The perception of one’s ability to perform a task successfully is a situation specific for of self-confidence (Bandura 1986), and high levels of self-efficacy have been documented to be associated with optimal levels of sport performance (Feltz 2008; Barker 2013). Self efficacy, is the belief in one’s ability to successfully perform the desired behaviour successfully (Bandura 1977) and it is important to have a strong sense of personal efficacy to maintain the effort needed to succeed, as such people with a high sense of self-efficacy are more likely to have the staying power to endure the obstacles that must be overcome for success (Bandura 1994). The problem that arises for athletes and coaches is determining whether the use of a placebo or ergogenic aid to increase self-efficacy will result in an ability to achieve a higher level of performance.
The coach-athlete relationship is regarded as a critical component to athlete success; with the quality of the relationship positively influencing an athlete’s self-efficacy, motivation and satisfaction (Davis et al., 2013), this alone can be an important factor in altering an athletes self efficacy, and may impact on the placebo’s effect on the athlete. Coaches need to ensure that any placebo interventions used are managed properly and assess the benefit to an athletes’ self-efficacy in relation to the burden on resources that the use of the placebo will have.
The use of a placebo often exerts some influence on performance (Beedie 2007). Elite athletes are always looking to gain an advantage and some athletes may believe, having success following the use of a placebo one time, will mean that future success will be dependant on that intervention. Given the significant association between self-efficacy and sport performance, research exploring effective techniques that facilitate such beliefs are worthy additions to the sport psychology literature (Barker 2013). As the use of a placebo may lead to dependency (Saljoughian 2011) it is important to be certain that an athletes best interest is maintained when considering the use of any placebo interventions.
Humans have evolved an advanced capacity for observational learning that enables them to expand their knowledge and skills on the basis of information conveyed by modelling influences (Bandura 1989) and because of this it is possible to think that success comes from the use of something such as a placebo if that is the most obvious difference between two people. When a group uses a placebo and achieves success following this, the “social persuasion” (Bandura 1994) involved strengthens the beliefs that they have what it takes to succeed, resulting in an increase in self-efficacy. The phenomenon of believing something will improve your performance can act as a placebo effect or simply provide a boost to confidence. This increased self-efficacy can be seen in the use of some products such as skins, kinaesiotape and supplements where the athlete believes they are going to perform better because they have the additional boost of the aid, even though there may be no proven physiological benefit.
In many cases, placebos can create an increased self-efficacy for a person, leading to performance improvement, rather than through the use of physiological enhancement. If the concept of the placebo effect is limited to a physiological process, then it can be problematic to identify and distinguish this effect from the somatic consequences of other psychological processes and motivational changes (Beedie 2007). These changes may in other instances be caused due to increased confidence and self-efficacy, instead of a direct physiological benefit. Performance attainment is the single most powerful influence on one’s perceived physical competence (Bell 1997, Feltz 2008) and so it is important for an athlete to both; believe in themself, as well as achieve performance results to be able to maintain success in the future.
Determining whether an athlete should use a placebo to improve their self-efficacy, will be different from person to person and may be dependant on the resources available. The burden on resources that the use of the placebo consumes, will impact the ability to manage the intervention, and may mean that other mechanisms that will have a greater impact on performance will be missing. There are definite benefits to using any intervention, whether it is a placebo or has a physiological impact, it is just up to the individual to weigh up the benefit of each intervention they wish to use.
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