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?
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:
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?
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:
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:
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:
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.
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.
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.
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!!
In any sport, it is generally accepted that the performance of a coach influences the performance of their athlete/team. So, it is not only important to assess the factors that influence athlete/performance, but those that influence the coach’s too. Coaches can be taught to devise the best possible training plan and given the best possible […]
In any sport, it is generally accepted that the performance of a coach influences the performance of their athlete/team. So, it is not only important to assess the factors that influence athlete/performance, but those that influence the coach’s too.
Coaches can be taught to devise the best possible training plan and given the best possible advice to implement their agenda, but their behaviour while executing the plan will have a great impact on the development of the athlete/team.
There are multiple constraints and factors that influence a coach’s behaviour. Knowing these factors and building a coaching environment around them, can help to maximise the coach-athlete/team relationship.
What Influences a Coach’s Behaviour?
A coach’s behaviour is influenced by a number of things, including ideological, institutional, cultural and ethical factors (Jones, 2000). But that’s not all. Coaches are also competing with their egos and hidden hierarchical structures (Purdy, Potrac, & Jones, 2008), to name a few.
So, let’s think about how we can gain an understanding of all of these factors that influence a coach’s behaviour.
Any understanding relates to how the person (in this case the coach) perceives the nature of reality, and the nature of knowledge. Put simply, there exists an underlying philosophy that informs our understanding of their behaviour.
To inspect this underlying philosophy, there are a number of different learning (Behaviourist, Cognitivism and Constructivism) theories that have been put forward over recent times. However, in the simplest possible terms, coaches develop a philosophy through their “learning sources”.
Learning sources are the places from which coaches have gathered the information that they pass onto the their athlete/team. These include their past playing experiences, Continuing Professional Development (CPD) courses, as well as their coaching badges, mentoring, reflective practices and problem based learning.
The Link Between Learning Sources and a Coach’s Behaviour
To understand the influence of these learning sources, let’s take a look at a case study of a top level football coach (Jones, 2003) called Steve Harrison.
Harrison states that he learned a lot from trial and error (Behaviourist – connectionism) and believes that mentoring “is a primary and valued knowledge source”.
As Harrison says: “You learn as you go along, you learn by experience. What I do has basically come from watching people I admire and people I don’t admire a lot of times, but with a variation on the theme … you add variations of your own; I think that’s how people learn.”
This point highlights the link between learning sources and coach behaviour. However, Harrison admits that he once misunderstood the connection between the two, which led to one of his biggest regrets in football.
Harrison says: “That’s where I made my biggest mistake in management. I managed like Graham Taylor, but I’m not Graham Taylor. I wasn’t like Graham, and I’ll never be like him. But I thought that was the done thing.”
“So, I took my personality away and tried to do it like that and messed myself up. I didn’t enjoy it all and the players didn’t either. So, you work in the manner you feel comfortable with.”
Developing a philosophy that is based around a coach’s personality and their own style of learning therefore seems critical.
In Steve Harrison’s case, giving one on one time to develop a personal relationship with athletes and taking the time to grow a social relationship with them seems key. Affording him the space to do so may help to maximise his performance. However, this approach wouldn’t work for every coach, it comes down to the individual’s philosophy.
This leads us to another interesting point, as Harrison’s account emphasises the difficulty for governing bodies to create coaching courses, as “one size fits all” may not be the best approach.
While a “one size fits all” approach may be the most efficient of doing things, it is a key learning source that will suit some coaches more than others, depending on their personality.
By failing to align learning sources and personality, the philosophy that certain coaches develop may not link with their greatest human strengths. This can result in coaches failing to meet their potential.
How Much of an Impact do Learning Sources Have on a Coach’s Performance?
To highlight how these learning sources impact a coach’s performance, let’s look at the difference between coaches who coach different age groups.
Parkington et al (2014) studied coach behaviour by assessing 12 youth coaches across six different age groups. The behavioural results showed coaches of the younger age groups used more instructions and more training form activities, whereas coaches of the older groups used more divergent questioning and playing form activities.
Additional information was collected from interviews stated that it was the coach’s beliefs, their previous coaching experiences and perceived pressures from the context that determined their behaviour. This context can be dependant on the traits of the athlete/team, with age being one example.
The experiment highlights how a coach’s behaviour can be influenced by the context of their surroundings. So, if we are training coaches in a “one size fits all” environment, they will all be learning within the same context. Therefore, systematic training could create systemic coaching ideologies.
However, if everyone were to develop their own philosophies, based on their personality and experiences, these patterns would perhaps be less likely to emerge.
So, if we all conform to the same learning sources, this study suggests that we could be fabricating behaviour, which may not be best-suited to the coach and could therefore harm the athlete’s/team’s performance.
To develop an elite coach’s learning it’s important to acknowledge its complexity. Coaches should ideally be given the space to develop their own philosophies, to help maximise athlete/team performance.
The more we take the time to understand/research a coach’s preferences, the more we can help direct them to develop a style of coaching that is best for them. This should ultimately help the coach get the most out of their athlete/team.
Thanks to Charlie Mitchell, a Freelance Journalist, for helping to put this article together.
Expectation is defined as ‘a strong belief that something will happen or be the case in the future’. Expectations can affect athletes in various ways and can lead performers to react in positive ways (Mothes et al, 2017), although often the reaction is negative (Mesagno & Beckmann, 2017). Expectation and confidence… Often in sport it is assumed […]
Expectation is defined as ‘a strong belief that something will happen or be the case in the future’. Expectations can affect athletes in various ways and can lead performers to react in positive ways (Mothes et al, 2017), although often the reaction is negative (Mesagno & Beckmann, 2017).
Expectation and confidence…
Often in sport it is assumed that these two concepts go hand in hand – if athletes expect to win or expect to play well, they are confident they can win or play well. But this is far from the truth. It is often the case that expectations hold athletes back from developing high levels of confidence. (For more information on confidence, see my previous article ‘Why is Confidence important for Young Athletes?’).
Some points to remember with these two concepts are that:
Expectations in Youth Sport…
The increased focus and time commitment in one sport (specialisation), can often come with the expectation that young athletes will experience a lifelong, highly successful journey in their respective sport. However, this is not always the case. To maintain an involvement in sport, young athletes need to have high levels of confidence (based on past performance and training) without the judgmental behaviour that comes with expectation.
Young athletes that feel the pressure of expectation will have started to imagine negative outcomes that are yet to occur (Cohn, 2017); ‘my parents and coaches have invested a lot of time and money in my sport involvement so they expect me to keep going and perform well but I am going to disappoint them if I don’t do well’. In this instance, the player has imagined that they will perform badly before they even set foot on the field.
Helping young athletes manage the pressure of expectation (Process focus)
Often athletes focus upon the outcomes of matches or competitions such as the result, which they have almost no control over, or they get too fixated upon outcome goals such as scoring goals, winning points or getting high scores from judges. Instead, athletes should focus upon the simpler processes of their sport which, when attained correctly, will eventually add up to playing well, competing effectively, winning games or competitions and maintaining participation.
Too many athletes forget that goals, tries, personal bests and medals are made up of lots of little competencies completed correctly again and again. Once athletes focus upon perfecting these small movements, better performances follow and subsequently better results after that (Schunk & Schwsartz, 1993).
Manageable objectives can be used to help young athletes focus on specific tasks during their performance. No judgments are involved. Objectives create a process-oriented focus that helps athletes concentrate on execution. Furthermore, once these objectives are fulfilled, the athlete will gain confidence, rather than feel disappointed. An athlete that is perfecting the processes of their performance is very rarely an athlete that feels the weight of expectation upon them.
Identifying your process focus…
Process goals provide one facet in establishing a “live in the moment” attitude
Over the years, there has been many athletes that have been tipped to be the next big star, but fail to reach their full potential. One example is Freddy Adu, who in 2004, at the age of just 14, became the youngest athlete in America to sign a professional contract playing football for D.C United […]
Over the years, there has been many athletes that have been tipped to be the next big star, but fail to reach their full potential. One example is Freddy Adu, who in 2004, at the age of just 14, became the youngest athlete in America to sign a professional contract playing football for D.C United in the Major League Soccer (MLS). He was the youngest player to appear and score in the MLS and was referred to ‘as the next Pele’. Many people believed he was going to become one of football’s top players.
Fast forward 13 years. Did Freddy Adu become one of football’s top players? Sadly not. Since his big money move to Benfica in 2007, Adu has played for 10 different professional clubs in 10 years and now at the age of just 28, he is currently a ‘free agent’ and doesn’t play for any club.
So why didn’t Freddy Adu reach the levels everybody thought he would and why do so many other athletes suffer the same fate? One answer maybe some athletes don’t have the right mindset required to fulfil their potential and succeed at the elite level. If that is the case, what type of mindset does an athlete need to be successful?
According to psychologist Carol Dweck, there are two types of mindsets people possess; fixed and growth mindset. Everyone will hold both mindsets, but will often tend to favour one mindset more than the other.
Individuals with a fixed mindset have the belief that traits such as intelligence, ability and athleticism are fixed, and no matter what you do or try, these traits cannot be changed (Dweck, 2006, 2009). As a result, these individuals tend not to value effort and are more focused upon looking the best. Often, people with a fixed mindset won’t fulfil their full potential due to not investing the required levels of effort to succeed. Research has repeatedly identified that a fixed mindset commonly leads the tendency to give up easily when faced with setbacks, due to the fear of failure and looking stupid (Dweck, 2006, 2009). In their eyes, if you can’t succeed at something, there is no point in persisting because you simply don’t have the intelligence to be successful. Often this is reason many young athletes who are described as having lots of potential, fail to transition to the top level.
People who favour a growth mindset will perceive that success and achievement is a long journey that involves hard-work, dedication and persistence. Their belief is that traits such as talent and intelligence can be developed and improved over time and if they work hard enough they will achieve their full potential. Research has shown that developing a growth mindset can lead to positive results such as developing higher levels of resilience in the face of difficulties (Yeager & Dweck, 2012; Hinton & Hendrick, 2015), persisting for longer periods (Mueller & Dweck, 1998) and achieving higher results (Dweck, 2008).
When analysing the processes of the two mindset types, it is clear to see how a fixed mindset could have been attributed to Freddy Adu’s career failure to reach the heights people expected him to. His early career success was regularly linked to his natural ability and the similarities to the football icon Pele. However, growth mindset behaviours such as hard-work, commitment and persistence were rarely mentioned. Potentially, the constant praise on his ability could have led Freddy Adu to develop a fixed mindset and believe his success was predominately down to his natural ability. This follows previous research carried out by Mueller and Dweck (1998), who identified that when students were praised on their intelligence/ability rather than their hard-work, their motivation and performance were diminished.
With research demonstrating a growth-mindset approach to be a predictor of long-term success. The key question is, how can athletes effectively learn to develop the processes of a growth mindset and increase their chance of reaching their full potential? The first step is to be aware that the journey to long-term success won’t result from only talent and ability. If you asked any elite athlete, was becoming successful easy? They would say no and state behaviours such as high levels of effort, persistence and always striving to learn, are the vital ingredients to achieving success. The quotes below from Michael Phelps (Most decorated Olympian) and Cristiano Ronaldo (4x world footballer of the year) encapsulate the importance of always aspiring to learn and to develop.
Michael Phelps: ‘There will be obstacles, there will be doubters, there will be mistakes. But with hard work, there are no limits’.
Cristiano Ronaldo: ‘I feel an endless need to learn, to improve, to evolve, not only to please the coach and the fans, but also feel satisfied with myself’.
