The relationship between imagery type and collective efficacy in elite and non elite athletes.

Author:Shearer, David A.
Position:Research article - Clinical report


This study investigated the relationship between imagery function and individual perceptions of collective efficacy as a function of skill level. Elite (n = 70) and non elite (n = 71) athletes from a number of interactive team sports completed the Sport Imagery Questionnaire (SIQ) and the Collective Efficacy Inventory (CEI). Multiple hierarchical regression analysis was then used to examine which SIQ sub-scales predicted individual perceptions of collective efficacy. For the elite sample, Motivational General-Mastery (MG-M) imagery accounted for approximately 17% of the variance in collective efficacy scores. No significant predictions were observed in the non elite sample. The findings suggest MG-M imagery as a potential technique to improve levels of collective efficacy although competitive level may moderate the effectiveness of such interventions.

Key words: Mental rehearsal, mental skills, team confidence, self efficacy, group dynamics.


Collective efficacy has been described as an emergent group attribute composed of individual perceptions (Feltz and Lirgg, 1998). It represents the group equivalent of self-efficacy and is defined as "a group's shared belief in its conjoint capabilities to organize and execute the courses of action required to produce given levels of attainment" (Bandura, 1997; p. 477). Consequently, it is an important component for team sports because it can influence a team's collective effort, their persistence in tough situations or defeat, and is a characteristic often observed in successful teams (Bandura, 1997). Accordingly, sport psychology research has consistently demonstrated that collective efficacy has positive effects on sport performance (e.g., Feltz and Lirgg, 1998; Greenlees et al., 1999; Hodges and Carron, 1992; Watson et al., 2001). Despite this support, there has been a lack of research investigating the potential interventions that might increase collective efficacy and influence subsequent team performance. However, before developing specific interventions, research should first explore the correlates of collective efficacy and this forms part of the rationale for conducting this study. For individual athletes, applied sport psychologists often recommend mental imagery as a technique to improve individual performance. Indeed, Bandura suggests that imagery helps to increase self-efficacy and consequently performance. Given the close association between self-efficacy and collective efficacy, and because collective efficacy perceptions are also manifested at an individual level, it is therefore probable that imagery will also increase collective efficacy.

In a review of over 200 scientific studies on imagery, the majority of investigations indicated that imagery improved sport performance (Martin et al., 1999). Since 1999, research has continued to support these findings and has highlighted that imagery can increase performance through a number of different mechanisms (e.g., Evans et al., 2004; Smith et al., 2001; Smith and Holmes, 2004). One of these mechanisms is via changes in self-efficacy and state sport confidence. Although similar, these two constructs differ slightly, such that self-efficacy beliefs relates to confidence for a specific situation or task, whereas state sport confidence reflects confidence levels at a specific moment in time. Bandura (1997) suggests that two sources of self-efficacy, vicarious experience and enactive mastery experience, can be attained through the use of imagery or 'cognitive rehearsal'. Accordingly, research has indicated that imagery use by athletes is predictive of their levels of self-efficacy (e.g. Beauchamp et al., 2002) and can be used as an intervention to increase both self-efficacy perceptions (Jones et al., 2002) and state sport confidence (Callow et al., 2001). In recent years, imagery use by athletes has been broadly categorized into five functions defined during the development of the Sport Imagery Questionnaire (SIQ; Hall et al., 1998). These five functions were separated into cognitive and motivational categories (see Paivio, 1985). Specifically, cognitive imagery functions include: Cognitive Specific (CS), which involves imagery that focuses on improving a specific motor skill; and Cognitive General (CG), which entails imaging strategies/plays that might be used in specific competitions. The motivational imagery functions include: Motivational Specific (MS), which is used to image successfully achieving personal goals; Motivational General-Mastery (MG-M), which requires the individual to image being mentally tough and confident in all circumstances; and Motivational General-Arousal (MG-A), representing imagery that involves feelings of relaxation, stress, arousal, and anxiety associated with sport. Recently, Short et al. (2002) discussed the important conceptual distinction between imagery type/content and function. Specifically, they suggested that the items in the SIQ represented different types or content of imagery and that athletes could use these for a variety of different functions. To use imagery successfully, therefore, researchers recommend the type of imagery used should match the intended outcome. This suggests that to increase athlete's feelings of efficacy, an intervention which focuses on MG-M imagery content would be most appropriate (cf. Martin et al., 1999).

Studies exploring the link between imagery functions and sport confidence (e.g. Abma et al., 2002; Callow and Hardy, 2001), and imagery function and self-efficacy (Beauchamp et al., 2002; Mills et al., 2001), have indicated that athletes high in these constructs use specific types of imagery. For example, Callow and Hardy (2001) found that CG and MG-M imagery were related to state confidence in lower skilled county netballers, whereas MS imagery was related to state confidence in higher skilled county netball players. The authors suggested that the low-skilled sample used MG-M type imagery as a source of performance accomplishment information to enhance efficacy expectations, while the high-skilled sample used MS type imagery to image specific images associated with goal achievement. Similarly, Mills et al. (2001) observed that athletes high in self-efficacy in competition situations used more motivational types of imagery than athletes who had low self-efficacy.

Research evidence has indicated that perceptions of self-efficacy are important determinants of collective efficacy (Magyar et al., 2004; Riggs and Knight, 1994; Watson et al., 2001). For example, Magyar et al. (2004) discovered that self-efficacy perceptions significantly predicted individual perceptions of collective efficacy in rowers. Furthermore, Bandura (1982, p.143) suggests that "collective efficacy is rooted in self-efficacy". Therefore, if collective efficacy is in part determined by self-efficacy, both should logically share the same antecedents (Bandura, 1997). In particular, vicarious experience and mastery expectations provided through imagery may not only increase self-efficacy, but also as a consequence increase individual perceptions of collective efficacy. In short, simply imaging individual components of performance may increase individual perceptions of collective efficacy.

In addition to the indirect influence through self-efficacy, imagery may also directly influence perceptions of collective efficacy. Indeed, Callow (1999) has suggested that CG type imagery may influence a team's collective efficacy as it allows an individual to rehearse game elements such as team moves or plays. Similarly, as MG-M type imagery provides both enactive mastery and vicarious experiences (Bandura, 1997), this also would be likely to increase collective efficacy. To date, only Munroe-Chandler and Hall (2004) have tested the effects of an imagery intervention on collective efficacy. Specifically, the authors utilized a multiple baseline across groups design with a sample of female soccer players and found MG-M imagery increased collective efficacy in two of the three experimental groups. Although these initial findings provide preliminary support for the imagery use and collective efficacy relationship, Munroe-Chandler and Hall's research was limited to a young (10-12 years old), non elite sample. Given the existing findings regarding imagery use and self-efficacy (e.g. Abma et al., 2002) it is likely therefore that perceptions of collective efficacy and imagery type may differ as a function of skill level. Furthermore, because collective efficacy was examined at the group level, little is known about the relationship between imagery use and individual perceptions of collective efficacy. As imagery is largely an intervention used to manipulate individual cognitions, primary effects of the intervention occur at the individual level. Therefore...

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