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Fulgham, A. (1999). Implementing a Psychological Skills Training Program in High School Volleyball Athletes. National Undergraduate Research Clearinghouse, 2. Available online at http://www.webclearinghouse.net/volume/. Retrieved December 6, 2023 .

Implementing a Psychological Skills Training Program in High School Volleyball Athletes

Sponsored by: LOBOSCHEFSKI TIM (tlobo@sbc.edu)
Most of the research on psychological skills training has compared elite athletes to non-elite athletes, and how they use these skills. Very few studies have examined whether high school athletes would be able to benefit from these same psychological skills if simplified. The purpose of this research was to see if high school athletes were able to benefit from the Psychological Skills Training Program where imagery and goal setting were implemented. Eleven participants from the female varsity volleyball team at a local high school were assigned to either a “ Psychology Skills” group or a “No Training” group. Throughout the study, participants completed a weekly pre- / post questionnaire and logbook examining the use and effect of their assigned training program. Separate (2x2) Analyses of Variance indicated a significant main effect on the coach’s effectiveness, the participants’ confidence in the coach to motivate the team, participants’ confidence, and the attitude of the participants. The benefits of a Psychological Skills Training program for high school athletes appear to be consistent with the benefit accrued from more elite athletes.

Sport and Exercise Psychology is the scientific study of people and their behavior in sport and exercise. Sport and Exercise Psychologists identify principles and guidelines that professionals can use to help adults and children participate in, and benefit from sport and exercise activities (Gould & Weinberg,1995). Sport Psychologists have two main objectives (1) learning how psychological factors affect an individual’s physical performance and (2) understanding how participation in sports affects a person’s psychological development, health, and well being. When a Sport Psychologist begins to work with an individual athlete or team, he or she will usually conduct what is called a Psychological Skills Training Program. This is a program designed to help an athlete improve their mental and physical skills at the same time. There are several myths about Psychological Skills Training. One myth is that Psychological Skills Training is only for the “problem” athletes. This is definitely not the case, as the skills they teach and the outcomes they effect are important for all athletes. Two subtypes of Sport Psychologists are Clinical and Educational. Clinical sport psychologists help athletes with eating disorders, substance abuse, personality disorders, severe depression, and psychotherapy. Educational sport psychologists work with athletes on goal setting, imagery, arousal regulation, concentration, and mental preparation. A second myth is that Psychological Skills Training programs are only for the elite athletes. This current research is aimed at introducing these skills to all athletes, not just for the elite athletes. Sport Psychologists work with young, developing athletes, special populations including the mentally retarded, the physically challenged, and the deaf. A third myth is that Psychological Skills Training provides “quick fix” solutions. Most coaches and athletes think these skill will be learned quickly and provide positive feedback in only a few sessions. In practices these skills take time to develop and require a lot of practice. Several studies have compared successful athletes to less successful athletes in terms of psychological skills. These studies revealed that the more successful athletes had better concentration, higher levels of self-confidence, had more task oriented thoughts, and had lower levels of anxiety when they used psychological skills. These athletes also showed more positive thoughts and more determination than the less successful athletes (Gould & Weinberg, 1995). Some themes that coaches and athletes find useful for using a psychological skills training program are arousal regulation, imagery, confidence building, goal setting, and self-talk. These skills need to be learned and practiced daily in order to expect any kind of improvement from the athlete. In the current research, student athletes were trained to use mental imagery and goal setting as part of their Psychological Skills Training Program. The reason why these two particular skills were chosen as part of the study was because most of the research that has been done on psychological skills training with elite athletes has used imagery and goal setting. Consequently, I wanted to show that imagery and goal setting could