The second step to is to set no limits. Setting limits on what you can achieve, will limit what you can achieve. Always consider there is something new to learn and every experience you encounter, you will be able to use to help you develop.
A key ingredient to developing a growth mindset is the ability to embrace setbacks/failure and learn from those experiences, what you need to do to improve. Most importantly, use that failure to fuel your motivation to succeed and fulfil your full potential. The top athletes in the world can successfully perform in all environments; both normal and challenging because they learnt from their past mistakes and failure.
Finally, identify your sources of inspiration that pushes you to develop and succeed. Your source of inspiration could be the ambition to participate an international competition, become a professional athlete in your chosen sport, be inspired by the success of another athlete or simply have the desire to improve because you enjoy performing.
Embracing a growth mindset, could be the answer to you reaching your full potential.
Mamma Mia! Italy’s football team failed to qualify to the next 2018 World Cup for the first time in 60 years. The front page of La Gazzetta dello Sport, Italy’s leading sport newspaper, pictured a very desperate Gigi Buffon, captain and goalkeeper, and in bold letters the word “The End”. The disappointment and the anger […]
Mamma Mia! Italy’s football team failed to qualify to the next 2018 World Cup for the first time in 60 years. The front page of La Gazzetta dello Sport, Italy’s leading sport newspaper, pictured a very desperate Gigi Buffon, captain and goalkeeper, and in bold letters the word “The End”. The disappointment and the anger are still fresh, and it is still at this time a very touchy subject especially in a country where football is considered a religion. However, it is important to talk about it without trying to point fingers and finding someone to blame but instead as a learning lesson. Put aside the coach, his choices and the players, Italy were not a cohesive powerful team and the turning point was the 3-0 loss against Spain.
Now that the Italian football team will try to pick itself up renovating players and staff, there is so much that can be learned from the best teams after Spain’s football domination where they won the European Championship in 2008 and 2012, and the World Cup in 2010, and Germany latest victory at the 2014 World Cup. What makes these two teams successful is not just the talent and the skills that they have, but also the mindset, team cohesion and unity.
Germany for example is known for its selfless attitude. The football team is known as Die Mannschaft which translates to “The Team”. Yes, there are many talented and remarkable players in the squad however not one of them tries to be in the limelight. The whole team is in the limelight, there are not individual stars. After Germany thrashed Brazil 7:1 in the 2014 World Cup semi-final, the tweet “Portugal has Ronaldo, Brazil has Neymar, Argentina has Messi, but Germany has a team!” went viral. Their cohesiveness and cooperation not only made them bring home optimal results, but it was also debilitating for the opponents.
So, young sports teams (not just football) that want to strive to success and perform better need to work on their unity and cohesiveness. A starting point can be drawn from the psychological theory of Emotional Contagion. This theory first developed by Hatfield, Cacioppo, and Rapson (1994) suggests that consciously or unconsciously an individual is able to influence the emotions of others through verbal and nonverbal cues. Nonverbal cues include touches, body language, facial expressions, speech patterns and vocal tones. The contagion happens through imitation. When you see someone expressing an emotion, you will tend to mimic that expression causing you to feel the emotion in itself. You will feel happier around people that are happy and smile a lot and sadder around depressed and more negative people. The emotions can have a powerful impact among team members, and can be influential in the functioning of the team affecting performance.
The theory was first studied within a business environment by Barsade (2002) at Yale University. Participants were asked to participate in a mock managerial exercise where they had to discuss how to allocate a sum of bonus money to their employees. They had to pretend to be a head of a department and they had to give a small presentation supporting why the candidate from their respective department deserved the bonus. Before the start of the exercise they had to rate their mood and how they felt. To control the group’s emotions the confederate had to act a particular emotion: cheerful enthusiasm (confederate was happy, energetic and optimistic), serene warmth (calmer attitude emitting warmth and peacefulness), hostile irritability (confederate was frustrated, hostile, impatient and irritable) and depressed sluggishness (confederate was unhappy but in a more dull and lethargic way). To be energetic he made a lot of eye contact and had a strong tone of voice. The participants were not aware of the conditions. At the end of the exercise, they were asked to report how they felt during and after. The results showed what was predicted: the confederate’s emotion did have an effect on the group members. Supporting the theory of emotional contagion, the group’s mood changed adopting the one of the confederate. Barsade also found that contagion of positive emotions resulted in more cooperation, lower conflicts and increased task performance.
If the Emotional Contagion has an impact on performance amongst team members, then it must have the same effect on sports teams. The idea is that when the team’s spirit is upbeat, positive and energetic it will influence the mood of the single players.
Totterdell (2000) monitored the mood of four professional cricket teams and how that impacted performance. The cricketers were given pocket computers where they had to record their mood and how they felt they were performing individually and as a team. Measures were taken before, after the game and during the breaks. The findings support the one’s of Barsade. When the team was in an overall good mood as a consequence the individual players were also happier and more energetic. Players felt that they performed a lot better when everyone in the team was contented. Interestingly, this was mainly found in fielding situations when the players were all engaged in the same activity and they needed to coordinate and communicate more, rather than in batting situations where the effort was individual.
Some sceptics might say that the players were happier because they performed better rather than the other way around. To support the evidence that emotions are contagious, Moll, Jordet and Pepping (2010) monitored the behavior of football players after kicking a penalty during a penalty shootout during the European Championships and World Cup from 1972 to 2008. Penalty shootouts are known to be very stressful for everyone: players, coaches, team staff and even the fans as they determine the outcome of a game. The study conducted by Moll showed that there is a link between the player’s post-performance behavior and the final outcome of the penalty shootout. In fact, when the successful penalty was celebrated with big smiles, the expanding of the chest, moving the arms and raising the fists, those players were part of the team that ultimately won the shootout. Instead, those players who looked down after successfully scoring a penalty were not part of the winning team. The celebratory movements were then a sign of achievement and happiness that was transmitted onto the next player of the same team that was up for the penalty. So yes, to answer the sceptics, the players celebrated because they performed well and scored but the findings show evidence that the positive emotion of happiness and pride influenced the performance of the next teammate positively.
Another interesting finding from the study was that it is more beneficial for the team if the players celebrate the goals together rather than with the audience or by themselves. Dr Gert-Jan Pepping said that “If you cheer facing the supporters after you’ve scored a penalty, the supporters will get wildly enthusiastic. That’s all very fine, but they’re not the ones who have to perform at that moment. Your team members on the pitch are. It’s very important to celebrate together — that’s what makes scoring contagious.”
This doesn’t only apply to football, in fact if you ever watch a volleyball match you will notice that the teams tend to celebrate every single point scored with a team huddle, high fives and back slaps. So, if you consider that to win a match you need to win three sets out of five with each set being 25 points, that will equate to 75 possible team huddles, and many more high fives and back slaps. In basketball as well it is common that players celebrate shoots with fist bumps, leaping shoulder bumps, half hugs and head grabs.
Kraus, Huang and Keltner (2010) conducted a study on the relationship between touch behavior for each of the 30 NBA teams and performance. Performance was not limited to number of points scored but also rebounds, assists, blocks, steals, turnovers and shot attempts. The findings did show that a higher number of touches between team members was linked to greater performance. The two most-touched bonded teams were the Boston Celtics and Los Angeles Lakers, two of the league’s top teams. Of the Boston Celtics, Kevin Garnett was the star of the study as he reached out and touched four guys within 600 milliseconds of shooting a free throw. According to Kraus and colleagues, the touches represented a powerful enabler of trust between team members, and increased cooperative and interdependent behaviors, essential to the functioning of the team. Without realizing the basketball players were communicating positive emotions through the physical touches.
From these studies and from the theory of Emotional Contagion, some practical implications can be drawn in order for young sports teams to enhance their performance and get on the right track to achieve greater results.
As an athlete you should:
FAKE IT TILL YOU MAKE IT. Understand what mood you are in and if you see it is not beneficial for the team or for your own performance try to change it. Think about something that makes you happy or laugh. Force a smile and try to hold it. You will see that you will feel better and that will impact how the others feel as well.
SPREAD YOUR EMOTIONS. Be a team player and create the best atmosphere. Smile a lot, give high fives, make eye contact with everyone, be energetic.
CELEBRATE, CELEBRATE AND CELEBRATE EVEN MORE. No matter what sport you play, try to celebrate every single achievement. If it is a point scored do a team huddle, if a player has made a great pass, or a remarkable action let him/her know! This will boost the player self-esteem and impact positively the performance for the rest of the game. This not only will help spreading emotions but will also put the opponents under pressure.
BE A LEADER. If you are the captain or hold some leadership role within the team, hopefully your squad trust you and listen to you more. In that case, you have to be even more aware of the power of emotions and the impact on the team performance. Be ready to spread positivity and keep an eye out for those who give out negative vibes. These players might need a pep talk, or even a smile, a high five or a verbal praise.
BE A TEAM PLAYER. You might not be the captain but you are still part of the team. Avoid playing for your individual glory, instead be a team member. When Manuel Neuer, German’s football goalkeeper, in an interview was congratulated by the reporter for an amazing save, he first gave credit to the defence and the ability of his team players.
A team’s coach and staff also play a crucial role in creating the perfect environment that supports positivity and stimulating better performance.
CREATE A POSITIVE CULTURE. The coach is not only responsible to train the team but also to create cultural values and norms within the team. This means that the players should be aware of what behavior and emotional expressions are acceptable underlying that aggressive and negative behavior won’t be tolerated.
However, it is important not to ignore the other side of the coin of the Emotional Contagion theory.
Some researchers have gone deeper and applied emotional contagion to other aspect of sport and performance. O’Neill (2008) has researched the concept of injury contagion so whether an injury in one teammate would cause an emotional response of anxiety or fear on the other team members. The idea is that through emotional contagion, if you see someone from your own sport experiencing a bad injury then you will be affected by an emotional trauma. Specifically, O’Neill investigated whether the performance of alpine skiers would be impacted. The findings showed that after seeing someone breaking their knee and ligament the athletes made tactical changes. These changes had a negative impact on their performance as they put them more at risk of getting injured themselves. Psychological tests have also revealed that the athletes used more words and sentences related to fear in their normal dialogue after the traumatic experience.
A practical implication from this study can also be drawn for the coach and team staff:
BE AWARE. Because Emotional Contagion can have a dark side such as injury contagion. When an athlete gets injured, the team staff needs to keep an eye on the others’ reactions and emotional responses to it. Staff should be available if the athlete needs to talk, especially if traumatized by the injury and fear for himself.
The road to success is definitely not easy and it won’t be free of obstacles and drawbacks. Italy might feel devastated now, but this is not the end of Italian football. Similarly, Spain and Germany didn’t have it easy, but what makes them successful is an incredible cohesion and a solid team structure. Applying the theory of Emotional Contagion could possibly be the first brick towards the edification of a better team, as it eases the path to a greater performance.
Whether I have worked with Gymnasts, Footballers, Table Tennis Players or Triathletes, one thing has become clear, they all need to focus their attention on different cues at different times. When we think of the concept of focus the following terms are key, internal, external, narrow and broad (Weinberg & Gould, 2003). Focus of attention […]
Whether I have worked with Gymnasts, Footballers, Table Tennis Players or Triathletes, one thing has become clear, they all need to focus their attention on different cues at different times. When we think of the concept of focus the following terms are key, internal, external, narrow and broad (Weinberg & Gould, 2003).
Focus of attention in sport is often linked to how we can help athletes build towards specific performances, outcomes or results. So, what is realistic in terms of our expectations about focus, what athletes focus on? How focused they are and how long can they maintain that focus?
