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What do young athletes understand about psychological skills?

This week’s journal club research study was analysed by Cal State East Bay Kinesiology Research Group. They looked at the following paper:

McCarthy, Paul J, Jones, Marc V, Harwood, Chris G, Olivier, Steve. What do young athletes implicitly understand about psychological skills? Journal of Clinical Sport Psychology, 2010, 4, 158-172.

Given the limited information about the effectiveness of psychological skills training for young athletes, this study seeks to identify what young athletes implicitly understand about goal setting, self-talk, mental imagery and relaxation.  The authors’ goal was to demonstrate both the individual’s current level of understanding, but to also insight into how this understanding develops over time.  A further intention of this study is to help guide the practice of sports psychologist when working with youth, as the authors’ feel that there is limited data on this topic.

What did the study involve?

  • 118 young athletes between the ages of 10-15 years old
  • Athletes participated in a number of sports in England
  • Participants completed open-ended questionnaires in their classrooms with a teacher present
  • Participants wrote answers to the following questions about the four basic psychological skills:
    • “What do you think goal setting means?”
    • “What do you think mental imagery means?”
    • “What do you think self-talk means?”
    • “What do you think relaxation means?”
    • Each question had the generic stem: “I think this means. . .”
    • Data analysis was done following the Inductive Content Analysis technique

What were the main results?

The study provides evidence to support the claim that increasing chronological age was significantly associated with better explanations of psychological skills.  The report provides a detailed description of the content analysis techniques and the statistical calculations.

What can be taken from it?

When sports psychologists choose to engage in psychological skills training with youth athletes, content should be modified to reflect their age and level of development, which is supported in other studies (Munroe-Chandler, Hall, Fishburne, Murphy, & Hall, 2012).  Other studies have shown that in addition to content, motivation is an important consideration in youth PST (Harwood, Cumming, & Fletcher, 2004).

The methodology used brings a drawback to the study.  Relying only on open-ended questions with technical terms may not accurately reflect the actual knowledge by the athletes.  For example, in another study that investigated youth soccer players’ knowledge and use of imagery first defined the terms clearly to the participants prior to questioning their knowledge and use (Munroe-Chandler, Hall, Fishburne, & Strachan, 2007).  Other techniques of investigation have included open-ended questioning in focus groups where the researchers asked about performance techniques used and then related these back to specific psychological skills (Holland, Woodcock, Cumming, & Duda, 2010).  Furthermore, the level of skill in the athlete’s domain and whether they compete in open or closed task sports as these may also influence their use and knowledge of psychological skills (Yu, Fu, & Chan, 2013).  Since the authors’ stated that their goal was to demonstrate how these skills developed over time, a consideration of skill level could have provided further insight.


Harwood, C., Cumming, J., & Fletcher, D. (2004). Motivational profiles and psychological skills use within elite youth sport. Journal of applied sport psychology , 16 (4), 318-332.

Holland, M. J., Woodcock, C., Cumming, J., & Duda, J. L. (2010). Mental qualities and employed mental techniques of young elite team sport athletes. Journal of Clinical Sport Psychology , 4, 19-38.

Munroe-Chandler, Hall, C. R., Fishburne, G. J., & Strachan, L. (2007). Where, when, and why young athletes use imagery: An examination of developmental differences. Research quarterly for exercise and sport , 78 (2), 103-116.

Munroe-Chandler, Hall, C. R., Fishburne, G. J., Murphy, L., & Hall, N. (2012). Effects of a cognitive specific imagery intervention on the soccer skill performance of young athletes: Age group comparisons. Psychology of Sport and Exercise , 13 (3), 324-331.

Yu, Q.-H., Fu, A., & Chan, C. (2013). Influence of sport type and skill level on visual imagery perspectives of young athletes. Hong Kong Physiotherapy Journal , 31 (1), 51.


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Does a reduction in preseason training loads reduce the incidence of injury?

For this journal club we are going to be looking at the following paper:

Gabbett T. Reductions in preseason training loads reduce training injury rates in rugby league players. British Journal of Sports Medicine 2004; 38: 743-749.

The research focuses on reduced preseason training loads and whether they are associated with reduced injury incidence. It has been chosen by Tim Lathlean who is studying a PhD in Accredited Exercise Physiology at Monash University in Australia.

What was the aim of the paper?

Preseason training has been demonstrated as of great importance for both improving player performance as well as player resilience to injury. Preseason training loads that are excessive may lead to prolonged fatigue and overtraining syndrome, with athletes at greater risk of illness and injury. Previous studies have reported the pre-season incidence of injury of 116.1 per 1000 training hours as 2.6-fold higher than the seasonal average injury rate (45.3 per 1000) (Gabbett 2001). Moreover, increases in training loads are significantly correlated (r = 0.86) with increases in training injury rates (Gabbett 2004).

The purpose of the present study was to investigate if reductions in pre-season training loads reduced the incidence of training injuries in rugby league players. In addition, a secondary purpose of this study was to determine if the reductions in training loads compromised the improvements in physical fitness obtained during the pre-season preparation period.

