Coach perceptions of the impact of a mental training program in preparing Special Olympics athletes for competition


The development of sport expertise is a complex and multidimensional process. Although it is well established that physical practice will impact the development of expertise in an athlete, it is also known that it is not the only determining factor. Researchers have argued that combining physical practice with mental skills training will better prepare athletes for competition compared to physical practice alone. However, most research has focused on generic athletes, implying that the role of mental training in athletes with intellectual disabilities is currently under researched. Special Olympics Canada have provided mental training to their high performance athletes, however the effectiveness of the program has not been investigated. Therefore, the purpose of this study was to investigate coach perceptions of the effectiveness of a mental skills training program offered to Special Olympics athletes prior to attending the 2013 World Games. A total of 9 coaches (Mage = 48 years; Myears coaching = 18 years) participated in structured telephone interviews aimed at understanding the role of mental training in the development and performance of athletes. Interviews were recorded, transcribed, and analyzed using NVivo. Overall, results suggest that providing athletes with a mental training workshop prior to the World Games had a positive effect on athlete experience and performance. However, participants identified various components of the program that require adaptation and suggested recommendations for improving the quality of training provided to athletes. Conclusions and recommendations will be discussed to determine how to best deliver the program to maximize athlete training.

Acknowledgments: Thank you to Special Olympics Canada for support