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Mental toughness in

Australian football.

Daniel F. Gucciardi, Assoc MAPS

BSc (Hons), School of Psychology

The University of Western Australia, 2005

A thesis presented for the degree of Doctor of Philosophy at The University of Western

Australia.

School of Sport Science, Exercise, and Health

2008

© Daniel F. Gucciardi, 2008


Declaration

I declare that this thesis is my own work and that to the best of my knowledge and belief, it

contains no material to a substantial extent that has been accepted or submitted to this or

any other institution for an academic award or previously published or written by another

person, except where due reference has been made.

Daniel F. Gucciardi Date

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Acknowledgements

There are many people that I would like to thank for their assistance along what has

been an extremely enjoyable and fulfilling journey. Appropriately, my supervisors – Dr.

Sandy Gordon and Dr. James Dimmock – deserve the greatest acknowledgment here. Both

have provided professional and personal guidance during the course of my candidature that

has undoubtedly contributed to growth in all areas of my life. For example, Sandy made it

his personal objective to ensure that all of his PhD students developed as both researchers

and practitioners, going beyond the call of duty many times. James, on the other hand,

always found time to discuss matters relating to my research, professional development,

and perhaps most importantly time on the golf course. Having the opportunity to work with

you both has been an honour and privilege, and your enthusiasm and passion for all things

sport, exercise, and health psychology is certainly contagious!

I would like to thank Steve Hargrave and Luke Rayner from the Western Australian

Football Commission for their assistance during the first two years of my candidature.

Steve initially endorsed and offered unswerving assistance for my research, and when Luke

took over his position he had no hesitation in continuing this support. Both saw great

potential in this topic and went out of their way to ensure that things were made easier for

me. Football development in Western Australia has profited immensely from the efforts of

both individuals.

This project would not have been possible if it were not for those individuals who

participated in this research. I am extremely grateful for the considerable time and effort the

players, coaches, and parents volunteered to this research and the interest they

demonstrated in an area that is lacking in Australian football. What I have learnt from these

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individuals, in particular, the coaches, players, and parents of the Navy Blue’s 15s, is

unmeasurable.

Special thanks also to the Personal Construct Psychology (PCP) community whose

openness and willingness to share their experiences and thoughts in helping me evolve my

understanding of PCP are greatly appreciated. I would like to thank David Savage, in

particular, for his correspondences during the early stages of my candidature and the

following individuals for their constructive comments on written work that contributed to

PCP aspects of this thesis: Beverly Walker, Chris Laming, Fay Fransella, Robin Hill, Brian

Gaines, and Susie Cook.

To everyone I have shared office space with during my candidature thank you for

putting up with my so called “Tourette syndrome” and other annoying habits including the

establishment on an indoor putting green in our office. Thanks also to the postgraduate

contingent, in particular members of the infamous “boys’ night” crew (Pete, Jon, Nat,

Shioto), for all the coffee and lunch runs as well as the late nights in the department spent

writing papers whilst enjoying a scotch or two.

Last, but certainly not least, to my family for everything they have and have not

done!

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Abstract

At the commencement of this research project in February 2005, there was a paucity

of empirical investigations that focused on understanding the psychological construct of

mental toughness in sport (Bull, Shambrook, James, & Brooks, 2005; Fourie & Potgieter,

2001; Jones, Hanton, & Connaughton, 2002). Although impressive, the available literature

did little in offering consensus in terms of a definition and operationalising the construct in

a consistent manner as well as understanding those factors contributing to its measurement

and development. The absence of theoretically guided research, in particular, was noted as

a major limitation of this research. The potential significance of mental toughness for

performance excellence combined with the conceptual confusion and lack of rigorous

empirical research highlighted the need for further research on mental toughness in sport.

Accordingly, the purpose of this thesis was to examine issues pertaining to the

understanding, measurement, and development of mental toughness in sport, using personal

construct psychology (Kelly, 1955/1991) as the guiding theoretical framework. Australian

football was chosen as the context to explore these issues.

In the opening empirical chapter, two qualitative manuscripts in which Australian

football coaches’ perspectives on mental toughness and those factors contributing to its

development are reported. Three central themes for understanding mental toughness in

Australian football were generated: characteristics (self-belief, motivation, tough attitude,

concentration and focus, resilience, handling pressure, personal values, emotional

intelligence, sport intelligence, and physical toughness); situations (e.g., injuries, success);

and behaviours (e.g., superior decision-makers, consistent performance). In regard to its

development, participants acknowledged some innate disposition of mental toughness,

however, the findings indicated that parents and coaches play the most important role in

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acquiring and developing mental toughness. A number of strategies and processes in which

these influential sources hinder (e.g., unrealistic expectations, modelling inappropriate

values) as well as facilitate (e.g., encourage understanding, exposure to a variety of

situations) the development of mental toughness were elucidated.

In the second empirical chapter, the data generated from these qualitative

investigations were used in the development and preliminary validation a sport-specific

measure of mental toughness for Australian football. Confirmatory and exploratory factor

analyses were employed to explore the factor structure of a pool of items designed to

capture the 11 keys to mental toughness reported by the coaches. The analyses produced a

24-item scale that measures four components of mental toughness in Australian football –

thrive through challenge, sport awareness, tough attitude, and desire success. It was shown

to have adequate internal reliaibilty estimates across different raters (α = .70 to .81)

including footballers, parents, and coaches. Moderate correlations with flow and resilience

were evidenced, while minimal correlations existed with social desirability. Multisource

data was somewhat equivocal, however; correlational data suggested a disagreement

between raters, whereas an ANOVA suggested agreement between raters.

In the final empirical chapter, two manuscripts in which the effectiveness of two

different psychological skills training programs in enhancing mental toughness among

youth-aged (15’s) Australian footballers are reported. The first presents a quantitative

analysis while the second presents a qualitative analysis. Multisource ratings (self, parent,

and coach) of the AfMTI and self-reported resilience and flow indicated more positive

changes in mental toughness, resilience, and flow than the control group. Similar patterns in

the findings were evident across rating sources. Interviews with several players and one of

their parents as well as the coaches generated their perceptions on the benefits of

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participating in the program (e.g., increased work ethic, tougher attitudes) and the processes

by which the program had an effect (e.g., self-awareness; self-monitoring; self-regulation;

and multi-perspective discussions) as well as suggestions for program improvement (e.g.,

parent and coach education programs).

In summary, the results of the five studies presented in this thesis provide a

comprehensive account of issues pertaining to the understanding, measurement, and

development of mental toughness in Australian football. The findings are supportive of

several aspects of previous research but also extend this line of inquiry in a number of

ways. It is my hope that other researchers will be stimulated to engage in further research

extending what is presented here and that practitioners will use this information to inform

their professional endeavours.

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Manuscripts and Publications Generated from this Thesis

In addition to a general introduction and summary and conclusion chapter, the six

chapters within this thesis are made up of individual manuscripts which have been

published/accepted or submitted for peer-review. In all cases the papers are presented as

typewritten manuscripts suitable for publication. Those co-authors listed below contributed

with the correction and proof reading of the manuscripts once a complete draft had been

prepared. In consultation with his supervisors, the candidate was responsible for designing

the experiments, data collection and analysis, interpretation of the data, and preparation of

the manuscripts.

Chapter II

Gucciardi, D.F., Gordon, S., & Dimmock, J.A. (2008). Mental toughness in sport: Current

perspectives and future directions. Unpublished manuscript.

Gucciardi, D.F., & Gordon, S. (in press). Construing the athlete and exerciser: Research

and applied perspectives from personal construct psychology. Journal of Applied

Sport Psychology.

Gucciardi, D.F., & Gordon, S. (in press). Personal construct psychology and the research

interview: The example of mental toughness in sport. Personal Construct Theory &

Practice.

Gordon, S., Gucciardi, D., & Chambers, T. (2007)1. A personal construct psychology

perspective on sport and exercise psychology research: The example of mental

toughness. In T. Morris, P. Terry & S. Gordon (Eds.), Sport and exercise psychology:

International perspectives (pp. 43-55). Morgantown, MV: Fitness Information

Technology.

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This book chapter is a compilation of the three manuscripts presented in Chapter II.

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Chapter III

Gucciardi, D.F., Gordon, S., & Dimmock, J.A. (2008). Towards an understanding of mental

toughness in Australian football. Journal of Applied Sport Psychology, 20, 261-281.

Gucciardi, D.F., Gordon, S., & Dimmock, J.A. (2008). Australian football coaches’

perceptions of the development of mental toughness. Manuscript submitted for

publication.

Chapter IV

Gucciardi, D.F., Gordon, S., & Dimmock, J.A. (in press). Development and preliminary

validation of a mental toughness inventory for Australian football. Psychology of

Sport and Exercise.

Chapter V

Gucciardi, D.F., Gordon, S., & Dimmock, J.A. (2008). Evaluation of a mental toughness

training program for youth-aged Australian footballers: I. A quantitative analysis.

Revised manuscript submitted for publication.

Gucciardi, D.F., Gordon, S., & Dimmock, J.A. (2008). Evaluation of a mental toughness

training program for youth-aged Australian footballers: II. A qualitative analysis.

Revised manuscript submitted for publication.

Miscellaneous

Gucciardi, D.F., & Gordon, S. (in press)2. Revisiting the performance profile technique:

Theoretical underpinnings and application. The Sport Psychologist.

Gucciardi, D.F., Gordon, S., & Dimmock, J.A. (2008)3. Advancing mental toughness

research and theory using personal construct psychology. Revised manuscript

submitted for publication.

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Although not a direct contribution to this thesis, this manuscript extends the discussion of PCP presented in
Chapter II by revisiting the performance profile technique. A case example of the revised methodology in
generating an Australian footballer’s perception of mental toughness is also presented.

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Professional Presentations Generated from this Thesis

This list contains a number of professional presentations, presented at both academic

and coaching conferences, completed as part of this research project.

Oral Presentations

Gordon, S., & Gucciardi, D. (2006). Mental toughness in Australian football. Invited

presentation at the Australian Football League National Coaching Conference,

Melbourne, Australia, January 28.

Gordon, S., & Gucciardi, D. (2006). Developing mental toughness among Australian

footballers. Invited workshop conducted at the Australian Football League National

Coaching Conference, Melbourne, Australia, January 29.

Gordon, S., & Gucciardi, D. (2006). Being tough in a mental world. Invited presentation

and workshop conducted at the 2nd Annual Clubs United Clubs’ Conference, Perth,

Australia, January 25.

Gordon, S., & Gucciardi, D. (2006). Mental toughness. Invited presentation at the Western

Australian Football Commission Level 2 Coach Accreditation Course, Perth,

Australia, March 18.

Gucciardi, D., Chambers, T., & Gordon, S. (2007). Construing the personal constructs of

athletes and exercisers: Research and applied perspectives. Paper presented at the

17th International Congress on Personal Construct Psychology, Brisbane, Australia,

July 16-20.

3
This manuscript integrates aspects of the mental toughness review manuscript presented in Chapter II with
information detailed in the Summary and Conclusion Chapter.

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Gucciardi, D., & Gordon, S. (2007). Mental toughness in sport: Current perspectives and

future directions. Paper presented at the Annual Association for Applied Sport

Psychology Conference, Louisville, Kentucky, USA, October 24-27.

Ryba, T.V., Stambulova, N., Gucciardi, D., Gordon, S., & Wrisberg, C. (2007). Will we

know mental toughness when we see it? Symposium presented at the Annual

Association for Applied Sport Psychology Conference, Louisville, Kentucky, USA,

October 24-27.

Poster Presentations

Gucciardi, D., Gordon, S., & Dimmock, J. (2007). Mental toughness in Australian football:

Ranking the key characteristics. Poster presented at the Annual Association for

Applied Sport Psychology Conference, Louisville, Kentucky, USA, October 24-27.

Gucciardi, D., Gordon, S., & Dimmock, J. (2007). Multisource ratings of mental toughness

among youth-aged footballers: A preliminary examination. Poster presented at the

Annual Association for Applied Sport Psychology Conference, Louisville, Kentucky,

USA, October 24-27.

Gucciardi, D., Gordon, S., & Dimmock, J. (2008). Evaluation of a mental toughness

training program for youth-aged Australian footballers: I. A quantitative analysis.

Poster presented at the Annual Association for Applied Sport Psychology

Conference, St. Louis, Missouri, USA, September 24-27.

Gucciardi, D., Gordon, S., & Dimmock, J. (2008). Evaluation of a mental toughness

training program for youth-aged Australian footballers: II. A qualitative analysis.

Poster presented at the Annual Association for Applied Sport Psychology

Conference, St. Louis, Missouri, USA, September 24-27.

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Table of Contents

Contents Page

Declaration ……………………………………………………………………… i

Acknowledgements ……………………………………………………………... ii

Abstract ……………………………………………………………………….... iv

Manuscripts and Publications Generated from this Thesis ……………………... vii

Professional Presentations Generated from this Thesis ………………………… ix

Table of Contents ……………………………………………………………….. xi

List of Tables ………………………………………………………………….... xv

List of Figures …………………………………………………………………... xviii

CHAPTER I – Introduction …………………………………………………….. 1

CHAPTER II – Empirical and Theoretical Overview ………………………….. 9

Overview of Chapter II ……………………………………………………. 10

a. Mental toughness in sport: Current perspectives and future

directions …………………………………………………………..... 11

b. Construing the athlete and exerciser: Research and applied

perspectives from personal construct psychology ………………….. 33

c. Personal construct psychology and the research interview: The

example of mental toughness in sport …………………………….... 60

CHAPTER III – Perspectives on Mental Toughness and its Development …..... 82

Overview of Chapter III…………………………………………………….. 83

a. Towards an understanding of mental toughness in Australian

football ……………………………………………………………... 84

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i. Method ……………………………………………………… 90

ii. Results and Discussion ……………………………………… 95

b. Australian football coaches’ perceptions of the development of

mental toughness …………………………………………………… 112

i. Method ……………………………………………………… 118

ii. Results ………………………………………………………. 121

iii. Discussion …………………………………………………... 134

CHAPTER IV – Measuring Mental Toughness ………………………………... 143

Overview of Chapter IV ……………………………………………………. 144

a. Development and preliminary validation of a mental toughness

inventory for Australian football …………………………………… 145

i. Experiment One …………………………………………….. 150

i. Method ……………………………………………… 150

ii. Results ………………………………………………. 153

iii. Discussion …………………………………………... 159

ii. Experiment Two …………………………………………..... 164

i. Method ……………………………………………… 164

ii. Results ……………………………………………..... 166

iii. Discussion …………………………………………... 166

iii. General Discussion ……………………………………….... 168

CHAPTER V – Developing Mental Toughness ………………………………... 173

Overview of Chapter V …………………………………………………….. 174

a. Evaluation of a mental toughness training program for youth-aged

Australian footballers: I. A quantitative analysis …………………… 175

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i. Method ……………………………………………………… 181

ii. Results ……………………………………………………..... 188

iii. Discussion …………………………………………………... 195

b. Evaluation of a mental toughness training program for youth-aged

Australian footballers: II. A qualitative analysis …………………… 204

i. Method ……………………………………………………… 208

ii. Results and Discussion ……………………………………… 211

CHAPTER VI – Summary and Conclusion …………………………………..... 232

a. Chapter III: Perspectives on Mental Toughness and its

Development………………………………………………………… 233

i. Towards an understanding of mental toughness in Australian 234

football ………………………………………………………

ii. Australian football coaches’ perceptions of the development 236

of mental toughness …………………………………………

b. Chapter IV: Measuring Mental Toughness …………………………. 237

i. Development and preliminary validation of a mental 238

toughness inventory for Australian football …………………

c. Chapter V: Developing Mental Toughness …………………………. 239

i. Evaluation of a mental toughness training program for

youth-aged Australian footballers: I. A quantitative

analysis..................................................................................... 239

ii. Evaluation of a mental toughness training program for

youth-aged Australian footballers: II. A qualitative

analysis………………………………………………………. 231

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d. Personal Construct Psychology ……………………………………... 242

i. PCP Research Interview …………………………………….. 243

ii. Multisource Ratings ………………………………………… 244

e. Implications for Theory …………………………………………….. 244

i. A PCP perspective on mental toughness in sport …………... 249

f. Limitations of the Research Program ……………………………….. 255

g. Recommendations for Future Research …………………………….. 256

i. Understanding Mental Toughness ………………………….. 256

ii. Measuring Mental Toughness ………………………………. 259

iii. Developing Mental Toughness ……………………………... 260

h. Applied Implications ………………………………………………... 262

References ………………………………………………………………………. 266

APPENDICES ………………………………………………………………….. 297

a. Appendix A – Psychometric Inventories …………………………… 298

b. Appendix B – Generic Consent Form ……………………………..... 304

c. Appendix C – Participant Information Sheets ……………………… 306

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List of Tables

Page

Chapter II

Chapter IIb

Table 1. An overview of PCP: The fundamental postulate and the

11 corollaries ………………………………………………. 38

Table 2. (a) Peter’s completed ratings grid of critical incidents

during competition as elements with minimum and

maximum Likert scores anchored on construct poles. (b)

Peter’s completed ratings grid of people as elements with

minimum and maximum Likert scores anchored on construct

poles ………………………………………………………... 49

Table 3. An extract of a laddering interview beginning with the

construct “solution-focused coping vs. problem-focused

coping” ……………………………………………………... 54

Chapter IIc

Table 1. Gucciardi et al.’s (2008) PCP interview protocol …….. 63

Chapter III

Chapter IIIa

Table 1. An overview of PCP: The fundamental postulate and the

11 corollaries (adapted from Gordon et al., 2007) ………… 89

Table 2. Mental toughness characteristics and their contrasts in

descending order of importance and a representative quote.. 98

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Table 3. Descriptions of the general and competition-specific

situations requiring mental toughness in Australian football. 105

Table 4. Descriptions of the general and competition-specific

behaviours displayed by mentally tough Australian

Footballers …………………………………………………. 106

Chapter IIIb

Table 1. Overview of the strategies and mechanisms associated

with the development of key mental toughness

characteristics ……………………………………………… 122

Chapter IV

Chapter IV

Table 1. Item factor loadings of the AfMTI ………………………… 157

Table 2. Correlations between factor loadings of the AfMTI,

dispositional resilience, flow, and social desirability ……… 158

Table 3. (a) Descriptive statistics on mental toughness subscales by

age, playing experience, and playing level. (b) ANOVA

summary statistics for age, playing experience, and playing

level on mental toughness subscales. 160

(c) Summary statistics for ANOVA post hoc comparisons for

age, playing experience, and playing level on mental

toughness subscales 161

Table 4. Descriptive statistics, reliability estimates, and

correlations between self, parent, and coach ratings of the

AfMTI ………………………………………………………. 167

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Chapter V

Chapter Va

Table 1. Psychological skills training (PST) program content,

activities, and purposes …………………………………….. 183

Table 2. Mental toughness training (MTT) program content,

activities, and purposes …………………………………….. 184

Table 3. Descriptive statistics and alpha coefficients for subscales

of the AfMTI by experimental condition for self, parent, and

coach ratings pre- and post-intervention …………………... 190

Table 4. Self-report descriptive statistics and alpha coefficients for

subscales of the DRS and DFS-2 by experimental condition

for pre- and post-intervention ……………………………… 191

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List of Figures

Page

Chapter I

Figure 1. An Australian football playing field ……………………... 5

Chapter II

Chapter IIb

Figure 1. Peter’s performance profile including a pre- and post-

assessment and descriptions of the emergent and contrast poles …... 47

Chapter IIc

Figure 1. A model of mental toughness in Australian football

(adapted with permission from Gucciardi et al., 2008) …….. 72

Figure 2. The 11 keys to mental toughness and their contrast …….. 73

Figure 3. Comparison of the average ranking of perceived

importance of the eleven mental toughness characteristics

between Level 2 (Gordon & Gucciardi, 2006b) and Level 3

coaches (Gordon & Gucciardi, 2006a). Note: Lower average

rankings were perceived to be more important for mental

toughness …………………………………………………… 76

Chapter III

Chapter IIIa

Figure 1. A model of mental toughness in Australian Football

integrating inductively-derived concepts, sub-categories,

and categories ………………………………………………. 96

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Chapter IIIb

Figure 1. Gucciardi et al.’s (2008) model of mental toughness in

Australian football ………………………………………….. 114

Figure 2. A conceptual model of the mental toughness development

process in Australian football ………………………………. 139

Chapter VI

Figure 1. A personal construct psychology model of mental

toughness in Australian football ……………………………………. 250

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CHAPTER I – Introduction

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The pursuit for performance excellence in sport encompasses the continual development of

four key facets of performance, namely physical, technical, tactical, and mental skills.

However, when physical, technical and tactical skills are evenly matched, which commonly

occurs at the elite level, the performer with greater levels of what is commonly referred to

as mental toughness seems to prevail more often than those with less developed forms.

Athletes, coaches, sport administrators, and their media widely acknowledge the

importance of mental toughness as a key ingredient of performance excellence.

Unfortunately, however, there has been a lack of rigorous scientific research designed to

clarify anecdotal reports and develop theoretical conceptions owing important implications

for measuring as well as developing and enhancing this desirable psychological construct.

This is the general focus of this doctoral thesis.

At the commencement of this research project in February 2005, there was a paucity

of empirical investigations that focused specifically on the mental toughness construct.

Pioneering research in this area (Fourie & Potgieter, 2001; Jones, Hanton, & Connaughton,

2002) focused on understanding mental toughness and the key characteristics encompassing

this construct from the perspective of athletes and coaches from various team and

individual sports. Following these earlier investigations, researchers conducted sport-

specific examinations of mental toughness among cricketers (Bull, Shambrook, James, &

Brooks, 2005) and soccer players (Thelwell, Weston, & Greenlees, 2005). Although

impressive and providing valuable conceptual advancements, several ambiguities regarding

mental toughness remained and the area required considerably more research attention in

terms of being able to better understand, measure, and develop or enhance mental

toughness among athletic cohorts (Gordon, Gucciardi, & Chambers, 2007). Even with the

publication of several studies during the course of this research project (e.g., Connaughton,

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Wadey, Hanton, & Jones, 2008; Jones, Hanton, & Connaughton, 2007; see also Crust,

2007), several conceptual ambiguities still thwart this line of inquiry.

The potential significance of mental toughness for performance excellence

combined with the conceptual confusion and lack of rigorous empirical research

highlighted the need for further research on mental toughness in sport. In order to advance

scientific knowledge in the area of mental toughness several key issues relating to

conceptual descriptions needed to be addressed. Specifically, we required a more accurate

conceptualisation of the mental toughness construct detailing its content, structure,

processes and outcomes as well as information detailing issues pertaining to the

development of this construct. The information obtained from this conceptual research on

the nature of mental toughness then provides a solid foundation upon which a reliable and

valid measure designed to assess and monitor mental toughness can be developed and

validated. Such a measure, in addition to information on developmental issues, would prove

useful for designing and evaluating programs designed to develop and/or enhance mental

toughness. Each of these key issues was examined within the context of Australian football.

Australian Football

Australian football, or “footy” and “Aussie Rules” as it is commonly known among

Australians, was chosen as the context in which to conduct the series of investigations

presented in this thesis. Since its beginnings in the 1850’s (Blainey, 2003), Australian

football has developed into a multi-million dollar business with a large majority of its

players at the highest level (Australian Football League) being household names in

Australia. Coinciding with this increased professionalism and commercialisation is an

increase in player demands.

3
Sport science research on player demands in Australian football have been

dominated by examinations of physiological (e.g., Young et al., 2005) and biomechanical

(e.g., Cochrane, Lloyd, Buttfield, Seward, & McGivern, 2007) systems as well as analyses

of player movement patterns (e.g., Veale, Pearce, & Carlson, 2007); psychological factors

have received far less attention and represent one area of sport science where Australian

football lacks scientific knowledge and development (personal communication, Lawrie

Woodman, AFL Coaching Manager, April, 2007). Notable exceptions do exist, however,

including examinations of perceived stress (Noblet & Gifford, 2002) and predictors of

strain (Noblet, Rodwell, & McWilliams, 2003) as well as retirement from the elite level

(Fortunato & Marchant, 1999). The lack of research on the psychological aspects of

performance in Australian football combined with an increase in player demands both from

within and outside the sport stimulated my interest in exploring the concept of mental

toughness within this context.

The lack of scientific knowledge and conceptual development on pertinent

psychological processes in Australian football is somewhat of a surprise, given that

Australian football has one of the highest participation rates (14% or 188,500) for

Australian youth aged 5 to 14 (ABS, 2006). Indeed, it is perhaps the nation’s great

indigenous game and Australia’s most popular and most passionately supported pastime.

From a conceptual standpoint, Australian football provided a medium through which I was

able to examine to what extent previous conceptualisations of mental toughness could be

extended to a sport that had not previously been (and is rarely) studied.

Australian football is played on a grass, oval-shaped field like that displayed in

Figure 1. The dimensions of the oval are usually between 135-185m long and 110-155m

wide and comprise a centre square which is 40 x 40m as well as a curved “fifty metre” line

4
which is 50m away from the goal line. It is played between two teams made up of 22

players, the objective of which is to score more points than your opponent over four

quarters each of about 30 min. Points are scored by kicking a prolate spheroid ball through

four posts, approximately 6.4m apart, erected at each end of the field. When kicked through

the inner two posts, known as the goal posts, six points are scored; only one point is scored

when the ball passes through a goal post and the outer post, which is referred to as a behind

post.

Figure 1. An Australian football playing field.

The ball is moved in all directions either by kicking or hand passing the ball (using

one hand to hold the ball and the other to fist it) to a teammate. When a ball is caught on the

full from a kick the player receiving the ball is awarded a “mark” and can stop and take

approximately 10 sec to size up his or her options. On the other hand, receiving a hand pass

5
requires the player to continue moving the ball and the player must bounce the ball on the

ground every 15m when running with the ball in his or her possession. Opposition players

aim to stop an opponent carrying the ball by tackling or bumping the player below the

shoulders. Only when the ball is kicked on the full out of play does the opposition side

receive a free-kick, otherwise the ball is thrown back in by an umpire monitoring the

boundaries. Field and goal umpires officiate over general play and allocate a free-kick to

players for a number of reasons (e.g., throwing the ball, incorrect tackle).

Design and Purposes of the Research

A multimethod research design was employed for this research project.

Multimethod research involves two or more unique ways of collecting and analysing data

(e.g., quantitative, qualitative, observational, psycho-physiological) in a single research

program and which integrates or relates the data of each technique at some stage of the

research process (Creswell, Plano Clark, Guttman, & Hanson, 2003). Importantly,

multimethod research designs have been acknowledged by several scholars as one of the

most viable ways of examining complex social and psychological phenomena (Brannen,

1992; Creswell, 2003). Several rationales for combining qualitative and quantitative data

collection and analysis methods have been described in the literature (Brewer & Hunter,

1989; Greene, Caracelli, & Graham, 1989; Newman, Ridenour, Newman, & DeMarco,

2003; Punch, 2005). Those relevant to the present research include being able to

compliment and elaborate the results from one method with the other by combining the

results to yield a more complete analysis; identify variables/constructs that may be

subsequently measured through the development of a new instrument; and examine the

applied relevance and usefulness of the combined data.

6
Consequently, the general purposes of this thesis were threefold. First, I aimed to

elicit participants’ perspectives about mental toughness and those factors contributing to its

development in Australian football. A second endeavour was to use this information in the

development and validation of a sport-specific mental toughness inventory. My final aim

was to examine the usefulness of psychological skills training in enhancing mental

toughness among youth-aged (15’s) footballers. A corollary of this was to determine the

applied usefulness of the sport-specific inventory. Personal construct psychology (PCP;

Kelly, 1995/1991) was adopted as the theoretical framework guiding this thesis. Unlike

other theoretical frameworks which tackle only single and isolated functions and

components of human behaviour (e.g., motivations, emotions, values, cognitions), PCP

unifies all of these components into one psychology (Gucciardi & Gordon, in press-a).

Thesis Organisation

Each of the aforementioned aims is addressed within a chapter of this thesis.

Following this introductory chapter, I present an empirical and theoretical overview chapter

containing three independent manuscripts. After providing an overview of the mental

toughness literature (Chapter IIa), I introduce PCP (Kelly, 1995/1991) and its usefulness

for sport and exercise psychology research and practice (Chapter IIb). Due to space

restrictions imposed by most journals, Chapter II is concluded with a manuscript (Chapter

IIc) dedicated to a detailed discussion of the PCP interview employed in the first empirical

examination of this thesis. Thereafter follows a presentation of the five studies central to

this research project.

The two qualitative studies presented in Chapter III explore definitional and

conceptual issues pertaining to the understanding of mental toughness and its development

in Australian football. Within Chapter IV, the development and validation of a sport-

7
specific measure of mental toughness is discussed within a construct validity framework

(Marsh, 1997, 2002). Two manuscripts detailing a quantitative and qualitative analysis of

the effectiveness of psychological skills training programs in enhancing mental toughness

among footballers are presented in Chapter V. Because this thesis is presented as a

collection of papers in a format suitable for publication, Chapter VI draws together the

main findings in the context of previous research and establishes the significance of the

work. Specifically, I provide an overview of the five empirical manuscripts presented in

this thesis, reflect on the usefulness of PCP for informing the methodologies within this

thesis and as a theoretical base in which to interpret the data, and discuss the implications

of the findings for theory, practice, and future research.

8
CHAPTER II – Empirical and
Theoretical Overview

9
Overview of Chapter II

The purposes of this chapter are threefold. Consequently, it is made up of three

individual manuscripts. In the first manuscript, peer-reviewed research contributing to a

current conceptualisation of mental toughness in sport is provided. Consistent with the

general layout of this thesis, this review of the literature is organised according to

understanding, measurement, and development research. Following this empirical review of

the mental toughness literature, I provide an overview of the theoretical framework –

personal construct psychology (PCP; Kelly, 1955/1991) – driving this thesis. Its usefulness

for sport and exercise psychology research and practice is also highlighted. I conclude the

chapter with an overview of the PCP interview employed to elicit coaches’ perceptions of

mental toughness in this thesis (Chapter IIIa).

10
CHAPTER IIa

Mental toughness in sport: Current perspectives and future directions.

11
The term “mental toughness” is commonly used throughout the world by sporting

communities and their media to describe the superior mental qualities of a performer.

Whether it is the 10 foot “final putt” to win a golf tournament or the ability to come from

two sets down in tennis to win the match in five it is a quality that is highly valued by sport

participants. Most elite athletes contend that at least 50% of superior athletic performance is

the result of mental or psychological factors that reflect the phenomenon of mental

toughness (Loehr, 1982, 1986), whereas 83% of wrestling coaches rated it as the most

important psychological characteristics for determining competitive success (Gould,

Hodge, Peterson, & Petlichkoff, 1987). Despite the widely acknowledged importance of

mental toughness for achieving performance excellence within coaching and scientific

communities (e.g., Gibson, 1998; Goldberg, 1998; Gould, 2002), only recently have

researchers allocated empirical attention to this elusive phenomenon.

The objective of this manuscript is to outline the empirical literature that has

contributed to the current understanding of mental toughness in sport. First, I review

research that has addressed conceptual, measurement, and development issues to highlight

current knowledge and future avenues of research in the area of mental toughness in sport.

Qualitative research that has sought to gain an understanding of mental toughness and the

key characteristics encompassing it as well as attempts to define this elusive construct are

first described. Subsequent to this I provide an overview of research addressing mental

toughness measurement issues, which is followed by a discussion of the available literature

contributing to an understanding of its development. The chapter is concluded with the

identification and discussion of avenues for future research.

12
Understanding Mental Toughness

Currently, the number of peer-reviewed publications dedicated to understanding key

stakeholders’ (i.e., athletes, coaches, sport psychologists) perspectives on mental toughness

in sport is limited. This is surprising given the widespread and numerous anecdotal reports

from coaches and athletes emphasising its importance. Earlier investigations sampled

participants from a variety of sports (Fourie & Potgieter, 2001; Jones, Hanton, &

Connaughton 2002; see also Jones, Hanton, & Connaughton, 2007), whereas more recent

attempts to examine this construct have been conducted within individual sports (Bull,

Shambrook, James, & Brooks, 2005; Thelwell, Weston, & Greenlees, 2005)4. Prior to these

peer-reviewed publications, Loehr (1982; see also 1986, 1995) provided one of the earliest

discussions of mental toughness and its training in sport in which he claimed that mental

toughness is acquired rather than inherited. His conceptualisation of mental toughness

proposed that it encompassed the following seven dimensions: self-confidence; attention

control; negative energy; motivation level; attitude control; positive energy; and visual and

imagery control. Loehr’s heuristically appealing conceptualisation of mental toughness,

which was based on his extensive consulting work but not grounded in sound theoretical

and empirical knowledge, provided what seems to be the catalyst for empirical interest in

this elusive concept.

Sport-General Research

Fourie and Potgieter (2001) were the first to identify psychological attributes that

individuals considered to be associated with mental toughness in sport. In their qualitative

study, written responses from 131 expert coaches and 160 elite athletes from 31 team and

4
It should be noted that a number of qualitative investigations do exist (e.g., Fawcett, 2006; Gordon &
Sridhar, 2005; Middleton, Marsh, Martin, Richards, & Perry, 2004c). Given that these studies are from
conference proceedings and do not report the research rigour attached to those studies which have been
through the peer-review process, I have chosen not to include these within the empirical review.

13
individual sports were content analysed and 12 key components of mental toughness were

identified: motivation level; coping skills; confidence maintenance; cognitive skill;

discipline and goal-directedness; competitiveness; possession of prerequisite physical and

mental requirements; team unity; preparation skills; psychological hardiness; religious

convictions; and ethics. Concentration was regarded by the coaches as the most important

characteristic, whereas perseverance was the most important characteristic according to the

athletes. However, the use of open-ended written responses did not afford a methodology

by which these researchers could probe participants’ responses thereby limiting the quality

of data because specific comments could not be expanded and developed further.

Jones et al. (2002) set out to elucidate an understanding of mental toughness by

focusing specifically on identifying the essential attributes required to be mentally tough.

Ten international performers (seven males and three females) from a variety of individual

and team sports participated in either a focus-group or 1-1 interview. An inductive thematic

content analysis of the transcribed verbatim data revealed 12 attributes as keys to mental

toughness in sport. Having established these key characteristics, procedures in which the

key characteristics were ranked by their importance to a mentally tough athlete assembled

these key characteristics in the following manner: unshakeable self-belief in your ability to

achieve competition goals; ability to bounce back from performance set-backs as a result of

an increase determination to succeed; unshakeable self-belief that you possess unique

qualities and abilities that make you better than your opponents; insatiable desire and

internalised motives to succeed; remaining fully focused on the task at hand in the face of

competition-specific distractions; regaining psychological control following unexpected,

uncontrollable events (competition-specific); pushing back the boundaries of physical and

emotional pain, while still maintaining technique and effort under distress (in training and

14
competition); accepting that competition anxiety is inevitable and knowing that you can

cope with it; not adversely affected by other’s good and bad performances; thriving on the

pressure of competition; remaining fully focused in the face of personal life distractions;

and switching sport focus on and off as required. However, a number of methodological

(e.g., small sample size and limited variety of sports sampled) as well as conceptual

limitations (e.g., presentation of the results was largely descriptive and failed to draw on

established theory) associated with this research limited its theoretical impact and scientific

rigour.

In an extension of their earlier research, Jones et al. (2007) interviewed eight

Olympic or world champions as well as three coaches and four sport psychologists who

have worked with these athletes. This data triangulation methodology represents one of the

most rigorous investigations to date. Their primary objective was to explore the concept of

mental toughness with the aim to “develop a framework of mental toughness by identifying

the key underpinning attributes in a broad range of sports” (p. 244). An inductive thematic

analysis of the transcribed verbatim data revealed 30 key attributes central to a framework

of mental toughness, which concurred with but also differed considerably from the 12

attributes described previously by international performers (Jones et al., 2002). These

attributes were subsequently clustered into subcategories (belief; focus; using long-term

goals as motivation; controlling the environment; pushing yourself to the limit; regulating

performance; handling pressure; awareness and control of thoughts and feelings; and

handling failure and success) within four central dimensions. The first dimension was

characterised by those attitudes and beliefs possessed by a mentally tough performer

(attitude/mindset), whereas the other three dimensions highlighted those characteristics

which are relevant for the three major contexts of athletic performance (training,

15
competition, and post-competition). Overall, this framework provides a description of what

forms of mental toughness may be required in certain contexts thereby providing a

foundation upon which to better understand the processes by which the key mental

toughness characteristics enable one to be mentally tough. As this was not a key focus of

their study, future research is required to identify and understand these processes.

Sport-Specific Research

Two recent investigations focusing specifically on cricketers (Bull et al., 2005) and

soccer players’ (Thelwell et al., 2005) perceptions of mental toughness represent significant

contributions towards achieving a context-rich understanding of this phenomenon. Bull et

al. (2005) interviewed 12 male English cricketers identified by 101 English cricket coaches

as being high in mental toughness during the previous 20 years. An inductive thematic

analysis of their interview transcripts identified four global themes, which were composed

into a hierarchical structure (pyramid) and subsequently used to disseminate the findings to

England’s cricket coaching and playing population. The first theme, environmental

influence, incorporated parental influences and childhood background and was viewed as

the foundation for the development of mental toughness and its primary antecedent during

the formative years (cf. Bloom, 1985; Côté, 1999). Other secondary factors, such as the

need to “earn” success, have opportunities to survive early setbacks, and exposure to

foreign cricket, were also considered important environmental influences.

The other three themes focused on the players themselves. Common personality

characteristics, such as a resilient confidence, independence, self-reflection, and

competitiveness with self as well as others, were categorised under the theme tough

character. Several major attitudes were also identified and categorised under the theme

tough attitudes, which were considered an important component for the successful

16
exploitation of a tough character. These included having a never-say-die mindset, go-the-

extra-mile mindset, thriving on competition, belief in making a difference, exploit learning

opportunities, willing to take risks, belief in quality preparation, determination to make the

most of ability, and self-set challenging targets. The most desirable cognitions in and

around competitive events were categorised under the final theme of tough thinking, and

included an ability to think clearly (e.g., good decision-making, keeping perspective, honest

self-appraisal) and having a robust self-confidence (e.g., overcoming self-doubts, feeding

off physical conditioning, maintain self-focus). Importantly, Bull et al.’s data merged

information of what mental toughness is with how it develops in cricketers. Despite

providing an intuitively appealing conceptualisation, which itself was not grounded in the

empirical data but rather for its use in disseminating the findings, Bull et al.’s interpretation

of the data was largely descriptive and lacked any detailed analysis. Established theory, for

example, was not discussed as a means of facilitating a deeper understanding of the key

mental toughness characteristics.

In an attempt to further examine Jones et al.’s (2002) findings, Thelwell, Weston,

and Greenlees (2005) interviewed six male professional soccer players, all with

international playing experience, and compared their soccer-specific definition and

understanding of mental toughness with that forwarded by Jones et al. Each interviewee

was given the opportunity to amend their definition of mental toughness after being

presented with the Jones et al. definition and there was considerable overlap between the

two cohorts. The major difference being, however, that the soccer sample viewed mental

toughness as enabling players to always cope better than their opponents rather than

generally coping better. In addition, Thelwell et al. identified 10 key mental toughness

17
attributes for mental toughness in soccer, which closely resembled those provided by Jones

et al. (2002).

In a second study, 43 male, professional players with first team playing experience

ranked these 10 attributes in descending order of importance, which were as follows:

having total self-belief at all times that you will achieve success; wanting the ball at all

times (when playing well and not so well); having the ability to react to situations

positively; having the ability to hang on and be calm under pressure; knowing what it takes

to grind yourself out of trouble; having the ability to ignore distractions and remain

focused; controlling emotions throughout performance; having a presence that affects

opponents; having everything outside of the game in control; and enjoying the pressure

associated with performance. Aside from self-belief, which was ranked as the most

important attribute for the mentally tough performer by both the Jones et al. (2002) and

Thelwell et al. samples, there was a considerable difference among the importance ascribed

to key characteristics across these cohorts. However, the scientific rigour of these findings

are confounded by the very small sample size in the first study (n = 6) as well as the limited

theoretical impact of these findings as a result of the descriptive presentation of the results.

Combining Established Theory and Practice

The aforementioned research has sought to understand key stakeholders’

perspectives of mental toughness through exploratory research but has failed to draw on

established psychological theory to clarify as well as enhance such findings. In contrast to

these research endeavours, Clough, Earle, and Sewell (2002) sought to combine the

ecologically valid views of athletes, coaches and practitioners with already established

psychological theory. Specifically, they offered a novel approach by combining and

integrating psychological theory examining “hardiness” within health psychology (Kobasa,

18
1979; Kobasa, Maddi, & Kahn, 1982) with applied sport psychology knowledge to develop

a model of mental toughness. Psychological hardiness is conceptualised as a constellation

of attitudes, beliefs and behavioural tendencies consisting of control, commitment and

challenge that provide an individual with resistance to negative life experiences such as

stress and anxiety (Maddi, 2006). Clough et al. conceptualised hardiness and mental

toughness as similar constructs, each involving components of control, commitment, and

challenge, but they added confidence into their model of mental toughness to differentiate it

from hardiness. Indeed, the addition of confidence into such a conceptualisation of mental

toughness is consistent with the scant literature (e.g., Bull et al., 2002: Fourie & Potgieter,

2001; Jones et al., 2002, 2007; Thelwell et al., 2005).

According to the 4C’s model, mentally tough individuals: (a) view negative

experiences (e.g., anxiety and stress) as a challenge that they can overcome but also a

natural and essential catalyst for growth and development; (b) believe that they are

influential in dealing with and controlling negative life experiences; (c) are deeply involved

in what they are doing and committed to achieving their goals; and (d) are confident in their

ability to deal with and overcome negative life experiences (Clough et al., 2002). Despite

providing an intuitively appealing conceptualisation of mental toughness, the 4C’s model

was not developed on the basis of exploratory empirical work but on existing theoretical

frameworks of (hypothesised) related constructs and research in non-sporting populations.

The fact that their conceptualisation of mental toughness is not grounded in the social and

cultural conditions of sport presents some questions as to the applicability of their model in

sport. Furthermore, the presentation of their conceptualisation of mental toughness lacked

scientific rigour in that no information was presented as to data collection and analysis of

the views of practitioners, players, and coaches. However, their research does highlight the

19
importance of drawing on established psychological theory to enhance our understanding of

data derived from exploratory research.

Defining Mental Toughness

Although a large number of “experientially-based” definitions are evident within the

literature (e.g., Gibson, 1998; Goldberg, 1998), the only formal definition of mental

toughness which has emerged from empirical research is that forwarded by Jones and

colleagues (2002). According to these authors:

Mental toughness is having the natural or developed psychological edge


that enables you to:
 Generally, cope better than your opponents with the many demands
(competition, training, lifestyle) that sport places on the performer.
 Specifically, be more consistent and better than your opponents in
remaining determined, focused, confident, and in control under pressure (p.
209).

Support for this definition was recently obtained with male soccer players (Thelwell et al.,

2005) and Olympic and world champions as well as coaches and sport psychologists who

have worked with these athletes (Jones et al., 2007). Minor differences were observed

between the soccer-specific definition and the definition forwarded by Jones and

colleagues, however. Specifically, the soccer sample viewed mental toughness as enabling

players to always cope better than their opponents rather than generally coping better.

Despite representing an excellent starting point, this definition is lacking for two

reasons. First, because of its focus on the outcomes of mental toughness this definition does

little to suggest what this “natural or developed psychological edge” is. Unfortunately,

defining mental toughness solely in terms of psychosocial outcomes in the face of

adversity, pressure, and challenge provides little information about the processes of mental

toughness that moderate and mediate one’s ability to thrive through such circumstances.

Second, the outcomes of mental toughness are focused heavily on success being defined in

20
regards to beating an opponent, which implies that those athletes who do not beat their

opponent or achieve success cannot be mentally tough. Defined in this way, it may be

argued that mental toughness simply reflects superior athleticism rather than a superior

ability to deal with, overcome, and thrive through the many challenges and pressures

associated with an athletic career.

Measuring Mental Toughness

The lack of a clear conceptualisation and operational definition of mental toughness

has meant that there have been few attempts to develop inventories that profile and assess

mental toughness in sport. Loehr’s (1986) Psychological Performance Inventory (PPI) has

been the most influential and widely employed inventory for measuring mental toughness

in both applied and research settings (e.g., Golby & Sheard, 2004, 2006; Golby, Sheard, &

Lavallee, 2003; Sheard & Golby, 2006). The PPI measures what Loehr claims as being the

seven most essential ingredients of mental toughness: self-confidence; attention control;

negative energy; motivation; attitude control; positive energy; and visual and imagery

control. However, Loehr offered no psychometric support for its use and, until recently,

little rigorous research has been conducted on the psychometric properties of the PPI.

The Psychological Performance Inventory

Two recent psychometric examinations of the PPI have produced unfavourable

results. Middleton et al. (2004d) evaluated the construct validity of the PPI with a sample of

263 (163 males; 101 females) student-athletes (aged 12 to 17) from an elite sports high

school in Sydney, Australia. Initially, a confirmatory factor analysis (CFA) was not

supportive of the a priori model and was of poor fit. An exploratory factor analysis (EFA)

was then performed and an alternative five-factor model was found to be most supportive

of the data. Although the alternative structure provided a sounder model fit, it showed

21
weaker correlations with some of the hypothesised key correlates of mental toughness (e.g.,

physical self-description, perceptions of success, elite athlete self-description, and flow)

when compared with the original structure. Middleton et al. concluded that neither the

original nor the alternative five-factor structure were psychometrically sound measures of

mental toughness and suggested that further conceptual/theoretical work was needed to

develop a multifaceted, psychometrically sound measure of mental toughness. In particular,

methodological limitations inherent within this design such as the small sample size (cf.

Meyers, 2006) and external validity (e.g., mean age of participants being 13.8 years)

required further attention.

As a replication and extension of Middleton et al. (2004d), Golby, Sheard, and Van

Wersch (2007) utilised a larger and more representative sample. Participants in this study

included 303 males aged 14 to 63 (M = 25.68, SD = 6.28) and 105 females aged 12 to 44

(M = 19.78, SD = 5.95) from a variety of team (e.g., rugby union, basketball, soccer) and

individual sports (e.g., swimming, slalom canoeing). Unlike Middleton et al., who initially

conducted a CFA to examine the PPI’s factor structure, Golby et al. embarked by

conducting a principal components analysis. Although suggesting a parsimonious fit, the

analysis yielded minimal support for the a priori factor structure (e.g., items on each factor

were inconsistent with original structure). Prior to running a subsequent EFA, 13 items

from the principal components analysis with factor loadings <.40 or those with cross-

loadings >.30 were deleted. The analysis yielded an alternative four-factor, 14-item

structure with significant correlations among the four factors. Accordingly, a higher-order

factor analysis was performed on the four-factor solution, with the general mental

toughness (GMT) factor accounting for 14% to 58% of item variance. A CFA on the GMT

22
yielded was not supportive, whereas the incremental and fit indices for the four-factor

model suggested model fit.

The Mental Toughness-48

Based on their 4C’s model of mental toughness, Clough et al. (2002) subsequently

developed the Mental Toughness-48 (MT-48). It has 48 statements with responses made on

a 5-point Likert scale ranging from strongly disagree (1) to strongly agree (5). The MT-48

was completed by more than 600 athletes from various sports and was shown to have good

test-retest reliability (r = .90) and sufficient internal consistency of the subscales (α = .71 to

.80). Construct validity was offered in the form of moderate correlations with other

established positive psychological constructs, namely: optimism (r = .48), self-image (r =

.42), life satisfaction (r = .56), and self-efficacy (r = .68). Using the MT-48, Clough and

colleagues have revealed moderate correlations between the MT-48 and isometric

endurance times (r = .34; Crust & Clough, 2005).

From a methodological standpoint, Clough et al.’s (2002) account of the research

process was overly brief and did not provide enough detail regarding the methodologies

employed to develop their model and associated inventory. Such brevity fails to convey the

extent to which the methodologies employed demonstrate rigor, reliability and validity.

For example, there was no indication whether the instrument went through (the required)

rigorous statistical procedures (e.g., exploratory and confirmatory factor analyses) in the

development and validation stages. Such information is important for two reasons. First,

this information is required to demonstrate that the inventory has adequate psychometric

properties and, therefore, is actually measuring what the inventory is asserting to measure

(i.e., the proposed model). Second, supportive information concerning the factor structure

of the inventory will provide further evidence in favour of the associated model of mental

23
toughness, whereas unsupportive evidence will place some doubt on the proposed model. In

addition, Clough et al. have failed to demonstrate that their measure of mental toughness,

and therefore their 4C’s model, can be differentiated from psychometrically sound

hardiness measures (e.g., Personal Views Survey III; Maddi & Khoshaba, 2001).

Developing Mental Toughness

Another gap in the mental toughness literature is that there is little research

examining how the key characteristics revealed in the handful of peer-reviewed studies are

acquired or developed. Although not a specific examination of the development of mental

toughness per se, Bull et al. (2005) highlighted the interaction of a performer’s

environment, character, attitudes, and thinking as a possible means of developing mental

toughness. Four global themes, which were hierarchically organised in the form of a mental

toughness pyramid, highlighted the important role that an athlete’s environment plays in

influencing a tough character (e.g., resilient confidence, independence, self-reflection, and

competitiveness with self as well as others), tough attitude (e.g., having a never-say-die

mindset, go-the-extra-mile mindset, thriving on competition, belief in making a difference,

exploit learning opportunities, willing to take risks, belief in quality preparation,

determination to make the most of ability, and self-set challenging targets), and tough

thinking (e.g., being able to think clearly and having a robust self-confidence). Primary

environmental influences identified by Bull et al. (2005) included parental influences and

childhood background. Other secondary influences (e.g., need to earn success, have

opportunities to survive early setbacks, and exposure to foreign cricket) were also

highlighted as being an important foundation upon which the key characteristics of mental

toughness are developed. However, while revealing that these influences were integral to

the development of mental toughness, little information was provided as to how (i.e.,

24
processes, strategies, mechanisms) these factors exerted their influence in the development

process.

Connaughton, Wadey, Hanton, and Jones (2008) re-interviewed seven participants

from a previous study (Jones et al., 2002) about their perception of how mental toughness is

developed and maintained. Several contributing factors were said to interact throughout a

long-process discussed within each of Bloom’s (1985) developmental stages (early, middle,

and late years). Key individuals within the athlete’s socialisation network (coaches, peers,

parents, grandparents, siblings, senior athletes, sport psychologists, team-mates) were

considered integral to this process. Participants were also in agreement that exposure to a

variety of experiences, both within and outside of sport, were crucial for its development.

Similarly, intrapersonal influences resulting from the motivational climate (e.g., enjoyment,

mastery) as well as an insatiable desire and internalised motives to succeed were commonly

discussed by participants. Finally, psychological skills and strategies such as imagery, pre-

performance routines, and goal-setting, which are taught by sport psychologists, were

considered highly influential in the later years. Participants also believed that maintenance

through three sources was required once mental toughness had been developed: intrinsic

motivation to succeed; social support; and the implementation of basic and advanced

psychological skill use.

Despite the lack of research on the development of mental toughness, examinations

of gifted and talented school children (Gagné, 2004) and athletes (Bloom, 1985; Côté,

1999; Gould, Dieffenbach, & Moffett, 2002) as well as talent development research in sport

(e.g., Fraser-Thomas, Côté & Deakin, 2005; Martindale, Collins, & Daubney, 2005;

Tranckle & Cushion, 2006; Wolfenden & Holt, 2005) offers a useful backdrop for

understanding how the psychological characteristics associated with mental toughness may

25
be developed. This research consistently shows that people within an individual’s

socialisation network (e.g., coaches, parents, and teachers) play an important role in the

development of those psychological skills enabling gifts to develop into talent. The ways in

which these sources exert their influence on an individual’s psychological development

include both direct (e.g., teaching or emphasising certain psychological lessons) and

indirect methods (e.g., modelling or unintentionally creating certain psychological

environments). Encouragingly, much of Connaughton et al.’s (2008) findings are consistent

with this line of inquiry. However, talent development research has further highlighted that

the key individuals in an athlete’s socialisation network, including parents and coaches, can

have both positive and negative effects on the psychological development of individuals

(e.g., Gould, Lauer, Rolo, Jannes, & Pennisi, 2006; Scanlan, Stein, & Ravizza, 1991;

Wolfenden & Holt, 2005; see also Gagné, 2004). As such, future research should examine

the ways in which important sources of influence both facilitate and hinder the

development of mental toughness.

