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MENTAL TRAINING AND PERFORMANCE – PETTLEP model

(Reading Time: 6 minutes) Do you remember when in Cell saga of DragonBall Z Goku and his son Goan enter the room of Spirit and Time? Goku, who masters the power of Super Saiyan, must train Goan to help him to become a Super Saiyan. As soon as they start training, Goan screams, puts lots of effort, but nothing happens, then Goku says “You need to get angry, just pulling out your anger to become a Super Saiyan” and Goan replies “Dad, I can’t get angry for no reason!” At this point, Goku tells him a very important thing: “Goan, remember when we were on Namec planet, think about the evil Freezer, what he did to your friends, how you felt in that moment!”
This is Imagery.

Weinberg and Gould (1995) define imagery as a form of simulation. A technique that consists in recalling memories of previous experiences and transforming them into images. To make the most of images, you need to involve as many senses as possible to create clearer and more detailed images.
Some athletes have no difficulty using images, while others need to learn the right technique using customized training programs based on their needs, abilities and goals in order to help them to improve their visualization skills.
It is from this need that the PETTLEP model was born, brought to light for the first time in 2001 by Holmes and Collins. PETTLEP stands for Physical, Environment, Task, Timing, Learning, Emotion and Perspective.
This model is based on neuroscience research studies that highlight the “functional equivalence” between neurophysiological processes that are dealt with images and movements. Functional equivalence explains how images can improve performance. The purpose of the PETTLEP model is to improve the imaging technique by producing a functionally equivalent mental simulation. The success of this technique depends on how well the neural regions of the brain interact with each other.

Let’s see the individual components of the PETTLEP model:

The Physical component concerns the kinesthetic response: the kinesthetic sense has been proofed to improve athletic performance by helping athletes to perceive their body movements in space (McIntyre et al., 2003).

The Environment component concerns the situation: the reproduction of images of environments in which the competition takes place helps athletes to perceive the stimuli coming from outside. However, using images in the same environment in which athletes practice their sport is not always possible. For this reason, we refer to the support of video and image shooting to perceive the stimuli.

The Task component concerns the type of movement the athletes want to reproduce. The imagined task must be as close as possible to the real and specific one for the athletes since they must experience the same sensations and perform the same movements.

The Time component refers to the temporal characteristics of the movement. Some researchers point out that slowing down the images is useful for fully experiencing the experience. But other researchers, although they recognize the effect of slowing down the images, claim that timing is essential in sport since the rhythm of the task to be performed is a key element for a good performance.

Learning concerns the acquisition of movement: as soon as the athletes learn how to perform a specific movement, the imaging technique must be changed to be adapted to the new level obtained by the athlete to be more effective. At the beginning the approach is mostly cognitive and the athletes must focus on the correct technique, but when the movement becomes more automatic their attention starts to move from the technique to the sensations they feel during the movement.

The Emotional component is associated with athletes’ feelings when they perform a movement. The emotions and the meaning that athletes give them seem to be used in imaginary if they contribute to optimal behavioural change. However, the emotion is not just about psychological factors as it also affects physiological responses. It has been found that the images of anxious situations cause an increase in heart rate in athletes. Some researchers suggest to use relaxation techniques to remember emotions, but Holmes and Collins (2001), creators of the PETTLEP model, say that “since a sport is practiced in a dynamic state, the technique of motor imaginary should reproduce the present conditions and therefore relaxation techniques could be counterproductive “.

The Perspective component is the point of view from which images are taken. Previously the internal perspective (first person view) was preferred as it is the vision of the athletes when performing a task and it has been shown to improve physiological responses. However, recent studies have stated that the external perspective (third-person view) is more appropriate for sports that require athletes to see how to perform movements and identify specific positions. Therefore, it would be more advantageous to use a mix of different perspectives; advanced athletes may also be able to move from one perspective to another.

Since its creation, the PETTLEP model has been tested in numerous research studies both in sporting and non-sporting contexts. Indeed, it has been underlined how it can be used in a wide range of different activities and populations; for example, there was a study (Wakefield et al., 2013) in which the PETTLEP model was used to train nursing students on blood pressure measurement and sterilization techniques. The results of this study showed how useful the PETTLEP model is in improving psychomotor skills in nurses, but they also highlighted how the lack of psychomotor components in sterilization techniques influenced the model effectiveness.
Despite the advantages of using the PETTLEP model, some researchers wonder if the term “functional equivalence” is really necessary in its application since they raised some concerns about how the term was used to indicate various meanings in research studies on such a model.
To avoid further confusion about the validity of the model, it was suggested to replace the term “functional equivalence” with the term “behavioural adaptation” when using the PETTLEP model in research studies.
However, taking into account the validity of the PETTLEP model in sport, there are some factors that cannot be ignored: the concerns raised about the wide use of the term “functional equivalence”, the lack of research studies on variables other than physical performance and the fact that some components of the model may be more effective than others.

Guillot and Collet (2008) developed the Integrative model of motor images to support the research and practice of future images. They highlighted four areas where images can affect sports performance:

• Motor learning and performance
• Strategy and problem solving skills
• Motivation, self-confidence and anxiety
• Accident rehabilitation

From a practical point of view, coaches and sports psychologists can use the PETTLEP model to help athletes to improve their performance, but with the awareness that further research is needed to test the effectiveness of this model. From the scientific research point of view, however, researchers should be aware of the limit of this model and consider the guidelines provided by Guillot and Collet’s supplementary model for their next research studies.

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