also be effective for high school athletes. Imagery involves recalling from memory pieces of information stored from experience and shaping these pieces into meaningful images. When an athlete uses imagery they should involve as many senses as possible and recreate or create the emotional felling associated with the task or skill they are trying to execute (Gould & Weinberg, 1995). The kinesthetic sense is the most important when trying to use mental imagery. Different theories maintain that imagery works by producing muscle activity, providing a mental blueprint, or improving other psychological skills. Some theories have received some support, which makes imagery more than likely to work in a variety of ways. The use of imagery should improve concentration, build confidence, control emotional responses, practice sport skills, practice strategy, and cope with pain and injury. Mental imagery should be used before and after practice, before and after competition, during the breaks of action, and when recovering with a pain or injury. If these skills are not used daily and during these suggested times then the skills will not be as effective and beneficial as they should be for the athlete. Goal setting and mental imagery, so far, have only been framed as to what they can do for the athlete, not on the necessary skills needed to be successful at these techniques. For Sports Psychologists, goal setting refers to the attainment of a specific standard of proficiency on a task, usually within a specified time (Gould & Weinberg, 1995). This defines an objective goal, which includes both performance goals and outcome goals. Outcome goals focus on achieving a victory in a competitive contest, whereas performance goals focus on achieving standards based on one’s own previous performance, not the performance of others. Also, performance goals are generally associated with less anxiety and superior performance during competition compared to outcome goals. Goal setting appears to work because the goals direct attention to important elements of the skill being performed. The goals mobilize performer efforts, the goals prolong performer persistence, and the goals foster the development of new learning strategies. There are ten basic principles to follow setting goals, they are: (1) set specific goals, not just “do your best” goals, (2) set difficult, but realistic goals, (3) set long and short term goals, (4) set performance goals for every outcome goal an athlete sets, they should never set several performance goals that will lead to that outcome, (5) write down goals, (6) develop goal-achievement strategies, (7) consider participant personality, (8) foster individual goal commitment, (9) provide goal support, and (10) provide goal evaluation. If an athlete follows these principles, then their goal setting should be successful for them. Research suggests that mental practice is as important as physical practice when trying to enhance a skill. Barr, Hall, and Rodgers (1990) compared elite athletes to non-elite athletes who were trained in the use of mental imagery. Athletes from six different sports, including both individual and team sports, were first given a questionnaire that asked them to rank themselves according to their skill level; either being novice, intermediate, advanced, or elite. This was done so that the researchers would not have to distinguish between the elite and non-elite athletes. They were also asked about four different levels of competition, they included: recreational league, local competitive, state competitive, and national/international level. One of the main hypotheses was that the players who compete at the national/international level would be more likely to rank themselves as elite, and would be more likely to use mental imagery more frequently and more effectively. On the other hand, the athletes who compete at the lower levels might rank themselves as an average athlete and would not use mental imagery as often as the elite athletes. The Imagery Use Questionnaire was then used to examine individual differences. The experimenters found that athletes’ ranking of their ability did not always match up to their level of competition. The athletes who used imagery more during competition than practice were more likely to use mental imagery right before a competition. Athletes who were involved in higher competitive sports ranked themselves, despite actual performance level, higher on the questionnaire than those in the lower level competitiveness. Most of the athletes considered imagery to be more effective and important during competition than during practice. Also, most of the athletes used imagery more in season than during the post season. Overall, imagery during competition helped the athlete maintain their focus, have self-confidence about their performance, and