What did the study involve?

Two hundred and twenty sub-elite Australian rugby league players registered with the same club participated in the 3-year prospective cohort study (2001 to 2003). Seventy nine players participated in the 2001 season, sixty five in the 2002 season and 76 in the 2003 season. Eleven players participated in two or more seasons.

In order to assess fitness adaptations from preseason training players completed testing for muscular power (vertical jump), speed (10m, 20m and 40m sprint), maximal aerobic power (multi-stage fitness test). Players participated in 30 pre-season training sessions each year with training loads decreased by training duration in 2002 and training intensity in 2003.

Training intensity was measured by using a modified rating of perceived exertion (RPE) scale, which was multiplied by training duration to calculate overall training load. Injury was defined as ‘any pain or disability suffered by a player during a training session’ and severity was classified as transient (no training missed), minor (one training week missed), moderate (two to four training sessions missed), or major (five or more training weeks missed).

Injury exposure was calculated by multiplying the number of players that participated by the session duration. Injury rates were calculated by dividing the total number of new injuries by the overall training injury exposure.

What were the main results?

The training intensity in the 2003 pre-season was significantly lower (p<0.01) than the 2001 pre-season. There were no significant differences between the 2001 pre-season (4.20 units, 95% CI: 4.09 to 4.32) and the 2002 pre-season (4.05 units, 95% CI: 3.89 to 4.22) or the 2002 pre-season and the 2003 pre-season (3.90 units, 95% CI: 3.75 to 4.05) for training intensity. Training duration was significantly higher (p<0.001) in the 2001 pre-season (78.1 min, 95% CI: 77.1 to 79.1) than the 2002 pre-season (67.9 min, 95% CI: 66.8 to 68.9) and 2003 pre-season (74.5 min, 95% CI: 73.7 to 75.3) period. The 2002 and 2003 pre-season training loads were significantly lower (p<0.001) than the 2001 pre-season training loads. There were no significant differences (p>0.05) between the 2002 and 2003 pre-season training loads.

The overall injury exposure for the three pre-season periods was 1442.4 (2001), 1165.9 (2002), and 1478.9 (2003) training hours at risk. The incidence of injury was significantly higher (χ2 = 44.3, df 2, p<0.001) in the 2001 pre-season period (156.7 per 1000 training hours, 95% CI: 136.3 to 177.1) than the 2002 (94.4 per 1000 training hours, 95% CI: 76.7 to 112.0) and 2003 (78.4 per 1000 training hours, 95% CI: 64.2 to 92.7) pre-season periods.

The majority of injuries sustained over the three seasons were to the lower limb, with the incidence of thigh and calf (χ2 = 14.6, df 2, p<0.001) as well as ankle and foot injuries (χ2 = 26.9, df 2, p<0.001) being significantly higher in 2001 than 2002 and 2003 preseason periods. The incidence of muscular strains (χ2 = 44.6, df 2, p<0.001), joint sprains (χ2 = 17.0, df 2, p<0.001), and haematomas (χ2 = 7.1, df 2, p<0.05) was significantly higher in the 2001 pre-season period than the 2002 and 2003 pre-season periods. Overexertion (χ2 = 38.2, df 2, p<0.001) and overuse (χ2 = 11.1, df 2, p<0.01) injuries were more common in the 2001 pre-season period than the 2002 and 2003 pre-season periods.

In terms of physical fitness capabilities, whilst aerobic power was similar across the three years, speed measurements were significantly faster (p<0.05) in the 2003 pre-season. Further, there were greater improvements in muscular power in the 2003 preseason period, with a 76% probability that the improvements were of physiological significance.

What can we take from this research paper?

This paper identified the issue of managing training loads effectively as an evidence based injury prevention program over the preseason period. Whilst it is important to have sufficient load for fitness adaptations, excessive load may lead to increased risk of injury. The present paper demonstrated that reducing training loads by duration (2002) and intensity (2003), reduced injury rates without compromising physiological capabilities. A 10.6–15.7% reduction in training loads reduced the incidence of injury by 39.8–50.0%, without compromising the pre-season improvements in physical fitness. Indeed, there was a greater relative change in V˙o2max with reduced training loads (2001, 7.7%; 2002, 11.8%; 2003, 15.6%).Further, there were greater improvements in speed and power over the 2003 season.

Subsequent sporting injuries can be explained by several risk factors including age, previous injury and playing experience. These may have contributed to the increased injury incidence of the older playing group in the 2001 season; however, these athletes also appeared in be in a state of overtraining. In their case, the training loads applied, in conjunction with inadequate recovery, were greater than was tolerable for their musculoskeletal systems.

The present paper demonstrates injury prevention to be of great importance in optimising physiological and fitness capabilities for performance in sub-elite sport. Further, a sub-elite athlete undertaking a progressively overloaded training program, performing two sessions per week, may expect a 7.5 to 15.9% increase in aerobic fitness, and stable 10m, 20m and 40 m speed. In addition, the 2003 season 5.7% improvement in vertical jump provides evidence for physiologically significant improvements in muscular power.

