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Renátó Tóth School of Doctoral Studies, Hungarian University of Sports Science, Budapest, Hungary

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Viktória Resperger Department of Psychology and Sport Psychology, Hungarian University of Sport Science, Budapest, Hungary

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László Tóth Department of Psychology and Sport Psychology, Hungarian University of Sport Science, Budapest, Hungary
Teacher Training Institute, Hungarian University of Sports Science, Budapest, Hungary

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Abstract

This paper explores the integration of Rational Emotive Behavior Therapy (REBT) within sports psychology, aiming to enhance athletes' mental health and performance of athletes. Sports psychology, encompassing diverse approaches, prioritizes both the mental well-being and performance of athletes. REBT, a vital component of Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT), revolves around an individual's beliefs influencing emotional, behavioral, and physiological reactions to events. It identifies and replaces irrational beliefs with rational alternatives, as depicted in the GABCDE model, emphasizing the impact of beliefs on reactions to triggering events. Previous research highlighted the detrimental impact of irrational beliefs on athletes' mental well-being, identifying these beliefs as a significant risk factor for the emergence of mental disorders, which in turn lead to compromised performance. The integration of REBT into sports psychology shows promise in reducing anxiety, perfectionism, and irrational beliefs among athletes. Its flexibility allows for swift and powerful interventions, either individually or in group settings, fostering mental resilience and enhancing performance. Sports psychologists and coaches play pivotal roles in recognizing and addressing athletes' irrational beliefs, fostering a rational mindset conducive to stable and positive performance. Integrating REBT into training and performance enhancement offers athletes a stable mental foundation, improving self-confidence and stress management, thereby optimizing sports performance. Overall, the integration of REBT into sports psychology offers a promising avenue to bolster athletes' mental fortitude, optimize performance, and foster a balanced mental landscape, facilitating the attainment of their athletic goals.

Abstract

This paper explores the integration of Rational Emotive Behavior Therapy (REBT) within sports psychology, aiming to enhance athletes' mental health and performance of athletes. Sports psychology, encompassing diverse approaches, prioritizes both the mental well-being and performance of athletes. REBT, a vital component of Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT), revolves around an individual's beliefs influencing emotional, behavioral, and physiological reactions to events. It identifies and replaces irrational beliefs with rational alternatives, as depicted in the GABCDE model, emphasizing the impact of beliefs on reactions to triggering events. Previous research highlighted the detrimental impact of irrational beliefs on athletes' mental well-being, identifying these beliefs as a significant risk factor for the emergence of mental disorders, which in turn lead to compromised performance. The integration of REBT into sports psychology shows promise in reducing anxiety, perfectionism, and irrational beliefs among athletes. Its flexibility allows for swift and powerful interventions, either individually or in group settings, fostering mental resilience and enhancing performance. Sports psychologists and coaches play pivotal roles in recognizing and addressing athletes' irrational beliefs, fostering a rational mindset conducive to stable and positive performance. Integrating REBT into training and performance enhancement offers athletes a stable mental foundation, improving self-confidence and stress management, thereby optimizing sports performance. Overall, the integration of REBT into sports psychology offers a promising avenue to bolster athletes' mental fortitude, optimize performance, and foster a balanced mental landscape, facilitating the attainment of their athletic goals.

Introduction

Sport psychology encompasses various methodologies and approaches focusing on two main objectives: mental health enhancement and performance enhancement. While athletes and coaches focus primarily on results and physical performance, a sports psychologist must never overlook the mental well-being of the athletes. One of the central topics of the debate today revolves around how can athletes achieve peak performance without compromising their mental health. The primary aim of this brief review is to introduce a psychological approach the application of which not only contributes to optimal physical performance but also help the mental health development of athletes.

Sport psychology commonly utilizes and investigates a comprehensive intervention called Psychological Skills Training (PST [1];). This term encompasses various psychological techniques (e. g. relaxation, self-talk, cognitive reframing, etc.), with a particular emphasis on practices aligned with the methodology of Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT). CBT is an evidence-based approach which has been extensively validated by contemporary psychological research [2]. Initially, CBT emphasized behaviorism, notably highlighting the role of operant conditioning - reward or punishment - in altering maladaptive behaviors [3]. Next CBT started to focus on identifying and modifying negative thought patterns. In the past decades, CBT highlighted process-oriented approaches, concentrating on how individuals relate to their thoughts rather than solely their content [4]. This approach includes Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT [5];) and mindfulness-based interventions (e.g., MBSR [6];).

