Hanton, S., & Jones, G. (1999). The acquisition and development of cognitive skills and strategies: I. Making the butterflies fly in formation. The Sport Psychologist, 13, 1-21.

This study extends the findings of previous research that elite performers, compared to nonelites, interpret their pre-performance cognitive and somatic anxiety symptoms as more facilitative than debilitating to performance. In-depth interviews were conducted with male elite swimmers (N = 10) and content analyzed.

It was concluded that participants' skills and strategies were acquired via natural learning experiences and various education methods. Four areas of developmental themes throughout the swimmers' careers were revealed. They are listed below.

  1. Early unwanted negative experiences. Developmental experiences taught how to cope with or remove these.
  2. Learned at an early age that nerves can be positive.
  3. Precompetition routine that maintained a facilitative mind-set.
  4. Prerace routine, comprising a familiar set of behaviors that are performed in the prerace period. Those behaviors facilitate nervousness and focus mental content on the impending task.

Implication. There are mental skills that need to be learned and practiced to facilitate good competitive performances.

[Note: How the features listed above can be developed in swimmers is described in detail in the book Personal Best (Rushall, B. S. (1995), Sports Science Associates). The value of using that book with age-group swimmers was reported in the following refereed research article: Rushall, B. S., & King, H. A. (Fall, 1997). Effects of a workshop intervention on competitive performances of age-group swimmers: Two investigations. Journal of Swimming Research, 12, 19-26.]

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