The aim of the present study was to examine the psychological preparation strategies often used by soccer coaches with their players and teams, as well as to ascertain where and why they employed these strategies. Thirteen elite coaches from Portuguese Premier Soccer League clubs were interviewed. Globally, results showed that the participants used a considerable set of strategies and activities with psychological effects in training, competition, and outside these environments. However they exhibited a limited use of psychological techniques, specifically in the practice setting. Overall, the findings seem to suggest that the participants mostly based their psychological intervention on their vast experience as coach, as well as during their soccer playing careers. Practical implications and future directions to enhance the psychological preparation of soccer players and teams are discussed.
Key words: beach psychological preparation, psychological techniques, Portuguese elite soccer teams, qualitative study, coach's perspectives.
Nowadays, the importance of psychological preparation in the development of athletic performance is well known. According to Gould and Maynard (2009), psychological preparation can be viewed in several ways. For these authors, it can be broadly defined as anything athletes do to prepare themselves for sport involvement, or in a more specific manner in terms of techniques used by athletes to ready themselves for specific athletic tasks (e.g. visualization to aid in the execution of a balance beam routine). In the current study, psychological preparation is defined as ''those cognitive, emotional, and behavioural strategies athletes and teams use to arrive at an ideal performance state or condition that is related to optimal psychological states and peak performance either for competition or practice'' (Gould, Flett, & Bean, 2009, p. 53). Based on the work of Vealey (1988), a distinction is also made between psychological skills or states the athlete is trying to achieve (e.g. stress management, concentration, self-confidence and motivation) and the methods or cognitive or behavioural strategies the athletes use to arrive at these states or skills (e.g. goal-setting, imagery, relaxation and self-talk).
Research has shown that athletes of several sports can benefit from the use of psychological techniques to improve sport performance (Frey, Laguna, & Ravizza, 2003; Rogerson & Hrycaiko, 2002; Thelwell & Greenlees, 2003). Goal-setting, relaxation, imagery and self-talk are the four psychological techniques more often referred to in the sport psychology literature. However, in order for athletes' to successfully apply these and other psychological techniques they need to learn the basic principles of each technique and be taught the most effective way to use them. Bertollo, Saltarelli, and Robazza (2009) stated, that some athletes may be helped to learn, refine, and practice psychological techniques aimed at gaining personal control of debilitative states and improving psychophysical conditions that facilitate performance. Psychological skills can be developed by elite level performers in formal settings when, for example, they decide to undertake sport psychology consultancy, or in informal ways through the influence of significant persons, such as coaches, (Durand-Bush & Salmela, 2002; Gould, Dieffenbach, & Moffett, 2002).
The coach is the manager of the team and therefore has great influence in the psychological development of their athletes and teams. According to Gould and Maynard (2009), they facilitate this development in several ways, including emphasizing certain things such as hard work, discipline, having fun, having characteristics that facilitated athlete trust, providing encouragement and support, directly teaching or fostering psychological skills, and by understanding the athletes. Furthermore, coaches have the power to allow or not allow the interference of external collaborators (e. …