Coaching

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Forget ability, is personality a new way to gauge if someone is going to be successful in the future? The answer is fairly complex, but in short: an athlete’s future success won’t solely be predicted because of certain parts of their personality, but it may well give us a better idea!  It has been found […]

Forget ability, is personality a new way to gauge if someone is going to be successful in the future? The answer is fairly complex, but in short: an athlete’s future success won’t solely be predicted because of certain parts of their personality, but it may well give us a better idea! 

It has been found that athletes at the national/international level have higher levels of conscientiousness and lower levels of neuroticism in athletes competing than those at a club/ regional level (Allen, Greenless, & Jones 2011). Whilst those with higher levels of conscientiousness have also been found to prepare better(Woodman, Zourbanos, Hardy, Beattie, & McQuillan, 2010). 32 elite youth athletes progress was monitored over 7 years and during this time, coaches rated their potential whilst observing their personality traits. Predictions were made about which athletes would make it professionally, and this was done with 100% accuracy, of the predictions, 84% of the athletes were correctly judged on personality traits alone (Aidman, 2007).

Extravert vs. Introvert?

Gravitational theory/hypothesis proposes that more extraverted people gravitate towards sport and competition. I’ve seen examples of this through being involved in youth coaching where those extraverts seem better suited towards sport, but I would not say that all of the best players I came across were extraverts… There is an argument (change hypothesis) that sport encourages individuals to become more extraverted through the interactions and communication aspects (Allen et al, 2013). Extraverts and introverts may thrive in different sporting situations and under different conditions (types of sport, make-up of the team, coaching styles etc.) so I am cautious to make predictions on whether an introvert or an extrovert would excel more. 

The ‘Big five’

The Big Five personality traits are as follows: 

  • Openness
  • Conscientiousness
  • Extraversion
  • Agreeableness
  • Neuroticism

Steca et al. (2018) outlined differences in personality amongst athletes and non-athletes, high and low success athletes, as well as team and individual sport athletes. Based off of the big five personality dimensions they found that high level athletes scored higher in every category except openness than their lower-level counterparts. However, they only sampled male athletes, and did not sample a wide range of sports so the findings cannot be confidently transferred. Their study is not without its limitations, but it does provide a more in-depth sample size as well as their findings confirming results of existing literature. 

Ways to measure personality (and its effect to “predict” sporting success) have been strengthened by the developments like the big five personality traits and it has been suggested that a typological approach could aid in creating profiles for the sporting population (Steca et al., 2018). It is encouraging that such profiles can help to predict future success, but this should not be taken as gospel, an athlete’s personality should be one part of the jigsaw that determines their success. A couple of points I’ve thought of when looking at it from a coach’s perspective:

  • Is it worth profiling your players? (will you ensure they understand why this is being done?) what problems might this present?
  • A player is having a great trial period for your team, he’s as good as your best players but his personality profile isn’t showing signs of typical future success, what would you do?

A few things to consider

  • When is the best age to profile athletes? (especially when the entry into the elite level is different in different sports i.e. gymnastics vs. rugby).
  • If a player’s personality profile is not in line with what the coaching staff want, is this sufficient enough to reject them? Will this become more regular?
  • Is this beneficial or harmful overall? What sort of environment are the tests administered in? and by who? 
  • How valid and reliable are the personality tests?

 As I have already stated, personality can be a strong predictor of future success, but I think we need to treat this subject with caution, the considerations above must be taken into account and that’s by no means an extensive list. Like most things I think there needs to be a balance and trying to predict whether someone will thrive in professional sports because of their personality can be risky; It would be wise to make an informed decision based on a number of factors. 

Professional clubs already use personality profiles for their academies, draft prospects in America have been subject to personality tests so this isn’t totally new ground. It is not just athletes’ personalities that are being scrutinised, some professional clubs are already profiling potential managerial candidates to see if they will work harmoniously with the club’s hierarchy, trying to identify those that may thrive in the existing conditions. With the right conditions we can all thrive in different ways and I would hope that those making the predictions keep that in mind… 

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Do you sulk if you lose a pub quiz? Have you ever kept going until you are sick in order to win an eating competition? Or passed out trying to hold your breath in a tunnel? And what about parenting: are you one of those people screaming ‘kick it in the net, Tabitha’ at your […]

Do you sulk if you lose a pub quiz? Have you ever kept going until you are sick in order to win an eating competition? Or passed out trying to hold your breath in a tunnel?

And what about parenting: are you one of those people screaming ‘kick it in the net, Tabitha’ at your daughter’s Saturday morning football club? 

Competition exists in every part of life. We are called the human race. From an early age, we’re competing for the best seat on the school bus; competing to get a place at a top university; competing for promotion within the pyramid structures at most firms.

Competition is part of the rhythm of life and it’s a fundamental human thing to do. But does it bring out our best side, or our dark side?

The intensity of competition is what inspires us to breath-taking performances. Athletes don’t set world records on a blustery March morning in training, with a spectator and a dog for company. They set them in an Olympic final, roared on by 80 000 spectators and racing against the rest of the world.

Rafael Nadal and Roger Federer don’t play their best tennis in the first round of a minor tournament. They only hit those heights in the fifth set of a Wimbledon final. 

In the workplace, it’s the impending deadline which ramps up productivity; and the pitch to the big client will bring out the best teamwork far more than a regular Wednesday staring at a spreadsheet.

But is it possible to be too competitive; and to experience too much competition?

In life, we’re told to have everything in moderation. Yet in elite sport, it is perceived that moderation isn’t desirable. Obsession and extremes are the behaviours that are rewarded. We hear this in the marginal gains mantra that has made its way from sport across to the boardroom.

But the reality is different. 

When researching my book Mind Games, a study of how mental skills are trained, not innate, time and again the elite athletes and coaches I interviewed told me they didn’t consider themselves particularly competitive. They cared deeply about doing their best, but that was a specific state of mind relative to the training session or the race. Once that was over, they turned it off.

You hear coaches saying they like competition for places on a sports team because it pushes everyone to be better. 

I disagree. Sometimes you need to feel like you’re not under the microscope, and are left to simply do your job to the best of your ability.

More competition isn’t always better. There’s no linear relationship between competitiveness and success. It’s nuanced, complex and individual.

It’s possible to reach ‘peak competition’. Too much competition can throttle creativity. It can leave people on edge. It can retard collaboration. 

Perhaps the answer is that we’re all different.

We all know people who don’t just want to be the best – they want to beat everyone else. They take particular pleasure in having ‘won’ a promotion at work, and will know who they ‘beat’ to get there.

Other people will be driven by the love of what they do, and how good they can be at it. We are all on a spectrum of how we are fuelled by competition.

What’s your competitive edge?

Annie Vernon is the author of Mind Games: Determination, Doubt and Lucky Socks: An Insider’s Guide to the Psychology of Elite Athletespublished by Bloomsbury Sport (2019), £16.99. Available in all major booksellers including Amazon: https://amzn.to/2oqDqa1

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Sports competition has the ability to continually draw large amounts of spectators. A reason because of this is due to the multiple situations in which no one foresees occurring. The unpredictability of sports can leave fans nervously biting their figure nails, as nothing is certain. Take for example just in the year 2019. In the […]

Sports competition has the ability to continually draw large amounts of spectators. A reason because of this is due to the multiple situations in which no one foresees occurring. The unpredictability of sports can leave fans nervously biting their figure nails, as nothing is certain. Take for example just in the year 2019. In the 3rd round of the F.A Cup, Leicester FC (Premier League) lost to Newport FC (League two); a team 74 places below them. Or in the sport of basketball, where the Milwaukee Bucks (1st) lost to the Phoenix Suns (30th). Or in the sport of tennis, where Serena Williams lost to Karolina Pliskova. These, at first glance, looked like an easy victory for Leicester FC, Milwaukee Bucks and Serena Williams. However, these athletes and teams were unable to produce the performance necessary for victory. Unforeseen situations not only impact the final results of competition but also the individual performance during competition (Doron & Bourbousson, 2017). The unique thing about these situations, however, is that its performance impact is heavily dependent on the perception the athlete has of the situation. Within this article, an exploration of this perception and these situations will be investigated. Practical suggestions will also be made of the psychological skills and techniques which could positively impact this perception and subsequently performance.

Stressors

Each sport, team and individual athlete has a unique set of demands. These demands are environmental (weather, crowd noise), opposition (skill level, team strategy) and self-demands (self-expectations) (Fletcher, Hanton, Mellalieu, & Neil, 2012). How these demands impact the performance of the athlete is dependent on their perception. When the athlete perceives a situation to be harmful to their performance, exceeding their physical and psychological capabilities, this is referred to as a stressor (Nicholls, Levy, Grice, & Polman, 2009). An athlete, for example, could perceive defending against a faster opponent as a stressor, as they believe the opposition demands exceed their performance capabilities. Stressors can also be experienced team wise (team stressor). For example, a player receiving a red card could be a stressor, as the team may collectively perceive this hole in their formation to exceed their performance capabilities.

A negative perception of a stressor can negatively impact the mental and physical skills the athlete is able to use during this situation; subsequently effecting their overall performance negatively (Neil, Hanton, Mellalieu, & Fletcher, 2011, Nicholls et al., 2009). This is because by negatively perceiving a stressor, an athletes’ focus is narrowed to only that stressor experienced, instead of focusing on the performance necessary for victory (Anshel et al., 2001; Campbell & Jones, 2002). For example, only focusing on the faster players’ speed when they have the ball or only focusing on the hole in the team’s formation. This perception about unforeseen situations could not only negatively affect performance, but could also lead to results experienced by Leicester FC, Milwaukee Bucks and Serena Williams. If however, these stressors are perceived differently, more positively, what impact could this have on the athlete’s performance?

A positive perception of a stressor means that the individual views the situation as a challenge rather than harmful to their performance. This does not eliminate or enable the athlete to avoid stressors as these situations and demands are inherited within their sport. This mental switch however, opens the possibility of finding solutions to the stressor experienced (Folkman, 2013; Lazarus & Folkman, 1987). This is evident, for example in the sport of basketball, wherein the 2016 NBA finals the Golden State Warriors faced off against the Cleveland Cavaliers. It was expected that the Golden State Warriors would win after having just set NBA history with the most regular-season victories. This looked to be the case as they were winning the series 3-1. The Cavaliers however, performed in a way that suggests they viewed the situation as a challenge. They made multiple adjustments to their team offensively and defensively and were able to win 3 games in a row and be crowned 2016 NBA Champions.

It is clear that a negative perception of a stressor could have a negative impact on performance and the opposite effect could occur with a positive perception. Because of this, implementing psychological skills would be useful to enable athletes to have a positive perception of stressors which occur. This is enabled due to these skills and techniques drawing the athletes focus to a problem solving (rather than problem focused) mind state; increasing the options available for the athlete to successfully cope with the stressor and perform at an optimal level (Kaiseler, Polman, & Nicholls, 2009). These sport psychological skills and techniques can be used when experiencing both individual and team stressors.

Psychological Skills and Techniques

For individual stressors, the technique self-talk could be used to promote a positive perception of stressors. Self-talk is the external and internal dialog a person has with themselves. The underlining principle is that what a person says to themselves impacts how they behave (Hardy, 2006). This suggests then that by initiating the desired thought, the desired action is taken (Hardy, Hall, & Alexander, 2001). There are multiple types of self-talk, however the one which could be beneficial when experiencing stressors would be goal-directed self-talk. Goal-directed self-talk is used to make progress on a task or solve a problem (Latinjak, Font-Lladó, Zourbanos, & Hatzigeorgiadis, 2016). This could be used by creating a cue word which is unique to the individual and their sport. It would also allow them to focus on what is required to perform to the level they can (Hardy, Gammage, & Hall, 2001). For example, if a tennis players’ stressor is their opponent’s defence, the potential goal-directed self-talk cue word could be “target”. This cue word places the focus on the position in which the athlete wants to put the ball and ways to execute this; scoring the point. This cue word therefore, switches the athlete’s perception to viewing the situation as a challenge and attempt to find solutions to cope with the current stressor.

 

For team stressors, the psychological skill team cohesion could be used for the team to promote a positive perception of a stressor. Team cohesion is the process of keeping a group together and in pursuit of a common objective (Carron, Bray, & Eys, 2002; Kleinert et al., 2012). Similar to self-talk, by the team drawing their focus to the task at hand (referred to as task cohesion), the desired action is more likely to occur. This could be conducted through effective team communication, team leadership and understanding your role within the team. With these techniques integrated within the team, when stressors arise, a structure would be in place to enable everyone to understand what they individual need to do within the team, enabling the collective group to focus on finding solutions to stressors experienced.

Conclusion

In conclusion, unforeseen situations always occur within sports. This is one of the many reasons why sports fans enjoy sports as nothing is certain. These unforeseen situations are referred to as stressors and every athlete experiences this. As stressors cannot be entirely removed, the focus within sport psychology has been placed on the perception the athlete has of these stressors. A negative perception of these stressors can have a negative impact on the athlete’s performance. However, psychological skills and techniques can be implemented to enable athletes to have a positive perception of stressors. With this perception, athletes can focus on solving the issue at hand, putting them in the best position to perform at their optimal level.