Practical applications from this study?

The physiological improvements made by reducing training loads in this study do not equate with recorded win-loss records. As such, further research incorporating training load monitoring, physical fitness assessment and the injury surveillance needs to be linked with individual player and team performance. This work provides great potential for investigating appropriate preseason training loads in sub-elite sport. Further investigations are required in team sports other than rugby league as well as the elite junior and senior competition levels.


Gabbett TJ. Severity and cost of injuries in amateur rugby league: a case study. J Sports Sci2001;19:341–7.

Gabbett TJ. Influence of training and match intensity on injuries in rugby league. J Sports Sci2004;22:409–17.


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Twitter chat – does foam rolling work?

Foam rolling is a popular form of self-massage used by athletes and people who are taking part in sport. But does it really work?

This weeks #ssjournalclub Twitter chat was about whether foam rolling works and why. Many sports people agreed that it worked for them but said it was quite painful. The sport scientists concluded that there is a limited amount of evidence, especially long-term studies but it has been shown to be beneficial in certain protocols. Do you agree? Write your thoughts in the comments box below.

You can see the full summary here or view it by searching #ssjournalclub in Twitter.

CaptureFull the full summary, click here.


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Self-myofascial release (foam rolling) – does it help with recovery?

Self-myofacial release, or foam rolling, is a popular form of self-massage for athletes and people taking part in sport. It involves small movements back and forth over a foam roller. This places direct pressure on the soft tissue, stretching it and warming the fascia and breaking up fibrous adhesions.


There is little research into the effectiveness of this technique and therefore for this journal club, Stephen Carter, chose the following paper to read and summarise:

An acute bout of self-myofascial release increases range of motion without
a subsequent decrease in muscle activation or force. Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research.

What was the aim of the paper?

Self-myofascial release, or foam rolling, has increased in popularity recently as a means of treatment for muscle injuries acquired during sports competition or training. This removes the need for a therapist to be on hand to apply manual therapy (massage) as individuals use their body mass on a foam roller to exert pressure on their problematic soft tissue. The principle behind foam rolling being the same as receiving a massage in order to break down adhesions within the muscle body.

However, despite the recent application of foam rolling within the sports industry, there is little research available which actually promotes or even investigates the use of foam rolling for recovery. As such the researchers aimed to resolve this by investigating the use of foam rolling on range of motion and force production within the Quadriceps following a foam rolling protocol.

What did the study involve?

Eleven male university students were recruited for the study, all of whom were recreational resistance trainers or ‘moderately to very physically active’. All participants were assigned two 1 minute bouts of rolling with 30s rest before measuring each of the investigated variables. The foam rollers used were purposely custom-made in order to provide greater pressure on the Quadriceps.

What were the main results?

It was found by the researchers that foam rolling caused an increase in range of motion following the prescribed protocol. An increase of 10 degrees was seen 2 minutes following the protocol and an increase of 8 degrees was found after 10 minutes. It was also found that force production was not affected as a result of the foam rolling exercises.

What can we take from it?

The article clearly addresses the lack of data available with regards to the use of foam rolling as a recovery tool for athletes, and is an interesting read for anyone who works in, or is currently studying in this field. The article clearly states that foam rolling is beneficial to range of motion at the knee without a loss of force production, suggesting similar benefits as static stretching. With the popularity of static stretching decreasing, this article infers that foam rolling could possibly replace static stretching.

The study is an interesting one as foam rolling is still very poorly researched when considering how widely used it is within the industry. It’s interesting to see that rather than using common foam rollers, the researchers chose to use purpose-made rollers instead. As such, it would be beneficial to see the results of the same protocol following the use of regular rollers as opposed to the custom ones used here. The researchers were aware of the possible issues within the protocol and made future recommendations as a result which would be interesting to read upon should data become available in the future.

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Twitter chat on high intensity interval training

With people taking up more exercise this January, websites and social channels are filled with articles about high intensity interval training.

This weeks #ssjournalclub chat was about whether high intensity interval training works and why. What’s the best combination of intervals? How long should the recovery period last? We answered some of these questions and more. For a summary of the discussion click here. You can also view it by searching #ssjournalclub in Twitter. If you have any more thoughts/questions/answers then do add them in the comments box below.

Recommended reading:  The scientific basis for high intensity interval training, 2002, Sports Med.


For a full summary of the discussion click here.

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High intensity interval training: does it work?

It’s January, many people are frantically counting their calories and dusting off their gym kit in order to burn off the extra Christmas weight. Websites, magazines and papers have been littered with articles about the best ways to exercise and follow a healthy diet. One type of exercise training that is back in the limelight is high-intensity interval training.

But is it hype? For this journal club we will be looking at the following paper:

The Effect of One Bout High Intensity Interval Training On Liver Enzymes Level in Elite Soccer Players 

Read through the paper and add your thoughts in the comments function below or tweet them to @ssjournalclub. What can we take from the paper? You will find this article helpful in the journal Nature entitled ‘How to critically appraise a paper.’ Join in the discussion and I will summarise my thoughts by the 15th January.

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