Sport environments provide athletes with a variety of choices in terms of what they decide to spend their conscious effort on. With all the choices and the amount of information that is available, it is no wonder that a lack of concentration or focus is identified when performances or results are poor. But, the challenge is understanding the direction and application of an athletes focus, and understanding the athletes need in relation to focus so we know when they need to switch off and relax.
Many people think of focus as concentrating on one thing for a long time. However, focus is the ability to attend to internal and external cues in your attentional field whilst also understanding times when you need to focus on one cue or several cues.
When working with athletes we need to help them understand the various options available to them in terms of where they focus their attention. Within this, an important skill is ‘scanning’, this is where athletes can understand and utilise the various attention options to ensure they match the environment they are in and outcome they are aiming to achieve. Here are two examples of scanning:
Here are two points to conclude that may help you in the future when you are thinking about your focus during practice or competition:
“I am feeling lost and with no direction, no purpose, no career, no identity and who the hell do I go to?” and “How can I train myself for this? I’m in a world I don’t know.” (Gail Emms, 2017) Lots of athletes talk about their athletic career and the retirement process once they’ve been […]
“I am feeling lost and with no direction, no purpose, no career, no identity and who the hell do I go to?” and “How can I train myself for this? I’m in a world I don’t know.” (Gail Emms, 2017)
Lots of athletes talk about their athletic career and the retirement process once they’ve been retired for a few years, as shown with the recent quote from Gail Emms. It would be beneficial to bridge this gap and ease the process in some way for athletes.
Retirement from elite sport is considered a career transition amongst the majority of the literature (Alfermann, Lavallee, & Wylleman, 2004). The process can also be somewhat stressful, exciting and considered a period of confusion for elite athletes (Dacyshyn & Kerr, 2000). Thus support is imperative at this point in an athlete’s career.
Research shows that athletes have a very strong athletic identity (Lavallee & Robinson, 2007), which is therefore impacted upon during the retirement process. Those individuals who identify strongly with their athletic identity, are more likely to be vulnerable to difficulties with the transition out of elite sport (Grove, Gordon & Lavallee, 1997). Similar results have found that identity is a common theme amongst the findings and that athletes felt lost post retirement (Lavallee & Robinson, 2007). Despite the initial identity issues, athletes appear to commit to other identities and succeed in making a smooth retirement once they have reached one year of retirement (Lally, 2007).
There are multiple reasons why an athletes career may come to an end. Previous research has demonstrated how the retirement from elite sport can be due to a variety of reasons. Evidence demonstrates that retirement is primarily due to injury (Heinonen, Kettunen, Kujala & Ristolainen, 2012). Athletes are often used to coping with niggling injuries but one that ends their career is completely different. Relationships, family and career satisfaction have also been found to be influential in the decision to retire (Japhag, Stambulova, & Stephen, 2007)
Regardless of how the career terminates, retirement from elite sport does not necessarily mean that all sporting involvement will cease. Research has found that upon retirement, athletes may relocate their involvement in the sporting context by becoming coaches or commentators, for example (Cruz, Boixodos, Torregrosa, & Valiente, 2004).
Mental well-being is becoming a real priority in the sporting world which is perhaps driven by the openness of retired athletes. It is commonly noted that athletes experience periods of low mental health during the career exit process, especially if the exit was unplanned. Experiences of anxiety, depression and post-traumatic stress (Wippert & Wippert, 2008; Wolff & Lester, 1989) are especially cited in the literature. It is pivotal that athletes are provided with support during this period to minimise any periods of low mental health and encourage them to seek help. It would be ideal to provide the athletes with psychological support during this time to process their thoughts and changes in their identity.
With athletes frequently leaving school and going straight into a career as a professional athlete, it is unsurprising that goals and achievements out of sport often aren’t considered. However, this can be hugely beneficial to the athlete if the career exit process is forced upon them (from injury for example) as it means they have other identities and self-concepts which they can draw upon as they make the exit from a career as a full time professional athlete.
I would encourage athletes to look for goals out of their athletic career as well as in sport as it can often lead to beneficial transferable skills that can even help in their sport. This could be related to sport in the form of a coaching qualification, drawing upon your current skillset or it could be totally separate, for example doing a marketing course. This could provide the athlete with beneficial skills for their own self-promotion, as well as a skill they can utilise when the retirement process occurs.
The Australian swimmer’s association does this well in terms of having a personal excellence (PE) program which focusses on three key areas of the athlete’s life: dual career, sport/life and progression. The dual career element provides guidance to their athletes, in terms of encouraging lifelong learning through achieving qualifications in and out of their sport (Swimming Australia, 2017).
The career exit process can be a period of uncertainty. We can facilitate this process by having an identity which is not isolated to sport, through achieving skills outside of sport during one’s athletic career. This will hopefully minimise the effects of being thrust into a period of unknown when that career exiting process occurs.
Sports related head injuries (e.g., concussions) affect one’s ability to concentrate, make decisions, foster learning, and perform both individually and collaboratively as part of a team (Asplund, C., Mckeag, D., & Olsen, C., 2004). Furthermore, head injuries have the potential to become more dangerous over time if not understood properly and taken care of in […]
Sports related head injuries (e.g., concussions) affect one’s ability to concentrate, make decisions, foster learning, and perform both individually and collaboratively as part of a team (Asplund, C., Mckeag, D., & Olsen, C., 2004). Furthermore, head injuries have the potential to become more dangerous over time if not understood properly and taken care of in an appropriate manner (Senthinathan, A., Mainwaring, L., Psych, C., & Hutchison, M., 2017). While the threat of personal injury is overwhelmingly important, many coaches and/or athletes may lose sight of this by sacrificing recovery over return-to-play [RTP*] (Wallace, J., Covassin, T., & Lafevor, M., 2016). This sacrifice not only puts the athlete at risk for more severe injury but puts the coaches, affiliated school/organization and team in a position of responsibility should anything happen to the injured athlete. As a result of this threat, a mutual understanding of what head injuries are and how they affect performance is imperative. In addition, a better understanding of the rehabilitation associated with head injuries may assist in reducing future unintended harm and reduce repeated rehabilitation. This, in turn, may increase athletes’ self-confidence, expedited return to optimal performance, and create greater team cohesion.
Before getting into a discussion regarding RTP, it is important to gain a basic understanding about brain injuries. Traumatic brain injuries (TBI) and mild traumatic brain injuries (mTBI), more often referred to as concussions, occur when there is a sudden acceleration and deceleration of the head. This results in one’s brain moving with an abnormal force. Subsequently, the brain will experience what is called axonal shearing (Asplund et al., 2004). Put in simple terms, a concussion is a force, either internal or external, that results in one’s brain moving in a sudden and rapid manner which commonly results in internal damage to the brain (Kissick & Johnston, 2005). As with all injuries, there are symptoms. Common symptoms associated with traumatic brain injuries include, but are not limited to: amnesia, loss of consciousness (LOC), headaches, confusion, difficulty concentrating, and visual impairment (Asplud et al., 2004). There has been debate over which symptom has the most influence regarding the severity of TBI an individual may have sustained, but for the purpose of this article, we will not be addressing debate.
The main dangers surrounding TBIs are that the majority of the symptoms are not external. This means, as coaches, we must trust the athlete to report any uncomfortable symptoms after sustaining a head injury. Granted, there are exceptions that coaches can see in order to make more sound judgment calls (e.g., heavy hits, falls, and penetrating injuries). This process of revealing possible symptoms to a coach or trainer is what is called the initial reporting process. The reporting process is the timeframe from which an athlete may have initially sustained an injury, but the symptoms may not yet severe enough to be overly apparent. Common symptoms in this category are headaches, dizziness, and/or nausea. This time is crucial because it gives coaches the opportunity to remove the athlete from activity that may compound the injury and make it more severe.
What is to say my athlete will hide these symptoms in order to avoid losing ‘play’ time? This question is a primary obstacle that coaches may face when it comes to self-reported injuries. The first thing to consider when trying to develop a remove-from-play (RFP) strategy may be by simply asking oneself: “are my athletes aware of the dangers that head injuries pose?” If the answer is no, than the answer may be as simple as exposing your athlete’s to what TBI(s) are and the dangers they pose. Moreover, educating athletes about compound concussions resulting from underreported symptoms may hold the key in getting athletes ‘on-the-fence’ of reporting to come forward. It is a coach’s responsibility, to help educate athletes both on and off the field. This includes information about the sport of which they play, and the dangers of which the athletes will be exposed to.
Another way to approach the difficulty of unseen injuries is through continuing education for coaches and staff. There are a wide variety of sources one can use to educate their coaches and staff. Sources include, but are not limited to: online education, seminars, workshops, and medical training. These approaches, while more time consuming, may enable coaches to identify some of the smaller external factors that pair with TBI(s) (e.g., stumbling, slurred speech, abnormal eye movement). In the end, the end goal of continuing education should aim at providing coaches with a broader knowledge of the symptoms of TBI. This, in turn, may enable coaches to make better decisions regarding RFP and RTP moving forward.
So what about an RTP plan? Currently, there are no universal RTP plans that are in place specific to brain injuries. The main reason is due to the complexities that are associated with head injuries. How hard one hits his/her head, susceptibility, repeated concussions, and post-concussive syndrome (PCS) are just a few of the factors that have shown to have an influence on TBI severity (Asplund et al., 2004; Senthinathan et al., 2017). When it comes to head injuries, it is up to the on-site medical provider to provide guidance from which route is best for the athlete. However, this is not to say coaches are helpless in assisting his/her athletes.
As a coach, a potential starting point for determining whether or not to address a potential TBI is to ask the following questions:
When in doubt, the best thing a coach can do if he/she is concerned about an athlete is to consult a medical professional. Athletes are the first line of defense in protecting themselves. Coaches are there to provide authoritative guidance when necessary and ultimately have the power to initially remove athletes if they are concerned. However, most coaches are not medical professionals or experts in the field of TBI. As a result, it is their responsibility to report an injury regardless of the consequence to team performance. Concussions remain dangerous regardless of the stage/severity. Research and media reports show that TBI(s), if gone unchecked, have the ultimate severity of, in rare cases, death (Senthinathan et al., 2017).
In the end, the expectation that athletes are supposed to be tough and perform, regardless of circumstance, may be harmful. Athletes should be expected to perform, but they should be expected to perform by the safest means possible to maintain their performance. In other words, athletes should not be placed in a situation where the game/competition/practice comes before personal safety. After all, an athlete who has cognitive performance deficiencies related to a head injury is not an effective athlete. We, as coaches, owe it to our athletes to assist them in performing to their fullest potential by keeping them healthy and educating them about how to keep themselves healthy in the future. Our ability to perform pends on their ability to perform. Optimal performance begins and ends with optimal health.
* RTP refers to the process of rehabilitating individuals who have suffered a head injury and returning them to full sport participation (e.g., practice and competition).
Currently there’s (still) a debate going on in youth football circles about the role of winning in youth sports development programs. More specifically is one a good youth coach if one wins youth matches? In answering this question and looking at this debate, probably the most important thing to start off is realizing what the […]
Currently there’s (still) a debate going on in youth football circles about the role of winning in youth sports development programs. More specifically is one a good youth coach if one wins youth matches? In answering this question and looking at this debate, probably the most important thing to start off is realizing what the aim of a youth academy is. Why does a youth academy exist? What is the point of all youth academies? Finding it difficult to answer these questions? Try this one, why do we bring our kids to school?
The reason we have youth academies and schools is because we want to develop our children. When are we successful in developing our children? In school we’re successful when children graduate, in a domain they prefer which suits their qualities and passion. In football? We’re successful when children become professional football players, and achieve their dream! Hence a good youth academy in football is one where there’s a continuous flow of players entering the professional football domain, I reckon.