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There are a lot of current discussions in elite sport around helping athletes to ‘thrive’ as people (not just athletes). Sport is a great vehicle to develop skills that can help individuals progress in other areas of their lives (e.g. education, work, day to day life). this is just as relevant for young people as […]

There are a lot of current discussions in elite sport around helping athletes to ‘thrive’ as people (not just athletes). Sport is a great vehicle to develop skills that can help individuals progress in other areas of their lives (e.g. education, work, day to day life). this is just as relevant for young people as it is for elite athletes.

What are life skills?

Life skills can be defined as ranges of transferable skills that are needed by everyone to help them thrive (Gould and Carson, 2008). It is life skills that allow your child to be adaptive and display positive behaviour, enabling them to deal effectively with the demands and challenges of everyday life. These skills are important for healthy development and preparing your child for the future. They enable them to succeed in the environment in which we live.

How do children learn life skills?

It is often not the sport per se that teaches life skills (as these could be learnt through other hobbies), but it is the sport experience that enables a young person to transfer what they learn in one environment and transfer in to other areas of their life, such as school, at home, and even in the workplace as they get older.

Sport can help facilitate many life skills such as:

  • Leadership
  • Goal setting
  • Communication
  • Social skills
  • Problem solving & decision-making
  • Time management
  • Emotional skills
  • Teamwork

Often when a child is involved in a sport environment the focus of coaches and parents can be the development of sport specific skills, the technical, tactical and physical elements of the sport and how they can get the young person to the next level. But think about your own work environment or experiences in education and sport…how much of it relies on the softer skills that would be classed as social skills, life skills or psychological skills? How do you ensure that the young person you are coaching, or your child develops these skills as well as the sport specific skills?

Are they developing life skills?

Life skills can be enhanced through a coach or parents’ motivation and in some cases can be facilitated by both influencers in a young person’s support network. For example, talking to a young person in an effective manner about their sporting experiences and identifying not just areas of improvement, but by also helping them reflect on the positives and setting goals to progress, will help your child excel in the ‘softer skills’. Ensuring they develop positive life skills and most importantly enjoy their time in sport when the physical, technical or tactical improvements are taking longer than planned.

The 5cs (Harwood 2008, Harwood, Baker and Anderson, 2015)

Harwood and colleagues have carried out huge amounts of work focusing on nurturing the foundations of psychological performance and life skills in youth sport. As a result of this they outline the 5cs which we have pulled together here from Harwood’s video for parents in sport week (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Z5UfNkzSS_w)

  • Commitment – The health of a child’s motivation
    • Consistently high work ethic
    • Approach and embrace challenges
    • Take setbacks as learning opportunities
    • Value self-improvements through reflective abilities that enhance self-awareness
  • Communication – The quality of a child’s interpersonal skills
    • Value of giving and receiving support
    • Connect respectfully and build relationships
    • Share and seek information
    • Superb H.E.L.P.A. (Help, Encourage, Listen, Praise, Acknowledge)
  • Concentration – The ability to focus and control attention
    • Awareness of where the ‘head’ and the ‘eyes’ should be – pre, during, post-match
    • Attending to cues, objects or people that are task relevant at the time
    • Staying ‘on task’ in the midst of distractions
    • Refocusing after mistakes and when tired / fatigued
  • Control – understanding and managing emotions
    • Awareness of emotions and how they affect performance
    • Use strategies (e.g. imagery, self-talk, breathing) that help create an optimal physical, mental and emotional state
    • Compose themselves under pressure
    • Sense emotions in others and act accordingly
  • Confidence – The quality of a child’s self-belief
    • Maintain a positive, physical presence and body language
    • ‘No excuses’ mentality
    • Stay engaged, involved and available
    • Draw from the well of mini-personal accomplishments and self-improvements

Final Thoughts…

Many young people are striving for high performance in the sport environment, but they don’t always think about the softer skills that we mentioned before such as Harwood’s 5Cs to aid their personal development and performance improvements.

  • When you are next talking to a young person involved in sport why not ask about the skills that they have learnt from being in that environment that link to Harwood’s 5cs. Do they know how these skills could transfer into other areas of their lives?
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When athletes talk about the progress that they make, their achievements, their celebrations or how they have overcome challenges and setbacks they often talk about the importance of the support that they had around them through the journey. Briton Goldie Sayers will belatedly receive her 2008 Olympic javelin bronze medal in front of a home […]

When athletes talk about the progress that they make, their achievements, their celebrations or how they have overcome challenges and setbacks they often talk about the importance of the support that they had around them through the journey.

Briton Goldie Sayers will belatedly receive her 2008 Olympic javelin bronze medal in front of a home crowd at next month’s Muller Anniversary Games.
“It means so much to me to be able to share this special moment in front of friends, family, coaches and teachers who all supported me for so many years during my athletics career.” (BBC Sport)

What is social support?
“An exchange of resources between at least two individuals perceived by the provider or recipient to be intended to enhance the wellbeing of the recipient” (Shumaker & Brownell, 1984, p.13).

Support provided from coaches, parents and peers in sport has been identified as an important resource for athletes. The quality and type of social support an athlete perceives and receives has been linked with (Bianco & Eklund, 2001; Holt & Hoar, 2006; Rees, 2007):
• recovery from injury,
• youth sport participation,
• burnout,
• self-confidence,
• performance

Structural support – the extent to which a recipient is connected within a social network, like the number of social ties or how integrated a person is within his or her social network. Family relationships, friends, and membership in clubs and organisations contribute to social integration (Bianco & Eklund, 2001)

Functional support – looks at the specific functions that members in this social network can provide, such as emotional, educational and tangible support. Data suggests that emotional support may play a more significant role in protecting individuals from the deleterious effects of stress than structural means of support, such as social involvement or activity (Lakey, 2010).

A closer look at types of support…
Emotional support –
• Individuals such as family, friends, and significant others provide emotional support such as listening and advising.
• They help you cope with the frustrations and negative emotions experienced in sport.
Educational Support
• Some individuals can help you cope with injury by educating young athletes about the specific injury and the rehabilitation process.
• Coaches and teammates can provide educational support by informing you of important team matters.
• Educational support can also be particularly important for young athletes as they go through a lot of learning to develop and progress within their respective sport environment
Tangible Support
• This social support provides you with the day-to-day assistance within sport.
• This may be in the form of lifts to and from training and matches.
• Financial support to participate in the respective sport

Final thoughts…
Have you ever thought about the support network you have around you? Or the support that you provide for others? Many young athletes may not appreciate their support network initially, but they will recognise the value of the support around them as they gain more experience and are encouraged to become more independent in various environments.

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Sports performance at a high level often boils down to the last moments of competition to dictate a winner. A penalty shootout to advance to the final, a golf putt to claim that first trophy, scoring those two basketball free throws to ice the game. In these scenarios, although elite athletes practice the correct technique […]

Sports performance at a high level often boils down to the last moments of competition to dictate a winner. A penalty shootout to advance to the final, a golf putt to claim that first trophy, scoring those two basketball free throws to ice the game. In these scenarios, although elite athletes practice the correct technique over and over again, the pressure and importance of the situation can inhibit the athlete from executing the skill properly when the time arises (Otten, 2009). This is often seen in situations when the athlete has to perform a stationary shot. For example a basketball free throw, a golf putt, a football penalty kick, Archery and Darts. But why? Why does choking occur in these situations and how can athletes positively change their results? In this article, this concept of stationary shooting and pressure is discussed. An evaluation of why there is a difference between stationary performances in training and in competition will be explained and how individuals can better prepare for these pressurised situations.

There is a preconceived notion within sports that stationary shooting success should be identical to the success experienced within competition. This is because these skills are practised the exact same way in training as required in competition, so you would think nothing should change in competition. With no oppositional threat in these situations, this can be perceived to be the case, however chocking in these scenarios still occur (Masters & Maxwell, 2008). For example, in the community shield clash between Liverpool and Manchester City, both sides played exceptional. Man City was dominant in the first half. However, in the second half, Liverpool took back the momentum and clawed their way back into the game, with after 90 minutes the score being 1-1. It went to penalties where everyone handled the pressure well except one player, Georginio Wijnaldum, who missed his penalty, costing Liverpool the match and the trophy.

Stationary shooting tasks in any sport require intricate body movements to produce the correct technique. Often known as the game within the game, these skills place a high physical demand on the athlete, suggesting mastery of this skill is required for it to be successfully performed consistently. From developing skills to mastery, as skill level increases, the amount of attention which needs to be placed on the skill decreases (Taylor & Ivry, 2012).

When under pressure, these same mastered skills could be executed poorly, by the athlete reinvesting conscious focus into the execution of the skill (Jackson, Ashford, & Norsworthey, 2006). For example, a golfer trying to consciously control their feet positioning, grip and position of the putter and bodily movement of the golf stroke, instead of automatically performing this. By athletes consciously trying to control already mastered skills, it slows down and disrupts the processes in which the skill can be executed, causing a decrease in performance (Wulf, Shea, & Park, 2001). Another way this poor execution could occur is through athletes focusing on threatening stimuli. Staring into the crowd before taking that game-tying free throw, or listening and dwelling on the comments made by the opposing player before picking up your bow and arrow for your shot. By focusing on these threatening stimuli, anxiety can increase and disrupt the fluidity of movement necessary to successfully perform the skill. Not only have we seen this countless amount of times in competition, but previous research has also confirmed this in a basketball free throw and golf putting shooting tasks (Wilson, Vine, & Wood, 2009).

This is why stationary shooting success differs between training and competition. Pressure and how the athlete handles it. Handle this negatively and you’ll probably see that athlete on the front page of the newspapers the next day detailing his ‘terrible’ performance. Handle this positively and they would be celebrated for years to come. This was the case in world Paralympics championship, where Eric Bennett was down 5-1. with the end drawing near, he was able to handle the pressure and provide an amazing comeback victory; becoming a popular story within the archery community.

Pressure within these scenarios is always going to be there, however, both reasons highlighted to why pressure negatively affects athletes have one prevailing theme; focus. Where your focus goes, your technique flows. By negatively placing your focus on a stimulus, poor performance is more likely to occur. On the other hand, by positively steering this focus, positive actions are more likely to occur. Here are some recommendations for athletes and coaches of how to positively steer focus in these situations.

Recommendations

Coaches who are teaching athletes stationary shooting techniques and helping athletes get this technique to an elite level. By only instructing athletes to repeat the technique over again, this may help in mastering the technique, but this will not help when athletes have to perform the technique in pressured situations. By applying different forms of practise in training sessions, this would help in both mastering the skill and success in pressured situations. Suggested through positive results in previous research, examples of these include filming athletes during practise, facilitating pressure-induced simulations and using ‘Quiet eye’ (Beilock, Wierenga, & Carr, 2002; Vine & Wilson, 2010). Quiet eye refers to a pause an athlete makes just before they initiate the skilled movement, where their eyes are focused on the target. These suggestions normalise the competitive environment for the athlete, enabling them to perform more comfortably and accurately during those high pressured moments (Davids, Araújo, Shuttleworth, & Button, 2003).

For athletes who have already learned their stationary shooting technique but are failing to successfully execute this, psychological skills can be used to help in these pressured situations. Suggested through positive research results (Wulf & Su, 2007; Zachry, Wulf, Mercer, & Bezodis, 2005), this could be done by adopting an external focus of attention. An external focus (as opposed to an internal focus) directs the athletes’ attention away from the basic steps of the skill, enabling a smooth execution of the skill. This can be seen for example if an athlete focuses on the back of the basketball rim when performing a free throw or by an athlete focusing on the hole when putting in golf. Adopting an external focus goes hand in hand with the technique quiet eye as this technique places an external focus of attention on the task (Vine & Wilson, 2011). This is a psychological technique which athletes of all abilities can use. Also remember, with anything, the more you use it, the more comfortable and confident you will become in using it in pressured situations.

Conclusion

In conclusion, competitions frequently come down to making that last free throw, scoring that penalty, or scoring that putt to win the game. This can pressure the athlete, raising the difficulty of a skill which has been performed time after time; despite the skill not having to be altered when in competition. If not handled properly, this can resort in the athlete chocking. However research has found multiple techniques which could aid in these scenarios, presenting an efficient strategy to successfully perform the skill whilst under pressure. Although results of using these techniques vary depending on the athlete and sport, the application of these techniques increases the likelihood of performance success. Not only that, but it reduces the likelihood of seeing your face on the front page of tomorrows newspaper in a negative light so make sure you focus. Where you focus goes your technique flows.

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Many elite athletes when considering their success in sport, can probably tell you that it didn’t always come easy… in fact it usually comes at a price.  When training for the Olympics, United States Gold Medallist Michael Phelps trained 25-30 hours per week. During his 2008 interview with NBC, Phelps quoted “Eat, sleep and swim. That’s […]

Many elite athletes when considering their success in sport, can probably tell you that it didn’t always come easy… in fact it usually comes at a price.