Where are We Now?

It seems appropriate at this point in time to identify commonalities as well as

differences among the aforementioned research in attempt to ascertain what is currently

known about and understood as mental toughness in sport. Perhaps the most common

finding from these studies is that mental toughness is consistently considered multifaceted

and made up of multiple key components. These key components can be broadly classified

as attitudes, cognitions, and emotions. Encouragingly, there seem to be several key

characteristics that are common across all the sports sampled thus far (e.g., self-

belief/confidence, attentional control, self-motivation, positive and tough attitude, enjoy

and handle pressure, resilience, and quality preparation) suggesting that this constellation of

26
core psychological characteristics would not vary significantly by sport. It should be noted,

however, that the cohorts involved in these investigations are certainly not representative of

all sport participants. Indeed, there are other notable variances in key characteristics which

seem to provide sport-specific information (e.g., team unity, ethics, religious convictions,

ability to react quickly), suggesting that mental toughness may be contextually driven.

While earlier accounts of mental toughness relied heavily on mental toughness

manifesting itself only in negative life experiences (e.g., Clough et al., 2002), recent

research suggests that these key characteristics are important for dealing with both positive

(e.g., winning streak) and negative situations (e.g., injury) in which an individual perceives

some kind of challenge, pressure or adversity (Jones et al., 2007). The fact that mental

toughness seems to be relevant for dealing with both positively and negatively construed

situations provides an important conceptual distinction from other related constructs such

as resilience and hardiness, which are conceptualised only in relation to negative life

experiences such as adversity, stress, and anxiety (Maddi, 2006; Rutter, 2006). For

example, resilience is largely about withstanding, recovering, and adapting to adversity or

risk where an individual experiences relatively positive psychological outcomes (Rutter,

2006). Mental toughness, on the other hand, is much more than being resilient. Although

the number of characteristics or skills that have been associated with mental toughness are

far-ranging and include a resilience component, each characteristic seems to refer more

specifically to one aspect of an individual’s superior ability to thrive through challenge,

pressure, and adversity (cf. Bull et al., 2005; Jones et al., 2002, 2007; Thelwell et al., 2005).

Ranking procedures employed by the majority of researchers to date indicate that

some components may be more important and contributing more to mental toughness than

others (Jones et al., 2002, 2007; Thelwell et al., 2005). However, the hierarchical structure

27
of this organisation cannot be determined from these investigations as the key

characteristics identified, although comparable, were not exactly the same across studies.

The rather simplistic nature of the rankings methodologies also lacks scientific rigour.

Nonetheless, an encouraging finding is that self-belief is consistently considered the most

important component of mental toughness in sport. This trend is not surprising given that

high self-confidence and belief in one’s ability to achieve success is commonly associated

with many other positive psychological states and optimal experiences such as flow

(Jackson & Csikszentmihalyi, 1999) and peak performance (Krane & Williams, 2006).

Unlike these previous investigations, Bull et al. (2005) employed a pyramid to disseminate

their findings and convey the conceptual relationship between environmental influences,

tough character, tough attitudes, and tough thinking as well as its development in cricket.

Although providing an intuitively appealing conceptualisation of their findings, this

conceptual representation was not grounded in any empirical data and, therefore, requires

further examination.

Finally, there is also preliminary evidence to suggest that mental toughness derives

from some innate disposition as well as through the internal and external experiences one

has throughout his or her life and the interpretations that develop from such experiences

(Jones et al., 2002; Connaughton et al., 2008). Key individuals in the athlete’s socialisation

network and intrapersonal factors (e.g., motives to succeed), in particular, seem to play a

crucial role in the development of mental toughness (Connaughton et al., 2008).

Unfortunately, however, these conclusions are based on limited empirical evidence and

considerably more research attention is required.

28
Where to Next?

Although impressive, the available empirical literature on mental toughness in sport,

which is predominantly outcome focused and descriptive in nature, seems weak at offering

insights into the processes by which mental toughness operates. As a result, the literature

on this apparently desirable attribute still fails in both offering consensus in terms of a

definition and operationalising the construct in a consistent manner. It is frequently

reported in the literature that a number of conceptual ambiguities exist regarding mental

toughness (e.g., Gordon, Gucciardi, & Chambers, 2007) but no specific detail is provided

by authors to alert the reader as to what these are or how they can be addressed. In this final

section I address this issue by highlighting both conceptual and methodological limitations

associated with previous research and by identifying potential avenues for alleviating such

concerns.

Generally speaking, the research to date has been inadequate as it has focused only

on describing the key characteristics and the outcomes of mental toughness. Previous

research has also failed to ground key stakeholders’ perceptions of mental toughness in the

context of what mental toughness contrasts with. The danger in conceptualising mental

toughness only in the context of what individuals believe it encompasses, in particular, is

that it opens the possibility for this construct to be misconstrued. A discussion in which

mental toughness is likened to the resilience construct is one example how it can be

construed. To understand mental toughness in sport, we must make an attempt to

understand perceptions of mental toughness and its conceptual opposite, the processes

involved, the constructs driving these processes, and what eventuates as a result of these

processes. A deeper understanding of this phenomenon, therefore, requires us to consider

29
both the outcomes and processes of the way mental toughness functions and, in particular,

of the interaction of these two aspects.

Associated with the descriptive nature of the scant literature is that there has been

little in the way of using established psychological theory to clarify as well as enhance our

understanding of the key mental toughness characteristics. For example, exploratory

research that has identified key stakeholders’ perceptions of mental toughness has failed to

draw on psychological theory such as self-determination theory (Deci & Ryan, 1985; see

also Ryan & Deci, 2000), stress and coping theory (e.g., Lazarus & Folkman, 1984), and

self-efficacy theory (Bandura, 1997; see also Feltz, Short, & Sullivan, 2008) to theoretically

ground idiosyncratic meanings of motivation, coping, and self-efficacy which are prevalent

in the empirical literature on mental toughness. In contrast, Clough et al. (2002) integrated

psychological theory examining hardiness within health psychology with their personal

knowledge stemming from consultations with elite athletes and coaches to elucidate a

sport-specific transposition of hardiness in the form of mental toughness. Unfortunately, the

lack of scientific rigour in their work does little to support the applicability of their model

in sport.

One explanation for the limited use of established psychological theory in

enhancing current conceptualisations of mental toughness may be due, in part, to the

simplistic methodologies employed by previous researchers in the area. Inductive content

analysis of transcribed verbatim data involving the identification, organisation, indexing,

and retrieval of themes to understand the meaning of each participant’s discourse has been

the methodology of choice for researchers to date. Although providing a replicable

methodology to access deep individual or collective structures such as values, cognitions,

emotions, intentions, and attitudes (Krippendorf, 2003), the data interpretation that

30
coincides with content analyses is largely descriptive in nature and fails to encourage the

establishment of theoretical links with established psychological theory. Other data

collection and analysis methodologies have largely been ignored by researchers in the area.

Grounded theory (Glaser & Strauss, 1967), for example, seeks to develop theory which is

grounded in the data by reading (and re-reading) a textual database and “discovering” or

labelling variables (called categories, concepts and codes) and their interrelationships as

well as drawing links with established theory.

Another explanation relates to the atheoretical nature of the empirical literature

examining mental toughness in sport. Theoretical frameworks provide researchers and

practitioners with specific methodologies, applications, and theoretical interpretations for

the study of a range of human phenomena across various settings (Kuhn, 1962). Although

Jones et al. (2002) indicated that personal construct psychology (PCP; Kelly, 1955/1991)

was the general framework driving their research, they did not detail exactly how PCP

informed the design of their research or provided a platform in which to interpret the

resultant data. Theory-based research, rather than purely descriptive studies, is required to

facilitate future research in its attempt at working towards conceptual clarity and consensus

in an operational definition of mental toughness in sport.

Conclusion

Despite the potential importance of mental toughness for achieving performance

excellence in sport settings, relatively few researchers have explored the area. In this first

section of the empirical and theoretical review chapter I have reviewed the extant literature

on mental toughness in sport in an attempt to highlight current perspectives on

understanding, measuring and developing mental toughness in sport and to identify avenues

for future research. Although important contributions have been made to current

31
conceptualisations of mental toughness in sport over the last decade, there are a number of

conceptual and methodological limitations that have hampered the development of

knowledge on mental toughness, none more so than the atheoretical nature of this research.

Consequently, this dissertation employs PCP (Kelly, 1955/1991) as its guiding theoretical

framework in an attempt to enhance the current understanding of mental toughness in sport.

Accordingly, the next section of this chapter reviews PCP and its potential usefulness for

sport and exercise psychology research and practice.

32
CHAPTER IIb

Construing the athlete and exerciser: Research and applied perspectives from personal

construct psychology.

[in press – Journal of Applied Sport Psychology]

33
Theoretical frameworks provide researchers and practitioners with specific methodologies,

applications, and theoretical interpretations for the study of a range of human phenomena

across various settings. Over the years, several sport and exercise psychology theorists have

implored researchers and practitioners to continuously consider and adopt alternative

theoretical frameworks in their quest to understand human behaviour as it relates to sport

and exercise (e.g., Brustad, 2002; Martens, 1987). In support of these suggestions, several

authors have proposed and demonstrated the usefulness of a number of frameworks for

research and practice in sport and exercise settings. Recent examples include hermeneutic

or interpretive approaches (Brustad, 2002), feminist epistemology and methodology (Gill,

2001), a pragmatic research philosophy (Giacobbi, Poczwardowski, & Hager, 2005),

discursive psychology (Faulkner & Finlay, 2002), and personal construct psychology (PCP;

Gordon, Gucciardi, & Chambers, 2007). However, despite having been employed

extensively and successfully by researchers and practitioners in areas such as nursing

(Costigan, Ellis, & Watkinson, 2003), education (Pope & Denicolo, 2001), and

psychotherapy (Winter & Viney, 2005) PCP (Kelly, 1955/1991) has yet to feature strongly

in sport and exercise settings.

Studies using traditional PCP construct elicitation techniques such as the repertory

grid and laddering techniques as well as elaborations of this theory using the performance

profile in sport and exercise settings do exist (see Gordon et al., 2007, for an overview). A

more recent extension has seen the use of PCP in the derivation of an interview protocol to

generate an understanding of the mental toughness construct in Australian football

(Gucciardi & Gordon, in press; Gucciardi, Gordon, & Dimmock, in press). Despite such

examples in the literature, PCP has yet to make a significant impact in sport and exercise

settings. One explanation for this is the absence of a detailed overview of PCP, its key

34
methodologies, and its potential usefulness for sport and exercise psychology researchers

and practitioners. For this theoretical framework to be fully appreciated and recognised as a

potentially useful framework for studying psychological phenomena associated with

participation in sport and physical activity we require an overview of PCP that grounds it

within these contexts.

The purposes of this paper, therefore, are to review key tenets of PCP and provide a

foundation upon which others may seek to explore its usefulness for an array of research

and professional endeavours in sport and exercise settings. To achieve these goals I first

provide an overview of the philosophical roots and the key components of PCP. This is

followed by a discussion of two of the traditional methodologies commonly employed for a

personal construct enquiry and two elaborations of PCP in sport and exercise settings. I

then describe two case examples illustrating how I have employed PCP in my professional

practice. I conclude with a discussion of the implications for research and professional

practice.

The Philosophical Position: Constructive Alternativism

Central to PCP is the notion that we actively and continuously attempt to make

sense of the world around us (Kelly, 1955/1991). Kelly was clear in noting, however, that

while perhaps there is ultimate truth in the world no one has direct access to such truth. He

argued that “since an absolute construction of the universe is not feasible, we shall have to

be content with a series of approximations to it…[that] can, in turn, be tested…for their

predictive efficiency” (p. 150)5. Rather than conforming to the concept of one unalterable

reality, Kelly contended that there is always more than one way to interpret and give

meaning to the world, a position that he termed constructive alternativism.

5
Direct quotations of Kelly (1955/1991) throughout this paper were taken from the 1955 publication which is
currently no longer in print, whereas the 1991 publication is still in print. However, we have included the page
numbers of the fundamental postulate and the 11 corollaries for both publications in Table 1.

35
Constructive alternativism emphasises that there will always be other ways of

viewing the world, some of which will undoubtedly be better than other constructions (e.g.,

self-belief vs. self-doubt). Constructions that are more useful permit clearer avenues for

anticipating a wider range of events, whereas less useful constructions provide fragmented

avenues of anticipation and fewer predictions of one’s behaviour (Kelly, 1955/1991). Thus,

no one should feel trapped by one interpretation of an event as we all have the ability to

think about it differently. Constructive alternativism views the progression of knowledge as

the adoption of new perspectives and frameworks for our understanding of the world.

Consistent with his theoretical formulation (i.e., contrasting poles of distinction), Kelly

contrasted constructive alternativism with the philosophical position that knowledge is

advanced through the accumulation of facts and truths, which he termed accumulative

fragmentalism.

Central to the philosophical position of constructive alternativism is the notion that

all behaviour is an experiment in which we test our anticipations of the world. It follows

that the events of our lives do not determine our behaviour; rather, we experience an event

and place our anticipations and predictions on it and this, not the event itself, is what

determines our behaviour (Kelly, 1955/1991). It is through these (internal and external)

experiences that we develop and modify constructions of the world. Personal constructs are

not evaluated in terms of their truth or correctness but rather for the usefulness and validity

of each construct for that individual’s behaviour; how well that construction of events

allows an individual to best anticipate what will happen in the immediate and long-term

future (Kelly, 1955/1991).

36
Personal Construct Psychology: The Key Components

The fundamental postulate presented in Table 1 describes the central thesis of PCP

in which Kelly (1955/1991) proposed a “man [sic]-the-scientist” (p. 4) metaphor as a more

useful model than the more dominant theories at the time (e.g., behaviourism and

psychodynamics) for understanding others and ourselves. Specifically, he argued that

people seem to act as personal scientists engaged in making meaning of the world around

them by anticipating and making predictions about their personal experiences much like a

research scientist. Construing is the term Kelly coined to represent the interpretive process

whereby individuals seek to reveal meaning from the succession of events (i.e., elements)

they experience by identifying recurring themes and their contrasts (i.e., constructs). Kelly

further specified 11 corollaries of the fundamental postulate that stipulate and describe the

nature of construing but also the development and modification of personal constructs and

the organisation of our construct systems (see Table 1). Taken together, the fundamental

postulate and its 11 corollaries propose that we actively seek to make sense of our world

through our experiences (both internal and external) by developing, maintaining, and

modifying hierarchically organised, internal representations to make predictions that we

test for their predictive efficiency.

It is important to acknowledge that construing is considered an underlying process

of discrimination taking place at all levels of awareness, from verbal to intuitive thought,

which supports our anticipation of events. Kelly (1955/1991) viewed humans as holistic

entities having capabilities devoted to affect, cognition, and behaviour. However, he

emphasised that because these features stem from one underlying process of anticipation

and construction we cannot reduce human psychology into parts and study each

individually without any consideration of the other features (e.g., cognitive psychology vs.

37
Table 1. An overview of PCP: The fundamental postulate and the 11 corollaries.

PCP Kelly’s (1955/1991) Words Our Words


Component
Fundamental A person’s processes are psychologically channelised by the A person’s processes, which include experiences, cognitions, affect, and behaviours, are determined by their efforts to
Postulate ways in which he [sic] anticipates events (p. 46/32). make sense out of and anticipate their world of events, people, and themselves.

Construction A person anticipates events by construing their replications (p. We identify recurring or consistent themes, which enable us to anticipate their replications and recognise them when they
Corollary 50/35). do occur, by distinguishing between those things that are similar and those that are not.

Individuality Persons differ from each other in their construction of events (p. Each person is different not because they experience different events but because of the idiosyncratic and unique manner
Corollary 55/38). in which they make sense of their experiences.

Organisation Each person characteristically evolves, for his [sic] convenience People develop a hierarchical system of interrelated constructs where some constructs are more important (superordinate)
Corollary in anticipating events, a construction system embracing ordinal than others (subordinate) in an attempt to make their world manageable.
relationships between constructs (p. 56/39).

Dichotomy A person’s construct system is composed of a finite number of People store their meaning-making experiences in the form of bipolar constructs, which guide how an individual thinks,
Corollary dichotomous constructs (p. 59/41). feels, and behaves.

Choice A person chooses for himself [sic] that alternative in a Rather than being passive or reactive, at some level of awareness people choose a preferred pole of a construct that seems
Corollary dichotomised construct through which he [sic] anticipates the most useful for predicting future events.
greatest possibility for elaboration of his [sic] system (p. 64/45).

Range A construct is convenient for the anticipation of a finite range of Each personal construct has both a focus and range of convenience (i.e., area of maximum usefulness) in which it can be
Corollary events only (p. 68/48). most applicable and others where it will not; that is, no construct is useful for everything.

Experience A person’s construction system varies as he [sic[ successively Personal construct systems undergo a progressive evolution as people continually attempt to make sense of their world in
Corollary construes the replication of events (p. 72/50). which some personal constructs are validated and retained while those that are not validated are revised.

Modulation The variation in a person’s construction system is limited by the Permeable constructs are more useful in making sense of novel occurrences or events, while those that are impermeable
Corollary permeability of the constructs within whose ranges of are impenetrable and not open to change.
convenience the variants lie (p. 77/54).

Fragmentation A person may successively employ a variety of constructions People’s construct systems do not always have to be logically related because constructs within an individuals system
Corollary subsystems which are inferentially incompatible with each other may appear incompatible or inconsistent with each other, as far as their superordinate constructs are permeable enough to
(p. 83/58). tolerate these inconsistencies.

Commonality The extent that one person employs a construction of experience Despite personal construct systems being idiosyncratic and unique, individuals may share similarities in the ways in
Corollary which is similar to that employed by another, his [sic] processes which they make sense of events.
are psychologically similar to those of the other person (p.
90/63).

Sociality To the extent that one person construes the construction process This corollary is concerned with interpersonal understanding and interaction by which people go beyond simple
Corollary of another he [sic] may play a role in a social process involving observation of another’s behaviour and interpret what that behaviour means to them; that is, construing another person’s
the other person (p. 95/66). construction of events.

38
behavioural psychology). PCP avoids this schism and attempts to unify all of our senses

into one psychology recommending that they be construed together so that we may develop

a deeper, more holistic understanding of meaning-making and human behaviour.

Ultimately, we are trying to understand what a person’s construing leads him or her to

anticipate from his or her world of people and events, and how these meanings dictate his

or her behaviour. This “anticipatory” focus is what distinguishes PCP from every other

psychological theory concerning human behaviour.

Methodologies of a Personal Construct Enquiry

There are several traditional PCP techniques available to researchers and

practitioners wishing to explore an individual’s personal construct system. These

techniques are not viewed as standardised, objective tests (Walker & Winter, 2007) but

rather methods for structuring conversations and interventions (Fransella, Bell, &

Bannister, 2004). Despite my focus on two of the more popular traditional methods, namely

the repertory grid and laddering techniques, there are a range of elicitation methods to fit

different purposes (e.g., pyramiding, ABC model, self-characterisation, and biographical

grids; see Denicolo, 2003; Fransella, 2003; Walker & Winter, 2007, for an overview). I also

discuss the performance profile technique and multisource/360-degree feedback as two

elaborations of PCP in sport and exercise settings.

The Repertory Grid.

The repertory grid technique (RGT) is a method (not a test) for exploring the

relations between elements and constructs. Specifically, it enables one to understand those

constructs that an individual considers personally meaningful for some particular event

(e.g., the Olympics), context (e.g., competition or training), or set of objects (e.g., people;

Fransella et al., 2004). Although the RGT was originally developed by Kelly to assist in

39
counselling his clients, the technique has subsequently been applied in many different

contexts (see Fransella et al., 2004). Gordon et al. (2007) have provided an overview of

research that has employed the RGT in sport and exercise settings.

The RGT is an extremely powerful technique as it does not assume a pre-defined

framework and then try to fit everyone into a limited set of “boxes.” It can be carried out in

a timely and efficient manner with the development of computerised versions of the

technique placing less emphasis on conducting face-to-face interviews. Perhaps the most

attractive feature of the RGT is that the data generated can be subjected to a variety of

analyses. However, some degree of thoughtfulness and specific knowledge of repertory

grids is required by the analyst to make the most appropriate decision. As individuals’ grids

can be substantially different from one another, this becomes even more important when

analysing several grids. Researchers and practitioners implementing the technique for the

first time may benefit greatly from any one of the software packages designed specifically

for the analysis of repertory grids (see http://www.pcp-net.de/info/comp-prog.html).

Individuals must also be cognisant of the impact of making modifications and

adaptations of the RGT, as the nature of the constructs elicited can be substantially affected

by even subtle changes (see Neimeyer, Neimeyer, Hagans, & Van Brunt, 2002, for an

overview). Although the RGT is useful in enabling the practitioner or researcher to

determine whether a personal construct is contained within an individual’s system, it cannot

help establish the positioning of that construct within the individual’s overall system. As a

result, little information is obtained about the importance individuals place on certain

constructs within their construct system. Another traditional method for a personal

construct enquiry, referred to as the laddering interview, can provide us with such

information.

40
Laddering

The laddering interview (Hinkle, 1965) elicits information by moving between

levels of constructs within an individual’s personal construct system thereby enabling one

to understand how subordinate constructs relate to superordinate ones (Neimeyer,

Anderson, & Stockton, 2001). One can move up the personal construct system using “why”

questions and down the system using “how” questions. Typically, laddering is employed as

a process of self-verbalisation assisting an individual in working towards verbalising the

core constructs of his or her individual system. It is also employed as a method for drawing

up alternative plans (or a repertoire of plans and policies) of how to act to achieve more

superordinate goals, objectives, and ideals in a manner that remains compatible with one’s

core constructs or values (R. Hill, personal communication, March 21, 2007).

Unfortunately, however, examples of the laddering technique in sport and exercise settings

(e.g., Clarke, 2005) are limited.

The laddering interview is one of the most flexible methodologies of a personal

construct enquiry. It is immediately useful to the practitioner and, therefore, can be adopted

during a session at anytime deemed necessary by the practitioner. Despite these clear

attractions, the laddering interview has been described as a “complex skill and not just an

interviewing technique” (Fransella, 2003, p. 113) and being deceptively simple to conduct

(Neimeyer et al., 2001). Having enough variation in how one asks the “why” question

(Fransella et al., 2004) and preventing the production of “snakes as well as ladders” (i.e.,

moving up and down the system; Butt, 1995) are two major challenges in conducting a

laddering interview. Therefore, the interviewer requires certain skills (e.g., ability to

subsume another’s construing, suspending one’s personal values, and listening credulously)

41
to carry out the laddering interview as well as other methodologies of a personal construct

enquiry successfully (Fransella, 2003)6.

Information generated from a laddering interview does little to facilitate an

understanding of how the constructs within a system relate to elements within their range of

convenience. Researchers and practitioners can alleviate such concerns by combining the

laddering and repertory grid techniques. It should be noted, however, that both techniques,

in isolation or when combined, provide minimal information for understanding how a

person adapts to and connects with a continually changing environment. Kelly’s

(1955/1991) fixed-role therapy, which is described through a case example later in this

paper, is a useful technique for exploring the evolution of an individual’s personal construct

system.

Performance Profiling

PCP is perhaps best known in sport settings as the basis upon which the

performance profile (Butler, 1991) was conceived. The performance profile is essentially

an adaptation of the RGT in which the coach or consultant seeks to gain an understanding

of the meaning an athlete maintains about his or her performance by bringing him or her

more into focus and more involved in the decision-making process (Butler & Hardy, 1992;

Jones, 1993). This meaning is most commonly centred on the (physical, mental, tactical, or

technical) constructs that the athlete believes are essential for performance excellence at the

elite level. Research indicates that the performance profile is effective in raising an

individual’s self-awareness about his or her current state and enhancing adherence to

intervention programs (Butler, Smith, & Irwin, 1993; Jones, 1993). Qualitative and

quantitative research has also shown that group profiling is useful for increasing athlete
6
Neimeyer et al. (2001) have described 10 heuristics to help guide researchers and practitioners in the
administration and interpretation of a laddered interview.

42
self-awareness and performance evaluation, goal setting, enhancing communication and

interaction within teams and between athlete and coach, and increasing intrinsic motivation

(Weston, 2005). However, although there is moderate support for the predictive and

construct validity of the performance profile, it may not be sensitive enough to detect small

changes in performance that occur across the competitive season and when small changes

are expected (Doyle & Parfitt, 1996, 1997).

Multisource and 360-Degree Feedback

Multisource and 360-degree feedback methodology originated from the coalescing

of several areas (e.g., multirater measurement, data-based feedback, employee

involvement) into the practice of standardised collection of behavioural feedback for

managers (Hedge, Borman, & Birkeland, 2001). The method highlights the richness of data

that can be obtained by rating systems covering a wide range of performance dimensions

and sources of information. People chosen as raters (e.g., self, peer, coach, parent)

generally interact routinely with the person receiving the feedback because each person is

exposed to the individual in different ways. While two or more raters, one of which is

usually the self, are required for multi-source feedback, a full circle of feedback made up of

superiors, subordinates and peers are required for 360-degree feedback (Foster & Law,

2006).

A lack of agreement between rating sources does not necessarily reflect poor quality

ratings; rather, it reflects the unique sources of performance information observed from

each rater. This idea is consistent with Kelly’s (1955/1991) descriptions of the sociality

corollary in which he emphasised the importance of recognising and understanding that

other people can hold different points of view, feelings, and experiences. It follows that if

one is able to distinguish another person’s construction of events from his or her own

43
idiosyncratic construction it is through this interpersonal understanding one will be better

equipped for change and development. As such, it is surprising that this methodological

process has yet to be placed in the context of PCP.

Case Examples of PCP in Practice

The traditional methods developed to enquire about personal construct systems

described previously and elsewhere (see Denicolo, 2003; Fransella, 2003; Fransella et al.,

2004; Neimeyer et al., 2001; Neimeyer et al., 2005; Walker & Winter, 2007) represent an

exciting array of options for sport and exercise psychology researchers and practitioners.

Unfortunately, use of these methods has diminished in recent years despite their diverse

potential in our field. Accordingly, in this section I aim to stimulate ideas concerning

potential applications of these methods by providing two case examples of how I have

incorporated PCP into the services I have offered athletes and sport teams.

It should be noted that my training in using the PCP techniques described in this

paper has been limited to reading key texts and gaining practical experiences in

implementing the techniques with students and clients. Specifically, I have obtained an

undergraduate degree in psychology and near completion of a PhD in sport psychology. I

have combined my academic training with professional training over the past three years

under the supervision of one of my doctoral supervisors (Dr. Sandy Gordon). He is a

registered sport psychologist who holds diplomas in education and physical education,

masters’ degrees in education and arts, and a PhD in physical education and sport studies.

His professional training has occurred simultaneously with other qualifications over the

past 30 years.

Case example 1. I recently had a 23-year-old male swimmer seek assistance

regarding a performance anxiety issue that he was experiencing. At the time of initial

44
contact, Peter (pseudonym) had been involved in competitive swimming for 14 years, seven

of which had been at the state-level (i.e., level below the national team). In the previous 6

months, he was regularly failing to make the final race for his three main disciplines (50m,

100m, and 200m freestyle). Prior to this performance slump, Peter was consistently placing

in the top three swimmers for all three disciplines and was on target to reach his long-term

goal of making the national squad. However, both Peter and his coach were aware that his

current performance slump was hindering his chances of attaining that goal.

In the first couple of sessions with Peter, my main objective was to assist him in

recognising and understanding his current view of the world in relation to his performance

anxiety beliefs, attitudes, thoughts, and behaviours using a combination of the tools and

techniques mentioned previously (e.g., performance profile, repertory grid). I began with

the performance profile technique as a method to enquire about the mental qualities Peter

believed are required to perform at his best in competition. Specifically, I asked Peter to

consider the following: “What in your opinion are the qualities or characteristics you

require to perform at your best during competition?” Drawing on the theoretical

underpinnings of PCP, I encouraged Peter to think back to a recent performance where he

handled the competitive pressure and performed to his potential (i.e., situation as an

element) in an attempt to facilitate the process of bringing his personal constructs into

consciousness. For each of the qualities Peter listed (self-belief, handle pressure, emotional

control, attentional control, positivity, and perseverance) I had him write a short description

of what that characteristic meant to him. This served as a reminder of what Peter was

referring to for each of the characteristics over the course of my time with Peter as well as

enabling me to gain a greater insight to Peter’s construct system.

45
I was next interested in obtaining the contrast pole for each of the qualities Peter

listed previously. Unlike the traditional version of the performance profile technique (cf.

Butler, 1991; Butler & Hardy, 1992), which only generates an emergent pole, obtaining

bipolar personal constructs is more consistent with a PCP approach to the exploration of

individual’s meaning making. To achieve this, I asked Peter the following: “Someone who

is not [emergent pole] would be…?” Other variations include asking, “How does someone

differ from someone who is [emergent pole]?” or “[emergent pole] would contrast with

someone who is?” Similar to the emergent pole, I also had Peter write a short description of

what each of the contrast poles meant to him. Peter then completed a performance profile

and provided a rating for his current level on each bipolar construct. The bipolar personal

constructs were placed on the perimeter of the profile chart illustrated in Figure 1 and the

short descriptions associated with each labelled in a table to the side.

The development of a performance profile early on in our discussions was

important not only for enabling me to gain an initial insight into Peter’s construction of

events but it also provided me with a simple tool for monitoring his progress throughout

our sessions. However, the profile only provided me with one vantage point of Peter’s view

of the topic. Having established what these key constructs were I was next interested in

gaining an understanding of the constructs in relation to certain elements. Because we are

in constant and continual engagement with the external world, we are encouraged to

actively seek out, describe, and evaluate the elements we experience in an attempt to

anticipate and predict what will occur in the future (Kelly, 1955/1991). Particular contexts

and people are the most frequently employed elements in PCP research that utilises the

RGT (Fransella et al., 2004).

46
Emergent Pole Contrast Pole
Self-belief Self-doubt
“Belief in my physical ability” “Doubting my ability to perform
well”

Handle Pressure Nervousness


“Enjoying the pressure of “Mental tension an unease about
competition” performing”

Emotional Control Emotional Instability


“Controlling my emotions at critical “Losing control of my emotions at
moments” critical moments”

Attentional Control Distractible


“Maintaining focus and concentration “Allowing distractions to interrupt
at critical moments” my focus and concentration”

Positivity Negativity
“Remaining positive no matter the “Allowing negative thoughts to
circumstance” dictate my thinking”

Perseverance Lazy
“Never giving up and pushing myself “Taking the easy option of giving
to my limits” up”

Pre-Assessment

Post-Assessment

Figure 1. Peter’s performance profile including a pre- and post-assessment and descriptions of the emergent and contrast poles.

47
The bipolar constructs Peter generated through the performance profile technique

formed the basis for the RGT that followed. Specifically, I was interested in having Peter

consider these constructs in relation to other swimmers whom he believed thrived on the

pressure of competition and in the context of training and critical incidents during

competition. He completed a ratings grid with minimum and maximum Likert scores

anchored on each construct pole. The “critical incidents as elements” grid displayed in

Table 2a provides an overview of Peter’s initial assessment on the bipolar constructs in

those incidents listed as elements. These ratings provided me with an insight into Peter’s

perception of that pole of the construct he currently positioned himself for those incidents.

The “people as elements” grid displayed in Table 2b provided an overview of Peter’s

assessment of other swimmers whom he believed handled the pressures and challenges of

competition in comparison to him.

The RGT was an important process because it provided a platform from which I

could begin my discussions that sought to assist Peter in reinterpreting competition to help

alleviate the effects of the performance anxiety he was experiencing. Specifically, I

endeavoured to help Peter realise that his construction of events may not be the most useful

one and that there are other constructions available to him. I found through the RGT that

Peter consistently rated himself towards the contrast pole of each construct for critical

incidents occurring during competition but not during training. He also construed other

swimmers – who dealt effectively with performance pressure and anxiety – towards the

emergent pole of each construct. It was my opinion that the constructs themselves were not

the problem and in that terms of constructive revision total “construct innovation” (i.e., the

development of new constructs to make sense of these events) was perhaps not required.

48
Table 2. (a) Peter’s completed ratings grid of critical incidents during competition as
elements with minimum and maximum Likert scores anchored on construct poles.

Elements

Clean Turns

Race Finish
False Start

Execution
Training

Strategy
Emergent Pole Contrast Pole
Self-belief (1) 2 4 2 2 5 (7) Self-doubt

Handle Pressure (1) 2 5 4 4 5 (7) Nervousness


Constructs

Positivity (1) 1 5 3 5 4 (7) Negativity

Emotional Control (1) 2 5 5 4 6 (7) Emotional Instability

Perseverance (1) 1 3 6 2 5 (7) Lazy

Attentional Control (1) 2 6 5 1 2 (7) Distractible

(b) Peter’s completed ratings grid of people as elements with minimum and maximum
Likert scores anchored on construct poles.

Elements
James

Adam
Bruce

John
Self

Emergent Pole Contrast Pole


Self-belief (1) 4 2 1 2 2 (7) Self-doubt

Handle Pressure (1) 4 1 1 3 2 (7) Nervousness


Constructs

Positivity (1) 5 3 2 3 1 (7) Negativity

Emotional Control (1) 5 2 2 2 1 (7) Emotional Instability

Perseverance (1) 3 2 1 1 2 (7) Lazy

Attentional Control (1) 4 2 2 2 3 (7) Distractible

49
Rather, I focused my efforts on “slot change” in which I helped Peter move from one pole

of each construct to the other7.

One approach I found useful here is Kelly’s (1955/1991) fixed-role therapy in

which the practitioner drafts a hypothetical role description of someone who confronts

similar experiences to those being discussed but approaches them in different ways. The

information obtained through the RGT performed previously becomes a useful reference

for the practitioner. Using this approach, the client is invited to assume this fictional

identity and experiment with events that s/he would normally experience from the

perspective of this identity for a short period. This allows the client to gain experience in

dealing with new ways of construing in a safe environment.

In this instance, the hypothetical role I sketched for Peter was made up of those

characteristics described by the emergent poles that were elicited using the performance

profile. Alternatively, practitioners may consider asking their client to complete ratings on

the performance profile for themselves and two or three fellow athletes with whom they are

familiar. I combined this experiential exercise with psychological skills training aimed at

developing Peter’s ability to: control his emotions (e.g., individual zone of optimal

functioning; see Hanin, 2004) and attention (e.g., pre-event and pre-performance routines,

goal setting); and maintain self-belief and positivity at critical incidents during competition

(e.g., self-talk). Over the course of my time with Peter, I noticed considerable

improvements in Peter’s ability to experiment with different ways of experiencing

competition and the associated performance anxiety. Improvements in his performance

profile ratings (see Figure 1) provided evidence for the validity and usefulness of the

techniques I employed during my consultations with Peter.

7
From this example, it may be assumed that the emergent pole of a construct is always the preferred pole. It
should be noted that this is not always the case.

50
Case example 2. A coach of a men’s Australian football team from a state-level

league asked me to assist in identifying a core leadership group within his team. Being new

to the club and the players, the coach was eager to understand the players’ thoughts on what

they considered as leadership qualities and to use this information to identify a leadership

group for the seasons ahead. He believed that obtaining the players’ perceptions should be

an essential component of any endeavour designed to assign a leadership group that was

respected by the playing group, as he believed that a lack of respect from the playing group

was one of the major weaknesses of the leadership group of this team prior to his

appointment as head coach.

I started out by conducting a series of repertory grid interviews in which each player

(n = 28) was required to compile a list of elements including six “ideal leaders” (both

within and outside of sport) to be used only for his repertory grid. A seventh element “the

ideal leader” was also used in eliciting personal constructs. Overall then, there were 35

possible triads of the seven elements listed. Consistent with the triadic construct elicitation

technique, the player was presented with a triad of three randomly chosen elements and

asked to state the most important attribute that distinguishes two of the elements from a

third in the triad. This word or phrase represented the emergent pole of that construct. The

contrast method, which involves asking the interviewee the following question, was

employed to elicit the contrast pole for the emergent pole: “Someone who is not [emergent

pole] would be…?” Rather than using all possible triad groupings, the triadic construct

elicitation process was repeated until each player could not elicit new constructs (i.e.,

constructs are being repeated). Overall, there were 156 bipolar constructs elicited by the

playing group, with the number of constructs generated by each player ranging from

between seven and 15 (M = 9.18, SD = 2.16).

51
I was primarily interested in eliciting a pool of bipolar constructs (i.e., criteria) for

selecting players to be included in the leadership group; obtaining ratings for the constructs

in relation to the elements was not a priority at this stage in the process. Assumptions about

similarity of construing were particularly appropriate because the psychological

phenomenon of interest here (leadership qualities) involved more than one individual. An

inductive content analysis of the grids and discourse about the constructs revealed the

following 11 bipolar constructs: team focused vs. individual focused; inspirational vs.

arrogant; hard worker vs. lazy; supportive vs. unsupportive; foster competitiveness vs.

success-oriented; positive role model vs. negative role model; clear communicator vs.

mixed messages; professionalism vs. carefree attitude; vision of success vs. short-term

vision; solution-focused vs. problem-focused.

The next step in the process involved revealing the players’ perceptions of those

individual team members who were more like the emergent and preferred pole of each

construct. After drawing up a grid with the 11 bipolar leadership constructs listed vertically

and the 17 players (i.e., elements) listed horizontally, each player in the team then provided

minimum and maximum Likert scores anchored on the construct poles for each player in

the team (including himself) on the 11 constructs. Coaches who had been with the playing

group for two or more years also completed the group repertory grid. Scores from each of

the ratings grid were averaged to provide a final output similar to that presented in Table

2b. This process enabled me to determine those players who were considered by the group

as being higher in the “leadership constructs” than those who were not.

I was next interested in determining the extent to which the 11 leadership qualities

were or were not congruent with a player’s core constructs. This was an important step in

the process because two players may construe an ideal leader in light of being a positive

52
role model, for example, but they may differ in the significance and meaning they attach to

being a positive role model. The laddering technique, which can help clarify such

differences, was then conducted with the top 10 ranked players. To begin the laddering

process, the interviewee either generates a bipolar personal construct through triadic or

dyadic construct elicitation or is supplied one by the interviewer. This initial construct

effectively becomes the bottom “rung” of the ladder. Although the idiosyncratic generation

of a construct facilitates the elicitation of more personally meaningful constructs, supplying

a construct enables some degree of standardisation across interviewees.

For the purposes of the present consultation, I supplied each player with the first

bipolar construct to maximise the degree of standardisation between the 10 players with the

following three constructs each involved in a separate laddering interview: team focused vs.

individual focused; positive role model vs. negative role model; and solution-focused vs.

problem-focused. The laddering interview was initiated by asking the player “which pole of

the construct do you prefer and why?” The player’s response to this question generated the

emergent pole of the second construct. Drawing on the methodological procedures outlined

in the RGT, I used the contrast method outlined previously to elicit the contrast pole of the

emergent pole. The “why” question and contrasts method is then posed of this second

bipolar construct to generate a third bipolar construct. This process was repeated until the

interviewee was unable to explain why he prefers one pole of a construct or his response

was a simple rewording of the previous construct. An extract of a laddered interview is

presented in Table 3.

The constructs elicited and the verbal discourse about each were content analysed

and compared with the 11 key leadership qualities obtained via the RGT. Those players

with greater congruence between the team elicited leadership constructs and their

53
Table 3. An extract of a laddering interview beginning with the construct “solution-focused
coping vs. problem-focused coping.”

Emergent Pole Contrast Pole Explanation for emergent pole

Achieve goals Vs. Goals not achieved Being able to deal with any situation effectively and achieve

my goals is very important to me.

Persistence Vs. Give up Persisting through tough situations allows me to achieve the

goals that I have set for myself, whereas I cannot do this

when I give up.

Intrinsically Vs. Carefree attitude Being intrinsically motivated helps me persist but a carefree

Motivated attitude encourages me to give up too easily.

Remain positive Vs. Self-doubt Positivity helps me keep intrinsically motivated through most

situations but when I have doubts in my decision, I tend to

have a carefree attitude.

Confidence in Vs. Forced decisions When I feel confident I’m better able to remain positive

decision despite the circumstances, whereas if I’m forced to make a

decision I will more likely have doubts in that decision.

More options Vs. Fewer options I can be more confident in identifying a beneficial decision,

whereas if I did not have these options I am forced into

making a rushed decision.

Solution-focused Vs. Problem-focused Offers me more options whereas by focusing on the problem

coping coping I will be more likely to have fewer options.

54
individual core constructs were deemed most suitable for the leadership group. Taken

together, this information proved to be extremely useful in enabling me to arrive at a

recommendation of three to five players for the leadership group. All five players

recommended were subsequently included in the leadership group assigned by the coach.

Implications for Research and Professional Practice

Perhaps the major attraction of PCP is that it has the ability to direct researchers and

practitioners in their efforts to appreciate and understand how another person constructs his

or her reality of the world. Its fundamental premise involves the recognition of the

idiosyncratic and unique manner in which people make sense of their experiences but also

the interpersonal and intrapersonal contexts in which these meanings are formed.

Consultations and interventions consistent with a PCP framework, therefore, aim to

increase an individual’s awareness and understanding of his or her personal constructions.

In particular, those constructs identified as providing little elaboration or potential for

“psychological movement” afford a primary focus for the practitioner and his or her client

(Dalton & Dunnet, 2005).

When a client presents with a specific problem or issue (e.g., performance anxiety)

the exploration would centre largely on those constructs for which the problem or issue is

within their range of convenience. However, through such discussions with his or her

client, the practitioner may generate evidence to suggest that the issue the client has

presented is not the “real” issue. Such evidence may stem from, for example, repertory grid

data suggesting that the client is confident in his or her ability to handle performance

pressure arising during a competitive performance but that s/he has doubts in some of his or

her teammate’s ability to handle such pressures. In either circumstance, the goal for the

practitioner is to help the client see the problem/issue as chronological and that it is

55
temporary rather than permanent. As demonstrated in case example 1, the PCP practitioner

can encourage the client to experiment with different constructions of events and the

implications of these for his or her behaviour to change his or her anticipations and

interpretations (Fransella & Dalton, 2000). Consistent with the experience corollary, the

practitioner may choose to encourage the client to explore different ways in which s/he

views an event and how s/he approaches it. Exploring a client’s predictions about changes

that may result from such reconstructions and what these changes might mean for him or

her represent an important conversational process.

A range of tools and techniques described previously and elsewhere (see Denicolo,

2003; Fransella, 2003; Fransella et al., 2004; Neimeyer et al., 2001; Neimeyer et al., 2005;

Walker & Winter, 2007) are useful for structuring the conversations between a practitioner

and his or her client when exploring such viewpoints. Although the case examples

presented here apply the methodologies of a personal construct inquiry in a somewhat

structured manner, each technique comes with enormous flexibility and adaptability during

any discourse between a practitioner and his or her client. For example, the laddering

technique, which does not rely heavily on office software and hardware, is immediately

useful to the practitioner and can be adopted during a session at anytime deemed necessary

by the practitioner. However, practitioners need to be aware of each method’s range and

focus of convenience. Laddering is more concerned with how constructs within a system

interrelate; it is about organisation rather than content (see case example 2). On the other

hand, the RGT concentrates more on the way constructs apply to elements within their

range and focus of convenience (see case example 1). In the applied setting, it is advisable

that practitioners, when time and resources permit, employ a combination of the

56
methodologies for a personal construct enquiry to gain a deeper understanding of both the

content and structure of a client’s construing.

Multisource and 360-degree feedback offer practitioners a methodology for

assisting an individual to understand his or her strengths and weaknesses, and those aspects

of his or her performance needing professional development. Specifically, multisource and

360-degree feedback can be likened to the more traditional methods of a personal construct

enquiry in that they can help structure and guide the conversations that practitioners have

with their clients. Both are particularly useful methods for helping an individual realise that

his or her own perception of events is not the only one available to them. I employed

multisource methodology in case example 2 in identifying those individuals considered by

the Australian football team as being higher in the “leadership constructs” than those who

were not. The data can also be a very powerful form of construct validation when ratings

are similar across sources because the person receiving the feedback can be surer of the

accuracy of the reports than if the feedback comes from one person (Smither, London, &

Reilly, 2005). However, even when there is disagreement between self and other ratings,

self-ratings, when coupled with information from others’ ratings, provide an insight into

one’s level of self-awareness while also providing a holistic understanding of an individual.

In terms of research, multisource and 360-degree feedback offer a medium through

which holistic examinations of psychological phenomena can be approached. When

compared with evaluations that rely solely on the self-reports of participants, for example,

researchers can be more confident in the effectiveness of psychological skills training

programs when several rating sources (e.g., self, parent, coach, teammate) observe similar

changes on subjective dependent measures (e.g., questionnaires). Similarly, interview

methodologies triangulating different perspectives not only provide researchers with a more

57
thorough account of the phenomenon being examined but also add considerable

trustworthiness to the data when information can be verified across sources. Importantly, it

seems the aforementioned methods that obtain more than one perspective may help

alleviate some of the concerns associated with self-reporting such as social desirability (cf.

Crowne & Marlowe, 1960) and retrospective recall (cf. Nisbett & Wilson, 1977), which are

inherent with questionnaire and interview based methodologies.

The performance profile technique can facilitate the process of revealing gaps or

areas for improvement and maintenance to both the athlete and coach as well as provide a

simple tool for monitoring progress throughout a program. Variations that enable the coach

and athlete to gain a deeper understanding of how the athlete views him or herself and how

others within his or her social network view the athlete include: (a) current level vs. best

ever performance, (b) actual self vs. ideal self, and (c) self vs. other (coach, parent,

teammate). However, the performance profile in its current form does not fully appreciate

key aspects of PCP and those with a deeper understanding of PCP will be better equipped

to use this technique. For example, a performance profile more in line with PCP would also

include a contrasting pole for each of the characteristics (see case example 1). Moreover, an

understanding of the hierarchical organisation of the constructs encompassed by the profile

via the relative importance of the key characteristics and range of situations to which each

is found useful should also be sought. Variations such as these represent exciting avenues

for future research and practice.

Summary

The central theme of this paper is that PCP has much to offer when working with

and researching the psychological aspects of athletes and exercisers. Specifically, I

endeavoured to present PCP as one potentially useful framework for studying and accessing

58
psychological phenomena associated with participation in sport and physical activity. My

overview of this framework’s philosophical position, its key components, and the key

methodologies provide a foundation upon which others may seek to explore its usefulness

for an array of research and professional purposes. In the final section of this paper, I

brought the PCP concepts alive by demonstrating the theory in action with two case

examples illustrating how I have incorporated PCP to provide professional services to an

individual athlete and a sport team. Although these represent examples of how I have

employed PCP there does not seem to be a single best way of applying it, since PCP has a

range of construct elicitation methods for different purposes that can be readily adapted to

suit particular circumstances (Denicolo, 2003; Fransella, 2003; Walker & Winter, 2007).

However, I believe that PCP represents a viable alternative to existing models and it is my

hope that the information presented in this paper will encourage other researchers and

practitioners to explore its usefulness for their own endeavours.

59
CHAPTER IIc

Personal construct psychology and the research interview: The example of mental

toughness in sport.

[in press – Personal Construct Theory & Practice]

60
In its 50 year history, personal construct psychology (PCP; Kelly, 1955/1991) has

successfully informed research and practice in a variety of academic disciplines such as

nursing (Costigan, Ellis, & Watkinson, 2003), education (Pope & Denicolo, 2001),

forensics (Horley, 2003), politics (Stojnov, 2003), and psychotherapy (Winter & Viney,

2005). The repertory grid is the key tool of PCP and the technique most frequently

employed to explore personal construing in both professional and academic settings. In

fact, over the last 50 years it has flourished to an extent where it has become synonymous

with PCP. There are other, less prominent techniques (e.g., laddering, pyramiding, self-

characterisation sketches) that are used by personal construct practitioners and researchers

to explore personal construing (Denicolo, 2003; Fransella, 2003). Little attention has been

devoted in the PCP literature, however, to examining the effectiveness of a PCP interview

methodology as a research tool.

In this manuscript I address this overlooked issue by describing a case example of

how I have used PCP to design a retrospective interview protocol containing several open-

ended questions for examining mental toughness in Australian football. As I was unable to

provide a detailed overview of how I designed the PCP interview protocol previously

(Gucciardi, Gordon, & Dimmock, 2008), the primary objective here is to describe the

process involved in generating the open-ended questions. A brief discussion of the findings

is presented to support the usefulness of this interview methodology; however, the

interested reader should consult our previous manuscript for a detailed discussion of the

findings (Gucciardi et al., 2008). In so doing, I hope to stimulate ideas about how PCP can

be employed to develop an interview protocol for any line of psychological inquiry. After

providing a brief discussion of the background to the present study, I next detail my

thinking behind the development of the interview questions. Following this, I discuss some

61
of the findings from our own and others (Chambers, 2008; Savage, 2006) research using the

interview protocol described here. I conclude by offering some suggestions for future

research.

Background to the Study

Mental toughness in sport is a relatively new and growing area of sport psychology

research, having caught the imagination of both the general sporting public and the

academic community. In fact, there are currently only a handful of peer-reviewed studies

which have examined this psychological construct (Bull, Shambrook, James, & Brooks,

2005; Fourie & Potgieter, 2001; Jones, Hanton, & Connaughton, 2002, 2007; Thelwell,

Weston, & Greenlees, 2005). Although impressive and providing some insight into the

complexity of this phenomenon, research on this apparently desirable construct has been

inadequate as it has focused only on describing the key characteristics and outcomes of

mental toughness (Gordon, Gucciardi, & Chambers, 2007). To enable both conceptual and

applied advancements, more research was needed to better understand both mental

toughness outcomes and processes. For example, research has failed to understand when

these characteristics are required, what they enable a mentally tough athlete to do, and what

overt behaviours mentally tough athletes characteristically exhibit (Gucciardi & Gordon,

2007).

Given the atheoretical nature of previous research in the area (Gordon et al., 2007),

my approach was to adopt a theoretical framework in which an individual’s views,

experiences, meanings, and perceptions can be articulated and understood to allow for a

more comprehensive examination of the mental toughness phenomenon. Accordingly, I

was interested in adopting a theoretical framework that could facilitate my attempt to gain a

deeper understanding of the pertinent issues described previously as well as providing a

62
theoretical lens with which to interpret to the data. The primary objective of my research,

therefore, was to explore the content as well as the structure and organisation of mental

toughness within an Australian football context. The interview protocol illustrated in Table

1 and described hereafter aimed to facilitate this process.

Table 1. Gucciardi et al.’s (2008) PCP interview protocol.

Q1. Please describe for me what you consider “mental toughness” to be in football. Can
you offer a definition, phrase or quote to describe it?
Q2. What do you think are the contexts which require a footballer to be mentally tough
and those contexts which do not? (situations)
Q3. What do you believe distinguishes mentally tough footballers from those footballers
who are not mentally tough? (people)
Q4. What do you consider to be the contrast of each of these characteristics? (dichotomy
corollary)
Q5. In your opinion, what do you consider to be the role(s) or purpose(s) of each of these
characteristics? (behaviours)
Q6. Please rank these characteristics, according to what you believe, in order of
importance for mental toughness in football. (organisation corollary)
Q7. Please list and describe those contexts to which you believe each of these
characteristics are useful and those contexts in which they are not useful. (range
corollary)
Q8. I want you to put yourself in your [other person] shoes and describe for me what you
believe s/he would consider mental toughness in football to be? (sociality corollary)

Note: The relevant PCP principle is italicised in parentheses.

