Frank Gardner and Zella Moore (2001) developed the Mindfulness-Acceptance-Commitment (MAC) approach to sport performance enhancement in a response to the absence of research supporting traditional psychological skills training (PST) techniques such as goal setting, imagery, self-talk, and arousal control. The MAC approach is comprised of a combination of mindfulness exercises and acceptance techniques, and is designed to enhance sport performance and general psychological well-being. Whereas the focus of traditional PST programs is on the control of thoughts and feelings and the elimination of distress, the MAC approach aims to enhance performance through the promotion of a non-judgmental, present-moment awareness and acceptance of one’s thoughts and emotion. The program also promotes focused attention to the performance task and effortful, values-driven commitment to behaviors that support athletic goals (Gardner & Moore, 2012).
The MAC program consists of seven weekly meetings between the athlete or athletes and a consultant, and includes out-of-session exercises. The first session provides participants with the rationale and goals of the MAC approach, and includes an explanation of the role of self-regulation of attention in sport performance, the importance of self-awareness, and an introduction to the idea of allowing thoughts and emotions to be experienced without letting them affect performance. The next step in the MAC approach is to introduce the concept of mindfulness. Participants are provided instruction on engaging in mindful awareness so that they can become more self-aware and experience thoughts, emotions, or aspects of the athletic situation without reacting automatically to them. The program then transitions into a discussion values-driven behavior. Participants identify values and learn of the importance of acting in a manner that is congruent with these values instead of being influenced by their thoughts and emotions. The concept of acceptance is discussed, as the ability to accept negative internal and external events without letting them affect behavior is critical in maintaining values-driven behavior. Next, specific behaviors and situations are defined so that participants may practice the mindfulness, commitment, and acceptance skills and concepts that they have learned thus far. Finally, potential obstacles to mindfulness, commitment, and acceptance are explored, and future practice of these skills is planned (Gardner & Moore, 2007).
At present, there are four published case studies, two open trials, and one randomized controlled trial examining the efficacy of the MAC approach for sport performance enhancement (Gardner & Moore, 2012). The first empirical test of the MAC approach was conducted through two case studies of an elite adult weightlifter and a collegiate swimmer (Gardner and Moore, 2004). Results indicated that the male swimmer scored significantly lower on a sport anxiety measure after the program and the female power weightlifter lifted 15% beyond her previous best. Two subsequent case studies found similar results with a collegiate lacrosse player (Lutkenhouse, 2007) and an elite adolescent swimmer (Schwanhausser, 2009).
Two open trials have been conducted to evaluate the effectiveness of the MAC approach, both using collegiate athlete samples. Wolanin (2005) randomly assigned 11 collegiate field hockey and volleyball players to complete either the MAC program or a control condition. Wolanin found that participants who had completed the MAC intervention demonstrated a significant increase in both self and coach ratings of athletic performance, task focused attention, and practice intensity compared to those who were in the control group. Hasker (2010) compared the MAC approach to a traditional PST program for 19 collegiate athletes of various sports. Her results indicated that athletes in the MAC group displayed significant increases in their ability to describe their thoughts and emotions, accept present-moment experiences with reacting to them, and commit to behaviors directly related to achieving their athletic goals.
In the randomized controlled trial examining the MAC approach, 118 collegiate athletes from the sports of soccer, field hockey, crew, and wrestling were randomly assigned to complete the MAC program or a traditional PST program (Lutkenhouse, Gardner, & Moore, 2007). Results revealed that the MAC participants exhibited significantly greater increases in coach ratings of performance than the PST participants. The MAC participants also showed significant reductions in experiential avoidance and increases in flow experiences (Lutkenhouse et al., 2007).
The MAC Approach is continuing to grow in popularity in the field of applied sports psychology. With further research and use, the program may finally provide the field with an empirically supported intervention that can be applied to a wide variety of sports and athletes. For a more in-depth description of the program, see my next article outlining the each session of the MAC Approach.