 When training for the Olympics, United States Gold Medallist Michael Phelps trained 25-30 hours per week. During his 2008 interview with NBC, Phelps quoted “Eat, sleep and swim. That’s all I can do.”

Countless hours of training and competing, often come with great sacrifices. Athletes surrender time, relationships, education, and other opportunities outside of sport, just to name a few.

So, what happens when your athletic career comes to an end? Whether voluntary or involuntary, are you prepared to make the transition into a career that doesn’t include a warmup and cooldown? If this thought scares you, it’s ok, you’re not the only one. 

Former Professional Footballer and head of player welfare at the PFA, Michael Bennett says,It is hard for footballers to think about life after sport when week in, week out you’ve got a battle on your hands to hold down a position”. He added:“It’s constant – players are told what to eat, when to eat, when to sleep.”

Many elite athletes find career termination a tough pill to swallow. Experiences can include a loss of status, identity crisis, and loss of direction and focus, in some cases leading to substance abuse, self-harm, and depression (Ungerleider, 1997).

England Rugby former Captain Catherine Spencer speaks on retirement, “Then suddenly it feels as if you’re not needed on the top of that mountain and you plummet to the bottom. You don’t know where you’re going or how to look up. Your whole being is almost taken away from you.”

But what if I told you that your experiences as an elite athlete actually has the potential to give you a competitive advantage in environments outside of sport? Yes, your life-skills developed throughout your sporting career are not only intangible skills, that many organisations see great value in, but the consistent application during training and competition has assisted in the disciplining of these skills and strengthening them to make them very appealing to the world outside sport.  

Life skills are mental, emotional, social, and behavioural attributes. They are learned or refined through sport participation and have the potential to be transferred beyond sports settings (Gould & Carson, 2007). Examples include but are not limited to: 

  • Performing under pressure
  • Being organised
  • Meeting challenges
  • Communicating with others
  • Handling success and failure
  • Accepting other’s values and beliefs
  • Being flexible in order to succeed
  • Being patient 
  • Seeking critique
  • Taking risks
  • Making and keeping commitments
  • Knowing how to win and lose
  • Working with people you don’t always like
  • Respecting others
  • Pushing yourself to the limit
  • Recognising your limitations 
  • Managing arousal levels
  • Accepting responsibility for behaviour 
  • Showing dedication
  • Accepting criticism and feedback in order to learn 
  • Ability to self-evaluate
  • Smart decision-making
  • Ability to set and attain goals 
  • Having a growth mindset
  • Showing self-motivation
  • Ability to work within a team or system
  • Practicing self-control

(Danish et al, 1993)

Upon reflection, are any of these skills familiar to you? Do any personally resonate with your own athletic experience? If so, we’re off to a good start! 

How do these skills transfer beyond the role of an elite athlete? 

Well, there are actually several studies on traits and skills that link to business success. These qualities include the need for achievement, innovativeness, “proactive personality”, generalised self-efficacy, stress tolerance, need for autonomy, high degree of self-control, and risk (Collins & Porras, 2005). Articles have been written to help business professionals maximise their potential by comparing them to Olympic athletes. Some of these comparable qualities include supreme grit and courage to fight until the end, an appetite for feedback and critique, seeking situations to be pushed by other elite performers, planning out paths for long-term goals, maintaining an inner focus, and self-direction (Kerr et al, 2017). 

Now that we start to identify and see the transference of skills beyond sport, what next?

Professional development expert Dale Carnegie once said,“Knowledge isn’t power unless it is applied.”

It is only by becoming aware of these life skills and understanding how they are not only transferable, but contain immense value beyond a sporting scope, can athletes apply them through preparation, process, and continuation of career transition, all to give them a competitive edge beyond sport.

(McKnight et al, 2009).

How to go about this can be, and is difficult, but we’ve outlined a starting steps and tools to help!

Become aware of your transferable skills

Give yourself time to reflect on your athletic experience, what have you gone through that has strengthened you as a person? What strengths and abilities have you acquired? Has your role and responsibilities as an elite athlete given you immense leadership ability? Maybe your experience of academies, trials, and multiple contracts, has given you resilience and the ability to perform under pressure. 

Having trouble getting the ball rolling? Ask people who know you well, they may be able to provide perspective and insight that you don’t see. 

It’s very important to understand the similarities between elite sport and environments outside of sport. People, process, purpose, values, etc. have all been things that elite athletes are constantly exposed to, and a lot of the same variables apply to other contexts. Start to bridge the gaps in your mind and get excited about what’s to come. For example, how have you grown to develop successful relationships with your teammates? Developing relationships is a critical skill in many areas of life which can then be transferred from sport in to different environments. Once you can then identify what the transferable skills are, and how you applied them within your sport, you can start to build on how these can be transferred in to new settings. 

Consider your areas of interest

What have you enjoyed doing in your free time outside of sport? What questions do you find yourself asking? Did you have favourite subjects in school? Did you have any dreams that you put on hold while in your athletic career? Maybe you still have a passion to remain involved in your sport, have you thought about coaching? Scouting? Many athletes seek competitive drive and goal-setting, and therefore choose to pursue careers involved in the business and finance sector. Don’t be afraid to visit career fairs and attend workshops. You don’t have an obligation to commit, just dip your feet in the water! 

Prepare yourself

Once you’ve developed a clear idea of your potential career paths; research, research, research. What qualifications do you need to attain? What are the steps? Is there a timeline for it? Gain a clear understanding of the occupation. Contact professionals in the potential career and ask them about the job, how they got it, if they have any advice for you. Try to make sure that you’ve gained a clear understanding of the occupation and its demands before pursuing it. 

It’s also important to understand that although your intangible skills and behaviours have potential to transfer in to success in new industries, you are in new competition, up against people who are industry qualified. You should be prepared to work hard and educate yourself in these new areas. Then, your intangibles have the potential to thrive even more. 

Network

Network yourself as a former elite athlete, use the platform and people that you know to start building bridges and making connections. Start attending networking events in your city and keep contact with former retired athletes that you know. Think about how you can build you CV or create a LinkedIn profile. Athlete Network is a social networking and job search platform that helps athletes and organisations connect, also using a data driven algorithm to match you to companies based on traits and culture. To help you in the process, utilise resources like interview training, seminars, educational modules, workshops, individual counselling, or referral networking (Stambulovaet al, 2009). And don’t forget, your story as an elite athlete can inspire others, so be courageous to tell your story even when you are networking, you never know who might take real interest. 

Utilise Support 

Don’t be afraid to reach out for support and guidance from friends, family, and mentors. Are you close with your coaches? Ask them about their experience in career transition, you may find helpful advice or support. 

There are a number of organisations who understand that the career termination can be difficult and seek to support and/or hire elite athletes undergoing career transition. To name a few:

  • Add-Victor: founded by ex-England rugby player Steve White-Cooper, is a recruitment agency placing talented individuals from elite sport and military backgrounds into the finance industry. They’ve inspired companies like Citigroup and Aon to hire ex-athletes. 
  • Athlete Career Transition (ACT): founded by ex-Wales rugby internationals and brothers Andy and Steve Moore, uses psychometric profiles of elite athletes to match them with companies 
  • Life After Professional Sport (LAPS): Exeter City Football Club forward Robbie Simpson created LAPS to help former professional athletes find full time work by providing a job board, networking opportunities, advice and case studies of former athletes who have successfully transitioned careers. 
  • The Transition Phase (TTP): Founded from his experience as a former professional footballer and scholarship athlete, Riteesh Mishra created the initiative to support young athletes with dual careering and career transition away from sport. 
Article

A bit of background on identity… If we start with the wider idea of self-identity, it is a clearly delineated self-definition…comprised of those goals, values and beliefs which the person finds personally expressive and to which he/she is unequivocally committed (Waterman, 1985). Take a moment to think about this idea, what are the goals, values […]

A bit of background on identity…

If we start with the wider idea of self-identity, it is a clearly delineated self-definition…comprised of those goals, values and beliefs which the person finds personally expressive and to which he/she is unequivocally committed (Waterman, 1985). Take a moment to think about this idea, what are the goals, values and beliefs that you are committed too? Are they just in sport or do they link to other areas too?

Most young athletes will find that they have some level of athletic Identity which is the degree to which an athlete identifies with the athlete role (Sinclair and Orlick, 1993).  As we look more closely at identity there is a concept called identity foreclosure, this is the commitment of one’s identity to one area without exploration of alternatives (Murphy, Petitpas and Brewer, 1996). This can mean that some young people have an ‘Exclusive’ athletic identity and derive their self-identity exclusively from the athlete role (Brewer, Van Raalte & Linder, 1993).

Identity and adolescence…

Adolescence is a transitional period between puberty and adulthood which extends mainly over the teen years. It has been Identified as a stage in life during which individuals form a true self-identity (Chickering, 1969; Erikson, 1968).

If we look more specifically at adolescence and identity, for those involved in high level participation in one sport this comes with a lot of sacrifice & dedication. This can lead to two potential challenges for these individuals:

  • prevents them from engaging in exploration of different roles and behaviors
  • Possibly leads to identity foreclosure

Athletic Identity Positives

There have been positives linked to athletes having a high or strong athletic identity:

  • Salient Self-Identity: Having a strong athletic identity often leads to a strong sense of self and sureness of who you are.
  • Self-Confidence: Increased self-confidence, self-discipline, and more positive social interactions have all been observed in those with high athletic identity compared to those with a low athletic identity.
  • Health and Fitness: Individuals who highly value the athletic component of the self are more likely to engage in exercise behaviour than those who place less value on the athletic component of self-identity (Brewer et al., 1993).

Exclusive Athletic Identity potential risks

However, there are some potential risks to be aware of:

  • Emotional Difficulties Dealing with Injury: Injuries are an inevitable part of sport. Athletes with a robust athletic identity often find it difficult to cope with an injury, especially if it results in them being side-lined for a prolonged period of time. They tend to lose confidence and may experience feelings of helplessness.
  • Difficulty Adjusting After End of Athletic Career: Retirement is also something that cannot be escaped by any athlete, and it can be difficult to adjust
  • Alternate Career or Educational Options Not Considered: This can be a problem for young athletes who do not make it to a professional status or for those who experience career-ending injuries.

How can we support young people in their identity development?

  • Encourage young people to consider who they are as a person and as an athlete
  • Helping young people gain a clear understanding of who they are ‘off the pitch’ will enable them to:
    • Widen their sense of self
    • Gain clarity over their other strengths
    • Protect them from longer term psychological difficulties

And for those thinking that this may take their focus away from their sport I would argue it’s quite the opposite.

  • Having a clearer understanding of who they are will allow athletes:
    • to ‘switch on and get in the zone’ at the appropriate times
    • and ‘switch off’ thereafter,
    • this fits with the knowledge that successful athletes need to be in the here and now and have the ability to maintain concentration.
Article

Every 4 years, athletes from across the globe look to make their dreams of becoming an Olympic champion reality. This often rests on one chance to show the world what they have been working on their whole lives. Imagine the pressure of knowing this could define your life’s dedication. For some, this pressure is debilitating, […]

Every 4 years, athletes from across the globe look to make their dreams of becoming an Olympic champion reality. This often rests on one chance to show the world what they have been working on their whole lives. Imagine the pressure of knowing this could define your life’s dedication. For some, this pressure is debilitating, whereas for others it surges them on to achieve greatness.

In the run up to Rio’s 2016 Olympic Games, Team GB put together a group of Performance Psychologists to help their elite athletes and teams deal with this exact pressure [1]. Their mission: design a resilience training program that is backed by scientific evidence to develop their athlete’s and team’s ability to withstand – and even thrive on – pressure. Fast-forward to Day 16 of the Games, and Great Britain has delivered their most successful performance for more than a century, winning a total of 67 Olympic medals [2]. One piece to that success may lie with the evidence-based training program used by the team of psychologists to build resilience [1]. A key part of this includes Pressure Inurement Training that can be used by coaches and leaders looking to improve their own athlete’s and followers performance under pressure.

After reading this blog you should be able to:

  • Understand what resilience is and how coaches can help to create training sessions that build resilience in their athletes
  • Know how Pressure Inurement Training can be used to build resilience via challenge and support

So, what is Pressure Inurement Training?

After learning a skill, the next step is to perform it under pressure to learn how to deal with the stress of competition. Obviously, it is difficult to replicate the exact same pressure of an Olympic final, but training under pressure means athletes can learn how to cope with the feelings of pressure in a non-threatening setting and transfer this to competition. Pressure Inurement Training involves gradually changing the training environment using specific strategies to increase the level of pressure individuals face [1]. Although it is tempting to place your performers under extreme stress and see how they cope with it, this often misrepresents what resilience actually is and how it should be developed.