Designing the PCP Interview

In designing the interview protocol I was concerned with how I could use several of

the 11 corollaries, other established methodologies of a personal construct enquiry (e.g., the

repertory grid), and information regarding Kelly’s (1955/1991) clinical work to design

open-ended questions for construct elicitation. Perhaps the most salient feature that I drew

from Kelly’s clinical work was his emphasis on adopting a credulous approach toward

everything the interviewee mentions (Fransella, 2003; Kelly, 1955/1991). Specifically, the

63
interviewer must not disregard any of the interviewee’s discourse because it does not

conform to his or her own or others thinking, or is even inconsistent with what previous

research has revealed. The endeavour, rather, is to see the interviewee’s world through his

or her eyes. Kelly highlighted that whilst the credulous approach should encourage the

interviewer to respect what the interviewee is saying they must not be misled by that

individual’s idiosyncrasies. In essence, the interviewer needs to perform a “balancing act”

throughout an interview to ensure that they do not disregard anything that is mentioned by

the individual because of any preconceptions they may have, whilst at the same time

maintaining some level of objectivity about the interviewee’s discourse. In other words, the

interviewer needs to subsume the interviewee’s construing without being captured by it

(Fransella, 2003).

The credulous approach is evident in the interview schedule from the outset (i.e.,

asking the interviewee about his or her perception of mental toughness) and is maintained

throughout by directly asking each interviewee for his or her opinions and thoughts in each

question. By directly asking the interviewee for his or her opinions and thoughts in each

question of the interview (e.g., what do you believe…, how do you…, etc) the interviewer

is also encouraged to maintain some level of objectivity, as they are constantly reminded of

the idiosyncratic nature of those comments whilst recognising it as one valid formulation of

events. Put simply, although those statements are useful for that individual they may not

necessarily be useful for another individual, as they only represent that individual’s

construing.

Particular contexts and people are the most frequently employed elements in PCP

research that utilises the repertory grid technique (Fransella, Bell, & Bannister, 2004;

Jankowicz, 2004). This is not surprising given that Kelly (1955/1991, 2003) highlighted in

64
the experience cycle, which is based on the experience corollary, the central role that the

contexts or events of our lives play in the development and modification of personal

constructs. This is due to our drive to make sense of human behaviour by interpreting it

within the context in which it occurs. Because we are in constant and continual engagement

with the external world we are encouraged to actively seek out, describe and evaluate the

phenomena we experience in an attempt to anticipate and predict what will occur in the

future (Kelly, 1955/1991). Indeed, certain people and contexts are prominent events that we

consistently encounter on a daily basis throughout our lives. In using this tenet, I asked

interviewees to identify those contexts which do and do not require mental toughness. An

important implication of such a question for exploring each interviewee’s personal

construing and gaining an understanding of mental toughness is that the interviewee is

being placed in a better position to consider it by placing themselves in these contexts

based on one’s personal experiences to identify the salient features of those experiences.

Importantly, this also ensures that the information explicated by the interviewee is more

specific and relates to the particular behaviours associated with mental toughness.

People are also another important element in the repertory grid technique. As with

most things in life, there will always be individuals who are perceived as being high in a

construct and those who are not, and individuals will import characteristics of these

individuals from encounters with them. I attempted to reveal a deeper understanding of

mental toughness by asking individuals about the characteristics (and their contrasts) that

distinguish mentally tough individuals with individuals who are not. As explicated by the

construction corollary, it is those regularities and inconsistencies of certain events (i.e.,

contexts and people) that represent characteristics that encourage the development of

construct(s) pertaining to a certain phenomenon (Kelly, 1955/1991), and the endeavour of

65
the interviewer is to gain access to these constructions. The dichotomy corollary extends

this notion by asserting that these similarities and inconsistencies form references axes or

constructs (Kelly, 1955/1991) where there is a personally relevant (emergent) pole and a

contrasting pole that implies some distinction (contrast pole). Thus, there was the need to

establish each interviewee’s constructions in terms of bipolar constructs, as it is only in the

context of the opposite pole that we can begin to understand the true meaning of that

construct (Kelly, 1955/1991). The construct solution-focused coping vs. problem-focused

coping, for example, can represent a completely different set of characteristics and

behaviours when compared with the construct solution-focused coping vs. emotion-focused

coping.

Kelly (1955/1991) originally introduced two methods for eliciting bipolar, personal

constructs. The difference method, which requires that the interviewee express how the

third element in a triad differs from two others, is the most commonly employed technique

in repertory grid research (Neimeyer, Bowman, & Saferstein, 2005). In contrast, the

opposite method requires that the interviewee express the opposite for the similarity pole of

the construct. Repertory grid research shows that the difference method is effective in

producing higher levels of differentiated personal construing, but produces a greater

number of ‘bent’ (i.e., nonantonymous, orthogonal) constructs, whereas the opposite

method involves an instructional set that is less complex and enhances bipolarity, but

produces lower levels of differentiated personal construing through the generation of

extreme, negative contrast poles (Hagans, Neimeyer, & Goodholm, 2000; Neimeyer,

Neimeyer, Hagans, & Van Brunt, 2002). Noting these advantages and disadvantages,

Neimeyer et al. (2005) recently developed and tested a new method of personal construct

elicitation, called the contrast method, which was shown to avoid construct negativity and

66
the generation of bent constructs, whilst generating higher levels of personal construct

differentiation through a relatively straightforward instructional set. The contrast method

instructs individuals as follows: “To you, being [emergent pole] would contrast with

someone who is…” (Neimeyer et al., 2005, p. 244).

Although these methods have been developed and evaluated for repertory grid usage

I considered each as possible techniques for eliciting bipolar, personal constructs in a PCP

guided interview. My preference here was the contrast method (see Table 1, Q4).

Obviously, I cannot make any judgments as to which of these three or any other methods

for that matter may be more effective than any other method for eliciting bipolar constructs

in an open-ended interview format. The important issue is that researchers explicitly

attempt to identify both the emergent and contrast poles of a construct, as PCP emphasises

that we cannot fully understand what the emergent pole of a construct is without gaining a

sense of the contrast pole of that construct. It is in this context that we can gain a more

accurate understanding of what these characteristics mean for that individual’s own

construct and any subsequent behaviour. From a conceptual standpoint, identifying the

contrast pole of a construct enabled me to arrive at a more accurate understanding of mental

toughness by conceptualising mental toughness in the context of what it is not. This was a

notable limitation of previous research on mental toughness.

Now that I had gauged each interviewees personal constructs regarding mental

toughness in the contexts that require mental toughness, my focus turned to the

understanding these constructs in more detail. First, it is simply not enough to only identify

what constructs an individual holds about mental toughness; we need to identify what

behaviours the individual infers from these constructs. There are many ways in which

questions can be posed to identify pertinent behaviours, but I chose to ask the interviewee

67
what they believe is the purpose or role of the construct. One alternative that I considered

was simply asking the interviewee what it is that individuals do in those contexts that

require the phenomenon of interest (e.g., “what do you believe are the behaviours those

individuals who become self-focused in [situation] commonly display”). By gaining an

understanding of the behaviours an individual ascribes to a particular construct I gained

further information that enabled us to understand the idiosyncratic anticipations and

interpretations that an individual maintains about mental toughness.

The organisation corollary also needs to be considered when trying to understand

the meanings people ascribe to a psychological phenomenon. According to this corollary,

constructs are organised into a hierarchical system with some constructs being more

personally important (superordinate) than others (subordinate; Kelly, 1955/1991). The

purpose of this hierarchical organisation is to reduce the chaos of the external world and

provide the individual with clear avenues of inference and movement. Accordingly, people

do not only differ in their interpretations of events but also in the importance they place on

certain constructs within their system. Essentially then, I aimed to understand the

relationships between the constructs identified as keys to mental toughness. By asking the

interviewee to rank the constructs in order of importance I identified preliminary

information about the organisation of their superordinate and subordinate constructs. I also

sought to strengthen this understanding by establishing the permeability of each of these

constructs by asking the interviewee to list all the situations for which each construct is

useful and not useful for, as guided by the range corollary. A construct will only account

for the anticipations known to that individual and when a construct has a higher range of

convenience (a greater perceived utility) more inferences can be made allowing it to be

applied to a greater variety of events (Kelly, 1955/1991). The implication is that a construct

68
with a higher range of convenience should be considered more superordinate than a

construct which has a lower range of convenience.

When a psychological phenomenon involves more than one individual assumptions

about similarity of construing (commonality corollary) and trying to understand others’

construing (sociality corollary) become appropriate, as groups of individuals may share

their ways of construing. As implied by the sociality corollary, understanding others’ views

better equips an individual to extend their own personal construct system (Kelly,

1955/1991). With this corollary in mind, I asked interviewees to take the place of another

individual and describe the characteristics and the roles of these characteristics that they

believe this individual would consider pertinent to mental toughness. By taking the

perspective of another individual the interviewee can be encouraged to go beyond his or her

idiosyncrasies and further explore and consider how another individual may conceptualise

mental toughness. The endeavour, therefore, was to encourage the interviewee to take a

fresh look at events so that we could gain a more explicit and in-depth understanding about

mental toughness from that individual.

Overview of the Methods and Results

The usefulness of the aforementioned interview methodology can only be supported

when there is evidence to indicate that it allows for the accruement of quality descriptions

and explanation, and is equivalent or superior to similar methods of construct elicitation

(Savage, 2006). In designing this interview, I was interested in alleviating some of the

concerns of previous research by gaining an understanding of the what mental toughness is

in the context of what it is not, when mental toughness is and is not required, what mental

toughness enables one to in such situations, and the behaviours characteristic of mentally

tough footballers (cf. Gucciardi & Gordon, 2007).

69
Methods

In our study (Gucciardi et al., 2008), 11 Australian football coaches (Mage = 42

years, SD = 9.62), all of whom had extensive playing and coaching experience at the

highest level, were interviewed using the interview schedule displayed in Table 1.

Interviews were semi-structured in that conversations with each participant were guided by

the questions listed in Table 1. Although each interview began with Q1 and ended with Q8,

conversations were not constrained by the interview guide so as to allow new questions or

discussion points as a result of each participant’s discourse. Both clarification (“What do

you mean by…?”) and elaboration probes (“Can you give me an example of…?”) were

used throughout each interview to both prompt interviewees in such circumstances and

encourage clarity and richness of data. Participants were sent a copy of the interview

schedule at least three days prior to their interview and were asked to reflect on these

questions.

The initial conceptualisation of mental toughness generated from these 11

interviews was then presented to two independent coaching cohorts at a national (n = 58;

Gordon & Gucciardi, 2006a) and state coaching conference (n = 49; Gordon & Gucciardi,

2006b). Participants were provided with a detailed account of the key components of the

emerging theoretical model during a two-hour workshop. The primary purpose of these

workshops was to establish if the conceptualisation of mental toughness generated from the

initial interviews reflected the personal constructions of mental toughness held by a larger

and more representative group of coaches (i.e., experience, coaching level). Both coaching

groups agreed with the key characteristics, situations, and behaviours described in the

initial conceptualisation; however, several other situations were included in the final model

of mental toughness presented in Figure 1.

70
Data analysis. To address calls in the qualitative methods literature for researchers

to provide a theoretical analysis for the findings (e.g., Morse, 1994), a primary purpose of

this study was to develop an explanatory model of mental toughness in Australian football.

Therefore, the transcribed verbatim data was analysed using grounded theory analytical

techniques (Glaser & Strauss, 1967; Strauss & Corbin, 1998), the aim of which is to

develop theory from data by reading (and re-reading) a textual database and “discovering”

or labelling variables (called categories, concepts and codes) and their interrelationships.

Two independent researchers performed the analysis.

Results

The resultant model of mental toughness, displayed in Figure 1, contains three

inductively-derived themes of mental toughness: characteristics, situations, and behaviours.

Here I discuss the findings of our research in relation to the primary objective of our

research, which was to explore the content as well as the structure and organisation of

mental toughness within an Australian football context.

Content. Overall, 32 bipolar constructs were revealed, with one pole describing the

attribute in relation to a mentally tough footballer and the other in relation to one who is

not. These attributes were clustered into 11 key components and ranked in descending

order of importance for mental toughness in Australian football (see Figure 2). Perhaps the

most salient aspect of this data is the identification and understanding of what individuals

believe mental toughness is not. Previous research has been limited in that it has focused

only on describing the key characteristics of mental toughness without placing this

understanding in the context of what individuals believe mental toughness is not. Further

71
1. Self-belief vs. Self-doubt
2. Work Ethic vs. Lazy
3. Personal Values vs. Poor Integrity &
Philosophy
4. Self-motivated vs. Extrinsically &
un/motivated
5. Tough Attitude vs. Weak Attitude
6. Concentration/focus vs.
Distractible/unfocused
7. Resilience vs. Fragile Mindset
8. Handling Pressure vs. Anxious & Panicky
9. Emotional Intelligence vs. Emotionally
Immature
10. Sport Intelligence vs. Lack of sport
knowledge
11. Physical Toughness vs. Weak sense of
toughness

General
Injury & Rehab
Preparation
Challenges

Competition
External Pressures
Environment
Playing environment
Match variables
Internal Pressures
Fatigue/endurance
Confidence

General Competition
Recover well from injury Repeatable good performances
Preparation Play well no matter position
Consistent performances Superior decision-makers
Do the 1%er’s

Figure 1. A model of mental toughness in Australian football (adapted with permission


from Gucciardi et al., 2008).

72
support for the identification of these 11 keys to mental toughness came from two

independent coaching cohorts attending a National Coaching Conference (n = 58; Gordon

& Gucciardi, 2006a) and a Level 2 Coaching Course (n = 49; Gordon & Gucciardi, 2006b).

Coaches were provided with a detailed account of the conceptualisation of mental

toughness obtained previously and were asked to reflect on their own experiences in an

attempt to identify any areas that they believed needed to be clarified or was not

represented in the model. Interestingly, there was considerable overlap between the three

conceptualisations of mental toughness and only slight changes to the original model were

made (e.g., types of situations).

Emergent Pole Contrast Pole

1. Self-belief Self-doubt

2. Work Ethic Lazy, only doing the basics

3. Personal Values Poor integrity & personal philosophy

4. Self-motivated Extrinsically/Unmotivated

5. Tough Attitude Weak attitude

6. Concentration & Focus Distractible and unfocused

7. Resilience Fragile mindset

8. Handling Pressure Anxious and panicky

9. Emotional Intelligence Emotionally “dumb”

10. Sport Intelligence Lack of sport knowledge

11. Physical Toughness Weak sense of physical toughness

Figure 2. The 11 keys to mental toughness and their contrast.

73
Important information was also obtained about the situations that demand mental

toughness from an Australian footballer. There was a general consensus that all aspects of

being an elite footballer required some degree of mental toughness; however, several

situations in particular were considered to require a large degree of mental toughness,

which included: injuries and injury rehabilitation; preparation for training and competition;

challenges (personal, on- and off-field); peer and social pressures; and internal (e.g.,

fatigue/endurance and low in confidence) and external pressures (e.g., environmental and

playing conditions, match variables and physical risk). It was interesting to note that the

aforementioned situations were described as demanding greater levels of mental toughness

because they required a footballer to apply a higher percentage of the key mental toughness

characteristics. In contrast, those situations demanding lower levels of mental toughness

were said to require fewer of the key mental toughness characteristics. These data

represents an important contribution to the literature as there is no research to date that has

attempted to gain an understanding of those situations demanding mental toughness.

Data regarding the behaviours commonly associated with mentally tough footballers

complimented the information on the key characteristics and situations demanding mental

toughness. Several overt mentally tough general (e.g., meticulous preparers, consistent

performance) and competition-specific behaviours (e.g., repeatable good performance,

versatility, superior decision-makers, do the 1%er’s) were also revealed. Unlike previous

research, which has provided general descriptions of mentally tough behaviours in terms of

the outcomes of being mentally tough, I was able to identify behaviours evident on and off

the field in relation to the situations that demand mental toughness.

Structure and organisation. Two questions in the interview attempted provided

information about the structure and organisation of mental toughness. First, having

74
interviewees rank the key characteristics in descending order of importance provided

preliminary evidence about the hierarchical nature of these constructs. Consistent with

previous research (e.g., Jones et al., 2002; Thelwell et al., 2005), self-belief was

unanimously cited as the most important characteristic in terms of mental toughness for

Australian football. Further support for the importance of the keys to mental toughness was

obtained as part of our attempt to increase the trustworthiness of the data. Coaches

attending a National Coaching Conference (Gordon & Gucciardi, 2006a) and a Level 2

Coaching Course (Gordon & Gucciardi, 2006b) were asked to rank the keys to mental

toughness in descending order of importance. Encouragingly, a visual inspection of the

rankings of the eleven mental toughness characteristics between the two independent

coaching cohorts displayed in Figure 3 indicates considerable overlap. Second, the

usefulness of each of the 11 keys to mental toughness for situations demanding mental

toughness served to compliment the rankings data. Those key characteristics rated as more

important for mental toughness were generally believed to be useful in dealing with a

greater variety of contexts demanding mental toughness thereby suggesting a greater range

of convenience for these constructs.

Supporting Evidence

Savage (2006) recently compared the constructs produced by alternative construct

elicitation procedures. Of the five investigatory procedures chosen, three were derived

directly from PCP (role related persons as elements, event experiences as elements, and

self-characterisation) and two were interview protocols (neuro-linguistic programming and

Gucciardi et al.’s [2008] PCP interview protocol). A case study approach (n = 1) was

adopted whereby data were collected over a four-week period, with seven days between

each alternative procedure. Savage compared the “maps” of mental toughness that were

75
10

8
Level 3 (n=58)
7
Level 2 (n=49)
6
Average
5
Ranking
4

Figure 3. Comparison of the average ranking of perceived importance of the eleven mental toughness characteristics between
Level 2 (Gordon & Gucciardi, 2006b) and Level 3 coaches (Gordon & Gucciardi, 2006a). Note: Lower average rankings were
perceived to be more important for mental toughness.

76
obtained via each individual procedure and found that both the PCP and interview

procedures were successful in eliciting a similar amount of constructs, suggesting that

neither group of methodologies appeared to be superior to the other in regards to the

number of constructs identified. In particular, both interview procedures were found to be

adequate processes by which to elicit constructs with both techniques comparing

favourably with the three PCP procedures. Although some amount of equivalence across

procedures was evident, Savage cautiously concluded that no one procedure provided a

complete picture of the phenomenon of mental toughness in sport.

Further evidence to support the notion that the processes and theoretical

underpinnings of the interview protocol described here allow for the accruement of quality

descriptions and explanation can be found in a recent adaptation of the interview protocol

described here. Chambers (2008) conducted semi-structured interviews with seven

national-level swimmers (six male, one female; Mage = 26, SD = 6.22) and seven elite swim

coaches (six male, one female; Mage = 43.43, SD = 9.52) in an attempt to better understand

the resilience phenomenon in swimming. A content analysis of the transcribed verbatim

whereby raw quotations were organised into interpretable and meaningful themes and

categories revealed three general categories (characteristics, situations, and behaviours).

Although similar labels to those reported by Gucciardi et al. (in press) were used by

Chambers (2008), which seems to reflect the nature of the interview protocol, the content of

the categories were substantially different.

The first category, characteristics, illustrated seven core components of resilience in

swimming (self-belief vs. self-doubt; bouncing back vs. overcome; motivation vs.

unmotivated; perspective vs. no perspective; knowledgeable vs. uninformed; work ethic vs.

casual; and emotional regulation vs. overtly emotional), whereas the second, situations,

77
highlighted the importance of several general, competition, and training-specific situations

demanding a swimmer’s resilience (e.g., illness, social challenges, success and failure,

coach expectations). The final category, behaviours, comprised a number of general and

competition-specific behaviours associated with demonstrating resilience in swimming

(e.g., solution-focused, engagement, performance consistency). As one of the first

qualitative examinations of resilience within a sport setting, the findings provided an

important insight into resilience in swimming. Encouragingly, Chambers (2008) observed

several similarities with previous research on resilience from different research contexts

(e.g., academic settings, social settings) with regard to the various resilience characteristics.

Future Research

Our own research (Gucciardi et al., 2008) and that of Savage (2006) and Chambers

(2008) provides preliminary evidence demonstrating the usefulness of using tenets of PCP

to design a retrospective research interview. Specifically, our research demonstrated the

usefulness of the PCP guided interview protocol in obtaining quality descriptions and

explanation above and beyond that which was previously reported in the literature (see also

Chambers, 2008), whereas Savage’s research demonstrated its equivalence with other

methods of construct elicitation. However, these are only preliminary examinations and

further research is required to provide a more thorough analysis of the effectiveness of such

a methodology. Comparisons of the PCP guided interview with the more traditional

methods (e.g., repertory grid, laddering, self-characterisation), in particular, will go some

way to demonstrating if in fact a PCP guided interview methodology is equivalent or

superior to other methods of construct elicitation.

Depending on such findings, it may be that researchers consider employing a

combination of construct elicitation methods for gaining a more complete understanding of

78
an individual’s personal construct system (Savage, 2006) although no definitive evidence

exists at present as to the effectiveness of such combinations. Indeed, this represents an

exciting avenue for further research. Furthermore, other psychological phenomena need to

be investigated to determine the extent to which the proposed interview methodology can

be generalised to other lines of psychological inquiry.

Consideration should also be given to the modulation corollary and the

fragmentation corollary when endeavouring to understand the organisational properties of

an individual’s personal construct system. The modulation corollary postulates that some

constructs are more accommodating (i.e., permeable) of new or novel events within their

range of convenience. If an individual is not aware of these novel encounters then novelty

will be ignored and constructive revision will not take place at the end of the experience

cycle (Kelly, 1955/1991). In particular, these permeable, superordinate constructs apply to

a wide range of events in order to maintain continuity between apparently different

experiences. The result of this is that a person’s construct system is often fragmented where

his or her construing of some experiences may appear inconsistent with his or her

construing of others, as stated by the fragmentation corollary (Kelly, 1955/1991).

Therefore, the meaning generated through the elaboration of a person’s system can be

inferentially incompatible with an existing subsystem of constructs; that is, there is some

inconsistency between different parts of the system which may vary according to contextual

information as the person interprets. For example, elite athletes face many adversities in

their sporting careers. The challenge for these individuals then is to resolve the

inconsistencies that a more superordinate construct bears in relation to different adversities

so that this personal construct (e.g., hard work vs. lazy) is consistent in its application

across a wide range of encounters (Kelly, 1955/1991). The influence of both these

79
corollaries in future research can be evidenced in questions that ask interviewees to, for

example, consider which of the constructs they have identified would prove most useful for

anticipating and dealing with a novel situation (i.e., one which they did not identify as a

context relevant for the target phenomenon previously) and those which would not be

useful.

Summary

In the PCP literature, there has been a tendency to become reliant on the traditional

construct elicitation procedures such as triadic and dyadic elicitation and laddering

interviews. The power of PCP in guiding the design of a retrospective interview protocol

for research purposes, in particular, has not featured strongly. In this paper, I have

described a case example of how I have employed several tenets of PCP to inform the

design of a retrospective interview protocol for identifying and understanding mental

toughness in Australian football. The interview methodology proposed here can be

conceptualised as a “bottom-up” process whereby I have encouraged the interviewee to

explore the entire spectrum of the mental toughness phenomenon and using specific tenets

of PCP to narrow their focus to identify those higher-level, super-ordinate constructs that

seem to identify and explain a significant portion of mental toughness.

Preliminary evidence demonstrating the usefulness of the proposed methodology

was described (Chambers, 2008; Gucciardi et al., 2008; Savage, 2006) and suggestions for

future research in determining its effectiveness in relation to the more prominent PCP

methods (e.g., repertory grid, laddering, self-characterisation) were offered. In so doing, I

hope to have offered one alternative approach to gathering information about personal

meaning as well as stimulated novel thoughts about how PCP can guide a retrospective

interview protocol for any line of psychological inquiry. Perhaps most intriguing, is the

80
potential role that these tenets may also play in facilitating the development of questions for

a “prospective” interview, whereby the interviewer is endeavouring to further explore how

an individual anticipates certain events in their life and how they actually behave when they

experience those events.

81
CHAPTER III – Perspectives
on Mental Toughness and its
Development

82
Overview of Chapter III

This is the first of three empirical Chapters within this thesis. Two qualitative

investigations in which Australian football coaches’ perspectives on mental toughness and

those factors contributing to its development are presented. Coaches’ perceptions are the

focus in these studies as they have been largely ignored in previous research. In addition to

several years of coaching experience at different levels of the game, all coaches interviewed

had also been elite footballers. Such varied experiences, as a player and coach, equip these

individuals with a wealth of information and expertise from which draw upon. In the first

manuscript, I employed the PCP guided interview protocol detailed previously (Chapter

IIc) to elicit coaches’ personal constructs on mental toughness and its conceptual opposite,

situations or events that demand mental toughness, and behaviours that are commonly

associated with mentally footballers in such situations. These coaches were then re-

interviewed about their perceptions of how the key mental toughness characteristics elicited

are and can be developed. The analysis and interpretation of the data generated from these

interviews is presented in the second manuscript within this Chapter.

83
CHAPTER IIIa

Towards an understanding of mental toughness in Australian football.

[Journal of Applied Sport Psychology, 20, 261-281]

84
We often hear of, or witness, enormously physically talented athletes making it to the

highest level but not performing well or living up to the expectations of others, while far

less talented athletes become champions in their chosen sport. However, with an increasing

awareness and understanding of the psychological factors involved in athletic performance,

coaches, athletes, and sport administrators now recognise that physical talent alone does not

guarantee success. In fact, within scientific and coaching communities, mental toughness is

currently acknowledged as being one of the most important attributes in achieving

performance excellence (Bull, Shambrook, James, & Brooks, 2005; Jones, Hanton, &

Connaughton, 2002; Middleton, Marsh, Martin, Richards, & Perry, 2004c; Orlick, 1998).

Very rarely however, do psychological constructs with such acknowledged importance

receive so little empirical attention.

Generally speaking, mental toughness is the umbrella term that most athletes,

coaches, and the media use to describe the superior mental characteristics of those athletes

who excel in both practice and competitive situations, while others fail. Especially at the

elite level, it is the “mental game” that differentiates performers (Gould, Jackson, & Finch,

1993; Orlick & Partington, 1988). For example, mental skills have been shown to

discriminate between those athletes “who get there” and those “who stay there” (Kreiner-

Phillips & Orlick, 1993), those who perform on the big stage and those who do not (Gould

et al., 1993), and those who successfully develop through times of change/transition and

those who do not (Sinclair & Orlick, 1993). It may also be that mental toughness sets apart

“good” and “great” athletes when physical, technical, and tactical skills are equal. Good

athletes are those who make it to the elite level but do not achieve the performance highs

and successes that great athletes with mental toughness do. In addition to physical talent,

these great or champion athletes with mental toughness are believed to possess certain

85
mental characteristics and behavioural attributes that enable them to excel far beyond their

physical capabilities (Gordon, 2001; Gould, Dieffenbach, & Moffett, 2002; Orlick, 1998).

Exceptional physical talent may get athletes recruited to the elite level but it seems that

those attributes characterised as mental toughness explain how the “good” become “great.”

Mental toughness is a relatively new and growing area of sport psychology

research, having caught the imagination of both the general sporting public and the

academic community. In fact, since Fourie and Potgieter’s (2001) pioneering qualitative

study of mental toughness in South Africa we have evidenced a burgeoning line of inquiry

from various parts of the world that include the USA (Gould et al., 2002), UK (Bull et al.,

2005; Fawcett, 2005; Jones et al., 2002; Thelwell, Weston, & Greenlees, 2005), India

(Gordon & Sridhar, 2005), and Australia (Middleton et al., 2004c). This research has

focused on understanding the phenomenon of mental toughness from the perspective of

athletes and coaches and has identified a myriad of characteristics ascribed to mental

toughness. Interestingly, numerous characteristics have been commonly identified across

these studies such as self-belief, concentration and focus, motivation, thriving on

competition, resilience, handling pressure, positive attitude, quality preparation, goal

setting, determination and perseverance, and commitment. However, there are also several

characteristics unique to individual studies such as team unity, religious convictions, ethics,

sport intelligence, safety and survival, coping with success and failure, risk taking, and

exploiting learning opportunities.

The impressive research to date has supported a qualitative approach and such a

direction in the early stages of the research agenda has been argued elsewhere (Gordon,

Gucciardi, & Chambers, 2007). However, although impressive and providing some insight

into the complexity of this phenomenon, previous research has been inadequate as it has

86
focused only on describing the key characteristics of mental toughness. Research has failed

to understand when these characteristics are required, what they enable a mentally tough

athlete to do, and what overt behaviours mentally tough athletes characteristically exhibit.

To enable advancements in this area, the phenomenon of mental toughness in sport needs to

be understood in the context of those conditions in which mental toughness is required so

that we can better predict behaviour and provide guidelines as to how to develop or

enhance this desirable construct.

Previous examinations of mental toughness have also failed to provide conceptual

clarity due to the atheoretical approaches to the research. Theoretically-driven frameworks

in which an individual’s views, experiences, meanings, and perceptions can be articulated

and understood would allow for a more comprehensive examination of the mental

toughness phenomenon. Personal construct psychology (PCP; Kelly, 1955/1991) represents

one such framework, as it is a theory that informs us how to go about understanding what

others and ourselves think rather than telling us what to think; that is, it offers a framework

for directing the research agenda but also a theoretical base in which to interpret the

resulting data (Gordon et al., 2007).

Essentially, PCP provides direction for researchers (and practitioners) attempting to

understand and appreciate how another person theorises about his or her world. As a

psychotherapist Kelly (1955/1991) found that it was the meaning an individual saw in the

events of his or her life that distinguished the troubled from the untroubled, and that these

meanings directly influenced an individual’s behaviour. Kelly suggested, therefore, that an

individual actively strives to make sense out of his or her world, the particular events he or

she encounters, and themselves. The root metaphor that Kelly (p. 4) employed for his

psychology of personal constructs was “man [sic]-the-scientist.” He envisaged human

87
beings as “a form of motion” (p. 48) constantly engaged in actively describing and

evaluating the phenomena they experience by developing and maintaining internal

representations (called personal constructs) so that they may anticipate and predict what

will happen in the immediate and long-term future.

As illustrated in Table 1, PCP is comprised of a fundamental postulate that presents

the underlying assertion and 11 subsequent corollaries, which in turn elaborate on the

fundamental postulate and provide greater specificity by describing the nature of

construing. From a PCP standpoint, we can envisage athletes in a continual cycle of

construing that enables them to generate an elaborate theory of their own and others’

physical and psychological condition that directs their behaviour. It follows then that we

should focus on identifying and understanding idiosyncratic meanings, and how these

unique interpretations of the world influence one’s behaviour. In particular, PCP stipulates

that to truly understand these idiosyncratic constructs we need to identify the contrasting

pole for each so that we understand what the construct is, in the context of what it is not.

The approach also acknowledges the shared cultures we live in and, built into this theory, is

the awareness that our personal and therefore unique experiences and meanings can be

shared within these cultures and that we can identify these shared meanings. Moreover,

PCP maintains that each person develops a unique hierarchical system where some

constructs are more important (superordinate) than others (subordinate) in an attempt to

reduce the chaos of the external world so that consistent predictions can be made. We

should also be interested, therefore, in how such constructs are organised and to what

situations such constructs apply if we are to accurately understand them.

While PCP has been employed extensively to examine various phenomena in

nursing (Costigan, Ellis, & Watkinson, 2003), education (Pope & Denicolo, 2001), and

88
Table 1. An overview of PCP: The fundamental postulate and the 11 corollaries (adapted from Gordon et al., 2007).

PCP Kelly’s (1955) Words Our Words


Component
Fundamental A person’s processes are psychologically channelised by the ways in which he [sic] We develop, maintain, and modify, through interactions with both our external and internal
Postulate anticipates events (p. 46). environments, descriptive and evaluative representations of those contexts we experience in an
attempt to anticipate and predict how we may experience future contexts.

Construction A person anticipates events by construing their replications (p. 50). These representations (personal constructs) are formed through the personal meaning we
Corollary associate with those regularities and recurring patterns in the contexts we experience.

Individuality Persons differ from each other in their construction of events (p. 55). Individuality between people arises from one’s unique and different interpretation of similar
Corollary events encompassed by his or her distinct construal systems.

Organisation Each person characteristically evolves, for his [sic] convenience in anticipating To reduce the chaos of the external world so that consistent predictions can be made each
Corollary events, a construction system embracing ordinal relationships between constructs (p. person develops a unique hierarchical system where some constructs are more important
56). (superordinate) than others (subordinate).

Dichotomy A person’s construct system is composed of a finite number of dichotomous constructs The similarities and inconsistencies we interpret form references axes or personal constructs
Corollary (p. 59). where there is a personally relevant pole (similarity) and a contrasting pole that implies some
distinction (inconsistency).

Choice Corollary A person chooses for himself [sic] that alternative in a dichotomised construct We are active in ascribing meaning to the events that we encounter by preferring one pole of a
through which he [sic] anticipates the greatest possibility for elaboration of his [sic] construct in which we align ourselves with the responses and behaviours dictated by that
system (p. 64). construct.

Range Corollary A construct is convenient for the anticipation of a finite range of events only (p. 68). Each personal construct has a focus of convenience in which it can be most useful and others
where the construct is inappropriate.

Experience A person’s construction system varies as he [sic] successively construes the By investing ourselves in the experiences we encounter we continuously recognise
Corollary replication of events (p. 72). consistencies and discrepancies between our anticipations and these events which lead to
modifications in our personal construct system.

Modulation The variation in a person’s construction system is limited by the permeability of the Constructs that are permeable allow for adjustment and integration of novel events and
Corollary constructs within whose ranges of convenience the variants lie (p. 77). experiences, while those that are impermeable are impenetrable and not open to change.

Fragmentation A person may successively employ a variety of constructions subsystems which are We may anticipate and experience a variety of situations in different ways by employing an
Corollary inferentially incompatible with each other (p. 83). assortment of construct subsystems.

Commonality The extent that one person employs a construction of experience which is similar to People can be judged as being similar or different based on the similarity or difference of their
Corollary that employed by another, his [sic] processes are psychologically similar to those of construct systems; that is, people are similar because they construe events in a similar fashion.
the other person (p. 90).

Sociality Corollary To the extent that one person construes the construction process of another he [sic] Construing how another may person may construe an event is a specific internal event that
may play a role in a social process involving the other person (p. 95). contributes to the development and modification of personal constructs.

89
psychotherapy (Winter & Viney, 2005), it has not yet made a significant impact in sport

and exercise settings (cf. Gordon et al., 2007). The purpose of this study, therefore, was to

extend previous research on mental toughness in sport by utilising the underlying principles

of PCP in the derivation of interview questions to explore definitional and conceptual

issues related to the phenomenon in a sport-specific context. Rather than focusing solely on

identifying and describing the key characteristics associated with mental toughness, I also

endeavoured to identify and understand what situations demand a high degree of mental

toughness and the behaviours that mentally tough athletes display in these situations. In so

doing I hoped to provide a more comprehensive conceptualisation of mental toughness that

takes into consideration each of these areas. Specifically, I focused on Australian Football

in an attempt to determine which of the key characteristics identified in previous research

can and cannot be generalised to a sport not previously studied, and to provide a sport-

specific illustration of what mentally tough footballers do in situations demanding mental

toughness.

Method

Participants

Eleven male coaches (M age = 42, SD = 9.62) were recruited from the Western

Australian Football League (WAFL) and the Australian Football League (AFL). All

participants had considerable playing (AFL M = 143 games, SD = 22.67; WAFL M = 73

games; SD = 17.65) and coaching experience (AFL M = 107 games, SD = 25.23; WAFL M

= 105 games, SD = 19.54) at the elite level8. Participant recruitment ceased when new data

8
Each football season comprises 22 games. The average number of AFL games played in a football career is
43 and only 14.8% and 6.8% out of the total number that have played AFL have played over 100 and 150
games, respectively (AFLPA, 2005), which places the current sample within a select group of footballers. In
addition to this extensive playing experience, each individual had the highest level (i.e., Level 3) coaching
accreditation under the AFL coaching accreditation scheme and several years of coaching experience.

90
only added to the density of the coded data but little to the emerging model, which is

known as theoretical saturation (Glaser & Strauss, 1967).

Interview Schedule.

The PCP-based interview schedule included the following open-ended questions

with both clarification (“What do you mean by…?”) and elaboration probes (“Can you give

me an example of…?”) used throughout each interview to both prompt interviewees and

encourage clarity and richness of data:

1. What do you think “mental toughness” in Australian Football is? Can you offer a

definition, phrase, or quote to describe it?

2. What do you think are the situations in Australian Football which do and do not

require an individual to be mentally tough?

3. Which Australian Footballer(s) – past or present – would you consider as being

mentally tough and mentally weak? What do you think are the distinguishing

characteristics and attributes between these two types of individuals? What is it they

do, how do they look, behave, react?

4. Think of someone you know who you would consider as being mentally tough.

What do you think he or she would consider the characteristics and attributes of

mental toughness to be?

5. In your opinion, what do you consider to be the role(s)/purpose(s) of each of these

characteristics?

6. Do you feel that there are mental toughness attributes that you consider to be unique

to forwards, midfielders, ruckmen, and backs?

Let us consider one example of how I derived the aforementioned interview

questions from PCP principles and corollaries. According to PCP, when a psychological

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phenomenon involves more than one individual, assumptions about similarity of construing

(commonality corollary) and trying to understand others’ construing (sociality corollary)

become appropriate, as groups of individuals may share idiosyncratic ways of construing.

Therefore, I asked each interviewee to take the place of another individual and describe

what characteristics he believed that individual may perceive as underpinning mental

toughness. This encouraged the interviewee to go beyond his idiosyncrasies and further

construe how another individual may conceptualise mental toughness.

Data Analysis

Overview of data analysis procedures. Data analytical procedures were based on the

guidelines presented in Strauss and Corbin’s (1998) version of grounded theory

methodology. Grounded theory coding techniques encourage the analyst to move from

description, through conceptual categorising, to relationship building and theorising (Glaser

& Strauss, 1967). In line with grounded theory procedures, data collection proceeded

concurrently with analysis and ended when theoretical saturation was achieved (Strauss &

Corbin, 1998). Constant comparison between and within the codes revealed in open coding

occurred throughout data collection and analysis. This enables the analyst to define the

basic properties and dimensions of a category or construct, its causal conditions, context,

and outcomes, and the relationships and patterns between categories (Glaser & Strauss,

1967). Essentially, each concept was compared with other concepts and categories, and

each category was compared with other categories so that similarities and variations

between and within the properties and dimensions of categories could be identified. This

ongoing process of confirmation and modification is essential to ensure that the emerging

framework is grounded in the data (Glaser & Strauss, 1967).

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Open coding. Open coding is the stage in data analysis where analysts endeavour to

reveal, specify, and label concepts that resemble the data in an attempt to discriminate and

differentiate between concepts (Glaser & Strauss, 1967; Strauss & Corbin, 1998). Initially,

the interview transcript data were opened up by dismantling them into discrete, analytic

segments, and analysed line-by-line so that similarities and differences could be examined

and compared (Glaser & Strauss, 1967; Strauss & Corbin, 1998). For example, raw data

extracts relating to “work ethic” were compared and contrasted to identify similarities and

inconsistencies between different descriptions of “work ethic.” Conceptual labels were

allocated to each concept to assist in the process of classifying and grouping similar types

of data under a common heading, but also for developing new concepts.

Axial coding. Axial coding is an intermediate process in which analysts attempt to

(re)assemble the codes developed through open coding in new ways (Strauss & Corbin,

1998). Specifically, similarities and differences in the codes were examined and clustered

to create categories and subcategories, which were then compared and contrasted to

develop more inclusive categories and to reveal links between them based on their

properties and dimensions. Aspects relating to a category’s causal condition, context,

intervening conditions, action/interactional strategies, and consequences were employed to

facilitate this process (Strauss & Corbin, 1998).

Selective coding. The concepts and categories identified through both open and

axial coding were refined and integrated into an emerging model to explain the

relationships between categories (Strauss & Corbin, 1998). The three categories identified

in the present study, for example, each played a unique but interacting role in a holistic

understanding of mental toughness in Australian football. Memos and integrative

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diagramming were employed throughout this process to facilitate the transition from a

descriptive to a conceptual mode of thinking (Strauss & Corbin, 1998).

Trustworthiness. Two techniques were employed to demonstrate that the data

reflected the reports of the participants (Lincoln & Guba, 1985). First, both the doctoral

student and a secondary researcher independently analysed the data in an attempt to

circumvent the inclusion of any bias on part of the analysts. Second, each of the 11

interviewees was provided with a detailed overview of the results of the analysis and was

asked to reflect on and verify the accuracy of the analysts’ interpretations. In addition to

these traditional techniques, an alternative member-checking technique in which the initial

conceptualisation of mental toughness that emerged from the 11 interviews was presented

to a large cohort of Level 3 coaches (n = 58) attending the AFL’s National Coaching

Conference (Gordon & Gucciardi, 2006b) was performed. During a workshop conducted

by Dr. Sandy Gordon, individuals were provided with a detailed account of the emerging

theoretical model. Each participant examined the emergent categories to determine if they

were credible according to his or her experiences. This process was replicated with a

second independent sample (n = 49) of Level 2 coaches (Gordon & Gucciardi, 2006a). In

both instances, the findings were substantiated and the participants agreed with the

findings.

Procedure

Approval for this project was granted by the university human ethics committee

prior to commencing the study. Each participant was contacted by telephone and was

informed of the mental toughness research being conducted. Once each participant agreed

to be interviewed at a time and place most convenient to him he was sent (via email) a copy

of the interview schedule at least three days prior to the interview, and was requested to

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read the questions and consider them over the days preceding the interview. Interviews

lasted between 30 and 90 min and were recorded and transcribed verbatim. Informed

consent was obtained prior to the start of each interview.

Once all interviews had been conducted each interviewee was sent (via email) a

handout detailing the major mental toughness characteristics and situations requiring

mental toughness identified through the interviews. Consistent with the PCP framework,

each participant was requested to (a) list and describe what he considered to be the

contrasting pole for each characteristic, (b) rank the characteristics in order from most

important to least important for mental toughness in Australian Football, and (c) list all the

situations for which each characteristic was applicable.

Results and Discussion

Using a PCP (Kelly 1955/1991) framework to explore definitional and conceptual

issues related to mental toughness in sport, I endeavoured to identify which key

characteristics can and cannot be generalised to Australian Football. I also sought to

provide an understanding of the key characteristics in the context of those sport-specific

situations which require some degree of mental toughness. In the following section I

present and discuss the findings from the qualitative analysis summarised in Figure 1 in

relation to these issues. I conclude with a discussion of the practical implications of this

research.

Mental Toughness Characteristics, Situations and Behaviours

Eleven key characteristics reflecting mental toughness in Australian Football were

revealed from the analysis. Each characteristic and its contrast is presented and described in

Table 2 in descending order of importance with representative quotes. Encouragingly,

several of the characteristics revealed here as keys to mental toughness are consistent with

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Self-Belief
Work Ethic
Personal Values
Self-Motivated
Tough Attitude
General
Concentration & Focus Injury & Rehab
Resilience Preparation
Handling Pressure Challenges
Emotional Resilience
Sport Intelligence
Physical Toughness Competition
External Pressures
Environment
Playing environment
Match variables
Internal Pressures
Fatigue/endurance
Confidence

General Competition
Recover well from injury Repeatable good performances
Preparation Play well no matter position
Consistent performances Superior decision-makers
Do the 1%er’s

Figure 1. A model of mental toughness in Australian Football integrating inductively-


derived concepts, sub-categories, and categories.

previous research. These include self-belief (Bull et al., 2005; Fourie & Potgieter, 2001;

Loehr, 1986; Middleton et al., 2004c; Thelwell et al., 2005), motivation (Bull et al., 2005;

Fourie & Potgieter, 2001; Jones et al., 2002; Middleton et al., 2004c), tough attitude (Bull

et al., 2005; Fourie & Potgieter, 2001; Gould et al., 2002; Middleton et al., 2004c; Thelwell

et al., 2005), concentration and focus (Fawcett, 2005; Fourie & Potgieter, 2001; Jones et al.,

2002; Loehr, 1986; Middleton et al., 2004c), resilience (Bull et al., 2005; Fourie &

Potgieter, 2001; Gordon & Sridhar, 2005; Gould et al., 2002; Jones et al., 2002), and

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handling pressure (Fawcett, 2005; Gordon & Sridhar, 2005; Jones et al., 2002; Middleton et

al., 2004c; Thelwell et al., 2005).

Despite the plethora of attributes and characteristics ascribed to mental toughness

across these studies, there are several attributes and characteristics that were consistently

identified in the majority of these studies, all of which can be broadly classified under the

following seven major categories: self-belief and confidence, attentional control

(concentration and focus), motivation, commitment and determination, positive and tough

attitude, resilience, enjoying and handling pressure, and quality preparation. Interestingly,

the psychological constructs covered by these seven major mental toughness categories

reflect the core of most psychological skills training programs that endeavour to integrate

these mental skills with physical, technical, and tactical skills training programs (see Morris

& Thomas, 2004; Williams, 2001). However, it is possible that the elite coaches and

athletes sampled in the research to date, who perhaps have read widely on the topic of

psychology and sport, would arrive at consistent responses that are influenced by popular

conceptions of mental toughness.

Not surprisingly, several characteristics including personal values, emotional

intelligence, sport intelligence, and physical toughness were unique to this sample. Despite

several authors highlighting the importance of emotional intelligence for sport performance

(e.g., Clements, 2005; Gordon, 2002) and research in organisational settings consistently

showing that individuals with more effective ways of dealing with emotions typically

outperform and achieve more success than those individuals with less effective methods

(Zeidner, Matthews, & Roberts, 2004), it is surprising that only one previous study

(Thelwell et al., 2005) has revealed emotions to be a key component of mental toughness.

The fact that characteristics such as emotions have surfaced only in sport-specific

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Table 2. Mental toughness characteristics and their contrasts in descending order of importance and a representative quote.

Ranking Characteristic Description Representative Quote Contrast


1 Self-Belief Self-belief in your mental and physical ability under pressure, I think confidence and self-belief is the key thing, but I mean their Self-doubt, which is
and in your ability to persevere and overcome any obstacle and/or confidence not only in their own physical football abilities but also in characterised by a lack of
challenge that you may face during your football career their ability to push through and overcome any obstacle and challenge confidence and belief in
that might present to them and not losing confidence in yourself when your abilities as a footballer
things do not go right for you

2 Work Ethic A philosophy characterised by always working hard and pushing Work ethic has a lot to do with setting [mentally tough footballers] Being lazy, which is
yourself through (physically and mentally) demanding situations apart from the rest of the field, as guys who do not have a strong work characterised by a lack of
in competition, training and preparation to achieve your goals and ethic do not have the mental capacity and will not be able to push motivation and an attitude
vision through adversities of only doing the basics and
enough to get by
2a Determination An unbelievable determination to succeed, never giving up and [Player X] was able to just keep going regardless of the situation Lack of desire, accepting
endeavouring to be the best you can be because of an unbelievable determination to succeed and be the best he things as they were, and
can be being easily satisfied with
mediocrity
2b Perseverance The ability to persevere when faced with adversities and [Player X] certainly has the ability to overcome personal set-backs and Always giving up and
challenges both on and off the field to achieve your goals persevere through these hard times quitting when things get
tough
2c Goals Identifying your goals, what needs to be done to achieve those Mentally tough footballers realise and commit to goals because if you Lack direction and a vision,
goals and adjusting (re-shaping) those goals when faced with an do not have something to work towards then you probably will not be live in the moment and take
obstacle or adversity disciplined enough to work harder to be successful whatever happens without
any care in the world
2d Meticulous Preparation Doing everything in your preparation and leaving no stone [Player X] mentally and physically prepares himself, doing everything Lack of preparation and
unturned to ensure that you are prepared mentally and physically he can to ensure that he was out there on the ground doing the best he planning poorly
can for his team

2e Time-Management Managing your time efficiently to balance the many demands Becoming a champion footballer involves doing the extra things to get Disorganised, having no
associated with elite football to get the very best out of yourself the very best out of yourself, which requires an enormous amount of self-drive to manage your
commitment and time-management time efficiently and not
fully utilising your time
2f Inspirational Having the ability to let your actions speak louder than words and Both of these guys were able to do these mentally tough things and Uninspiring, insipid and
inspire your teammates influence and inspire 21 other players on their team playing for yourself; not
being selfless
3 Personal Values Placing great importance and significance on personal values [Player X] has great values. He values really simple stuff like never Poor integrity and personal
relevant to one becoming a better person and athlete giving up and busting your gut until you can’t handle it anymore. But philosophy on life and
he just personally valued these sorts of things as being important for football, and generally
succeeding in football, probably more so than the strategic and conform without any care in
physical stuff the world

3a Honesty Taking an honest stance when self-appraising your own [Player X] does not need any performance feedback from me and the Dishonest, delusional and
performances and not making excuses when you do perform other coaching staff to know how he has gone because he is that honest lacking credibility
poorly he can work it out for himself

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3b Pride in performance Personal pride in your preparation, and training and competitive Through pride of his own personal performance he used these Careless, lacking self-
performances pressures and accepted them as challenges to test himself against respect and a “could not
care less” attitude
3c Accountability Taking ownership and responsibility for your behaviour and not Mentally tough players do not make excuses for poor performance and Selfish and more often than
making excuses for poor performances take ownership for their performance, and they accept their not attribute the blame to
responsibility for their role in the team external sources (e.g.,
teammates, coach, niggly
injury etc.)
4 Self-Motivated An internal motivation and desire for competitive challenges and One of the major differences between [Player X – mentally tough] and Lazy and unmotivated or
team success, and also having the desire to put the necessary [Player Y – mentally weak] is that [Player X] has the desire and extrinsically motivated,
things into practice to achieve your vision of success motivation to do it for himself and his teammates, whereas [Player Y] therefore, motivation and
does it for the external rewards associated with it direction needs to be forced
upon you by an external
source
4a Competitive Desire Having that competitive desire and looking forward to the When given the option [Player X] would always choose the run-with- Self-doubt and nervousness
challenge of testing your skills against the best role because he wanted to test his fitness and his mental toughness making you susceptible to
against his opponent pressure and being a “easy
beat” under the crunch
4b Team success Having the desire to be part of a successful team and putting the I think that the player who can put his team before himself and Individually oriented and
team’s objectives before individual goals, knowing that you have understand that attitude is more mentally tough than the player who is highly selfish
to do certain things, which you may not enjoy if you are to help all about himself and not the team
your team achieve success

4c Vision The desire to have an accurate vision of what it takes to succeed, [Player X] has his own vision of what he wants to achieve as a Insular, one dimensional,
what it takes to achieve that, and the desire to put that into footballer and I [the coach] do not need to push him to doing all the lacking perspective and
practice things that will make him a champion footballer foresight, and living in the
moment

5 Tough Attitude An unshakeable, tough attitude directed towards becoming a If you looked at both of these players’ lifestyles both would train as Weak attitude, which is
champion of the game hard as each other, both would have a lifestyle conducive to being the characterised by laziness,
best you can, but [Player X] turns up with a different attitude inconsistency, being easily
intimidated, and giving in
too easily and succumbing
mentally and physically

5a Discipline An enduring discipline of the mind in all situations to do Discipline of the mind to lock into a goal and to achieve it Undisciplined, selfish, and
everything in your life that needs to be done to achieve your lacking self-drive
goals

5b Commitment Having an enduring physical and mental commitment to doing To do your rehab properly, hamstring injuries for example, you have to Uncommitted, evasive, and
over and above what is required to set yourself apart from the rest go through a 21 day program and commit yourself so that you do it being unreliable and “happy
properly in the pack”

5c Positivity Maintaining a positive attitude despite the circumstances and Instead of thinking to yourself, “well I’m a bit sore and injured” its Negativity and pessimism
focusing on what can be done rather than what has happened being able to have the mindset of “I’ll be the strong person that I can
be and get through this”

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5d Professionalism Having a professional attitude in every sense of the word – in If you take a look at [Player X] and his professionalism - the way he Unprofessional attitude,
particular, towards your diet, training, leadership, rehabilitation, trains, in his diet and rehab, and the way he is prepared to play with a which is characterised by
and competition bit of pain, play different roles laziness, carelessness and a
casual approach towards
things
5e Sacrifices Acknowledge that sacrifices (on and off the field) are inevitable Sacrificing is a huge contributor; you identify what you need to do, you Selfish, lazy and lack
if you want to achieve both individual and team success and sacrifice, and then you put yourself through those sacrifices and the commitment to the oneself
understand what the potential sacrifices you might have to make identification period and this helps give you the mental toughness to and/or the team
are survive at the highest level

6 Concentration & Focus Having that single-mindedness to focus and concentrate on the He is a guy who is just able to maintain his focus and concentration on Easily distracted and
job at hand and what you wants to achieve despite internal or what his job is in the presence of other factors that are trying to distract unfocused on the job at
external pressures, obstacles, or adversities him from that hand, which is characterised
by sporadic, erratic and
loose behaviour
7 Resilience The ability to overcome adversities with an exceptional work A word that comes through is resilience – so being good enough to Fragile mindset, which is
ethic and persevering determination to showcase your mental and keep playing and training through a lot of various things that keep characterised by the
physical ability testing you out (e.g., injuries, emotional hardships) inability to adapt to
pressure, being easily
broken and not putting a
fight in the face of adversity

8 Handling Pressure Being able to execute skills and procedures under pressure and Mentally tough players are able to handle the pressures on and off the Choking under pressure as a
stress, and accepting these pressures as challenges to test yourself field and they use these pressures as situations for demonstrating their result of anxiety, panic and
against mental toughness a loss of focus

8a Override Negative Thoughts The ability to override and block out negative thoughts and self- He is a player who can actually override all the things telling him that Succumbing to negative
doubts concerning your mental and physical state it just is not going to be his day thoughts as a result of a
weak attitude and a loss of
focus and concentration

9 Emotional Intelligence An honest and accurate self-awareness and understanding of your In addition to the mental and physical factors which contribute to Immature emotional make-
emotions when under pressure or facing an obstacle, and the overcoming adversities and performing well, mentally tough players up, which is characterised
ability to manage your emotions to enhance performance across acknowledge emotions as being an important ingredient and are by emotional insecurity,
all situations actually quite successful in using their emotions to their advantage being personally and
socially unaware of
emotions, and a one
dimensional emotional
focus

9a Self-Awareness Being able to recognise and understand the obstacles, challenges, Mentally weak footballers are the ones who are always asking Lack of awareness,
and pressures involved and accurately self-assessing your questions about their performances and if they don’t get the rating ignorance to the truth, and
individual performances which they think they should have got then they ask questions; they do needing to be told what to
not do the self-assessment that mentally tough players do and do not do
really need to know [the coach’s] viewpoint because they work it out
themselves

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10 Sport Intelligence Having the ability to perceive and understand both the training Most of the mentally tough guys I have coached have a sound Lack of sport knowledge
and competitive environment, and having the self-awareness to understanding of the game, what I like to call “footy smarts” and understanding, and
identify and understand your role within the team and any ignorance to the sport.
potential adversities that you may face

10a Team Role Responsibility Understanding and accepting responsibility for your role in the Some players have a focus that is not team oriented and is more aimed Selfish, irresponsible and
team, which entails putting team success before individual at how they, as an individual, are performing, whereas mentally tough self-centred
success guys focus on how they are performing their role within the team
environment and how they are contributing as expected by others in the
team

10b Understanding the Game Understanding and knowing every asset of the game and the To me, what I have found is that the intelligence of the player, with Lacking understanding and
responsibilities of every player on the ground and off the field regards to footy, and his understanding of the game, his footy smarts, knowledge of the game
has a lot to do with being mentally tough (i.e., having no game sense)

11 Physical Toughness Playing to the best of your ability whilst carrying an injury, For a bloke to get bowled over from the very start, to get straight up Need to feel 100% to
consciously making the decision to attack the ball in a physically after breaking a couple of ribs and go through the process that he did perform, easily intimidated
threatening situation and pushing your body through extreme and drawing upon his mental toughness to help his team nearly win the and vulnerable to avoiding
fatigue experienced during competition and training game in a Grand Final was unbelievable physically demanding
situations

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examinations of mental toughness suggests that while there seem to be several global

mental toughness characteristics common across the different sports sampled in these

studies, there appear to be certain characteristics that are specific to particular sports. When

compared with sports such as athletics, swimming, and tennis, for example,

adventure/explorer sports consistently involve more life threatening situations and one can

see how the characteristic of safety and survival would be considered a key component of

mental toughness by adventurer/explorers but not by athletes. Moreover, the attribute of

team unity would not be as relevant for an individual sport (e.g., tennis) when compared

with a team orientated sport (e.g., rugby). Consequently, the identification and

understanding of unique and sport-specific characteristics will have important implications

for both measuring and developing mental toughness within individual sports.