In our current review, we aimed to elaborate further on Rational Emotive Behavior Therapy (REBT) as a part of Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) and expand its applicability in sports psychology based on the results of existing research.

What is Rational Emotive Behavior Therapy (REBT)?

Rational Emotive Behavior Therapy (REBT [7];) stands out as a defining intervention within the second stage of CBT in psychology. It operates on the overarching principle that an individual's beliefs (thoughts) rather than the events themselves determine the emotional, behavioral, and physiological consequences [7]. To illustrate the process of REBT intervention, Ellis and Ellis [8] developed the ABCDE framework, represented by an English mosaic word.

As Fig. 1 illustrated, this model posits an activating event (A), which triggers emotional, behavioral, and/or physical consequences (C) within an individual, influenced by their beliefs (B). Ellis (1957) asserts that the pattern of consequences (e.g., anxiety, avoidance behavior, increased heart rate) is determined by whether the individual associates rational or irrational beliefs with the activating event. Irrational beliefs are rigid, illogical and extreme thoughts that lack alignment with reality. The latter parts of the ABCDE framework focus on the therapist and client engaged in disputation (D) regarding identified irrational beliefs and subsequently developing and reinforcing effective rational beliefs (E), which are logical, flexible, and not extreme, hence aligned with reality. Later on, the ABCDE model had the letter G added (see Fig. 1), indicating that events contradicting an individual's goals and values can truly become significant trigger situations [9]. Dryden [10] highlights four opposing pairs of rational and irrational beliefs: preferences – dogmatic demandingness, anti-awfulizing – awfulizing, high frustration tolerance – low frustration tolerance, self and others acceptance - depreciation. Rational beliefs can foster the emergence of healthy emotions and adaptive behavioral reactions [11]. In contrast, numerous earlier studies have linked irrational beliefs to several psychopathological conditions, such as depression [12, 13] or anxiety disorders [14–16].

Fig. 1.
Fig. 1.

GABCDE framework of Rational Emotive Behavior Therapy (REBT) [9].

Citation: SPRINT – Sports Research International 2024; 10.1556/1020.2024.00008

How can REBT be integrated into sport psychology?

Undoubtedly, athletes engaged in sports activities are not exempt from the potential adverse consequences of irrational beliefs. Although the prevalence of irrational beliefs and the integration of REBT in sports psychology is relatively recent - the first book on this topic was published by Turner & Bennett [17] – current research presents relevant findings concerning the effectiveness of REBT in sports psychology [18]. Several studies indicate associations between irrational beliefs and compromised mental well-being among athletes (e.g. [19],). Mansell and colleagues [20] investigated the predictive relationship between irrational beliefs and both self-confidence and psychological distress. Their findings indicate that primary irrational beliefs, specifically dogmatic demandingness, forecast competitive anxiety and depressive symptoms through the secondary irrational beliefs, including awfulizing, low frustration tolerance, and depreciation. These research outcomes substantiate REBT-I model of Ellis [21] within an athlete sample, underscoring the premise that primary irrational beliefs precipitate the activation of secondary irrational beliefs, thus engendering psychological distress. Earlier research has also revealed that in the context of athletes, irrational beliefs may increase performance-reducing competitive anxiety [22] and the appearance of maladaptive perfectionism [23], adversely affecting sports performance (e.g. [24],). These outcomes underscore the necessity within sports psychology to identify potential irrational beliefs and then replace and strengthen them with rational alternatives.

One of the significant advantages of REBT-based sports psychological intervention is its flexibility and swift implementation. Based on suggestions from Wood and colleagues [25], clients require 5–12 face-to-face sessions to comprehend, practice, and incorporate REBT principles. However, research indicates effective changes within shorter time frames. Turner & Barker [26] found a significant decrease in anxiety after three 20-min face-to-face sessions with cricket players. Additionally, Mio & Matsumuto [27] discovered a significant decrease in irrational beliefs and increased self-esteem among Japanese high school athletes after a single 50-min session. Deen and colleagues [28] explores the efficacy of five counseling sessions REBT in reducing self-reported irrational beliefs and enhancing self-reported resilient qualities among elite squash players from Malaysia, utilizing a single-case multiple-baseline across-participants design. Results indicate significant reductions in self-reported irrational beliefs across all athletes and significant increases in self-reported resilient qualities in some athletes, contributing to the emerging body of research on the application of REBT in sport psychology and offering insights for its future utilization in relevant settings. REBT can be applied not only individually but also in group settings for athletes. Tóth and colleagues [29] observed significant reductions in competitive anxiety, perfectionism, and irrational beliefs among Hungarian junior ice hockey players after an 8-week REBT intervention.

