The theory of Resonance, proposed by Newburg, Kimiecik, Doell and Durrnad-Bush (2002) has a basic premise which is to help individuals perform better (not just in sport but all walks of life) and lead more fulfilling lives to achieve their potential (Newburg et al 2002). This theory is one that has emerged from the expanding field of Positive Psychology. The Positive Psychology movement emerged in 1998 when psychologist Seligman stated that rather than devoting attention to people whose lives had gone wrong, psychologists should change tack, focusing instead on people for whom everything was going well (Seligman and Csikszentmihalyi 2000). Positive psychologists believe that happiness and optimism can be learned by focusing on the positive aspects of life rather than the negative.

To date, Sport Psychology as a discipline has generally not taken this attitude and interventions thus far have been focused on the “Repair approach” (Newburg et al 2002 p250). This approach lacks many of the characteristics of Positive Psychology and although more theories are taking the positive approach, the theory of resonance described next, is a further step to determining how positive life experience can be related to and help achieve performance excellence. Many areas of life have been examined with this positive stance in mind but sport provides good opportunities to examine positive experiences as it has been linked with both physical and psychological health (Biddle, 2000; Rejeski, Brawley, & Shumaker, 1996)

The theory of Resonance: The importance of dreams

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The Resonance Performance Model (RPM) was developed based on hundreds of in-depth interviews with outstanding athletes, musicians, and surgeons as well as other great performers from America. A recurrent theme from this research was that these performers lived their lives in order to feel the way they wanted to feel.

Resonance, by definition, is said to occur when there is congruence between an individual’s inner self and the environment that surrounds them. The most important aspect of the resonance theory is that of the dreams belonging to the individual. In a book written by Bob Rotella (1995) he states that in his consulting with professional golfers “the dreams I want to hear about are the emotional fuel that helps people take control of their lives and be what they want to be” (p20). An important distinction to make here is the difference between long term goals and dreams as they are often used interchangeably. A long term goal provides a logical way of breaking an aim down in order to provide manageable steps. A dream, on the other hand is what inspires the person to perform, it is the feeling that motivates the individual to continue playing their sport. For example, a rock climber described their dream as feeling “vulnerable with power, spiritual, free and connected” whilst on the rock face (Newburg et al 2002 p252). This is an important distinction to make as the ‘dream’ is the starting and focal point of the RPM.

Figure 1: The Resonance Performance Model

The dream element of the above model, as stated earlier, is the feeling that the athlete seeks to experience whilst engaging in an activity. For example, if their goal is to win an Olympic medal then the dream might be the feeling of pushing themselves in training. If they were successful in their goal then this would be the result of the resonance they experienced. The feelings of resonance that accompany the individual who undergoes the above process and perform in their dream area would be present whether they win or not.

The next stage of the model, preparation is as the name suggests, taking part in activities needed to achieve the dream regularly. This might include practicing the required skills, completing mental training, not as a means to and end but as part of the performance. When the inductive RPM was being developed one theme that emerged from these interviews was the amount of time invested in order for the individuals to become experts in their field. For example, Ericsson, Krampe and Tesch-Romer (1993) found that expert performers spent approximately 10,000 hours in preparing their expertise, it was also noted that frequently this practice was non-enjoyable.

The third component of the model is the obstacle phase. It is inevitable that performers will experience obstacles in the resonance process. These can be both internal (for example emotions such as doubt and anger) and external (for example injury). For this reason, it is important to have clear dreams as they will provide the solution to over come the obstacle, i.e. what do I need to change to experience my dream? This takes the athlete to the next stage labelled ‘revisiting the dream’.

This is a very important stage in the model due to the likelihood of obstacles being encountered. This stage is unique to every athlete but will typically involve a period of reflection whereby the individual can engage in such activities as writing in a journal, looking at pictures or listening to a favourite song; anything that can elicit the feelings associated with their individual dream. It was noted by the authors that individuals may get caught in what is know as a “obstacle preparation trap” (p225) which is when the individual keeps going back to the preparation phase to work harder and can thus loose sight of their dream. Newburg et al (2002) note that this can be avoided by revisiting the dream as well as allowing themselves to be re-energised.

Related concepts to Resonance: Does it add anything extra?

There are a number of key concepts that are closely related to the components of resonance, these not only help with the understanding and applicability of the theory but also allow us to question whether the theory can be accepted in its own merit.