Identifying and describing the key characteristics of mental toughness and their

contrasts is one of the key contributions that this study makes to the literature. Previously,

the danger in conceptualising mental toughness only in the context of what individuals

believe it encompasses is that it opens the possibility for this construct to be misconstrued.

However, this is one of the strengths of a PCP framework because it encourages one to

understand personal constructs in the context of what that construct is not. Therefore, in the

context of Australian Football I revealed that participants believed mental toughness

contrasted with self-doubt, being lazy, having poor integrity and personal philosophy, being

unmotivated and/or extrinsically motivated, having a weak attitude, being easily distracted,

having a fragile mindset, choking under pressure, having a weak emotional make-up,

lacking sport knowledge and understanding of the game, and avoiding physically

demanding situations (see Table 2). From an applied perspective, a conceptualisation of

mental toughness that takes into consideration both sides of the continuum enables coaches

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and practitioners to more readily identify not only those individuals who are mentally tough

but also those individuals who are not. Future research examining both the key components

of mental toughness and their conceptual opposites would provide interesting comparisons

with the present study and other sports.

The present results further highlight that mental toughness in sport seems to be a

multidimensional construct comprising components devoted to cognition, affect, and

behaviour. Central to this multidimensional conceptualisation is the idea that the key

mental toughness characteristics are not isolated, but rather are interconnected with some

being considered more important than others. Similar to the present research, both Jones et

al. (2002) and Thelwell et al. (2005) revealed that some of the key characteristics were

perceived as being more important for mental toughness than others. However, the

hierarchical structure of this organisation cannot be determined from these investigations as

the key characteristics identified, although comparable, were not exactly the same across

studies. Nonetheless, an encouraging finding from the present study which is clearly

supported by previous research (Jones et al., 2002; Thelwell et al., 2005) is that self-belief

is considered the most important component of mental toughness in sport. This trend is not

surprising given that high self-confidence and belief in one’s ability to achieve success is

commonly associated with many other positive psychological states and optimal

experiences such as flow (Jackson & Csikszentmihalyi, 1999) and peak performance

(Krane & Williams, 2006).

While it would seem appropriate that self-belief is at the core of mental toughness in

sport, determining the hierarchical nature and the contribution that each key characteristic

provides to mental toughness is required before any definitive conclusions can be made in

this regard. Identifying and understanding those situations that require mental toughness

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and the behaviours that are commonly displayed by mentally tough athletes may help

further explain this hierarchy. This important endeavour represents another contribution

that this study makes to the literature.

Descriptions of the situations requiring mental toughness and mentally tough

behaviours are presented in Tables 3 and 4, respectively. Given the demanding nature of

elite Australia Football, it is not surprising that there was a general consensus that every

aspect of being an elite footballer required some degree of mental toughness with some

situations demanding more than others. Several general and competition-specific situations

were commonly perceived as requiring a high degree of mental toughness. Interestingly,

some of those situations identified here have previously been associated with athlete

attributions about the causes of burnout (Cresswell & Eklund, 2006) and sources of stress

for Australian Footballers (Noblet & Gifford, 2002).

Perhaps the most important finding in the present study is that mental toughness

was considered important not only for those situations with negative effects (e.g., injuries,

de-selection), but also for some situations with positive effects (e.g., good form, previous

season champions). Previous conceptualisations of mental toughness have focused too

heavily on the notion of adversity and how the key components enable one to deal with and

overcome such adversities (e.g., Clough, Earle, & Sewell, 2002; Middleton et al., 2004c).

Such conceptualisations suggest that mental toughness may be just another term describing

related constructs such as resilience and hardiness (cf. Maddi, 2002). The information

revealed here, however, provides the first evidence of how mental toughness can be clearly

distinguished from such constructs. While it seems that mental toughness encompasses

aspects of resilience and hardiness, where one has to deal with and overcome situations

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Table 3. Descriptions of the general and competition-specific situations requiring mental toughness in Australian Football.

Situation Description

Consensus Statement All aspects of being an elite footballer require some degree of mental toughness

General Situations
Injury and Rehabilitation Dealing with injuries and doing rehabilitation was cited as the most common situation because injuries alter your routines, and as a
result you have to re-assess everything and make the necessary changes

Preparation Everything associated with preparing yourself for both training and competition (e.g., diet, attitude, work ethic) was another prominent
aspect of football requiring mental toughness. In particular, being able to do over and above what is required to ensure that you are
playing to the best of your ability

Challenges
Form An individual’s and the team’s form, both when things are going good and bad, were considered to require a large degree of mental
toughness. When things are going good, for example, players need to remain focused and motivated so they do not drop off in all the
important stuff (e.g., training, diet, attitude)

Peer and Social Pressure Remaining focused and committed to what you want to achieve in football and not being impacted or affected by the various peer and
social pressures (e.g., drinking, drugs) that can easily draw footballers away from football

Balancing Commitments Being able to balance football and outside football commitments (e.g., relationships, media, and work) was considered to require a
large degree of mental toughness and, in particular, time-management and discipline

Competition-specific Situations
External Pressures These included pressures which were out of the control of the individual

Environmental & Playing Several environmental and playing conditions (e.g., away ground, crowd, weather, umpiring decisions) were considered to require
Conditions mental toughness, as players from both teams are subjected to the same conditions and have to play no matter how challenging these
conditions are

Match Variables Several match variables were considered as requiring mental toughness including (a) when you are individually challenged by an
opponent, (b) when you are being tagged and targeted by the opposition, (c) physical risk, and (d) when your team is in front and
playing well

Internal Pressures These included pressures which were in control of the individual. Two prominent internal factors requiring mental toughness included
when you are fatigued and when your self-belief is low or being challenged

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Table 4. Descriptions of the general and competition-specific behaviours displayed by mentally tough Australian Footballers.

Behaviour Description

Consensus Statement Although several of the key characteristics represent certain actions of being mentally tough (e.g., time-management, perseverance,
and inspirational) participants were able to articulate several common behaviours that are overtly displayed by mentally tough
footballers

General Behaviours
Recovering from Injury It is not surprising that participants were in agreement that one of the most common behaviours displayed by mentally tough
footballers is that they recover well from injury and, more often than not, they recover quicker than is expected

Meticulous Preparers Mentally tough footballers often do over and above what is required of them in preparing for training and competition. One participant
so aptly stated that the “mentally tough footballers cross their “T’s” and dot their “I’s” in their preparation.” This included, for
example, putting in extra weight or endurance sessions or doing more “homework” on his opponents

Consistent Performance Consistently performing at a high level was considered the most defining behaviour of mentally tough footballer. As a result, there
was a general consensus that a long and enduring career is a sign of mental toughness

Competition-specific Behaviours
Repeatable Good Performance One of the defining behaviours attributed to the mentally tough player was consistently performing to the best of his ability. On the
other hand, mentally weak players were those individuals who would play a good game when the team was playing good and winning,
but when things got tight and the team needed to, for example, man up or be more physical, mentally weak footballers would not be
the ones who would stand up. In particular, mentally tough footballers adjust the way they played the game based on the context of
that individual game

Play Well No Matter Their Position An extension of consistent performances is that mentally tough footballers play well no matter their position on the ground because
they have the right mental approach. For the mentally weak footballer who plays up forward, for example, when he is required to
change position and play up back because of on an injury or mismatch he will not be able to change his mindset of “I’m a forward and
I can not play up back”, which shows in his performance.

Superior Decision-makers A large component of being versatile was ascribed to having superior perceptual and decision-making skills, which included being
able to accurately “read the play” and anticipate game-play (e.g., opponent and teammates’ actions), make effective decisions, and
respond quickly and accurately

Do the 1%er’s There was a general consensus that mentally tough footballers consistently do the little things, the “1%er’s” as they are known in
Australian Rules football, and always rank high in these statistics despite the circumstances of the game. These 1%er’s include, for
example, blocking an opponent for your teammate, smothering an opponents kick of the ball, chasing hard and placing pressure on the
opposition when you do not have the ball, and hard ball gets from underneath a pack of players

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with negative effects, unlike resilience and hardiness it also enables one to thrive in

situations where there are positive effects and perceived “positive pressure.”

The process of identifying and describing those situations that require mental

toughness also enabled participants to place themselves in these situations and recollect

how they felt, what they were thinking, and how they behaved in such challenging times.

Using such an approach, I was able to gain an understanding of how the key characteristics

of mental toughness influenced mentally tough footballer’s to approach these situations, but

also how they would appraise certain performances and what behaviours they exhibit in

these situations. While there was a general consensus among interviewees that mental

toughness exerted its influence in these situations in a number of ways, there were several

common processes and behaviours identified. For example, there was a common perception

that doing everything in your preparation and leaving no stone unturned to ensure that you

are prepared mentally and physically made a significant contribution to maintaining a high

degree of self-belief in that you will be able to play to your potential and overcome any

obstacle or challenge along the way. In contrast, an exceptional work ethic characterised by

determination, perseverance, and time-management was considered crucial in not only

overcoming adversities but also overcoming them quicker and better than expected (e.g.,

injury rehab), while an understanding of the intricacies of the game and how it is played

(i.e., sport intelligence) enabled a footballer to display superior decision-making skills on

the field (e.g., judging the flow of play).

By identifying those situations that require a high degree of mental toughness,

future research may employ observational studies, for example, in which qualitatively-

derived information can be verified or modified. Importantly, such observational techniques

may also prove fruitful for the applied practitioner wishing to supplement the information

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gleaned from self-report measures of mental toughness. Specifically, we need to understand

what situations (internal and external) demand mental toughness and how the key

characteristics enable an athlete to thrive in, as well as persevere through, such situations so

that we can understand how these protective and enabling factors can be enhanced.

Defining Mental Toughness

Mental toughness was considered a quality that brings together several human

features and allows a footballer to consistently get the best out of his physical ability. The

current definition of mental toughness, therefore, seeks to reflect this position and integrate

all of the key findings described previously.

Mental toughness in Australian football is a collection of values, attitudes,


behaviours, and emotions that enable you to persevere and overcome any
obstacle, adversity, or pressure experienced, but also to maintain
concentration and motivation when things are going well to consistently
achieve your goals.

Two important distinctions become apparent when the present definition of mental

toughness is compared with those from previous research (e.g., Clough et al., 2002; Gould

et al., 2002; Jones et al., 2002; Middleton et al., 2004c). For example, Middleton et al.

defined mental toughness as “an unshakeable perseverance and conviction towards some

goal despite pressure or adversity” (p. 6) while Jones et al. (p. 209) concluded that:

Mental toughness is having the natural or developed psychological edge that


enables you to:
1) Generally, cope better than your opponents with the many demands
(competition, training, lifestyle) that sport places on the performer.
2) Specifically, be more consistent and better than your opponents in remaining
determined, focused, confident, and in control under pressure.

First, the current definition makes explicit the idea that mental toughness encapsulates a

combination of several different human characteristics (i.e., values, attitudes, behaviours,

and emotions). The aforementioned definitions included only specific components of

various characteristics at the expense of others, thereby suggesting that mental toughness is

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limited to such characteristics. In contrast, the current definition seeks to avoid this in an

attempt to capture the multidimensional nature of the construct. Second, previous

definitions have defined mental toughness only in the presence of or response to adversity,

and further conceptualised this construct in relation to its role in overcoming such

adversities (e.g., Clough et al., 2002; Middleton et al., 2004c). The majority of the

situations an elite athlete faces during his or her career are indeed adverse and therefore

challenging (e.g., injury, de-selection, form slumps). However, such a reactive definition

casts a negative light on mental toughness and fails to acknowledge other situations, which

may have positive effects but still be construed as challenging (e.g., maintaining a high

level of performance when performing well), that can also benefit from several of the key

mental toughness characteristics. Rather, the current definition highlights the importance of

mental toughness across all situations, which in the present study included both positively

and negatively construed pressures and challenges. Defined in this sense, mental toughness

can be conceptualised as a buffer against adversity but also as a collection of interrelated

protective and enabling factors that promote and maintain adaptation to other positive (yet

perceived challenging) situations.

Practical Implications

These results have a number of implications for practitioners working with athletic

cohorts. First, the majority of the characteristics revealed are consistent with previous

research suggesting that there seem to be several global mental toughness characteristics

(e.g., self-belief, attentional control, motivation, commitment and determination, positive

and tough attitude, resilience, enjoying and handling pressure, and quality preparation).

Efforts to develop and/or enhance mental toughness should incorporate educational and

experiential workshops targeting these areas. Second, while there seem to be several global

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mental toughness characteristics, I also evidenced several characteristics that are unique to

Australian Football. Recognising and catering for such sport-specific and individual

differences, therefore, should be a consideration when designing such programs. Finally,

practitioners can utilise those principles of PCP described here to facilitate discussions with

their clients about what that individual (and the team) construes as encapsulating the

phenomenon of mental toughness in his or her sport, when (situations) it is required, and

what this means for the client’s behaviour. Given the varying degree in the nature of each

of the situations demanding mental toughness described here, some degree of variation in

the manner in which each characteristic enables an individual to deal with and thrive in

different situations would be expected. By bringing these perceptions to the forefront

practitioners can encourage individuals to explore different ways of construing particular

situations to help guide them through the process of understanding the implications for their

behaviour.

Conclusion

This study employed PCP (Kelly, 1955/1991) as a theoretical framework in which

participants’ views, experiences, meanings, and perceptions of mental toughness in sport

could be articulated and understood. The key characteristics resemble a majority of those

identified in previous research, suggesting that there seem to be several global mental

toughness characteristics. However, several characteristics unique to this sample were also

evidenced highlighting the need to acknowledge the likelihood of sport-specific

components of mental toughness. This study is the first to provide an understanding of what

mental toughness is in the context of what it is not, specific situations that demand mental

toughness, and specific overt behaviours commonly observed by many mentally tough

performers.

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Although I have chosen to identify and understand mental toughness within an

Australian Football context, I hope to have conveyed the importance of not only identifying

and describing the key characteristics of mental toughness but also understanding how

these characteristics play their role in the performance process. Limitations of the study

include the use of self-report data (Nisbett & Wilson, 1977) and a reliance on sampling

participants who had considerable playing and coaching experience. Consequently, it is

important that future researchers explore alternative methods of data collection, such as

prospective and longitudinal studies, and combining self-report data with data obtained

through observational methods among cohorts of varying sporting backgrounds (e.g.,

experience, achievements, and elite vs. non-elite). Nonetheless, I hope to have provided an

important step in the quest towards a holistic understanding of the mental toughness

phenomenon in sport and stimulated further empirical attention to this elusive construct.

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CHAPTER IIIb

Australian football coaches’ perceptions of the development of mental toughness.

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Mental toughness is often regarded as the hallmark of many of the great athletes to have

played competitive sport. Although widely acknowledged as an essential ingredient in

achieving performance excellence by both coaching and academic communities (cf. Crust,

2007), it has only been in recent years that researchers have allocated greater attention to

studying this elusive construct. Pioneering research in this area (e.g., Fourie & Potgieter,

2001; Jones, Hanton, & Connaughton, 2002) focused on understanding mental toughness

and the key characteristics encompassing this construct from the perspective of athletes and

coaches in various team and individual sports (see also Jones, Hanton, & Connaughton,

2007), whereas more recent examinations have explored this psychological construct within

individual sports such as cricket (Bull, Shambrook, James, & Brooks, 2005) and soccer

(Thelwell, Weston & Greenlees, 2005). However, the empirical literature on mental

toughness in sport, being predominantly outcome focused and descriptive in nature, seems

weak at offering insights into the processes by which mental toughness operates.

A recent theoretical advancement which has considerable potential to guide

researcher’s and practitioner’s work in the area was presented by Gucciardi, Gordon, and

Dimmock (in press). Based on interviews with 11 elite Australian football coaches, which

was developed within a personal construct psychology (PCP; Kelly, 1955/1991)

framework, they created a grounded theory of mental toughness which highlights the

interaction of three components as central to a conceptualisation of mental toughness in

Australian football (see Figure 1). These components were labelled characteristics,

situations, and behaviours. Characteristics encompassed 11 bipolar and hierarchical

attributes considered as the make-up of mental toughness. Situations represented those

events, both internal and external, which demand varying degrees of mental toughness.

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1. Self-belief vs. Self-doubt
2. Work Ethic vs. Lazy
3. Personal Values vs. Poor Integrity &
Philosophy
4. Self-motivated vs. Extrinsically &
un/motivated
5. Tough Attitude vs. Weak Attitude
6. Concentration/focus vs.
Distractible/unfocused
7. Resilience vs. Fragile Mindset
8. Handling Pressure vs. Anxious & Panicky
9. Emotional Intelligence vs. Emotionally
Immature
10. Sport Intelligence vs. Lack of sport
knowledge
11. Physical Toughness vs. Weak sense of General
toughness Injury & Rehab
Preparation
Challenges

Competition
External Pressures
Environment
Playing environment
Match variables
Internal Pressures
Fatigue/endurance
Confidence

General Competition
Recover well from injury Repeatable good performances
Preparation Play well no matter position
Consistent performances Superior decision-makers
Do the 1%er’s

Figure 1. Gucciardi et al.’s (2008) model of mental toughness in Australian football.

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Behaviours referred to the overt indicators mentally tough footballers displayed in those

situations demanding mental toughness. Unlike previous examinations of the make-up of

mental toughness in sport then, this research offered a preliminary insight into both the

processes and outcomes of mental toughness within the context of Australian football.

With an increased understanding of mental toughness, it becomes appropriate that

the next step in the conceptual evolution of this constructs focuses on its development.

Although mental skills training is consistently endorsed by practitioners as a means by

which to nurture and maintain mental toughness (c.f. Crust, 2007), preliminary research

indicates that there are other influential factors that need to be considered. Based on

interviews with 12 male English cricketers ranked as among the most mentally tough

players in the past 20 years by 101 English cricket coaches, Bull et al. (2005) highlighted

the interaction of a performer’s environment, character, attitudes, and thinking as a possible

means of developing mental toughness. Parental influences and childhood background as

well as secondary influences (e.g., need to earn success, have opportunities to survive early

setbacks, and exposure to foreign cricket) were key components of the environmental

influences category that was generated by these authors. However, while revealing that

these influences were considered an integral component in the development of mental

toughness, little information was provided as to how (i.e., processes, strategies,

mechanisms) these sources exerted their influence in the development process.

In a more recent study Connaughton, Wadey, Hanton, and Jones (2008) re-

interviewed seven athletes from a previous study (Jones et al., 2002) to understand their

perceptions of how mental toughness is developed. According to these participants, the

development of mental toughness was a long-process that involved the interaction of a

number of important factors such as the motivational climate, key individuals within an

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athlete’s socialisation network (coaches, peers, parents, grandparents, siblings, senior

athletes, sport psychologists, and team-mates), sport-specific and life experiences as well as

an intrinsic motivation to succeed. Participants also believed that maintenance through

three sources was required once mental toughness had been developed: intrinsic motivation

to succeed; social support; and the implementation of basic and advanced psychological

skill use. These findings are consistent with much of the research on the development of

gifted and talented school children (Gagné, 2004) and athletes (Bloom, 1985; Côté, 1999;

Fraser-Thomas, Côté & Deakin, 2005; Gould, Dieffenbach, & Moffett, 2002; Martindale,

Collins, & Daubney, 2005; Tranckle & Cushion, 2006; Wolfenden & Holt, 2005) in which

individual’s within an athlete’s socialisation network (e.g., coaches, parents, teachers,

peers) are considered highly influential in the development process. Although providing

preliminary information on the strategies and mechanisms specific to the cultivation of

mental toughness, Connaughton et al.’s findings fail to identify how these sources and

methods of influence hinder its development. Indeed, talent development research

highlights that key individuals can have both positive and negative effects on the

psychological development of individuals (e.g., Gould, Lauer, Rolo, Jannes, & Pennisi,

2006; Scanlan, Stein, & Ravizza, 1991; Wolfenden & Holt, 2005; see also Gagné, 2004).

Purpose of the Present Study

Although the talent development literature offers a useful backdrop for

understanding how the psychological characteristics associated with mental toughness are

developed, to date there has only been one study of which we are aware that has generated

information specific to the development of key mental toughness characteristics (c.f.

Connaughton et al., 2008). While this investigation and the talent development literature

provides a foundation upon which we can begin to understand the sources and methods of

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influence in the development of mental toughness, this understanding is by no means

complete and further research is required to address several important gaps within the

mental toughness literature. One limitation of the scant research to date (e.g., Bull et al.,

2005; Connaughton et al., 2008) is that coaches’ perceptions of the mental toughness

development process have yet to be examined. An approach where only coaches are

sampled to generate information on the strategies and mechanisms they use and their

perceptions of those employed by parents has been used successfully by other sport

psychology researchers (e.g., Gould et al., 2006; Gould, Lauer, Rolo, Jannes, & Pennisi,

2008). A second limitation of the aforementioned research is that it has failed to gauge how

the sources and methods of influence both facilitate and impede the development of mental

toughness. Indeed, some models of talent development (e.g., Abbott & Collins, 2004) have

been criticised for focusing on the positive influences such factors have while disregarding

that such factors also work negatively (Tranckle & Cushion, 2006).

Accordingly, this study was designed to help fill this void in the literature by

examining the mental toughness development process within an Australian football context

by generating an understanding of the strategies used by experienced and successful elite

coaches and to determine their perceptions of the roles parents play in this process. Unlike

previous research in the area, I aim to generate an understanding of the processes by which

these important sources and methods of influence cultivate and facilitate as well as hinder

the development of those characteristics underpinning mental toughness in Australian

football (Gucciardi et al., in press). Given that Australian football is a sport that is rarely

studied, it also offers the opportunity to determine the extent to which previous data can be

transferred to such a unique and different sport. Moreover, to address calls in the qualitative

methods literature for researchers to provide a theoretical analysis for the findings (e.g.,

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Morse, 1994), a second purpose of this study was to develop an explanatory model of the

development process using grounded theory methodology (Glaser & Strauss, 1967; Strauss

& Corbin, 1998).

Method

Participants

Each of the eleven male participants (M age = 42 years, SD = 9.62) from Gucciardi

et al.’s (in press) sample were re-interviewed. These coaches were judged to be an excellent

source of information because of their reputation for nurturing mentally tough footballers at

the elite level. Furthermore, each coach recruited for this study had extensive playing and

coaching experience at all levels of the game, had achieved numerous individual and team

successes as a player and coach, and had been or currently is involved with coach and

player development within an Australian football context. At the time of interview, each

participant was either a head (n = 9) or assistant (n = 2) coach with an elite Australian

football team.

Interview Schedule

A semi-structured interview schedule consisting of a series of open-ended questions

was developed specifically for this study. It served to structure the conversation around

each participant’s perception of how the key characteristics revealed previously (Gucciardi

et al., in press) can be acquired or developed. The questions encouraged participants to

consider the methods and strategies by which influential sources impact on the mental

toughness development process. Specifically, I attempted to elicit information on the

strategies and mechanisms they use in their coaching as well as their perceptions of how

parents influence this process. Given that these influential sources can have both positive

and negative effects on the psychological development of individuals (cf. Gagné, 2004;

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Gould et al., 2006; Scanlan et al., 1991; Wolfenden & Holt, 2005), I was also interested in

identifying those processes which serve to either facilitate or hinder the development of

mental toughness. Both clarification (“What do you mean by…?”) and elaboration probes

(“Can you give me an example of…?”) were used throughout each interview to prompt

interviewees and encourage clarity and richness of data (Patton, 2002). A copy of the

interview guide can be obtained by contacting the doctoral student.

Data Analysis

Overview of data analysis procedures. Data analytical procedures were based on the

guidelines presented in Strauss and Corbin’s (1998) version of grounded theory

methodology. Grounded theory coding techniques encourage the analyst to move from

description, through conceptual categorising, to relationship building and theorising (Glaser

& Strauss, 1967). In line with grounded theory procedures, data collection proceeded

concurrently with analysis and ended when theoretical saturation was achieved (Strauss &

Corbin, 1998). Constant comparison between and within the codes revealed in open coding

occurred throughout data collection and analysis so that the basic properties and dimensions

of a category or construct, its causal conditions, context and outcomes and the relationships

and patterns between categories could be defined (Glaser & Strauss, 1967). Essentially,

each concept was compared with other concepts and categories, and each category was

compared with other categories so that similarities and variations between and within the

properties and dimensions of categories could be identified. This ongoing process of

confirmation and modification is essential to ensure that the emerging framework is

grounded in the data (Glaser & Strauss, 1967).

Trustworthiness. Two techniques were employed to demonstrate that the data

reflected the reports of the participants (Lincoln & Guba, 1985). First, both the doctoral

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student and a secondary researcher analysed the data in an attempt to circumvent the

inclusion of any bias on the part of the analysts. Second, each of the 11 interviewees was

provided with a detailed overview of the results of the analysis and was asked to reflect on

and verify the accuracy of the analysts’ interpretations. In addition to these traditional

techniques, we performed an alternative member-checking technique in which the initial

conceptualisation of the development of mental toughness that emerged from the 11

interviews was presented to a large cohort of coaches (n = 58) attending the Australia

Football League’s National Coaching Conference (Gordon & Gucciardi, 2006a). During a

90 min workshop conducted by Dr. Sandy Gordon, conference attendees were assembled

into small groups (approximately five to seven) and asked to examine the emergent

categories to determine if they were reflective of their experiences and perceptions and to

provide written feedback. This process was replicated in a second 60 min workshop with an

independent sample (n = 49) of coaches attending a State Coaching Conference (Gordon &

Gucciardi, 2006b). Both conference cohorts included a variety of community-based, sub-

elite and elite coaches thereby having worked with footballers from a variety of

backgrounds and experiences. There was minimal disagreement between and within the

two coach samples with the structure and design of the model being substantiated.

Procedure

The university human ethics committee granted approval for this project prior to

commencing the study. Each participant was contacted by telephone and was informed of

the mental toughness research being conducted. Once each participant agreed to be

interviewed at a time and place most convenient to them they were sent via email two

documents detailing (a) Gucciardi et al.’s (in press) conceptualisation of mental toughness

in Australian football and (b) the interview schedule at least three days prior to the

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interview. They were asked to read both documents and consider the questions in relation

to the conceptualisation of mental toughness over the days preceding the interview.

Interviews lasted between 45 and 90 min and were recorded and transcribed verbatim.

Informed consent was obtained prior to the start of each interview.

Results

Analysis revealed a number of strategies and mechanisms by which parents and

coaches positively and negatively influenced the mental toughness development process.

Table l provides an overview of these in relation to each of the 11 key mental toughness

characteristics reported by Gucciardi et al. (in press). Three overarching categories

accounted for the perceived strategies and mechanisms occurring during early childhood,

whereas methods of influence during football experiences were represented by four

categories. The presentation of the results in the following section is organised around these

central categories. Verbatim quotes are included throughout to contextualise and support

the discussion of the findings.

Early Childhood Experiences

There was a general consensus that mental toughness was something that was

developed or “having it in them” before one came to football. Each participant noted that

every footballer has some inherent level of mental toughness that they bring with them to

football. This “generalised” form of mental toughness was said to provide the foundation

upon which more specialised forms of mental toughness can be developed. Childhood

socialisation processes and experiences in the family context were considered particularly

relevant in this regard. Specifically, parents were perceived by all participants to play a

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Table 1. Overview of the strategies and mechanisms associated with the development of key mental toughness characteristics.

“Mentally Tough” Pole Bipolar, Rank-Ordered Mental Toughness Characteristics “Mentally Weak” Pole

Facilitative Strategies and Mechanisms Impeding Strategies and Mechanisms


1. Self-belief Exposure to various experiences; encourage autonomy; competition simulation Low and unrealistic expectations; focus on player’s weaknesses; limited Self-doubt
(physical and mental pressures); strengths-focused; positive reinforcement and social support; encouragement pressurises demand for success; parental
encouragement criticisms

2. Work Ethic Encourage autonomy; role models (coach, parent, peers); setting expectations and Low and unrealistic expectations; negative role models (coach, parent, Lazy
standards; challenging training environment; emphasise improvement and peers); emphasise winning over enjoyment and personal development;
enjoyment over winning unchallenging training environments; parental criticisms

3. Personal Values Social support; role models (coach, parent, peers); setting expectations and Negative role models (coach, parent, peers); emphasise winning over Poor Integrity and
standards enjoyment and personal development Personal Philosophy

4. Self-motivated Exposure to various experiences; encourage autonomy; encourage discussion and Low and unrealistic expectations; emphasise winning over enjoyment and Extrinsically and/or
debate; emphasise improvement and enjoyment over winning personal development; focus on player’s weaknesses; encouragement unmotivated
pressurises demand for success

5. Tough Attitude Guidance and encouragement; role models (coach, parent, peers); open Negative role models (coach, parent, peers); unchallenging training Weak Attitude
communication; challenging training environment environments; parental criticisms

6. Concentration & Setting expectations and standards; role models (coach, parent, peers); pre- De-emphasise preparation and planning; encouragement pressurises Distractible and
Focus performance routines demand for success; parental criticisms Unfocused

7. Resilience Guidance and encouragement; role models (coach, parent, peers); exposure to Emphasise winning over enjoyment and personal development; Fragile Mindset
various experiences; social support; 1-1 conversations; challenging training unchallenging training environments; focus on player’s weaknesses; limited
environment; emphasise improvement and enjoyment over winning social support; parental criticisms

8. Handling Exposure to various experiences; encourage autonomy; challenging training Low and unrealistic expectations; emphasise winning over enjoyment and Anxious and Panicky
Pressure environment; positive reinforcement and encouragement; emphasise improvement personal development; unchallenging training environments;
and enjoyment over winning encouragement pressurises demand for success

9. Emotional Encourage discussion and debate; positive coach-athlete relationships; emotional Explanations lack reasoning and justification; democratic coaching style; Emotionally Immature
Intelligence support; open communication parental criticisms

10. Sport Intelligence Exposure to various experiences; encourage discussion and debate; competition Explanations lack reasoning and justification; democratic coaching style; Lack of Sport
simulation (physical and mental pressures); performance diaries; information de-emphasise preparation and planning; lack of feedback Knowledge
dissemination

11. Physical Competition simulation (physical and mental pressures); challenging training Unchallenging training environments; focus on player’s weaknesses; Weak Sense of Physical
Toughness environment parental criticisms Toughness

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pivotal role by fostering a home environment that encourages the early development of

those values, attitudes, emotions, and behaviours encompassed by mental toughness (cf.

Gucciardi et al., in press). Interestingly, the coaches described these foundational key

mental toughness characteristics as being highly transferable to other life contexts such as

school and work.

Social support. The importance of social support as a mechanism by which several

of the key mental toughness characteristics such as self-belief, personal values, resilience,

and handling pressure are developed was clearly evident in all of the coaches’ discourse.

The following quote captures the general essence of this category:

Parental support is a huge contributor…not only the tangible things like


paying for your boots and stuff like that, which certainly makes it easier
for kids to concentrate on their footy, but also the emotional support they
provide when things aren’t going their way.

Having parents that make you feel loved and cared for by talking about certain problems

and issues or providing guidance and encouragement in ways that encourage a developing

child to persist and seek new courses of action was considered particularly relevant by

several participants for nurturing self-belief, resilience and the ability to thrive through

pressure. This general sentiment was characterised by the following quote:

Parents who guide and encourage their children to understand the different
and various experiences, adversities, challenges, and pressures they
encounter during their childhood and how [he or she] has dealt with them
enables [him or her] to better understand how [s/he] can do it differently
in the future.”

Participants also linked such parental processes with the development of mentally tough

attitudes: “Don’t camouflage disappointments and mistakes; parents need to help their child

understand and learn from them…this is an attitude and value in life that will be beneficial

in a great number of settings.” The strategies that were said to facilitate this process

included developing and maintaining open communication between child and parent, and

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encouraging discussion and debate. One participant stated that “never allowing one word

answers such as no and yes but rather encouraging children to justify their response” was

one method in which parents can achieve this.

Parents as role models. Coaches typically recognised that parents play a pivotal in

the development of key mental toughness characteristics such as concentration/focus, work

ethic, personal values, tough attitude, and resilience by acting as role models within the

home environment. For example, the modelling of personal values such as honesty,

integrity, accountability, commitment, perseverance, respecting the opinions of others, and

taking pride in everything you do by parents was considered an important process by which

those values associated with mental toughness in Australian football (cf. Gucciardi et al., in

press) are instilled. One participant clearly captured the nature of this influence in his

comments: “We are products of our parents. If they value discipline, honesty, and being

accountable for your own actions then we as their child generally adopt those same values

and beliefs.”

Ensuring that parents model a strong work ethic and tough attitude at home was also

perceived as a mechanism by which these attributes were instilled in a developing child.

A kid will learn and value the importance of maintaining a strong work
ethic towards everything [s/he] does if [s/he] sees [his or her] parents do
this too…these parents take the charge and show their kids what it means
to have a strong work ethic and tough attitude in life.

Several coaches further highlighted those parents who have experienced and rebounded

from hardships and adversities (e.g., losing a close family member, motor accidents) as

well as dealing successfully with day-to-day pressures and challenges (e.g., balancing work

and family) as modelling a sense of resilience in their child. One coach remarked: “Seeing a

loved one struggle through a tough experience and come out on top says a lot to a kid

watching from the outer.”

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Parental behaviours. A myriad of parental behaviours and practices were among the

most commonly mentioned forms of nurturing key components of mental toughness such as

self-belief, work ethic, personal values, self-motivation, resilience, handling pressure and

emotional intelligence in the home. For example, exposing one’s child to as many different

and varied experiences, adversities, challenges, and pressures was considered an important

mechanism by which parents encourage their child to develop the necessary skills to deal

with and thrive through these types of events in the future. Several participants endorsed

this in their discourse but the following quote is most representative:

I would say that being continuously exposed to many of life’s


experiences as early as possible can certainly have a huge effect on the
development of mental toughness…greater exposure leads to the
development of a greater repertoire of experience to draw on later in
life, whether that is in sport or any other setting.

Unlike an understanding of such situations, having actually experienced a particular

situation was said to be “an invaluable learning experience in developing the ability to

handle pressure and resilience against adversity” as “there is only so much you can learn

without actually experiencing something first hand.” Participants believed that a great deal

of self-belief comes from dealing with the event successfully but even when the outcome is

not successful one can gain a deeper awareness of ways in which they can deal with the

event differently in the future.

A home environment where autonomy is encouraged and expected was considered

highly influential in developing intrinsic motivation. Several coaches considered parents

who “demonstrate an openness and willingness to encourage their child to be relatively

independent to explore new and different situations and experiences” and “not doing

everything for their child” to be most effective in this regard. These autonomy-supportive

parents were said to facilitate this process with support and encouragement whereby the

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child develops a sense of personal or internal locus of control and the perception that their

behaviours are self-determined. The intrinsic motivation that develops from such

autonomy-supportive environments was perceived to be an important contributor to the

development and maintenance of a hard work ethic, as illustrated by the following quote:

“…when kids are encouraged to do things for themselves it allows them to take ownership

for their behaviour…and with ownership comes the drive to work harder to achieve

something.”

Negative childhood experiences. Participants’ narratives supported the notion that

parents can actually hinder the development of mental toughness. One of the most

commonly cited methods by the coaches in which this is perceived to occur involves the

overzealous application of encouragement resulting in excessive demand for success.

Several coaches believed that such overuse of encouragement often stems from the parents

personal aspirations which they may not have achieved during their youth; that is, trying to

live vicariously their child’s life. The following quote clearly demonstrates this sentiment:

All too often I have come across parents who encourage their children
to an extent where there is too much pressure on their kid to perform
well…they mean well but their desire to see their kid be successful just
takes over this.

Contrary to these parents who offer too much encouragement and deeply immerse

themselves in their child’s sporting endeavours are those parents who lack enthusiasm and

interest in their child’s development across all areas of their life (i.e., disengagement).

Coaches discussed this idea in the following manner: “…then you have those parents who

just don’t show any interest in anything their child does…their interests [e.g., sport, music]

as well as what they achieve [through school or sport].”

Parents who model negative behaviours, attitudes, and values were commonly cited

by the coaches as thwarting the development of key mental toughness characteristics. This

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was clearly reflected in the comments of the following coach: “If you have witnessed a

parent give up in the face of an adversity [such as injury] then this says to the child that

“giving up” is ok.” Similarly, another coach indicated: “…those parents who don’t value

the importance of personal improvement in everything they do…and don’t take personal

responsibility for their actions…project these kinds of attitudes onto their children.”

Coaches also discussed the case where parents demonstrate excessive control over their

child’s direction and behaviour which can leave a child lacking the self-determined

motivation that is required to perform to one’s potential, as reflected in the following

remarks: “Parents who do everything for their child and don’t allow them the opportunity to

direct their own behaviour…such as fighting their battles for them” and “not giving

children the freedom to explore different activities that interest them for the inherent

pleasure but rather because of the parents want to them do certain activities.”

A number of important processes with regard to other aspects of the parent-child

relationship were perceived by the coaches as hindering the mental toughness development

process. For example, parents who “tell their child what they want to hear as opposed to

telling them what they need to hear [i.e., being realistic but in a positive manner]” as well

as “having unrealistic or inadequate expectations and views on their child’s abilities and

attitudes” were said to impede the development of such characteristics as resilience,

personal values, and emotional intelligence. Another major discussion point prevalent

among the coaches’ discourse was related to the emotional climate that parents foster in the

home setting. In contrast to those parents who encourage open communication as well as

discussion and debate with their children, several coaches noted that a lack of such an open

emotional climate can be detrimental to a child’s mental toughness development. The

following quote captures the essence of this notion: “Parents are an important emotional

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outlet especially for developing children so not being able to discuss things with them leads

to the “bottling-up” of emotions and encourages a kid to continue doing this in other

contexts of their lives.”

Football Experiences

Each coach highlighted the importance of the football experiences that one is

exposed to over the course of his or her football career in transforming the generalised

forms of mental toughness formed during early childhood experiences into a more

specialised form of mental toughness specific to Australian football. Football coaches, in

particular, were considered to be the most important source of influence in this regard, as

reflected in the following quote: “Coaches at all levels of the game, whether they realise it

or not, are so important for the development of footballers, not only physically but also

mentally.”

Coach-athlete relationship. The relationship that exists between a coach and his or

her players was commonly discussed as an influential source in the mental toughness

development process by all of the coaches. Specifically, it was noted that “if players don’t

trust or respect their coach then they won’t be as willing to take on board what they say or

do.” The coaches highlighted several important strategies and mechanism by which to

establish and maintain positive and supportive coach-athlete relationships that were

perceived to facilitate the development of several key mental toughness characteristics. The

following quote captures the general essence of this category:

If coaches are to effectively coach their players through their methods


and technique there needs to be a common ground of trust and respect
for that individual otherwise players won’t be as willing to use that
information in their physical and mental development.

A number of aspects of the coach-athlete relationship were discussed by the coaches in this

regard, most of which were related to having an open line of communication between the

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athlete and coach. For example, offering athlete’s an instructive component related to the

performance side of coaching as well as a socio-emotional component related to affective

and cognitive aspects was considered by several participants as one of the most effective

strategies. The following quote reinforces this opinion: “the coach needs to, what I like to

call, “turn the collar around” and be there for his players to listen to personal problems in

addition to football related issues.” A major contributor in this regard was providing

athletes with various opportunities or contexts within or outside the football environment in

which to discuss such issues, as reflected in the following quote:

I make my players fully aware that I am available to discuss any issue


they like whether that be during a training session where they pull me
aside for a moment or call me up on my mobile to have a chat or
organise a quiet drink with them.

In addition to these discussions on establishing a positive relationship, it was clearly

evident among the coaches’ discourse that there needs to be a long-term orientation towards

maintaining the relationship. This outlook was characterised by the following quote: “just

as the coaching process is a long-term venture, so too is the relationship we form…and

there needs to be a commitment to maintaining such a healthy relationship over time and

not just for the short term.”

Coaching philosophy. Coaches typically recognised that the coaching philosophy

one ascribes to plays a pivotal role in the development of key mental toughness

characteristics such as self-belief, personal values, work ethic, self-motivation, emotional

and sport intelligence, and physical toughness in several important ways. A major

discussion point in this regard related to coaches prioritising athletic and personal

development over and above coaching success in the development of mental toughness.

Those coaches characterised by such a philosophy “view players as a person and athlete,

and not just a player on their team” as well as “acknowledge and accept that players are

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going to fail at times…but focus on helping players learn from their failures so they can do

it differently in the future.” Related to this discussion point was the adoption of a “holistic

development” perspective in which an emphasis is placed on promoting a footballer’s skills

in terms of those required for performance excellence in football but also the athlete’s skills

in terms of social and personal development.

I fully support the idea that mental toughness in football is a lot more
than what you do on the field. Of course, it has a lot to do with that but
being able to reach your potential in football is affected by other
aspects of your life, whether that is school for a developing player or
work for older footballers. Coaches need to recognise this and strive to
develop players’ football and life skills.

Helping a developing player acquire an understanding of the game, how it is played,

and the many obstacles, challenges, and pressures that one is likely to encounter was

another component of a coaching philosophy considered an integral process in the

development of mental toughness by all coaches. One participant described the nature of

this process in terms of encouraging players to understand that the better prepared they are

the better the outcome will be: “when a player knows they are fully prepared they are more

confident, as they know that they have done everything possible to perform to the best of

their ability.” Another participant described the importance of this process in “helping

developing players in acquiring an understanding of each pressure variable that can create

self-doubt.” Aside from specifically targeting the sport intelligence component of mental

toughness described by Gucciardi et al. (in press), the coaches believed that an

understanding of the game has numerous implications for the development of self-belief.

Specifically, having a greater awareness and deeper understanding of such information was

said to provide a platform of self-belief in terms of “anticipating these events in the future

and being more confident in being able to deal with them because of they are not surprised

by these situations when confronted with them in the future.”

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Training environment. The training environment created and maintained by coaches

at all levels of the game was articulated by several participants as an important means

through which coaches contribute to the development of mental toughness. There was a

consensus that by creating a challenging environment where every player was being

continuously challenged, in terms of both on and off field issues, the importance of hard

work, self-motivation, and physical toughness was communicated. As one coach remarked:

If training was made easy then players would expect this during a
competition…and we all know that is certainly not the case. Instead, if
[coaches] create an environment that continuously pushes [footballers]
to their physical and mental limits during training sessions, then
[footballers] will be better prepared for the rigors of competition.

Such challenging environments included “continuously challenging players to see where

they are currently at in terms of physical and mental ability through various drills and

weekly tasks” and “helping players develop the necessary skills to deal with these various

challenges in the future.” Other coaches highlighted the importance of “pushing players’

limits of physical pain during training drills” whereas some described the benefits

associated with “simulating competition scenarios during training sessions so that players

can develop the necessary skills to cope with pressure and anxiety during competition.”

Similarly, several coaches described the importance of exposing footballers to tough,

adverse situations as enabling players to gain experience with such situations and the best

processes for dealing with and thriving in future situations.

Specific strategies. Aside from those strategies and techniques described in the

preceding sections, the coaches further identified a specific number of strategies and

techniques for developing mental toughness in their players. For example, the following

techniques and strategies were discussed by several coaches in regard to helping players

develop an awareness and understanding of the game: asking players why they are doing

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certain drills and the implications of the drill for competitive performances during training

sessions; having players complete training diaries which include self-assessments of own

and team performance; having 1-1 conversations with players during training sessions

about aspects of the drill and their performance during such drills; and exposing players to

a variety of events that replicate the experiences involved in competitive football (e.g.,

pressure simulations). The coaches also discussed a number of specific strategies and

techniques for instilling self-belief and a strong work ethic among their players and

included: positive reinforcement and encouragement for poor and excellent performances

and effort; praising positive behaviours in front of the whole team; encouraging mistakes as

opportunities to learn from; and an “every player being equal” philosophy. Coach

behaviours such as these were said to contribute to the development of mental toughness by

modelling appropriate personal values (e.g., pride in performance, personal development)

as well as enabling players to acquire specific mental skills associated with mental

toughness (e.g., concentration/focus, handling pressure).

Negative football experiences. Participants’ narratives supported the notion that

coaches can also hinder the development of mental toughness. Several specific strategies

and processes were highlighted in this regard. One of the most commonly cited methods by

the coaches in which this is perceived to occur was a coach letting his or her desire for

player and therefore coach success overrule the need for individual player development, as

reflected in the following extract: “Focusing on winning and success encourages us to set

standards against the things with which we are not in control of…we can control the

athletic and personal development of players so these should be our benchmarks.” The

implication of this process was said to “emphasise inappropriate values and attitudes” and

encourage coaches to “overlook the importance of developing mental and life skills.”

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The importance of establishing and maintaining training environments that

continuously challenge players was again reinforced in the coaches’ discussions on the

ways in which coaches can hinder the mental toughness development process. In contrast to

coaches who foster challenging environments, those coaches who create “an easy

environment where players just do what is necessary and not above and beyond what is

required” fail to expose their players to important experiences that are crucial for

developing key facets of mental toughness such as self-belief, sport intelligence, physical

toughness, and handling pressure. Common processes to facilitating such “unchallenging”

environments identified by the participants included: accepting excuses from players; not

encouraging them to take responsibility for their own actions; coaches solving a player’s

problems for him or her; and failing to push players through physical and emotional pain

boundaries.

Two specific processes were highlighted by the coaches as means by which coaches

negatively impact the development of key characteristics such as self-belief, work ethic,

self-motivation, and handling pressure. First, coaches who focus on and over-emphasise a

player’s weaknesses and failing to acknowledge and reinforce his or her strengths were

commonly cited by the coaches. The following excerpt captures the essence of this theme:

I have found that when I focus on a player’s deficits and weaknesses it


leaves [him or her] fixated on working on these aspects of [his or her]
performance…of course, we need to work on our weaknesses but I find
now that when I balance an understanding of a player’s weaknesses
with [his or her] strengths so much more is gained.

There was a general consensus that when coaches address a player’s weaknesses while

emphasising his or her strengths s/he is better equipped to thrive through the many

challenges, pressures and adversities s/he experiences as opposed to merely coping with

that situation.

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Another discussion point on the ways in which coaches hinder the development of

mental toughness prevalent among the coaches’ discourse related to footballer expectations.

Specifically, imposing low and unrealistic expectations on footballers was highlighted as

being extremely detrimental, as epitomised by one coach who stated that “low and

unrealistic expectations have a way of attacking one’s self-belief and motivation to achieve

[his or her] goals….and without this motivation and belief such standards become

unattainable.” Interestingly, several coaches drew on issues pertaining to a positive coach-

athlete when discussing their ability to identify realistic and appealing goals to set their

playing group: “viewing and knowing my players as both footballers and people certainly

makes it easier for me to set standards and expectations that I know they can and will want

to achieve.”