retain control of their emotions (Barr, Hall, and Rodgers, 1990). This supports the idea that mental imagery could enhance an athlete’s performance and could be effective in a Psychological Skills Training Program. Bunker and Heishmen (1989) examined international women who competed in a team sport and compared their strategies of mental preparation. Bunker and Heishmen chose the sport of lacrosse and their participants came from five different countries from the 1986 World Cup Tournament. Subjects ranged from the ages of 19 to 35 years old and all athletes were considered elite. Questions were asked about their lacrosse experience, native language, and their position on the lacrosse field. These questions set up the importance of mental preparation, the use of a Sport Psychologist, personal use of mental preparation, and what types of preparation the athlete used. Overall, Bunker and Heishmen found that mental preparation was considered to be very important to these players from each of the five countries when preparing for competition. When comparing mental practice to physical practice, 65% of the athletes considered mental practice to be important. Mental preparation strategies that were used most frequently included: visualization, mental practice, self-talk, dreams about playing, and relaxation. Successful athletes took more advantage of mental preparation than did the less successful athletes. (Bunker & Heishmen, 1989) This research on using mental preparation strategies helps support the idea that Psychological Skills Training is beneficial to athletes. Lerner and Locke (1995) suggested that assigned goals, competition and personality would have an affect on performance by the use of personal goals. Sixty undergraduate males from physical education classes participated in the task of sit-ups in one of four conditions. There were participants in the noncompetitive group that performed the task alone and were told to try to achieve the assigned goal. Participants in the competitive groups performed the task in front of a confederate. Here the confederate performed first and the participant was told to try and beat the confederate’s score. Participants in the “do your best group” performed the task alone and were told to try their best but were not given a specific goal. This particular study showed that competition as a form of goal setting, could affect goal commitment and the personal goal level. Performance is effected by personal goals and self-efficacy. There has been increasing improvement in elite athletes that use psychological skills training. However, there has been a question raised whether or not high school athletes can use these programs to enhance their performance. Are these psychological skills simplified enough for high school athletes? This is the question Hughes (1990) examined in his research on the non-elite, high school athletes. Participants were twenty-seven male athletes from the sports of football and basketball in the grades 9-12. Each participant was given a pre-questionnaire and post questionnaire and was asked to keep a daily logbook of their psychological skills training that would be checked once a week by the coach. Imagery, goal setting, and self-confidence were positive correlated with all of the questionnaires. These results indicate that a high school coach could train psychological skills to less skilled athletes. Hughes states that as important a factor as is talent, dedication, commitment, and hard work that the used psychological skills is to success at a particular sport (Hughes, 1990). Most research on psychological skills training has compared successful athletes to less successful athletes in how they utilize psychological skills. There have been few studies on examining how high school athletes use psychological skills. This research will look at varsity, female volleyball athletes where psychological skills training program will be implemented by using mental imagery and goal setting. The goals of this research are to educate the student athletes on psychological skills and teach them when and how to use them effectively during competition and before and after practice/competition. The hypotheses of this current research states that: by implementing a psychological skills training program using mental imagery and goal setting, athletes will have better concentration, more positive thoughts, and higher levels of self-confidence. These athletes will also experience lower levels of anxiety and an improvement of their physical skills in volleyball. High school athletes will benefit from this program without the use of a trained Sport Psychologist; consequently, with the use of the coach implementing the program. This research should give coaches and athletes more motivation to use psychological skills their particular sport.