REBT can be integrated into athletes' lives in various ways. Primarily, it can be the responsibility of sports psychologists and coaches to identify irrational beliefs among athletes and address or modify these beliefs. This may involve challenging thinking patterns related to REBT, where irrational thoughts are identified, discussed, and transformed into positive, rational thinking patterns. Table 1 describing and providing examples of belief pairs can assist in recognizing and restructuring irrational beliefs. Furthermore, REBT can aid in managing stress and anxiety during competition by helping athletes understand that their negative emotions are not caused by the event itself (A–C), but rather by the beliefs associated with the event (B–C). Integrating the REBT mindset into athletes' daily training and performance building is also crucial. Counseling sessions focusing on reinforcing individual performance based on rationality and acceptance instead of irrationality can contribute to more positive and stable sports performance. Overall, introducing REBT into athletes' lives through managing their thought processes and emotional reactions can enhance self-confidence, improve stress management, and build a more stable mental foundation to optimize sports performance. Coaches play a role in strengthening a rational mindset through their behavior. However, it's essential to note that coaches are not (sports) psychologists. If issues arise that go beyond coaching competence, it's crucial to involve the appropriate professionals, such as sports psychologists.

Table 1.

Description and example of rational and irrational beliefs [30]

RationalityTypeDescriptionExample
RationalPreferencesExpressing flexible and non-extreme wishes and rejecting demands.“I really want to make the team, but it doesn't mean I have to.”
Anti-awfulizingAnticipating the worst but acknowledging potential positives from it.“If I don't make the team, it's bad, but not terrible.”
High-frustration toleranceBelieving one can face possible failures and experience happiness despite uncomfortable emotions.“If I don't get into the team, it'll be tough, but I'll manage.”
Self and others' acceptanceNot evaluating oneself or others based on a single factor. Unconditionally accepting oneself and others as unique and fallible.“If I don't make the team, it doesn't mean I'm a complete failure; I accept that I'm not flawless./The coach isn't a bad person just because I'm not chosen; they can make mistakes like me.”
IrrationalDogmatic demandingnessTransforming wishes into absolute demands.“I really want to make the team, so I absolutely have to get in.”
AwfulizingAssuming nothing could be worse than the specific event happening and no chance of any positive outcome.“If I don't make the team, it's a complete disaster.”
Low-frustration toleranceBelieving that facing possible failure will be unbearable and preventing any subsequent experience of positive emotions“I won't be able to tolerate not making the team.”
DepreciationJudging oneself and others based on a single factor.“If I don't make the team, it means I'm a total failure./The coach is a bad person if they don't select me for the team.”

Discussion

In summary, this paper delves into the integration of Rational Emotive Behavior Therapy (REBT) within sports psychology, emphasizing its potential to improve both mental health and athletic performance. Sports psychology, a field blending diverse methodologies, prioritizes enhancing athletes' mental well-being alongside performance. REBT, a crucial part of Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT), operates on the premise that an individual's beliefs drive emotional, behavioral, and physiological responses to events. It scrutinizes irrational beliefs and replaces them with rational alternatives.

Illustrated through the GABCDE model, REBT underscores the significant influence of beliefs on reactions to events, emphasizing the consequences of associating rational versus irrational beliefs with triggering events. Numerous studies have underscored the adverse impact of irrational beliefs on athletes' mental well-being, leading to compromised performance. The integration of REBT into sports psychology has emerged as a promising avenue, backed by research evidencing its effectiveness in reducing anxiety, perfectionism, and irrational beliefs among athletes.

The flexibility and swift implementation of REBT interventions present a key advantage, requiring a relatively short duration to yield impactful changes. These interventions, whether conducted individually or in group settings, have shown promising results in enhancing athletes' mental resilience and performance. Sports psychologists and coaches are pivotal in recognizing and addressing irrational beliefs among athletes, fostering a rational mindset conducive to positive and stable performance. By integrating REBT into daily training and performance enhancement, athletes can develop a more stable mental foundation, enhancing self-confidence and stress management, ultimately optimizing sports performance. While coaches significantly contribute to promoting a rational mindset, it's crucial to acknowledge their limitations as non-psychologists. Collaborating with specialized professionals like sports psychologists becomes imperative when faced with issues surpassing the coaches' expertise.

Conclusion

In essence, the integration of REBT into sports psychology offers a promising path to fortify athletes' mental fortitude, optimize their performance, and cultivate a balanced mental landscape conducive to achieve their goals.

