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date: 24 February 2020

(p. xix) Preface

(p. xix) Preface

From 2009 to 2011, my scholarly life [SM] has revolved around editing this volume, The Oxford Handbook of Sport and Performance Psychology. It has been a very exciting time. From the beginning, the Handbook was built on the principle of examining the broad spectrum of research and practice on the psychology of excellent performance, in sport and in many other domains. To my knowledge, this is the first volume to attempt such an enterprise, and I owe my contributing authors an enormous debt of gratitude for tackling this project with such enthusiasm, perseverance and, yes, excellence. I am sure they began to tire of my hands-on approach as I questioned, probed, and pushed them to address the broadest possible range of performance psychology issues. They answered the challenge magnificently, and my excitement grew as I read each new chapter and realized the great depth and scope of the research being presented. There are so many chapters in this Handbook that are truly groundbreaking, bringing together knowledge from a variety of domains and sources and looking at the question of the psychology of excellent performance in innovative ways. I am confident that you will experience this tangible sense of excitement as you read the chapters of the Handbook.

As I look back over the past two decades of work in sport and performance psychology, it is interesting to note the gradual focusing of attention on performance issues. As the field has matured, there has been a surge of interest in the psychological factors that influence performance and enable high levels of performance to occur. As a result, there has been much debate over the essence of the field and appropriate areas of emphasis. Where once an interest in sport and physical activity chiefly defined the field, a movement has been under way to instead define sport and performance psychology as primarily reflecting interest in issues of performance, in sport and other domains. This trend can clearly be seen in several recent developments. For example, within the Oxford Library of Psychology, a separate volume is being published under the editorship of my colleague Ed Acevedo, The Oxford Handbook of Exercise Psychology. Publishing separate volumes on exercise and on sport and performance reflects the reality that research in these fields has focused on different issues and that there has been such a great amount of research in both areas that trying to combine them would do a disservice to both. Another example is the appearance of the new Journal of Sport, Exercise and Performance Psychology, due to begin publication by the American Psychological Association in 2012, under the editorship of Jeffrey Martin. This is the first academic journal to use the title “performance psychology,” and although it includes all three interest areas, it acknowledges that: “The third and unique branch of Sport, Exercise and Performance Psychology reflects the growing interest in performance with strong physical elements by individuals who cannot be viewed as either athletes or exercisers” (Martin, 2011, p. 1).

In researching the debate on the appropriate focus for our field, I find it fascinating that I first addressed this issue in print 16 years ago, when I edited Sport Psychology Interventions (Murphy, 1995) for Human Kinetics Publishers. In my introductory chapter to that volume, I discussed proposals that practitioners move away from defining themselves as “sport psychologists” and establish a separate field of “performance enhancement.” I concluded that there was little to be gained from such an approach and much to be lost. My summary of the argument is still convincing to my modern self:

It seems unwise to deny the historical and theoretical roots of such [performance enhancement] approaches. The danger of “reinventing the wheel” is apparent. As this book illustrates, there (p. xx) is much more to be gained from recognizing the intellectual roots of the field and drawing on them in fresh and creative ways. The variety of intervention models described in this book is a testament to the vibrancy of the field of psychology and to the opportunities for incorporating a variety of approaches into the applied practice of sport psychology.

(p. 11)

It seems clear that the resolution of this issue, established in the following years, has indeed been to reject dividing sport psychology and performance psychology into separate fields, and instead a consensus has emerged among researchers and practitioners that the best approach is to regard sport and performance as complementary foci of attention. Thus, the term “sport and performance psychology” has gained widespread acceptance. For those readers who wish to consider these issues in greater depth, many excellent discussions are contained in this volume. I especially recommend the wonderful overview chapter by Kate Hays, and the critical analysis offered by Dave Collins and Sara Kamin in The Performance Coach chapter.