A total of eleven participants that were recruited from the varsity, female volleyball team at a local high school. Before the participants were placed into their assigned experimental groups, team coaches ranked the players based on experience level, and this ranking was used to control for any possible imbalance in skill level amongst the athletes. Groups were assigned in such a was to maintain that both groups would have an equal distribution of skill prior to the beginning of training. Participants were either assigned to Group A where imagery and goal setting were implemented or Group B which was the control group for the experiment, which received no psychological skills training.

The independent variable was the assigned training for each group; Psychological skills training or no training. The design of this experiment was a (2x4) mixed factorial design, the factors being, two conditions of psychological skills training and four weeks of study. The conditions consisted of the skills group where imagery and goal setting were implemented and the no training group where no skills were implemented. In Group A ; the skills group, there was a total of six participants and in Group B there was a total of five participants. The study lasted over a four week period, where the experimenter met with each group twice a week and team members kept daily logs of their activities.

Before the participants were placed into their assigned groups they were each given a pre-questionnaire to complete. The pre-questionnaire focused on the confidence, anxiety, and attitude of the players perception of themselves, the teammates, and the coach. After each participant was assigned into their group, they were then given a logbook to complete each week. In each of the logbooks there were questionnaires for: before and after practice, before and after competition, and an evaluation form at the end. In the before and after practice/competition questionnaire, the questions focused on their expectations, confidence, attitude, and anxiety about their coach, team, and themselves. The intention of the psychological skills evaluation form at the end was to see how beneficial they thought the learned skills had been to them. In addition, it asked if they understood the skills that they had been taught, and if not, if they had any questions. Then at the very end of the study each participant was given a post questionnaire that again asked questions about their confidence, anxiety, attitude, and expectations of themselves, the coaches, and the team. The main focus of the post questionnaire was to see how each participant had changed from pre-test to post-test. Each questionnaire that was given to the participants was on a Likert Scale rating from one to seven. With one indicating the highest and seven indicating the lowest of what was asked to the athletes.

The first day of the study the experimenter went to the high school to formally introduce herself to the team. In this introduction the experimenter told the participants who she was and her purpose of being there. After the introduction was finished, the experimenter gave each participant an informed consent form for the parents to sign. Next, the participants completed a pre-questionnaire and then they were assigned to either group A or group B. The next session was set up for the next week. The experimenter met with the participants twice a week for a total of four weeks. Each of the groups met on the same day; either group A was met with first and then group B or the other way around. Each session for each group lasted approximately twenty minutes. The sessions were scheduled for either before practice or after practice. For the first session of each group, participants were told how important it was to keep everything that they learned within the group and not to talk to the other group about what they were doing or about what the other group was doing. The participants were then each given a logbook to complete every day that they had practice or competition. The participants were told how very important it was for them to complete the logbook truthfully in order for the study to be effective. The logbooks were collected at the end of the week and then the participants were given a new logbook to complete for the next week. The basic format for each session, excluding the first one, was as follows: discussion about the previous session and what there thoughts were on it, would learn a new skill, practice that skill, and then fill out their logbook if it needed to be completed for that day. In session 1, the Skills Group learned imagery. In this particular session, the experimenter explained to the participants what imagery was, and when and how they should use imagery. The experimenter had the participants practice imagery by each one of them visualizing themselves executing the skill they specialized in. For example, a setter would visualize herself setting the perfect set to her hitters; a hitter would visualize herself killing the ball down to the opponents. After the participants had visualized themselves doing the skill perfectly for about five minutes, then they visualized themselves doing it incorrectly for about five minutes. Once again the experimenter had the participants visualizing the skill again to make sure they were understanding exactly how mental imagery worked. In second session, the Skills Group learned goal setting. The experimenter had each of the participants set a personal goal and a team goal for the next game. While the participants were setting their goals, the experimenter also had them write them down so they would remember them and be able to look at them before and after the game. The third session the participants reviewed their goals to see if they had accomplished them. The last session the participants practiced imagery so they would clearly remember how to do the skill. Activities for the No Training Group sessions included looking over sports magazines, discussing improvements for the team; whether that be defense or offense, discussing previous scrimmages they had had, and talking about issues they had either with the coach or other teammates. For example, in the first session the experimenter gave each one of the participants a sports magazine to look over and read for about fifteen minutes and then the experimenter asked what they had gotten out of any of the articles they had read. After the four weeks were over, the participants were given a post questionnaire to complete. Once the questionnaire was complete the experimenter explained to the participants what the purpose of the study was and why they were split up into two different groups.

