Academic journal article Research Quarterly for Exercise and Sport

A Season-Long Investigation of Competitive Cognition in Collegiate Wrestlers

Academic journal article Research Quarterly for Exercise and Sport

A Season-Long Investigation of Competitive Cognition in Collegiate Wrestlers

Article excerpt

There has been a great deal of interest in understanding psychological factors associated with optimal performance. This interest has led sport psychology researchers to examine the experience of optimal performance (e.g., Garfield & Bennett, 1984) and compare optimal and nonoptimal performance (e.g., Gould, Eklund, & Jackson, 1992a, 1992b, 1993), successful and unsuccessful performance (e.g., Highlen & Bennett, 1979), and elite and less elite performers (e.g., Mahoney, Gabriel, & Perkins, 1987). The results of such investigations have provided a useful information base for practitioners involved in athletic performance enhancement. However, current understandings of associations between psychological factors and quality of performance are far from complete, and the identification of various methodological concerns (e.g., Gould et al., 1992a, 1992b, 1993; Heyman, 1982) make even this limited knowledge seem quite tenuous.

For example, Gould and his colleagues (Gould et al., 1992a, 1992b, 1993; Eklund, Gould, & Jackson, 1993) have recently reported the results of an extensive investigation of psychological factors associated with 1988 U.S. Olympic wrestling success. Detailed among these reports were findings regarding competitive cognition and affect--thoughts and feelings occurring during performance (Gould et al., 1992b). Specifically, marked differences were noted on examination of retrospective data regarding cognition and affect during all-time best and Olympic worst matches. All-time best performance featured a sense of total concentration, absorption, and involvement and feelings of intensity and confidence. As well, cognitive content was found to be strategy-focused with reference to focusing/refocusing techniques. Gould and his associates suggested that the wrestler descriptions of all-time best performances bore distinct resemblance to findings from research examining positive performance states (e.g., Csikszentmihalyi, 1975, 1990; Garfield & Bennett, 1984; Ravizza, 1984). Csikszentmihalyi (1975), for example, indicated that major components of the flow experience include a merging of action and awareness; absorption into the task; loss of self or ego; feelings of control; clear, noncontradictory demands for action; unambiguous feedback; and an autotelic nature.

By contrast, Olympic worst performances were characterized by ineffective cognitive patterns featuring task-irrelevant thoughts, negative thoughts, a general lack of focus, and negative feeling states. Also associated with Olympic worst performances were references to poor strategy selection, such as trying to be overly aggressive or using restricted effort and nonadherence to competition plans. Gould and his colleagues (1992b) noted that these findings were consistent with what might be expected based on the results of studies investigating successful and less successful athletes (e.g., Gould, Weiss, & Weinberg, 1981; Highlen & Bennett, 1979; Mahoney et al., 1987). For example, Williams and Krane (1993), after reviewing such literature, concluded that less successful and less elite performers tended to be less self-confident, less able to concentrate, more likely to become distracted or preoccupied with failure or outcome thoughts while having fewer success thoughts, less committed and motivated, and less able to cope with anxiety than their more successful counterparts.

In addition to best and worst performances, Gould et al. (1992b) also reported results regarding cognition and affect during matches identified by the wrestlers as their most crucial Olympic match. Because crucial match performance quality ranged from Olympic worst to all-time best, coherent patterns were not apparent in the data until examined in the context of descriptions of performance quality. Upon such scrutiny, observed patterns of cognition and affect were reminiscent of the contrast between all-time best and Olympic worst performances. …

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