Skip to main content Accessibility help

Cognitive Processes and Sports Performance

  • Neil J. McLean (a1)


In focussing on the relationship between cognition and sports performance, sports psychology is following a trend evident in other areas in psychology. Sports psychology research has borrowed conceptually and methodologically from cognitive-behavioural researchers within clinical psychology. This article reviews five areas of research: imagery; self talk; self efficacy; attentional focus and concentration; and decision making. Of these topics, imagery has attracted the most research interest, and strategies of mental rehearsal are frequently used by athletes.

Attempts to apply the theories of self talk and self efficacy to sports performance appear promising. The self efficacy research has demonstrated that expectations of success influence performance. As yet, little attention has been paid to the second part of Bandura's theory: the effect of outcome expectations on performance.

The sporting environment is often complex with the athlete frequently required to make numerous decisions. Decision making has been studied in a range of settings (e.g., medical decision making, jury decisions etc.) but has been largely ignored by sports psychologists. Issues relating to the decision making of the athlete are discussed.


Corresponding author

Department of Psychology, University of Western Australia, Nedlands WA 6009, Australia


Hide All
Bandura, A. (1977) Self efficacy: Toward a unifying theory of behavioural change. Psychological Review, 84, 191215.
Barling, J., & Abel, M. (1983). Self-efficacy beliefs and tennis performance. Cognitive Therapy and Research, 7, 265272.
Boyle, P. (1985). A comparison of cognitive-behavioural and behavioural strategies for the treatment of secondary orgasmic dysfunction. Unpublished Master's Thesis—University of Western Australia.
Cacioppo, J.T., Glass, C.R., & Merluzzi, R.V. (1979). Self statements and self evaluations: A cognitive response analysis of heterosocial anxiety. Cognitive Therapy and Research, 3, 249262.
Corbin, C.B. (1972). Mental practice. In Morgan, W.P. (Ed.) Ergogenic aids and muscular performance. New York: Academic Press, 93118.
Ellis, A. (1962). Reason and emotion in psychotherapy. New York: Stuart.
Epstein, M.L. (1980). The relationship of mental imagery and mental rehearsal to performance of a motor task. Journal of Sport Psychology, 2, 211220.
Gravel, R., Lemieux, G., & Ladouceur, R. (1980). Effectiveness of a cognitive behavioral treatment package for cross-country ski racers. Cognitive Therapy and Research, 4, 8390.
Hamilton, S.A., & Fremouw, W.J. (1985). Cognitive behavioral training for college basketball free throw performance. Cognitive Therapy and Research, 9, 479483.
Kendall, P.C., & Hollon, S.D. (1981). Assessing self referent speech. In Kendall, P.C. & Hollon, S.D.. (Eds.) Assessment strategies for cognitive behavioral interventions. New York: Academic Press, 85118.
Kirchenbaum, D.S., & Bale, R.M. (1980). Cognitive behavioral skills in golf; Brain power golf. In Suinn, R. (Ed.) Psychology in sports: Methods and applications. Minneapolis: Burgess, (pp.334343).
Klinger, E., Barta, S.G., & Glas, R.A. (1981). Thought content and gap time in basketball. Cognitive Therapy and Research, 5, 109114.
Lane, J.F. (1980). Improving athletic performance through visuo-motor behavior rehearsal. In Suinn, R. (Ed.), Psychology in sports: Methods and applications. Minneapolis: Burgess, (pp. 316320).
Mahoney, M.J., & Avener, M. (1977). Psychology of the elite athlete: An exploratory study. Cognitive Therapy and Research, 1, 135141.
Marlatt, G.A., & Gordon, J.R. (1985). Relapse prevention. New York: Guilford.
Masters, W., & Johnson, V. (1970). Human sexual inadequacy. Boston: Little, Brown & Co.
Meichenbaum, D. (1977). Cognitive Behavior Modification. New York: Plenum.
Morgan, W.P. (1978). The mind of the marathoner. Psychology Today, 11, 3849.
Morgan, W.P., & Pollock, J.L. (1977). Psychologic characterization of the elite distance runner. Annals of the New York Academy of Sciences, 301, 382403.
Morgan, W.P., Horstmann, D.H., Cymerman, A., & Stokes, J. (1983). Facilitation of physical performance by means of a cognitive strategy. Cognitive Therapy and Research, 7, 251264.
Meyers, A.W., Cooke, C.J., Cullen, J., & Liles, L. (1979). Psychological aspects of athletic competitors: A replication across sports. Cognitive Therapy and Research, 3, 361366.
Nelson, L.R., & Furst, M.L. (1972). An objective study of the effects of expectation on competitive performance. Journal of Psychology, 81, 6972.
Ness, R.G., & Patton, R.W. (1979). The effects of beliefs on maximum weight lifting performance. Cognitive Therapy and Research, 3, 205211.
Nicklaus, J. (1974). Golf my way. New York: Simon & Schuster.
Nideffer, R.M. (1976). Test of attentional and interpersonal style. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 34, 394404.
Noel, R.C. (1980). The effect of visuo-motor behavior rehearsal on tennis performance. Journal of Sport Psychology, 2, 220–26.
Okwumabua, T.M., Meyers, A.W., Schleser, R., & Cooke, C.J. (1983). Cognitive strategies and running performance: an exploratory study. Cognitive Therapy and Research, 7, 363370.
Powell, G.E. (1973). Negative and positive mental practice in motor skill acquisition. Perceptual and Motor Skills, 37, 312.
Rawlings, E.I., & Rawlings, I.L. (1974). Rotary pursuit tracking following mental rehearsal in the acquisition of rotary pursuit tracking. Perceptual and Motor Skills, 38, 302.
Richardson, A. (1967a). Mental practice: A review and discussion. Part 1. Research Quarterly, 38, 95107.
Richardson, A. (1967b). Mental practice: A review and discussion. Part II. Research Quarterly, 38, 263273.
Silva, J.M. (1982). Competitive sports environments. Performance enhancement through cognitive intervention. Behavior Modification, 6, 443463.
Start, K.B., & Richardson, A. (1964). Imagery and mental practice. British Journal of Educational Psychology, 34, 280284.
Steel, W.I. (1952). The effect of mental practice on the acquisition of a motor skill. Journal of Physical Education, 44, 101108.
Suinn, R.M., (1972). Behavior rehearsal training for ski racers. Behavior Therapy, 3, 519.
Suinn, R.M. (1983). Imagery and sports. In Sheikh, A.A. (Ed.) Imagery: Current theory, research and application New York: Wiley, (pp. 507534).
Titley, R.M. (1976). The loneliness of the longdistance kicker. The Athletic Journal, 7480.
Webster, R. (1984). Winning Ways. Sydney: Fontana.
Weinberg, R.S. (1982). The relationship between mental preparation strategies and motor performance: A review and critique. Quest, 33, 195213.
Weinberg, R., Gould, D. & Jackson, A. (1979). Expectations and performance: An empirical test of Bandura's self-efficacy theory. Journal of Sport Psychology, 1, 320331.
Woolfolk, R.L., Parrish, M.W., & Murphy, S.M. (1985). The effects of positive and negative imagery on motor skill performance. Cognitive Therapy and Research, 9, 335341.

Cognitive Processes and Sports Performance

  • Neil J. McLean (a1)


Full text views

Total number of HTML views: 0
Total number of PDF views: 0 *
Loading metrics...

Abstract views

Total abstract views: 0 *
Loading metrics...

* Views captured on Cambridge Core between <date>. This data will be updated every 24 hours.

Usage data cannot currently be displayed