Put simply, resilience refers to the ability to withstand – or even thrive on – pressure to enhance performance [3]. Resilient qualities seen in elite athlete’s include positivity, determination, competitiveness and commitment, persistence and passion [4]. Pressure Inurement Training includes specific ways to show how coaches can structure their training sessions to get their performers to use these personal qualities and build resilience. Feelings of pressure is achieved through specific ways to increase feelings of challenge, while continually balancing and adjusting levels of support over time.

What does a high challenge and high support environment look like?

A high challenge and high support environment involves having trusting and respectful relationships with your athletes, where athletes are encouraged and expected to be involved in both learning and development. It should be clear that both high challenge and high support helps your performers to learn in an environment that facilitates the personal qualities needed to build resilience. Essentially, this creates a psychologically safe environment that encourages sensible risk taking, where team members will not be scared to make mistakes and success will be recognized and celebrated together [5].

How can I increase challenge?

Pressure Inurement Training involves gradually increasing pressure by putting in place specific changes to the training environment to evoke a stress-response [6]. There are two main ways to evoke a stress-response during training that will help to increase challenge: a) firstly, by increasing the demands of training so that it is similar to competition, and b) knowing that individuals only feel pressure during events that are important, relevant to their goals and involve playing for certain consequences.

Step 1) Increase the demands of training:

  • Introduce different types of demands usually experienced during competition.
  • Make training sessions challenging by increasing the uncertainty of competition demands.
  • Increase the frequency, duration and/or intensity of the competition demands in training.

Coaches can introduce some of the types of stressful events their athletes are likely to face during competition, known as competitive stressors, into training sessions to increase challenge [7]. Some examples include manipulating the rules of play or competing against better opponents [8]. It is useful to divide competitive stressors into the four corners of ‘mental’, ‘technical’, ‘tactical’ and ‘physical’ play [9]. For example, coaches or leaders can make a session more technically challenging by focusing on only one aspect of technique for the entire session while playing against a tough opponent.

‘‘Sometimes…you put a right footed player who can’t do anything with his left foot on [the] left side [of the pitch] and force him to use his left foot… so the player can use both feet when he comes into the first team’’– former professional football player, Dennis Bergkamp on using technical challenges in training.

The second way to increase the demands of training is by manipulating the properties of the competitive stressors, including recreating the uncertainty of competition. Athletes often experience the most pressure when they are competing in a different situation, under different rules or new environments because of feelings of uncertainty [10]. Coaches can create novel situations in training to increase the uncertainty of events, which may involve training with a different set of rules, on a different surface or with different equipment. A great example of this is by Coach Bob Bowman, coach to the most successful Olympian in history, Michael Phelps [11]

In a training session, Bowman once purposely stepped on Phelps’ goggles and cracked them without him knowing. Phelps was forced to swim with his googles filling with water. This challenging demand during training paid off, as in the 2008 Olympic final of 200m butterfly, disaster struck and Phelps goggles cracked. Because of Bowman, Phelps knew what to do and he overcame the problem by counting the number of strokes he needed to get to the other end of the pool. Phelps won Gold.

Lastly, to increase challenge coaches can look to increase the frequency, duration and/or intensity of competition demands during training [12]. Athletes feel pressure when competitive stressors are physically and mentally more intense, experienced more frequently and for different lengths of time that it usually lasts for. An example of a competitive stressor that lasts for a short length of time may include hearing an unpleasant comment from a spectator during a match. Coaches may increase the frequency of this short-term stressor by simulating negative comments from an audience more often in training.

Step 2) Increase feelings of pressure:

  • Make sure training demands are important and relevant to performers goals
  • Use performance-based consequences that involve forfeits and rewards or using others to increase feelings of judgement

While competitive stressors themselves are bad, they don’t always lead to feelings of pressure. Coaches must understand that pressure is only experienced when athletes judge the competitive stressors as having the potential to threaten their personal goals of high performance [13]. Understanding the goals of your performers will allow coaches to create specific training demands that are relevant to his or her goals. For example, an athlete who wants to perform better in front of crowds would feel more pressure when being watched by a large audience in training. Hopefully it is clear that putting in place any ‘coach-led’ methods to increase pressure may not actually increase feelings of pressure as it may not be relevant to their athletes goals

The final way to influence feelings of pressure includes using consequences in training. This can include rewarding athletes by winning something positive, athletes receiving a forfeit for not meeting the expected standard, or being evaluated by others that judge their performance [8]. For example, circling everyone around two people who are being watched will increase feelings of pressure. It is important athletes do not feel ridiculed or scared to make mistakes, as an unrelenting environment with too much challenge and not enough support will lead to athletes avoiding taking future risks and fear failure [14].Remember, to create a high challenge and high support environment, athletes must trust their coach and believe everyone is valued.

“You miss 100% of the shots you don’t take.”– Former Olympic hockey player, Wayne Gretzky on taking healthy risks.

Summary of how to increase challenge:

  1. Introduce some of the stressful demands that are normally experienced in competition into training sessions
  2. Increase the uncertainty of training demands to help athletes transfer their skills to new situations
  3. Increase the frequency, duration and/or intensity of the training exercises to reflect competitive pressure
  4. Make sure training demands are important and relevant to performers goals
  5. Use consequences that involve forfeits, rewards or being judged by others

How can I increase support?

While coaches must increase challenge using the methods described above, a key part of Pressure Inurement Training involves increasing the support provided to individuals to enhance their personal qualities (i.e. positivity, determination, passion etc.) to build resilience [1].To do this, coaches must increase and adjust levels of support to allow athletes to feel confident dealing with greater challenge. Firstly, athletes should learn how to use psychological skills to cope with pressure, and then be able to practice dealing with challenging events using these skills in a non-threatening environment. Secondly, before coaches begin using Pressure Inurement Training, they must explain the reasons for increasing challenge at the start of each activity and review how their athletes dealt with the challenge at the end.

Step 1) Athletes must learn how to use psychological skills to cope with pressure and practice these skills during training

Athletes need to learn how to use psychological skills to deal with the added pressure, and if used correctly, can improve performance [15]. This can include learning how to stop negative thoughts and promote positive self-talk strategies, or learning how to use mental imagery before a competition more effectively. Learning these psychological skills will help athletes to avoid the negative thoughts of pressure, that could lead to choking, into a more positive experience during competition to enhance performance. These skills can then be used in training sessions where athletes practice these psychological skills to cope with the added challenge. As the Manchester City F.C. manager, Pep Guardiola echoed during behind the scenes footage:

‘‘Pressure is a privilege, it only comes to those who earn it’’Former World No.1 in tennis Billie-Jean King, on thinking positively about pressure.

Step 2) Brief and debrief your athletes at the start and end of each training session

Before coaches begin using Pressure Inurement Training, explaining to athletes at the start of training sessions why it is important they experience more stressful demands in training by helping them to learn how to cope with pressure [16]. Briefing athletes helps to avoid feelings of unrelenting pressure that will compromise their well-being [17]. For example, coaches should stress, ‘the drill is important to helping you make better choices with limited time to think, which helps with how fast you react to your opponent. If you can improve your decision making under a time limit, you’re more likely to perform better under pressure and reach your goal of winning more points’.

Following this, coaches should look to provide a debrief at the end of each Pressure Inurement Training session to review how their performers dealt with the added challenges and how they reacted to it (e.g. ‘How did you cope with the added challenge?’). It’s important to keep the discussion focused on how they dealt with the pressure and how it affected their performance. If athletes were unable to cope with the added pressure and they react with more negative outcomes, then coaches should temporarily decrease the challenge and increase support. On the other hand, if athletes react more positively then coaches should increase challenge further [1].

Summary of how to increase support:

  1. Athletes need to learn how to use psychological skills (e.g. positive self-talk, mental imagery) and practice these skills during training sessions
  2. Brief and debrief your athletes at the start and end of sessions to improve support and consider each person may react differently to pressure
  3. If responses are negative, consider increasing support and temporarily decrease challenge. If positive, consider increasing challenge.

How do I balance challenge and support?: Verbal Feedback

A key part of balancing challenge and support requires the coach to provide the athlete with the correct verbal feedback during Pressure Inurement Training. This is based on how the athlete is responding to the added challenge. Coaches must carefully monitor both the psychological responses and effects on performance to provide the correct forms of feedback.

Scenario 1) Too much challenge and not enough support leads to negative responses and performance and well-being suffers

When individuals are unable to cope with the added challenge, they are likely to react negatively. This may be in terms of actual behaviour (e.g. withdrawn, or aggression) or psychologically (e.g. anxiety, frustrated). In which case, motivational feedback and increased support should be provided. Motivational feedback includes encouragement, positive reinforcement of what they are doing well, and specific information on how to improve to promote learning [17].

Examples of motivational feedback:

  • ‘We’ve worked on this skill today because it is related to your performance goals.’
  • ‘You tried really hard to cope with the added challenge, well done’
  • ‘You dealt with the challenge well by controlling your breathing more’
  • ‘Try doing this next time so you can do Xbetter’

Scenario 2) High challenge and high support leads to positive responses and performance improves

When an individual reacts more positively and shows they have adapted well to the added challenge (e.g. happiness, determination, willing to train harder), then developmental feedback should be provided with increased challenge. Developmental feedback involves informing athletes on how to improve further with the goal of developing his or her ability to cope with greater challenge [18].

Examples of developmental feedback:

  • ‘What have you learnt that you could use in a match?’
  • ‘Great job! What’s one thing that you could have done even better?’
  • ‘You’ve mastered this skill, now let’s make it harder’

Summary of how to use verbal feedback:

  1. Carefully monitor how individuals react to increased challenge (e.g. ask question, notice changes to behaviour and performance) and then provide correct feedback
  2. Motivational feedback used if individual is struggling to adapt, in this situation coaches should increase support and temporarily decrease challenge.
  3. Developmental feedback used if athlete responds positively and has adapted to the increased pressure, in this situation coaches should further increase challenge when appropriate.

Take home messages from this blog:

  • Resilience can be changed over time, so coaches should look to build resilience in their athletes to improve performance under pressure
  • Pressure Inurement Training looks to continually balance and adjust challenge and support over time that will leads to individuals withstanding – and potentially thriving on – pressure.
  • Challenge should be increased gradually and in an appropriate way that considers the age and experience of its athletes to cope with the demands of pressure.
  • Pressure Inurement Training can be used within current training sessions and requires coaches to adapt to the needs of their athletes. Carefully monitoring both the psychological and performance outcomes of athletes will help to avoid chronic stress and burnout.
  • Pressure Inurement Training is one part of a mental fortitude training program that focuses on improving the conditions that athletes train. For resilience to be developed, athletes also need to enhance their personal qualities and create a challenge mindset.
  • To develop well-adjusted people and high-performing athletes, coaches must also consider how athletes can learn to control their own emotions and interpret them more positively (known as emotional intelligence), and focus on other areas such as ethical awareness, counselling and mindfulness.
Article

The most commonly known use of the ‘Growth Mindset’ approaches have been with education settings, with Carol Dweck conducting most of her mindset research in education settings. Through this research Dweck repeatedly found that students with a Growth Mindset seek out difficult situations and respond to failure by increasing their effort and finding effective strategies […]

The most commonly known use of the ‘Growth Mindset’ approaches have been with education settings, with Carol Dweck conducting most of her mindset research in education settings. Through this research Dweck repeatedly found that students with a Growth Mindset seek out difficult situations and respond to failure by increasing their effort and finding effective strategies to overcome the challenge. Individuals who take this approach therefore hold the belief that you can improve which leads to outcomes that make it more likely that you will improve (Dweck & Leggett, 1988),

Within this article we will provide an overview of what a Growth Mindset is, how it can transfer from education to youth sport and some suggestions for applying the Growth Mindset ideas that we have outlined.

What is the Growth Mindset?

The view that you have of yourself can determine everything. If we look at the belief that your basic qualities are unchangeable then you are likely to take more of a fixed mindset approach to challenges. This means that you want to prove yourself correct in these beliefs and therefore you don’t embrace challenges or learn from mistakes or setbacks.

In contrast, the growth mindset  is based on the belief that your basic qualities are things that you can cultivate through your efforts. Changing your beliefs to this growth mindset approach can have a powerful impact and create a passion for learning and improving. “why waste time proving over and over how great you are, when you could be getting better” (Dweck, 2006).

From Education to Youth Sport…

Due to its value within education environments there is scope for the idea of fixed and growth mindsets to transfer in to other environments where individuals are aiming to develop and improve e.g. youth sport.

Research in youth sport has shown that individuals have developed fixed mindsets when they have been praised for their ‘talent’ or results and outcomes. Children who have these experiences of praise often for their talent often then find themselves in situations where they chose easier options and give up earlier than children who were praised for their effort (Dweck, 2006).

If we look more specifically at this, praise can have a huge impact on an individual’s motivational mindset. Praising winning might make a young athlete happy and proud for a short while, but when they lose, their confidence may spiral as they don’t receive the same level of coach or parent approval. From a fixed mindset approach the individual may see losing as an indication that they lack talent and therefore can not overcome this challenge or similar challenges in the future (Vealey, Chase and Cooley, 2018).