I believe we still have work to do in bringing clarity to these issues. One issue I encourage researchers and practitioners to consider is the question of the primacy of performance as a focus of both research and intervention. There are those who argue that a focus on improving performance is the defining feature of sport and performance psychology (Newburg, 1992), those who see performance as just one possible focus of intervention (along with others such as health or happiness, c.f., Whelan, Meyers, & Donovan, 1995), and those who see a focus on performance as a dead end for the field, one that distracts us from helping the whole person (Andersen, 2009). Having spent much of the past 2 years considering this issue, I believe that there may be more agreement among these competing viewpoints than is recognized. Simply put, I think that a focus on performance is the central focus of sport and performance psychology, but that there is no reason to think that such a focus is antithetical to a consideration of the needs of the individual in the context of his or her entire life. Sport and performance psychology has evolved toward a holistic approach that considers the life of the whole person while nonetheless maintaining the central focus on performance itself. There are no life issues than cannot potentially impact performance for good or ill, and therefore there are no issues that are out of bounds for consideration by the effective sport and performance psychology practitioner. For example, important issues such as injury, an eating disorder, a troubled family relationship, or a deleterious tendency toward perfectionism (all of which are covered in chapters in this Handbook) may all interfere with an athlete's or performing artist's performance. Thus, the skilled sport and performance psychology practitioner will identify the key issues and intervene appropriately in each such situation. In some cases, this may result in a referral out or bringing a colleague into the consultation. In some cases, the resulting interventions may include some or many aspects of traditional psychotherapy. Yet, I would maintain that performance issues can remain the focus of intervention. There are many intervention approaches and strategies that the skilled performance consultant can utilize to effect change—but it is not the techniques and strategies that define performance psychology. I have seen the argument that consultations can move from a performance focus to a clinical focus and back again, and that such moves are reflected in changes from using psychological skills training (PST) to doing psychotherapy, but I reject this argument. Psychological skills training is simply a collection of intervention techniques, not a framework for consultation. If issues (e.g., alcoholism, obsessive-compulsive disorder, marital distress) arise that interfere with performance, they must be dealt with, and psychotherapy may be the best technique to employ to improve performance. Thus, it is not a matter of moving from a focus on performance to a focus on health or vice versa, but a matter of moving between different techniques in the pursuit of improved performance.

We believe there are strong theoretical and historical justifications for this approach. From the beginning, history's great thinkers have always considered worldly performance (p. xxi) as an important part of a complete human life; it is difficult to find a great thinker who has scorned performance. Even the Eastern traditions, often regarded as antithetical to achievement and worldly striving, offer support for one who believes in the importance of human performance. Siddhartha Guatama, the Buddha, who is widely misperceived in the West as advocating a recluse's detachment from worldly things, joyfully propounded the central importance of human performance. Right Effort, the energetic will to perform rightly in the world, is one of the spokes of the central Eightfold Path. Further, the Buddha maintained that one of the four keys to a layperson's happiness in life is excellent accomplishment born of persistent effort—that by “whatsoever activity a householder earns his living [ . . . ] at that he becomes skillful [ . . . and knows and performs] the proper ways and means.” Not even the Buddha, then, who said that all attachment and desire is dukkha [suffering] and should be eliminated (which seems so shocking to anyone with the Western “thirst to win” mentality) was opposed to the study and improvement of human performance (Rahula, 1974).

The great scholar Confucius, whose ideals have shaped world history in inestimable ways, was not a particular fan of athletic performance, castigating in his Analects two Chinese princes who focused their efforts on the disciplines of archery and rowing, respectively (Confucius, 1995). Yet, although he disdained sport, Confucius considered human performance so important that he flatly decreed that “if a man has reached forty or fifty without being heard of [acquired a good reputation through his performance in proper duties], he, indeed, is incapable of commanding respect!”

If we look to the Western philosophical traditions, it is even harder to find a great thinker who would say that human performance is not of central importance. Perhaps the closest we can come are the Greco-Roman philosophers of the Stoic school, famous for their assertion that virtue alone is sufficient for happiness and that all worldly goods, honors, and accolades are unnecessary. But even among the Stoics, the absolute importance of hard-won exceptional performance was accepted. Epictetus, the liberated slave whose handbook is one of the most widely read reviews of Stoic philosophy, tells us that we must not only engage in but succeed in what we turn our efforts toward in this world, for it is “impious for a man to withdraw himself from being useful to those who have need of our services.” The key, Epictetus asserts, is that we must execute our performances mindfully, as he makes clear when he says, “A man wishes to conquer at the Olympic Games. I also wish indeed, for it is a fine thing. But observe both the things which come first, and the things which follow; and then begin to act.” In fact, Epictetus the Stoic delivers one of the most remarkable defenses of hard-won, true-grit performance in the history of early Western thought. Epictetus tells us that we must pursue our loftiest, most difficulty won ideals “as if they were laws, as if you would be guilty of impiety if you transgressed any of them.” He then goes on to tell his reader that:

You are no longer a youth, but already a full grown man. If then you are negligent and slothful, and are continually making procrastination after procrastination, and proposal after proposal, and fixing day after day, after which you will attend to yourself, you will not know that you are not making improvement, but you will continue ignorant both while you live and till you die. Immediately then think it right to live as a full-grown man, and one who is making proficiency, and let every thing which appears to you to be the best be to you a law which must not be transgressed. And if anything laborious, or pleasant or glorious or inglorious be presented to you, remember that now is the contest, now are the Olympic Games, and they cannot be deferred; and that it depends on one defeat and one giving way that progress is either lost or maintained.

