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What do young athletes implicitly understand about psychological skills?

McCarthy, Paul J.; Jones, Marc V.; Harwood, Chris G.; Olivier, Steve


Paul J. McCarthy

Marc V. Jones

Chris G. Harwood

Steve Olivier


One reason sport psychologists teach psychological skills is to enhance performance in sport; but the value of psychological skills for young athletes is questionable because of the qualitative and quantitative differences between children and adults in their understanding of abstract concepts such as mental skills. To teach these skills effectively to young athletes, sport psychologists need to appreciate what young athletes implicitly understand about such skills because maturational (e.g., cognitive, social) and environmental (e.g., coaches) factors can influence the progressive development of children and youth. In the present qualitative study, we explored young athletes' (aged 10–15 years) understanding of four basic psychological skills: goal setting, mental imagery, self-talk, and relaxation. Young athletes (n= 118: 75 males and 43 females) completed an open-ended questionnaire to report their understanding of these four basic psychological skills. Compared with the older youth athletes, the younger youth athletes were less able to explain the meaning of each psychological skill. Goal setting and mental imagery were better understood than self-talk and relaxation. Based on these findings, sport psychologists should consider adapting interventions and psycho-educational programs to match young athletes' age and developmental level.


MCCARTHY, P.J., JONES, M.V., HARWOOD, C.G. and OLIVIER, S. 2010. What do young athletes implicitly understand about psychological skills? Journal of clinical sport psychology [online], 4(2), pages 158-172. Available from:

Journal Article Type Article
Acceptance Date Jan 31, 2010
Online Publication Date Jan 31, 2010
Publication Date Jan 31, 2010
Deposit Date Jan 20, 2022
Publicly Available Date Jan 20, 2022
Journal Journal of clinical sport psychology
Print ISSN 1932-9261
Electronic ISSN 1932-927X
Publisher Human Kinetics
Peer Reviewed Not Peer Reviewed
Volume 4
Issue 2
Pages 158-172
Keywords Young athletes; Psychology; Mental health; Sport psychology
Public URL


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