The overall design of the experiment was a (2x4) mixed factorial. The two conditions of the Skills Group and the No Training Group by a total of four weeks of study. The first results focused on the coach’s effectiveness for pre vs. post questionnaires. A 2(psychological skills training level) x 2(pre-test/post test) Analysis of Variance mixed factorial revealed a significant main effect on the coach’s effectiveness, F(1,9)=19.636, p<.05. The mean on the pre-test was 6.091 (SD=.831) and was 5.727 (SD=.905) for the post-test. These results showed that the team overall thought the coach would be very effective in the beginning of the season but at the end of the study the participants perceived the coach’s effectiveness to decrease and not be as effective. In addition, a significant interaction was found between the Psychological Skills Training and time of test, F(1,9)=19.636, p<.05. For the Skills Group, the mean remained at 6.167(SD=.753) for pre and post test. The No Training Group’s perception of the coach decreased dramatically from pre to post test. The mean perception of the coach’s effectiveness was 6.000 (SD=1.000) for pre-test and mean was 5.200 (SD=.837) for the post-test. The next results focus on the confidence on the team’s ability for the pre vs. post questionnaires. A (2x2) Analysis of Variance mixed factorial revealed a marginally significant main effect on how confident the participants were in the team’s ability to play volleyball, F (1,8)=4.091, p=.078. The players were more confident at the end of the study (post) as compared to the beginning (pre) of the study. The pre-test mean was 6.34 (SD=.674) and for the post-test mean was 6.636 (SD=.505) Additionally, a marginally significant interaction was found. The Skills Group confidence increased from pre to post questionnaire dramatically. The pre-test mean was 6.167 (SD=.753) and the post-test mean was 6.667 (SD=.516) The No Training group stayed the same from pre to post questionnaire. The mean perceived was 6.600 (SD=.548) A (2x2) Analysis of Variance revealed a significant main effect on how confident the participants were in the coach’s ability to motivate the team, F(1,9)=9.409, p<.05. Overall, the main effect of testing revealed that the participants were more confident in the pre-test than in the post-test. The mean perceived was 6.182 (SD=.874) for the pre-test and for the post-test, the mean was 5.455 (SD=1.293). The next results dealt with the Practice Questionnaires. A 2(PST)x2(before/after)x3(week 1,2,3) revealed a significant main effect of sessions from week to week, F (1,9)=8.153, p<.05. Overall, the main effect revealed that the confidence of the participants increased over a three week period of time. The largest increase happened between week 1 and week 2. The mean perceived for confidence of week 1 was 5.742 (SD=.804); week 2 mean perceived was 5.983 (SD=.823); and week 3 the mean perceived was 5.992 (SD=.930). This 2x2x3 Analysis of Variance also revealed a significant interaction for PST testing over the sessions from week to week, F (1,9)= 13.881, p<.05. The No Training Group had the largest increase of confidence from week one to week two. Mean for week one: 5.500 (SD=.987); mean for week two: 6.575 (SD=.492); and mean for week 3: 6.250 (SD=.772). The Skills group stayed relatively the same from week to week on their overall confidence. The mean for weeks one and three was 5.836 (SD=.813) and the mean for week two was 5.983 (SD=.823) A (2(psychological skills training groups)x2(psychological skills)x3(questionnaires)) Analysis of Variance revealed a significant interaction of testing in each group on the participants’ attitude for before and after practice questionnaires; F (1,9)=7.903, p<.05. The interaction revealed that the Skills Group’s attitude increased from before to after practice. The No Training group’s attitude decreased from before to after practice. The Skills Group mean was 5.783 (SD=.926) for before practice and the mean was 6.092 (SD=.735) for after practice. The No Training Group mean was 6.317 (SD=.618) for before practice and the mean was 5.917 (SD=.705) for after practice. Significance was also found in the before competition questionnaires. A (2x4) Analysis of Variance revealed a significant main effect on the participant’s expectations of their volleyball skills before competition, F (1,8)=15.883, p<.05. The Skills Group had lower expectations of their skills. The mean perceived was 5.208 (SD=.803) The No Training Group had higher expectations on their skills. The mean perceived was 6.375 (SD=.505). A (2x4) Analysis of Variance revealed a marginally significant main effect on the participant’s confidence before competition, F (1,9)=6.116, p=.0898. The No Training Group had higher confidence before competition. The mean perceived was 6.325 (SD=.762). The Skills Group had lower confidence before competition and the mean perceived was 5.188 (SD=.436).

