Psychological momentum in elite athletes
The competitive sporting environment provides an ideal opportunity to examine the concept of psychological momentum. The aim of this thesis is to further develop the issues raised by the momentum literature through the application of an eclectic range of research approaches. Study One examined positive and negative experiences for successful and unsuccessful performances within a population of elite middle and long distance runners. A qualitative design revealed that there were differences between the number of positive and negative experiences exhibited for the two performances. More specifically, more positive experiences were found for the successful performance and negative experiences for the unsuccessful performance. Personal and situational variables, such as confidence, goals, anxiety and attributions, were examined and it was concluded that the athletes' interpretations of experiences may be related to positive and negative momentum states. The second study examined in more detail the relationship between positive and negative experiences. It also attempted to gain a greater understanding of perceived momentum by tracking momentum shifts over time between competing tennis players. A diverse approach to data collection and analysis allowed for comparisons between competing players to be made. Descriptive statistical analysis revealed that winning the first point in a game resulted in more games being won, compared to losing the first point. Content and frequency analysis was also carried out based on interview data. Results indicated that differences existed between the winners and losers. In particular, more positive experiences were exhibited by the winners and more negative experiences by the losers. More in-depth case studies were used to gain a more detailed insight into momentum shifts. Each match examined told a unique story, however similarities were found. There were two main findings, firstly losers identified more key momentum moments than winners. Secondly, questionnaire data revealed divergent patterns for perceived status over a range of parameters (e.g. fatigue) between each winner and loser. In combination these findings offered further support for the differentiated existence of momentum within sports competition. The final study considered the notion of momentum from a more holistic perspective and utilised a longitudinal methodology to examine both on and off court activities of a female tennis player on the professional circuit. A departure from the previous post-positivistic paradigm lead to a case study being produced which identified fluctuation of momentum both during and between performances. Results adapt well to recent models of momentum and are discussed in terms of each construct. The findings from the thesis support the existence of psychological momentum and contribute towards a reformulated model of momentum. The model draws upon findings from the present thesis and also incorporates findings from previous momentum research. Finally, the unique approach of combining traditional quantitative methods with more recent qualitative techniques highlighted concerns over the rigidity of past research and suggests how new lines of enquiry might be used in future research.