Cognitive Therapy and Research

, Volume 1, Issue 2, pp 135-141

First online:

Psychology of the elite athlete: An exploratory study

  • Michael J. MahoneyAffiliated withPennsylvania State University
  • , Marshall AvenerAffiliated withPennsylvania State University

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Thirteen male gymnasts were given a standard questionnaire and interviewed during the final trials for the U.S. Olympic team. Particular attention was given to psychological factors and cognitive strategies in their training and competition. Using their final competitive grouping as the primary dependent variable, correlations were performed to assess the relationship between these factors and superior athletic performance. Data from this exploratory study suggested that varying patterns of cognition may be strongly correlated with successful and superior gymnastic performance. Specifically, dream frequency, self-verbalizations, and certain forms of mental imagery seemed to differentiate the best gymnasts from those who failed to make the Olympic team. These two groups also appeared to show different anxiety patterns and different methods of coping with competitive stress. The implications of these results for sport psychology are briefly discussed.