There are three main ideas that will be discussed, these are: enjoyment, engagement and peak experience.

Enjoyment can be seen as related to the dream feeling and the experience of resonance (Doell and Durand-Bush 2003). Research completed by Wankel (1985) found that: “positive affect or feelings are the essential underlying component to all exercise enjoyment experiences” (p. 101). Enjoyment is said to be both the result of and the driving force of intrinsic motivation (Roadburg 1983) and can be related to the dream feeling as it allows people to feel how they want to in a particular moment. The second concept to be discussed is engagement, Newburg et al (2002) stated that an important part of feeling the ‘dream’ is being engaged in the activity. In 2000, Deci and Ryan noted that the feelings resulting from engagement reinforce intrinsic motivation and help an individual experience meaning and commitment to tasks. Engagement in an activity has also been related to peak experience as well as meaningful experience.

An example of when an athlete is experiencing peak performance is when they are in a state called ‘flow’. Flow has been described as a state of performance in which there is a loss of self-consciousness and feelings of control, perceptual transformation of time, and total absorption in the activity (Csikszentmihalyi, 1990). The process of resonance is different to these experiences as resonance is a self aware way of living and individuals will have autonomy in choosing experiences that allow them to experience their ideal feelings.

The most important difference for the purpose of this essay is that resonance is very much under the individuals control whereas flow has been described as difficult to have power over (Jackson 1995). Added support for the applicability of resonance comes from Jackson (1995) who found that flow is generally shown to occur more randomly and at a subconscious level. This could be one of the explanations as to why Csikszentmihalyi (1997) found that only about 20% of the population experience something similar to flow in their everyday lives. Why also, did Jackson (1992) find that 81% of skaters interviewed did not experience flow but were at the top of their sport? This suggests that other factors should be considered relating to peak performance one of which being the process of resonance.

Resonance is a way of living on a daily basis that does not require much effort to be experienced; this therefore would seem a more plausible explanation for excellence when the performers are aware of how they want to feel in their pursuits. Engaging in the process of resonance on a regular basis could also be one way to create opportunities to experience flow as well as enhancing motivation (Doell et al 2003). Past research can also be related to both the preparation and obstacle phases of the resonance model. In the preparation phase, research has shown how adequate preparation can help individuals progress toward their desired feelings. For example, challenging goals that focus on personal growth have been found to facilitate greater task persistence (Nicholls, 1984).

Findings such as these exemplify that individuals could potentially have positive experiences as a result preparing for their sport during which they set appropriate goals, and develop and maintain levels of intrinsic motivation. Similarly past research can be applied to the obstacle component of the resonance model. During Jackson’s 1995 research she also highlighted factors that could disrupt the process of flow. Some of these included: a lack of motivation to perform, non-optimal arousal levels, problems with pre-competitive preparation, non-optimal environmental and situational conditions, inappropriate focus, and low confidence. These are just some of the examples that Jackson gave and they can be seen as obstacles in the way of the dream feeling.

There has been less consideration as to how the stage of ‘revisiting the dream’ can be applied to previous related research although ‘Refocusing in the Face of Distractions’ (Orlick, 2000) could be an example of a revisiting strategy. In terms of applying the resonance model to sport psychology consulting practice, it would seem that experts in the field will have the underlying knowledge already as resonance can be applied to existing working theories. However, even though an attempt has been made to make this link, limited studies have focused on the applicability of resonance as a process. For this reason there is a lack of concrete or practical approaches to ensure that athletes experience their desired feelings. More research needs to be conducted on making the resonance model as a whole more applicable to people.

Applying the model to sporting excellence: A study of four track athletes

In 2003 a study was conducted by Dowell and Durand-Bush with the aim of looking at the process of resonance in four track athletes and how this affected their performance. A total of four semi-structured, open-ended interviews were conducted with each athlete. The authors stated that the interview structure included questions based on the four components of Newburg et al.’s (2002) RPM. Participants were also asked to write a journal of their experiences and part of this included plotting a graph of their resonance process. The results of the study are shown in the below table, this contains a summary of the categories that were identified based on the Resonance model.