Discussion

The primary purpose of this study was to examine the perceptions of elite Australian

football coaches regarding the sources and methods of influence underlying the mental

toughness development process in Australian football. Unlike previous research in the area

(e.g., Bull et al., 2005; Connaughton et al., 2008) my aim was to elicit an understanding of

the processes by which these important sources of influence cultivate and facilitate as well

as hinder the development of those characteristics reported as underpinning mental

toughness in Australian football (Gucciardi et al., in press). A secondary purpose was to

develop an explanatory model of the development process using grounded theory

methodology. Consistent with the scant mental toughness research (Bull et al., 2005;

Connaughton et al., 2008) as well as related talent development research (e.g., Bloom,

1985; Côté, 1999; Fraser-Thomas et al., 2005; Gagné, 2004; Gould et al., 2002; Martindale

et al., 2005; Tranckle & Cushion, 2006; Wolfenden & Holt, 2005), parents and coaches

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were perceived here as the two major sources of influence on the development of mental

toughness.

Although there is a wealth of information detailing the general influences of parents

on a child’s participation in sport and physical activity (cf. Horn & Horn, 2007), the

information presented here links particular parental processes and strategies to the

development of specific mental toughness characteristics for Australian football. Consistent

with this body of information on positive and negative parental influences are several

reoccurring themes which are clearly paralleled in the coaches’ discussions here. These

include, but are not limited to, providing various forms of social support (Connaughton et

al., 2008; Wolfenden & Holt, 2005); unrealistic and inappropriate expectations (Gould et

al., 2006; Wolfenden & Holt, 2005); over-emphasising success (Gould et al., 2006; Gould

et al., 2008); positive and negative role modelling (Brustad, 1988); positive feedback and

encouragement (Brustad, 1996); criticisms and high expectations (Gould, Tuffey, Udry, &

Loehr, 1996); discussions that have psychological consequences (Taylor, Clayton, &

Rowley, 2004); and an autonomy-supportive home environment (Gagné, 2004).

The general theme among the coaches’ discourse indicated that the aforementioned

strategies and mechanisms enable parents to create specific motivational climates in which

the developing child is exposed to a greater variety and number of opportunities for

personal development. The coaches recognised that through such socialisation experiences

during early childhood youth can acquire fundamental psychological characteristics

pertinent to mental toughness in Australian football (e.g., self-belief, work ethic, personal

values, self-motivation, tough attitudes, concentration and focus, resilience, handling

pressure, and emotional intelligence). In particular, the coaches described these nine key

mental toughness characteristics as being highly transferable to other life contexts such as

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school and work (cf. Connaughton et al., 2008). Previously, transferable skills developed

within the sporting environment and which are applied in another facet of life or career

have been associated with facilitating “smooth” transitions out of sport (e.g., Stephan,

Bilard, Ninot, & Delignieres, 2003). Based on the present findings, it seems that parents

can foster home environments in which a “generalised” form of mental toughness can be

developed. The qualities and skills that a developing child acquires during his or her early

childhood, therefore, can be applied in a sporting context and can contribute to the

development of a “specialised” form of mental toughness.

The important influence of parents was said to continue through to an individual’s

entry into Australian football but slowly diminished during his or her early years of

participation in football. It was during this time that coaches were perceived as a more

important source in the development process. Indeed, this finding is reflective of the

importance and nature of the coach-athlete relationship described by the coaches in the

present study consisting of both a professional and personal component. The importance of

developing coach-athlete relationships has been previously highlighted as one of the most

important elements for developing life skills (Petitpas, Cornelius, Van Raalte, & Jones,

2005; see also Gould, Collins, Lauer, & Chung, 2006, 2007). Research supports such

theorising, indicating that coach-athlete relationships involving both a professional and

personal component promote the development of physical skills related to performance

improvements, but also to the athlete’s skills in terms of psychosocial development (see

Jowett & Poczwardowski, 2007, for a review).

Aside from developing and maintaining positive relationships with athletes,

participants believed that coaches have the potential to shape the development of a

specialised form of mental toughness through a variety of behaviours, specific strategies,

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and their coaching philosophy. Coaches who adopt a coaching philosophy emphasising the

“holistic” development of footballers in which they prioritise athletic and personal

development over and above coaching success is consistent with award winning coaches’

perspectives on the development of life skills (Gould et a., 2007). Several other strategies

and mechanisms participants believed that coaches employ to positively and negatively

impact on the development of key mental toughness characteristics are also consistent with

previous research. They include, but are not limited to, setting clear standards and

expectations (Gould et al., 2002, 2007; Martindale et al., 2005); providing encouragement

and support (Gould et al., 2002); espousing a philosophy of winning but, at the same time,

emphasising learning, effort, and improvement (Martindale et al., 2005); modelling positive

behaviours and attitudes (Gould et al., 2007); social support (Connaughton et al., 2008;

Wolfenden & Holt, 2004); and coach leadership (Connaughton et al., 2008).

Overall then, participants agreed that parents and coaches have greater importance

at different developmental stages during an individual’s lifespan. Unlike the three distinct

stages of development proposed by Côté (1999), however, only two stages were described

here. As illustrated in Figure 2, participants believed that parents fulfil an important role

during a developing person’s early childhood experiences by creating a facilitative home

environment whereby several key characteristics are acquired and form the foundation for a

generalised form of mental toughness. Coaches, on the other hand, were said to play a

pivotal role in transforming this generalised mental toughness into a specialised form

specific to the rigors associated with participation in Australian football. The finding that

parents are the primary source of influence during one’s early childhood experiences is no

surprise. The early development of appropriate attitudes, behaviours, and values is

important, as they can play an integral role in how an individual approaches events and

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develops in other life domains, which may include work, education, as well as sport

(Smircich, 1983). It seems that cognitions associated with these different attitudes, values,

and behaviours become more salient in contexts where they are modelled and reinforced,

thus cueing individuals to behave and respond in a manner that is congruent with those

values, attitudes, and behaviours across different contexts (Bandura, 1977).

Theoretical Implications

The current study makes several important theoretical contributions to the literature

on mental toughness in sport. It provides the first examination detailing information about

the sources and methods of influence which both positively and negatively impact the

mental toughness development process in Australian football. Just as an awareness and

understanding of positive sources and methods of influence have implications for the

development of mental toughness, so does an awareness and understanding of negative

sources and methods of influence. Indeed, some models of talent development (e.g., Abbott

& Collins, 2004) have been criticised for focusing on the positive influences such

influential sources have while disregarding that such sources also work negatively

(Tranckle & Cushion, 2006). A unique aspect of this study, therefore, was the generation of

information on facilitative and debilitative strategies and mechanisms that were linked with

the development of specific key mental toughness characteristics (see Table 1). From a

conceptual standpoint, understanding how mental toughness is both facilitated and hindered

provides a basis from which we can better understand why Australian footballers may

develop higher or lower levels of mental toughness.

The strategies and mechanisms by which parents and coaches both positively and

negatively influence the development process revealed here parallel many of those

described previously in research on mental toughness (Connaughton et al., 2008) and talent

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EARLY CHILDHOOD EXPERIENCES FOOTBALL EXPERIENCES

Social Parents as Specific Coach-Athlete


Support Role Models Generalised Strategies Relationship Specialised
Mental Mental
Toughness
Toughness

Parenting
Behaviours Coaching Training
Philosophy Environment

Figure 2. A conceptual model of the mental toughness development process in Australian football.

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development (e.g., Bloom, 1985; Côté, 1999; Fraser-Thomas et al., 2005; Gagné, 2004;

Gould et al., 2002; Martindale et al., 2005; Petitpas et al., 2005). Given that coaches’

perceptions of the mental toughness development process have yet to be examined, such

similarities are encouraging and strengthen our confidence in the validity of the

interpretations on these important sources and methods of influence. In addition to

strengthening our confidence in such findings, the present results extend these findings to a

sport not previously studied in the development of desirable psychological characteristics.

It seems that the development of each key mental toughness characteristics requires

a multitude of strategies and mechanisms. It was apparent throughout the participants’

discourse that each method of influence was not considered a sole determinant of only one

key characteristic but rather has an impact on several aspects of mental toughness. Such

strategies and mechanisms, which can be both facilitative and debilitative, occur throughout

the early years of a child’s development and contribute throughout his or her football

experiences. Taken together, these findings suggest that the development of mental

toughness is an extensive process that involves being exposed to a combination of

important parental and coach strategies and mechanisms (cf. Connaughton et al., 2008).

Practical Implications

These results have a number of implications for guiding educators (i.e., coaches,

sport psychologists) and parents in their attempts to foster environments that can facilitate

the development of psychological characteristics associated with mental toughness. First,

educating key individuals in the athletes’ socialisation network and engaging them

appropriately to foster the development of desirable psychological characteristics

associated with mental toughness would seem essential (cf. Gould et al., 2002; Martindale

et al., 2005). Information on both the facilitative and debilitative mechanisms and strategies

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generated here will enhance such an endeavour. Second, athlete-centred approaches that

involve mental skills training programs targeting the key characteristics of mental

toughness, but also life skills, represent an option for the applied practitioner (cf. Gould et

al., 2007). Finally, given that coaches are the primary source of influence outside of the

family environment, and control much of what is included in any sport program, the impact

of coach training programs for developing mental toughness from an early age warrant

further investigation (cf. Conroy & Coatsworth, 2006).

Future Research

Findings from this investigation enhance our understanding of the development of

mental toughness in Australian football. However, two methodological limitations warrant

further attention. Unlike previous research in the area, which has generated only positive

impacts on the development process from athletes (Connaughton et al., 2008; see also Bull

et al., 2005), we have provided the first data set solely from a coach perspective. While

each participant had been exposed to “mental toughness development” as a player, coach,

and parent (with children now playing junior football), the extent to which the data

generated from just one viewpoint accurately captures the development process is

questionable. This may explain why participants’ placed less importance on parental

influences once an individual begins participating in football. Future research that samples

parents, athletes, and coaches and which seeks to compare and integrate the views of these

key stakeholders would help alleviate such concerns. Sampling male and female

participants from a range of other sports would also determine the degree to which the

sport-specific data generated here is representative of other sporting populations.

A second limitation of this study, and mental toughness research in general, is the

reliance on retrospective accounts of participants. Retrospective accounts are inherently

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limited by objective (e.g., win vs. loss) and subjective (e.g., enjoyment) performance

outcomes that can influence an individual’s recall of past experiences (Ross & Conway,

1986). Consequently, it is important that future research includes alternative methods of

data collection, such as prospective longitudinal studies, and combines this data with that

obtained through observational methods among cohorts of varying sporting backgrounds

(e.g., experience, achievements, and elite vs. non-elite). Examinations with individuals

currently involved in the development process, in particular, have important

methodological implications as they are less susceptible to limitations of retrospective

recall that are inherent with those athletes who have already reached a mature level of

performance (Côté, 1999).

Conclusion

Australian football coaches’ perspectives on the methods and sources of influence

on development of mental toughness development provided insights into the complexities

of the development process. They linked specific strategies and mechanisms which

cultivate and facilitate as well as hinder the development of the 11 keys to mental

toughness in Australian football (Gucciardi et al., in press). The theoretical and practical

implications of this research should provide a foundation for the design of developmental

programs and hopefully stimulate further research on the mental toughness development

process.

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CHAPTER IV – Measuring
Mental Toughness

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Overview of Chapter IV

This is the second of three empirical Chapters within this thesis. In the preceding

Chapter, two qualitative investigations in which Australian football coaches’ perspectives

on mental toughness (Chapter IIIa) and those factors contributing to its development

(Chapter IIIb) were presented. The information gained from these two investigations

provided the foundation upon which I designed questions aimed at capturing the essence of

mental toughness in Australian football. Although two experiments were conducted, the

development and preliminary validation of this sport-specific measure of mental toughness

is presented in a single manuscript within this Chapter

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CHAPTER IVa

Development and preliminary validation of a mental toughness inventory for Australian

football.

[in press – Psychology of Sport and Exercise]

145
The psychological factors involved in athletic performance have long been of interest to

athletes, coaches, and sport psychologists. Empirical examinations have largely focused on

individual psychological factors (e.g., confidence, motivation, attention, visualisation, and

psychosomatic skills) and their influence on performance. More recently, researchers have

adopted a holistic approach in which the whole and the interdependence of its parts are

emphasised. This approach is none more evident than in research examining the construct

of mental toughness. Although once considered a little-understood phenomenon (e.g.,

Jones, Hanton, & Connaughton, 2002), the knowledge base contributing to current

conceptualisations of mental toughness now has a scent of scientific rigour owing to the

efforts of several groups of researchers (e.g., Bull, Shambrook, James, & Brooks, 2005;

Gucciardi, Gordon, & Dimmock, 2008; Jones et al., 2002; Jones, Hanton, & Connaughton,

2007). However, despite the conceptual advancements in this area resulting from this

burgeoning line of enquiry, few attempts have been made to develop and validate

inventories that profile and measure mental toughness among athletic cohorts.

Loehr’s (1986) Psychological Performance Inventory (PPI) was the pioneering

“mental toughness” inventory in applied sport psychology. It is designed to assess an

athlete’s individual mental strengths and weaknesses on seven factors (self-confidence,

attention control, negative energy, motivation, attitude control, positive energy, and visual

and imagery control). These seven factors are what Loehr claimed to be the most essential

characteristics of the many mentally tough athletes and coaches that he had worked with.

The PPI is a 42-item inventory that includes items describing athletes’ specific

psychological behaviours (e.g., “Before competition, I picture myself performing

perfectly”) and self-evaluations (e.g., “I see myself as more of a loser than a winner in

competition”), which are recorded on a five-point Likert scale anchored by “almost always”

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and “almost never.” Seven subscale scores are obtained, with scores ranging from six (low)

to 30 (high) and a total score ranging from 42 to 210. Although the PPI has been widely

used by sport psychology consultants and researchers (e.g., Golby & Sheard, 2004; Golby,

Sheard, & Lavallee, 2003), Loehr offered no psychometric support for its use and little

rigorous research has been conducted on the psychometric properties of the PPI.

Recent research indicates that the PPI may not be a psychometrically sound measure

of mental toughness. Middleton et al. (2004) evaluated the construct validity of the PPI

with a sample of 263 (163 males; 101 females) student-athletes (aged 12 to 17) from an

elite sports high school in Sydney, Australia. Initially, a confirmatory factor analysis was

not supportive of the a priori model and was of poor fit. An exploratory factor analysis was

then performed and an alternative five-factor model was offered. However, although the

alternative structure provided a sounder model fit when compared with the original

structure, it showed weaker correlations with some of the hypothesised key correlates of

mental toughness such as physical self-description (r = .02 – .45), perceptions of success (r

= -.03 – .33), elite athlete self-description (r = .01 – .66), and flow (r = .02 – .70).

Middleton et al. concluded that neither the original nor the alternative five-factor structure

were psychometrically sound measures of mental toughness and suggested that further

conceptual/theoretical work was required. In addition, further exploration of the PPI was

necessary given limitations associated with the small sample size (cf. Meyers, Gamst, &

Guarino, 2006) and external validity (e.g., mean age of participants being 13.8 years) in

Middleton et al.’s study.

An examination of the psychometric properties of the PPI utilising a larger

participant sample that was more representative of a wider athlete population than that used

by Middleton et al. (2004) produced equivocal findings (Sheard, 2006). Participants in this

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study included 303 males aged 14 to 63 (M = 25.68, SD = 6.28) and 105 females aged 12 to

44 (M = 19.78, SD = 5.95) from a variety of team (e.g., rugby union, basketball, soccer) and

individual sports (e.g., swimming, slalom canoeing). Support for the factorial structure of

the PPI as assessed via both exploratory and confirmatory factor analytical techniques was

not provided. For example, the PPI subscales demonstrated adequate internal consistency (α

= .67 – .87) and were slightly better than those found by Middleton et al. (α = .63 – .77).

The PPI was also found to be moderately correlated with hardiness (r = .06 – .48) and

distinguished between international and national (elite) participants and county/provincial

and club/regional (sub-elite) participants. However, while an initial exploratory factor

analysis of the PPI suggested a six-factor solution as opposed to the seven-factor a priori

solution, a subsequent confirmatory factor analysis showed satisfactory support for the

seven-factor model with incremental fit indices showing better fit than the absolute fit

indices. Problems at the subscale level were also evidenced for the negative energy control

and attitude control subscales. Taken together with Middleton et al.’s research, it appears

that empirical support for the psychometric properties of the PPI is still warranted.

One explanation for the equivocal results regarding the PPI is that it may not

effectively capture context-specific components of mental toughness across different sports.

While there seem to be several keys to mental toughness common to most sports (e.g., self-

belief, concentration and focus, motivation, thriving on competition, resilience, handling

pressure, positive attitude, quality preparation, goal setting, determination and

perseverance, and commitment), there are other variances in key characteristics which

provide sport-specific information. When compared with sports such as athletics,

swimming, and tennis, adventure/explorer sports consistently involve more life threatening

situations and one can see how the characteristic of “safety and survival” (Fawcett, 2006),

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for example, may be considered a key component of mental toughness by

adventurer/explorers but not by athletes in the former sports. Moreover, the attribute of

“team unity” (Fourie & Potgieter, 2001) may not be as relevant to individual sports (e.g.,

tennis) when compared with team-orientated sports (e.g., rugby). Sport-specific measures

of mental toughness, therefore, represent an exciting avenue for future research.

The initial design and foundation of the present investigation is based on recent

qualitative research conducted by Gucciardi et al. (2008). These authors conducted 1-1

interviews with 11 coaches, all of whom had considerable playing and coaching experience

at the elite-level, using an interview protocol guided by personal construct psychology

(Kelly, 1955/1991; see also, Gucciardi & Gordon, in press-a, in press-b) to gain an

understanding of mental toughness in Australian football. Grounded theory analytical

procedures (Strauss & Corbin, 1998) were employed to analyse the transcribed verbatim

data from the interviews and three central categories were identified. The first category,

characteristics, incorporated 11 characteristics considered as keys to mental toughness

(self-belief, work ethic, personal values, self-motivated, tough attitude, concentration,

resilience, handling pressure, emotional intelligence, sport intelligence, and physical

toughness). The two other categories, situations and behaviours, provided an understanding

of the relationship between the key characteristics and the performance process. Specific

situations identified as demanding a large degree of mental toughness included injuries and

injury rehabilitation, preparation for training and competition, challenges (personal, on- and

off-field), peer and social pressures, and internal (e.g., fatigue/endurance and low in

confidence) and external pressures (e.g., environmental and playing conditions, match

variables and physical risk). Several overt mentally tough general (e.g., meticulous

preparers, consistent performance) and competition-specific behaviours (e.g., repeatable

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good performance, versatility, superior decision-makers, do the 1%er’s) were also revealed.

Based on their findings, Gucciardi et al. (2008, p. 278) concluded that:

Mental toughness in Australian football is a collection of values, attitude,

behaviours, and emotions that enable you to persevere and overcome any

obstacle, adversity, or pressure experienced, but also to maintain

concentration and motivation when things are going well to consistently

achieve your goals.

Using Gucciardi et al.’s (2008) research as a foundation, the purpose of this study

was to describe the development and preliminary validation a sport-specific measure of

mental toughness for Australian football. Specifically, we describe two experiments that

utilised within-network examinations exploring the factor structure (i.e., confirmatory and

exploratory factor analysis) or dimensionality and between-network examinations exploring

the relationship between the construct and other related constructs (cf. Marsh, 2002). The

purposes of experiment one were to examine the factorial validity of the inventory and

examine correlations between the factors and two hypothesised key correlates of mental

toughness (flow and dispositional resilience) and social desirability. The influence of age,

playing experience, and playing level (elite, sub-elite, and amateur) on mental toughness

subscale scores was also examined. Given that the key correlates employed in experiment

one were based on self-reports, the purpose of experiment two was to further explore the

construct validity of the inventory developed in experiment one via multisource ratings

(i.e., self, coach, and parent). Multisource ratings also provided a medium through which to

examine further the effects of socially desirable responding.

Experiment One

Method

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Participants

The study sample consisted of 418 male Australian footballers aged 15 to 30 (M =

18.97, SD = 3.71) ranging in skill, years playing (M = 10.33, SD = 3.57), and playing level

(elite, sub-elite, and amateur) who were recruited from various Australian football leagues.

Instrumentation

Preliminary Australian football mental toughness inventory (PAfMTI). The

PAfMTI consisted of 60 items designed to assess the 11 keys to mental toughness in

Australian football described by Gucciardi et al. (2008). Prior to inclusion, questions were

screened for their relevance, wording, and ordering by the authors and experienced coaches

(n = 10) and players (n = 10). Participants are asked to indicate how true or false each

statement is as a description of the way they typically feel, think, and act in football on a 7-

point Likert scale (1 = false; 7 = true).

Marlowe-Crowne social desirability scale (SDS; Reynolds, 1982). Short-form B is

a short-form of the original 33-item Marlowe-Crowne scale (Crowne & Marlowe, 1960) on

which agreement with 12 socially desirable self-statements is indicated as either 0 (no) or 1

(yes), with higher scores reflecting more social desirability; that is, an individual’s tendency

to provide socially acceptable responses. Research has provided support for short-form B in

terms of model fit (Fisher & Fick, 1993; Loo & Thorpe, 2000), adequate internal

consistency (α = .74; Barger, 2002), and having sufficient correlation with the 33-item

version (r = .91; Reynolds, 1982).

Dispositional resilience scale (DRS; Bartone, Ursano, Wright, & Ingraham, 1989).

The DRS is a modified version of Kobasa’s (1979) hardiness scale that contains 30 items

rated on a 4-point Likert scale (0 = not at all true; 3 = completely true) designed to measure

dispositional resilience in the form of the three hardiness dimensions (control, commitment,

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and challenge). High numerical values are associated with higher levels of hardiness, and

low values are associated with lower levels. The DRS has demonstrated adequate internal

consistency (α = .70 – .89; Funk, 1992; Maddi et al., 2002; Oulette, 1993) and there is

evidence for its convergent, discriminant, and predictive ability (Oulette, 1993).

Dispositional flow scale-2 (DFS-2; Jackson & Eklund, 2002, 2004). The DFS-2

measures nine flow experiences in sport: action-awareness merging, challenge-skill

balance, loss of self-consciousness, clear goals, unambiguous feedback, concentration of

the task, sense of control, time transformation, and autotelic (intrinsically rewarding)

experience. Participants are asked to rate how often they experience certain thoughts and

feelings during their athletic experiences on a 5-point Likert scale (1 = never; 5 = always).

The DFS-2 has a well-defined factor structure and adequate internal consistency (α = .70 –

.83; Jackson & Eklund, 2002, 2004).

Data Analysis

A confirmatory factor analysis (CFA) using maximum likelihood estimation with

AMOS 7.0 (Arbuckle, 2006) was employed to examine the 11-factor, 60 item model

derived from our previous qualitative research (Gucciardi et al., 2008). In addition to the χ2

goodness-of-fit statistic, several other traditional criteria (incremental fit index [IFI],

comparative fit index [CFI], and Tucker-Lewis index [TLI] >.90, root mean square error of

approximation [RMSEA] scores <.08; Browne & Cudeck, 1992) were adopted as indicators

of adequate fit with Hu and Bentler’s (1999) criteria (IFI, CFI, and TLI >.95, RMSEA

scores <.06) as evidence of good fit. Taken together, these indices provide a more

conservative and comprehensive evaluation of model fit than any single index alone.

Procedure

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Approval for this project was granted by the university human ethic committee prior

to commencing the study. An information sheet describing the aims and procedures of the

research was sent to coaches and team managers via the State Manager for Coaching and

Talent. After obtaining players’ interest to participate in the research, the coach or team

manager contacted the lead researcher and organised a session where players could

complete the questionnaire package. These sessions were held before or after a training

session. During this session the lead researcher described the research project to the players

and emphasised that all footballers were free to participate or not in the study; no player

declined the invitation to participate in the study. Participants completed and returned the

questionnaire package during that session.

Results

Confirmatory Factor Analysis

Overall, the hypothesised 11-factor, 60 item model provided poor fit to the data [χ2

= 4460.13 (df = 1655), IFI = .74, CFI = .74, TLI = .72, and RMSEA = .06]. Given findings

of inadequate fit for the initially hypothesised model, modifications to the model were

performed based on standardised factor loadings <.40; items having minimal cross-loadings

as evidenced by modification indices indicating the extent to which model fit would be

improved; and a subjective evaluation of the content of the item. This resulted in an 11

factor, 33 item model with each factor containing three items. Although model fit statistics

improved and were just below the minimum accepted levels, the values obtained were still

deemed inadequate [χ2 = 1071.79 (df = 435), IFI = .88, CFI = .88, TLI = .87, and RMSEA

= .06]. In an attempt to improve model fit, reliability estimates for the 11 factors of the

revised model also reduced significantly and were deemed unacceptable (α = .56 to .74).

Therefore, we chose to explore alternative models using exploratory factor analysis (EFA).

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Exploratory Factor Analysis

Principle components analysis using both varimax and promax rotations was

employed to explore the psychometric properties of the PAfMTI. While the commonly

employed Kaiser criterion (i.e., eigenvalues >1) and scree plot test (Cattell, 1966) provided

a subjective guide as to how many factors should be retained, we also conducted a parallel

analysis (Horn, 1965) which, unlike the Kaiser criterion, adjusts for the effect of sampling

error (Hayton, Allen, & Scarpello, 2004). The parallel analysis has recently been

recommended as the best method to assess the true number of factors (Lance, Butts, &

Michels, 2006). A parallel analysis in which the actual eigenvalues were compared to

average eigenvalues derived from a series of randomly generated data sets (n = 50)

suggested the presence of four factors. Although the parallel analysis suggested a four-

factor solution, we chose to explore three, four, and five factor extraction solutions. Criteria

for item inclusion was set with factor loadings >0.40 and secondary loadings <0.20, such

that an item was retained if it loaded greater than 0.40 on one factor, but lower than 0.20 on

the other factor. After the most appropriate solution was identified, an alpha coefficient

(Cronbach, 1951) for each factor was calculated to assess internal reliability for each

subscale.

Six different solutions, three using the varimax rotation procedure and three using

the promax rotation procedure based on three, four, and five factors, were examined. The

four-factor promax solution was retained as the most psychologically and statistically

sound factorial solution because of its conceptual clarity and ease of interpretability. The

promax solution was selected over the varimax solution because the factors were

moderately correlated, and the promax solution simplifies the pattern or structure more than

the varimax solution (Meyers et al., 2006). Due to problems associated with item content,

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factor discrimination, and internal reliability, both the three- and five-factor solutions were

not considered appropriate.

Correlations between the identified factor structure and flow, dispositional

resilience, and social desirability were obtained to identify potential relationships between

these constructs. The influence of age, playing experience, and playing level (elite, sub-

elite, and amateur) on mental toughness subscale scores were also examined. Participants

were divided into three categories for age and playing experience based on a median split.

Analysis of variance (ANOVA) was employed to assess differences in responding based on

these demographic variables for each of the inventory subscales. Partial eta squared ( η P2 )

provided an index of effect size. A Bonferroni adjustment was performed on the p value to

guard against inflation of Type I error rates because of multiple post hoc comparisons, and

the resulting p value was .017. Cohen’s d provided an index of effect size for post hoc

comparisons.

Factor structure of the PAfMTI. The initial results offered by the factor analysis in

terms of the Kaiser– Meyer–Olkin measure of sampling adequacy (KMO = 0.92) and the

Bartlett sphericity test (χ2 [231] = 9623.43, p < 0.001) suggested that the initial 60 items

represented a homogeneous collection of variables suitable for factor analysis (Hair,

Anderson, Tatham, & Black, 1998). Adequate test statistics for the KMO and Bartlett

sphericity test were also observed for each stage of the analysis after items had been

removed from the analysis. The final four-factor solution, illustrated in Table 1, contained

24 items and accounted for 47% of the total variance, with the first factor accounting for a

substantial portion of the total variance (28%). The eigenvalues of the four factors were

6.80, 1.65, 1.46, and 1.38. Retained items each loaded strongly on a single factor (>.40)

while exhibiting trivial loadings on other factors (<.20). Each of the 24 items evidenced

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acceptable corrected item–total correlations (range = .42–.93) based on the criterion of .30

recommended by Nunnally and Bernstein (1994).

Item factor loadings, extraction communality coefficients, eigenvalues, and

percentage of variance explained are detailed in Table 1. Factor one, which we have

labelled thrive through challenge, contains eight items that describe attitudes and

behaviours associated with dealing with and thriving when challenged by internal and

external forces. Factor two, which we have labelled sport awareness, contains six items that

describe attitudes, values, and behaviours relevant to individual and team performances in

Australian football. Factor three, which we have labelled tough attitude, contains five items

that describe attitudes and behaviours essential for dealing with both positively and

negatively construed pressures and challenges. Factor four, which we have labelled desire

success, contains five items that describe values, attitudes and behaviours associated with

achievement in football. All internal reliability estimates were acceptable (α = .70 – 81)

and exceeded the minimum level of .70 recommended by Nunnally and Bernstein (1994).

The 24-item reduced data set is referred to hereafter as the Australian football Mental

Toughness Inventory (AfMTI).

Construct validity. Correlations between the four factors of the AfMTI and flow,

dispositional resilience, and social desirability are presented in Table 2. Encouragingly,

correlations between the AfMTI and social desirability were small and nonsignificant. In

terms of resilience and flow, thrive through challenge and sport awareness were moderately

correlated with the each of the DRS and DFS-2 subscales, except for time, while tough

attitude and desire success were moderately correlated with the majority of the DRS and

DFS-2 subscales.

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Table 1. Item factor loadings of the AfMTI.
Item Description Factor One Factor Two Factor Three Factor Four h2
Belief in physical ability. .74 -.07 .08 -.08 .51
Belief in mental ability. .73 .01 .03 -.05 .53
Skill execution under pressure. .70 -.08 .04 -.05 .43
Pressure as a challenge. .67 .01 -.14 .11 .46
Competitiveness. .64 .11 -.12 .19 .57
Bounce back. .59 .01 -.04 .20 .49
Concentration. .58 .07 .20 -.19 .45
Persistence. .56 .17 .13 -.14 .45
Aware of individual roles. -.11 .93 .04 -.20 .69
Understand pressure. -.09 .64 .01 .20 .51
Acceptance of team role. .18 .62 -.06 -.04 .48
Personal value. .03 .55 .07 -.09 .33
Make sacrifices. .15 .46 -.21 .21 .37
Accountability. .17 .42 -.01 .21 .44
Distractible. -.03 .04 .77 -.03 .59
Discipline. -.06 -.06 .75 .17 .60
Give in to challenges. .09 -.05 .62 .12 .47
Physical fatigue and performance. -.03 .20 .55 -.16 .37
Niggly injuries and performance. .21 -.17 .49 .01 .32
Understanding the game. -.13 .05 -.08 .74 .48
Sacrifices as part of success. -.13 .13 .21 .64 .56
Desire team success. .10 -.21 -.08 .63 .35
Vision of success. -.02 .10 .21 .52 .50
Enjoy 50/50 situations. .11 -.04 .12 .49 .34
Eigenvalue (final solution) 6.80 1.65 1.46 1.38
% of variance (final solution) 28.29 6.86 6.08 5.74 46.97

Note: Coefficients greater than .40 are boldfaced and retained for that factor. h2 is the extraction communality coefficient.

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Table 2. Correlations between factors of the AfMTI, dispositional resilience, flow and social desirability.
Mental Toughness Resilience Flow
MTtt MTsa MTta MTds PVcm PVco PVch Fbal Fmer Fgls Ffee Fcon Fcont Fcs Ftime Fauto SDS α
MTtt 1 .81
MTsa .56** 1 .73
Mtta .47** .43** 1 .70
MTds .44** .45** .41** 1 .70
PVcm .21** .45** .22* .38** 1 .57
PVco .27** .41** .15 .23** .57** 1 .50
PVch .29** .21* .10 .25** .24* .17 1 .42
Fbal .53** .54** .34** .23** .20* .24** .19* 1 .83
Fmer .27** .25** .13 .06 .11 .08 -.06 .27** 1 .76
Fgls .57** .62** .22* .21* .35** .39** .15 .59** .30** 1 .79
Ffee .24** .36** .19* .20* .27** .19* -.01 .36** .30** .38** 1 .85
Fcon .39** .56** .21* .28** .47** .45** .10 .59** .35** .60** .42** 1 .72
Fcont .43** .48** .29* .27** .28** .34** .04 .61** .45** .57** .36** .65** 1 .78
Fcs .32** .22** -.02 .01 .19* .16 .12 .08 .13 .23* -.01 .23** .24** 1 .69
Ftime .14 .09 -.02 -.10 -.01 .06 .13 .13 -.05 .03 -.09 .05 .07 .29** 1 .78
Fauto .33** .55** .27** .14 .25** .29** .21* .63** .21* .49** .23* .44** .42** .15 .26** 1 .79
SDS .01 -.04 .07 .07 .06 .05 .13 -.02 .09 .01 -.09 .01 .08 .07 .03 .11 1 .39

Note: * Significance is at p <.05. ** Significance is at p <.01. MTI correlations are based on n = 418, whereas correlations of the MTI with
dispositional resilience, flow and social desirability are based on n = 225. MTtt = thrive through challenge; MTsa = sport awareness; MTta =
tough attitude; MTds = desire success; PVcom= commitment; PVco = control; PVch = challenge; Fbal = balance; Fmer = merging; Fgls =
goals; Ffee = feedback; Fcon = concentration; Fcont = control; Fcs = consciousness; Ftime = time; Fauto = autotelic; SDS = social
desirability scale.

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Discriminative power. Means and standard deviations on the four mental toughness

subscales based on age, playing experience, and playing level are presented in Table 3a.

ANOVA summary statistics and post hoc summary statistics are presented in Table 3b and

Table 3c, respectively. For each of the mental toughness subscales, there was a significant

effect for each of the demographic variables. Generally speaking, older footballers,

footballers with greater playing experience, and footballers who play at a higher level

reported higher levels of mental toughness than younger footballers, footballers with lesser

playing experience, and footballers who play at lower levels.

Discussion

A within-network examination of the a priori model involving CFA was initially

performed to determine whether the 11-factor model that guided construction of the items

(cf. Gucciardi et al., 2008) would serve as an adequate model for the data. Although the

RMSEA value provided evidence of good fit, values on the IFI, CFI, and TLI were below

the minimum accepted levels for the 11-factor, 60 item model indicating poor fit to the

data. After removing the items contributing to model misspecification, model fit statistics

improved to a level just below the minimum accepted levels. However, internal reliability

estimates of the revised 11-factor, 33 item model were hampered by our attempts to

improve model fit. Overall, the CFA results do not support the existence of an 11-factor

model of mental toughness in Australian football. One explanation for the lack of fit lies in

the ability of CFA to demonstrate validity when developing new questionnaires. For

example, Worthington and Whittaker (2006, p. 808) highlight that “it is critical to have

prior knowledge of the expected relationships between items and factors before conducting

CFA–hence the term confirmatory.” Others have argued that EFA is “warranted during

instrument development, even when theoretical expectations are present regarding the

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Table 3.
(a) Descriptive statistics on mental toughness subscales by age, playing experience, and
playing level.

Mental Toughness Subscale


Demographic Variable Thrive Sport Tough Desire
through Awareness Attitude Success
Challenge
n M SD M SD M SD M SD
Age
Rank 1 (20 – 30 years old) 160 5.85 .71 6.15 .69 5.52 1.03 6.19 .84
Rank 2 (18 – 19 years old) 101 5.71 .72 6.05 .69 5.25 1.05 6.02 1.01
Rank 3 (14 – 17 years old) 157 5.57 .61 5.62 .68 5.13 1.01 5.82 .91
Playing Experience
Rank 1 (12 – 24 years) 134 5.86 .69 6.17 .68 5.51 .92 6.02 .90
Rank 2 (9 – 11 years) 136 5.65 .70 5.85 .76 5.22 1.04 5.66 1.14
Rank 3 (1 – 8 years) 148 5.42 .69 5.78 .68 5.00 1.07 5.38 1.07
Playing Level
Elite 113 5.74 .69 6.06 .74 5.61 .82 6.11 1.01
Sub-elite 167 5.54 .81 5.98 .70 5.34 1.01 5.84 .97
Amateur 138 5.23 .75 5.74 .70 5.25 1.03 5.47 .91

(b) ANOVA summary statistics for age, playing experience, and playing level on
mental toughness subscales.

Demographic Mental Toughness df F η P2 p


Variable Subscale
Age
Thrive through challenge 2, 415 6.41 .03 <.05
Sport Awareness 2, 415 25.75 .11 <.001
Tough Attitude 2, 415 6.10 .03 <.05
Desire Success 2, 415 6.66 .03 <.001
Playing Experience
Thrive through challenge 2, 415 14.62 .07 <.001
Sport Awareness 2, 415 11.70 .05 <.001
Tough Attitude 2, 415 8.75 .04 <.001
Desire Success 2, 415 13.39 .06 <.001
Playing Level
Thrive through challenge 2, 415 14.19 .06 <.001
Sport Awareness 2, 415 7.11 .03 <.001
Tough Attitude 2, 415 4.42 .02 <.05
Desire Success 2, 415 14.31 .06 <.001

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Table 3.
(c) Summary statistics for ANOVA post hoc comparisons for age, playing experience, and playing level on mental toughness subscales.

Mental Toughness Subscale


Demographic variable Thrive through Sport Awareness Tough Attitude Desire Success
Challenge
df t d p df t d p df t d p df t d p
Age
Rank 1 vs. Rank 2 259 1.58 - ns 259 1.07 - ns 259 2.07 - ns 259 1.44 - ns
Rank 2 vs. Rank 3 256 1.53 - ns 256 5.00 .63 <.001 256 .94 - ns 256 1.71 - ns
Rank 1 vs. Rank 3 315 3.65 .42 <.001 315 6.89 .77 <.001 315 3.45 .38 <.001 315 3.79 .42 <.001
Playing Experience
Rank 1 vs. Rank 2 282 2.84 .33 <.017 282 .86 - ns 282 1.71 - ns 282 2.17 - ns
Rank 2 vs. Rank 3 268 2.49 .30 <.017 268 3.58 .44 <.001 268 2.44 .30 <.017 268 2.87 .35 <.017
Rank 1 vs. Rank 3 280 5.46 .65 <.001 280 4.78 .57 <.001 280 4.23 .51 <.001 280 5.43 .65 <.001
Playing Level
Elite vs. Sub-elite 303 3.39 .40 <.017 303 2.98 .34 <.017 303 .77 - ns 303 3.46 .39 <.017
Sub-elite vs. Amateur 278 2.13 - ns 278 .88 - ns 278 2.32 - ns 278 2.24 - ns
Elite vs. Amateur 249 5.48 .71 <.001 249 3.48 .44 <.017 249 2.97 .39 <.017 249 5.30 .67 <.001

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number of factors…given that a priori expectations may in fact be incorrect” (Henson &

Roberts, 2006, p. 407).

Given such concerns pertaining to the application of CFA procedures to

questionnaires that are still in the initial stages of development, an EFA was performed to

identify a better fitting model. A four-factor, 24 item solution accounting for 47% of the

variance was most supportive of the data. Although the four-factor model of mental

toughness identified through the EFA is substantially different in structure from that

previously generated through qualitative methods (Gucciardi et al., 2008), each of the 11

keys to mental toughness is captured by at least one item in the 24-item inventory thereby

providing evidence for the content validity of the inventory. It also appears that items

within each factor are measuring the same construct as evidenced by adequate internal

reliability estimates. Moreover, correlations between the four subscales were moderate

suggesting that the subscales represent related but distinct components of mental toughness.

Between-network examinations suggested that the four factors assessed by the

AfMTI are not strongly influenced by attempts to respond in a socially desirable manner.

Socially desirable responding is one of the most prominent sources of systematic error and

when present it is considered a threat to the validity of participants’ responses (Podsakoff,

MacKenzie, Lee, & Podsakoff, 2003). For example, the failure to examine or control for

social desirability in research examining the psychometric properties of the PPI may have

contributed to the equivocal findings evidenced by Middleton et al. (2004) and Sheard

(2006). The fact that correlations between the subscales of all three measures and the SDS

were low and nonsignificant suggests that socially desirable responding had little effect on

estimates of factor loadings for each of the AfMTI subscales and that spurious relations

among the variables were minimal. However, we urge caution when interpreting the social

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desirability data because of the inadequate internal reliability estimates evidenced. We

address this limitation in experiment two.

The correlational data between the AfMTI and dispositional resilience and flow

provided preliminary support for the construct validity of the AfMTI. Resilience is

commonly associated with mental toughness and appears to make a significant contribution

to the make-up of a mentally tough footballer. However, conceptualisations of mental

toughness that rely heavily on negative life experiences such as adversity or stress (e.g.,

Clough, Earle, & Sewell, 2002; Middleton et al., 2004) seem to be limited in their ability to

clearly distinguish mental toughness from such constructs as resilience and hardiness.

Previous research has revealed qualitative data describing the relationship and distinction

between mental toughness and resilience (Gucciardi et al., 2008) and the present data

provide quantitative support for this. In contrast, flow was included based on its conceptual

relatedness as being an outcome of mental toughness (cf. Middleton et al., 2004). Although

causality cannot be inferred, moderate and significant correlations between the AfMTI and

most of the flow subscales were evidenced suggesting the existence of a relationship

between the two constructs. Taken together, the correlational data suggests that AfMTI and

dispositional resilience and flow are conceptually related but distinct constructs.

Preliminary support for the discriminative power of the AfMTI was also provided.

It was revealed that older footballers report higher levels of mental toughness than younger

(teenage) footballers. Similarly, it seems that years of playing experience has an effect on

reported mental toughness, with higher scores reported by those footballers with more years

of playing experience. This finding can be likened to research on expertise in sport

demonstrating that those individuals who reach an expert level of performance have done

so through many years of deliberate practice and training (Ericsson, 2007). Taken together

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with the data on age, this research provides quantitative support for the suggestion

stemming from qualitative research that mental toughness appears to be developed over a

considerable amount of time (Connaughton, Wadey, Hanton, & Jones, 2008). Differences

between footballers from various playing levels were also observed, with elite and sub-elite

footballers reporting higher levels of mental toughness than amateur footballers do. This is

an important finding in that it is consistent with research indicating the psychological skills

distinguish experts from novice performers (e.g., McPherson, 2000) and that psychological

skills are associated with performing to one’s potential (Krane & Williams, 2006).

Experiment Two

It has been suggested that broader measures such as reports derived from significant

others be explored in the construct validation of self-report inventories (Middleton et al.,

2004). Accordingly, the primary purpose of experiment two was to further explore the

construct validity of the inventory developed in experiment one via multisource ratings

(i.e., self, coach, and parent). This also allowed us to address limitations associated with the

social desirability questionnaire employed in experiment one.

Method

Participants

The study sample consisted of 120 players aged 15 to 16 (M = 15.45, SD = 0.36),

five coaches, and 120 parents from five youth-aged football teams recruited from the

various community-based leagues.

Instrumentation

Australian football mental toughness inventory (AfMTI). The AfMTI is a 24-item

inventory designed to measure the following four factors of mental toughness in an

Australian football context: thrive through challenge, sport awareness, tough attitude, and

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desire success. Responses are provided on a 7-point Likert scale (1 = false; 7 = true). Items

for the parent and coach questionnaires were re-worded to reflect the assessment

procedures. For example, “I believe I can persevere through any challenge” on the player

questionnaire was changed to “He believes he can persevere through any challenge” on the

parent and coach questionnaires.

Data Analysis

Descriptive statistics were calculated for each subscale of the AfMTI for each rating

source (i.e., self, parent, and coach) and an ANOVA was then used to examine whether

significant differences existed in the reports of mental toughness between rating sources.

Given that the parent and coach ratings were only moderately correlated with each other,

we treated each separately in the analysis rather than aggregating both as a “non-self rater”

rating (J. Smither, personal communication, 2 February 2007).

Procedure

Initial recruitment of participants was made by contacting the head coach of each

team. Each coach discussed the research with the playing group and their parents before

agreeing to participate in the study. The coach was provided with the appropriate number of

questionnaire packages to distribute to the players so that the players and one of their

parents could complete it at a suitable time. An information sheet contained within the

questionnaire package emphasised that all footballers were free to participate or not in the

study. Coaches were also provided with an appropriate number of questionnaires to

complete for each player in their team. Participants sealed the questionnaire package in a

reply-paid envelope and returned it to the first author. Consent forms included with each

questionnaire package were signed by all players, parents, and coaches.

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Results

Descriptive statistics, reliabilities, and correlations between self, parent, and coach

ratings for each mental toughness subscale are presented in Table 4. Reliability estimates

for each subscale across the three rating sources exceeded the .70 minimum recommended

by Nunnally and Bernstein (1994) for use in basic research. Correlations revealed

significant and moderate relationships between the four mental toughness subscales within

self (r = .28 to .58, p <.01), coach (r = .60 – .78, p <.01), and parent ratings (r = .47 – .76, p

<.01). However, correlations between self-ratings and those from parents and coaches were

inconsistent with some subscales showing significant and moderate correlations while

others showed nonsignificant and small correlations. The ANOVA revealed that no

significant group differences existed between rating sources on thrive through challenge (F

2, 238 = 1.13, ns), sport awareness (F 2, 238 = .57, ns), tough attitude (F 2, 238 = .41, ns), and

desire success (F = 2, 238 = .07, ns).

Discussion

The purpose of the experiment two was to examine the internal reliability of the

four-factor model and differences in responses across rating sources. Encouragingly, all

internal reliability estimates were acceptable (α = .73 – .89) and exceeded the minimum

level of .70 recommended by Nunnally and Bernstein (1994) thereby suggesting that items

on each factor appear to be measuring the same construct for all three rating sources. Data

pertaining to differences in responses across rating sources was somewhat equivocal,

however. Overall, group analyses revealed no significant differences between rating

sources on each of the four subscales suggesting that typically there was agreement

between self-ratings and those from parents and coaches. In contrast, the correlational data

suggested that there was little relationship between self-reported mental toughness

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Table 4. Descriptive statistics, reliability estimates, and correlations between self, parent, and coach ratings of the AfMTI.

Coach Rating Parent Rating Self Rating α


M SD Tt Sa Ta Ds Tt Sa Ta Ds Tt Sa Ta Ds
Tt 5.45 .70 1 .89
Rating
Coach

Sa 5.97 .58 .68** 1 .85


Ta 5.12 1.32 .61** .61** 1 .88
Ds 5.52 1.01 .67** .60** .78** 1 .80
Tt 5.57 .89 .11 -.05 .25** .16 1 .87
Parent
Rating

Sa 6.04 .74 -.01 -.06 .08 .01 .71** 1 .78


Ta 5.23 1.18 .20* .07 .36** .25** .76** .60** 1 .76
Ds 5.48 .83 .11 .08 .28** .25** .53** .47** .49** 1 .78
Tt 5.45 .84 .38** .27** .26** .32** .25** .21** .18* .16 1 .86
Rating

Sa 6.06 .73 .15 .06 .01 .06 .20* .05 -.07 .02 .58** 1 .79
Self

Ta 5.12 1.01 .22* .11 .14 .13 .32** .24** .19* .16 .36** .46** 1 .73
Ds 5.49 1.16 .19* .09 .12 .14 .23** .18* .08 .08 .28** .31** .09 1 .73

Note: * Significance is at p <.05. ** Significance is at p <.01. Tt = Thrive through challenge; Sa = Sport awareness; Ta = Tough attitude; and
Ds = Desire success.

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and ratings from coaches and parents, which may be interpreted as a disagreement

between the raters. For example, self-reports of thrive through challenge were moderately

and significantly correlated with both coach and parent ratings, whereas the other three

AfMTI subscales evidenced low correlations. Such an interpretation is consistent with

research in organisational settings where agreement between the focal individual and other

raters (i.e., supervisors, subordinates, peers) is generally low to moderate (Diedorff &

Surface, 2007).

Two explanations may account for the data here. First, it may be that some aspects

of mental toughness are more easily observable (e.g., thrive through challenge) than others

(e.g., tough attitude or desire success) and as such should exhibit higher convergence.

Second, ratings other than the self are said to represent the unique perspective on

performance available to different sources (Cheung, 1999). Accordingly, footballers may

act differently with coaches than with parents, and one rating source may be better suited to

evaluate certain behaviours than the other.

General Discussion

This paper described the development and preliminary validation of a theory-driven

measure of mental toughness for Australian football using both within-network and

between-network examinations. Experiment one described the development of the

preliminary mental toughness inventory (PAfMTI) containing 60 items designed to reflect

the keys to mental toughness in Australian football (Gucciardi et al., 2008) and a

preliminary psychometric examination of the inventory using both CFA and EFA.

Correlations between the final four-factor model (AfMTI) and two hypothesised key

correlates of mental toughness (flow and dispositional resilience) and social desirability

were also explored. In addition, the influence of age, playing experience, and playing level

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(elite, sub-elite, and amateur) on mental toughness subscale scores were examined. The

purpose of experiment two was to further explore the construct validity on the AfMTI

developed in experiment one via multisource ratings (i.e., self, coach, and parent).

Although the a priori factor structure was not supported by a CFA, subsequent

factor analyses produced a better fitting model which received preliminary support for its

reliability and validity. First, the internal consistency of the AfMTI received support

throughout both experiments suggesting that the four factors seem to be consistent across

different rating sources thereby measuring the same components of mental toughness.

Efforts to address issues of relevance and representativeness of the AfMTI included

subjective reviews by the authors and experienced coaches (n = 10) and players (n = 10).

Importantly, the AfMTI appears to cover the broad spectrum of mental toughness described

by Gucciardi et al. (2008) with an item designed to reflect each of the 11 keys to mental

toughness maintained in the final 24-item inventory. Although substantially different in

structure to the model originally proposed, the four-factor model generated here adequately

captures a variety of values, attitudes, behaviours, and emotions as detailed in the construct

definition of mental toughness forwarded by Gucciardi et al. It is also interesting to note

that those key characteristics rated as the most important for mental toughness in Australian

football (self-belief, work ethic, personal values, self-motivated, and tough attitude;

Gucciardi et al., 2008) are well represented in the AfMTI.

Second, correlations between the four subscales across the different rating sources

were moderate suggesting that the subscales represent related but distinct components of

mental toughness across rating sources, providing further support for the multidimensional

nature of mental toughness. This is consistent with previous research which has revealed

the multidimensional nature of mental toughness across a range of other sports (Bull et al.,

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2005; Jones et al., 2002, 2007). From a practical viewpoint, practitioners and coaches

wishing to gain multisource ratings of mental toughness can be more certain that the same

construct is being assessed across raters. When obtaining multisource ratings it is important

that the same psychological constructs are being measured across raters, otherwise any

differences between the raters would be difficult to interpret (Cheung, 1999). However,

further examination of the psychometric structure of the AfMTI across rating sources using

CFA is warranted before we can be confident in using multisource ratings of the AfMTI.

Our primary goal was to provide the foundation for the development of a measure

of mental toughness for Australian football. Although not a focus of the present study, the

data presented here suggest that the grounded theory presented by Gucciardi et al. (2008)

requires modification in working towards establishing its validity. Indeed, theory

development is an ongoing process involving both qualitative and quantitative

investigations (Creswell & Plano Clark, 2007). Our data do support the notion that mental

toughness is multidimensional and conceptually related but distinct from psychological

constructs such as resilience and flow. The importance of the 11 key characteristics

identified previously (Gucciardi et al., 2008) to a conceptualisation of mental toughness

were also supported; however, the organisation or structure revealed here is inconsistent

with the 11-factor model generated using qualitative methods. Future quantitative and

qualitative research which further examines the psychometric properties of the AfMTI will

prove fruitful in this regard.

Construct validation is an ongoing assessment of both within-network (internal

consistency, factor structure) and between-network properties (relations with other

constructs) beyond those methods described in the present study (Marsh, 1997, 2002).