While young athletes should be recognised for their accomplishments, excessive praise and focus on outcomes should be avoided as it can often lead to pressure to keep repeating the outcomes (as well as the fixed mindset outlined above). Think about this, instead of saying:

“way to be a winner”

You could say:

“your practice on…really showed today – great job”.

(Knight, Harwood and Gould, 2018, pg102)

Coaches can help young athletes develop a growth mindset by:

  • Explaining that mistakes are part of learning, improving and developing
  • Using examples of top athletes facing setbacks and overcoming them
  • Helping them develop a mistake ritual to accept and overcome mistakes and focus on the next part of their performance.
  • Debriefing after a competition to discuss the positive performance accomplishments as well as using the mistakes to create a learning experience and goals for improvements.

Some suggestions to help you with the Growth Mindset

Dweck (2006) has a few exercises to help you out.

  • Never think of yourself as talented, gifted or smart. Describe yourself as a lifelong learner, intellectually curious, and motivated to grow.
  • Identify the areas where you would like to grow.
  • How can you achieve your ideal self?
  • Which potential areas of improvement are within your control?
  • How will you respond to setbacks and failure?

It is important to have patience with yourself. You will encounter many challenges and setbacks as a young athlete and no matter how hard you try, it might be a long time before you see the results you hope for. But just remember you will never see those results if you give up. Adopt a lifelong growth mindset, and you will see the benefits.

Article

Working in various youth sport environments and with several young athletes on an individual basis brings about numerous challenges in relation to athlete motivation and the motivational climate that is created by those supporting young athletes. The topics of this article are aimed at helping parents and coaches understand some of the theory and ideas […]

Working in various youth sport environments and with several young athletes on an individual basis brings about numerous challenges in relation to athlete motivation and the motivational climate that is created by those supporting young athletes. The topics of this article are aimed at helping parents and coaches understand some of the theory and ideas behind motivation and motivational climates.

Firstly, Motivational climate is the psychological environment that the coach creates by designing sessions which provide instructions and feedback that will help to motivate the athletes in training / competition (Amnes, 1992). Secondly, motivation impacts on how we think, feel and interact with others. This is an essential prerequisite in sport for getting athletes to enjoy the process of fulfilling their potential.

Win at all costs (Ego) or learning (Mastery) environment?

There are two contrasting climates that have been discussed in previous literature. If a Mastery climate is being developed then the environment revolves around supporting effort, cooperation and emphasis on individual/team development, learning and mastery of the tasks that are being undertaken (Roberts et al, 2007).

An ego climate is one in which the main goal is winning, and success is defined as being better than other players or other athletes. These environments often rely on comparisons between athletes, and coaches punishing mistakes and errors (Roberts et al, 2007).

Understanding an athlete’s motivational orientation:

An individual athlete’s motivation in sport can also be linked to 2 contrasting approaches. An ego-oriented athlete is constantly monitoring their performance related to others and is interested in winning with the smallest of efforts. Such dispositions mean that these athletes are also more prone to withdrawing from challenging situations when their ability seems shortcoming (Nicholls, 1989; Roberts et al., 2007).

A task-oriented individual will be more focused on mastering the task at hand and giving enough effort in to this process. Task-oriented athletes` are more likely to persist in the face of setbacks, put in more effort, select more challenging tasks and stay motivated in the process of development (Roberts et al., 2007).

How do you motivate young athletes?

One of the main discussions I have with young athletes, coaches and parents is the fact that it is unrealistic to shift completely from the motivation to win as that is an inherent part of sport and an important goal. However, it is not the only or most important objective in youth sport.

Here are some questions to ask yourself:

  • How much do you reinforce the importance of training and effort?
  • How do you address situations where athletes win but their performance was not as good as it has been previously?
  • How much are the athletes enjoying the experience of being involved in sport even if they are not winning?
  • How often do you make direct comparisons on young athlete’s abilities?
  • How do you talk about referee, umpire or judge decisions?

Going in to detail on all these questions and how you can effectively approach the challenges that come about through each of them far exceeds the scope of this article. However, they do provide some food for thought the next you are supporting your child or the children you coach in a sport environment especially around competitions.

‘Children first, athletes second’

Although throughout this article we have used the term ‘young athletes’ one final point to remember is that they are ‘children first, athletes second’. There are so many great, physical, social and psychological benefits to children being involved in sport. Try not to lose these by focusing too much on winning (which can increase unsportsmanlike behaviours and lower levels of moral reasoning).

Article

Adding daily mental skills practice into your practice routines can be beneficial.  Believing in the power of practicing those mental skills will be a game changer for your program. The mental game is given a lot of emphasis by many great coaches.  From Coach K of Duke University to Phil Jackson of the Bulls and […]

Adding daily mental skills practice into your practice routines can be beneficial.  Believing in the power of practicing those mental skills will be a game changer for your program.

The mental game is given a lot of emphasis by many great coaches.  From Coach K of Duke University to Phil Jackson of the Bulls and Lakers to Joe Madden of the Rays and Cubs, these coaches have implemented daily mental skills practice into their daily fundamental practices.  Of course, they have the luxury of having great players who value working hard and getting the most out of each practice. It is more than just writing down “4:00pm to 4:10pm Mental Practice” and having the team be quiet for 10 minutes.  It is the coaching staff’s belief that those initial 10 minutes out of a 120 minute practice will lead to an enhancement of the last 110 minutes of practice – and permeate their mental game.

Many years ago, advances in sport science proved to us the value of warming up our bodies, so now we all efficiently utilize the time before practice begins to warm up our bodies and get prepared to move, which benefits that day’s practice, as well as, future performances.  There are still some coaches who downplay and de-emphasize warm-ups. They possibly think they are a waste of time- and may not even be present during warm-ups, which can give the players a sense that they are not important, which may lead to an inconsistent warm-up routine which leads, to at best, inconsistent performance and at worst, injuries.  These same developing coaches will look at those initial 10 minutes of practice (before or after warm-ups) and find a “better” use for it than mental skills. But, as I am here to describe (and highly encourage) that focused daily mental skills practice is the best use of that time, for that day’s practice, as well as, future performances.

Have a Seasonal Plan

Similar to sport specific skill acquisition and retention, coaches plan practices based on the team’s development and progress throughout the season.  For example, in basketball, coaches will practice simple “press breaks” at the beginning of the season, and as the season progresses and players become proficient in that, coaches will move forward to teach new and more advanced ways to breaking full-court presses.  If a coach is not adequately trained in mental skills, there are plenty of resources (books, websites, mental skills consultants, etc), that can highlight and explain a productive season long program. For example, during preseason practices, team can work on their sport-specific mental routines, as well as, understanding what is controllable and not in their sport.  As the season progresses, players would progress to various focus exercises and ways to control emotional intensity.

Prioritize Mental Skills

We have all been on teams, where the practices consisted of primarily “scrimmage games” where the losing team runs or picks up the equipment.  This gave the team an underlying message of game performance is everything, individual skill development is minimized, and outcomes are the most important part of sports.  Similarly, if a coach does not properly prepare players for daily mental skills practice; does not participate in mental skills practice; and does not try to implement new mental skills, then the players will know that the coaching staff does not value mental skills nor that part of their development.  Players will not invest their time and effort either and will not get the most out of that part of practice. If the coaching staff does value this important part of the practice- based on their effort, implementation, and feedback loop – then the players will benefit from this practice time and their performances will improve.

Be a Role Model

Coaches who understand and value mental skill development will exhibit those mental skills.  Players watch and take cues from the coaching staff on what’s ‘really’ important to them. When a coaching staff focuses a pre-game speech on uncontrollables (such as winning, opponent’s injury report, officials, etc), then the players will be conflicted and distracted.  They have practiced mental discipline but the coach is highlighting external events as a focal point. However, when a coaching staff stays true to the development of the players and continues to focus the players’ attention on their own thoughts, emotions, and actions, then the players will be free to perform confidently and without restriction.

Summary

As you can see, daily mental skills practice plans and how they are implemented can really enhance certain aspects of players’ and teams’ development.  Warm-ups before strenuous work-outs are proven to enhance performance- now and in the future. Daily mental skills practice is also proven to enhance performance- now and in the future.  Elite teams and coaches not only schedule mental skill development into daily practices, like warm-ups, but they prioritize it and model it for the team. I encourage every coach, from volunteer youth coaches to highly paid professional coaches, to prepare, schedule, and value daily mental skill development.  It will pay off tremendously during the current practice and throughout the season.

 

Article

Resilience is a hot topic in today’s world. From sport psychology to military psychology, it seems that everyone has their own interpretation of resilience, and how resilience training should be administered. Going back to my previous article titled “Empirical vs. Non-empirical Resilience Strategies – Outcomes and Consequences,” resilience will be defined as: …one’s ability to […]

Resilience is a hot topic in today’s world. From sport psychology to military psychology, it seems that everyone has their own interpretation of resilience, and how resilience training should be administered. Going back to my previous article titled “Empirical vs. Non-empirical Resilience Strategies – Outcomes and Consequences,” resilience will be defined as:

…one’s ability to overcome cognitive obstacles (e.g., stress, negative self-talk) and maintain composure during high stress activities. Multiple factors have been identified and linked to outcome performance related to resilience. These include, but are not limited to: determination, confidence, spirituality, and one’s ability to adapt (Gonzalez, Moore, Newton, & Galli, 2016).

In order to address whether or not resilience can be coached, we need to take a step back and look at the fundamental principles of resilience: 1) the definition of resilience (see above), 2) resilience as it stands in objective literature, and 3) resilience as it subjective observation.

The definition of ‘resilience’ – What does it mean?

When looking at the definition of resilience referenced by Gonzalez et al. (2016), several key words can be extracted for further interpretation. The first is the word cognitive and how it relates to obstacles. The word cognitive emphasizes the mental approach to an, potentially multi-faceted, obstacle. In other words, a cognitive obstacle is not something that is readily foreseen, nor is it something that can be moved by physical force. A cognitive obstacle is one that must be experienced and subsequently adapted to through means of different mental strategies and/or psychological skills [e.g., visualization, deep breathing, goal setting] (Fitzwater, Arthur, & Hardy, 2017). This is not to say you cannot plan for cognitive obstacles drawing from past experiences, but it is to say that not all cognitive obstacles can be predicted.

“If you fail to plan, you are planning to fail.” – Benjamin Franklin

This quote is applicable to cognitive obstacle idea, and sets us up for the next key word connected to resilience: outcome(s).

It is not uncommon for athletes to spend hours at the gym counting reps and forgetting the two most basic principles of training: purpose and outcome(s). Purpose and outcomes are fundamental concepts of sport performance. Without purpose, why participate? Without an outcome, what are you striving for? Granted, outcomes are not always black and white, but a purpose should be fairly clear and concise on either a personal and/or team level.

With the fundamental principles of purpose and outcome(s) in mind, it is just as important for athletes to plan for failure as it is for them to plan for success. Some common approaches seen throughout the literature are the concepts of goal setting, deep breathing, and visualization (Adler et al., 2015). These are all equally important, but most are approached in a positive light (success) and not a negative light (failure). Coaches may want to embrace these mental training approaches from both perspectives in order to prepare their athletes for what may be an unexpected outcome.

The third, and final, key word in the definition of resilience is composure. Composure, while listed in the second position in the definition of resilience, is a key component for any athlete and/or coach. One’s ability to maintain composure in the face of uncertainty may make the difference between success and failure; life or death. As there is not a readily available and common definition of composure from a research perspective, we will think of composure as one’s ability to maintain a level head in the face of uncertain or trying circumstances.

In my experience as a researcher, composure is, more often than not, a subjective measure based on observation. However, it is not something that cannot be quantifiable. Self Determination Theory (SDT) is a great starting point for coaches that wish to seek out the impact of components related to composure. Empirically supported, SDT emphasizes three major sticking points: relatedness to the task, comprehension of the subject matter, and the autonomous means of approaching a task. One’s ability to maintain a level head in the face of adversity may rely on these factors. While not directly correlated with composure, SDT does show promise on the overall impact of performance (Mellinger, Cheek, Sibley, & Bergman, 2014) and should be considered moving forward with a basic mental performance plan.

Resilience in Objective Literature

Resilience is a high interest topic in the field of sport psychology, no doubt. But, the delivery of which resilience training programs are ‘best’ remains quite elusive, if not controversial. The US Army has the Comprehensive Solider Fitness (CSF) program; the US Navy SEALS has psychological skills training (PST); and professional athletes, more often than not, use life or skill coaches (Fitzwater et al., 2017). So which on is best? Based on the literature, the answer varies.

In order to determine which delivery method and/or program is the most effective, researchers need to be able to measure the outcomes related to resilience. In the case of Fitzwater et al. (2017), researchers sought to quantify the effects of mental skills (e.g., visualization, goal setting) as they related to overall performance. In more simplistic terms, they wanted data to support the notion that mental skills training could make an impact on military performance. Taking soldier’s from the British army’s para recruit program (n = 173), researchers revealed that mental skills did have general support for enhanced resilience and military performance.