Well, what is the role of winning in developing our young football players? Football is a game, and games are there to be won. There’s no discussion. However in youth football a challenge exists concerning winning. Situations will emerge in which a delicate choice has to be made by the coach. For example, put yourself in the coach’s shoes, your team made it to the final of a tournament. Do you only play with your best players (to have a greater chance of winning the tournament: focus on winning) or do you play every player (to have them gain experience: focus on development)? This is an intensely delicate challenge, and more challenges like these, bigger but mostly smaller, have to be faced whilst coaching.
In choosing winning, it doesn’t mean you’re not concerned with developing children. However winning or losing is more important than developing every player to you. In choosing development, it doesn’t mean you’re not concerned with winning. However the development of all children is more important than winning or losing to you. Because a youth academy’s aim is to develop youth players into professional football players and it’s difficult if not impossible to foresee which player will become a professional football player I’d choose to develop all my players. What do experts and science tell us?
Results and potential
Rasmus Ankersen has visited the so called gold mines around the world, like Bekoji (Ethiopia) where Tirunesh Dibaba, Tiki Gelana, and Kenenisa Bekele come from. In visiting these gold mines he found that some talents ‘shout’ and others ‘whisper’. A shouting talent is one who has both potential (to become very good) and the ability to already win tournaments. A whispering talent is one who also has the potential, but is not so far in his/her development to win tournaments. The defining factor of a talent is thus not if he or she wins matches, tournaments or is the best at a very young age. The defining factor of a talent is that he or she has the potential to ultimately win matches, tournaments and be the best. This is in line with research from Ostojic et al. (2014) on early and late bloomers in (Serbian) football. They found that late bloomers in professional youth academies are almost 6 times more likely to reach elite adult level than early bloomers. One possible explanation: coaches confuse early bloomers superiority with talent. Ostojic et al. (2014) stated: ‘it seems that early supremacy in youth soccer is not a predictor of later succes’.
Match: give your utmost
Bastiaan Riemersma, head of academy at Willem II (Dutch Eredivisie club), hit the spot on the role of winning in developing young children. He drew a metaphor: ‘a horse can run fast on it’s own, but there’s no need. If it has to run against other horses in a race it will be pushed to run even faster, it has to give it’s everything.’ So in a football match we should be thankful for the opponent because they force our children to give their utmost. Children want to win, and that’s perfect. They opponents compel our children to discover and push their own boundaries. Concerning development that is a good thing. Development is about learning what has not yet been acquired. Development is about pushing boundaries. What does the result of a match tell us then? It only tells us which team was better that specific day. Does it give us insight in who will develop into a professional football player later on? Not so much. In analyzing Ajax’s U19 team versus FC Barcelona’s U19 for the UEFA Youth League a couple of years back Johan Cruyff focussed on the way the team played and mentioned the score as a side thing, of lesser importance. After analyzing he said: ‘And they’re winning as well. Although, the score is always of second interest.’ Ton Boot, a former Dutch basketball coach who won several national championships with his adult teams, said: ‘winning isn’t something you talk about, it’s something you just do.’
Consequences of focus on winning and on development
In 2014 O’Rourke, Smith, Smoll, & Cumming did research on the motivational climate created by coaches and parents and their effects on young swimmers’ (9-14 years old) self-esteem, match anxiety, and intrinsic motivation. Does it make a difference if a coach/parent puts an emphasis on winning (ego climate) or if a coach/parent puts an emphasis on learning (mastery climate)? It does! In a climate with an emphasis on winning, the young swimmers have lower self-esteem, and intrinsic motivation, but a higher match anxiety. Whilst young swimmers in a learning climate have lower match anxiety and higher self-esteem and intrinsic motivation. Jaakkola, Ntoumanix, Liukkonen (2016) found that a mastery climate (emphasizing effort, personal development and achievement goal mastering tasks) leads to a higher enjoyment in junior ice hockey (mean age = 17). The findings of Cumming, Smoll, Smith, Grossbard (2007) tell us something about the athlete’s attitude towards a coach in young basketball players (aged 10-15). The athlete’s attitude towards a coach is positively associated with mastery climate, and negatively associated with an ego climate. No differences between mastery and ego climate and winning have been found.
These findings were confirmed in my experience. For two consecutive years I had coached a team of young football players in the U9 and U10’s. Let’s call this team: Team A. With the staff we created a mastery climate and our boys used to play against several other teams, including regularly matches against team B in those two years. After two years I left team A to coach an other young team, team B. The boys from Team A got another coach, and with him also another motivational climate: one focussed on winning. Three months after the motivational climate had changed for my boys in team A we had to play them with my new team B. After the match one of the boys in team B told me the following. ‘Coach, I could tell you do not coach team A any more. When we used to play them with you as their coach they kept working hard and helped each other on the pitch no matter what. Today when we scored a few goals they became angry with each other and gave up. Today was an easy game for us.’
To conclude, developing children starts with the goal of the academy. What is valued best: winning youth games or developing children? One doesn’t rule the other out, though it has different consequences for your children and their development (chances). I firmly believe that a focus on development from the coach, instead of a focus on winning, will lead to more professional football players. Therefore one is a good youth coach, in my opinion, if one is able to develop all of his or her players. Because development will lead to results, but results not necessarily to development.
Each and every day athletes are trying to gain an edge over their competitors. Regardless of how an athlete trains (e.g., diets, exercise, or studying film), the idea remains the same: be at the top of his/her game. Athletics is highly competitive and athletes will do what is necessary to succeed. As the intensity of […]
Each and every day athletes are trying to gain an edge over their competitors. Regardless of how an athlete trains (e.g., diets, exercise, or studying film), the idea remains the same: be at the top of his/her game. Athletics is highly competitive and athletes will do what is necessary to succeed. As the intensity of training increases and competition becomes more aggressive, the potential risk for personal injury becomes greater. Because of this risk, it becomes imperative that coaches have the knowledge and proper training to help identify and facilitate the safest and most effective ways of competitive training. Overall, athletics should be a vehicle that fosters personal growth and development.
Obviously physical development remains one of the primary focuses of athletes. It is not uncommon for individuals to fall short in other aspects of training such as proper diet and academic goals. As a result, it becomes increasingly important for coaches to guide their athletes to be well rounded and promote excellence in all areas of personal development. While this may be many coaches’ intent, it is up to the athletes to fully grasp and apply the concepts which the coach encourages. The relationship between an athlete and a coach should be one of professionalism and respect. Additionally, it should be a relationship that provides a foundation of values and core ethics of which an athlete can draw upon retrospectively.
In order to assist in the development of an effective and balanced coaching strategy, this article will focus on the concept of visualization or the practice of harnessing the body’s senses to create imagery (Ungerleider & Golding, 1991). In examining visualization, this article will be broken up into three main components: 1) visualization in research, 2) practicing visualization as a soft-impact practice alternative, and 3) practicing visualization as a non-impact practice alternative.
Visualization in Research: A Brief Case Study
Recently, there has been a large push in visualization related research. Universities, government organizations and sport institutes have been at the forefront of some of the most significant gains regarding how visualization is interpreted and how it relates to other cognitive components [e.g., mental toughness, cognition, relaxation, and concentration] (Ungerleider & Golding, 1991).
Athletes spend a large amount of time training and the risk of injury has the potential to increase as the demands of competition become greater. As a result, it would be to the athletes’ benefit to find additional training methods to supplement his/her practice regiments. It would also be to the coaches’ benefit to familiarize him/herself to alternative means of training and the research supporting and/or negating that method. This style of planning can assist in the development of a well-balanced practice plan that incorporates both the physical and mental components of training to keep athletes healthy. Familiarizing oneself with empirical based research can eliminate any predisposed notions coaches or athletes may have about training methods they are not familiar with.
For example, a coach unfamiliar with visualization training may believe positive visualization techniques will yield positive motivation and sport performance. While this may be a good argument, empirical research has found limited support between the positive thoughts resulting in positive motivation (MacIntyre & Moran, 2007).
Some of the most significant visualization research relates the association between cognitive training exposure and mental toughness. Results from a case study conducted by Sheard & Golding (2011) revealed positive associations among 49 elite athletes’ positive cognitive, visualization, total mental toughness, and feeling of a challenge related to performance outcomes in international competition. While there are other factors to consider (e.g., weather, game tactics, injuries) this study provides valuable insight of how cognitive training could positively influence performance.
With this in mind, these results may not represent each and every athlete. Personal coaching experience and observational coaching are valuable skills and powerful tools for success. However, for those lacking experience, sport research can be a great place to start developing training plans. The evidence supporting positive psychological development in athletes is encouraging (Sheard & Golding, 2011). Furthermore, the continuing education of athletes related to supplemental training styles is also encouraging (Ungerleider & Golding, 1991).
Currently, there are large amounts of information surrounding the use of visualization in sport. Results have shown that visualization has the potential to be a valuable tool for success in athletics (Sheard & Golding, 2011). However, there is minimal evidence that definitively states how visualization should be applied. Furthermore, the use of visualization with elite athletes is lacking. Visualization should therefore be used as a supplement for coaches looking to create more diverse practice plans.
Visualization as a ‘soft-impact’ Practice Alternative
Competitive athletes undergo a gauntlet of training methods throughout their ‘peak’ seasons. During this period of time, the risk for injury and over-working an athlete increases. As a result, coaches need to be aware of the emotional and physical feedback their athletes exhibit. If an athlete begins to show signs of increased stress or fatigue, it may be a good time to rest the athlete.
Rest periods should be considered time the athlete takes away from the constant physical demands of competition and training. However, this does not mean all activity the athlete undergoes has to cease. Typical rest days may be filled with stretching or mild aerobics in order to induce relaxation and promote recovery. While these are great physical alternatives to methods such as running or weightlifting, they have the potential to fall short in preparing athletes for competitions mentally. This is where visualization techniques have the potential to be an effective alternative.
Visualization can be a valuable asset to any training regimen in the sense that it can be utilized both on and off the field. As previously stated, visualization is ‘the practice of harnessing the body’s senses to create imagery‘ (Ungerleider & Golding, 1991). The body’s senses comprise of five major components: 1) sight, 2) sound, 3) smell, 4) taste, and 5) touch. In order to get the maximum effect out of visualization, it important to engage, during practice, as many of the senses the athlete may experience in competition. Let’s look at a soft-impact example:
A track and field athlete is tasked with running a 4×100 meter relay with three other athletes. The weather has been a consistent 70 degrees, but it is expected to rain the following day during the competition.
In this example, touch and sight appear as the primary senses a coach may want to look at. The athletes hands are going to be wet and their eyesight diminished due to the rain. A coach in this situation cannot control the weather, but they can prepare their athletes for the elements through the senses. To engage a sense of touch, a coach may pour water over the athletes’ hands during hand-offs or in their shoes to simulate poor weather conditions.
A second sense, sight, could be manipulated through the use of darkened sunglasses in an indoor training facility. This, in turn, can foster a greater understanding of how to adapt to alternative conditions.
The other three senses (sound, smell and taste) are slightly more difficult to engage. Perhaps the competition area has a specific smell or plays music. These other senses, while more difficult to simulate, are not impossible to create. Overall, this should be a preparatory stage just like a common impact practice.
Visualization as a non-impact Practice Alternative
Similar to soft-impact practices, non-impact practices are meant to foster recovery and provide a break from high intensity training. The main difference between ‘soft-impact’ training and ‘non-impact’ training is how the technique is applied. Looking back at the previous example, soft-impact training usually involves a pre-competition practice component (e.g., jogging, stretching). Non-impact training is meant to engage an athlete’s mental understanding of the sport. In other words, non-impact training involves placing an athlete in various positions he/she is expected to be during competition and having them visualize his/her reactions to specific stimuli. This visualization, coupled with verbal feedback, can be a powerful tool in assessing the overall competency of an athlete and their understanding of their body in space.
