Use of relaxation skills in differentially skilled athletes

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Abstract

Objectives:

To examine the use of relaxation skills by differentially skilled athletes in relation to the deliberate practice framework.

Design:

Differentially skilled athletes completed a survey about their use of relaxation skills.

Method:

150 athletes representing three skill levels (recreational, college, and professional) completed the deliberate relaxation for sport survey, which assessed relaxation on three deliberate practice dimensions (relevancy, concentration, and enjoyment); time spent in different relaxation skills in a recent typical week; and functions of relaxation.

Results:

Athletes perceived relaxation as relevant to performance, requiring concentration, and enjoyable, and the relationships between these dimensions were positive. Professional and college athletes perceived relaxation as more relevant to effective competition than recreational athletes. Professional athletes engaged in more relaxation in a typical week than college and recreational athletes. In a typical week, autogenic, eastern, and muscle relaxation types were used least, deep breathing, meditation, and imagery relaxation types moderately, and stretching most. Athletes reported the primary functions of relaxation were to cope with competitive anxiety and promote recovery but relaxation was also reported to be used to cope with “everyday” anxieties associated with being an athlete. More physical (e.g., muscle relaxation) than mental relaxation types were used in relation to coping with competitive anxiety, whereas more mental (e.g., meditation) than physical relaxation types were used in relation to coping with everyday anxiety.

Conclusions:

The study provides support for the sport-specific framework of deliberate practice in relation to use of relaxation skills and informs the current understanding of self-regulation by athletes.

Highlights

▸ We examine relaxation in recreational, college, and professional athletes. ▸ Athletes perceive relaxation as relevant to performance. ▸ Professional athletes use more relaxation than college and recreational athletes. ▸ Key functions of relaxation include coping with anxiety and promoting recovery. ▸ Imagery and stretching are the most used types of relaxation.

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