So what? These results are important because they are what researchers call objective. In other words, they are results that are independent and apart from any personal bias. Proven test measures with high rates of validity and reliability were utilized to collect information to support or nullify a hypothesis. This is important because now one who may seek mental skills training has something to base a curriculum. This is contrary to the CSF program which is subjective. In other words, a subjective result is something that is based on observation, and personal experience which data may or may not support. This becomes an issue when personal biases may have a negative impact on the message one may be trying to deliver.

Studies such as the one described above are not without limitations. However, they do help take a proactive, data driven, approach to resiliency training.

Resilience Practices through Subjective Observation

With the previous section describing objective vs. subjective approaches to resilience training, it is important to note that many great programs may result from subjective experiences. However, before developing a complete mental skills regiment for the purpose of facilitation, an extensive search of the literature should be considered.

Having been exposed to both the CSF program and private based mental skills programs, I have learned that mental skills are highly independent and may be more effective through an individualized delivery method, rather than a generalized group setting. In other words, a strategy that works for a solider, may not work for an Olympian. The same goes for position specific sports. For example, a sprinter may need a different mental coaching strategy than a distance runner. The same applies for physical training: a sprinter wouldn’t want to run a 5k to train for a 100m dash, right? With that said, this may be extremely time consuming, thus simply exposing athletes to the potential benefit of cognitive performance may be a good preliminary delivery method for mental skills training.

Conclusion

Mental skills are important for enhancing performance, this is clear. What is not clear is what the best delivery method is. Both objective studies and subjective programs have their strengths and weaknesses, but the objective methods provide valid and reliable results from which one can be more comfortable in developing a comprehensive mental skills training program. As coaches, we need to be active in keeping up to date with the research. As athletes, we need to be open to new and innovative ways of gaining another competitive edge over an opponent. In the end, the advancement of our understanding surrounding mental skills and performance is only limited by our fear and/or unwillingness to try new things.

Article

Confidence is probably the most frequently talked about psychological factor. Confidence is typically noticed the most when it’s gone missing, so as a result effort is typically invested in restoring confidence.  If you build your confidence systematically through your training you can aim for a situation where you always know that you’re in the situation […]

Confidence is probably the most frequently talked about psychological factor. Confidence is typically noticed the most when it’s gone missing, so as a result effort is typically invested in restoring confidence.  If you build your confidence systematically through your training you can aim for a situation where you always know that you’re in the situation where you have optimal confidence at the times when you most need it. It’s worth considering the challenge of getting your confidence to peak at the right times in exactly the same way as you look to get your physiology to peak.

The general principles to be working towards with your confidence are:

  • create a robust foundation through all of your training and preparation that you know will not be compromised – a robust base, a bullet-proof core.
  • be clear when you’re peaking for a performance and consider the specific challenges that you’ll face for having peak confidence when you need it. Ensure that your confidence has been fine tuned from the solid base to be completely focused on stepping up to the specific challenges you’ll be taking on.
  • protecting confidence– identify specific situations where your confidence is challenged and be ready for these so that they don’t reduce confidence excessively. The greatest performers have got the balance just right between having a really strong/high level of confidence, but having a great ability to ‘not lose confidence’. Building a strong confidence foundation AND not losing confidence easily should be the combination you are constantly striving for.

To work out the relevance of each of these areas for you, it’s worth getting a feel for what your profile looks like on the 3 scales in combination. Have a look at the 3 scales below and mark yourself on each line to show where you’d score yourself for each of the 3 different components.

If you connect your scores on the three scales and you haven’t got a straight line through each of the 100%’s, then look at the performance benefit you think you might get from raising your score on the appropriate factor.If you can see a direct performance benefit to be gained from making the improvement, then take action.

Here are some key reminders that are worth evaluating relative to building and maintaining confidence.

  1. Know your strengths inside out so that you maximise impact of getting rid of weaknesses (in a lot of cases people spend all of their time focused on getting rid of weaknesses without having a strong grip on the strengths base that is beneath them. This creates an overly negative view of capabilities and can lead to a loss of confidence). If you don’t keep focused on your strengths frequently enough, you’ll easily find yourself going out to perform with the aim of minimising the negative impact of your weaknesses, rather than striving to exploit all of your strengths. Defensive mentality versus Attacking mentality.
  2. It’s clear that you have to work on weaknesses in order to improve performance. The golden rule to be taken from number 1 though is to follow the course of i) identify and value your strengths, ii) ensure strengths are exploited consistently and you can always deliver on them, iii) when ii has been achieved, begin to focus on reducing the negative impact of weaknesses, iv) once weaknesses have been reduced, focus on seeing if you can begin to add them to your strengths pool. A lot of problems with confidence occur when you cut straight to iii and iv and begin working on the negatives without a real understanding of your core performance strengths.
  3. No-one’s ever complained of having too much confidence! As long as the confidence you have doesn’t result in complacency then keep fuelling your confidence so that it’s as high and robust as possible.
  4. Check out your self-talk. The way in which you talk to yourself will give you a pretty good insight into how you’re influencing your own confidence. A useful check for your self-talk is to tune into it and then imagine that the words you’re saying to yourself are coming out of a coaches mouth. What would the impact be on your confidence if a coach was speaking to you in the way that you speak to yourself? If you’re not happy with what you hear, then work out what you would want to hear and fuel your own confidence by ensuring that you’re talking to yourself in that way as consistently as possible.
  5. Being confident doesn’t mean being positive for the sake of being positive. Facing up to problems and attacking them with maximum conviction is essential. So get the balance right between facing up to the reality of the challenges you need to take on and making sure that you take on those challenges with maximum belief and optimism that you’ll ultimately be successful.
  6. Confident body languageis an important factor to make sure you always benefit from. Being confident in your demeanour is an obvious variable to always exploit. So, how good are you at ALWAYS making sure that at key times your body language is having the best possible influence on your performance?
  7. Confidence is infectious, as is lack of confidence. Therefore, from a team perspective always look to make sure that you’re maximising your confidence so that you spread your confidence in yourself to other team members. If you’re confident in yourself, then it’s much easier for everybody else to be confident in you and just focus on raising their game without having to worry whether every body else is up to the challenge.
  8. The PROCESS/OUTCOME balance is critical in building and maintaining confidence. As much as possible ensure that you gain as much confidence as possible from all of the processes that you successfully deliver day in, day out. These repeat processes are your multiple injections of confidence to benefit daily from, rather than simply waiting for one large shot of confidence that comes from the occasional outcome or result. Grab the result injections when you can, but bank on process!

All of the confidence information above is focused upon you being maximally confident in your capabilities as an athlete – being confident in the process of training and performing, being confident as a result of the qualities that you carry around with you because of who you are and how you’ve developed your abilities.

There is very little reference above to getting confidence simply from winning or beating other people. Winning is obviously critical and having confidence that you know “how to win” is the kind of winning confidence you should be striving for.

In terms of the well coined “control the controllables”, your quest should be to make as much of your confidence as possible all about you.

The more that you take steps to ensure that your confidence is defined and refined by factors that are directly under your control, the stronger your confidence base will become.

Your confidence is such a valuable commodity that it’s worth making sure that you’re putting as much of it in place a possible, so that you can draw on it whenever you most need it.

Remember, confidence is ultimately knowing that you’re going to do what you say you’re going to! So, are you practising doing what you say you’re going to? Think ahead to a crucial time on a start line, and you’re sitting their absolutely knowing that you’re going to do what you’ve planned to do… now that’s a position of confidence.

Article

Imagine a time of which you had to overcome a significant challenge in your life. It could be a career change, personal loss, or even something small like choosing which route to take to work. With every challenge comes a consequence; and with every consequence comes an opportunity to learn, whether it is from a […]

Imagine a time of which you had to overcome a significant challenge in your life. It could be a career change, personal loss, or even something small like choosing which route to take to work. With every challenge comes a consequence; and with every consequence comes an opportunity to learn, whether it is from a negative or positive outcome.

One of the most gratifying experiences about my job is hearing about the challenges faced by veterans recovering from injury. The most common type of injuries are cognitive based (e.g., brain trauma), but other injuries include personal loss or bodily injury. Regardless of the type of injury, each poses their own unique set of challenges.  With this in mind, I have come to learn that the preparatory and application approach applied to a challenge ultimately that may make the difference between overcoming a challenge or falling short of expectations. Furthermore, the preparatory and application approach may assist in defining our character, assist or inhibit personal recovery, and/or set the foundation for how one allows or does not allow the challenge to govern our decision making. After spending time with veterans from the United States’ two longest conflicts in US military history, I have gained a unique perspective about how to embraces challenges as an opportunity rather than an intimidating obstacle.

Through observation and application, those approaching a challenge in a manner consistent with the betterment of one’s personal health will ultimately yield the most significant and beneficial results. In other words, taking ownership of the situation will enable oneself to approach a situation in a manner that is both achievable and, more importantly, approachable. One of the most impactful instances of this is when I witnessed veterans learning to walk again. The road to recovery for these veteran’s is both long and intimidating, but the one’s that chose to accept the situation, empathize with others, and lead their own recovery, ultimately had the most success.

Below are several common elements that I have gathered based on the testimony of others in similar situations:

  1. Approach a challenge as an opportunity to try new things. The approach to a challenge is not a ‘one size fits all approach’. Each challenge poses what are called sub-challenges and are based on the situation as much as the individual. For example, positive thinking is a common element that is preached to athletes. However, some individuals may be hindered by this, and may need to think more critically in order to be successful. Until you try something that differs from the masses, you may never know what make you successful in your own unique way.
  2. Just because it works for one challenge, may not mean it works for another challenge. As in the previous example, just because you found success in one strategy, may not mean it works for every challenge you face. Take a challenge as an opportunity to try new things (as above).
  3. Do not be afraid to fail. Failure is inevitable. One of the most impactful phrases I have heard on the job is that “those who (never) failed at some point in their life never took the risk to reach their fullest potential.” Be a leader and embrace failure as an opportunity to adapt your strategy for future challenges.
  4. Just because I overcame a challenge doesn’t mean it won’t come back. Mistakes are bound to happen at some point in life. In order to eliminate the potential of making multiple and/or repetitive mistakes, visualize a problem you my face before it occurs. Prepare for the unexpected and welcome mistakes during these hypothetical situations as an opportunity to strengthen your adaptability and problem solving skills.
  5. Just because it isn’t realistic, doesn’t mean it is impossible. Contrary to many life coaches of whom I have collaborated with, goals and expectations do not have to be realistic in order to become possible (granted, it helps). With enough drive and determination, accompanied by guidance and motivation, anyone can achieve anything. This is not to say that these goals will come easy, but it is to say that one can take small stumbles, learn from them, and achieve something great.

In the end, these elements are strictly observational in nature. They do not possess some of the hard ‘empirical’ support of elements of which is normally sought after. However, for someone looking to begin goal setting, these are a good place to start. Approach a challenge as an opportunity, embrace mistakes as a learning experience, learn to adapt through hardship, and never be afraid to come up short.

Article

ADHD (attention deficit hyperactivity disorder) is a mental disorder starting in early years which can go on to have significant negative effects on lives if not spotted and addressed (1). Often coaches and parents are unaware of hallmark features and can be reluctant to raise the issue as a problem due to embarrassment or ignorance. […]

ADHD (attention deficit hyperactivity disorder) is a mental disorder starting in early years which can go on to have significant negative effects on lives if not spotted and addressed (1). Often coaches and parents are unaware of hallmark features and can be reluctant to raise the issue as a problem due to embarrassment or ignorance. Combined with this is the question about where to go for help, is there any treatment and also is it not good for hyperactive kids to ‘let off some steam?’ Given the above, here is some practical tips for noticing it and what help looks like.

Diagnosis of ADHD can be challenging, sometimes requiring more than one mental health professional and a variety of skills and expertise. The diagnosis takes time and shouldn’t be rushed into. GPs are equipped to asked screening questions and identify possible suffers, referring onto secondary care. There have been concerns expressed in some countries with regards over diagnosis and a knock on effect of overprescribing of stimulant medication (2). UK based doctors are therefore hesitant to jump into diagnosis or medication and therefore want to ensure they’ve got things right for the patient. Validated scoring systems (3) and multidisciplinary approach are at the core of assessment and treatment.

The classic triad for diagnosis is hyperactivity, inattention and impulsivity. There are identifiable subtypes if one of these is predominantly seen. One can imagine how these are overlooked in a team sporting environment or passed off as being ‘normal.’ These signs and others should be evident in other settings, for example school, home and social events as well as in sport and have a significant effect on functioning. Around some team sports, hyperactivity especially at a younger age can be seen as a positive trait. A football coach’s dream is to have ‘an engine in midfield’ covering the work of 2 players, box to box until the fulltime whistle or indeed the openside flanker who makes twice as many tackles as anyone else. However when game plans and sticking to some instruction for betterment of team strategy comes into play, ADHD sufferers can struggle and in some instances fall away. Inattention and distractibility are often most apparent were requirement to engage in effortful tasks can be a major hurdle to overcome for the athlete. Coaches need to be mindful of this and some have reported benefit of giving ‘to the point’ messages and quick feedback to these players.