(Epictetus, 2004, p. 21)

If we can find such a rousing defense of the importance of performance in the writings of Epictetus, how much more support can a proponent of performance find in the writings of Aristotle? Aristotle indisputably places the centrality of performing well in all the activities of our lives at the very center of his philosophy. Action and performance is key to the (p. xxii) Aristotelian worldview; “activities are, as we have said, what really matters in life,” Aristotle writes in his Nicomachean Ethics, and Aristotle means not only activities, but excellently performed activities. Aristotle is willing to say that “without qualification, in the same way in every case” the only path to goodness for a man is to excel in performance. He explains, “for the characteristic activity of the lyre-player is to play the lyre, and that [the characteristic activity] of the good lyre-player to play it well.” For Aristotle, mere possession of superior skills is an irrelevant distinction; one must perform well in the world to win happiness. Echoing our quote of Epictetus, Aristotle writes that, “As in the Olympic Games it is not the most attractive and the strongest who are crowned, but those who compete (since it is from this group that winners come), so in life it is those who act rightly who will attain what is noble and good” (Aristotle, 1962).

The Greco-Roman philosophical tradition has strongly influenced European and American psychology, and the Aristotelian concept of doing well and living well (eudaimonia, sometimes translated as human “flourishing”) as the goal of life permeates many psychological theories. Abraham Maslow placed the esteem needs, such as achievement, on the second highest rung of his hierarchy of needs, below only that of self-actualization. In recent times, the positive psychology movement has re-emphasized the centrality of achievement and success within psychology: “[Positive psychology] provides a means of looking at the people in organizations that is grounded in the strengths that enable those people to succeed in what they do, the well-being that they achieve through doing so, and the meaning and fulfilment that gives coherence and direction to their activities along the way” (Linley, Harrington, & Garcea, 2010, p. xxiii).

But perhaps the simplest argument we can propose is that human performance is still the essential feature that determines the success of our society. Our performance as individuals, families, organizations, communities, and as a nation will determine our success in dealing with the most important issues of our day, such as social justice, global warming, the fossil fuel crisis, the health threat of pollution, and developing a sustainable approach to resource and ecosystem management. It is not hyperbole to suggest that our success or failure in tackling these challenges will determine the future of our culture and, perhaps, our very existence as a species.

The organization of this Handbook is, I hope, simple and straightforward. Part one, The Nature and Scope of Sport and Performance Psychology, contains the most general overview chapters, addressing the wide range of performance psychology issues being studied today. Alan Kornspan provides an interesting overview of the historical development of the field; Kate Hays has written the foundational chapter of the Handbook, incisively delineating the nature and scope of sport and performance psychology; Doug Hankes contributes an immensely practical guide to the many ethical issues that arise from practice in our field; the chapter from Graham Jones is unique, an original piece of research examining the proposed concept of Superior Performance Intelligence as an explanatory and unifying concept in performance psychology; and the final chapter in this section is a wonderful contribution to the field, Sanna Nordin-Bates’ truly comprehensive review of the psychological literature on performance psychology in the performing arts.

Part two of the Handbook deals with Individual Psychological Processes in Performance. It includes chapters on most of the individual difference variables that have been widely studied for their relationship with performance. Aidan Moran's chapter on concentration is typically thoughtful and complete; Rich Masters provides a fascinating and provocative chapter studying the role of awareness in consciousness and performance; Marc Jones contributes a concise and up-to-the-minute report on the role of emotional control in performance; Mark Wilson tackles the issue of anxiety by examining its role in attentional processes; Yannis Theodorakis, Antonis Hatzigeorgiadis, and Nikos Zourbanos give us a splendid overview of the research on the concept of self-talk; Jennifer Cumming and Sarah E. Williams have written a timely review of the role of imagery in performance, utilizing the latest research from cognitive neuroscience to bring together the many research (p. xxiii) strands in this area; the meta-theory of self-determination theory (SDT) provides the unifying framework for Martyn Standage's excellent critique of current research and practice in motivation; Penny McCullagh, Barbi Law, and Diane Ste-Marie have contributed an important chapter on the too-often understudied topic of modeling and performance; Mark R. Beauchamp, Ben Jackson, and Katie L. Morton provide an informative synthesis of the research on self-efficacy and performance; and Joachim Stoeber concludes this section with his own research and that of many others on the role that perfectionism plays in excellent performance.

