The Effect of Theoretically-Based Imagery Scripts on Field Hockey Performance

By Smith, Dave; Holmes, Paul et al. | Journal of Sport Behavior, December 2001 | Go to article overview
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The Effect of Theoretically-Based Imagery Scripts on Field Hockey Performance


Smith, Dave, Holmes, Paul, Whitemore, Lisa, Collins, Dave, Devonport, Tracey, Journal of Sport Behavior


This study examined the application of a Langian imagery perspective (Lang, 1979, 1985) to a real-life sporting task, namely field hockey penalty flick performance. Twenty-seven novice hockey players were randomly assigned to either one of two imagery groups, or a control group. Participants in one of the imagery groups received stimulus and response proposition-laden imagery scripts, while the other received stimulus proposition-only scripts. All imagery participants imagined performing twenty penalty flicks three times per week for seven weeks, and control participants performed no imagery or physical practice during this period. Pre- and post-tests consisted often penalty flicks, with performances recorded for all groups. The response proposition group improved to a significantly (p [less than].05) greater degree than the stimulus proposition-only group, which in turn showed greater improvement (p [less than] .05) than the controls. Results support the application of bio-informational theory to sport and indicate that imagery scripts should be laden with response propositions to maximize their effectiveness.

During the past century, over a hundred studies have examined the effects of imagery on motor skill performance (Murphy, 1990), and most have shown imagery to be an effective performance enhancement technique (see meta-analyses by Driskell, Copper & Moran, 1994, and Feltz & Landers, 1983). The typical method in such investigations has been to perform a pre-test on the relevant skill, then split participants into three groups that perform equal amounts of either physical practice or imagery, or do nothing at all. Generally, the physical practice group performs significantly better on a post-test than the imagery group which, in turn, performs significantly better than the control group.

These studies have provided extremely valuable information as to the usefulness of imagery in enhancing the performance of many different motor skills. However, few sport psychology studies have attempted to examine either the mechanism(s) through which imagery enhances performance, or the relative effectiveness of different types of theoretically-based imagery interventions. Thus, the sport psychology literature to date has offered limited help to sport psychologists, coaches and athletes who wish to know not only whether imagery can enhance performance of a particular motor skill, but also how best to implement an imagery intervention to produce optimal results (Keil, Holmes, Bennett, Davids & Smith, 2000; Murphy, 1990).

One theoretical position from mainstream psychology, which has received increasing attention from sport psychologists (Bakker, Boschker & Chung, 1996; Collins & Hale, 1997; Hecker & Kaczor, 1988; Keil et al., 2000), is bio-informational theory (Lang, 1979, 1985). According to this theory, all knowledge is represented in memory as processed, abstract units of information regarding objects, relationships and events. These units of information are termed propositions, of which there are three fundamental categories: stimulus, response and meaning propositions. Stimulus propositions are the descriptive referents relating to the external environment. For example, taking a penalty flick in the final minute of a close field hockey match would involve the stimulus propositions of the sight of the goal and the noise made by the crowd. Response propositions describe the responses of the individual to the stimuli in the scene. These responses can include motor activity, such as limb and eye movements, and autonomic changes such as sweating and alterations in heart rate. For example, responses in the above situation might include muscle contractions, dry mouth, sweaty palms and increased heart rate. Meaning propositions are analytical and interpretative, adding components of information not available from the stimuli in the situation. They define the significance of events and the consequences of action.

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