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Mental Rehearsal Improves Passing Skill and Stress Resilience in Rugby Players.

PURPOSE: Mental rehearsal is commonly employed, with positive visualization proposed to enhance complex skill performance. Additionally, video stimulus has been associated with enhanced kinesthetic sensations and rapid hormone fluctuations that may contribute to enhancing mental rehearsal and the conscious and unconscious emotional state for skill execution. Here, we assessed the impact of a 15-minute mental rehearsal intervention on rugby-specific tasks and the associated hormone profile. METHODS: Professional rugby players (N = 10) volunteered for a randomized crossover study. They completed three 15-minute preparatory phases (positive or negative video-guided mental rehearsal or self-directed mental rehearsal alone) prior to an exercise stressor and rugby-specific passing task. Salivary testosterone and cortisol were monitored to assess stress responses. RESULTS: Performance during the rugby passing task was improved following the positive video condition (91% [7.4%]) compared to the negative video (79% [6.0%]; ES: 1.22 ± 0.75) and self-visualization (86% [5.8%]; ES: 0.58 ± 0.75), with a significant correlation observed between passing performance and salivary testosterone (r = .47 ± .34, P = .0087). Positive video imagery prior to an exercise stressor also significantly enhanced physiological stress resilience (r = .39 ± .36, P = .0352). CONCLUSIONS: This pilot study demonstrates that mental rehearsal was enhanced by appropriate, context-specific video presentation. We propose that the interaction between sex steroids, the adrenal axis, and subsequent conscious and unconscious behaviors may be relevant to competitive rugby. Specifically, we suggest that relatively elevated free testosterone imparts a degree of stress resilience, which may lead to enhanced expression of competitive behaviors and provide an enhanced state for rugby skill execution.
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