Smyth, P., Masterson, L., & Kearney, P. (2009). Effects of cognitive-behavioral intervention program on the anxiety level and performance of gymnasts in a competitive environment. A paper presented at the 14th Annual Congress of the European College of Sport Science, Oslo, Norway, June 24-27.

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This study assessed the effects of a cognitive-behavioral intervention program on performance, anxiety and confidence in female competitive adolescent gymnasts (N = 10). Ss were pre-tested in a simulated competition environment for state anxiety and self confidence on the CSAI-2 test and on balance beam performance. The competition environment included an audience made up of parents, gymnasts, “march on” music, and two qualified judges who scored performances. At a gymnastic camp the following week, all Ss underwent training which included practice on the balance beam. In addition half of the group underwent cognitive-behavioral training based on Suinn’s (1994) visual motor behavior rehearsal (VMBR) program. The other half did not undergo this training and acted as a control. VMBR combines muscle relaxation, controlled breathing, and use of mental imagery to visualize a relaxed scene, a previously experienced successful competition scene, and an upcoming competition scene. As manipulation checks, gymnasts were asked to rate the clarity of images, levels of relaxation, and the feel of imaged movements. They were also instructed to practice the procedures at home and to record comments in a log which would be discussed at the beginning of the next session. Ss were retested at the end of the week and again one week later (for retention) in the same competitive environment as the pre-test.

The intervention group showed significant improvements in performance on the balance beam along with reduced cognitive and somatic anxiety and increased confidence. The control group showed no improvements in performance or changes in anxiety and confidence.

Implication. A structured psychological intervention program can be effective for controlling anxiety and enhancing confidence and performance in competitive sport situations. There is also support for incorporating psychological training into the physical practice of skills and for involving young performers more intimately in their psychological training. One limitation of this study was the lack of control for a placebo effect.

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