To recap, visualization is a promising supplement for athletes during training sessions and during rest periods. Research surrounding this type of training, while still being developed, has revealed a variety of additional factors to consider when developing training plans. With this in mind, it would be to both the coach’s and athlete’s benefit to explore these supplemental training methods to enhance overall performance.
What is resilience? Resilience has been defined as, “a dynamic process encompassing positive adaptation within the context of significant adversity” (Luthar, Cicchetti, & Becker, 2000, p. 435). Two conditions of resilience are understood to be inherent within this definition: 1. That there is exposure to significant adversity (or risk) 2. That positive adaptation (or competence) […]
What is resilience?
Resilience has been defined as, “a dynamic process encompassing positive adaptation within the context of significant adversity” (Luthar, Cicchetti, & Becker, 2000, p. 435). Two conditions of resilience are understood to be inherent within this definition:
1. That there is exposure to significant adversity (or risk)
2. That positive adaptation (or competence) occurs (Masten, 2001).
Within many sports resilience is often identified by coaches as a key attribute that is key to success. When identifying this, coaches are often specifically looking for players/athletes to be able to thrive under pressure and respond positively to setbacks. Gucciardi, Jackson, Coulter and Mallett (2011) examined individual resilient qualities in a sport context. Examples of such qualities were adaptability, staying focused under pressure, and handling unpleasant feelings.
Examples of Adversity
Many successful athletes at the top level will talk about how they have overcome various setbacks to reach the level that they have.
For example, Along with Jack Laugher, Chris Mears won Britain’s first ever gold medal in diving. But just seven years ago things didn’t look so promising for Chris. He contracted the life-threatening Epstein Barr virus, and was given just a 5% chance of survival. In 2009 the diver suffered a ruptured spleen and collapsed, losing five pints of blood. He stayed in hospital for a month, and had to have his spleen removed. He made a full recovery and returned to the Games in 2010, finishing fourth in the synchro at the Commonwealth Games.
Tennis star Serena Williams on resilience. After coming back from a life-threatening illness Williams went on to win Wimbledon, Olympic and U.S. Open titles in 2012, and had this to say:
“I really think a champion is defined not by their wins but by how they can recover when they fall. I have fallen several times. Each time I just get up and I dust myself off and I pray and I’m able to do better.”
Responding to adversity – Positive adaptations
Adversity doesn’t have to come in such extreme forms as those that are listed above, there may be some small setbacks in your path that require some work before you can push on. A resilient individual is aware of the stresses that they may face or are currently facing and take responsibility for their actions when faced with adversity. Here are 4 examples you may be faced with:
1. Are you part of a team that is constantly changing personnel while they are trying to find the right combination of players? How would you respond to this?
2. Are you struggling financially to remain a part of the sport that you love and want to keep playing? How would you respond to this?
3. Are you finding one skill or aspect of your performance difficult to master? How would you respond to this?
How can I become more resilient?
Some of the most resilient athletes I have worked with have utilised the following skills and strategies to help them:
• Reflect on situations – Even the smallest setback can help you develop resilience. Reflect on what happened, why it happened? Work out if there is anything you can do to prevent it happening again, if there isn’t then how will you need to respond differently in similar situations. This will help you develop a growth mindset and not stay in the same fixed processes every time.
• Build relationships with people. It doesn’t matter which of the examples you look at from the last section. Being proactive to get to know people, how they could support you and just as importantly how you could support them will help you through these challenging times.
Positive mindset allows performance levels to increase because it facilitates direction and focus. The relationship between mental preparation and sport psychology therefore becomes important and there is evidence of its use in cricket, golf and tennis. It is therefore not surprising that coaching has also introduced sport science to their mapped programme of which sport […]
Positive mindset allows performance levels to increase because it facilitates direction and focus. The relationship between mental preparation and sport psychology therefore becomes important and there is evidence of its use in cricket, golf and tennis. It is therefore not surprising that coaching has also introduced sport science to their mapped programme of which sport psychology is an integral part. Given the contention that sport psychology plays an integral role within coaching it would be purposeful to argue of its merit for sports coaches in performance settings.
One key concept that resonates closely with sports coaching is emotion and its impact during the training and competition settings. These training and competition settings will invariably elicit a range of emotions that have the potential to impact performers. Therefore, sports coaches need to understand the complexity of emotions and regulate these accordingly. Effective emotional regulation could lead to more effective and facilitated performance levels. The regulation of emotion can be understood through the theory of emotional intelligence (Goleman, 2004; Mayer & Savoley, 1990).
In examining the nature of emotional intelligence and its importance within sports coaching, this chapter advocates its value for sports coaches. Through the use of grounded theory, sports coaches will be supported to facilitate strategies to enhance and increase emotional intelligence levels for themselves and those that they coach. This chapter will be split into the following sections:
Definition of emotional intelligence and conceptual space
Emotional intelligence has been defined as ‘the ability to monitor one’s own and others’ feelings and emotion, to discriminate among them and to use this information to guide one’s thinking and actions’ (Salovey & Mayer, 1990, p. 189). A closer inspection of this definition clearly aligns to the work of a sports coach. For example, coaches are in constant dialogue with their emotions in both favourable and unfavourable situations. A favourable situation may surmount to success in an important competition. An unfavourable situation may surmount to being eliminated from competition. Based on these situations the coach should be in a position to understand feelings and emotions of performers.
The framework of emotional intelligence provides opportunities for coaches to engineer their own thinking and support performers they work alongside. Indeed, Mayer & Salovey (1990) suggest that those that exhibit higher levels of emotional intelligence are more likely to control their emotions and regulate these appropriately in order to support others. It is postulated that coaches who are in control of their own emotions will demonstrate positive body language and display effective verbal expression. Therefore, it is proposed that coaches should employ emotional intelligence to identify own feelings and that of performers that they coach and moderate these in accordance to each situation. In consideration of this suggestion, it would be purposeful to evidence previous research that has utilised emotional intelligence in different fields.
Identify research that promotes the efficacy of emotional intelligence in different fields
Extensive research has been carried out on emotional intelligence within the last 30 years (Goleman, 2004; Petrides, Furnham, & Frederickson, 2004; Salovey & Mayer, 1990). The effectiveness of emotional intelligence has been largely evidenced through meta-analysis research carried out by (Van Rooy & Viswesvaran, 2004). Based on meta-analysis, it would be prudent to examine how emotional intelligence can influence sports coaches with evidence from other sectors.
The business sector can demonstrate possible relationships that co-exist within coaching. One would expect sports coaches and business leaders to lead with a clear philosophy, demonstrate competency and control. Further, business and sports sectors share common goals that demand results and success. Arguably, one could resonate that business leaders and coaches who think ahead and act on impulse are likely to direct performers to change strategy and action plans. Research by Freedman (2010) highlights that leaders with higher levels of emotional intelligence are more likely to achieve greater sales, productivity, profitability, and customer loyalty. In substantiating this evidence further, Freedman (2010) highlights a number of research explorations related to business that identify how awareness, self-management of emotions, motivation, empathy and social skills contribute to greater effectiveness in business. Arguably, aspects highlighted in the research by Freedman (2010) give credence to their utility and purpose within coaching. Recently, Turner and Baker (2014) have also outlined how sport psychology can support the business sector to utilize transferable skills to increase performance levels. Therefore, this evidence states that a relationship between business and sports coaching can co-exist.
The education sector is another area that resonates closely to emotional intelligence and sports coaching. For example, one key characteristic for sports coaches relates to guidance and support to foster learner development and progress in delivering success. To supplement this further, practitioners within education deliver excellence to their students to provide a pathway for future success with facilitated learning. A key determinant within education and sports coaching is motivation, which compromises both intrinsic and extrinsic values. To supplement the facilitative nature of motivation it is suggestive that practitioners utilize a mixture of strategies. Arguably, sports coaches require an inner self-drive to enthuse those that they are providing opportunities to succeed. The demonstration of communication is also important for sports coaching as both educators and coaches have limited time to communicate knowledge and raise awareness. Although this is a very short synopsis of the possible co-existence between education and sports coaching they are closely aligned to emotional intelligence.
Within sports coaching it is suggested that coaches regulate their emotions by employing strategies to remain in control during pressure situations. A closer examination of emotional intelligence therefore is suggestive that sport coaching demonstrates alignment with emotional regulation. In making this assumption it would be ideal to propose the impact of emotional intelligence and coaching efficacy. One could argue that there is a close alignment between emotional intelligence and coaching characteristics including game strategy, technique and character development. Research evidence from Thelwell et al. (2006) has considered the relationship between emotional intelligence and coaching efficacy to determine coaching relationships. Thewell et al. (2006) identified characteristics of coaching efficacy aligned closely with emotional intelligence. The key emphasis of the research outlined that coaches whose levels of emotional intelligence was high were likely to support performers more effectively.
The evidence presented above demonstrates co-existence and effectiveness of emotional intelligence within the business, education and sport sectors. In consideration of this, it has become pertinent to assess the potential relationship between emotional intelligence and sports coaching to enable opportunities to apply transferable skills within applied practice. In consideration of this, the purpose of the next section is to apply emotional intelligence to sports coaching. It is proposed that emotional intelligence will allow coaches opportunities to increase self-awareness of practices. Through self-awareness a coach could self-regulate their emotions and support players with motivation. Further, it is proposed that building empathy and addressing relationship management skills would facilitate effective coaching practices.
Propose the Daniel Goleman (2004) model of emotional intelligence and associate its link to sports coaching
The Daniel Goleman (2004) model of emotional intelligence contains five aspects that align closely with sports coaching. Given the flexibility of this model it provides opportunities for coaches to employ it through an interchangeable process. Therefore, an explanation of each aspect of the model and its influence to improve performance levels will be provided. To utilize this influence an emphasis on promoting the use of activities that could help increase emotional intelligence will be offered.
One of the central tenants of the Goleman (2004) model is self-awareness, which is defined as ‘the ability to recognize and understand your moods, emotions, and drives, as well as their effect on others,’ (Goleman, 2004, p. 88). Self-awareness is an integral process as it provides a platform from which a core basis of the emotional intelligence paradigm is built. Arguably, to demonstrate and facilitate high quality coaching sessions one could postulate coaches require increased levels of self-awareness. Coaches who exhibit high levels of self-awareness better understand their own emotions and regulate these accordingly. Further, coaches that exhibit increased levels of self-awareness are more likely to assess and evaluate their own sessions and employ self-reflection. Therefore, coaches who are self-aware of their ability to communicate during coaching sessions are most likely to engineer appropriate responses from performers. Indeed, coaches who increase their own self-awareness levels are most likely to help facilitate and guide performers to increase performance levels. The process of increasing self-awareness could be formed from facilitative techniques and strategies. In raising self-awareness levels we are educating young and upcoming coaches the art of understanding their own behaviour and to regulate emotive patterns between themselves and their fellow peers and performers.
Given the important context of self-awareness and its relationship with effective performance, it is proposed that coaches utilise the process of identification. Through the process of identification it is hoped that coaches build their own levels of self-awareness. One example of raising self-awareness is through the process of identifying emotions and their impact during successful and unsuccessful situations as demonstrated by the worksheet below.