Declaration of competing interest

The authors declare that there is no conflict of interest.

References

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    Tóth R, Turner MJ, Kökény T, Tóth L. “I must be perfect”: the role of irrational beliefs and perfectionism on the competitive anxiety of Hungarian athletes. Front Psychol 2022;13:994126.

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    • Export Citation
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    Mesagno C, Tibbert SJ, Buchanan E, Harvey JT, Turner MJ. Irrational beliefs and choking under pressure: a preliminary investigation. J Appl Sport Psychol 2021;33(6):56989.

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    Wood AG, Barker JB, Turner MJ. Developing performance using rational emotive behavior therapy (REBT): a case study with an elite archer. Sport Psychol 2017;31(1):7887.

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    • Export Citation
  • 26.

    Turner M, Barker JB. Examining the efficacy of rational-emotive behavior therapy (REBT) on irrational beliefs and anxiety in elite youth cricketers. J Appl Sport Psychol 2013;25(1):13147.

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    • Export Citation
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    Mio MG, Matsumuto Y. A single-session universal mental health promotion program in Japanese schools: a pilot study. Soc Behav Personal Int J 2018;46(10):172743.

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    • Export Citation
  • 28.

    Deen S, Turner MJ, Wong RSK. The effects of REBT, and the use of credos, on irrational beliefs and resilience qualities in athletes. Sport Psychol 2017;31(3):24963.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • 29.

    Tóth R, Turner MJ, Mannion J, Tóth L. The effectiveness of rational emotive behavior therapy (REBT) and mindfulness-based intervention (MBI) on psychological, physiological and executive functions as a proxy for sports performance. BMC Psychol 2023;11(1):442.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • 30.

    Turner MJ, Barker JB. Using rational emotive behavior therapy with athletes. Sport Psychol 2014;28(1):7590.

  • 1.

    Lange-Smith S, Cabot J, Coffee P, Gunnell K, Tod D. The efficacy of psychological skills training for enhancing performance in sport: a review of reviews. Int J Sport Exerc Psychol 2023;0(0):118.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • 2.

    David D, Cristea I, Hofmann SG. Why cognitive behavioral therapy is the current gold standard of psychotherapy. Front Psychiatry 2018;29;9:4.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • 3.

    Skinner BF. Operant behavior. Am Psychol 1963;18(8):50315.

  • 4.

    Hayes SC, Hofmann SG. The third wave of cognitive behavioral therapy and the rise of process‐based care. World Psychiatry 2017;16(3):2456.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • 5.

    Hayes SC, Strosahl KD, Wilson KG. Acceptance and commitment therapy. Guilford Press; 1999.

  • 6.

    Kabat-Zinn J. Wherever you go, there you are: mindfulness meditation in everyday life. 1994th ed. New York: Hyperion; 1994.

  • 7.

    Ellis A. Rational psychotherapy and individual psychology. J Individ Psychol 1957;13:3844.

  • 8.

    Ellis A, Ellis DJ. Rational emotive behavior therapy. In: VandenBos GR, Meidenbauer E, Frank-McNeil J, editors. Psychotherapy theories and techniques: a reader. Washington: American Psychological Association; 2014. pp. 28998. Available from: http://content.apa.org/books/14295-031.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • 9.

    Bowman AW, Turner MJ. When time is of the essence: the use of rational emotive behavior therapy (REBT) informed single-session therapy (SST) to alleviate social and golf-specific anxiety, and improve wellbeing and performance, in amateur golfers. Psychol Sport Exerc 2022;60:102167.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • 10.

    Dryden W. Brief rational emotive behaviour therapy. Chichester; New York: Wiley; 1995. 234 p. (Wiley series in brief therapy and counselling).

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • 11.

    Szentagotai A, Jones J. The behavioral consequences of irrational beliefs. In: Rational and irrational beliefs: research, theory, and clinical practice. New York, NY, US: Oxford University Press; 2010. pp. 7597.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • 12.

    Ciarrochi J, Said T, Deane FP. When simplifying life is not so bad: the link between rigidity, stressful life events, and mental health in an undergraduate population. Br J Guid Couns 2005;33(2):18597.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • 13.

    Nelson RE. Irrational beliefs in depression. J Consult Clin Psychol 1977 Dec;45(6):11901.

  • 14.

    Deffenbacher JL, Zwemer WA, Whisman MA, Hill RA, Sloan RD. Irrational beliefs and anxiety. Cogn Ther Res 1986;10(3):28191.

  • 15.

