In sport, athletes encounter external factors (e.g., superior opponents or hostile audiences) and internal factors (e.g., negative thoughts) that test their limits. Personal protective qualities—including certain personality characteristics, psychological skills, desirable outcomes, and meta-constructs (e.g., resilience)—can help athletes endure the potential negative impact of these external and internal factors. However, the conceptual overlaps and contradictions among personal protective qualities make it difficult for sport psychology practitioners and researchers to clearly communicate in their practice and research. There is also a need for more personalised evidence and theory-based ways to assess and enhance athletes’ psychological strategies in sport, which is one of the most malleable subgroups of personal protective qualities. In accordance with the abovementioned needs, the overall aim of this thesis is to better understand and advance athletes’ personal protective qualities in sport. Supporting the overall aim, the operational aims of this thesis are to 1) improve the conceptual clarity of personal protective qualities, 2) advance the ways in which athletes’ psychological strategies in sport are assessed, and 3) improve the ways in which athletes’ psychological strategies in sport are enhanced. Supporting the first aim, I first propose a new, more nuanced classification of personal protective qualities in sport. Subsequently, Study 1 (Chapter 3) undertakes a narrative review of the conceptual overlaps and differences between the protective meta-constructs, which leads to a checklist for sporting experts. To achieve the second aim, Study 2 (Chapter 4) develops an applied new method—the Profile of Psychological Strategies (ProPS)—that assesses the perceived effectiveness of athletes’ psychological strategies. As a continuation of Study 2, Study 3 (Chapter 5) evaluates the convergent, divergent, concurrent and known-group validity and test–retest validity of the ProPS with 101 competitive athletes. It also evaluates the immediate utility of filling in the ProPS with the same group of athletes. Finally, in line with the third aim, Study 4 (Chapter 6) develops a bespoke and user-friendly ProPS-based tool to improve the effectiveness of athletes’ psychological strategies in sport, informed by previous literature, theory and sport psychology practitioners’ and athletes’ feedback. The new classification of personal protective qualities proposed in the literature review (Chapter 2) can help practitioners to better understand their athletes and provide more tailored service and mental skills training. Using the checklist in Study 1, practitioners and researchers can clearly see the key points of each protective meta-construct in sport and how these constructs compare to each other based on those key points. The same checklist also allows researchers to create a new meta-construct or classify their existing meta-construct in relation to key points and other existing protective meta-constructs. From Study 2, sport psychology practitioners can use the ProPS as a quick screening tool at pre-consultation or as part of a more detailed needs analysis during consultation. Researchers can use the ProPS to measure the effectiveness of athletes’ psychological strategies at different timepoints in intervention studies. In Study 3, the ProPS was found to have good preliminary levels of divergent validity and immediate utility, as well as acceptable levels of known-group, concurrent and convergent evidence, and test–retest reliability. Athletes in higher resilience and/or lower concentration disruption groups tended to report higher levels of effectiveness in selected psychological strategies. Study 3 acted as a guideline for those evaluating their own applied instruments, including two tables that can be used when deciding on which methods of validity and reliability to use. Based on Study 4, while planning and developing their own strategy enhancement tools, methods and programs, sporting experts can utilise some elements of the general desirable outcomes, the content and active mechanisms and complementary topics extracted from interviews with practitioners and athletes. Together, the new classification and this series of studies provide a novel insight into the nature of the personal protective qualities available to athletes when coping with the challenges of sporting competition. This provides a better understanding of the conceptualisation, measurement and advancement of personal protective qualities and especially psychological strategies in sport.
|Date of Award||2021|
|Supervisor||Richard Keegan (Supervisor), Andrew Flood (Supervisor) & Peter Hassmen (Supervisor)|