The Power of Belief in Sports Performance Research

The power of the placebo has been recognized in clinical situations for a long time. This has necessitated an increasing sophistication of the construction of clinical trials. Double blinded, three arm trials with an active treatment, placebo treatment and a natural history group associated with questionnaires regarding original beliefs and blinding effectiveness have now become state of the art. Recent large well controlled and blinded trials have concluded that the three main factors explaining the efficacy of acupuncture, are the clients expectations, the clients belief in receiving the active treatment and the social context in which the treatment was delivered. Sports Scientists are on the look-out for the ‘one percenters’, those slight edges that could mean the difference between the Gold medal and being an also ran, it is a compelling but perhaps romantic argument. The mechanisms of several of the ‘1 percenters’ interventions are considered to be quite separate. If this is the case the response multiples of these interventions should be somewhat cumulative and lead to an increase in performance of 5-6% (a huge increase if looking at performance time based sports). This is not the case. By reviewing the appropriate data it will be shown that the sophistication of sports performance based trials also needs to be improved. At the moment it would appear that these multiple interventions are perhaps finding the same 1-3% in improvement, the athletes that are believers and non-believers.

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