    Himle DP, Thyer BA, Papsdorf JD. Relationships between Rational beliefs and anxiety. Cogn Ther Res 1982;6(2):21923.

  • 16.

    Vîslă A, Flückiger C, grosse Holtforth M, David D. Irrational beliefs and psychological distress: a meta-analysis. Psychother Psychosom 2016;85(1):815.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • 17.

    Turner M, Bennett R, editors. Rational emotive behaviour therapy in sport and exercise. London; New York: Routledge,Taylor & Francis Group; 2018. 254 p. (Routledge psychology of sport, exercise and physical activity).

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • 18.

    Jordana A, Turner MJ, Ramis Y, Torregrossa M. A systematic mapping review on the use of Rational Emotive Behavior Therapy (REBT) with athletes. Int Rev Sport Exerc Psychol 2020;126.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • 19.

    Turner M. The rational practitioner: the sport and performance psychologist’s guide to practicing rational emotive behaviour therapy. London: Routledge; 2022.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • 20.

    Mansell PC, Turner MJ. Testing the REBT-I model in athletes: investigating the role of self-confidence between irrational beliefs and psychological distress. Psychol Sport Exerc 2022;63:102284.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • 21.

    Ellis A. Reason and emotion in psychotherapy. Lyle Stuart; 1962.

  • 22.

    Chadha NJ, Turner MJ, Slater MJ. Investigating irrational beliefs, cognitive appraisals, challenge and threat, and affective states in golfers approaching competitive situations. Front Psychol 2019;10:2295.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • 23.

    Tóth R, Turner MJ, Kökény T, Tóth L. “I must be perfect”: the role of irrational beliefs and perfectionism on the competitive anxiety of Hungarian athletes. Front Psychol 2022;13:994126.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • 24.

    Mesagno C, Tibbert SJ, Buchanan E, Harvey JT, Turner MJ. Irrational beliefs and choking under pressure: a preliminary investigation. J Appl Sport Psychol 2021;33(6):56989.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • 25.

    Wood AG, Barker JB, Turner MJ. Developing performance using rational emotive behavior therapy (REBT): a case study with an elite archer. Sport Psychol 2017;31(1):7887.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • 26.

    Turner M, Barker JB. Examining the efficacy of rational-emotive behavior therapy (REBT) on irrational beliefs and anxiety in elite youth cricketers. J Appl Sport Psychol 2013;25(1):13147.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • 27.

    Mio MG, Matsumuto Y. A single-session universal mental health promotion program in Japanese schools: a pilot study. Soc Behav Personal Int J 2018;46(10):172743.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • 28.

    Deen S, Turner MJ, Wong RSK. The effects of REBT, and the use of credos, on irrational beliefs and resilience qualities in athletes. Sport Psychol 2017;31(3):24963.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • 29.

    Tóth R, Turner MJ, Mannion J, Tóth L. The effectiveness of rational emotive behavior therapy (REBT) and mindfulness-based intervention (MBI) on psychological, physiological and executive functions as a proxy for sports performance. BMC Psychol 2023;11(1):442.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • 30.

    Turner MJ, Barker JB. Using rational emotive behavior therapy with athletes. Sport Psychol 2014;28(1):7590.

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Editor(s)-in-Chief: Akos Koller (Hungarian University of Sports Science, Budapest, Hungary; New York Medical College, Valhalla, NY, USA)

Managing Editor: Johanna Takács (Semmelweis University, Budapest, Hungary)

Managing Editor: Tamás Nusser (Hungarian University of Sports Science, Budapest, Hungary)

Associate Editors

  • Hajnalka Vágó (Semmelweis University, Budapest, Hungary)
  • Tibor Hortobágyi (Hungarian University of Sports Science, Budapest, Hungary and Center for Human Movement Sciences, University of Groningen Medical Center, Groningen, The Netherlands)
  • Gábor Géczi (Hungarian University of Sports Science, Budapest, Hungary)

SPRINT
Hungarian University of Sports Science, Budapest, Hungary; New York Medical College, Valhalla, NY, USA
Address: Alkotás Street 44-48. H-1123 Budapest, Hungary
E-mail: sprint@tf.hu

 

SPRINT – Sports Research International
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Subscription Information Gold Open Access

SPRINT – Sports Research International
Language English
Size A4
Year of
Foundation
2023
Volumes
per Year
1
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4
Founder Hungarian University of Sports Science
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Publisher Akadémiai Kiadó
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Chief Executive Officer, Akadémiai Kiadó

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3057-8779 (Online)

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