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
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
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.