Doctoral Dissertations

Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy



Major Professor

Craig A. Wrisberg

Committee Members

Jeffrey T. Fairbrother, Sandra P. Thomas, Joe Whitney


Psychological Momentum (PM) is a commonly recognized phenomenon in sport, yet remains one of the least understood (Taylor & Demick, 1994). Previous research examined PM using archival data (Gayton & Very, 1993; Gilovich, Vallone, & Tversky, 1985; Koehler & Conley, 2003; Silva, Hardy, & Crace, 1988), hypothetical and contrived scenarios (Eisler & Spink, 1998; Miller & Weinberg, 1991; Perreault, Vallerand, Montgomery, & Provencher, 1998; Vallerand, Colavecchio, & Pelletier, 1988), and actual performance (Mack, et al., 2008). More recently, Jones and Harwood (2008) used semi-structured interviews to examine participants’ perceptions of PM. However, their research was focused on the specific components of existing conceptual models. The purpose of this study was to explore athletes’ experiences of PM without a priori assumptions. In-depth phenomenological interviews were conducted with seven NCAA D-I intercollegiate and professional soccer, volleyball, basketball, and tennis players. Co-participants were asked the following open-ended question: “Think of a time that you experienced momentum in your sport and describe as fully as you can what stands out for you about that experience.” Audio-recorded interviews were transcribed verbatim. Qualitative analysis of the transcripts revealed a final thematic structure of five major dimensions that characterized these athletes’ experiences of psychological momentum: Instantaneous momentum, Created Momentum, Internal Indicators, External Indicators and Resistance. These major themes appeared against the contextual backgrounds of an Awareness of Momentum and Competitive Performance. Results were largely consistent with previous literature examining PM, but also included new findings not previously discussed in that research. For example, co-participants described experiencing Instantaneous Momentum from a single event. In addition, they also described a systematic approach to experiencing PM using strategies to alter performance leading to Created Momentum. Co-participants also described a critical level of Resistance required to experience PM. While perceptions of PM were described when this Resistance level was low, they were not described as having a significant impact on performance. Finally, co-participants described an Awareness of Momentum, suggesting they were aware of PM during competition but not directly focusing on it. Put simply, the strategies used during competition were directed towards performing more successfully, not towards the altering of PM.

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