Optimization of Endurance Performance Through Psychological Self-Regulation Strategies

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2023
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This thesis investigated the efficacy of the self-regulatory strategy of if-then planning on endurance performance. Self-regulation is deemed a fundamental aspect in endurance sports, which pose a multiplicity of complex demands on athletes. Thus, this thesis aims to establish a self-regulation strategy that is precisely tailored to the challenges of endurance sports. Further, it is illustrated how self-regulatory strategies like if-then planning should be optimally applied to support athletes in succeeding. To that end, the possible contents of if-then plans regarding inner obstacles (if-component) and goal-directed behaviors (then-component; research paper I), their formulation and application in cycling contexts (research paper II), and their possible moderating factors (research paper III) have been investigated.

To create if-then plans that effectively enhance performance, sufficient knowledge about the obstacles (if-components) that might jeopardize athletes’ goal attainment and possible goal-directed behaviors (then-components) is needed. Thus, the first research paper employed a qualitative survey to elicit the perceptions of elite and youth-level athletes (Study 1) and coaches (Study 2). They were asked to identify inner obstacles that athletes face in cycling competitions and the goal-directed behaviors they apply to deal with these obstacles. The most frequently highlighted inner obstacles were dealing with challenging situations, pressure, and maintaining concentration. Preparation, self-encouragement, relaxation (athletes), and concentration (coaches) were the most frequently reported goal-directed behaviors. To sum up, these studies showed that elite and youth-level athletes and coaches have substantial knowledge of inner obstacles and goal-directed behaviors, which should facilitate the formulation and application of effective if-then plans.

The first research paper explored possible inner obstacles and goal-directed behaviors of elite and youth-level athletes without applying them in an if-then plan in an endurance performance task. Building on this, the second research paper examined whether recreational exercisers are able to identify inner obstacles and goal-directed behaviors using structured interviews. Furthermore, it was investigated whether the composition of these two elements in if-then plans can be used to improve performance in two cycling ergometer tests. In both tests, perception of effort was the most frequently mentioned obstacle, while motivation to do well, self-encouragement, and a clear focus on the body and on cycling were the most reported goal-directed behaviors. Although if-then planning had no effects on performance in either of the cycling ergometer tests, important insights were gained on how recreational exercisers applicate if-then plans.

Finally, the third research paper investigated the circumstances under which recreational exercisers can optimize their performance using if-then plans in an experimental laboratory study. After completing a static-muscular endurance task, exercisers chose whether they terminated the task due to effort or pain. Then, they applied a corresponding if-then plan before repeating the task (e.g., "And if my effort/pain gets too high, then I tell myself: I can still keep going!"). It could be shown that exercisers' implicit theories about athletic performance (i.e., lay theories about whether performance is generally limited versus changeable), more specifically about performance limitations (physical or mental) moderated effects of if-then planning on muscular endurance performance. If-then plans that were congruent with exercisers' implicit theories and perceived performance limitations improved their performance.

Taken together, this project provides novel insights into the use of if-then plans within both elite and recreational sports. While Research Paper III found statistical evidence to support the notion that measurable improvement in athletic performance is possible, Research Paper II did not yield the same conclusion. This implies that the self-regulatory strategy of if-then planning cannot be used in a “one-size-fits-all” manner. Nevertheless, this thesis explores key considerations for effective self-regulatory interventions in endurance sports, including psychoeducation, assisted self-reflection, and autonomous formulation. Hence, it lays the groundwork for designing further sport psychology interventions and offers valuable contributions to research in the area of if-then planning in sports.

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796 Sport
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if-then planning, endurance performance, self-regulation in sports
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ISO 690HIRSCH, Anna, 2023. Optimization of Endurance Performance Through Psychological Self-Regulation Strategies [Dissertation]. Konstanz: University of Konstanz
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@phdthesis{Hirsch2023Optim-69714,
  year={2023},
  title={Optimization of Endurance Performance Through Psychological Self-Regulation Strategies},
  author={Hirsch, Anna},
  address={Konstanz},
  school={Universität Konstanz}
}
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To create if-then plans that effectively enhance performance, sufficient knowledge about the obstacles (if-components) that might jeopardize athletes’ goal attainment and possible goal-directed behaviors (then-components) is needed. Thus, the first research paper employed a qualitative survey to elicit the perceptions of elite and youth-level athletes (Study 1) and coaches (Study 2). They were asked to identify inner obstacles that athletes face in cycling competitions and the goal-directed behaviors they apply to deal with these obstacles. The most frequently highlighted inner obstacles were dealing with challenging situations, pressure, and maintaining concentration. Preparation, self-encouragement, relaxation (athletes), and concentration (coaches) were the most frequently reported goal-directed behaviors. To sum up, these studies showed that elite and youth-level athletes and coaches have substantial knowledge of inner obstacles and goal-directed behaviors, which should facilitate the formulation and application of effective if-then plans.

The first research paper explored possible inner obstacles and goal-directed behaviors of elite and youth-level athletes without applying them in an if-then plan in an endurance performance task. Building on this, the second research paper examined whether recreational exercisers are able to identify inner obstacles and goal-directed behaviors using structured interviews. Furthermore, it was investigated whether the composition of these two elements in if-then plans can be used to improve performance in two cycling ergometer tests. In both tests, perception of effort was the most frequently mentioned obstacle, while motivation to do well, self-encouragement, and a clear focus on the body and on cycling were the most reported goal-directed behaviors. Although if-then planning had no effects on performance in either of the cycling ergometer tests, important insights were gained on how recreational exercisers applicate if-then plans.

Finally, the third research paper investigated the circumstances under which recreational exercisers can optimize their performance using if-then plans in an experimental laboratory study. After completing a static-muscular endurance task, exercisers chose whether they terminated the task due to effort or pain. Then, they applied a corresponding if-then plan before repeating the task (e.g., "And if my effort/pain gets too high, then I tell myself: I can still keep going!"). It could be shown that exercisers' implicit theories about athletic performance (i.e., lay theories about whether performance is generally limited versus changeable), more specifically about performance limitations (physical or mental) moderated effects of if-then planning on muscular endurance performance. If-then plans that were congruent with exercisers' implicit theories and perceived performance limitations improved their performance.

Taken together, this project provides novel insights into the use of if-then plans within both elite and recreational sports. While Research Paper III found statistical evidence to support the notion that measurable improvement in athletic performance is possible, Research Paper II did not yield the same conclusion. This implies that the self-regulatory strategy of if-then planning cannot be used in a “one-size-fits-all” manner. Nevertheless, this thesis explores key considerations for effective self-regulatory interventions in endurance sports, including psychoeducation, assisted self-reflection, and autonomous formulation. Hence, it lays the groundwork for designing further sport psychology interventions and offers valuable contributions to research in the area of if-then planning in sports.</dcterms:abstract>
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March 7, 2024
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Konstanz, Univ., Diss., 2024
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