There is no singular cause seen for ADHD. Although there is a genetic component, this has only be partially located with the genome and any brain changes which may be seen require detailed imaging which doesn’t necessarily change long-term outcomes. Dopamine and in particular the D4 Receptor are thought to play a crucial role. Environment undoubtedly plays a role also and should be addressed if possible.

Features a coach might see in a child on a sports field would be difficulty staying on task, marked inattention on events, getting bored easily, reckless and prone to injury, cognitive delay when compared with peers and struggling with prolonged instruction.

As with any disease in medicine – non pharmacological methods of management should be trialled and considered first. This involves working to form positive relationships with the athlete, parents, extended family, carer and teachers. Sport specific management is an important aspect and coaches must contribute. It is easy for these players to become isolated in team sports, performance levels drop and interest wane. A coach should avoid any unexpected change, give basic feedback and instruction, encouragement 1 to 1 when possible and single messages at a time. Being able to be child specific with interaction style and responding to events in insightful ways can help too.

In summary, it is possible to spot ADHD with even some of the clues given above. Coaches often might see things that parents don’t and know that GPs and sports psychiatrists will consider all possibilities in good depth. There is no quick fixes for ADHD however their brains crave structure and sport participation has an important part to play not only in the physical benefits for these kids but social learning also.

Dr Thomas McCabe is a psychiatrist based in Glasgow with a specialist interest in sports psychiatry. He works with a variety of teams and organisations on the wider topic of mental health and is a key member of the Sports Psychiatry Royal College of Psychiatry Specialist Interest Group (#SEPSIG). He has carried out research into effectiveness of medication in ADHD.

Article

The 2018 Commonwealth Games has further reinforced the young age that some athletes are attending such high-profile events At just 11-years-old Anna Hursey became the face of the games in Table Tennis. Anish Bhanwala has become India’s youngest medallist as he earned a gold medal in the 25m Rapid Fire Pistol. The England Women’s artistic […]

The 2018 Commonwealth Games has further reinforced the young age that some athletes are attending such high-profile events

  • At just 11-years-old Anna Hursey became the face of the games in Table Tennis.
  • Anish Bhanwala has become India’s youngest medallist as he earned a gold medal in the 25m Rapid Fire Pistol.
  • The England Women’s artistic gymnastics teams average age was just 17 years with Taeja James (at 15) being the youngest English medallist at the Gold Coast.

Despite their young age these athletes will have been training for years and will have competed internationally on many occasions. These individuals will be training multiple times a day while balancing school and social lives. The key focus of this article will be to outline the (sport and non-sport) transitions that are experienced by young athletes with a focus on the balance of demands and resources.

Understanding Transitions

Transitions can have an impact on a person’s self-perceptions, motivation and moral development. Transition has been defined by Schlossberg (1981) as “an event or non-event which results in a change in assumptions about oneself and the world and thus requires a corresponding change in one’s behaviour and relationships” (p. 5). In the model of human adaptation to transition, Schlossberg (Schlossberg, 1981, 2004) identifies three sets of factors that interact during a transition, namely the characteristics of the individual experiencing the transition, the perception of the transition, and the characteristics of the pre-and-post-transition environments

Transitions for young athletes

  • The Sport environment – Athletes may experience a clear increase in frequency, intensity and types of training, and matches or competitions of a higher level than they were used to before (e.g. The Commonwealth Games).
  • Psychological changes – These sport environment changes will require a change in motivation to participate and a stronger focus during training. They may also result in a change in the importance they put on their sport and how that becomes a bigger part of their identity.
  • School commitments – An increase in the sport environment will raise challenges for the completion of school work and may even impact on school attendance. This may further impact social connections in school as individuals may lose contact with friends.

The Athletic Career Transition Model (Stambulova 2003)

This model reveals that the process of the transitional challenge starts for athletes with the demands posed to them to progress in their development and which stimulates them to mobilise resources to find ways to cope.

  • Demands – Includes all factors that may interfere with the development of the athlete (e.g dual career, GCSE exams).
  • Resources – Includes all internal and external factors that may facilitate the coping process (e.g. parental support, effective use of competencies, financial support).

The balance between demands and resources and the effective use of resources will determine the extent to which athletes are able to cope with the transitional challenges. If effective the process of coping can lead to a successful transition.

It’s your journey

There is no one size fits all when it comes to supporting individuals through any transition. Some young athletes may take all transitions in their stride and find that the resources available to them far outweigh the demands of the experience. Others may find even small transitions or environmental changes to be challenging and require more support with resources to help them cope. Here are some points to remember:

  • Some transitions may be smooth processes, and some may be more challenging. Appreciate that each transition is unique and influenced by many factors which may have a negative or positive impact on your personal experience at that time.
  • Identify transitions in advance and list any demands that may arise because of them. (As a coach or a parent can you help your young athletes identify these demands?)
  • Ensure you have the resources you need to work through the identified demands. (As a coach or a parent can you help your young athletes identify resources?)

The young athletes at the Commonwealth Games will have experienced transitions despite their young age. Each of these experiences will have shaped who they are as an athlete at this stage but also who they are as a person. Facilitating an understanding of career transitions with young athletes and the appreciation of demands and resources will help them to appreciate what they have learnt when they face later life transitions (e.g. changing jobs, moving to a new house, retirement from sport).

“Develop the person alongside the performer. Facilitating the competence of the person across all aspects of his or her life by focusing on the nurturing of psychological skills that could be used to help the individual be successful beyond sport.”  Neil and Cropley, 2017 – Delivering Sport Psychology across Youth Sport Contexts

Article

Five seconds left and a basketball team has the ball, down by one point. The coach has set a play for the team to execute and so far it is running smoothly. An athlete catches the ball, wide open for a three-point shot (three-pointer), but he also sees a teammate wide open, very close to […]

Five seconds left and a basketball team has the ball, down by one point. The coach has set a play for the team to execute and so far it is running smoothly. An athlete catches the ball, wide open for a three-point shot (three-pointer), but he also sees a teammate wide open, very close to the basket. What decision should be made? Should he take the three-pointer or pass to the teammate?

Decision Making

Individual performance and team success are heavily dependent on the decisions made within the competition. More times than none, the team which makes the most amount of ‘correct’ decisions, usually wins the match (Cotterill & Discombe, 2016).

Decision-making is defined as the cognitive process resulting in the selection of actions among several possibilities (Chamberlain & Coelho, 1993).  Effective decision making requires the integration of perception and knowledge of previous experiences, to produce the desired action (Cotterill & Discombe, 2016; Klein & Calderwood, 1991; Perrig & Wippich, 1995).

Decision making in sports is of high importance due to the sporting environment and the pressurised demands placed on athletes. For example, the sport of tennis requires a constant transition from offence to defence. For this reason, decisions need to be made quickly and accurately. This is in order to hit the ball to the desired spot and defend against the opposition. Researchers have investigated decision making in multiple individual and team sports, with results suggesting a positive correlation with the speed and success of a made decision and multiple sport demands. These demands are pattern recognition, anticipation and reactive agility (Hepler, 2015; Paull & Glencross, 1997; Scanlan, Humphries, Tucker & Dalbo, 2014).

In addition to research, decision making theory has been established, dividing decision making into three categories. These are decision quality (the success of the made decision), decision speed (time taken to execute the decision) and decision efficacy (the belief that the decision made was the right one) (Hepler, 2016; Hepler & Feltz, 2012). More specifically, theories have been established, providing potential explanations of this decision making process; with its implication to sports. These include classic decision making, where it is suggested that decision making can only be correct through rational analysis. Another model is naturalistic decision making. It is suggested that in a time-pressured situation, a correct decision is conducted through recognition, holistic evaluation and satisfying the decision-making criteria placed on the task (e.g. finding the target, correctly positioning the body) (Abraham & Collins, 2011; Balague, Hristovski & Vazquez, 2008; Beach & Lipshitz, 1993; Collins & Collins, 2013; Klein & Calderwood, 1991).

These theories bring into focus a different aspect of decision making, emphasising the diversity of the decision-making process. Furthermore, it is evident that these theories require the athlete to be in a psychological state where they can focus and have belief in their ability to make a correct decision. Relating this back to the previous basketball scenario, if the athlete undergoes the decision-making process and decides to attempt a three-pointer, he needs to have belief in his ability. This belief should not only in the decision he made being the correct one, but also in his ability to successfully perform a three-pointer. This self-belief is referred to as self-efficacy.

Self-Efficacy

Self-efficacy is defined as a person’s judgement of their capabilities to execute the desired actions (Bandura, 1977). It is not concerned with the skills an individual possesses, but rather the judgements one makes with whatever skills he or she possesses (Moritz, Feltz, Fahrbach, & Mack, 2000).

High self-efficacy is produced and enhanced from four sources:

    • Mastery Experiences: Previously successfully completing a task gives an individual self-efficacy in their subsequent performance. An athlete is more likely to perform a skill in competition if they have previously executed it successfully in training.

    • Vicarious Experiences: A combination of using models and observing yourself (recording or mental imagery) to facilitate positive change in the mind and body (Dowrick, 1999; Keller & Carlson, 1974; Maibach & Flora, 1993).

    • Verbal Persuasion: Receiving compliments about individuals performance ability. For example, a coach congratulating an athlete on their improvement (Tod, Thatcher, & Rahman, 2010; Tschannen-Moran & Hoy, 2007).

    • Physiological and Emotional states:  Used to gauge whether the individual is compatible with the task demands (Britner & Pajares, 2006; Maddux & Gosselin, 2003; Tod et al., 2010).

These four sources do not work separately, but rather they operate together to influence self-efficacy. For example, verbal persuasion can increase persistence when experiencing setbacks, mastery experiences can increase this further; with an indication of progression evident through physiological and emotional states.

Self-Efficacy and Decision Making

The relationship between decision-making and self-efficacy is evident, as effective decision making requires the integration of perception and knowledge of previous experiences to produce the desired action. This action would not be successful unless the athlete has a belief in their ability to perform the desired action (self-efficacy) (Cotterill & Discombe, 2016; Perrig & Wippich, 1995; Wood & Bandura, 1989). In addition, knowledge of previous experiences is evident through mastery experiences, aiding in an accurately produced action.

Looking into this relationship in more detail, high levels of self-efficacy positively correlate to performing the desired action quickly (decision speed), accurately (decision quality) and with the belief that it will be successful (decision efficacy); with decision efficacy being produced through the four sources of self-efficacy (Hepler, 2016). For example, if a basketball player had previously executed a jump shot successfully (mastery experience), levels of self-efficacy would elevate. A subsequent increase would occur in athletes levels of decision-making speed, efficacy in the decision made and decision quality. This is supported through studies in the sport of basketball and baseball, with the results indicating that high levels of self-efficacy were a positive predictor of participants decision making quality, efficacy and speed (Hepler & Chase, 2008; Hepler, 2016).

In relation to decision-making theory, this is congruent with naturalistic decision making. As this theory suggests that decision making in experts is conducted through recognition (Collins & Collins, 2013), if an athlete has conducted mastery or vicarious experiences (producing higher levels of self-efficacy), when placed in a time-pressured situation, satisfying the decision-making criteria would be easier (due to the previous successful experience), resulting in performing a fast and successful decision (Hepler & Feltz, 2012).

Applied Implications

Research has found positive results in participants level of self-efficacy and decision making abilities. It can therefore be suggested that by practitioners and coaches applying techniques to increase athletes self-efficacy, an indirect effect on their decision making ability could occur.

Applied implications for practitioners would be that when working with athletes who are aiming to increase their decision-making abilities, psychological techniques which have been shown to enhance self-efficacy (imagery and self-talk) can be used (Callow, Hardy & Hall, 2001; Tod, Hardy, & Oliver, 2011). This can then be integrated with decision-making exercises related to the demands of the athletes’ sport. This would increase the likelihood of a quick, accurate and successful decision being made. It would also increase the likelihood of this performance level being maintained, due to the increased level of self-efficacy.

Applied implications for coaches would be that through using coaching techniques to increase self-efficacy, an indirect effect could occur in athletes decision-making ability. For example, coaches could assess athletes physiological and emotional states to gauge what area of the task demands need to be improved. When this has been identified, training within this area can be conducted (mastery experiences). Words of encouragement can also be given to the athletes when improvements have been made (verbal persuasions). Once these skills have been consistently performed successfully, athletes should have high levels of self-efficacy and feel comfortable applying it within competition; performing the desired action quickly, accurately and successfully.

