Examining the effects of a mindfulness-based biofeedback intervention on self-regulation and sport performance in soccer athletes
Perry, Frank D.
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Elite athletes are constantly in search of methods that optimize training, including physical and mental strategies that enhance performance. It is well known that thoughts and feelings, particularly during the stress of competition, can impact performance (Weinberg & Gould, 2014). Trainers and athletes seek methods that will help them manage inner states and responses related to thoughts, emotions, and attention. Such methods often focus on developing self-awareness of thoughts, emotions, and physiological states and are designed to lead to self-regulation, or the ability to manage those states and responses during training and competition. Two techniques that have received attention in sport research are biofeedback and mindfulness training. Biofeedback leverages technology to monitor a person’s physiological reactions and display them in a simple, easy to understand manner. This allows for greater self-awareness and self-regulation of physiological responses. Mindfulness training relies on present-moment, non-judgmental awareness of thoughts and feelings. To date, a number of studies have reported some benefits for athletes’ physiological or psychological outcomes, but few report actual sport performance changes (Blumenstein & Orbach, 2014; Sappington & Longshore, 2015). A new self-regulatory strategy, mindfulness-based biofeedback, seeks to integrate the features of mindfulness training into a traditional biofeedback intervention protocol (Khazan, 2015). Athletes learn skills in present-moment, physiological and cognitive self-awareness, and consequently, self-regulation. To date, only a few studies have discussed this new technique in sport (Khazan, 2016), and none present empirical evidence for its effectiveness. The current study used a single-subject design to explore a mindfulness-based biofeedback intervention with female soccer athletes (n=4), using direct measures of physiology, psychology, and sport performance. Physiological outcomes included heart rate, heart rate variability, respiration rate, skin conductance, and skin temperature. Psychological outcomes included scores on the CSAI-2, and the MAAS. Sport performance was measured using the Loughborough Soccer Passing Test (LSPT). Clear performance improvements were seen for all athletes, with physiological and psychological results being more variable. Physiological parameters showed improvement, while psychological variables were mixed with some signs of increased anxiety, decreased self-confidence, and decreased mindfulness. Although outside confounding factors could have contributed to increases in anxiety, decreases in mindfulness may have actually been an indication of the development of improved self-awareness. Athletes appeared to have benefited from the mindfulness-based biofeedback intervention. As this study was the first to examine mindfulness-based biofeedback training in a sport setting, the stage has been to set to more fully explore this promising athletic mental training technique.