It is recommended that sports coaches focus on thought processes, body language and expressions displayed to outline their emotions during positive and negative cycles. Coaches should compare and contrast various emotions to increase levels of self-awareness. To facilitate levels of self-awareness, it is recommended that coaches implement the use of reflective practice (Knowles et al., 2007). Reflective practice is pertinent as it allows coaches to identify their own strengths and areas to improve. In application, it is proposed that once emotions have been identified and a period of reflection takes place, opportunities emerge for coaches to implement strategies to facilitate applied practice. Through the use of the positive and negative cycles, it is further recommended that coaches utilize the practice of assessing their emotions on a consistent basis.
2) Self-Management of Emotions
The second aspect of the Goleman (2004) model is the self-management of emotions, which is defined as ‘the ability to control or redirect disruptive impulses and moods; the tendency to suspend judgment to think before acting’ (Goleman, 2004, p. 88). Managing own emotions is important because it offers a sense of control and the ability to think logically. Further, managing own emotions enables coaches to facilitate directive actions. Given the varied role of coaches it is unsurprising that they will exhibit a continuum of emotions from players. Therefore, sports coaches should employ strategies to facilitate and self-mange emotion. Research by Thelwell et al. (2006) identified that effective coaches arguably are those that can regulate their own emotions. In other words coaches who fail to regulate their own emotions will not be successful in controlling those of their players. Good coaches are more likely to be in control of their emotions and regulate these during appropriate situations on a consistent basis.
To self-manage emotions the worksheet below is designed to allow opportunities for coaches to facilitate their own emotions. It is proposed that coaches facilitate opportunities to identify both positive and negative emotions within their own practices. The self-management process worksheet is designed for coaches to examine and assess reaction to both positive and negative emotion outcomes. It is hoped that coaches can through identified interpretation and raised self-awareness regulate and self-manage emotions in a reflective process.
The third aspect of the Goleman (2004) model relates to empathy, which is having the ability to understand performers and their needs but also finding the balance with own requirements. A coach who demonstrates empathy with their performers would understand needs and emotions more effectively.
Empathy is an important aspect and coaches should look at facilitating as many opportunities to support performers. Through the use of empathy it would be useful for players to know that peers are responsive to their needs and requirements. Building empathy in sport is important because coaches with higher empathy levels better understand performers.
The worksheet on empathy is designed for coaches to better understand their working practices. In proposal, it is suggestive that coaches identify peers that they work with and assess how they relate to working under pressure. To facilitate this activity, it is proposed that the coach identifies two coaches (present or from previous experience) and assesses their empathy levels and emotion when working under pressure. Having considered this process, coaches should seek to understand their peer coach behavior and also how they would react to similar situations. This approach provides opportunities for coaches to examine their own levels of empathy in given situations.
The fourth aspect of the Goleman (2004) model is motivation, which is defined as the inner self-drive to achieve goals. Coaches should be in control of their motivation to engineer motivational responses from performers. A popular strategy employed by many coaches is the use of goal setting. It is highly recommended that coaches employ goal setting that include process and performance goals in addition to outcome goals. It has been demonstrated that when goal setting is employed effectively it increases motivational qualities (Locke & Latham, 1990). Goal setting provides opportunities for coaches to direct focus and direction to increase motivational properties of their own working practices and performers. Given the value of goal setting, it is proposed that it should be employed to enhance levels of emotional intelligence and motivation.
To provide opportunities to increase motivation levels the goal setting matrix has been designed to support sports coaches. The goal-setting matrix enables coaches to design purposeful interventions to enhance performance levels. To elicit short-term gains, it is proposed that coaches utilize the matrix on a three-week period. This short period will allow coaches opportunities to provide individual feedback. It is recommended that coaches introduce mental, technical, physical and nutritional goals to facilitate performance levels. Further, this matrix will enable coaches to focus on integral aspects relative to performance levels.
5) Relationship Management
The final aspect of the Goleman (2004) model is relationship management, which is the consequence of developing skills and strategies in managing others. Good relationships allow opportunity for effective team unity and group cohesion. Arguably, effective group cohesion increases the likelihood of success. Developing effective relationships with peers and performers is important as they can exhibit an array of differing personality traits. The management of relationships is important given the varied role of coaches that resonate from training needs, strategies, technical aspects and team selection.
The following strategies are recommended for coaches to implement within their coaching practices to facilitate relationship management:
The Relationship Management Model
Sports coaches should consider the model above to demonstrate the importance of effective relationship management. Effective relationship management skills should enable coaches to coerce performers to engineer associated group cohesion. Therefore, coaches should be implicit in developing practices that form effective group cohesion. Building effective group cohesion enable teams to impact performance levels more effectively than those who have ineffective group practices. It is recommended that coaches should also implement the following strategies:
The main emphasis of this chapter was to highlight the benefit of sport psychology and in particular emotional intelligence within sports coaching. Through enhancing levels of self-awareness coaches should be in a position to make applied practice more effective. In addition, sports coaches who increase their own self-awareness levels will facilitate effective self-regulation and emotional control. Enhanced levels of emotional intelligence would also enable the formation of increased motivation and regulated empathy. The rubric of emotional intelligence also allows sports coaches to develop effective relationship management to increase group dynamics. In summary, the evidence clearly stipulates the benefits of increased emotional intelligence to enhance performance levels.
Introduction As a Trainee Sport Psychologist, I have been offered many opportunities to work with young athletes at various stages of their personal development and progression within their chosen sport. When these roles were first offered, it was challenging to understand the needs of each age group that I was working with and the best […]
As a Trainee Sport Psychologist, I have been offered many opportunities to work with young athletes at various stages of their personal development and progression within their chosen sport. When these roles were first offered, it was challenging to understand the needs of each age group that I was working with and the best way to develop Sport Psychology sessions in a way that was fun and engaging for children. The following sections of this article will overview how I have developed as a practitioner to help young athletes understand the role that Sport Psychology can play in their development.
One common question: what is sport psychology?
As with adult and elite athletes this question is just as (if not more) prevalent when working with youth athletes. During my early training I found it difficult to find a definition that helped this age group without using terms that have negative connotations for some e.g. ‘mental’ side of the game. These first impressions were key and I often came away thinking that I could paint Sport Psychology in a more positive light.
Now I have progressed this to simply explain it as a ‘piece of the puzzle’ for their overall performance. During training camps, they may have sessions focusing on tactics, technique, performance analysis, physio (performance recovery, injury recovery), nutrition and strength and conditioning. The psychology sessions are simply another piece being added to the puzzle that can help athletes process this information and understand how they are performing and why they are performing that way.
How early can we introduce Sport Psychology to athletes?
At first I was sceptical of introducing Sport Psychology to athletes between 6-11 years of age (mid-childhood). Shouldn’t we be working with the parents and coaches instead of the children? Yes, we should, but can we build up contact time with the athletes. Then I read Mental training with youth sport teams: Developmental considerations and best-practice recommendations (Visek, Harris & Blom, 2013). Delivering Sport Psychology to these athletes is just as important, the sessions may not be named and delivered with Sport Psychology titles but they can provide useful developmental tools for young athletes if delivered in the right way (Evans and Slater, 2014). If we gain the impact and buy in at these earlier ages will these athletes be better placed to ‘work with’ the pressure and expectations that are placed on them in performance environments? Will this then improve their overall well-being during their next stages of development.
Sport Specialisation: The drawbacks and the positives
During the initial stages of my training I was a big believer that children should compete in a variety of sports and test their skills in different environments. I still very much see the benefits of this philosophy and understand that this is a key for many parents to feel their child has a choice of activities/sports to choose from. This is supported by the belief that youth athletes who do focus on one sport can suffer from withdrawal and burnout (Coakley, 2009; Gould, 2010). Youth athletes that specialise can also be affected by high levels of stress that comes from the expectations that are on them (Wiersma, 2000). However, specialisation will always occur in a competitive, performance environment such as the world of sport. So, my philosophy and approach to supporting young athletes has developed to ensure that if I am in these environments I can be the neutral avenue of support to recognise and understand if things are getting too much and these signs of burnout get noticed and resolved. Talented young athletes will often decide to specialise in the sport they are best at so we should have a focus on utilising the knowledge of Sport Psychologists to support them.
It is clear from this brief reflection that my perspective and opinions on Sport Psychology in youth sport have developed over the last 5 years. This has come through the opportunity to work in a variety of youth sports. There are clear divisions in the opinions of Sport Psychology and its role with young athletes and each athlete, parent and sport organisation will have a different view. But, I leave you with this question that I now ask myself:
‘Should there be a Sport Psychology piece to every young athlete’s puzzle?’
Sport Psychology is a growing discipline and one that I find myself privileged to be involved in. Despite this growth, I still wonder why it can often be viewed as a last resort for some. This was highlighted in a recent article on Laura Robson utilising Sport Psychology services to ‘revive’ her tennis career. This […]
Sport Psychology is a growing discipline and one that I find myself privileged to be involved in. Despite this growth, I still wonder why it can often be viewed as a last resort for some. This was highlighted in a recent article on Laura Robson utilising Sport Psychology services to ‘revive’ her tennis career.
This bought me back to a sticking point that I frequently encounter, how can we encourage sport organisations and athletes to utilise Sport Psychology support on all levels before we hit a ‘crisis’ point and cling to the hope of it getting athletes out of trouble. Very rarely have I been approached by an athlete who says everything is going well, I want to ensure I have all the tools to maintain that success.
The article states that Robson does not lack talent but the mental side of her game often appears fragile. Could she have learnt valuable mental skills at a younger age to build upon and help her prepare for a career at the top level of her game? It also discusses the issue she has around double faults and having to repeat her throw up. If this is so commonly related to nerves could we arm young players with the strategies to understand their nerves and still perform effectively?
There is still an element of doubt and lack of commitment to Sport Psychology programmes in some environments. But, if athletes are reaching a stage in their career where they are ‘trying everything’ to rescue their chances, should we encourage a more structured process for young athletes so they have already explored the options available and understand what works for them.
I am yet to come across a sport organisation or athlete that does not understand the combination of technical, tactical, physical, nutritional and psychological elements that are required to compete at the top level in any sport. The struggle lies within the balance of time and understanding that is given to each area throughout the sporting career.
My purpose in writing this is not to direct every athlete towards regular contact with a sport psychologist, but to ensure that we all take time to contemplate what we could gain from understanding the mental side of our game in relation to performance and well-being. This may involve a discussion with your coach, fellow team mates or family about the positives of your performances or aspects you want to improve. Some may want to explore professional assistance to develop deeper level mental skills for performance or discuss how non-sport commitments impact your performances in a positive or negative way.
The well know phrase, ‘prevention is better than cure’ sums up how Sport Psychology is currently utilised in some environments. I’m not saying that Sport Psychologists cannot work after numerous setbacks or struggles to help athletes succeed. But, are there more effective ways to utilise the skill-set when things are going well and as a development tool for younger athletes.
Which is more effective –
Sessions to develop skills to help you understand when things are going well or not so well and how ‘you’ can do something to change or maintain it?
Sessions to unpick the difficulties you are having, followed by a process to build yourself back up?
My answer – Both have their place, but is prevention better than cure?
There has been a recent increase in the discussion of Sport Psychologists becoming embedded in sport environments and working closer with the team of support staff over several months and years to create an environment where the mental side of the game is on a par with other sport science disciplines. National Governing Bodies are utilising the support at the top end of their sports with multi-disciplinary teams. However, can we reduce the stigma of Sport Psychology, help younger athletes understand their ‘mental game’, and create environments where Sport Psychology is the ‘norm’, in the same way as pitch and gym sessions, are an integral part of competitive sport.