Conclusion

In conclusion, research within the field of decision making has shown that self-efficacy could play an influential role in the success and speed a decision is made (Hepler & Chase, 2008; Hepler, 2016, Hepler & Feltz, 2012). This is important in the context of sports due to the demands placed on athletes and the improvement of the possibility of winning if the ‘correct’ decisions are made. Although these results have been found, most of these studies have only been conducted in laboratory setting. To gain a deeper understanding of this relationship, field studies need to be conducted. In addition, as multiple variables influence an athlete, positive results cannot be certain. Never the less, the consistency of results found in previous research suggests that by applying techniques to increase athletes self-efficacy, a positive impact on athletes decision-making capabilities could occur; aiding athletes to perform more successfully in competition.

Article

It often said ‘what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger’. But we all react to adversity in different ways. While some seem to be able to push through hardship, for others it can be more of a struggle. Resilience is the ability to bounce back from adversity and the use of personal qualities to withstand […]

It often said ‘what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger’. But we all react to adversity in different ways. While some seem to be able to push through hardship, for others it can be more of a struggle. Resilience is the ability to bounce back from adversity and the use of personal qualities to withstand pressure 1. In a stressful fast-changing world it can help inoculate against mental illness while boosting performance 7. So how can athletes and coaches train these skills to withstand the ‘pressure-cooker‘ of the athletic environment?

Athletic resilience

The athletic domain breeds a ‘win at all costs’ attitude. However, what many don’t realise is that winning often has much to do with sacrifice and vulnerability as it does toughness and mental resolve. Individuals sceptical of psychology may think athletes are simply endowed with exceptional genetic gifts and super-human qualities, but athletes know better than anyone that winning is all in the mind 5. Thus like the physical components of sport, coaches and athletes need to monitor, train and develop athlete’s psychology skills.

In sport, adversity is usually associated with competitive performance, sports organisation within which the athletes operate and personal ‘Non-sporting’ life events 2. The continuous training, performance and selection, brings significant mental resilience challenges for both athletes and coaches as well as the burden of stressors common in everyday life 3. However, recent issues surrounding the duty of care that sport has towards athletes has led to the acknowledgement that mental resilience is not something that athletes and coaches innately possess and should be developed with the same consideration that physical resilience is built 3.

In light of the importance of the environment in building resilience, this blog intends to encourage the use of practices that facilitate the development of psychological resilience to produce desirable outcomes such as:

  • Optimal motivation
  • Regulation of thoughts, mental images and emotions
  • Maintenance of attention on key stimuli
  • Attain, maintain and regain confidence in oneself and others
  • Handle pressure and cope with distress 2

Resilience & the environment

Although psychological resilience is, by definition, a mental and emotional construct displayed in individuals actions, it is profoundly influenced by an extensive range of environmental factors such as social, cultural or occupational sources 4. Thus, rather than being viewed as a fixed trait, resilience should be looked at as a capability that can be developed through person-environment interactions. Athletes do not live or compete within a vacuum; due to this, the environment in which a player grows and develops requires particular attention. As demonstrated by the below quote:

When a flower doesn’t bloom, you fix the environment in which it grows, not the flower” – Alexander den Heijer

If we use this analogy of comparing an athlete to a flower, it is easier to understand why certain athletes do not achieve full potential.  If a flower was placed in an environment with no light, sun or water, it would not grow. In the same way, if an athlete has no support, challenge or guidance they will not develop.  Thus, although resilience is a well known ‘Hot-topic’ within psychology it is only recently that the environment in which this is developed has received specific attention. For example, in a BASES expert statement, Dr Sarkar recently discussed the role of the environment in developing resilience (See link).   Henceforth, the aim of this blog is to extend upon this information and translate resilience research into a practical tool for athletes and coaches to apply.

Challenge & Support: 

Drawing upon the work of Dr Fletcher and Dr Sarkar in their study of mental fortitude training, of fundamental importance to developing high levels of resilience and subsequently performance, are the notions of challenge and support1. But what do these mean to athletes and coaches?  

Challenge 

  1. Having high expectations of people
  2. Increasing accountability and responsibility
  3. Stretching people outside of their comfort zones1

Support 

  1. Enabling people to develop their personal qualities
  2. Building trust
  3. Providing guidance and feedback1

Figure 1: A challenge and support matrix for developing resilience1

As shown in figure 1, there are 4 identified environments that can be created by leaders:

  1. Unrelenting environments (High challenge-Low support)
  2. Facilitative environments (High challenge-High support)
  3. Stagnant environments (Low challenge-Low support)
  4. Comfortable environments (Low challenge-High support)

Each environment is characterised by different features, but for a development of resilience, optimal performance and wellbeing, a facilitative environment is pivotal.

What does a facilitative environment look like?

World-class hockey coach Ric Charlesworth perfectly summarised what the ideal coaching environment looks like for optimal performance and welfare for athletes, stating:

“The interesting thing about coaching is that you have to trouble the comfortable, and comfort the troubled”  

The aforementioned statement perfectly aligns with the ideal characteristics of a facilitative environment.  Suggesting that in order to facilitate both excellence and welfare in elite sport, the environment must balance both high levels of support and challenge. Therefore, coaches need to have an exceptional awareness of their athlete’s as an unrelenting environment can be detrimental to an athlete’s well being.  However, for many coaches there is still a question of whether welfare should come before winning?  Due to this, academics at Loughborough University have identified the following characteristics of a facilitative environment 1:

  • Supportive challenge towards a goal
  • Individuals have input into and task ownership of goals
  • Healthy competition
  • A psychologically safe environment which encourages risk-taking
  • Learn from mistakes and failure
  • Good relationships between performers, leaders or coaches

How do you deal with the pressures of the environment?

Pressure is an inevitable part of sport. Let’s use the Olympics for example; you have 4 years of preparation for, in some cases, a 9-second performance in order to get a gold medal. However, it is how these athletes cope with this pressure and overcome adversities along the way that separates those who medal and those who do not. In an interview with BBC Radio 5 live Andrew Strauss, a top English Cricketer talked about learning from other players in order to deal with pressure:

“The first guy was Justin Langer from Australia because the way he was able to deal with pressure was by leaving nothing to chance in his preparations, so he prepared so thoroughly that anything that he encountered on the cricket pitch he was ready for” 

This type of preparation to deal with pressure and adversity alludes to the techniques suggested by Dr Fletcher and Colleagues 1 surrounding pressure inurement training.  Through the manipulation of the environment in training to increase stress and pressure athletes develop the skills to maintain functioning and performance under pressure. A coach who stands by this technique is Dennis Bergkamp stating in an interview with the Guardian:

You put a right-footed player who can’t do anything with his left side and force him to use his left foot. Of course in that game, you will probably lose because you don’t use your strongest position, but in the end, you have a player who used his left foot when he was 12 and 13 and 14, and he can use both feet when he comes into the first team

In line with Bergkamp’s coaching strategy pressure inurement training involves a gradual increase in pressure on an individual via challenge and the manipulation of the environment. This takes place in two main ways:

  1. Increasing the demand of the stressors (type, property or dimension)
  2. Increasing the significance of the appraisals (relevance, importance, consequences)

These adaptations should create an environment that drives peak performance. Simultaneously the environment should be adapted and manipulated to increase the support provided. When the pressure surpasses available resources, the chances an individual reacts with a negative outcome are increased. Hence, motivational feedback and support should be provided 8.

Nevertheless, sport is not the only domain advocating this ‘courage to try, resilience to fail’ mind-set.  Businesses such as Fail Forward help organisations learn to deal with pressure and failure in order to build resilience.  Similarly, the U.S Army has developed the comprehensive soldier fitness (CFS) programme, in order to develop resilience in the soldiers, family members and Army civilians 6. Therefore, developing the psychology skill of resilience can buffer against the adversities experienced in all aspects of life.

Implications for athletes & coaches:

  1. Adopt a multi-level approach– In order to develop resilience in elite sport, particularly creating and maintaining a facilitating environment, a multi-level approach is essential . It is not only the job of the coach, but the support staff, parents, leaders, managers and teammates to create the desired culture. One main way to achieve this is through motivational and developmental feedback
  2. Train under pressure – Becoming well adapted to dealing with highly pressurised situations in training enables athletes to be prepared for anything within a competitive situation.  Through manipulating the environment within training an athlete can become well equipped with stressful stimuli and appraise these positively 1.
  3. Lean on each other – Support from teammates, coaches and significant others are invaluable in the highly pressurised sporting environment. Being able to ask for support and providing it to others is a highly useful tool in the development of resilience.  Coaches and athletes need to ensure an environment is created in which there is no stigma attached to asking for help 10.
  4. Challenge yourself  & don’t be afraid to fail– Mirroring the physical aspects of sport, athletes need to increase the stress of stimuli in order to adapt and improve. A training atmosphere should be created in which individuals are not afraid to fail. Athletes should learn from failure and how to ‘get back up’ after a failure
Article

Young athletes will experience times when they struggle with their confidence and it is low, they will also experience the opposite where confidence is high, and everything seems to be straightforward. With some effort and the right knowledge and support young athletes can take control of their confidence. This doesn’t mean that they will be […]

Young athletes will experience times when they struggle with their confidence and it is low, they will also experience the opposite where confidence is high, and everything seems to be straightforward. With some effort and the right knowledge and support young athletes can take control of their confidence. This doesn’t mean that they will be full of confidence 100% of the time, but its presence can be increased.

What is confidence?

Confidence can be linked to a variety of terms that are all interlinked and are often used interchangeably.

  • Self-confidence – The belief that one has the internal resources, particularly abilities, to achieve success.
  • Sport Confidence – Used to describe a sport-specific confidence, which is an athlete’s belief that he or she has the ability to perform successfully in sport (Vealey, 1986)
  • Perceived competence – Focuses on the skills individuals perceive they possess. Self-confidence focuses on people’s beliefs about what they can do with the skills that they have (e.g. perform successfully).

The importance of Confidence for Young Athletes

Self-efficacy theory states that self-confidence influences how people behave, think and emotionally respond in various situations (Bandura, 1997). Behaviourally, levels of confidence or self-efficacy influence young athlete’s motivation in terms of the choices they make, the effort they expend, the persistence they show in the face of difficulty, and the resilience they demonstrate in rebounding from failure. Chase (2001) found that 13-14-year-old athletes high in self-efficacy had stronger motivation to participate in sport in the future compared to low self-efficacy children. Perceived physical competence has been linked to positive emotions in youth sport such as feeling pride, satisfaction and enjoyment (Ebbeck and Weiss, 1998).

What happens when confidence is low?

A lack of confidence is often accompanied by feelings of worry, uncertainty, fear, doubt and/or anxiety. If young athletes are experiencing one or all of these, then they are unlikely to perform consistently well. These feelings are likely to have an impact on an athlete mentally and physically which can be detrimental to aspects of their performance like decision making and co-ordination. These performance issues may then prevent the young athlete from being the best they can be in their given environment (which may subsequently reduce their confidence further).

How can we build confidence in Young Athletes?

Vealey, Chase and Cooley (2018) outlined case studies related to confidence in various domains. These cases provide suggestions that can help us understand young athlete’s confidence within various age groups.

  • Importance of fundamental motor skills and physical literacy for confidence – If we go right back to the early stages of a young athlete’s development, then fundamental motor skills and physical literacy are the main areas of focus. An important goal for all children in these early stages is the attainment of physical literacy, which is the physical competence and confidence to maintain physical activity at an individually appropriate level throughout life.
  • Developmental changes in perceived competence – The age and developmental stage of a young athlete will affect the way that they view their competence. Children become more accurate in assessing their personal competence as they age. Additionally they will use different sources of information upon which to base their confidence as they age.
  • Maturational influences on confidence and importance of mastery orientation – The rate that an individual matures will impact upon their confidence and the role of mastery orientation. For example, because of their early success, early maturing boys receive a lot of recognition and attention from coaches, which fuels their confidence and motivation in sport but as others catch them up this confidence could be knocked.
  • Learned helplessness – Learned helplessness happens when people become conditioned to believe that a situation is unchangeable or inescapable. Attributions affect confidence and motivation because they are the reasons young people identify as to why they succeed or fail. Learned helplessness can hamper confidence and motivation to get better because and individual does not believe they can improve.
  • Coach expectancy and feedback – It is important to remember the huge influence that coaches can have on the confidence of young athletes as they progress through their respective sporting environments. Coaches can influence youth athlete’s confidence through various aspects of the coach-athlete relationship including modelling and leadership, trust, encouragement and performance feedback.
  • Importance of developing and reinforcing a growth mindset in young athletes – The Growth mindset will be key for young athletes. Although confidence is based on beliefs about abilities, an athlete can believe his ability is either (a) fixed and unchanging (fixed mindset) or (b) something that can continually be improved and developed (growth mindset) (Dweck, 2006)
  • Performance slump and loss of confidence – The most important source of confidence for young athletes is their performance. So it is not surprising that when athlete’s performance decreases, their confidence subsequently suffers, this can be a vicious circle for many if not addressed early enough.

Final Points…

From the 7 areas identified above it is clear to see that there is a wide range of concepts that relate to young athletes’ confidence in the sport domain. Identifying that an athlete is low on confidence will be the first step, while then understating why this has happened and what needs to be done to help them build it back up again. From this point forward remember that confidence can be improved!!