Part three of the Handbook addresses Social Psychological Processes in Performance, covering those topics that deal with performance in groups, teams, relationships, and even cultures. Albert V. Carron, Luc Martin, and Todd Loughead lead off this section with a definitive chapter on the issue of teamwork; Packianathan Chelladurai provides a fresh look at the issue of leadership with his chapter; Dan Gould and E. Missy Wright have written an extensive and eminently accessible chapter on the psychology of coaching; Maria Kavussanu brings clarity to the very important issues of moral behavior in sport; Emily Roper makes a superb contribution, bringing together scholarship from a wide variety of sources in her chapter on gender, identity, and sport; Sam Carr provides a much-needed examination of the role of relationships in performance, offering several fascinating approaches to this area, including attachment theory, transference, and actor–partner models; and Anthony Kontos concludes this section by discussing the many significant issues raised when a cultural/ethnic perspective is taken toward performance.

Part four of the Handbook, Human Development and Performance, looks at human performance from a developmental perspective, considering such topics as expertise, talent development, and training throughout the lifespan. Jean Côté and Bruce Abernethy provide their usual masterful review of the varied literature on sport expertise; Maureen Weiss, Lindsay Kipp, and Nicole Bolter give us a thoughtful, well-supported chapter on positive youth development via the pathways of sport and physical activity; Chris Harwood, Julie Douglas, and Antoinette Minniti provide a thorough and thought-provoking examination of the role of the family in talent development across performance domains; Bradley Young and Nikola Medic review a sometimes-neglected literature on expert master-level athletes and provide a clear pathway for future researchers to follow; and Albert Petitpas, Taunya Tinsley, and Amy Walker give us a thoughtful reflection on the issue of career transitions in sports and other competitive endeavors.

Part five of the Handbook addresses Interventions in Sport and Performance Psychology. Too often, review handbooks of this type offer up the same predictable menu of intervention chapters. This Handbook instead offers a wide-ranging set of chapters that deal with the real issues faced by consultants who work in high-performance fields in sports, the arts, and business. Each author is not only a recognized leader in his or her field, but has also faced the hands-on issues engendered by working in his or her field of expertise. Zella Moore bats lead-off in this section and delivers a hit, a concise and lucid roadmap to counseling performers in distress, containing a practical dimensional classification system for performers; Thomas Hildebrandt, Eleanna Varangis, and Justine Lai next provide a compelling account of appearance- and performance-enhancing drug use in sport, describing a research base that many psychologists are unfamiliar with; Kate Goodger and Martin Jones examine the issue of burnout in sport and performance, highlighting key areas in which new applied research is desperately needed; Billy Strean and Joe Mills contribute a groundbreaking chapter that steps outside the prevailing zeitgeist to examine the phenomenology of the body in physical activity and suggests how adopting this perspective offers a pathway to better health and happiness; next comes two chapters authored by John Heil and Leslie Podlog—the first is a comprehensive overview of the psychological issues of injury and performance, while the second is another innovative and groundbreaking chapter, one of the first ever to deal with the psychology of pain and performance; Trent Petrie and Christy Greenleaf next contribute a sensitive and practical chapter dealing with eating disorders in (p. xxiv) sport; Stuart Biddle and Trish Gorely review the research on behavior change in physical activity in a terrific chapter that bridges the gap between exercise and sport psychology; Chris Carr has written a very practical, systems theory–based guide to organizational consulting with high-performance teams, utilizing his extensive experience in this area; Dave Collins and Sara Kamin took on one of the toughest assignments in the Handbook, discussing the objectives, knowledge base, and best practices for “performance coaches”; Bob Harmison and Kathleen Casto do a great job describing the extensive research on optimal performance; and Mark Andersen concludes this section in his inimitable style, exploring supervision issues in sport and performance psychology from a mindfulness perspective.

The final section of the Handbook, Part six, Future Directions, includes only one chapter, but it is a special surprise. Three of the most experienced sport and performance psychologists in the world, Kirsten Peterson, Charles Brown, and Sean McCann, gamely agreed to peek into the crystal ball and provide a look at the future of sport and performance psychology. Their answers to the questions I posed yield some of the most thought-provoking discussions in the entire Handbook.

Finally, a very big thank you to all who made this Handbook possible. Peter Nathan, the Editor-in-Chief of the Oxford Psychology Library, has my gratitude for asking me to guide such an ambitious project. All the staff at Oxford have been wonderfully supportive during this long and tiring process; I wish to thank Mariclaire Cloutier, who provided invaluable feedback during the planning process, and especially my editor-extraordinaire, Chad Zimmerman, without whose quiet encouragement and dry wit I might not have survived this experience. My colleagues at Western Connecticut State University have been understanding and encouraging throughout, and granting me a sabbatical for a semester was a godsend. And, of course, my wonderful family: my caring wife Annemarie, the best psychologist I know; my son Bryan, who co-wrote this Preface; and my wonderful daughter Theresa, the best scientist in the family. I love you very much.

Shane M. Murphy

Bryan P. Murphy

Danbury, Connecticut

November 2011

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