Given the equivocal results regarding the structure of mental toughness in Australian

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football obtained here, additional research is warranted to address issues beyond the limits

of the present investigation. First, further examination of the psychometric properties of the

AfMTI is required. Given that the validation process is ongoing and far from complete as

presented here, statistical techniques such as multi-sample CFA, in particular, are required

to test the strength and generalisability of the proposed factor structure more stringently.

Second, a greater number of key correlates including self-report questionnaires with

established psychometric properties such the Personal Views Survey (Maddi & Khoshaba,

2001), performance data, and observational techniques are required to establish consistent

theoretical relationships and patterns. Indeed, one of the strengths of the present study was

the inclusion of multisource ratings demonstrating adequate internal consistencies for each

AfMTI subscale across raters. However, measurement equivalence in terms of factor

structure between the different rating sources is required before meaningful comparisons

can be made, which can be demonstrated using statistical procedures such as CFA and

multitrait-multimethod analysis (Cheung, 1999; Woehr, Sheehan, & Bennett, 2005). Third,

social desirability should be more thoroughly examined in future research on the AfMTI

and research examining inventories designed to assess other psychosocial constructs.

Multimodal attempts to account for socially desirable responding are recommended, such

as multisource ratings, behavioural observations in standardised settings, and self-report

inventories of social desirability.

Finally, we acknowledge that single case inventory assessment procedures remain

open to violation and possible bias, and that triangulation assessment procedures will

provide a more reliable indicator of mental toughness. Multisource ratings employed in the

present study as well as the development of a standardised behavioural checklist represent

an exciting avenue in this regard.

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Although requiring replication and extension, the results of the present study

provide preliminary support for the factor structure, internal reliability, and construct

validity of the AfMTI. However, the factor structure, reliability, and validity of the AfMTI

must be verified through further psychometric examinations before the AfMTI can be

considered a useful tool for measuring mental toughness in Australian football.

Importantly, a psychometrically sound measure of mental toughness will have important

implications for researchers and practitioners alike. From a research perspective, the

AfMTI may be used as a tool for examining the antecedents and consequences of mental

toughness in the performance process, thereby adding to our conceptual understanding of

the mental toughness phenomenon. Moreover, longitudinal research combining qualitative

data and quantitative data using the AfMTI represents an exciting avenue in working

towards attaining conceptual clarity. From an applied perspective, the AfMTI may be

useful in assessing mental toughness among footballers, identifying areas that require

immediate attention, improvement, or maintenance, and evaluating endeavours to develop

or enhance mental toughness. It is our hope that this study will provide the foundation for

and stimulate further research on the AfMTI.

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CHAPTER V – Developing
Mental Toughness

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Overview of Chapter V

This is the third of three empirical Chapters within this thesis. The first of the two

previous Chapters presented two empirical manuscripts in which I elicited Australian

football coaches’ perspectives on mental toughness (Chapter IIIa) and those factors

contributing to its development (Chapter IIIb). The second included a manuscript detailing

the development and preliminary validation of the Australian football Mental Toughness

Inventory (AfMTI; Chapter IV). In this Chapter, I present two manuscripts evaluating the

effectiveness of a mental toughness training program for enhancing mental toughness

among youth-aged (15’s) footballers. The first of these manuscripts presents a quantitative

analysis in which multisource ratings (i.e., self, parent, and coach) of the AfMTI and

measures of flow and resilience were employed. Key stakeholders’ perceptions about the

mental toughness training program provide a qualitative analysis in the second manuscript.

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CHAPTER Va

Evaluation of a mental toughness training program for youth-aged Australian footballers:

I. A quantitative analysis.

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The positive psychology movement, championed in 1998 by Martin Seligman in his

Presidential address to the American Psychological Association (Seligman, 1999),

catalyzed the unprecedented growth in research examining the origins, processes, and

mechanisms that contribute to optimal human functioning. Psychological constructs such as

optimism, self-efficacy and hope, just to name a few, have been examined extensively

across a range of personal and performance settings in an attempt to discover the roles they

play in human functioning. Within sport settings, mental toughness is one construct that is

receiving considerably more research attention in recent years, despite having been cited as

an integral component of performance excellence by coaches over 20 years ago (Gould,

Hodge, Peterson, & Petlichkoff, 1987). Although once considered a little understood

phenomenon (Jones, Hanton, & Connaughton, 2002), the knowledge base contributing to

current conceptualizations of mental toughness now has a scent of scientific rigor owing to

the efforts of several groups of researchers (see Connaughton, Hanton, Jones, & Wadey,

2008, for review).

Pioneering research in this area focused on understanding mental toughness and the

key characteristics encompassing this construct from the perspective of athletes and

coaches from various team and individual sports (e.g., Fourie & Potgieter, 2001; Jones et

al, 2002, see also 2007). Following these earlier investigations, researchers conducted

sport-specific examinations of mental toughness among cricketers (Bull, Shambrook,

James, & Brooks, 2005) and soccer players (Thelwell, Weston, & Greenlees, 2005) and

generated information contributing to context-rich understandings of mental toughness.

Collectively, this research indicates that mental toughness is considered a multifaceted

construct made up of multiple key components including values, attitudes, cognitions,

emotions, and behaviors that refer to an individual’s superior ability to thrive through both

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positively (e.g., winning streak) and negatively (e.g., injury) construed challenges,

pressures, and adversities.

A recent theoretical advancement which has considerable potential to guide

researcher’s and practitioner’s work in the area was presented by Gucciardi et al. (2008d).

Based on interviews with 11 elite Australian football coaches, which was guided by a

personal construct psychology framework (cf. Gucciardi & Gordon, in press-a, in press-b),

they created a grounded theory of mental toughness which highlights the interaction of

three components as central to a conceptualization of mental toughness in Australian

football. These components were labeled characteristics, situations, and behaviors.

Characteristics encompassed 11 bipolar constructs ranked in the following descending

order or importance: self-belief vs. self-doubt; work ethic vs. lazy; personal values vs. poor

integrity and philosophy; self-motivated vs. extrinsically and unmotivated; tough attitude

vs. weak attitude; concentration/focus vs. distractible/unfocused; resilience vs. fragile

mindset; handling pressure vs. anxious and panicky; emotional intelligence vs. emotionally

immature; sport intelligence vs. lack of sport knowledge; and physical toughness vs. weak

sense of toughness. Situations represented those events, both internal and external, which

demand varying degrees of mental toughness (e.g., injury, rehabilitation, fatigue, personal

form). Behaviors referred to the overt indicators mentally tough footballers displayed in

those situations demanding mental toughness (e.g., superior decision-making, recover well

from injury, consistent performances). In integrating these three components, the authors

proposed the following definition:

Mental toughness in Australian football is a collection of values,


attitudes, behaviors, and emotions that enable you to persevere and
overcome any obstacle, adversity or pressure experienced, but also to
maintain concentration and motivation when things are going well to
consistently achieve your goals (p. 218).

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Despite such conceptual advancements, there has been only one formal examination

of which we are aware that has sought to understand how mental toughness is and can be

developed. Connaughton, Wadey, Hanton, and Jones (2008) re-interviewed seven

participants from a previous study (Jones et al., 2002) to understand their perceptions’ of

how mental toughness is developed. According to these participants, the development of

mental toughness was a long-process that involved the interaction of a number of important

factors such as the motivational climate, key individuals within an athlete’s socialization

network (coaches, peers, parents, grandparents, siblings, senior athletes, sport

psychologists, and team-mates), sport-specific and life experiences as well as an intrinsic

motivation to succeed. Participants also believed that maintenance through three sources

was required once mental toughness had been developed: intrinsic motivation to succeed;

social support; and the implementation of basic and advanced psychological skill use.

Prior to the Connaughton, Wadey et al. (2008) study, Bull et al. (2005) highlighted

the interaction of a performer’s environment, character, attitudes, and thinking as a possible

means of developing mental toughness. These authors found that both primary (parental

influences and childhood background) and secondary (needing to earn success,

opportunities to survive early setbacks, and exposure to foreign cricket) environmental

influences, which were not actively sought out by the individuals, were considered

significant factors in the development of mental toughness. Based on their findings, Bull et

al. (2005, p. 226) advocated an indirect approach to the development of mental toughness

whereby coaches, educators, and practitioners create “an environment within which players

are given maximum opportunity to benefit in terms of character, attitude, and thinking.”

The scant research to date suggests that mental toughness may be underpinned by

innate factors (e.g., Golby & Sheard, 2006; Jones et al., 2002), factors that are caught

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(socialized) during an individual’s upbringing, and specific techniques that are taught

(coached) (Bull et al., 2005; Connaughton, Wadey et al., 2008). Taken together with

research that has examined gifted and talented school children and athletes (e.g., Côté,

1999; Gagné, 2004; Tranckle & Cushion, 2006) as well as talent development research

(e.g., Martindale, Collins, & Daubney, 2005), the available evidence suggests that mental

toughness is largely caught from the experiences and environments an individual is exposed

to during their youth. The question remains, however, what happens if an individual has not

been exposed to such facilitative environments during their formative and junior sporting

years? Can extra efforts be made to make up for the absence of these experiences? Given

the importance placed on basic and advanced psychological skills in maintaining mental

toughness by elite performers (Connaughton, Wadey et al., 2008), here we examine the

potential usefulness of psychological skills training in developing or enhancing mental

toughness.

Psychological skills training (PST) programs endeavor to educate and equip athletes

with techniques and strategies that can be used to assess, monitor, and adjust their thoughts

and feelings to produce psychological states that both facilitate performance and foster

positive personality characteristics (Vealey, 1988). Research examining the effectiveness of

PST programs have focused either on single psychological skill approaches (e.g., Johnson,

Hrycaiko, Johnson, & Halas, 2004; Mellalieu, Hanton, & O’Brien, 2006) or multi-modal

packages integrating more than one intervention technique (e.g., Fournier, Calmels,

Durand-Bush, & Salmela, 2005; Sheard & Golby, 2006; Thelwell, Greenlees, & Weston,

2006). While multi-modal approaches are more prevalent in the literature and preferred by

sport psychology consultants, the most effective combination of such strategies requires

further examination (Vealey, 1994).

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Earlier investigations of PST programs were largely geared towards adult elite

athletes who have already displayed their physical, technical, and tactical abilities (Vealey,

1988). In recent years, however, we have evidenced a significant increase in the number of

studies examining the efficacy of PST programs with youth-aged athletes (e.g., Fournier et

al., 2005; Sheard & Golby, 2006; Mamassis & Doganis, 2004; Papacharisis, Goudas,

Danish, & Theodorakis, 2005). In fact, several authors have argued that young athletes in

their teens are particularly suited to PST. Gould (1983), for example, highlighted “the ease

with which psychological skills are learned by children” (p. 4) as a major reason for their

suitability, while Vealey (1988) noted that “young athletes…are more ripe for PST

interventions than older athletes who have already internalized dysfunctional responses to

competition” (p. 323).

Taking the aforementioned literature into consideration, the objective of this study

was to evaluate the effectiveness of two different PST packages in enhancing mental

toughness among youth-aged Australian footballers. Adolescents within the specializing

years (13 to 15 years; Côté, 1999) were targeted because this stage is thought to be a critical

period in which individuals develop strategies and processes to deal with and thrive through

many of life’s challenges and adversities (Csikszentmihalyi, Rathunde, & Whalen, 1993).

Employing a nomothetic design, we compared a program involving psycho-educational and

experiential workshops and activities targeting the keys to mental toughness identified

previously (Gucciardi et al., 2008d) with a more traditional PST program targeting the

usual suspects (e.g., self-regulation, arousal regulation, mental rehearsal, attentional

control, self-efficacy, and ideal performance state) as well as a control group. Although

overlap in activities between the two programs does exist, it is important to recognize that

the mental toughness training program also contains elements specifically derived from our

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theoretical conceptualization of mental toughness (e.g., personal values, resilience, sport

intelligence; Gucciardi et al., 2008d) which are not addressed in the general psychological

skills training program. In this way, we were able to examine standardized interventions

varying in coverage of targeted psychological skills and components of mental toughness.

Multisource ratings comprising subjective ratings from a coach, parent, and the self were

obtained in an attempt to circumvent limitations associated with self-report data (e.g., social

desirability) and to provide a more in-depth evaluation. In addition to mental toughness,

questionnaires assessing dispositional resilience and flow were included to provide a

broader assessment of program effectiveness. Resilience and flow are considered to be

conceptually related to mental toughness either as a correlate or outcome of an individual’s

mental toughness (Connaughton, Hanton et al., 2008; Middleton et al., 2004). We expected

to evidence enhanced levels of mental toughness, resilience, and flow in both intervention

programs when compared with the control group receiving no psychological intervention. It

was also hypothesized that these enhanced levels of mental toughness, resilience, and flow

would be evidenced more in the mental toughness training group.

Method

Participants

Three 15’s youth-aged football teams consisting of male footballers, a parent, and

coaching staff participated in this study. Each team was randomly assigned to one of three

conditions detailed below.

Experimental Conditions and Intervention Procedures

Control group. Participants in this condition (n = 24; Mage = 14.46; SD = 0.36) did

not receive any psychological skills training program during the course of the study period.

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Psychological skills training (PST) group. Participants in this condition (n = 26;

Mage = 14.29; SD = 0.48) followed a program involving psycho-educational and

experiential group sessions targeting the following psychological skills: self-regulation,

arousal regulation, mental rehearsal, attentional control, self-efficacy, and ideal

performance state. Two hour sessions were provided once per week over a six-week period

prior to the competitive season. Table 1 details the content, activities, and purposes of this

intervention.

Mental toughness training (MTT) group. Participants in this condition (n = 25; Mage

= 14.58; SD = 0.32) followed a program involving psycho-educational and experiential

group sessions that directly and indirectly targeted the key mental toughness characteristics

identified by Gucciardi et al. (2008d). Two hour sessions were provided once per week

over a six-week period prior to the competitive season. Table 2 details the content,

activities, and purposes of this intervention.

Instrumentation

Multisource ratings (i.e., self-report, parent rating, and coach rating) of mental

toughness for all three conditions were obtained, while only self-reports were obtained for

resilience and flow.

Mental toughness. The Australian football Mental Toughness Inventory (AfMTI;

Gucciardi, Gordon, & Dimmock, in press) is a 24-item inventory designed to measure the

following four factors of mental toughness in an Australian football context: thrive through

challenge, sport awareness, tough attitude, and desire success. Responses are provided on a

7-point Likert scale (1 = false; 7 = true). It has adequate internal consistency across rating

sources including self, parent, and coach as well preliminary support for its factor structure

(α = .70 to .89; Gucciardi et al., in press).

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Table 1. Psychological skills training (PST) program content, activities, and purposes.

Session Session Theme Content and Activities Purposes


Number
1 Information Formal presentation attended by coaches, parents, and players. Introduce program purpose, content, and methods. Each participant (coach, parent, and player) is provided
Evening with a questionnaire package to complete and return at the first session.

2 Self-regulation a. S.M.A.R.T.E.R. Goals exercise. a. Highlight the importance of setting goals for working towards things in life that one wants to achieve and
gaining experience with the S.M.A.R.T.E.R. goals acronym.
b. Game Plan Goal Chart exercise. b. Illustrate the importance of breaking goals down into outcome, performance, and process goals.

3 Arousal Regulation a. Understanding Pressure Situations exercise. a. Increase awareness about those situations where an individual and the team perceive increased pressure to
perform, and the physical and psychological signs that indicate this.
b. Anxiety Awareness exercise. b. Increase awareness about those situations that cause one to experience anxiety, reasons for the increase in
anxiety, and how it affects subsequent performance.
c. Pre-Match Routine exercise. c. Identify thoughts and feelings to attain prior to a competition (physical, mental, and emotional goals);
identify those actions/procedures to implement to achieve this state.

4 Attentional Control a. Concentration Grid exercise. a. Develop the ability to ignore irrelevant, distracting stimuli and scan a visual array for relevant
information.
b. Concentration Techniques Awareness exercise. b. Increase awareness about those cues/stimuli that one (i) normally attends to and (ii) should be attending to
during training and competition.
c. Re-focus Routine exercise. c. Develop a routine to enable one to re-focus by identifying potential distractions, non-preferred responses,
preferred responses, and attentional and behavioral cues to facilitate this routine.

5 Self-efficacy a. General Self-belief exercise. a. Increase awareness about those things which one has done successfully recently and attributes/skills that
one has to offer.
b. Sources of Self-belief and Confidence exercise. b. Increase awareness about those things (as a person and footballer) that make one have more belief in
them; things that boost one’s confidence.
c. Daily Affirmations exercise. c. Daily reminders to boost self-belief and confidence.

6 Mental Rehearsal a. Imagery Introduction a. Explain the principles and uses of imagery.
b. Sport Equipment exercise. b. Gain experience using the five senses to reproduce an image of a physical object.
c. Imagery Script exercise. c. Gain experience integrating the five senses in reproducing an image.

7 Ideal Performance a. Best and Worst Ever Performance exercise. a. Recall and increase awareness about those times when one has performed exceptionally well and poorly.
State b. Increase awareness about helpful and harmful emotions.
b. Helpful and Harmful Emotions exercise. c. Recall and increase awareness about intensities of these emotions when one has performed exceptionally
c. Best Ever Performance Analysis exercise. well.

Note: S.M.A.R.T.E.R. goals refer to Specific, Measureable, Achievable, Realistic, Time-based, Evaluate, Recorded and Revised.

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Table 2. Mental toughness training (MTT) program content, activities, and purposes.

Session Session Content and Activities Purposes


Number Theme(s)
1 Information Formal presentation attended by coaches, parents, and players. Introduce program purpose, content and methods. Each participant (coach, parent, and player) is provided
Evening with a questionnaire package to complete and return at the first session.

2 Personal and Team a. Vision workshop. a. Increase awareness about one’s personal values and develop a set of team “core values” that are
Values associated with the desired attitudes and behaviors to drive the performances, results, and vision of the team.
b. Increase awareness about those behaviors which are and are not “below the line.”
b. Responsibility Model exercise.
3 Work Ethic a. Work Ethic Ratings exercise. a. Identify individual and team standards for work ethic; increase awareness about one’s current perception
of his work ethic standards.
Tough Attitude b. Tough Attitude Quotes exercise. b. Develop a list of phrases/statements to represent personal and team attitudes; increase awareness about
tough attitudes.
Self-motivation c. Developing Personal Motivation exercise. c. Increase awareness about why one enjoys playing football; develop cues, phrases, and images as a
reminder of these reasons.

4 Self-belief a. General Self-belief exercise. a. Increase awareness about those things which one has done successfully recently; identify attributes/skills
that one has to offer themselves and others.
b. Sources of Self-belief and Confidence exercise. b. Increase awareness about those things (as a person and footballer) that make one have more belief in
them; things that boost one’s confidence.
Concentration and c. Concentration Grid exercise. c. Develop the ability to ignore irrelevant, distracting stimuli and scan a visual array for relevant
Focus information.
d. Concentration Techniques Awareness exercise. d. Increase awareness about those cues/stimuli that one (i) normally attends and (ii) should be attending to
during training and competition.

5 Resilience a. Favorite Persister exercise. a. Increase awareness about how others have persisted and overcome adversity.
b. About Yourself exercise. b. Increase awareness about how one has (or could) persisted and overcome adversity.
c. Solution-focused Thinking exercise. c. Develop the ability to approach problems with solution-focused thinking.

6 Emotional a. Emotion awareness and management exercise. a. Recall and increase awareness about helpful and harmful emotions during those times when one has
Intelligence performed exceptionally well and poorly; recall and increase awareness about intensities of these emotions
when one has performed exceptionally well; gain experience in techniques to initiate specific emotions and
manage emotions in stressful situations.
b. Anxiety Awareness exercise. b. Increase awareness about those situations that cause one to experience anxiety, reasons for the increase in
anxiety, and how it affects subsequent performance.
c. Pre-Match Routine exercise. c. Identify thoughts and feelings to attain prior to a competition (physical, mental, and emotional goals);
identify actions/procedures to implement to achieve this emotional state.

7 Sport Intelligence a. Personal Reflection of Training and Competition a. Increase awareness about individual and team performances; aims of training sessions and competition
Performances exercise. plays; lessons learned from training and competition; areas of improvement; and reflection on performance
processes and outcomes.
Physical Toughness b. Experiencing Physical Pain exercise. b. Increase awareness about those situations that require one to push through the pain barrier; recall
situations when one has pushed through physical pain and fatigue; identify techniques to achieve assist in
pushing through the pain barrier.

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Resilience. The Dispositional Resilience Scale (DRS; Bartone, Ursano, Wright, &

Ingraham, 1989) is a modified version of Kobasa’s (1979) hardiness scale. It contains 30

items rated on a 4-pont Likert scale (0 = not at all true; 3 = completely true) and is designed

to measure dispositional resilience. High numerical values are associated with higher levels

of resilience, and low values are associated with lower levels. The scale assesses each of

the three hardiness dimensions (control, commitment, and challenge) separately and uses

equal number of items and a balanced number of positively worded items within each

component to measure each dimension. The DRS has demonstrated adequate internal

consistency (α = .70 to .89; Maddi et al., 2002; Oulette, 1993) and there is evidence for its

convergent, discriminant, and predictive ability (Oulette, 1993).

Flow. The Dispositional Flow Scale-2 (DFS-2; Jackson & Eklund, 2002) measures

nine flow experiences in sport: action-awareness merging, challenge-skill balance, loss of

self-consciousness, clear goals, unambiguous feedback, concentration on the task, sense of

control, time transformation, and autotelic (intrinsically rewarding) experience. Participants

are asked to rate how often they experience certain thoughts and feelings during their

athletic experiences on a 5-point Likert scale (1 = never; 5 = always). The DFS-2 has a

well-defined factor structure and adequate internal consistency (α = .71 to .92; Jackson &

Eklund, 2002; Middleton et al., 2004).

Players and coaches from the PST and MTT groups also completed the following

two measures at the completion of this study:

Consultant effectiveness. A modified version of the Consultant Evaluation Form

(CEF; Partington & Orlick, 1987) developed by Weigand, Richardson, and Weinberg

(1999) was employed to assess the PST and MTT participants’ perspective on consultant

effectiveness. The scale has 20 questions designed to assess the consultant’s impact (e.g., “I

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am acquiring knowledge about football mental skills”), effectiveness (e.g., “The consultant

gave good examples of the concepts”), rapport (e.g., “The consultant was approachable”),

and overall evaluation (e.g., “I would recommend this consultant to other athletes and

coaches”). The questions are assessed on a 5-point Likert scale with varying anchors used

for questions within each subscale.

Social validation. A social validation questionnaire was administered to the PST

and MTT groups at the completion of the study. Social validation questionnaires are

employed to assess participant satisfaction with the delivery of the service and outcomes of

the program (e.g., Mellalieu et al., 2006; Thelwell et al., 2006). Based on the

recommendations made by Wolf (1978) the following questions were designed to assess

social validity:

(a) How important was an improvement in mental toughness to you? (1 = not at all

important to 7 = extremely important)

(b) Do you consider the changes in mental toughness to be significant? (1 = not at all

significant to 7 = extremely significant)

(c) How important was an improvement in performance to you? (1 = not at all

important to 7 = extremely important)

(d) Do you consider the changes in performance to be significant? (1 = not at all

significant to 7 = extremely significant)

(e) How satisfied were you with the content of the program? (1 = not at all satisfied to 7

= extremely satisfied)

Procedure

Approval for this project was granted by the University Human Ethics Committee.

An email advertisement was sent to all youth development officers via the State Manager

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for Coaching and Talent. Community-based coaches interested in the project made contact

with the lead researcher and were informed about the nature of the research. Once three

coaches had agreed to participate, they were randomly assigned to one of three

experimental conditions and each coach was then informed about the nature of the program

in which they were participating. Having gained the coaches approval, an information

session was held to convey this information to the parents and players and to allow the

researchers to respond to any questions. Informed consent was then obtained from the

players and a parent.

Multisource ratings of mental toughness, resilience, and flow were gathered from all

three experimental groups at similar time points during pre-season training (February,

2007) prior to the implementation of the intervention programs. Having collected a pre-

assessment for all three groups, the PST and MTT groups were then exposed to the

designated intervention program described above (February to April, 2007); the control

group was not exposed to any form of intervention by the researchers. Both intervention

programs were completed two weeks prior to the competitive season (April, 2007). During

the competitive season (April to August, 2007), all three experimental groups were not

exposed to any further intervention from the researchers. Multisource ratings of mental

toughness, resilience, and flow were gathered from all three experimental groups at the

completion of the competitive season (August, 2007); perceptions on consultant

effectiveness and satisfaction with the delivery of the service and outcomes of the program

were also obtained from both the PST and MTT groups but not the control group.

Data Analysis

The aim of our analysis was to examine changes in mental toughness, resilience,

and flow among the three experimental groups across pre- and post-intervention. A

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corollary of this was to determine whether the observed effects were consistent across the

three rating sources (self, parent, and coach). A multivariate analysis of covariance

(MANCOVA), integrating pre-intervention scores as covariates, subscales of each

questionnaire as the dependant variables, and experimental group as the independent

variable, was performed to examine changes in mental toughness, resilience, and flow. A

MANCOVA is preferred in situations with two points, whereas a repeated measure

MANOVA is more appropriate for analyses with greater than two time points (Tabachnick

& Fidell, 2007). Given that correlations between subscales of these three psychological

constructs were low and non-significant, separate MANCOVA’s were performed for

mental toughness, resilience, and flow. An alpha level of .05 was employed and partial eta

squared ( η P2 ) provided an index of effect size. A Bonferroni adjustment was performed on

the p value to guard against inflation of Type I error rates as a result of multiple

comparisons. The resulting p value for mental toughness, resilience, and flow was .012,

.017, and .005, respectively. All assumptions of MANCOVA were met indicating the

suitability of this analysis. A discriminant function analysis was then used to verify

membership in the three experimental groups. Only those components of mental toughness,

resilience, and flow which significantly differentiated groups in the MANCOVA were

employed in the discriminant function analysis to facilitate optimal differentiation of the

three experimental groups.

Results

Self-Report Data

Mental toughness. Descriptive statistics and alpha coefficients for subscales of the

AfMTI by experimental condition are presented in Table 3. We evidenced a significant

multivariate effect for experimental group (F8, 130 = 3.64, λ = .67, p <.01, η P2 = .18), while

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pre-intervention scores for each subscale of the AfMTI were not revealed as covariates (p’s

>.05). It was revealed that thrive through challenge (F2, 68 = 9.89, p <.012, η P2 = .22) and

tough attitude (F2, 68 = 6.17, p <.012, η P2 = .15) but not sport awareness (F2, 68 = .74, p = .48,

η P2 = .02) and desire success (F2, 68 = 2.93, p = .06, η P2 = .22) contributed to the significant

multivariate effect. An examination of the estimated marginal means for thrive through

challenge indicates that both the MTT and PST groups reported significantly more positive

scores than the control group (p <.001) while significant differences between the MTT and

PST groups were not observed. For tough attitude, significant differences were observed

between the MTT and control groups (p <.001) but not between the PST and control groups

as well as the MTT and PST groups.

Resilience. Descriptive statistics and alpha coefficients for subscales of the DRS by

experimental condition are presented in Table 4. A significant multivariate effect for

experimental group was evidenced (F6, 134 = 14.88, λ = .36, p <.001, η P2 = .40), while pre-

intervention scores for each subscale of the DRS were not revealed as covariates (p’s >.05).

Commitment (F2, 69 = 41.82, p <.001, η P2 = .55), control (F2, 69 = 21.44, p <.001, η P2 = .38)

and challenge (F2, 69 = 7.77, p <.001, η P2 = .18) all contributed to the multivariate effect. An

examination of the estimated marginal means for commitment revealed the MTT group

reported more positive scores than both the PST and control groups (p <.001) and that the

PST group reported more positive changes than the control group (p <.001). Both the MTT

and PST groups reported more positive changes in the control subscale than the control

group (p <.001), while there were no significant differences between the MTT and PST

groups. Similar trends in self-reported control were observed for the challenge subscale.

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Table 3. Descriptive statistics and alpha coefficients for subscales of the AfMTI by
experimental condition for self, parent, and coach ratings pre- and post-intervention.

Pre-Intervention Post-Intervention Diff Score


Experimental M SD α M SD α M SD
Condition
Self-Report Data
Control
Tt 4.61 .83 .93 4.54 .86 .92 -.07 1.13
Sa 5.10 .70 .89 5.29 .64 .88 .19 .94
Ta 4.47 .74 .86 4.49 .78 .87 .02 1.04
Ds 4.54 .72 82 4.67 .77 .88 .13 1.03

PST
Tt 4.47 .84 .93 5.19 .63 .89 .72 1.09
Sa 5.03 .72 .82 5.30 .63 .80 .27 .85
Ta 4.12 1.07 .81 4.67 .59 .77 .55 1.12
Ds 4.73 .90 .75 4.95 .74 .73 .22 1.11

MTT
Tt 4.50 .53 .80 5.18 .62 .91 .68 .63
Sa 4.98 .58 .72 5.46 .54 .80 .48 .69
Ta 4.29 .69 .69 5.06 .54 .69 .77 .45
Ds 4.92 .74 .73 5.22 .59 .74 .30 .81

Parent Data
Control
Tt 5.25 .52 .88 5.41 .42 .86 .16 .65
Sa 5.52 .43 .73 5.49 .48 .74 -.03 .59
Ta 4.89 .59 .84 4.85 .53 .84 .04 .71
Ds 5.50 .65 .80 5.68 .62 .87 .18 .86

PST
Tt 5.67 .59 .81 5.82 .75 .92 .15 .89
Sa 5.53 .86 .88 5.59 .86 .87 .06 1.35
Ta 4.93 1.17 .67 5.79 .81 .76 .86 1.49
Ds 5.58 1.08 .71 5.74 .86 .85 .16 1.52

MTT
Tt 5.43 .87 .90 6.01 .64 .85 .58 1.27
Sa 5.65 .86 .81 6.23 .81 .85 .58 1.25
Ta 5.15 .90 .79 5.90 .81 .82 .75 1.16
Ds 5.66 1.07 .85 5.99 1.05 .89 .33 1.48

Coach Data
Control
Tt 4.66 .88 .93 4.60 .65 .89 -.06 1.00
Sa 5.08 .69 .80 5.19 .67 .90 .09 .92
Ta 4.74 .77 .77 4.60 .65 .81 -.14 1.05
Ds 4.44 .64 .67 4.67 .85 .75 .23 1.07

PST
Tt 4.68 .81 .93 5.25 .62 .93 .57 1.04
Sa 5.03 .77 .87 5.41 .74 .72 .38 1.15
Ta 3.90 1.19 .86 4.54 .64 .70 .64 1.56
Ds 4.68 .87 .76 5.14 .55 .68 .46 1.09

MTT
Tt 4.76 .53 .77 5.27 .71 .89 .51 .89
Sa 5.21 .73 .84 5.53 .51 .69 .32 .96
Ta 4.38 .83 .86 5.23 .70 .87 .85 .54
Ds 5.14 .57 .75 5.45 .54 .74 .41 .87

Note: Tt = Thrive through challenge; Sa = Sport awareness; Ta = Tough attitude; Ds =


Desire success.

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Table 4. Self-report descriptive statistics and alpha coefficients for subscales of the DRS
and DFS-2 by experimental condition for pre- and post-intervention.

Pre-Intervention Post-Intervention Diff Score


Experimental M SD α M SD α M SD
Condition
Dispositional Resilience Scale
Control
Cm 1.66 .26 .61 1.71 .25 .60 .05 .29
Co 1.50 .28 .64 1.58 .27 .63 .08 .37
Ch 1.71 .25 .72 1.80 .33 .68 .09 .44

PST
Cm 1.77 .28 .64 2.14 .31 .59 .37 .15
Co 1.69 .32 .73 2.16 .33 .63 .47 .27
Ch 1.82 .37 .76 2.08 .32 .59 .26 .24

MTT
Cm 1.75 .25 .64 2.32 .25 .59 .57 .24
Co 1.68 .28 .62 2.04 .28 .55 .36 .27
Ch 1.84 .30 .65 2.17 .34 .62 .33 .23

Dispositional Flow Scale-2


Control
Bal 3.79 .52 .78 3.92 .60 .90 .13 .83
Mer 3.67 .60 .81 3.58 .68 .86 -.09 .85
Goal 4.07 .53 .69 3.96 .54 .79 -.11 .81
Fee 4.19 .68 .84 3.91 .60 .87 -.28 .94
Conc 3.91 .52 .78 4.04 .43 .62 .13 .70
Cont 3.91 .55 .83 3.82 .46 .77 -.09 .78
Cons 3.21 .68 .77 3.64 .54 .72 .43 .87
Time 3.20 .73 .74 3.35 .70 .88 .15 .96
Auto 4.17 .57 .82 4.41 .56 .87 .24 .77

PST
Bal 3.88 .57 .87 3.87 .61 .90 -.01 .88
Mer 3.53 .65 .83 3.58 .60 .90 .05 .70
Goal 4.11 .58 .85 4.47 .33 .69 .36 .55
Fee 4.04 .63 .87 3.88 .64 .91 -.16 .84
Conc 4.06 .51 .67 4.45 .33 .82 .39 .60
Cont 3.98 .56 .86 4.42 .42 .86 .44 .66
Cons 3.42 .76 .71 3.61 .56 .81 .19 .97
Time 3.30 .86 .88 3.51 .64 .90 .21 1.07
Auto 4.42 .57 .86 4.39 .61 .88 -.03 .92

MTT
Bal 4.04 .50 .79 4.48 .37 .67 .44 .52
Mer 3.56 .59 .69 3.99 .64 .91 .43 .88
Goal 3.76 .47 .80 4.28 .60 .71 .52 .68
Fee 3.94 .54 .84 4.15 .66 .86 .19 .87
Conc 4.04 .63 .74 4.48 .33 .69 .44 .75
Cont 3.66 .54 .73 4.14 .53 .81 .48 .86
Cons 4.32 .54 .80 4.35 .54 .86 .03 .15
Time 3.35 .75 .76 3.81 .45 .77 .46 .92
Auto 3.96 .63 .91 4.40 .59 .89 .44 .87

Note: Dispositional Resilience Scale: Cm= commitment; Co = control; Ch = challenge.


Dispositional Flow Scale-2: Bal = balance; Mer = merging; Goal = goals; Fee = feedback;
Conc = concentration; Cont = control; Cons = consciousness; Time = time; Auto =
autotelic.

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Flow. Descriptive statistics and alpha coefficients for subscales of the DFS-2 by

experimental condition are presented in Table 4. We evidenced a significant multivariate

effect for experimental group (F18, 110 = 4.65, λ = .32, p <.01, η P2 = .43), while pre-

intervention scores for each subscale of the DFS-2 were not revealed as covariates (p’s

>.05). Only the concentration (F2, 63 = 8.58, p <.001, η P2 = .21) and control (F2, 63 = 13.80, p

<.001, η P2 = .31) subscales of the DFS-2 contributed to the significant multivariate effect.

An inspection of the estimate marginal means revealed that both the MTT and PST groups

reported more positive changes in concentration than the control group (p <.017) while

significant differences between the MTT and PST groups were not observed. For the

control subscale, the PST group reported more positive changes than both the MTT and

control groups (p <.017) while the MTT reported more positive changes the control group

(p <.017) but not the PST group.

Parent Data

Descriptive statistics and alpha coefficients for subscales of the AfMTI by

experimental condition are presented in Table 3. A significant multivariate effect for

experimental group was evidenced (F8, 130 = 4.27, λ = .62, p <.001, η P2 = .21), while pre-

intervention scores for each subscale of the AfMTI were not revealed as covariates (p’s

>.05). It was revealed that thrive through challenge (F2, 68 = 6.03, p <.012, η P2 = .15), sport

awareness (F2, 68 = 8.02, p <.012, η P2 = .19), and tough attitude (F2, 68 = 13.20, p <.012, η P2

= .28) contributed to the significant multivariate effect; desire success did not. An

inspection of the estimate marginal means revealed that the MTT group reported more

positive changes in thrive through challenge than the control group (p <.017) but not the

PST group, while there were no significant differences between the control and PST

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groups. For sport awareness, the MTT group reported more positive changes than both the

control and PTT groups (p <.017), while there were no significant differences between the

PST and control groups. Both the MTT and PST groups reported more positive changes in

tough attitude than the control group (p <.017), while no significant differences were

observed between the MTT and PST groups.

Coach Data

Descriptive statistics and alpha coefficients for subscales of the AfMTI by

experimental condition are presented in Table 3. We evidenced a significant multivariate

effect for experimental group (F8, 130 = 5.88, λ = .54, p <.001, η P2 = .27), while pre-

intervention scores for each subscale of the AfMTI were not revealed as covariates (p’s

>.05). Thrive through challenge (F2, 68 = 8.31, p <.012, η P2 = .20), tough attitude (F2, 68 =

10.79, p <.001, η P2 = .24), and desire success (F2, 68 = 9.93, p <.001, η P2 = .23) contributed

to the multivariate effect; sport awareness did not. An inspection of the estimate marginal

means revealed that both the MTT and PST groups reported more positive changes in thrive

through challenge than the control group (p <.017), while there were no significant

differences between the MTT and PST groups. For the tough attitude subscale, the MTT

group reported more positive changes than both the control and PST groups (p <.017),

while no significant differences were evidenced between the PST and control groups. Both

the MTT and PST groups reported more positive changes in desire success than the control

group (p <.017), while there were no significant differences between the MTT and PST

groups.

Discriminant function analysis

Two significant predictive equations were revealed. Function 1 (λ = .12, χ2 =

137.38, df = 26, p <.001) accounted for 76.22% of the variance in the discriminant function

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and differentiated the control group from both PST and MTT groups as a function of self-

rated commitment, control (DRS), and concentration (DFS-2) as well as parent-rated tough

attitude (AfMTI). As expected, the control group had lower scores than the PST and MTT

on all four components; the PST and MTT had comparable scores. The second function (λ

= .52, χ2 = 42.77, df = 12, p <.001) accounted for 47.77% of the variance in the discriminant

function and differentiated the PST from the MTT group on coach-rated tough attitude

(AfMTI) and parent-rated sport awareness (AfMTI). Specifically, the MTT group has

higher scores on these two components. When predicting group membership, 85% of the

individuals in the sample were correctly classified. The highest percentage of correctly

classified individuals was in the control group (92%) followed by the MTT group (84%)

and finally the PST group (81%). Of the incorrectly classified individuals in the control

group, 4% were placed in the both the PST and MTT groups. Incorrectly classified

individuals in the PST group were placed in both the MTT (15%) and control groups (4%).

Finally, participants from the MTT group were incorrectly placed in the PST group only

(16%).

Consultant Effectiveness

The results suggested that the participants’ perspective on the consultant’s

effectiveness was extremely positive. For the PST group, average responses were as

follows: consultant impact (M = 3.96; SD = 0.96), consultant effectiveness (M = 4.25; SD =

0.56), rapport (M = 4.52; SD = 0.42), and overall evaluation (M = 4.26; SD = 0.63). Similar

responses were forwarded by the MTT group: consultant impact (M = 4.03; SD = 0.75),

consultant effectiveness (M = 4.17; SD = 0.65), rapport (M = 4.64; SD = 0.38), and overall

evaluation (M = 4.42; SD = 0.43).

Social Validation

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Social validation was assessed among the PST and MTT groups using a brief

questionnaire designed specifically for this study based on the recommendations of Wolf

(1978). When asked to rate the importance of an improvement in mental toughness, the

average response was 5.63 (SD = 0.76) and 5.97 (SD = 0.84) for the PST and MTT groups

respectively. Moreover, changes in mental toughness were considered to be significant by

both the PST (M = 5.89; SD = 0.91) and MTT groups (M = 6.02; SD = 0.63). Similar

findings were revealed with regards to the importance of an improvement in performance to

participants. On average, the PST average response was 6.24 (SD = 0.52) while the MTT

was 6.38 (SD = 0.46). The final question suggested the both the PST (M = 5.92; SD = 0.85)

and MTT (M = 6.16; SD = 0.65) groups were satisfied with the content of the program they

received.

Discussion

The purpose of this study was to evaluate the effectiveness of two different

psychological skills training packages in developing or enhancing mental toughness among

youth-aged Australian footballers. Specifically, we compared a program involving psycho-

educational and experiential workshops and activities targeting the keys to mental

toughness identified previously (Gucciardi et al., 2008d) with a more traditional

psychological skills training program targeting the usual suspects (i.e., self-regulation,

arousal regulation, mental rehearsal, attentional control, self-efficacy, and ideal

performance state) as well as a control group. We expected to evidence enhanced ratings of

mental toughness, resilience, and flow in both intervention groups when compared with the

control group receiving no psychological intervention. It was also hypothesised that these

enhanced levels of mental toughness, resilience, and flow would be evidenced more so in

the mental toughness training group.

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The findings here lend support for the general effectiveness of multimodal

psychological skills training programs with youth-aged athletes (Fournier et al., 2005;

Sheard & Golby, 2006; see also Gould, 1983) and extend this notion to Australian

footballers. Overall, it was demonstrated that both the mental toughness training (MTT) and

psychological skills training (PST) programs reported more positive changes in subjective

ratings of mental toughness, resilience, and flow than the control group. A visual inspection

of the difference scores across rating sources for the AfMTI shows that only one AfMTI

subscale (sport awareness – parent rating) evidenced minimal changes (0.6). Similarly, self-

reports of all three subscales of the DRS resulted in positive changes. The self-report data

on flow, however, was somewhat equivocal. Positive changes for each of the nine

subscales, except for consciousness, occurred for the MTT group, whereas difference

scores for both the PST and control groups included a mixture of positive and negative

changes. One potential explanation for the equivocal data on flow is that the majority of

self-reports at pre-intervention were high, thus presenting only a small potential for

improvement.

Statistical analyses of the data revealed some encouraging results regarding the

specific effects of the interventions. In terms of mental toughness, both the PST and MTT

groups reported statistically significant increases in thrive through challenge and tough

attitude when compared with the control group, whereas desire success and sport awareness

did not. As it has been shown (Bull et al., 2005; Gucciardi et al., 2008d; Jones et al., 2002),

being able to deal with and overcome adversities, challenges, and pressures as well as

having a tough attitude are key components of mental toughness in sport. The enhancement

of both these dimensions is an important finding for the applied practitioner and coaches

given that attitudes affect our cognitions, emotions, behaviors, and beliefs, which facilitate

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our adaptation to the environment (Ajzen, 2001). On the other hand, rebounding or

“bouncing back” from adversity, challenge, and pressure facilitates learning and growth

through conquering such circumstances (Luthar, 2006). The self-report data on resilience

supported this finding with both the PST and MTT groups evidencing significant changes

in all three dimensions of resilience (control, commitment, and challenge) while scores for

the control group remained relatively stable. Caution is urged when interpreting the data

from the DRS, however, due to the questionable internal reliability estimates observed here.

Given the number of questionnaires measuring resilience available to researchers, it is

important that future research examines the applicability of such measures in the sport

context so that meaningful examinations can be made within athletic populations.

There are a number of explanations for the lack of change in the desire success and

sport intelligence dimensions of mental toughness. Specifically, it may be that the effects of

those components specific to the MTT (and therefore not addressed in the PST) program

need more time to develop and solidify. The activities and tasks designed to help develop

sport awareness, for example, may actually have been effective and with long-term

experiential use would become actualized in questionnaire data. In regards to desire for

success, one explanation for the lack of statistically significant changes may be that youth-

aged footballers are not particularly focused on achieving success at this stage in their

sporting career. Rather, self-determination theory (Deci & Ryan, 1985) suggests that the

fulfillment of psychological needs for autonomy, competence, and relatedness may be more

important. However, this finding may have been different had we sampled a youth-aged

development squad in which the majority of players are selected based on their physical

ability and, therefore, want to make it to the highest level of football they can.

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Flow was included in the present study as it has previously been conceptualized as

an outcome of being mentally tough (Middleton et al., 2004). The flow experience

represents congruence between situational demands and personal resources whereby

athletes perceive the situation as demanding but believe they have the skills to effectively

cope with such demands (Jackson, 1995). Despite previous research showing that mental

toughness is related to flow (Gucciardi et al., in press; Middleton et al., 2004), the data here

indicated that both psychological interventions had little impact on the nine flow

dimensions, with significant effects observed for the concentration and control dimensions

of flow only. This finding is surprising given that several of the parameters previously

identified as facilitating flow experiences such as pre-competitive and competitive plans,

confidence and positive attitude, optimal arousal, optimal physical preparation, focus, and

motivation (Jackson, 1995) were all addressed in both the PST and MTT programs here. As

previously mentioned, pre-intervention data for flow was high thereby limiting the potential

for improvement. Alternatively, given that the DFS-2 was developed within a sport-general

(as opposed to a sport-specific) context, it may be that those flow experiences targeted by

the DFS-2 may in fact not be relevant for Australian footballers.

In response to calls to examine the most effective combination of multimodal

psychological interventions (Vealey, 1994), a second purpose of this study was to

determine if either of the two multimodal intervention programs were more effective in

enhancing mental toughness. Overall, the data reported here indicated that increases in self,

parent, and coach ratings of mental toughness, and self-reports of resilience and flow for

both the PST and MTT were not significantly different from each other. Aside from the

emergence of coach-rated tough attitude and parent-rated sport awareness as important

variables in distinguishing the PST and MTT groups, the data suggests that neither the PST

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nor the MTT program was more effective in enhancing mental toughness. Our results

regarding the lack of superiority could be interpreted as providing support for the

contention that the common components of these programs (i.e., self-regulation, arousal

regulation, mental rehearsal, attentional control, self-efficacy, and ideal performance state)

are responsible for the positive effects of both interventions observed here. However,

further research on the mechanisms and processes contributing to the observed effects is

warranted before making this conclusion. Another issue which may have influenced the

findings is that of the group methodology. Due to the nature of Australian football (i.e.,

team sport) we chose to examine standardized interventions varying in emphasis on

targeted psychological skills which each team received. Individualized programs that meet

a footballer’s needs may be more appropriate and requires further examination.

The most original and significant contribution of the present study was the

multisource ratings methodology. Multiple sources of information was obtained here as a

means by which to address concerns associated with socially desirable responding. Socially

desirable responding is one of the most prominent sources of systematic error and when

present it is considered a threat to the validity of participants’ responses (Podsakoff,

MacKenzie, Lee, & Podsakoff, 2003). The fact that we evidenced similar changes in ratings

across three different sources (self, parent, and coach) alleviates some of the concerns

associated with socially desirable responding inherent with self-report data thereby adding

considerable support to the reliability of the findings. Moreover, results from the

discriminant function analysis further highlight the importance of obtaining multiple

sources of information with a combination of self, parent, and coach reports combining to

best explain membership in the experimental groups. To our knowledge, this is the first

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study within the sport psychology literature to employ multisource ratings to evaluate the

effectiveness of psychological interventions.

Although it is difficult to determine the precise mechanisms by which the

psychological interventions had an effect, it is possible to make some tentative conclusions

about potential contributions to the perceived improvements in mental toughness,

resilience, and flow observed here. In particular, we draw on a performance management

model presented by Murphy and Tammen model (1998). These authors suggest that an

increased self-awareness about one’s strengths and weaknesses coupled with training in

methods for monitoring one’s thoughts and behaviors enables one to become self-directive

in utilizing learned skills and techniques to manage and facilitate performance. Consistent

with this thinking, footballers in both intervention programs engaged in exercise and

activities that skilled them in self-analysis and provided them with tools and methods for

becoming proficient in self-monitoring and self-regulation. Qualitative data obtained from

participants in the MTT group supports such a conclusion (Gucciardi, Gordon, &

Dimmock, 2008c). However, it is important to recognize that an individual may not be

skilled in all three aspects of the performance management process. Ben, for example, may

be proficient in knowing what emotions enable him to enter “the zone” (i.e., self-

awareness) and yet have problems managing his emotions during a match (i.e., self-

regulation). Chris, on the other hand, is skilled in imagery (i.e., self-regulation) but

unskilled in knowing when imagery can be used to facilitate his performance (i.e., self-

awareness). Indeed, this may account for some of the equivocal findings reported here; that

is, some footballers may have become more self-aware about their levels of mental

toughness, resilience, and flow by the end of the intervention than others. It is seems

appropriate that researchers and practitioners determine an individual’s ability in self-

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analysis and self-monitoring as well as self-regulatory skills when designing and

implementing psychological interventions.

Limitations and Future Research

We acknowledge several methodological limitations that give rise to important

avenues for future research. First, the multimodal nature of the two intervention programs

reported here limits our ability to clearly identify those aspects which contributed most to

the observed changes in the psychological variables. This information is of fundamental

importance for the applied practitioner and future research that addresses this issue will

contribute greatly to a practitioner’s ability to develop mental toughness. Accordingly, we

have attempted to address this limitation in a subsequent study by gaining an understanding

of participants’ perspectives on the goals, procedures, and results of the MTT intervention

(cf. Gucciardi et al., 2008c). Related to the first is a second limitation in which the

nomothetic design focusing on information obtained from the study of many persons did

not allow us to “tease out subtle behavioural change that perhaps would be undetected

using nomothetic methods” (Vealey, 1988, p. 329). Future research employing single-

subject designs such as A-B-A-B and multiple baseline will greatly compliment the data

obtained in nomothetic designs such as the present study.

The third limitation of the study relates to the dependant variables being subjective

in nature. From a positive youth development perspective (cf. Holt, 2008), the

improvements in psychological variables observed here across the three different rating

sources are an important finding. But in terms of talent development within a sporting

context it is essential that psychological improvements are associated with performance

improvements and, due to the subjective nature of the data, we were unable to gauge this.

Although research has demonstrated the ability of self-report questionnaire data in

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predicting performance (e.g., Bartone, Roland, Picano, & Williams, 2008; Stavrou,

Jackson, Zervas, & Karteroliotis, 2007) and behaviour (e.g., Sage & Kavussanu, 2007),

there is some evidence to suggest that this may not always be the case (e.g., Blakeslee &

Goff, 2007). Therefore, it is important that future research obtains both subjective and

objective data when assessing the effectiveness of psychological interventions to examine if

such links exist (cf. Fournier et al., 2005; Sheard & Golby, 2006; Mamassis & Doganis,

2004).

Finally, the limited duration of the assessment period and absence of follow-up

assessments makes it difficult to determine the long-term benefits, if any, of both

psychological interventions. It has previously been suggested that participants must

experience the benefits of new skills, techniques, and behaviours through multiple trials

over an extended period of time for them to adopt and internalize these newly acquired

methods (Meichenbaum & Turk, 1987). Longitudinal research would prove useful in this

regard.

Conclusion

The results from this study provide preliminary support for the premise of offering

psychological skills training interventions to enhance mental toughness among youth-aged

Australian footballers. Overall, it was apparent that both the PST and MTT programs

enabled each group to achieve improvements for each of the dependant variables. In

contrast, scores for the control group receiving no psychological intervention remained

relatively stable across the study period. The reliability of these findings was enhanced as

these general trends in the data were consistent across three independent rating sources. In

addition, the consultant effectiveness and social validation data were highly supportive of

the efficacy of the intervention procedures. Further research is required to delineate those

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aspects of multimodal interventions which contribute most to the effects observed using a

combination of quantitative and qualitative methodologies as well as subjective and

objective data.

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CHAPTER Vb

Evaluation of a mental toughness training program for youth-aged Australian footballers:

II. A qualitative analysis.

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In the last decade, we have evidenced widespread, international attention focused on

attaining a better understanding of mental toughness in sport. Several groups of researchers

have made significant contributions towards contemporary conceptualizations of this

psychological construct (e.g., Bull, Shambrook, James, & Brooks, 2005; Gucciardi,

Gordon, & Dimmock, 2008d; Jones, Hanton, & Connaughton, 2002, 2007). It seems that

practitioners have used these findings, together with personal intuition and experience, in

an attempt to better equip coaches and sporting organizations in their efforts to develop this

desirable construct among athletic cohorts. While research suggests that mental toughness

may incorporate some inherent dispositional qualities (e.g., Golby & Sheard, 2006), it

seems that it is generally developed through, and influenced by experiences with and

interpretations of, an individual’s internal and external environment (Bull et al., 2005;

Connaughton, Wadey, Hanton, & Jones , 2008; Gould, Dieffenbach, & Moffett, 2002;

Jones et al., 2002). Yet despite this recent influx of empirical contributions, our

understanding and applied efforts remain limited by the lack of evidence-based information

on best practices regarding the processes and mechanisms by which mental toughness is

developed.

