Date of Award

5-2017

Degree Type

Dissertation

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy

Major

Kinesiology and Sport Studies

Major Professor

Rebecca A. Zakrajsek

Committee Members

Leslee A. Fisher, Jedediah E. Blanton, K. Stewart Waters

Abstract

Young athletes are routinely faced with stressors and competitive structures that collegiate and adult athletes face. Psychological skills training (PST) can provide young athletes with strategies and skills to cope with these stressors and ultimately influence sport performance (Vealey, 2007). To date, the only study exploring in-competition experiences of young athletes was with participants between 16 and 18 years of age (Van Raalte, Brewer, Rivera, & Petitpas, 1994). The current study is the first investigation on the in-competition experiences of children and adolescents in sport. Twelve elite young tennis athletes (M[subscript]age = 11.83) who trained within a Player Development program in the Northeastern United States and had been exposed to a PST program participated in this study. Match observations and post-match interviews were used to capture athletes’ match experience and in-competition psychological strategy use. As a result of thematic content analysis (Braun & Clark, 2006), eight themes and 19 subthemes emerged. These eight themes included (a) pre-match feelings, (b) pre-match preparation, (c) competition was used to practice skills and strategies, (d) in-match feelings, (e), in-match use of and rationale for psychological strategies, (f) athletes’ thoughts and behaviors during changeovers, (g) frequency of psychological strategy use, and (h) psychological strategy learning process. Findings support for the notion that early adolescent athletes are capable of understanding their thoughts, focus, and feelings during competitions and are able to use psychological strategies to regulate their emotions and positively influence psychological and physical performance outcomes. In addition, the results of this study provide compelling evidence for the effectiveness of the PST program.

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