Psychological skill use in adolescents: Exploring the structural and temporal validity of the TOPS

Charlotte Woodcock, Mark Holland, Lee-Ann Sharp, Joan Duda, Jennifer Cumming

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The Test of Performance Strategies (TOPS, Thomas, Murphy,  and Hardy, 1999) is one of the most popular questionnaires in sport psychology to measure athletes’ mental skill use. However, doubts concerning the instrument’s appropriateness for adolescent athletes have limited its use within this population (Lane, Harwood, Terry, & Karageorghis, 2004). Moreover, the stability of the TOPS has yet to be discerned despite it being used to establish pre to post intervention changes in mental skill use. The aim of the present study was to re-examine and validate the TOPS to measure psychological skill use over a season long mental skills training program for adolescent athletes. Following a needs analysis of the target population (Holland, Woodcock, Cumming, & Duda, 2010), 469 British athletes (321 male and 148 female, M age = 15.36 yrs, SD = 1.22) completed a reduced 10 subscale version of the TOPS. The structural validity of a practice and a competition 5-factor model was tested using confirmatory factor analysis (CFA). For practice, goodness of fit indices failed to reach acceptable cut-off limits suggesting a poor model fit (chi^2(160) = 649.89, p > .001, SRMA = .11, TLI = .80, CFI = .83, RMSEA = .08). For competition, only adequate support was found in the case of indices reflecting comparative fit to the baseline model signifying potential for improvement (chi^2(160) = 411.00, p > .001, SRMA = 0.06, TLI = 0.90, CFI = 0.92, RMSEA = 0.06). Both models were respecified and acceptable fit emerged. Gender and competitive level differences in subscale scores were examined. The predictive validity of the modified measure of psychological skill use was determined in terms of competitive trait anxiety and confidence. Finally test-retest reliability was assessed on a subsample of 29 athletes over 3 months. All subscales revealed poor to moderate intraclass correlation coefficients ranging from .25 to .70. Findings are discussed in relation to previous literature exploring the psychometric properties of the TOPS.
Original languageEnglish
JournalJournal of Sport and Exercise Psychology
Issue numberS
Publication statusPublished - 2010


  • adolescents
  • Teams
  • Teenagers
  • TOPS
  • Validity
  • Young athletes
  • youth


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