Aside from natural learning experiences, psychological skills training (PST)

programs focusing on either single psychological skills or multimodal packages integrating

more than one intervention technique may prove fruitful in efforts to develop or enhance

mental toughness (cf. Connaughton et al., 2008). Both forms of PST have been shown to be

effective in enhancing psychological and life skills associated with mental toughness as

well as facilitating athletic performance and promoting personal development (e.g.,

Fournier, Calmels, Durand-Bush, & Salmela, 2005; Johnson, Hrycaiko, Johnson, & Halas,

2004; Mellalieu, Hanton, & O’Brien, 2006; Papacharisis, Goudas, Danish, & Theodorakis,

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2005; Thelwell, Greenlees, & Weston, 2006). For example, Sheard and Golby (2006)

recently demonstrated the positive effects of a seven-week PST program involving sessions

focused on goal setting, visualization, relaxation, concentration, and thought stoppage on a

range of positive psychological constructs (hardiness, self-esteem, self-efficacy,

dispositional optimism, and positive affectivity) including mental toughness (Psychological

Performance Inventory; Loehr, 1986).

Recent research has extended this line of inquiry by demonstrating the effectiveness

of two multimodal packages in enhancing mental toughness among youth-aged Australian

footballers (Gucciardi, Gordon, & Dimmock, 2008b) with a control group receiving no

intervention. The first package consisted of six psychological skills commonly employed in

PST programs (self-regulation, arousal regulation, mental rehearsal, attentional control,

self-efficacy, and ideal performance state; PST program). In contrast, the second targeted

the keys to mental toughness in Australian football (self-belief, work ethic, personal values,

self-motivation, tough attitude, concentration and focus, resilience, handling pressure,

emotional intelligence, sport intelligence, and physical toughness; MTT program) identified

by Gucciardi et al. (2008d). Overall, the results showed that participation in both programs

resulted in improvements in self-reported mental toughness (Australian football Mental

Toughness Inventory; Gucciardi, Gordon, & Dimmock, in press), dispositional resilience

(Bartone, Ursano, Wright, & Ingraham, 1989), and flow (Jackson & Eklund, 2002).

Parents’ and coaches’ also reported similar improvements in footballers’ mental toughness.

Predictably, a control group receiving no psychological intervention did not evidence

significant changes in mental toughness, resilience, and flow across each of the three rating

sources.

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Although research consistently demonstrates the positive effects of PST, the vast

majority of evaluative PST research to date has been primarily limited to quantitative

methods. This is surprising given that it has been two decades since calls were made for

more qualitative evaluative research on PST and applied sport psychology research

(Vealey, 1988). The lack of qualitative research on PST is even more surprising given its

ability to compliment traditional quantitative methods (cf. Creswell & Plano Clark, 2007).

Conversations with participants, for example, can reveal information about the lived

experience of key stakeholders within the program and the processes by which these

mechanisms and strategies contribute to the development of psychological skills. As Vealey

(1988, p. 332) noted:

…sport psychologists can use qualitative methods to construct in-depth,


personalized accounts of the sport experience and how PST influences that
experience. Information such as this can facilitate the development of
salient and appropriate PST approaches that truly meet the needs of
athletes.

Despite such suggestions, in-depth qualitative examinations on PST programs in the

literature are limited (e.g., Calmels, D’Arripe-Longueville, Fournier, & Soulard, 2003;

Dunn & Holt, 2003, 2004; Evans & Hardy, 2002; Thelwell & Greenlees, 2003). It should

be noted however, that attempts have been made within most quantitative evaluative

research to gauge participants’ perceptions of the intervention, but the methodologies by

which researchers have gone about doing this are rather simplistic. For example, some

researchers have attempted to obtain qualitative data via a simple open-ended question at

the end of established questionnaires (e.g., Fournier et al., 2005), while most (generally)

adopt a social validation rating scale for certain aspects of the program (cf. Martin &

Toogood, 1997).

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Given the lack of qualitative research examining the effectiveness of PST programs,

the general purpose of the present study was to follow-up on quantitative data regarding the

effectiveness of two different types of multimodal programs in enhancing mental toughness

among youth-aged Australian footballers (Gucciardi et al., 2008b). Specifically, we aimed

to enhance the interpretability and meaningfulness of the quantitative data by gaining an

understanding of key stakeholders’ (i.e., athletes, parents, and coaches) perspectives on the

goals, procedures, and results of the mental toughness training (MTT) intervention.

Method

Participants

Players, parents, and coaches from the MTT program (cf. Gucciardi et al., 2008b)

were invited to take part in this study. Ten players (M = 14.43; SD = .53), one of their

parents (five fathers and five mothers), and three coaches agreed to participate. Informed

consent was obtained prior to the interviews. Approval for this study was granted by the

university human ethics committee.

Interview Schedule

The semi-structured interview schedule consisted of three sections based on

recommendations made by Martin and Hrycaiko (1983) for researchers to seek responses to

three questions from participants about their involvement in intervention research: thoughts

about the goals of the intervention, the procedures that were applied, and the results

produce by those procedures. A copy of the interview guide can be obtained by contacting

the corresponding author.

Data Analysis

The interviews were transcribed verbatim yielding 264 pages of data. Given that

the primary purpose of the analysis was to understand the participants’ perspectives and

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experiences of the MTT program, a thematic content analysis was chosen to search for

themes across the data set on the basis of content (Kvale, 1996). First, we identified

individual codes in the data by breaking the text down to small units and organizing it

according to category, thus creating a large mass of data segments and annotations.

Following this, we refined the categories into broader themes to establish category

boundaries, systematically assign data segments to categories, summarize the content of

each category, and search for negative cases. The purpose of this second step was to reveal

conceptual similarities, to refine the differences between categories, and to discover

patterns. Throughout the entire data analysis, care was taken to ensure that the categories

reflected the data and that the categories fit the data rather than forcing the data to fit in

with the categories using the constant comparison method (Glaser & Strauss, 1967; Strauss

& Corbin, 1998). As interviews were being undertaken they were transcribed and analysed,

so data collection and analysis were being undertaken simultaneously.

Trustworthiness. Three techniques were employed to demonstrate that the data was

grounded in the reports of participants (Lincoln & Guba, 1985). First, both the primary and

a secondary researcher independently analysed the data in an attempt to circumvent the

inclusion of any bias on part of the analysts. Second, participant-member checks were

performed in which each interviewee was provided with their transcribed verbatim as well

as a detailed overview of the results of the analysis and asked to reflect on and verify the

accuracy of the analysts’ interpretations. Third, the data was triangulated from three

different sources to help achieve multidimensionality and provide an in-depth

understanding of the contextual aspects the intervention experience. It is also important to

note that contact between the interviewer and participants in the present study was limited

to that which occurred during the intervention period (approx. 15 hours) of our previous

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study (Gucciardi et al., 2008b) and the interviews in the present study. Prior to this, the only

other contact between the research team and participants occurred during an hour

information session evening (see Gucciardi et al., 2008b). All other contact was avoided so

as to limit the intrusion of potential biases.

Procedure

The coaches, players, and parents of Gucciardi et al.’s (2008) MTT program group

were invited to take part in the interviews. Participants were informed that the purpose of

the interviews was to obtain their opinions on the goals of the intervention, the procedures

that were applied, and the results, if any, produced by those procedures. Specifically, it was

highlighted that we were interesting in hearing about the “lived experience” of those

individuals who participated in the program. Participants were also informed that their

information would assist the researchers in developing and tailoring procedures to produce

more effective programs in the future. Those participants agreeing to take part in the study

were sent (via email) a copy of the interview schedule at least three days prior to the

interview and were requested to read the questions and consider them over the days

preceding the interview. A time and place most convenient to each interviewee was also

established to conduct the 1-1 interviews. All interviews took place between one and three

weeks following the completion of the football season at the participant’s home. To ensure

consistency across participants, interviews were conducted in the afternoon once each

footballer had returned home from school. Interviews lasted between 45 and 90 min and

were recorded and transcribed verbatim prior to data analysis. Informed consent was

obtained prior to the start of each interview.

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Results and Discussion

The present study sought to compliment and extend previous quantitative research

examining the effectiveness of two different types of multimodal programs in enhancing

mental toughness among youth-aged Australian footballers (Gucciardi et al., 2008b) by

gaining an understanding of the key stakeholders’ (i.e., athletes, parents, and coaches)

perspectives on the goals, procedures, and results of the mental toughness training (MTT)

program. In the following section, we present and discuss the findings from our analysis of

the data. After first describing participants’ perceptions of the benefits of the program, we

next discuss participants’ perceptions of the processes by which the program had an effect

on developing mental toughness. Following this, we describe participants’ perceptions of

how the program could be improved in the future. Similar to previous qualitative research

(e.g., Gould et al., 2002; Hays, Maynard, Thomas, & Bawden, 2007), the number of quotes

falling into each theme is included in brackets next to the label of each theme [F =

footballer, P = parent, and C = coach].

Program Benefits

Quality preparation [F = 7; P = 4; C = 2]. Preparation was considered essential in

understanding football and the skills that each player has available to them (i.e., strengths

and weaknesses) to perform to his optimal level. There was a general consensus that this

was a major benefit of having participated in the MTT program. One player indicated that

“the skills we have learnt in this program have had an extremely positive impact on how I

prepare mentally and physically for training and competition…this was the biggest benefit

for me.” For the present sample, quality preparation was about valuing and understanding

the importance of preparing yourself (mentally, physically, technically, and tactically) as

well as you possibly can to perform to your potential and, therefore, being able to deal with

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any situation that you may face. The nature of this theme was clearly captured in the

comments of one footballer:

The program helped me better prepare mentally and physically for training
and competition…the routine exercises helped me reduce anxiety before our
games…the attentional cue exercise helped me focus during games and
training…the goal setting activities helped me think more clearly about what
I needed to do.

Coaches and parents also recognized changes in footballers’ preparation for games and

training. For example, the head coach noted, “I see some player’s who had a tendency to

show up late to training being more punctual now…and showing a renewed interest about

their role in our team strategies for competition.” Parents discussed this theme with regard

to changes in player’s behaviour before a match: “I told my son off one morning for

listening to his iPod on the way to a game when he was ignoring me; he tells me that he

now uses it to calm his nerves.”

For most individual athletes and sporting teams, preparation would largely focus on

physical, technical, and tactical skills with which the coach would have knowledge on.

However, both the player and coach are responsible for quality preparation (Voight, 2002).

The skills and knowledge gained through participation in this program were considered

highly beneficial in developing each player’s own ability to prepare mentally and

physically for both training and competition in Australian football. Central to this theme

were skills and knowledge that enabled players to get the most out of their preparation prior

to training and competition (e.g., goal setting and time management) as well as during

competition (e.g., attentional cues). Several participants, in particular, highlighted that

“quality preparation gives you a sense of control over what you do.” Indeed, this finding

was reflected in the quantitative data in which footballer’s reported positive changes in the

control subscale of measures of dispositional resilience and flow. This finding is consistent

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with research revealing quality preparation as a source of self-belief among athletes in that

they will be able to thrive through pressure, challenge, and adversity and perform to the

best of their ability (Gucciardi et al., 2008d; see also Hays et al., 2007).

Team cohesion [F = 8; P = 4; C = 3]. Within a team sport environment, many group

dynamics take place, perhaps none more important than team cohesion. The positive impact

of the program on team cohesion for the football team here was largely unexpected because

team-building activities per se were not a specific focus of the MTT program. However, the

fact that participants perceived that the team bonded more because of the program is not

surprising given that a substantial component of the program involved group activities and

exercises where the players shared personal information and provided feedback on

teammates. Participants were in agreement that the MTT program helped create an

environment in which individual and team goals, visions, and processes were able to be

communicated and strategies for working towards these could be developed. One of the

coaches noted:

We had eight out of 25 boys this year who were new players to this group
and this program helped the boys mix with the existing group and fit right
in…we have even had opposition coach’s comment on the chemistry
between the boys.

This sentiment was also evident among the playing group: “We have got to know each

other on completely different levels…as footballers and as teenage boys going through the

same things as each other…there seems to be more respect for each other now.” Parents

described this theme with regard to the increased social networks among players: “I have

noticed that the boys joke around with each other a lot more now and are more inclusive of

others that they may not have associated with in the past.”

Team unity was said to occur when the players trust and respect each other, when

they have common goals, and when they have confidence in themselves as individuals and

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as a team. Research shows that the development of team goals and group norms or

collective standards of behaviour (training, competition, and social settings) that are

expected among a group, which was included in the MTT program, represent a key

contribution to the development of team cohesion (Patterson, Carron, & Loughead, 2005).

It seems that the development of norms reflecting collective expectations of behaviour

facilitated the development of mental toughness in the current sport team setting, as

individuals within the team who perceive a strong expectation of such (mentally tough)

attitudes and behaviours behave in a manner consistent with those expectations and become

to personally value such norms.

Receptive to criticism [F = 6; P = 6; C = 2]. Both the parents and coaches, together

with the players themselves, acknowledged that the footballers were more receptive to

receiving feedback and criticism from other people, and showed an increased willingness to

know, understand, and use this information in developing themselves and reaching their

goals. This program benefit was clearly evident among the coaches’ discourse. For

example, one coach mentioned, “I have noticed that most of the boys are better able to deal

with criticism and turning criticism into a positive outlook…probably because they are

more willing to debate these issues.” Another coach indicated that “most of the boys have

shown more willingness and response to our [the coaches] criticisms over the season…I

think they see this now as constructive feedback for working on their strengths and

weaknesses.” Similar sentiments were also evident among the playing group: “I use to take

some of the things that the coach said to me a bit personally before but now I try to use this

information to my advantage.” Being more receptive to criticism was commonly linked

with the learning process in that players were gaining more from the feedback that others

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were providing and not missing out on essential directives for maintaining their strengths

and developing their weaknesses.

Of particular interest was the multisource feedback process that Gucciardi et al.

(2008b) employed as part of their methodology. Several parents noted the benefits of

having a parent and coach rate each individual on the mental toughness questionnaire: “It

[obtaining multiple sources of information] signalled to the boys that the opinions of others

should be seen as a valued source of information about themselves” and that others views

“can be used as a platform for initiating debate about certain topics that we [the parents and

son] would never discuss.” The emotional intelligence construct, which has been defined as

“the ability to monitor one’s own and others’ emotions, to discriminate among them, and to

use the information to guide one’s thinking and actions” (Mayer & Salovey, 1993, p. 433),

offers a useful interpretation of this finding. Developing skills and abilities associated with

the perception of emotions, the regulation of emotions, and the capacity to utilize or reason

with emotions in thought may have enabled the participants to develop the ability to view

feedback from others as a method designed to promote growth or improvement in them.

For example, the ability to understand how contextual influences (e.g., message content,

verbal, and nonverbal cues) facilitate the transition from one emotional state to another is

an integral aspect of interpersonal communication (Salovey, Mayer, & Caruso, 2002).

Work ethic [F = 7; P = 3; C = 2]. Developing a commitment to the value and

importance of hard work sets an important foundation upon which an individual can

develop goals that strive for personal growth and performance excellence. There was a

general consensus among participants that the players had become more personally

responsible and accountable for a strong work ethic in working towards the goals and

vision that they had set from the outset of the season. One coach noted changes in the

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players’ effort in this regard: “The boys’ effort during competition has been consistently

high no matter the score, and this has also been the case pre and post training.” There was

also an agreement that the players had become more aware of the idea that working hard

has an inherent ability to develop your skills as a footballer and reflects a strong personal

character. For example, one parent in the present study noted that the MTT program

“helped the boys realize that hard work does not necessarily imply success, but if they do

not work hard they will, more often than not, fail.” This sentiment was also evident among

the playing group: “I have to come realize that if I want to get better than I have to work

hard rather than just letting things happen naturally.” This qualitative theme is reflective of

the unanimous finding from all three rating sources reporting significant quantitative

improvements in footballer’s ability to thrive through challenge (Gucciardi et al., 2008b)

Elite athletes recognize the need to train and work hard (Mallett & Hanrahan, 2004)

whereas Olympic champions have highlighted a hard work ethic as a key psychological

characteristic in their success (Gould et al., 2002). The importance of working hard was

said to be emphasized through several of the workshop activities, however, one was

commonly highlighted: “The team values exercise has helped us [the coaches] gauge the

players’ beliefs on working hard…and having them [the players] develop their own team

values and standards has reinforced the value of working hard on and off the field.” In the

present study, work ethic implies working diligently towards set goals to improve

individual (and team) performances in order to produce meaningful results in competition.

Specifically, it represents a constellation of attitudes and beliefs that have motivational

aspects pertaining behaviour. From a self-determination theory (Deci & Ryan, 1985)

perspective, it seems that the MTT program was beneficial in helping the players locate

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their inherent orientation towards growth and development energized and sustained by the

fulfilment of psychological needs for autonomy, competence, and relatedness.

Tough attitudes [F = 5; P = 5; C = 2]. Previous research highlights tough attitudes

(e.g., a never say die or go the extra mile mindset, determination, willing to take risks,

commitment, positivity, discipline, professionalism) as a central component of mental

toughness in cricket (Bull et al., 2005) and Australian football (Gucciardi et al., 2008d).

Specifically, attitudes that represent one’s desire to grow as a footballer and person through

one’s experiences and which are implemented in achieving one’s goals were commonly

discussed by participants as having surfaced from participation in the MTT program. For

example, one coach talked about such attitudes in the context of competition: “The never

give in attitude has strengthened among the playing group…in several matches this year

they kept going when they were getting thrashed, and did not stop doing the one percenters

until the final siren.” Parents described changes in players’ attitudes off the field: “I have

noticed that the night before and the morning of a match, [Player X] is extremely more

disciplined about what food he eats and the liquids he drinks.” It was also obvious from one

footballer’s discourse that the playing group had become more positive in regards to facing

certain obstacles and challenges throughout the season: “There is a much more positive

vibe among the playing group…even after a few of the bigger losses this year we focused

on the positives while acknowledging the weaknesses of our performance.” Taken together

with the quantitative data in which all three rating source reported significant improvements

on the AfMTI tough attitude subscale for footballer’s (Gucciardi et al., 2008b), it appears

that the intervention program facilitated the enhancement of these attitudes among the

footballers. The ability to assist athletes in developing these attitudes becomes an important

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goal for coaches and practitioners, as attitudes affect our cognitions, emotions, behaviours,

and beliefs, which facilitate our adaptation to the environment (Ajzen, 2001).

Transferable skills [F = 6; P = 7; C = 3]. Training programs such as the MTT

program here represent an important vehicle in which participants are provided with the

opportunity to develop a good standard of transferable skills that will be with them in every

aspect of life. Although the awareness and acquisition of transferable skills was not a

specific aim of the MTT program, the footballers, coaches, and parents noted that many of

the skills and techniques that the footballers learned in the program proved to be effective

in other areas of their many lives, in particular, schooling.

As a parent, I think that the most obvious benefit of a program such as this is
that it equips the boys with building blocks or foundational skills for what
lies ahead in life, in and out of sport…that will help carry them through the
rest of their lives.

The coaching staff reinforced this sentiment: “Programs such as this, especially at this age,

help the boys understand how these skills and knowledge can be used in footy as well as in

life.” Interestingly, participants in the present study highlighted a number of transferable

skills (e.g., work ethic, handling pressure, concentration and focus, resilience, emotional

intelligence, sport/situation intelligence, values, tough attitudes, and self-belief). For

example, one coach emphasized that “with more positive levels of work ethic, they now

understand the value of working hard in everything they do…they acknowledge that it will

help them at every turn, in every challenge, and for their entire life.”

For the footballers, this theme was largely about identifying and understanding how

skills acquired through certain activities in life can be applied to others areas. Specifically,

they believed that they were more aware of the value and types of transferable skills in the

program and how they could implement these skills and techniques in other endeavours.

One of the footballers noted, “The thing that I gained most from this program was an

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understanding of how important these skills are for footy but also in life too…where I can

use them and how.” The importance of these skills attached by participants should also

provide a strong motivation to acquire, develop and practice these skills during their

sporting experiences. Given the evidence that such skills do not transfer automatically from

one domain to another (e.g., Danish, Fazio, Nellen, & Owens, 2002), it is important that

programs not only assist individuals in identifying and developing these transferable skills

but also develop awareness within each individual of how to apply as well as implement

such skills in different contexts.

Contributing Processes

Self-awareness [F = 8; P = 5; C = 2]. Becoming more self-aware was one of the

fundamental processes highlighted by participants about which the results occurred. Models

of mental skills for athletes and coaches (Vealey, 1988, 2007) highlight the importance of

self-awareness as a foundational skill upon which success in sport is built. Elite athletes

(Bull et al., 2005; Calmels et al., 2003) and sport psychology consultants (Ravizza, 2006)

recognize the value of self-awareness. For the participants in the present study, becoming

self-aware was largely about understanding yourself, what you enjoy doing and being able

to recognize you strengths, weaknesses, and your effect on others around so that you can

more readily adapt what you do. For example, “throughout the course of this program I

learned a lot about myself such as what gets me going…my strengths and how these

contribute to the team…[and] the impact that I can have on others.” One parent described

this in regards to its relation with mental toughness: “Having the boys explicitly discuss and

become more aware about what mental toughness is was essential for the enhancement of

their own mental toughness.” Interestingly, the self-awareness exercises were something

that the players in the MTT group had never been exposed to previously, as one coach

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described: “The boys were put in a position where they were required to assess their

strengths and weaknesses; this is something that they have never had to do before.”

Self-awareness is considered a co-construction (constructed in interaction with

others) made up of, but not limited to, perceptions of ourselves in action and the evaluative

sense of self as perceived by others (Rochat, 2004). In this instance, self-awareness was

largely about engaging in introspection and retrospection to understand yourself, what you

enjoy doing and being able to recognize your strengths, weaknesses, and your effect on

others around so that you can more readily adapt what you do. This was evident among the

participants’ discourse about the importance of self-awareness in developing certain aspects

of mental toughness: “I think that being more aware about my strengths and weaknesses

have made me more receptive to criticisms that my parents, the coaches, or even my

teammates have said to me.” The ability to self-monitor and to change one’s current

behaviours and thought processes largely depends on one’s capacity to objectively examine

the self (Silva & O’Brien, 2004). Moreover, being able to examine the self is a foundation

for many unique human qualities (e.g., self-regulation) and is required for identifying

progress towards goals (Carver & Scheier, 1998) and for targeting areas for self-

improvement (Sedikides & Strube, 1997).

Morin’s (2004) model of self-awareness identifies three important sources involved

in the development of one’s self-awareness: the self, the social world (e.g., interpersonal

interaction), and physical stimuli (e.g., video cameras, diaries). Each of these three

components was addressed by at least one workshop activity. For example, the self-talk and

imagery exercises addressed the self-component, multisource ratings satisfied the social

world, and the application of such skills during training reflects the physical stimuli

component. Based on the present results it seems that athletes can be taught methods for

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developing their self-awareness if they lack the necessary skills and be encouraged to use

these methods if they do not realize on their own that they are appropriate. This has

important implications for applied practitioners and coaches given that a certain level of

self-awareness has been revealed as a source of confidence among world-class performers

(Hays et al., 2007).

Self-monitoring [F = 6; P = 3; C = 2]. Self-monitoring focuses on an individual’s

ability to monitor progress towards his or her goals by paying attention to a specific aspect

of behaviour or performance and then recording whether the behaviour being monitored has

occurred (Agran, 1998). Participants in the present study were in agreement that by

observing and tracking their own performances and associated outcomes the footballers

were encouraged to extract insightful information from their experiences that can be used

for improved practice and performance. One footballer described the importance of the

training diaries in this regard:

I reckon one of the biggest positives for me this season has been completing
the diaries on a weekly basis. They have helped me monitor all of the things
we went through in the program. Without the diaries, I reckon a lot of what
we did would have been lost on me.

The coaches recognized the usefulness of the training diaries in helping the player’s

identify discussion points with the coaches: “Throughout the course of the year player’s

demonstrated an increased willingness to ask me [the coach] questions about some of the

things that they noticed about themselves in their training diaries.” Such activities were said

to give the footballers a sense of personal control and enabled them to more thoroughly

understand the content of the program, how it can be applied, and how they were

progressing throughout the program. This was clearly evident among the footballers

discourse: “Monitoring myself throughout the season has given me a better understanding

of my strengths and weaknesses than I did before… [and] how the drills and exercises we

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have done here and on the track help us to develop our skills.” Parents’ discourse supported

such sentiments suggesting that “the goal setting exercises provided the player’s with a

method for identifying their goals but also continuously monitoring their progress towards

achieving each goal.”

Research indicates that self-monitoring mediates the teaching and learning process

for such skills as self-efficacy, self-motivation, and self-reflection, and self-regulation

(Zimmerman & Schunk, 2001). Although training diaries were the only method used in the

MTT program, there are a number of strategies available to coaches, athletes, and

practitioners that can be used to self-monitor performance and behaviour. Included among

the components of self-monitoring are strategies such as self-report, self-graphing, and

verbal and written assessments. Importantly, self-monitoring can be implemented alone or

can be embedded with other types of monitoring techniques including goal setting,

planning, evaluation, and other types of cognitive processes. For example, athletes may be

asked to set goals, determine if their performance on the desired skill or task is moving

along lines consistent with achieving these goals, and evaluate whether their approach to

the problem is successful in helping them solve other problems not specifically targeted.

The applied practitioner should be cognizant of the various types of self-monitoring

strategies and tailor the techniques they use according to the learning phase. Zimmerman

(2000) suggests that self-monitoring should focus on learning strategies during the initial

practice phase and then shift to learning outcomes once the strategy has become habitual.

Self-regulation [F = 5; P = 3; C = 2]. Self-regulated individuals are said to

proactively direct their behaviour and strategies to achieve self-set goals by taking more

responsibility for managing their own learning (Zimmerman & Schunk, 2001). Participants

were in agreement that the MTT program facilitated this developmental process: “Most of

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the boys have become more willing to seek information and assistance from us [the

coaches] about their performances.” This sentiment was echoed in the parents’ discourse:

“Sitting on the sideline during training, I have noticed that the player’s are initiating

discussions with the coaches during training more often than they use to.” Self-regulated

individuals use affective, motivational, cognitive, and behavioural feedback to modify or

adjust their strategies and behaviours to achieve self-set goals (Zimmerman, 2000).

Participants’ responses reflected this line of thinking and highlighted the development of

various self-regulatory processes (e.g., goal setting, self-awareness, self-monitoring), task

strategies (e.g., study, time-management, organizational strategies), and self-motivational

beliefs (e.g., self-efficacy, intrinsic desire) as being a core mechanism contributing to the

changes evidenced. One footballer noted, “I have gained some important skills and

techniques for identifying a clear vision of what I want to achieve and how I can go about

working towards reaching that vision.”

Being able to control and manage negative cognitive and emotional states is a key

mental skill for elite athletes (e.g., Bull et al., 2005; Gould et al., 2002; Gucciardi et al.,

2008d; Jones et al., 2002). This sentiment was evident among the players’ discourse: “I

found the pre-performance and pre-shot routine stuff to be really helpful in organizing

several of the skills I learnt to control my thoughts and emotions….prior to a match and

actually during the match.” The processes, task strategies, and self-motivational beliefs

included as part of the MTT program were considered to be a crucial ingredient in being

able to more effectively manage these states (e.g., arousal, anxiety, pressure, fatigue). The

current findings extend previous research by demonstrating the importance of these self-

regulatory processes in managing cognitive and emotional states arising from both negative

and positive experiences to perform to the best of one’s ability. The importance of self-

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regulatory processes and strategies in the development of mental toughness becomes even

more salient when one considers how crucial they are for personal functioning as well as

interpersonal relations (Zimmerman, 2000).

Multi-perspective discussions [F = 5; P = 5; C = 3]. Discussions with influential

persons in the footballers’ socialization network, in particular, about the content and ideas

of the MTT program were considered an important means by which the program had an

effect. Specifically, participants noted that by having the footballers think about the causes

and consequences of their behaviour with a number of individuals, they were better

equipped to modify or change their behaviour. It was clear from the parents discourse that

these discussions provided a medium through which they could discuss certain topics with

their son more effectively: “Both my wife and I have noticed that [Player X] is more

willing to debate things with us now, rather than giving a simple yes or no answer.” The

importance of these discussions for the development of team cohesion and learning within

the team was highlighted by one coach: “Having the boys discuss things with each other

and having them share their own perspectives on things contributed greatly to them

understanding themselves and their teammates…the team became a lot closer because of

these group discussions.” This sentiment was echoed in the players’ discourse: “I learnt

some things about my teammates that I never knew before…understanding that someone

else can view the same thing [e.g., anxiety] differently from me was a huge learning curve.”

Such discussions can be likened to reflection-enhancing communication strategies

involving messages that encourage an individual to engage in processing why and how an

action emerges from, and serves to create, the affective and psychological environment that

follows the action (Applegate, Burke, Burleson, Delia, & Kline, 1985). Research shows that

reflection enhancing communication practices facilitate the development of an individual’s

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social-cognitive and functional communication skills and promotes the development of

more advanced thought processes and behaviours such as perspective-taking, reasoning,

and logic (Applegate et al., 1985). It makes intuitive sense that such skills would better

equip an individual to be more receptive to criticism and be more proactive in debating

these issues with significant persons.

Program Improvement

Parental involvement [F = 4; P = 8; C = 2]. There was a general consensus among

participants regarding the potential benefits of involving parents more in programs of this

nature. Specifically, participants believed that having parents more cognizant of program

content would have provided more opportunity for parents to contribute by being able to

discuss these issues at depth with their son outside of the program and football.

We [parents] were largely ignorant to the content of the program, aside from
what was discussed at the information session prior to the program…I think it
would be extremely beneficial if we were made aware of this…perhaps
weekly emails or handouts would have helped.

This sentiment was evident among the player’s discourse with one footballer noting, “I

found it difficult to explain some of the things we did in this program with my parents…it

would have been great if you [researcher] did something to keep my mum and dad

informed.” Participants discussed the potential that informing and keeping parents informed

about their son’s progress through the program would have placed them in a better position

to discuss these issues with their child. This sentiment was clearly captured in the following

coach quote: “It would have been great for you [consultant] to let the parents know how

their son was progressing through the program…they could have use that feedback to

discuss the program with the boys.” Indeed, educational researchers have demonstrated the

significant effects of parental involvement in the development of social and cognitive

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capacities relevant to the educational careers of children (see Fan & Chen, 2001, for

review).

Coach and parent education [F = 5; P = 8; C = 3]. Aside from athlete-centred

initiatives, which focus on equipping athletes with a range of skills and knowledge to

facilitate personal and athletic development, parent and coach education programs become

the obvious compliment to such programs. The coaches’ willingness for these programs

was clearly evident among their discourse: “We [the coaches] learnt a lot from sitting in on

the sessions that you [consultant] conducted with the boys…sessions like this for us would

help us in developing mental toughness through our coaching methods.” The parents

further echoed this sentiment: “I have spoken to a few of the other parents throughout the

year about this program and one thing commonly came up was having educational sessions

for us about how we can develop mental toughness with our boys.” Players recognized the

importance of such initiatives in their discussions. As one player so aptly stated, “My

coaches and parents have a huge impact on my development so it would great if they could

be informed about how they can do [develop mental toughness] that better.”

Previous research with elite athletes, coaches, and parents (Connaughton et al.,

2008; Gould et al., 2002) highlights the importance of educating key individuals within the

athlete’s socialization network for developing psychological characteristics associated with

mental toughness. Educational programs should aim to increase parents’ and coaches’ skills

and information and may compliment athlete-centred initiatives by working together to

build a consensus about appropriate behaviours and ways of thinking that can be effectively

communicated to footballers during football and at home. This can help reduce confusion

about expectations of the footballers when they receive similar messages across settings

and from different sources, thus becoming clear and salient.

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Holistic assessments and feedback [F = 6; P = 5; C = 2]. Given that multisource

discussions surfaced as a means by which the program had an effect on the enhancement of

mental toughness among the footballers, it is not surprising that obtaining a greater variety

and number of perspectives for performance and mental toughness was considered one way

in which programs such as these could be enhanced. One parent spoke of this theme in the

following manner: “I think that it was unfortunate that boys were not rated by both parents

on the mental toughness questionnaire…we both have an opinion about this and I believe

[Player X] would have benefited greatly from understanding both perspectives.” The

coaches too were convinced about the potential benefits of such a process: “Given that

these sessions helped develop a great amount of respect among the boys it would have been

interesting for them to receive ratings on the mental toughness questionnaire from their

teammates too.” The players discussed this theme in regard to the potential benefits of

receiving multisource feedback: “I was expecting that we would receive feedback about

how our coach and parent rated us on mental toughness…this feedback would help me

better understand my strengths and weaknesses.”

Although multisource feedback has emerged as a pervasive organizational process

in the US and is steadily proliferating in other parts of the world (Atwater et al., 2007), the

method has yet to make its mark in the sport psychology literature. The idea behind

multisource feedback is that individuals who interact routinely with the footballer have

different perspectives on that footballer’s mental toughness and performance. By gathering

data from a number of sources it is possible to construct a more complete picture of the

footballer’s strengths, weaknesses, and development needs. However, as we did not provide

the footballers with feedback regarding parent and coach ratings we cannot make any

judgments regarding the efficacy of providing participants with such information (cf.

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Gucciardi et al., 2008b). Rather, we gathered multiple sources of information in the

quantitative study as a means by which to address concerns associated with socially

desirable responding as well as provide a more holistic assessment. This data collection

methodology represents a significant departure from previous research and is one of the key

strengths of this research.

Negative Cases

Aside from the aforementioned comments describing how similar programs could

be enhanced in the future, participants expressed one major concern with the program. This

concern related specifically to the amount of information that was included in the program

and the short timeframe in which it was delivered to the players [F = 4; P = 1; C = 2]. One

footballer spoke of this theme in the following manner: “I was pretty happy with what we

learnt in the program but at times it was overwhelming….there was a lot of information in

there but I reckon a lot of it when over some of the guys’ heads.” Coaches reinforced this

sentiment noting, “A weakness of this program was that I believe some of the information

got lost on some of the boys…a 14/15 year-old boy can only handle so much of this kind of

information in a two week period.” Indeed, one parent anticipated this limitation from the

outset of the program:

After the information session I was left wondering whether all these boys will
be able to take in all that information in two weeks…there was a lot of good
stuff in there but you have to remember the learning capabilities of these boys
aren’t all developed to the same level.

Concerns associated with the amount of information presented during the two week

intervention period signal the importance of considering periodisation principles when

designing programs in the future. Periodisation refers to cycling the structure and delivery

of PST programs with physical training to maximize the potential effects (Holliday, Burton,

Sun, Hammermeister, Naylor, & Freigang, 2008). Although consideration of physical

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training regimes in the design of PST programs is an important issue, and one which is

discussed in length elsewhere (e.g., Balague, 2000; Holliday et al., 2008), the concerns

raised by participants here highlight the importance of considering learning abilities when

periodising PST for youth-aged athletes.

Summary and Conclusion

The general thrust of this study involved obtaining an understanding of participants’

perspectives on the goals, procedures, and results of the mental toughness training (MTT)

program. Participants highlighted a number key benefits associated with the program,

inferences about the processes by which the program had an effect, and identified several

areas for improving intervention programs in the future. From a research perspective, the

perceived benefits described here (quality preparation, receptive to criticism, team

cohesion, work ethic, tough attitudes, and transferable skills) offer an insight to what other

measures should be included when examining the effectiveness of such training programs

in future investigations. From a conceptual standpoint, the findings provide an indication of

those components of mental toughness that may be more important for youth-aged

footballers. Given that no specific attempt was made to gauge participants’ perspectives of

what they believe constitutes mental toughness for their age cohort, further research is

required with youth-aged athletes and key individuals in their socialization network to more

fully address this issue. Importantly, examinations with youth-aged athletes currently

involved in the development process have important methodological implications, as they

are less susceptive to limitations of retrospective recall that are inherent with those athletes

who have already reached a mature level of performance (Côté, 1999).

Consistent with previous models of the performance-management process (e.g.,

Murphy & Tammen, 1998), self-awareness, self-monitoring, and self-regulation were

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identified here as among the primary processes by which the activities and exercises

contributed to the enhanced levels of mental toughness. After increasing one’s awareness of

mental toughness, monitoring one’s strengths and weaknesses across a variety of contexts

(e.g., training, competition, and lifestyle) will enable the individual to determine areas for

immediate improvement, slight improvement, and maintenance. Armed with such

information an athlete can initiate the process of addressing those areas using a variety of

skills, actions, and knowledge. Interestingly, the process of raising self-awareness,

monitoring one’s cognitions, values, emotions, and behaviours as well as self-regulating

these components was said to be facilitated by multi-perspective discussions. However,

participants also recognized the importance of providing players with feedback pertaining

to such multisource assessments. From an applied perspective, practitioners need to be

aware of a number of issues prior to feedback (e.g., perceptions of process), about the

feedback (e.g., format and reactions), and after the feedback (e.g., method of feedback

distribution) when implementing multisource feedback systems (Atwater et al., 2007).

Despite these encouraging findings, the exact contribution of each mechanism cannot be

determined from the present study. Future applied-based research that isolates each of these

processes and examines their effectiveness through both quantitative and qualitative

methods is warranted.

The importance of educating parents and coaches for improving future initiatives

designed to develop or enhance mental toughness with youth-aged athletes is consistent

with talent development research highlighting the important roles both coaches and parents

play in an athlete’s psychological development (Côté, 1999; Fraser-Thomas, Côté &

Deakin, 2005; Gould et al., 2002). Despite parent and coach education programs being

highlighted as an essential avenue for enhancing the development of mental toughness,

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further research is required to ascertain the most effective content and method of delivery

for these programs. Armed with such information, the applied practitioner will be in a

better position deliver such programs. For example, the applied practitioner could initiate

interventions to increase levels of social support (e.g., tangible, informational, emotional)

provided by adults in a youth’s socialization network if the athlete does not perceive

adequate levels of social support.

We also acknowledge that our ability to establish whether the improvements in

mental toughness, resilience, and flow evidenced by the MTT group are induced by either

involvement in the game of Australian football or by the process of maturation or an

interaction of both is limited without gaining similar perspectives from the control group

(cf. Gucciardi et al., 2008b).

The qualitative data presented here compliments the quantitative data (Gucciardi et

al., 2008b) by providing an understanding of key stakeholders’ perspectives of the benefits,

contributing processes, and suggestions for improving multimodal interventions that aim to

enhance mental toughness among youth-aged footballers. This information may have

considerable potential for directing future research and helping practitioners who seek to

design effective psychological skills training programs for athletes.

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CHAPTER VI – Summary and
Conclusion

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The general purpose of this thesis was to examine issues pertaining to the understanding,

measurement, and development of mental toughness in Australian football within a

personal construct psychology (PCP; Kelly, 1955/1991) framework. The specific purposes

of this thesis were threefold. First, I aimed to elicit elite coaches’ perspectives about mental

toughness and those factors contributing to its development in Australian football. A

second endeavour was to use this information in the development and validation of a sport-

specific mental toughness inventory. My final aim was to examine the usefulness of

psychological skills training in enhancing mental toughness among youth-aged (15’s)

footballers. A corollary of this was to determine the applied usefulness of the sport-specific

inventory. Each of the chapters within this thesis addressed a particular aspect of this

research program. After summarising the findings from each of the five investigations

within the three empirical chapters, the methodological contributions of PCP to this thesis

are presented. I conclude this chapter with a discussion of the implications of the findings

for theory, practice, and future research.

Chapter III – Perspectives on Mental Toughness and its Development

Recent attempts to understand mental toughness and its development in sport have

been impressive, yet conceptual confusion and consensus in terms of an operational

definition still plagues this line of inquiry (Gordon, Gucciardi, & Chambers, 2007). In

Chapter III, two qualitative investigations endeavouring to address several conceptual and

methodological limitations associated with previous research were presented. The first

study aimed to generate an understanding of Australian football coaches’ perceptions of

mental toughness in the context of its conceptual opposite; those situations that demand a

large degree of mental toughness; and the behaviours that mentally tough footballers

display in such situations. These coaches were re-interviewed in the second study to gain

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their perceptions on those factors that contribute to the development of those key mental

toughness characteristics for Australian football.

Towards an understanding of mental toughness in Australian football. The purpose

of this study was to explore definitional and conceptual issues related to mental toughness

in a sport-specific context. Eleven male coaches with considerable playing and coaching

experience at the elite level were interviewed using the PCP-based interview protocol. The

transcribed verbatim data was analysed using grounded theory procedures (Strauss &

Corbin, 1998) and three independent categories emerged (characteristics, situations, and

behaviours).

Eleven key characteristics and their contrasts reflected the content of mental

toughness in Australian football with rankings procedures providing preliminary evidence

as to the structure of these characteristics. Several of these characteristics (self-belief,

motivation, tough attitude, concentration and focus, resilience, and handling pressure) are

consistent with previous research (Bull, Shambrook, James, & Brooks, 2005; Fourie &

Potgieter, 2001; Jones, Hanton, & Connaughton 2002, 2007; Thelwell, Weston, &

Greenlees, 2005), whereas personal values, emotional intelligence, sport intelligence, and

physical toughness represent characteristics unique to this sample.

There was a general consensus that every aspect of being an elite footballer required

some degree of mental toughness with some situations demanding more than others.

Several general and competition-specific situations were commonly perceived as requiring

a high degree of mental toughness. Interestingly, some of those situations identified here

have previously been associated with athlete attributions about the causes of burnout

(Cresswell & Eklund, 2006) and sources of stress for Australian footballers (Noblet &

Gifford, 2002). The important finding from the data on situations demanding mental

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toughness, however, was the perception that mental toughness is useful for situations or

events with both negative (e.g., injuries) and positive connotations (e.g., success) for a

footballer.

Participants also described a number of behaviours that mentally tough footballers

commonly display in these situations demanding mental toughness. While there was a

general consensus among interviewees that mental toughness exerted its influence in these

situations in a number of ways, there were several common processes and behaviours

identified. For example, there was a common perception that doing everything in your

preparation and leaving no stone unturned to ensure that you are prepared mentally and

physically made a significant contribution to maintaining a high degree of self-belief in that

you will be able to play to your potential and overcome any obstacle or challenge along the

way.

These three independent categories (characteristics, situations, behaviours) were

subsequently integrated into a model of mental toughness in which the importance of

understanding each component individually and the relationship between these three central

categories was emphasised. Conceptualised in the context of these three categories, mental

toughness in Australian football can be considered as a buffer against adversity but also as

a collection of enabling factors that promote and maintain adaptation to other challenging

situations. It was defined accordingly:

Mental toughness in Australian football is a collection of values, attitudes,


behaviours, and emotions that enable you to persevere and overcome any
obstacle, adversity, or pressure experienced, but also to maintain
concentration and motivation when things are going well to consistently
achieve your goals.

Unlike previous definitions of mental toughness (e.g., Clough, Earle, & Sewell, 2002;

Jones et al., 2002), the current definition makes explicit what mental toughness is (i.e., a

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combination of several different human characteristics) as well as what it enables one to do

(i.e., persevere and overcome, and maintain concentration and motivation). Moreover, the

outcome of being mentally tough is achieving one’s goals as opposed to beating an

opponent (cf. Jones et al., 2002).

Australian football coaches’ perceptions of the development of mental toughness.

The purpose of this study was to generate elite coaches’ perceptions of how the mental

toughness characteristics identified previously (Chapter IIIa) are acquired and can be

developed in the context of Australian football. Unlike previous examinations of the

development of mental toughness (Connaughton, Wadey, Hanton, & Jones, 2008), the ways

in which influential sources hinder as well as facilitate the development of mental

toughness were elucidated. Coaches from the previous study (Chapter IIIa) were re-

interviewed and the transcribed verbatim data was analysed using grounded theory

procedures (Strauss & Corbin, 1998). Participants acknowledged some innate disposition of

mental toughness, however, the findings indicated that parents and coaches play the most

important role in acquiring and developing mental toughness.

Participants believed that parents facilitated the development of mental toughness

through the following mechanisms: guiding and encouraging children to understand their

actions and thoughts so they can learn from both positive and negative life experiences;

exposing their child to as many different and varied experiences, adversities, challenges,

and pressures; creating a home environment where autonomy is encouraged and expected;

and modelling personal values such as honesty, integrity, accountability, commitment,

perseverance, respecting the opinions of others, and taking pride in everything you do. The

ways in which parents hindered its development included: modelling inappropriate values

and behaviours; doing everything for or on behalf of their child; having unrealistic

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expectations and views of their child’s abilities and attitudes; trying to live vicariously

through their child’s sporting lives; lacking enthusiasm and interest in their child’s

development across all areas of their life (i.e., disengagement); and telling their child what

they want to hear as opposed to telling them what they need to hear.

Participants believed that coaches facilitated the development of mental toughness

through the following mechanisms: helping a developing player acquire an understanding

of the game, how it is played, and the many obstacles, challenges, and pressures that one is

likely to encounter; establishing individual and team standards and expectations; creating a

challenging environment where every player is being continuously challenged (on and off

the field); and prioritising athletic and personal development over and above coaching

success. The ways in which coaches hindered its development included: letting their desire

for player and therefore coach success overrule the need for individual player development;

allowing an easy environment where players do just what is necessary; and not combining

physical training programs with effective mental and life skills training.

Interestingly, the four highest ranked mental toughness characteristics in Australian

football (Chapter IIIa) – self-belief, work ethic, personal values, and self-motivation – were

also inductively-derived as among the primary effects of the processes and strategies in

developing mental toughness. It was concluded that the interaction of a myriad of

intrapersonal qualities and environmental sources makes the most significant contribution

to the development of mental toughness among Australian footballers.

Chapter IV – Measuring Mental Toughness

The lack of a clear conceptualisation and operational definition of mental toughness

has meant there have been few attempts to develop inventories that profile and assess

mental toughness in sport. Loehr’s (1986) Psychological Performance Inventory (PPI) has

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been the most influential and widely employed inventory for measuring mental toughness

in both applied and research settings (e.g., Golby & Sheard, 2004, 2006; Golby, Sheard, &

Lavallee, 2003; Sheard & Golby, 2006). However, two recent examinations suggest that the

PPI may not be a psychometrically sound measure of mental toughness (Golby, Sheard, &

Van Wersch, 2007; Middleton et al., 2004d). One explanation for the equivocal results

regarding the PPI is that it may not effectively capture sport-specific components of mental

toughness across different sports.

Development and preliminary validation of a mental toughness inventory for

Australian football. The purpose of this study was to describe the development and

preliminary validation a sport-specific measure of mental toughness for Australian football.

Questionnaire items were generated from the qualitative data on mental toughness in

Australian football described previously and were designed to capture the 11 keys to mental

toughness (Chapter IIIa). Preliminary data on the factor structure, internal reliability, and

construct validity of the AfMTI were encouraging.

A within-network examination of the a prior model involving CFA was initially

performed to determine whether the 11-factor model that guided construction of the items

(cf. Gucciardi et al., 2008) would serve as an adequate model for the data. Overall, the CFA

results did not support the existence of an 11-fator model. Accordingly, EFA was employed

to identify a better fitting model. The final four-factor solution (thrive through challenge,

sport awareness, tough attitude, and desire success) contained 24 items and accounted for

47% of the total variance. All internal reliability estimates were acceptable (α = .70 to 81)

and exceeded the minimum level of .70 recommended by Nunnally and Bernstein (1994).

Moderate correlations between the four-factor inventory (termed the Australian football

Mental Toughness Inventory; AfMTI) and flow as well as resilience were observed,

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whereas correlations between the AfMTI and social desirability were small and

nonsignificant. The AfMTI successfully discriminated responses in terms of age, playing

level, and playing experience.

Multisource ratings (self, parent, and coach) of the AfMTI were examined in

experiment two. The data was somewhat equivocal; correlational data suggested a

disagreement between raters, whereas an ANOVA suggested agreement between raters.

Encouragingly, internal reliability estimates for self (α = .73 to 86), parent (α = .76 to 87),

and coach ratings (α = .80 to 89) exceeded the minimum level of .70 recommended by

Nunnally and Bernstein (1994). Although requiring replication and extension, the results of

the present study suggest that the AfMTI shows promise as a measure of mental toughness

in Australian football.

Chapter V – Developing Mental Toughness

Applied efforts to develop mental toughness have been hampered by a lack of

empirical evidence describing those factors contributing to its development. Taken together

with research that has examined gifted and talented school children and athletes (e.g.,

Gagné, 2004; Tranckle & Cushion, 2006) as well as talent development research (e.g.,

Martindale, Collins, & Daubney, 2005) the available evidence (Connaughton et al., 2008;

Chapter IIIb) suggests that mental toughness is largely caught from the experiences and

environments an individual is exposed to during their youth. However, not all individuals

will be exposed to such facilitative environments during their youth. In this chapter, two

studies are reported that examine the potential usefulness of psychological skills training

(PST) in alleviating such limitations.

Evaluation of a mental toughness training program for youth-aged Australian

footballers: I. A quantitative analysis. The purpose of this study was to evaluate the

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effectiveness of two different PST packages in enhancing mental toughness among three

youth-aged (15’s) Australian football teams. Specifically, I compared a program (n = 25)

involving psycho-educational and experiential workshops and activities targeting the keys

to mental toughness identified previously (Chapter IIIa) with a more traditional PST

program (n = 26) targeting the usual family of mental skills (i.e., self-regulation, arousal

regulation, mental rehearsal, attentional control, self-efficacy, and ideal performance state)

as well as a control group (n = 24). Multisource ratings (i.e., coach, parent, and self ratings)

of mental toughness as well as self-reported flow and resilience were taken pre- and post-

intervention.

Overall, both intervention groups reported more positive changes in subjective

ratings of mental toughness, resilience, and flow than the control group. Similar findings

for mental toughness were reported by the parents and coaches. These findings lend support

for the general effectiveness of multimodal psychological skills training programs with

youth-aged athletes (Fournier, Calmels, Durand-Bush, & Salmela 2005; Sheard & Golby,

2006; see also Gould, 1983) and Australian footballers. However, neither intervention

package appeared to be more effective than the other in enhancing mental toughness.

Specifically, the data indicated that increases in self, parent, and coach ratings of mental

toughness, and self-reports of resilience and flow for both the PST and mental toughness

training (MTT) programs were not significantly different from each other.

The multisource ratings methodology represents the most original and significant

contribution of this study. Multisource feedback, in isolation, has been shown to produce

modest, yet positive changes in an individual’s behaviours and attitudes (Smither, London,

& Reilly, 2005) and when combined with systematic coaching these changes show greater

value (Luthans & Peterson, 2003). However, participants were not provided with feedback

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about parent and coach ratings. Instead, I obtained multisource data as a means by which to

address concerns associated with socially desirable responding. The fact that I evidenced

similar changes in ratings across three different sources (self, parent, and coach) alleviates

some of the concerns associated with socially desirable responding inherent with self-report

data thereby adding considerable support to the reliability of the findings.

Evaluation of a mental toughness training program for youth-aged Australian

footballers: II. A qualitative analysis. The purpose of this study was to enhance the

interpretability and meaningfulness of evaluative quantitative data (Chapter Va) on the

effectiveness of psychological skills training packages in enhancing mental toughness

among youth-aged (15’s) Australian footballers. Specifically, key stakeholders’ (i.e.,

athletes, parents, and coaches) perspectives about the goals, procedures, and results of the

mental toughness training intervention were obtained. Seven players, one of their parents

(three fathers and four mothers), and three coaches were interviewed. Transcribed verbatim

data was analysed using a combination of inductive content analysis and the constant

comparison method (Glaser & Strauss, 1967).