Coaching styles and coaching strategies are terms typically thrown around in academia, the media, and sport. For the purpose of this read, I will refer to a coaching style as a concrete, well established framework from which to base a game-plan. A coaching strategy however, will be referred to a coach’s adaptation style and how […]
Coaching styles and coaching strategies are terms typically thrown around in academia, the media, and sport. For the purpose of this read, I will refer to a coaching style as a concrete, well established framework from which to base a game-plan. A coaching strategy however, will be referred to a coach’s adaptation style and how he or she applies it to the situation, given unforeseen elements. Let’s look at an example:
A track coach whom specializes in sprints is given the task of coaching mid-distance runners at a large track and field event. The meet is expected run in large heats, but each of his athletes are running in the same heat of roughly 20 individuals. The coach, experienced in sprint style training, decides to put the slower and larger runners up front as ‘rabbits’ or pacers. The purpose is to hide his faster runners behind the ‘rabbits’ for the final 200 meters in the race. Once the last 200m arrives, the larger runners will open a ‘gap’ of which the smaller, faster runners can break out of while the larger runners become ‘blockers’.
In this situation, the coaching style is sprints; the situation is a distance event; the elements would be the large amount of people within the heat; and the strategy would be the ‘rabbit/blocking’ technique. So why do we care? Researchers in psychology have discovered that specific coaching strategies and styles have the potential to both directly and indirectly affect sport performance (Amorose & Anderson-Butcher, 2007; Macquet, Ferrand, & Stanton, 2015).
One strategy of coaching that is clearly seen throughout competition is known as planning. Planning is an integral part of each coaches’ ability to approach new challenges. Planning involves the prioritization of duties, observation of behavioral cues, evaluation of action efficiency and assessments of past performances. Through planning, coaches have the ability to directly reduce the time it takes for their athletes to recover both mentally and physically (Macquet et al., 2015).
Another important aspect of coaching which has been empirically researched and supported is the notion of message delivery. The manner in which coaches address their athletes has shown to directly and indirectly impact an athletes’ sense of autonomy, relatedness, and competence (Mellinger & Cheek, 2014). The strength of these components, in turn, have the potential to influence overall motivation in sport-related activity (Amorose & Anderson-Butcher, 2007). Researchers have termed this idea as: Self-Determination Theory (SDT).
This theory suggests that greater motivation will create greater a sense of positivity and performance as a result (Ntoumanis, 2001). With this in mind, when coaches plan their strategies and apply their styles, it is important to remember that the overall goal is to create a positive environment from which to increase motivation and enhance overall athletic performance. So, what does all of this mean? As previously noted, there are a multitude of coaching styles. Furthermore, there are endless ways to design and enhance applied strategies. The most effective styles of coaching, according to Self-Determination Theory are those that establish a greater sense of autonomy, relatedness, and competence within the athletes’ minds.
Let’s review the original example. A sprint coach was given a task to win a mid-distance race. Utilizing his experiences in an alternative specialization, he established a clear and concise strategy based on the strengths of his athletes (relatedness) and what has been personally successful in the past. This strategy works based on trust and how well the athletes can execute it (autonomy). Therefore, individual experience and understanding of an alternative strategy will have a major impact on the overall success of the team (competence). This collective unit approach summarizes everything SDT needs to be successful.
Properly educating coaches on sport psychological theories such as SDT, have the potential to enhance both the styles and strategies coaches need to be successful. Overall, coaches will always be seeking new and innovative ways to gain an edge over their opponents. Continuing education appears to be an easy, and potentially cost effective way, to start.
“those to whom much is given, much is required” – John F Kennedy Following the culmination of this year’s Superbowl, the NFL’s end of season extravaganza, one member of the losing Carolina Panthers team garnered more column inches than most. Cam Newton is a physical specimen, at 6-foot-5 tall and weighing 260 lbs he is […]
“those to whom much is given, much is required” – John F Kennedy
Following the culmination of this year’s Superbowl, the NFL’s end of season extravaganza, one member of the losing Carolina Panthers team garnered more column inches than most. Cam Newton is a physical specimen, at 6-foot-5 tall and weighing 260 lbs he is undoubtedly one of the best athletes in the league. The former Heisman Trophy winner was selected first overall by the Panthers in the 2011 NFL Draft, he is the face of the franchise, the team’s quarterback and de facto leader.
There is no question, he has had a fantastic season and was rightfully voted league MVP. His team had a highly impressive 15-1 record after the regular season with their performances characterised by efficient offence and suffocating defence. The players obviously had fun as the victories tallied with Newton the chief cheerleader, his infectious enthusiasm clearly rubbing off on his teammates. As we know, when things are going well, life is good and leading is easy. The real test of leadership comes when the going gets tough.
Every team needs effective leadership in order to be successful. Newton has leadership qualities, yes but does he have the emotional intelligence to be a truly great leader? In the closing stages of the Superbowl, as his team was succumbing to defeat, some commentators noted he was withdrawn and sullen on the sidelines, clearly lacking positive energy. According to Goleman (1995), emotional intelligence consists of, amongst other things, self-awareness, self-regulation, empathy and social skills. Stogdill (1974) listed a number of key traits and skills that leaders need to possess. Amongst them he cited willingness to take responsibility and being knowledgeable about the group. There is a significant overlap, generally being cognizant of what emotions you are experiencing, how those emotions manifest themselves and the effect that has on teammates. The general consensus seems to be that Newton still lacks these vital qualities.
After a crushing loss on such a big stage there will obviously be bitter disappointment. Again, the way that disappointment manifests itself has a crucial impact on teammates. Games are decided over the course of 60 minutes although games are often remembered for one critical play. In both this year’s and last year’s Superbowl, the losing quarterbacks made poor plays in the final quarter which potentially cost their teams victory. These comments were attributed to Newton two days after the Superbowl. “OK. I didn’t get the fumble, but we can play tit for tat, I’ve seen numerous quarterbacks throw interceptions and their efforts afterward … they don’t go.” “OK, you say my effort. I didn’t dive down. I fumbled. That’s fine, but at the end of the day, we didn’t lose that game because of that fumble. I can tell you that.” (Person, 2016). Compare that to comments attributed to Seattle Seahawks quarterback, Russell Wilson immediately following their 2015 Super Bowl loss, after he threw a final minute interception. “I put the blame on me… I’m the one who threw it… We were right there, so I put the blame on me” (Condotti, 2015). Wilson took personal responsibility for the team’s loss, taking the pressure off his teammates. Newton was very defensive in his comments, clouding the issue by questioning other quarterbacks’ effort and inferring that losing the game was not his fault. These comments could be construed as demonstrating a striking difference in emotional intelligence between the two franchise leaders.
We can be pretty confident that the Carolina Panthers will be making their top Sport Psychologists available to Newton throughout the offseason with the aim of improving his emotional intelligence, thereby making him a better leader and giving the franchise an even greater chance of success in the years to come. He is still young and as he matures that emotional intelligence will improve.
It seems fitting to end this piece with a quote from the great Vince Lombardi, “Leaders aren’t born, they are made. And they are made just like anything else, through hard work. And that’s the price we’ll have to pay to achieve that goal, or any goal.” Cam Newton has achieved many goals to this point in his career through hard work and determination. Overcoming his emotional demons could be the goal that elevates him to become one of the all-time greats.
It doesn’t seem that long since the London 2012 Olympic Games were gracing our TV screens in the Summer that saw Great Britain achieve 29 Olympic Gold medals across 26 sports. Fast forward to the present and we are edging ever so closer to another sport filled Summer, with the 2016 Olympic Games being held […]
It doesn’t seem that long since the London 2012 Olympic Games were gracing our TV screens in the Summer that saw Great Britain achieve 29 Olympic Gold medals across 26 sports. Fast forward to the present and we are edging ever so closer to another sport filled Summer, with the 2016 Olympic Games being held in Rio De Janeiro, Brazil. With average temperatures at that time of the year approximately 24 degrees celsius and a 50% chance of a cloudy day, the weather conditions have potential to be close to perfect, or at least better than the UK.
There are a whole host of things that can play upon the performance of an athlete; the weather, travelling, diet, sleep, training and physical ability. One of the most important aspects of sporting performance, regardless of the type of sport, is the mental mind set of the athlete. The physical performance of an athlete can only take them so far; everyone at the Olympics trains hard, eats right, gets the right amount of sleep, and what sets an athlete apart from the rest is their mental game.
An athlete’s mental game comes in the form of mental toughness. A mentally tough performer can be thought of as an individual who makes fewer mistakes, who doesn’t deny the problem but is efficient with their response, and who does not dwell on defeat but accepts its inevitability graciously at some point in their career (Sheard, 2012).
“Every practise and competition begins with the way you think. The quality of your thoughts is critical; think in ways that promote the outcomes that you desire”
Across many sports athletes often attribute their success to mental toughness, but what exactly is mental toughness and how is it defined?
Unfortunately there are many different definitions of mental toughness in literature including: an ability to cope with pressure, stress and adversity (Goldberg, 1998), an ability to overcome or rebound from failures (Dennis, 1981), and the possession of superior mental skills (Bull, Albinson & Shambrook, 1996). There are also many characteristics of mentally tough athletes as proposed in literature, such as high levels of optimism, confidence, self belief, determination and concentration (Loehr, 1982). Despite the general lack of clarity surrounding mental toughness it has long since been one of the most important aspects of sporting performance (Gould et al., 1987). Research shows that sport performers achieving the best results are those with more mental toughness, as measured by commonly associated attributes (Crust & Clough, 2005; Golby & Sheard, 2004).
Research conducted on international athletes has attempted to define and identify key attributes of mental toughness in order to set fourth a universally accepted set of attributes (Jones, 2002). From the study, a definition of mental toughness emerged as having a psychological edge that enables:
The attribute of self belief emerged to be the most critical aspect of mental toughness closely followed by motivation in the form of desire and determination (Jones, 2002).
Other important attributes of mental toughness were:
This study made clear conclusions regarding a generally accepted view of mental toughness from the qualitative interviews of international athletes themselves, giving a valid representation of such an important sporting quality.
As mental toughness is so important for sporting performance, how does one become more mentally tough? Development of mental toughness is a long term process that requires many underlying mechanisms that operate in combination to achieve such a mind set (Connaughton, Wadey, Hanton & Jones, 2008). These underlying mechanisms are associated with the motivational climate of an athlete (whether they are involved in sport for enjoyment or for rewards). In addition, coaches, parents and peers are amongst many individuals who affect the mental toughness of an athlete with the work of a sport psychologist playing a pivotal role too (Connaughton et al., 2008). Experiences in and outside of sport and internalised motives to succeed are also important aspects of developing mental toughness (Connaughton et al., 2008). Once mental toughness has been developed the maintenance relies on an internalised desire and motivation to succeed, a support network within and outside of the sporting environment and effective use of basic and advanced psychological skills (Connaughton et al., 2008).
Whilst it is not certain what exactly may equate to mental toughness, it is a commonly accepted view that mental toughness is as important to sporting performance as physical ability. Perhaps mental toughness is different for every individual and what defines it is not something that can be put into words but something you know is there inside of your mind that gives you the strength to push on when it gets tough, ignoring the pain and the opposition’s determination. When it seems the world is against you and everything is set out to destroy your performance, the mental toughness inside of you persists and does not give in.
There are many aspects of sport that can impact upon performance and the important thing to remember is that every single athlete there at that moment may also be competing against those setbacks too, whether it be bad weather conditions, tiredness and fatigue from travelling, not having enough sleep or not eating the right food prior to performance. What makes an athlete a champion is that regardless of all those implications that are standing in the way of the athlete and success, they stand tall in the face of adversity and remain in belief of their ability to win. Success does not come with time, it comes with toil and to those who persevere, compete with guts, dignity and integrity, holding themselves together when things are trying to tear their performance apart. Believe in yourself and the rest will follow.