One of the most important findings of the study, was a significant increase, over a three week period, in participants’ confidence in their ability to play volleyball supporting the main hypothesis. In addition, the largest increase in confidence level occurred between weeks one and two. Interestingly, although it was not hypothesized, the participants confidence level increased to the degree where they seemed to have lost confidence in the coach’s ability to motivate the team. Essentially, the participants acquired the skills necessary to motivate themselves instead of relying on the coach to do it for them. In the No Training Group, the confidence level remained the same throughout the study, as was expected from the hypothesis. There should not have been any change in confidence level at all in this group; however, interestingly there was a dramatic increase from week one to week two. The participants were unable to sustain a positive attitude throughout the duration of practice, which supported the hypothesis. Also, in the No Training Group, the participants thought the coach would be very effective at the beginning of the study; however, at the end of the study in the post questionnaire the effectiveness of the coach dropped dramatically. Unlike the “No Training” group where their confidence decreased, the hypothesis that with the implementation of a psychological skills program there should be more positive thoughts, was supported. Participants in the skills group were able to sustain an increased positive attitude throughout practice. The participants’ perceived effectiveness of the coach remained the same from pre to post questionnaire. A possible explanation for this result, may be due to the fact that the participants relied on themselves for motivation. However, there was a problem with the participants not filling out the after competition questionnaires, probably being either they were too excited because they had won or they were too upset because they had just lost a game. The results earlier revealed that the Skills Group increased and the No Training Group decreased from before to after practice. For after competition questionnaires, maybe the Skills Group would have increased their confidence had they filled out their questionnaires. Consequently, due to a lack of the participants practicing their goal setting and imagery skills, their confidence level failed to increase as it should have. Also, for the Skills Group, the participants had lower expectations on their skills before competition, whereas, the No Training Group had higher expectations on their skills. One possible reason for this, is that the Skills Group may set lower expectations before, so if they come out of the game with higher expectations than what they had expected, then it would make them feel like they had accomplished something whether they won or lost. Overall, there were some minor conflicts and problems that could be easily fixed in order for the psychological skills training program to be more effective for all athletes. For future research on this study some changes that would need to be made to make the study even more effective would first be monitor the participants more closely on completing their logbooks. One way this could be done is to collect them everyday to let the participants know the experimenter is serious about completing the logbook. Secondly, the participants need to also be monitored more closely on practicing the skills. One last thing that probably should be done if for future research is do the research on more than one team so there will be more participants and maybe there will be more significance’s. Overall, the research suggests that the training of the psychological skills of imagery and goal setting did have a positive effect on the participants when they were using the skills to their full potential. A simplified Psychological Skills Training Program seemed to benefit the high school athletes. Given these findings, coaches of high school athletic sports might be encouraged to implement this program to help their athletes; both in their mental skills but also for their physical skills both of which appear to be equally important to their “game.”

Barr, K., Craig, H., & Rodgers, Wendy (1990). The use of imagery by athletes in selected sports. The Sport Psychologist, 4, 1-10. Bunker, L., & Heishmen, M. (1989). Use of mental preparation strategies by international elite female lacrosse players from five countries. The Sport Psychologist, 3, 14-22. Gould, D., & Weinberg, R. Foundations of Sport and Exercise Psychology. Human Kinetics, (1995) pg. 247-249. Hughes, S. (1990). Implementing psychological skills training in high school athletes. Journal of Sport Behavior, 13, 15-21. Jambor, E., & Zhang, J. (1997). Investigating leadership, gender, and coaching level using the revised leadership for sport scale. Journal of Sport Behavior, 20(3), 313-317. Lerner, B., & Locke, E. (1995). The effects of goal setting, self-efficacy, competition, and personal traits on the performance of an endurance task. Journal of Sport and Exercise Psychology, 17, 138-152.

Submitted 3/13/99 11:55:22 AM
Last Edited 3/13/99 12:24:41 PM
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