Participants described several benefits of the program: valuing the importance of

quality preparation; being more receptive to criticism; team cohesion; an increased work

ethic; tougher attitudes; and the development and identification of transferable skills.

Consistent with previous models of the performance-management process (e.g., Murphy &

Tammen, 1998), self-awareness, self-monitoring, and self-regulation were identified as

among the primary processes by which the activities and exercises contributed to the

enhanced levels of mental toughness. Interestingly, the process of raising self-awareness,

monitoring one’s cognitions, values, emotions, and behaviours as well as self-regulating

these components was said to be facilitated by multisource feedback and discussions.

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Finally, increased parent involvement, parent and coach education programs as well as

holistic assessments were highlighted by participants for improving future developmental

programs. These findings have several conceptual (e.g., other measures to be included

when assessing similar intervention programs) and practical implications (e.g., potential

benefit of multisource feedback) for future research and applied interventions.

Personal Construct Psychology

Theoretical frameworks provide researchers and practitioners with specific

methodologies, applications, and theoretical interpretations for the study of a range of

human phenomena across various settings (Kuhn, 1962). Unfortunately, one of the major

methodological commonalties (and limitations) of previous research is that it has neglected

the ability of theory-based research in working towards conceptual clarity and consensus in

an operational definition of mental toughness in sport (Gordon et al., 2007). Consequently,

this thesis employed PCP (Kelly, 1955/1991) as its guiding theoretical framework in an

attempt to enhance the current understanding of mental toughness in sport. Instead of

focusing on mental toughness as some sort of objective personality attribute, it is treated as

a phenomenon emerging from interpersonal and intrapersonal interactions and one’s sense-

making of such experiences.

The methodological contributions of PCP to this research project are evident

throughout the course of this thesis. Although traditional methods of a personal construct

enquiry such as the repertory grid and laddering techniques have been used successfully by

previous researchers (e.g., Clarke, 1995, 2005; Cripps, 1999; Feixas, Marti, & Villegas,

1989; Furnham, Titman, & Sleeman, 1994: Hopper & Rossi, 2001; Jones & Harris, 1996;

Jones, Harris, & Waller, 1998; Klenosky, Templin, & Troutman, 2001; Russell & Salmela,

1992), they were not employed for eliciting the personal constructs of participants in this

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thesis. Instead, aspects of Kelly’s (1955/1991) psychotherapy interview and the repertory

grid technique as well as the fundamental postulate and its corollaries provided a

foundation upon which a retrospective interview was developed that endeavoured to elicit

participants’ perspectives of mental toughness in Australian football (Chapter IIIa). The

influence of PCP, in particular the sociality corollary, was also evident in the development

of the mental toughness inventory in which multisource ratings were obtained as part of its

validation (Chapter IV). Multisource ratings were subsequently employed as part of the

quantitative analysis of the effectiveness of the PST programs in enhancing mental

toughness (Chapter Va). Each methodological contribution is discussed in the following

section.

PCP research interview (cf. Gucciardi & Gordon, in press). At the outset of this

thesis, I suggested that to better understand mental toughness in sport, efforts were required

to understand the processes involved, the constructs driving these processes, and what

eventuates as a result of these processes. Having established these as priority issues to be

explored, my intention was to draw upon PCP to inform the design of open-ended interview

questions that could generate information on these important issues. In designing the

interview protocol I was concerned with how I could use the 11 corollaries, other

established methodologies of a personal construct enquiry (e.g., the repertory grid), and

information regarding Kelly’s (1955/1991) psychotherapy interview to design open-ended

questions aimed at addressing the aforementioned issues. In so doing, I was able to obtain a

greater insight into mental toughness and its conceptual opposite in Australian football (cf.

dichotomy corollary, people as elements), those situations/events that demand mental

toughness from Australian footballers (cf. range corollary, contexts as elements), how the

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key characteristics drive one to be mentally tough when in such situations/events, and what

eventuates as result of the mental toughness process (cf. experience corollary).

Multisource ratings. Having key individuals within a person’s socialisation network

– whether it is in a work, school or sporting context – complete a subjective assessment on

that individual on some performance or psychological measure is said to provide important

insights into several aspects of that person’s behaviour (Smither et al., 2005). Although

multisource ratings are commonly used by organisational researchers and practitioners

(Atwater, Brett, & Charles, 2007), the methodology has yet to make its impact in the sport

psychology literature. The decision to adopt this methodology in this thesis was based

largely on the sociality corollary and not as an adaptation of this methodology from

organisational settings. It is in this corollary that Kelly (1955/1991) portrayed one aspect of

the social context of construing. He believed that we go beyond simple observation of

another’s behaviour and interpret what that behaviour means to us by construing another

person’s construction of events. Accordingly, any attempt to construe what another person

is construing also influences our own construction of that event. It was in this context that

multisource ratings were employed in the construct validation process of the AfMTI

(Chapter IV) as well as in the quantitative assessment of the effectiveness of two PST

programs in enhancing mental toughness (Chapter Va). This proved to be extremely

beneficial, for example, in increasing the reliability of the findings of the intervention study

given similar changes in mental toughness, flow, and resilience were observed by all three

rating sources (self, parent, and coach).

Implications for Theory

By considering and examining mental toughness outcomes and processes as well as

those factors contributing to its development and measurement within this thesis, we can

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move beyond the largely descriptive and outcome-focused research pioneering this

developing line of inquiry and facilitate theory development for mental toughness in sport.

Although generated from within an Australian football context, the findings of this thesis

have several important implications for researchers who intend to further examine mental

toughness in sport, especially in regard to theory development. After summarising the key

findings of this thesis for theory development, PCP is used to integrate these findings into a

model of mental toughness that conceptualises the processes and outcomes of mental

toughness as well as their implications for its development.

Mental toughness and its conceptual opposite. Previous research on mental

toughness (e.g., Bull et al., 2005; Fourie & Potgieter, 2001; Jones et al., 2002, 2007;

Thelwell et al., 2005) has failed to compliment findings on mental toughness with an

understanding of what it is not, leaving open the possibility for it to be misconstrued. Kelly

(1955/1991) noted that to truly understand one pole of a construct we need to understand it

in the context of its contrast; thus, good cannot exist without bad. In other words, the

contrast pole of a construct gives meaning to the similarity pole. The construct solution-

focused coping vs. problem-focused coping, for example, can represent a completely

different set of characteristics and behaviours when compared with the construct solution-

focused coping vs. emotion-focused coping. The conceptualisation of mental toughness

presented in this thesis (Chapter IIIa) is the first within the mental toughness literature to

achieve this.

The content and structure of mental toughness. As well as providing a context-rich

understanding of mental toughness in Australian football, I was able to examine to what

extent previous conceptualisations of mental toughness could be extended to a sport that

had not previously been studied. Several characteristics identified as keys to mental

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toughness in sport in previous research were revealed here as keys to mental toughness in

Australian football (e.g., self-belief, motivation, tough attitude, concentration and focus,

resilience, and handling pressure). These characteristics seem to represent the core

components of mental toughness which perhaps would not vary across sports. However,

characteristics unique to this sample (e.g., personal values, emotional intelligence, sport

intelligence, and physical toughness) as well those stemming from previous sport-specific

investigations of mental toughness (Bull et al., 2005; Thelwell et al., 2005) suggest that

mental toughness may be contextually-driven.

The notion that mental toughness is multifaceted and thereby multidimensional – as

apparent from the multitude of key characteristics commonly reported to encapsulate this

phenomenon – has stemmed largely from qualitative research. Data analytical techniques

employed within this dissertation to develop the mental toughness inventory as well as

those psychometric examinations of Loehr’s (1986) Psychological Performance Inventory

(Golby, Sheard, & Van Wersch, 2007; Middleton et al., 2004d) provide preliminary support

for the multidimensional nature of mental toughness. Central to this multidimensional

conceptualisation is the idea that the key mental toughness characteristics are not isolated

but rather are interconnected with some being considered more important than others

(Gucciardi et al., in press; Jones et al., 2002, 2007; Thelwell et al., 2005).

What events demand mental toughness? Although previous research has eluded to

the notion that mental toughness enables one to deal with the rigours of an athletic career

which stem from both sport-related and lifestyle issues (Jones et al., 2002) as well as

manifesting itself in training, competition, and post-competition (Jones et al., 2007), no

research has identified specific situations or events that demand mental toughness. The

central role that the contexts or events of our lives play in the development and

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modification of personal constructs is highlighted within PCP’s experience cycle. It is in

the cycle of experience that Kelly (1955/1991) underscores the idea that our drive to make

sense of human behaviour occurs by interpreting it within the context in which it occurs.

Because we are in constant and continual engagement with the external world we are

encouraged to actively seek out, describe, and evaluate the phenomena we experience in an

attempt to anticipate and predict what will occur in the future (Kelly, 1955/1991). The

findings within this thesis support and extend previous research (Jones et al., 2002, 2007)

by detailing specific situations or events within each of these contexts that demand mental

toughness from an Australian footballer (e.g., injury, peer and social pressures).

How do the key characteristics drive one to be mentally tough? The empirical

literature on mental toughness in sport, being predominantly outcome focused and

descriptive in nature (e.g., Bull et al., 2005; Fourie & Potgieter, 2001; Jones et al., 2002;

Thelwell et al., 2005), seems weak at offering insights into the processes by which mental

toughness operates. The research in this thesis has revealed preliminary information about

the ways in which the key characteristics drive one to be mentally tough (Gucciardi et al.,

in press; see also Jones et al., 2007). Although these processes were presented in a general

manner, the information was obtained from an understanding of how mentally tough

Australian footballers approach and appraise those specific situations identified as

demanding large degrees of mental toughness. Specifically, this enabled each participant to

place himself in those situations and recollect how he felt, what he was thinking, and how

he behaved in such challenging times.

What eventuates as a result of this process? Although this is the area where

previous research has seemingly contributed most, the majority of theorising on this aspect

of mental toughness has been in relation to beating an opponent and, therefore, success-

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focused (e.g., Jones et al., 2002). This seems to reflect the preoccupation of sampling elite

athletes who have been successful in their respective sports. The question remains then, can

one be mentally tough only by achieving success? Are successful athletes the only cohort

from which mentally tough athletes can be found? Despite elite footballers reporting higher

levels of mental toughness than sub-elite and amateur footballers, the qualitative findings

from this thesis as well as that from recent research revealing that handling both failure and

success is an essential aspect of being mentally tough (Jones et al., 2007) suggest not.

Having identified several situations or contexts in which mental toughness is required from

an Australian footballer I was able to probe participants about what mental toughness

enables one to do in such situations. This included several covert (e.g., self-talk, imagery)

as well as overt behaviours (e.g., 1%er’s, consistent performance, versatile). The pertinent

finding from these discussions was that success was not defined in relation to beating an

opponent but rather in terms of progress towards achieving one’s goals.

How is mental toughness developed? The only research to date which has

empirically examined elite athletes’ perceptions of the development of mental toughness

revealed several important factors contributing to its development (Connaughton et al.,

2008). These included key individuals within the athlete’s socialisation network; exposure

to a variety of experiences (both within and outside of sport); usage of basic and advanced

psychological skills; and intrapersonal influences resulting from the motivational climate

(e.g., enjoyment, mastery) as well as an insatiable desire and internalised motives to

succeed. Prior to this, Bull et al. (2005) highlighted the interaction of a performer’s

environment with several intrapersonal attributes including character, attitudes, and

thinking as a possible means of developing mental toughness, whereas Jones et al. (2002)

suggested that mental toughness may be an innate or developed phenomenon.

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Consistent with this line of research and thinking, the qualitative evidence presented

in this thesis supports the importance of intrapersonal variables (e.g., self-belief, work

ethic, personal values, and self-motivation) and key individuals within a footballer’s

socialisation network (Chapter IIIb) as well as psychological skills training (Chapter Va, b)

in the development and enhancement of mental toughness among Australian footballers.

Unlike previous research (Connaughton et al., 2008), however, the ways in which the

factors both facilitate and hinder its development were revealed in this dissertation.

Quantitative evidence emerging from the validation of the AfMTI provides further support

for some of the qualitative findings. For example, its was shown that scores on the AfMTI

improve with age and playing experience, suggesting that mental toughness appears to be

developed through learning and experiences that occur over a considerable period of time

(Chapter IV).

A personal construct psychology perspective on mental toughness. The

aforementioned key findings represent important, albeit independent, contributions to a

current understanding of mental toughness for Australian football. For these findings to

substantially contribute to the theoretical development of this elusive construct, however,

they need to be integrated in a coherent model that highlights the links between these key

findings. It is at this point where I again draw on PCP to offer a theoretical lens or

“skeleton” upon which the data obtained in this thesis can be understood. The model of

mental toughness illustrated in Figure 1 forms a conceptual representation of the processes

and outcomes of mental toughness in Australian football. This model integrates the

independent contributions of this thesis within a PCP perspective in a manner that allows

for testable hypotheses to be formed and empirically tested. Such a model is timely in that

there has been no attention given to theory-based, conceptual models to guide the

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identification and understanding of factors that contribute to an understanding of mental

toughness and its development in the literature to date9.

Appraisal(s) of the Covert & Overt


Situation Response(s)

Multisource
EVENT (internal Feedback
or external) (Self and others)

Covert & Overt Self-evaluation in


Approach(es) to the relation to Personal
Event Goals

Mental
Toughness
Characteristics

Emotions Values

Attitudes Cognitions

Early Childhood Football


Experiences Experiences

Figure 1. A personal construct psychology model of mental toughness in Australian


football.

9
It should be noted that Jones et al. (2007) recently presented a mental toughness framework. However, this
framework reinforces the notion that mental toughness manifests itself in three specific contexts: training,
competition, and post-competition. The model does little to identify and describe the processes involved.

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Located at the base of this model are those factors which have been revealed as key

contributions to the development of mental toughness. Although the preliminary data

highlighting intrapersonal (e.g., attitudes and beliefs) and environmental (e.g., individuals

in socialisation network) factors (Connaughton et al., 2008; Chapter IIIb) is consistent with

related research on gifted and talented school children (Gagné, 2004) and athletes (Bloom,

1985; Côté, 1999; Gould, Dieffenbach, & Moffett, 2002), the exact contribution of each is

currently unknown. However, it seems likely that both environmental and intrapersonal

issues play a more dominant role in the development of mental toughness than genetic

issues (cf. Golby & Sheard, 2006). It may be that one’s innate disposition to be mentally

tough, which perhaps represents “raw” or natural abilities, may interact with an individual’s

intrapersonal qualities and environmental influences to develop into specialised forms of

mental toughness (Chapter IIIb). Consider the following quote from Dweck (2006, pp. 5-7):

Of course, each person has a unique genetic endowment. People may start
with different temperaments and different aptitudes, but it is clear that
experience, training and personal effort take them the rest of the
way…Although people may differ in every way – in their initial talents and
aptitudes, interest, or temperaments – everyone can change and grow
through application and experience.

This aspect of the model encourages us to consider the origins or sources of mental

toughness which determine it’s observable and non-observable qualities related to aspects

of cognition, emotion, attitudes, and personal values. Preliminary research on those factors

that contribute to its development (Connaughton et al., 2008; Chapter IIIb) suggest that

these sources impact on the development of mental toughness through a number of

processes (e.g., modelling personal values, encouraging autonomy, and setting standards

and expectations) and can both facilitate as well as hinder its development (Chapter IIIb).

However, the available data does little to indicate what the athlete being exposed to in these

experiences does with this information.

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The cycle of experience located at the top of the model provides a template to better

understand how this occurs. It suggests that our attitudes, cognitions, emotions, and

personal values are in constant evolution as a result of increased (internal and external)

interactions with our environment throughout our development. Indeed, this is consistent

with the finding that exposing young footballers to a variety of experiences, challenges, and

adversities facilitates the development of mental toughness (Chapter IIIb). What becomes

apparent from this cyclical process is the way in which such change occurs as an individual

makes senses of the experiences during their youth, adolescent and adult years. For

example, experiences that confirm our constructs may lead to these becoming more fixed,

whereas those that disconfirm our constructs may lead to change or the development of new

constructs (Kelly, 1955/1991). Arguably, this is what makes the most significant

contribution to the development of mentally tough attitudes, values, emotions, and

cognitions.

The model also provides a platform from which we can begin to better understand

the processes and outcomes of being mentally tough. The PCP perspective, in particular,

the cycle of experience, when applied to the concept of mental toughness in Australian

football, emphasises the role that the key mental toughness characteristics have on how an

individual approaches and appraises as well responds to situations/events that demand some

degree of mental toughness. As mentioned previously (Chapter IIIa), these key

characteristics represent a variety of values, attitudes, emotions and cognitions.

What is highlighted in this section of the model is that mental toughness should not

be construed simply as a post-hoc explanation or reflection of superior athletic

performance. Rather, mental toughness should be conceptualised as a constellation of key

characteristics that influence an individual’s covert (e.g., self-talk, imagery) and overt (e.g.,

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1%er’s, pre-shot routine) approaches and appraisals of both negative and positive events

they experience. These experiences are both internal (e.g., self-doubt) and external (e.g.,

injury) and may be related to training, competition, or lifestyle issues. Ultimately, these

mentally tough processes make significant contributions to one’s ability to consistently

achieving his or her goals.

Although requiring replication and further validation, the AfMTI developed in this

thesis (Chapter IV) represents an important tool by which testable hypotheses derived from

this model may be tested. For example, one would expect that mentally tough footballers,

who seem to be characterised by a positive and tough attitude and who seem to enjoy and

handle pressure, would report more facilitative interpretations (i.e., interpretations of

thoughts and feelings to subsequent performance) of competitive state anxiety (Jones,

1991) and be less likely to “choke under pressure” (see Beilock & Gray, 2007, for review).

Indeed, construct validation is an ongoing process (Marsh, 2002) and establishing the

AfMTI’s ability to evaluate such hypotheses would provide further support for the utility of

this inventory.

Qualitative inquiries using the experience cycle as a framework to more accurately

identify and understand the processes and outcomes of being mentally tough may also

prove fruitful (cf. Oades & Viney, 2000). This would involve having an athlete identify a

range of situations or events that he or she perceives as demanding mental toughness, then

proceeding through various questions that address the following sequences of the

experience cycle: anticipation (e.g., what did you anticipate or predict would happen?),

preparation (e.g., how did you prepare for the outcome?), encounter (e.g., describe what

actually happened, who as there, what was done, by whom and the context) ,

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dis/confirmation (e.g., did things go as expected), and constructive revision (e.g., what did

you learn from this experience?).

The PCP perspective on mental toughness presented in this model also provides a

platform from which the empirical evidence obtained from this research can be combined

with established psychological theory (i.e., PCP; see Walker & Winter, 2007, for review) to

propose a construct definition of mental toughness in Australian football. Consider the

following definition:

Mental toughness in Australian football is a collection of values, attitudes,


emotions, and cognitions that influence the way in which an individual
approaches, responds to, and appraises events demanding mental
toughness to consistently achieve his or her goals.

Importantly, both the outcomes and processes of being mentally tough are central to this

definition of mental toughness thereby representing an important means by which it

addresses a major concern associated with the Jones et al. (2002) definition mentioned

previously (see Chapter IIa). Because of its focus on the outcomes of mental toughness, for

example, the Jones et al. definition does little to suggest what the “natural or developed

psychological edge” is. This psychological edge is adequately described in the current

definition as a combination of several different human characteristics (i.e., values, attitudes,

cognitions, and emotions). In addition to describing what mental toughness is, the current

definition highlights the processes by which these key characteristics work to enable one to

be mentally tough (i.e., approaches, responses, and appraisals). The processes by which

mental toughness enabled one to “cope better” and “be more consistent and better” than his

or her opponents were not described in the Jones et al. definition. Finally, benchmarks for

success or failure are not related to an opponent as is the case with the Jones et al.

definition but rather in terms of one’s progress towards achieving his or her goals.

Accordingly, athletes of all skill levels, irrespective of whether or not they beat their

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opponent, can be classified as being mentally tough if they are consistently achieving their

goals. At the elite level, of course, being successful is one of the more common goals for

most athletes.

Limitations of the Research Program

This following section summarises specific limitations associated with the research

program that have been highlighted in each individual paper of this thesis. The list is by no

means exhaustive but rather attempts to preface the section that follows in which

recommendations for future research are proposed.

In addition to limits associated with self-report data, retrospective recall, and

sampling participants with considerable playing and coaching experience mentioned

previously, the use of single interviews as opposed to multiple interviews with participants

across time does not permit for the generation of in-depth data that is required to adequately

draw conclusions about a phenomenon. Examinations with individuals currently involved

in the development process, in particular, have important methodological implications as

they are less susceptive to limitations of retrospective recall that are inherent with those

athletes who have already reached a mature level of performance (Côté, 1999). Another

limitation was that only coaches were sampled; data triangulation in which footballers,

parents, and coaches opinions were generated would have alleviated such concerns.

Given that the AfMTI was developed and validated with a male sample of

footballers, further examination of the psychometric properties of the AfMTI with both

male and female footballers is required to test the strength and generalisability of the factor

structure more stringently. As with the qualitative research in this thesis, attempts to

address socially desirable responding should be addressed in future examinations using the

AfMTI. It is important to recognise that single case inventory assessment procedures

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remain open to violation and potential bias, and that triangulation assessment procedures

will provide a more reliable indicator of mental toughness. Finally, the predictive utility of

the AfMTI is unknown as psychological constructs were the only included correlates in the

examinations within Chapter IV.

Several methodological limitations associated with the intervention research in

Chapter V need to be considered when interpreting the findings. For example, the

nomothetic design focusing on information obtained from the study of many persons did

not allow for an examination of the subtleties which contributed to those changes observed.

Moreover, due to the subjective nature of the data (i.e., self-reports) I was not able to

determine whether the improvements in psychological characteristics were associated with

improvements in performance. Finally, the limited duration of the assessment period and

absence of follow-up assessments makes it difficult to determine the long-term benefits, if

any, of both psychological interventions.

Recommendations for Future Research

Specific recommendations for future research arising from the methodological

limitations of the current research are highlighted within each individual empirical

manuscript. Rather than reiterating these recommendations here, I choose to focus on

general recommendations arising from this thesis as well as from previous research. In

keeping with the general organisation of this thesis, these recommendations are discussed

in relation to understanding, measuring, and developing mental toughness.

Understanding mental toughness. In recent years, researchers have begun to take

into consideration the unique social and cultural contexts of each individual sport by

conducting sport-specific examinations (e.g., Bull et al., 2005; Thelwell et al., 2005).

Further research that endeavours to qualitatively examine definitions and

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conceptualisations of mental toughness within specific sports will go a long way towards

highlighting those characteristics which can be generalised across sports but also those

which are unique to individual sports. Such conceptualisations will have important

implications for understanding mental toughness as well as profiling (measuring) and

developing mental toughness. As McCann (2005, p. 280) so aptly stated:

Like any area in applied psychology, sport psychology is only effective and
useful if it recognises the context in which the work is done. The sport
environment is very specific, and each sport is different, with its own
culture, rules (written and unwritten), and expectations.

Although I advocate the need for sport-specific examinations of mental toughness, I

do recognise that it may be argued that if mental toughness is so sport-specific and

dependant upon the socio-cultural conditions of each individual sport, does a construct

really exist? Even within sport-specific examinations of mental toughness in cricket (Bull et

al., 2005; Gordon & Sridhar, 2005), for example, we are evidencing inconsistencies in

conceptualisations of mental toughness which may be attributable to the differing cultures

(i.e., England and India). However, these inconsistencies are outweighed by those major

characteristics consistently associated with mental toughness across these studies which are

irrespective of sample demographics such as age, sex or sport. Rather, by conducting sport-

specific examinations we will be simultaneously identifying and understanding both

common and unique key mental toughness characteristics, which will make significant

contributions towards gaining an accurate understanding of this phenomenon. Qualitative

meta-syntheses (Finfgeld, 2003; Paterson, Thorne, Canam, & Jillings, 2001) that seek to

explain the findings of a group of similar qualitative studies represent an exciting avenue of

research to identify the core mental toughness characteristics in sport.

Perhaps the most significant limitation of the research to date is that it has relied

heavily on the perspectives of elite athletes and coaches. Retrospective accounts are

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inherently limited by objective (e.g., win vs. loss) and subjective (e.g., enjoyment)

performance outcomes that can influence an individual’s recall of past experiences

(Brewer, Van Raalte, Linder, & Van Raalte, 1991; Ross & Conway, 1986). Nisbett and

Wilson (1977) also argue that people generate reasons that are consistent with cultural and

personal theories that are accessible in memory because we do not have complete access to

the actual reasons behind our thoughts, feelings, attitudes and judgments. Consequently, it

is important that future research includes alternative methods of data collection, such as

prospective longitudinal studies, and combines this data with that obtained through

observational methods among cohorts of varying sporting backgrounds (e.g., experience,

achievements, and elite vs. non-elite).

Associated with the reliance upon the retrospective accounts of elite athletes and

coaches is that to date researchers have only studied the perceptions of those individuals

who have achieved ultimate performance success in their chosen field. If we continue to

study mental toughness in such a manner we leave ourselves open to the criticism that

mental toughness simply reflects superior athleticism rather than a superior ability to deal

with and overcome the many challenges and pressures associated with an athletic career.

Indeed, it is possible that the elite coaches and athletes sampled in the research to date, who

perhaps have read widely on the topic of psychology and sport, would arrive at consistent

responses that are influenced by popular conceptions of mental toughness. It would be

interesting to examine what amateur and other elite athletes and coaches (i.e., those who

have not achieved ultimate sporting success) associate with the phenomenon of mental

toughness in sport, for example, and compare those conceptualisations with those from

successful elite performers. In a similar fashion, triangulating the perceptions of mental

toughness from those key individuals in an athlete’s socialisation network (e.g., parents,

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siblings, sport psychologists, coaches, significant others) will provide considerable

advancements in conceptual clarity as well as adding to the scientific rigour of future

research.

Measuring mental toughness. There has been limited research focused on

developing mental toughness inventories that can profile (identify) and monitor mental

toughness among elite and non-elite athletic cohorts, and further research is required to

develop and refine such inventories. Psychometricians (e.g., Marsh, 1997, 2002) as well as

sport and exercise psychology researchers (e.g., Ostrow, 1996) consistently highlight the

importance of developing such inventories within a construct validity framework. Within

this framework are both within-network studies examining the internal structure of a

construct through factor analytical techniques (e.g., EFA, CFA) and/or multitrait-

multimethod analyses, and between-network studies examining relationships with other

constructs that are hypothesised to have some logical, theoretical relationship with mental

toughness.

Within-networks examinations, most importantly, need to ensure that developed

inventories have been through rigorous statistical procedures (e.g., EFA and CFA) in

determining if the instrument has adequate psychometric properties. Such statistical

processes should assess whether the internal factor structure of such inventories are

invariant across various athlete demographics, such as age, gender, skill level, sport,

experience, and success. It is also important for researchers to acknowledge the limitations

inherent within self-report data that come with the desire to respond in a socially desirable

manner, and some effort needs to be made to address these concerns when developing and

validating a self-report inventory. One potential avenue for researchers to consider is

obtaining multisource, or 360-degree, ratings (i.e., coach, peer, parent) when assessing the

259
validity of such inventories (for a review see Smither, London, & Reilly, 2005). The

development and validation of an implicit measure of mental toughness, similar to the

Implicit Association Test (cf. Greenwald, McGhee, & Schwartz, 1998), may afford

researchers and practitioners with an indirect method for assessing mental toughness.

The few between-network validation studies that have been conducted thus far have

primarily focused on correlating facets of mental toughness with other (established)

positive psychological constructs, such as flow (Jackson & Csikszentmihalyi, 1999) and

athlete self-concept (Marsh, Hey, Johnson, & Perry, 1997). Future research also needs to

consider examining the predictive validity of such scales, particularly with respect to

current conceptualisations, and greater emphasis needs to be placed on obtaining

behavioural measures that might be related to mental toughness for improved validation

procedures. Indeed, research on mental toughness seems to share several parallels with

research concerning peak performance (Harmison, 2006; Krane & Williams, 2006) and

psychological skills training (e.g., Smith & Christensen, 1995) in that psychological skills

can be important predictors of (physical and mental) performance and success. In order to

truly demonstrate the usefulness of such inventories we also need to show that these

inventories correlate with both behavioural measures of mental toughness and predict

performance.

Developing mental toughness. Preliminary research suggests that mental toughness

may be underpinned by innate factors (e.g., Jones et al., 2002; Chapter IIIb), factors that

can be caught (socialised) during a child’s upbringing, and specific techniques that can be

taught (coached; Connaughton et al., 2008; Chapter IIIb). In other words, an important

distinction that should be made is psychological skills training (i.e., specific) vs. mental

toughness development (i.e., coach and parent education) and whether one is better than the

260
other, or whether a combination of both is more superior to either one individually.

Although preliminary, the available research suggests that intervention programs should

combine education components illustrating the important role parents, coaches, and

sporting organisations play in developing mental toughness and how they can create an

environment conducive to developing mental toughness, together with specific techniques

(e.g., mental skills training programs and event simulations) aimed at the athletes

themselves (e.g., Connaughton et al., 2008; Gould et al., 2002; Chapter IIIb).

Considerably more research attention needs to be dedicated to understanding how

mental toughness has been and can be developed as well as what needs to be taught and

caught and how so that specific pedagogical recommendations for designing intervention

programs that endeavour to develop (or enhance) mental toughness can be made. One line

of inquiry that may prove fruitful is to understand and compare the developmental histories

of those performers who are considered mentally tough and those who are not. In so doing,

important distinctions and differences can be identified that will contribute to our

understanding of what works and what does not. Like the research of Gould et al. (2002)

this information needs to be elucidated from a number of sources in the athlete’s

socialisation network (e.g., parents, grandparents, siblings and coaches). Examinations with

individuals currently involved in the development process, in particular, have important

methodological implications as they are less susceptible to biases as well as limitations of

retrospective recall that are inherent with those athletes who have already reached a mature

level of performance (Côté, 1999). Côté and colleagues (1999; Côté, & Fraser-Thomas,

2007) developmental model of sport participation, which identifies three distinct but

overlapping stages of development, affords useful theoretical backdrop in which to examine

such issues.

261
Future research should also consider comparing various multimodal and singular

intervention programs that involve psychological skills training (PST) targeting the key

mental toughness characteristics with a range of other intervention programs. These may

include interventions that involve education and training components for key personnel in

an athlete’s socialisation network (e.g., coach, parent) and general PST as well as a

combination of both. In particular, a variety of experimental designs (e.g., single-subject,

switched replication, case studies, and longitudinal) should be employed to evaluate such

intervention programs. Qualitative inquiries that compliment traditional quantitative

methods offer an important avenue by which one can reveal information about the lived

experience of key stakeholders within an intervention program and the processes by which

these mechanisms and strategies contribute to the development of psychological skills (cf.

Chapter Vb).

Applied Implications

Although there is an obvious need for caution when generalising the findings from a

sport-specific sample to other athletic cohorts, there are a number of practical implications

worth noting. Specific recommendations highlighted within each individual empirical

manuscript as well as some additional and central recommendations across this thesis and

previous research are summarised here.

1. Having established an understanding of mental toughness and its conceptual

opposite in Australian football coaches and practitioners are in a better position

to identify those footballers who are mentally tough and those who are not. An

understanding of the key characteristics within the situations demanding mental

toughness, in particular, will provide an important medium through which to

262
identify those components of mental toughness where one may be lacking and

thriving.

2. A greater understanding of those situations that demand mental toughness will

enable practitioners as well as coaches to be more cognisant of these and use

these contexts in accessing an athlete’s mindset. An increased awareness of

these situations may also assist coaches in simulating experiences that mimic the

kinds of pressures, adversities, and challenges experienced within these events.

3. The development and preliminary validation of the AfMTI will prove fruitful

for coaches and practitioners wishing to assess and monitor Australian

footballers’ levels of mental toughness throughout the competitive season as

well as to assess the effectiveness of interventions designed to enhance or

develop mental toughness. In regard to designing intervention programs, the

AfMTI will also enable practitioners to identify areas that require immediate

improvement, some improvement, or maintenance.

4. Athlete-centred efforts to develop and/or enhance mental toughness should

incorporate educational and experiential workshops targeting the core mental

toughness characteristics (e.g., self-belief, attentional control, motivation,

commitment and determination, positive and tough attitude, resilience, enjoying

and handling pressure, and quality preparation) while recognising and catering

for such sport-specific and individual differences.

5. Practitioners can compliment athlete-centred efforts by educating coaches and

parents about how they can both facilitate as well as constrain the development

of mental toughness (cf. Conroy & Coatsworth, 2006; Gould, Lauer, Rolo,

Jannes, & Pennisi, 2006). The processes and strategies elucidated in Chapter

263
IIIb as well as information stemming from the qualitative analysis of the

intervention program (Chapter Vb) provide an important foundation upon which

to design such educational programs in the context of Australian football.

6. Multisource feedback methodology represents an exciting avenue by which

practitioners can combine athlete-centred programs with those aiming to educate

parents and coaches. Given the encouraging results relating to internal reliability

estimates of the AfMTI reported here (Chapter IV), practitioners and coaches

wishing to gain multisource ratings of mental toughness in Australian football

can be more certain that the same construct is being assessed across raters. In

isolation, the methodology also offers an important process by which an athlete

can gain a greater insight into his or her own mental toughness. Similarly,

parents and coaches can become more cognisant about their own current status

in regard to facilitating its development.

7. Practitioners can utilise the PCP perspective of mental toughness described here

to facilitate discussions with their athletes about what that individual (and the

team) construes as encapsulating the phenomenon of mental toughness in his or

her sport, when (situations) it is required, and what this means for the client’s

behaviour. Given the varying degree in the nature of each of the situations

demanding mental toughness described here, some degree of variation in the

manner in which each characteristic enables an individual to deal with and

thrive in different situations would be expected. By bringing these perceptions

to the forefront practitioners can encourage individuals to explore different ways

of construing particular situations to help guide them through the process of

understanding the implications for their behaviour (cf. Chapter IIb).

264
Final Comments

This thesis aimed to contribute to a better understanding of the mental toughness

phenomenon by examining issues pertaining to its identification and understanding,

measurement, and development in the context of Australian football. Initially, I elucidated

elite Australian football coaches’ perceptions of mental toughness (Chapter IIIa) and how it

has been and can be developed (Chapter IIIb). The results of these investigations were then

used as a basis to generate items for a questionnaire designed to measure mental toughness

in Australian football. Preliminary data on the psychometric properties of this instrument

was presented in Chapter IV. In the final empirical chapter, the effectiveness of PST

targeting the keys to mental toughness identified previously (Chapter IIIa) was compared

with traditional PST as well as a control group. Quantitative and qualitative data provided

preliminary support for the use of PST in enhancing mental toughness among youth-aged

Australian footballers. Findings from this thesis indicate that theoretically guided empirical

examinations, in particular PCP (Kelly, 1955/1991), provide comprehensive frameworks

for interpreting and understanding mental toughness in sport. It is my hope that other

researchers will be stimulated to engage in further research extending what is presented

here and that practitioners will use this information to inform their professional endeavours.

265
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Boekaerts, P. Pintrich, & M. Seidner (Eds.), Self-regulation: Theory, research, and

applications (pp. 13–39). Orlando, FL: Academic Press.

295
Zimmerman, B.J. & Schunk, D.H. (2001). Self-regulated learning and academic

achievement: Theoretical perspectives. Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum.

296
Appendices

297
Appendix A – Psychometric Inventories

298
Marlowe-Crowne Social Desirability Scale (Reynolds, 1982)

INSTRUCTIONS: Listed below are a number of statements concerning personal attitudes


and traits. Read each item carefully and decide whether the statement is True or False by
circling as it pertains to you.

01. I sometimes feel resentful when I don’t get my way True False

02. On a few occasions, I have given up doing something because I True False
thought to little of my ability

03. There have been times when I felt like rebelling against people in True False
authority even though I knew they were right

04. No mater who I’m talking to, I’m always a good listener True False

05. I can remember “playing sick” to get out of something True False

06. There have been occasions when I took advantage of someone True False

07. I’m always willing to admit it when I make a mistake True False

08. I sometimes try to get even rather than forgive and forget True False

09. I am always courteous, even to people who are disagreeable True False

10. I have never been irked when people expressed their ideas very True False
different from my own

11. There have been times when I was quite jealous of the good True False
fortune of others

12. I am sometimes irritated by people who ask favours of me True False

13. I have never deliberately said something that hurt someone’s True False
feelings

299
Dispositional Resilience Scale (Bartone, Ursano, Wright, & Ingraham, 1989)

INSTRUCTIONS: Below are statements about life that people often feel differently about.
Circle a number to show how YOU feel about each one. Read the items carefully and
indicate how much you think each one is true in general. There are no right or wrong
answers – just give your own honest opinions.

Completely
Quite true
Not at all

A little

True
true

true
01. Most of my life gets spent doing things that are worthwhile. 0 1 2 3

02. Planning ahead can help avoid most future problems. 0 1 2 3

03. No matter how hard I try, my efforts usually accomplish 0 1 2 3


nothing.

04. I don’t like to make changes in my everyday schedule. 0 1 2 3

05. The “tried and true” ways are always best. 0 1 2 3

06. Working hard doesn’t matter, since only the bosses profit by it. 0 1 2 3

07. By working hard you can always achieve your goals. 0 1 2 3

08. Most of what happens in life is just meant to be. 0 1 2 3

09. When I make plans, I’m certain I can make them work. 0 1 2 3

10. It’s exciting to learn something about myself. 0 1 2 3

11. I really look forward to my work. 0 1 2 3

12. If I’m working on a difficult task, I know when to seek help. 0 1 2 3

13. I won’t answer a question until I’m really sure I understand it. 0 1 2 3

14. I like a lot of variety in my work. 0 1 2 3

15. Most of the time, people listen carefully to what I say. 0 1 2 3

16. Thinking of yourself as a free person just leads to frustration. 0 1 2 3

17. Trying your best at work really pays off in the end. 0 1 2 3

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18. My mistakes are usually very difficult to correct. 0 1 2 3

19. It bothers me when my daily routine gets interrupted. 0 1 2 3

20. Most good athletes and leaders are born, not made. 0 1 2 3

21. I often wake up eager to take up my life wherever it left off. 0 1 2 3

22. Lots of times, I don’t really know my own mind. 0 1 2 3

23. I respect rules because they guide me. 0 1 2 3

24. I like it when things are uncertain or unpredictable. 0 1 2 3

25. I can’t do much to prevent it if someone wants to harm me. 0 1 2 3

26. Changes in routine are interesting to me. 0 1 2 3

27. Most days, life is really interesting and exciting for me. 0 1 2 3

28. It’s hard to imagine anyone getting excited about working. 0 1 2 3

29. What happens to me tomorrow depends on what I do today. 0 1 2 3

30. Ordinary work is just too boring to be worth doing. 0 1 2 3

301
Dispositional Flow Scale-2 (Jackson & Eklund, 2002, 2004)

INSTRUCTIONS: Please answer the following questions in relation to your experience in


football. These questions relate to the thoughts and feelings you may experience during
participation in football. You may experience these characteristics some of the time, all of
the time, or none of the time. There are no right or wrong answers. Think about how often
you experience each characteristic during football and circle the number that best matches
your experience.

Frequently
Sometimes

Always
Rarely
Never
1 2 3 4 5
01. I am challenged, but I believe my skills will allow me to
meet the challenge.

02. I make the correct movements without thinking about trying 1 2 3 4 5


to do so.

03. I know clearly what I want to do. 1 2 3 4 5

04. It is really clear to me how my performance is going. 1 2 3 4 5

05. My attention is focused entirely on what I am doing. 1 2 3 4 5

06. I have a sense of control over what I am doing. 1 2 3 4 5

07. I am not concerned with what others may be thinking of 1 2 3 4 5


me.

08. Time seems to alter (either slows down or speeds up). 1 2 3 4 5

09. I really enjoy the experience. 1 2 3 4 5

10. My abilities match the high challenge of the situation. 1 2 3 4 5

11. Things just seem to happen automatically. 1 2 3 4 5

12. I have a strong sense of what I want to do. 1 2 3 4 5

13. I am aware of how well I am performing. 1 2 3 4 5

14. It is no effort to keep my mind on what is happening. 1 2 3 4 5

15. I feel like I can control what I am doing. 1 2 3 4 5

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16. I am not concerned with how others may be evaluating me. 1 2 3 4 5

17. The way time passes seems to be different from normal. 1 2 3 4 5

18. I love the feeling of the performance and want to capture it 1 2 3 4 5


again.

19. I feel I am competent enough to meet the high demands of 1 2 3 4 5


the situation.

20. I perform automatically, without thinking too much. 1 2 3 4 5

21. I know what I want to achieve. 1 2 3 4 5

22. I have a good idea while I am performing about how well 1 2 3 4 5


I’m doing.

23. I have total concentration. 1 2 3 4 5

24. I have a feeling of total control. 1 2 3 4 5

25. I am not concerned with how I am presenting myself. 1 2 3 4 5

26. It feels like time goes by quickly. 1 2 3 4 5

27. The experience leaves me feeling great. 1 2 3 4 5

28. The challenge and my skills are at an equally high level. 1 2 3 4 5

29. I do things spontaneously and automatically without having 1 2 3 4 5


to think.

30. My goals are clearly defined. 1 2 3 4 5

31. I can tell by the way I am performing how well I’m doing. 1 2 3 4 5

32. I am completely focused on the task at hand. 1 2 3 4 5

33. I feel in total control of my body. 1 2 3 4 5

34. I am not worried about what others may be thinking of me. 1 2 3 4 5

35. I lose my normal awareness of time. 1 2 3 4 5

36. The experience is extremely rewarding. 1 2 3 4 5

303
Appendix B – Generic Consent Form

304
Dr. Sandy Gordon

School of Human Movement and


Exercise Science

M408, The University of Western


Australia
35 Stirling Highway, Crawley, WA, 6009

Phone + 61 8 6488 2375


Consent Form Fax + 61 8 6488 1039
Email Sandy.Gordon@uwa.edu.au

[Study name inserted here]

I ……………………………………………………have read the information provided


concerning this study, and any questions I have asked have been answered to my
satisfaction. I agree to participate in this activity, realising that I may withdraw at any time
without reason and without prejudice.

I understand that all information provided will be treated as strictly confidential, and will
not be released by the investigator unless this is required by law. I have been advised as to
what data are being collected, what the purpose is, and what will be done with the data
upon completion of the research.

I agree that research data gathered for the study may be published provided that neither my
name, nor other identifying information, is used.

Participant Date

Parent/Guardian Signature Date

The Human Research Ethics Committee at The University of Western Australia requires
that all participants are informed that, if they have any complaint regarding the manner in
which a research project is conducted, this may be given to the Secretary, Human Research
Ethics Committee, Registrar’s Office, The University of Western Australia, 35 Stirling
Highway, Crawley, WA 6009 (telephone 6488-3703). All study participants will be
provided with a copy of the Information Sheet and Consent Form for their personal records.

305
Appendix C – Participant Information Sheets

306
Dr. Sandy Gordon

School of Human Movement and


Understanding Mental Exercise Science

Toughness and its Development M408, The University of Western Australia


35 Stirling Highway, Crawley, WA, 6009
in Australian football Phone + 61 8 6488 2375
Fax + 61 8 6488 1039
Email Sandy.Gordon@uwa.edu.au

Information Sheet
Purpose of Study: The purpose of this research is to generate an understanding of coaches’
perceptions of mental toughness and its development in the context of Australian football.

Procedure: As a participant, you are invited to take part in two separate 1-1 interviews. Upon
receiving your consent to participate in the research, you will receive a copy of the interview
via email at least three days prior to the scheduled interview time. You will be asked these
questions along with other questions to provide further information about your responses
during the interview. You will be asked questions such as: “What do you think is ‘mental
toughness’ in football? Can you offer a definition, phrase or quote to describe it?” and “What
do you think are the situations in football which do and do not require an individual to be
mentally tough?” The interview will last approximately 45 – 90 min and will be transcribed
verbatim and analysed at a later date. You will be provided with a copy of the transcribed
verbatim data from your interview to verify its accuracy. This same process will be repeated for
the second interview. There are no foreseeable adverse effects or risks of participation.

Confidentiality: Any information about you that is obtained in connection with this study will
remain confidential and will be disclosed only with your written permission. However, the
results of the study may be published or disclosed to other people in a way that will not identify
you. Audio tapings of the interviews will be used for data analysis then safely and securely
stored at the School of Human Movement and Exercise Science in a locked office.

Consent: The study will be carried out in a manner conforming to the principles set out by the
National Health and Medical Research Council. You are free to withdraw your consent and
discontinue with your participation at any time for any reason and you do not need to justify
your decision. If you do withdraw we may wish to retain the data that we have recorded from
you but only if you agree, otherwise your records will be destroyed. Your participation in the
study is voluntary and does not prejudice any right to compensation, which you may have
under statute law.

Further Information: If you have any questions regrading this study you can contact Dr.
Sandy Gordon (6488 2375) or Daniel Gucciardi (6488 1075 or 0401 914 066). You will be
given a copy of this information sheet and a consent form to read and keep prior to indicating
your consent to participate by signing the consent form.

307
Dr. Sandy Gordon

Development and Validation School of Human Movement and


Exercise Science
of an Australian football M408, The University of Western Australia
Mental Toughness Inventory 35 Stirling Highway, Crawley, WA, 6009

Phone + 61 8 6488 2375


(AFMTI) Fax + 61 8 6488 1039
Information Sheet Email Sandy.Gordon@uwa.edu.au

Purpose of Study: The aim of this study is to develop and validate an Australian football
Mental Toughness Inventory (ARMTI) that can be used to assess and monitor mental toughness
among Australian Rules footballers. This instrument is envisaged to have enormous potential
for many aspects of coaching and talent development and identification at all levels of the
game.

Procedure: As a participant, you are invited to take part in a research project endeavouring to
develop a mental toughness performance profile for Australian football. Based on previous
qualitative research, we have generated a preliminary pool of items representing the
underpinning characteristics that expert sources have ascribed to the concept of mental
toughness. Upon receiving your consent to participate in the study, you will receive a package
containing this questionnaire and another questionnaire. There will be specific instructions for
completing both questionnaires and we ask that you complete these questionnaires as honestly
and truthfully as possible. You will notice that there is some degree of similarity or
repetitiveness in questions; this is designed to assess the reliability and validity of the MT
performance profile. It will take approximately 15 min to complete both questionnaires. There
are no foreseeable adverse effects or risks of participation.

Confidentiality: Any information about you that is obtained in connection with this study will
remain confidential and will be disclosed only with your written permission. However, the
results of the study may be published or disclosed to other people in a way that will not identify
you. Completed questionnaires will be used for data analysis then safely and securely stored at
the School of Human Movement and Exercise Science in a locked office.

Consent: The study will be carried out in a manner conforming to the principles set out by the
National Health and Medical Research Council. You are free to withdraw your consent and
discontinue with your participation at any time for any reason and you do not need to justify
your decision. If you do withdraw we may wish to retain the data that we have recorded from
you but only if you agree, otherwise your records will be destroyed. Your participation in the
study is voluntary and does not prejudice any right to compensation, which you may have
under statute law.

Further Information: If you have any questions regrading this study you can contact Dr.
Sandy Gordon (6488 2375) or Daniel Gucciardi (6488 1075 or 0401 914 066). You will be
given a copy of this information sheet and a consent form to read and keep prior to indicating
your consent to participate by signing the consent form.

308
Dr. Sandy Gordon

School of Human Movement and


Developing Mental Toughness Exercise Science

among Youth-Aged Australian M408, The University of Western Australia


35 Stirling Highway, Crawley, WA, 6009
footballers. Phone + 61 8 6488 2375
Fax + 61 8 6488 1039
Email Sandy.Gordon@uwa.edu.au

Information Sheet
Purpose of Study: The purpose of this research is to evaluate the effectiveness of
psychological skills training in developing or enhancing mental toughness among youth-aged
footballers.

Procedure: Upon receiving your consent to participate in this study, you will be randomly
allocated to one of three experimental groups. Once allocations have been made, you will be
asked to complete a questionnaire package which will ask you a number of statements that
expert sources have used to describe those characteristics encompassing performance
excellence in Australian football. This will take approximately 45 min to complete. Over the
course of several weeks both two groups will receive an intervention program involving
psychological skills training, which will include educational and experiential workshops. The
third group receiving no psychological skills training will be offered the same program at the
competition of the research. Players from all three groups will complete the same questionnaire
package at the end of the competitive season. Parents and coaches will also be evaluating each
player at both assessment time points. You will be free to ask questions at any stage during the
study. There will be NO costs for the services and products provided to those individuals
participating in this research. There are no foreseeable adverse effects or risks of participation.

Confidentiality: Any information about you that is obtained in connection with this study will
remain confidential and will be disclosed only with your written permission. However, the
results of the study may be published or disclosed to other people in a way that will not identify
you. Completed questionnaires will be used for data analysis then safely and securely stored at
the School of Human Movement and Exercise Science in a locked office.

Consent: The study will be carried out in a manner conforming to the principles set out by the
National Health and Medical Research Council. You are free to withdraw your consent and
discontinue with your participation at any time for any reason and you do not need to justify
your decision. If you do withdraw we may wish to retain the data that we have recorded from
you but only if you agree, otherwise your records will be destroyed. Your participation in the
study is voluntary and does not prejudice any right to compensation, which you may have
under statute law.

Further Information: If you have any questions regrading this study you can contact Dr.
Sandy Gordon (6488 2375) or Daniel Gucciardi (6488 1075 or 0401 914 066). You will be
given a copy of this information sheet and a consent form to read and keep prior to indicating
your consent to participate by signing the consent form.

309
Dr. Sandy Gordon

School of Human Movement and


Players, Parents, and Coaches’ Exercise Science

Perceptions of a Mental M408, The University of Western Australia


35 Stirling Highway, Crawley, WA, 6009
Toughness Training Program. Phone + 61 8 6488 2375
Fax + 61 8 6488 1039
Email Sandy.Gordon@uwa.edu.au

Information Sheet
Purpose of Study: The purpose of this research is to generate an understanding of players,
parents, and coaches’ perceptions of the goals, procedures, and results of the mental toughness
training program.

Procedure: As a participant, you are invited to take part in a 1-1 interview. Upon receiving
your consent to participate in the research, you will receive a copy of the interview via email at
least three days prior to the scheduled interview time. You will be asked these questions along
with other questions to provide further information about your responses during the interview.
You will be asked questions such as: “Do you believe that the content of the program was
relevant for developing mental toughness? Why do you think it was/was not?” and “How
would you improve the quality of a program designed to develop/enhance mental toughness for
youth-aged footballers?” The interview will last approximately 45 – 90 min and will be
transcribed verbatim and analysed at a later date. You will be provided with a copy of the
transcribed verbatim data from your interview to verify its accuracy. This same process will be
repeated for the second interview. There are no foreseeable adverse effects or risks of
participation.

Confidentiality: Any information about you that is obtained in connection with this study will
remain confidential and will be disclosed only with your written permission. However, the
results of the study may be published or disclosed to other people in a way that will not identify
you. Audio tapings of the interviews will be used for data analysis then safely and securely
stored at the School of Human Movement and Exercise Science in a locked office.

Consent: The study will be carried out in a manner conforming to the principles set out by the
National Health and Medical Research Council. You are free to withdraw your consent and
discontinue with your participation at any time for any reason and you do not need to justify
your decision. If you do withdraw we may wish to retain the data that we have recorded from
you but only if you agree, otherwise your records will be destroyed. Your participation in the
study is voluntary and does not prejudice any right to compensation, which you may have
under statute law.

Further Information: If you have any questions regrading this study you can contact Dr.
Sandy Gordon (6488 2375) or Daniel Gucciardi (6488 1075 or 0401 914 066). You will be
given a copy of this information sheet and a consent form to read and keep prior to indicating
your consent to participate by signing the consent form.

310