Figure 2: List of Categories and Sub-Categories Based on RPM

RPM Components



Dream Feeling


Freedom, control, strength



Self-talk, imagery, time management, relaxation, pre-competition routine, goal-setting, balance


Nutrition, rest, stretching, training, equipment


Coaches, teammates, friends, parents, competitors



Injury, anxiety, fatigue, self-doubt, stress


Poor outcome, broken routine, opponent, coach, team mates, equipment, weather, accommodation

Revisit the Dream Feeling

Performance- related

Race simulation, training, other sports

Non-performance- related

Relaxation, isolation


Ignore event, positive self-talk


Question purpose of racing, take a break, reflect on resonating experiences

Table adapted from Dowell and Durrnad-Bush (2003) p27

Results above showed that all of the athletes described their dream feeling as a time that they felt positive in a past performance. For example:

I feel like I’m floating a bit. I feel so strong. I feel I can finish the race…I feel myself smiling a bit. I’m just enjoying it more. It’s not really a thought but a feeling of enjoying what I’m doing. (Dowell et al 2003 p13)

The authors also found that the athletes tended to use psychological strategies in order to experience their dream feeling. For example visualisation, self talk and goal setting were all cited as ways to help them feel how they wanted. The athletes also made reference to the obstacle-preparation trap where by they went back to the preparation phase immediately after experiencing an obstacle. The athletes found that they learned to avoid this loop and got in touch with their dream feeling. For example, one athlete said:

(After a bad race) I think that I don’t want to feel this way, like I don’t deserve to feel this way, like it’s not worth it. I try to do stuff that makes me feel good like calling a friend or just having a normal conversation so that I know I don’t have to feel (badly) anymore. (Dowell et al 2003 p16)

Points of discussion from the results include that all of the athletes reported taking part in the intervention had a positive effect on their personal life as well as their performance. Athletes also noted that it was not until the intervention that they became aware that their dream feeling existed and they also made reference to being in the zone (Hanin, 2000) and flow to (Csikszentmihalyi, 1990) through descriptions that they gave of their experiences.

The influence of culture

When sport psychology consultants consider whether to use this theory with a particular athlete for performance enhancement an important considerations to make is that of their culture. This is exemplified by a quote from Biddle (1995):

“We study human behaviour, and it is influenced by the society and the culture we live in. Consequently, we can not rely on research findings from one geographical area to explain all of human behaviour…” (P. xii).

In a study completed by Soulard (2001) the primary aim of her research was to consider the RPM in three different cultures. She looked at elite athletes in Singapore, Canada and France and conducted interviews with them as well as encouraging them to keep a journal. Results showed that both individualistic and collectivist cultures can experience resonance, although most of them did not fully engage in the process of resonance. Soulard concluded that the RPM was applicable in all three countries and should not be modified to make it more relevant to non-American athletes. During the intervention phase of the study the RPM was personalized and cultural values, beliefs, and behaviours were identified and respected. The athletes consequently designed their sport and life to feel good on a daily basis within their specific culture.

Similar conclusions can be drawn from a study by Grove and Paccagnella (1995) which examines the phrase of “Tall Poppy Syndrome” (p88). This is a cultural norm within Australian Society to cut down highly successful individuals to the level of less elite athletes. Therefore, resonance does not really hold any interest to Australian athletes as their culture does not encourage individuals to strive for individual success.

Conclusion and future directions

Only a very limited number of studies have been conducted on resonance and more research is needed to determine how the model applies to different levels of sport participation and what strategies individuals can use to experience their dream feeling more regularly. Research should continue to consider the experiences of world class sportspeople because much can be learned from these individuals. From a more practical standpoint, their experiences can be used to facilitate the actions of coaches, parents sport organizations and policy makers as well as other athletes wanting to aspire in a particular sport. The domain of sport has been shown to provide opportunities to experience not only resonance, but also optimal health and wellbeing (Durand-Bush and Salmela 2002) and it would therefore seem important to further examine resonance in this context.

With regards to the theory being repackaged out of similar theories, it does have similarities to flow, engagement and peak experience but the difference being that it is an occurrence that everybody can experience once they know how they want to feel in their lives:

“That process, not the end result, enriches life. I want the people I work with to wake up every morning excited, because every day is another opportunity to chase their dreams” (Rotella 1995 p29)

The theory can not be applied to everybody in every culture but as shown in the Doell and Durrand-Bush study, it can be very effective with the right athlete in the right situation.


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