distributing the survey from the British Association of Sport and Exercise Sciences and the National Association of Strength and Conditioning.

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Keywords:

psychological skills; goal setting; confidence; motivation; imagery; professional development

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