“Mental toughness is the stuff of champions”
One of the most discussed topics in sport at present is the doping scandal and corruption that has taken place widespread across athletics, resulting in many athletes losing confidence in the sport and the people that govern it. As more and more information comes out of the woodwork about the possibility of athletes taking performance […]
One of the most discussed topics in sport at present is the doping scandal and corruption that has taken place widespread across athletics, resulting in many athletes losing confidence in the sport and the people that govern it. As more and more information comes out of the woodwork about the possibility of athletes taking performance enhancing drugs or covering up the intake of them, we witness many well known athletes that were once seen as incredibly talented individuals become better known for their lies and deceit towards the sport as the truth is uncovered regarding their doping involvement.
Recently, it became apparent that Ethiopian born 2014 World Indoor 1500m Champion, Abeba Aregawi, failed an out-of-competition dugs test and has voluntarily pulled out of competition whilst further tests are carried out. It has been rumoured that Aregawi has tested positive for Meldonium (also known as Mildronate). This is a performance enhancer originally meant for the treatment of Ischemia, which occurs due to a lack of blood flow to a limb causing the limb tissues to become starved of oxygen. Interestingly, Ethiopia’s 2015 Tokyo marathon winner Endeshaw Negesse has recently tested positive on a doping test for Meldonium. Other athletes to have reportedly tested positive for the drug are Ukrainian biathletes Artem Tyshchenko and Olga Abramova. Meldonium was only added to the World Anti-Doping Agency banned list on January 1st 2016, so there could yet be more and more athletes who test positive for this performance enhancer in the near future.
So, what exactly is Mildronate?
Also known as Meldonium, Mildronate was originally developed as a growth-promoting agent for animals and has since been identified as an effective anti-ischemic drug (Simkhovich et al., 1988). The clinical benefits of Mildronate stem from carnitine metabolism, which plays an important role regulating cellular energy metabolism via a fatty acid beta-oxidation pathway and glycolysis; in the mitochondria carnitine is the main molecule in fatty acid metabolism (Gorgens et al., 2015). Mildronate works to inhibit the last step of carnitine biosynthesis. During oxygen deficient conditions (anaerobic exercise), there is insufficient oxygen supply and a lower amount of free carnitine which means fatty acid metabolism is lowered and glycolysis is enhanced. This increases the effectiveness of ATP production. Rather than fatty acid oxidation producing energy, there is carbohydrate oxidation which requires less oxygen per ATP molecule compared to fatty acid oxidation (Liepinsh, Kalvinsh & Dambrova, 2011), making the body more efficient at producing energy in those tough, anaerobic states.
When it comes to showing the performance benefits of Mildronate, studies have demonstrated an increase in endurance performance in athletes, an improvement in recovery after exercise and an increase in learning and memory performance (Gorgens et al., 2015), which can be a benefit for many athletes across a wide variety of sports (Dzintare & Kalvins, 2012; Klusa et al., 2013). The use of such a drug has been shown to be worryingly vast across many elite sports and the easy access of Mildronate has allowed many athletes to use it freely and without guilt before the inevitable ban earlier this year (Gorgens et al., 2015).
Whilst it is wrong to take performance enhancing drugs and cheat your way to the top, we often forget the larger context and what it is that drives people to do this rather than just train hard like everyone else and be the best you can be naturally. The psychology of drug taking in sport is extremely interesting and opens your mind into an area that is very rarely discussed.
One of the most common reasons to use performance enhancing drugs in sport is to achieve athletic success, closely followed by financial gain (Morente-Sánchez & Zabala, 2013). This is important. Many athletes dedicate their lives to their chosen sport and sacrifice so much in order to gain huge performance accomplishments that could financially support their family and change their lives. The decision to take a drug to increase performance is a massive risk, however for some it could be an opportunity to enhance their performance to a level that would enable them to provide for their family and to make the years of gruelling training, knockbacks, giving up time with family, injury and psychological strain worth it. The mere thought of gaining recognition for sporting achievements as opposed to going unnoticed for so long is a tempting outlook, one which could push an athlete into believing that taking a performance enhancing drug is the only way forward.
On the other hand, some athletes are pressured by their coach or family members (Pitsch, Emrich & Klein, 2007). The power of manipulation stemming from a coach that craves world class results could pressure an athlete into taking a drug that they don’t even know is a banned substance. Who really knows what goes on in the world of athletics these days?
Some athletes genuinely believe that taking performance enhancing supplements is the only way to continue in their career or to prevent nutritional deficiencies, maintaining their ‘natural’ health (Erdman, Fung, Doyle-Baker, Verhoef & Reimer, 2007; Lentillon-Kaestner & Carstairs, 2010).
The concept of the “false consensus effect” has been studied in literature (Petroczi, Mazanov, Nepusz, Backhouse & Naughton, 2008) and it suggests that athletes who take performance enhancing drugs usually overestimate the prevalence of drug taking in sport. It seems that athletes who believe that other athletes are taking drugs to enhance their performance are more likely to take drugs themselves which could lead us into a vicious cycle that propagates a pro-doping culture (Tangen & Breivik, 2001; Uvacsek et al., 2011). This is something that can be applied to the doping culture in athletics of recent.
In relation is “the doping dilemma” which stems from the classical prisoner’s dilemma (Haugen, 2004). If there is suspicion that other athletes are doing, which there certainly is right now, other athletes feel they need to take performance enhancing drugs in order to play on a level playing field. The power of the unknown comes into play here, with athletes being sceptical as to whether the competitor on the start line next to them is clean or not. The decision to take performance enhancing drugs suddenly seems that little bit more acceptable.
When Lance Armstrong was asked whether he would dope again after being caught he replied with “If I was racing in 2015, no, I wouldn’t do it again because I don’t think you have to. If you take me back to 1995, when doping was completely pervasive, I would probably do it again.” When an athlete believes that everyone else is taking performance enhancing drugs they are more likely to take part in this same behaviour; social acceptability within a small, performance focused environment can pressure an athlete into doping whilst they strive to be the best.
Unfortunately there remains a lack of education surrounding the use of doping in sport and it is important that at an early age sport coaches should emphasis to their athletes that drug taking in sport is simply not an option; if a sport coach’s task is to educate their athletes in this way then the coach will be the primary source of sport education for that athlete (Vangrunderbeek & Tolleneer, 2010). Without such an education regarding this matter an athlete may be more likely to regard drug taking in sport as an option.
“We are more likely to cheat if we see others doing so. We tend to conform to accepted norms of reasonable behaviour, rather than adhere to strict rules.” – Evan Davis.
Whilst it is easy to point the finger at athletes who have taken drugs in order to enhance their sporting capabilities, we are far too reluctant to take into consideration the wider context and the problems that still face us regarding the lack of education for doping in sport. The above points are not excuses for doping, they are reasons, and behind the reason is a person who knows that the behaviour is wrong but still feels the need to go ahead with the decision to dope, even with all the devastating consequences that could follow.
A focus is needed on the antecedents of doping behaviour and associated attitudes and behaviours that lead up to the action. With a focus here and the correct education, doping in sport could be lowered and hopefully diminished in the long term, allowing a wide open space for natural ability to blossom through and a regaining of trust and confidence in sport.
The focus of attention is influential in how well athletes learn sport-related and movement skills (movement efficiency, such as force production, speed, and endurance) and how well those skills can be executed (movement effectiveness, including balance and accuracy; Wulf, 2013). Therefore, it is important for coaches to know and understand where athletes should direct their […]
The focus of attention is influential in how well athletes learn sport-related and movement skills (movement efficiency, such as force production, speed, and endurance) and how well those skills can be executed (movement effectiveness, including balance and accuracy; Wulf, 2013). Therefore, it is important for coaches to know and understand where athletes should direct their focus of attention, and how to use proper instructional cueing (Makaruk & Porter, 2013; Poolton, Maxwell, Masters, & Raab, 2006). Instructional cueing is important, because as Makaruk and Porter (2013) point out, athletes direct their focus however their coaches tell them. However, before elaborating on how attentional focus should be directed, the various types of attentional focus must be clarified: (a) Associative: focus is on body sensations; (b) Dissociative: focus is on something unrelated, and is often used to block pain or other sensations; (c) Width: focus is either broad or narrow; (d) Direction: internal focus is directed toward body mechanics and external focus is directed toward an implement being held or toward a target in the distance (Wulf, 2013). The assigned readings discuss attentional focus in terms of direction, so that will be the main topic of this response.
When learning new skills, or refining techniques, it is recommended to direct focus of attention externally. A review article by Wulf (2013), explains that with external focus, retention is increased, and movement patterns are learned more efficiently, thus allowing athletes to develop their skills and reach higher levels faster. Additionally, after skills and techniques are learned, external focus of attention allows for automaticity of the movement patterns; individuals do not think about what their bodies must do to perform tasks, and the execution of movements is more rapid and efficient (Makaruk & Porter, 2013). Moreover, with external focus of attention, there is less self-imposed pressure to perform proper mechanics, less “paralysis by analysis,” more resistance to skill failure, and more accuracy (Davis & Sime, 2005; Wulf, 2013). When athletes focus attention internally, the conscious control of the movements may cause interference, which “constrains” the motor program and results in less than optimal performance (Makaruk & Porter, 2013).
After movement patterns, techniques, and skills are learned, it is still recommended to direct focus of attention externally during resistance training sessions, because it facilitates greater efficiency, force production, speed, and muscular endurance (Makaruk & Porter, 2013; Wulf, 2013). External focus of control produces more efficient execution of movements- there is greater force produced with less energy expended as demonstrated with lower EMG activity in studies reviewed by Wulf (2013). Furthermore, Wulf (2013) noted that internal focus of attention resulted in co-contractions of agonist and antagonist muscles, resulting in less accurate force production due to increased muscle activity. On the contrary, the greater efficiency and subsequent reduced muscle activity from directing attention externally results in more accurate force production, thus allowing greater maximal force to be produced (Wulf, 2013). External focus of attention also yields more targeted muscle fiber recruitment, better timing of the recruitment, and greater coordination of the muscles, all resulting in greater force production (Makaruk & Porter, 2013; Wulf, 2013). Additionally, external focus of attention allows for more fluidity in movements due to automaticity, and less self-talk of mechanics or body position; movements can be executed more rapidly without internal distraction (Wulf, 2013). Finally, external focus of attention enhances muscular endurance by altering the perception of effort and fatigue, and thus allowing more repetitions before failure (Makaruk & Porter, 2013; Marcora & Staiano, 2010; Wulf, 2013). For example, by focusing attention on an implement or external target, such as pretending to be sitting in a chair during an isometric wall sit, athletes think less about the physical and technical requirements of the task at hand and can perform the task for a longer duration (Makaruk & Porter, 2013).
Properly cueing athletes to focus their attention externally is a learned skill that takes a combination of knowledge and creativity (Makaruk & Porter, 2013). Most coaches are aware that word choice, timing, inflection etc. are all critical when cueing movement execution, but cueing the direction of attentional focus is often overlooked. Words are powerful and must be carefully considered and strategically used so that athletes are not confused or overwhelmed. Too many words, confusing phrases, and poor timing of the cueing are examples that might lead to less than optimal performances (Poolton et al., 2006; Wulf, 2013). Communication is a science and an art that must be learned and practiced just like any other skill, but it is crucial in helping athletes appropriately direct their focus of attention (externally) during resistance training. *Coaches need to practice various skills and techniques, much like their athletes need to practice.