Coaching

Article

It has long been said in the media that different coaches have different styles of coaching. The question is, what does this really mean? There are two main types of coaching style outlined in the literature. These are autonomy-supportive and controlling (Bartholomew et al., 2009 & Isoard-Gautheur et al., 2012).  An autonomy-supportive coaching style is […]

It has long been said in the media that different coaches have different styles of coaching. The question is, what does this really mean?

There are two main types of coaching style outlined in the literature. These are autonomy-supportive and controlling (Bartholomew et al., 2009 & Isoard-Gautheur et al., 2012).  An autonomy-supportive coaching style is recognised by a coach offering explanations and justifications for their decisions, whilst allowing the sense of autonomy over decisions. Furthermore, an autonomy-supportive coaching style is considered optimal when reducing pressure athletes have to deal with, whether that is internal or external (Bartholomew et al., 2009; Hodge et al., 2011 & Isoard-Gautheur et al., 2012).

The second style, considered in the literature, is that of a controlling coaching style. A controlling coaching style is in some aspects the opposite of an autonomy-supportive style.  Rather than allowing the athlete to have autonomy over the session or their training, a controlling coach has a more authoritarian approach. This lack of choice when coupled with a more coercive attitude and style, results in the athlete or individual feeling even less in control of their actions, almost becoming a ‘puppet on a string’.  As a consequence, there can be seen to be an increase in pressure, or desire to please as well as shifting the locus of causality (Bartholomew et al., 2009 & Isoard-Gautheur et al., 2012).  This means that instead of accepting responsibility for defeat or their actions they are more likely to blame conditions or others. This is obviously a negative trait which if allowed to foster can damage the athlete’s attitude long-term.

A further concern associated with a controlling coaching style is its impact on an athlete’s standing within a team (Matosic et al., 2014). In their research they found that those with a scholarship and a controlling coach looked negatively upon the scholarship. This negative view on the scholarship could be seen to be a negative view of their standing in the team, the added pressure which comes from having a scholarship may be heightened by the controlling style of the coach.

Although a lot of negativity surrounds the controlling coaching style there is evidence to suggest that it may improve the perception of competence, one of the 3 key aspects of the Self-Determination Theory (SDT) (Ryan et al., 2000 & Matosic et al., 2014).

Ryan and colleagues’ theory (2000) is based upon the notion that intrinsic motivation is optimal for performance and psychological well-being and as such should be promoted. Intrinsic motivation refers to the inherent desire to learn and according to SDT has 3 key antecedents. These are autonomy, competence and relatedness. Ryan et al. (2000) suggested that to foster intrinsic motivation there must be supportive conditions, something that is often lacking from a controlling coaching style. This is supported by Matosic et al. (2014) who countered their claim that although a controlling style may improve perception of competence, the negatives greatly outweigh the positive, resulting in intrinsic motivation being undermined.

Hodge et al. (2011) highlight the importance of understanding and incorporating both styles depending on the situational demands. They highlight how the supportive style, offering free choice to the athlete may not benefit them in the long term and may be counterproductive. As a result, under this situation it would be beneficial to employ a more controlling style, on the basis that the interests of the athlete are being put first. It is essential to emphasise that the use of a controlling coaching style is only promoted when the athlete’s free choice could have a detrimental effect on either themselves or those around them. On the whole, as evidenced already, the supportive coaching style is favoured for assisting in promoting psychological well-being and fostering positive attitudes.

The correct coaching style is exceptionally important when dealing with young children as they are more impressionable and often require greater support to maintain their development through a particular sport. Isoard-Gauther et al. (2012), suggest that burnout, the reason most people and in particular children dropout of sport, is due to motivation. They mention the requirement of autonomy in order to prevent burnout. Hodge et al. (2011) states that an autonomy-supportive style has a positive relationship with autonomous motivation. As a result it can be seen that when dealing with children and those vulnerable to potential dropout, it may be of benefit to employ an autonomous-supportive coaching style to prevent burnout.

The literature favours an autonomy-supportive coaching style, however it is imperative to understand that there may be situations whereby a controlling approach may be required for the benefit of the individual or the benefit of the team.  On the whole the optimal coaching style may vary from person to person and situation to situation. Nonetheless it is important as a coach to understand and accept that your behaviour and style can have a direct impact on those you are coaching whether that be positive or negative.

Article

Information processing system focuses on how we deal with the vast amount of information that is available to us when we are performing skills. It also compares our systems to that of a computer in order to help us understand the various procedures that we can apply to information, which is important to performing a […]

Information processing system focuses on how we deal with the vast amount of information that is available to us when we are performing skills. It also compares our systems to that of a computer in order to help us understand the various procedures that we can apply to information, which is important to performing a skill successfully.

We are therefore, looking at how information enters our system, how we interpret it and make decisions, how we put those decisions into action, together with what we do with the new information our actions generate. This can be explained in the following diagram.

Untitled

During the stimulus identification stage, performers here decide if a stimulus has occurred and this is done by our sensory systems recalling information. Patterns of movements here are also detected and interpreted. Once the performer has decided if a stimulus has occurred , then they shall move on to the response selection stage, this stage acts on the information received from stimulus identification stage and is concerned with deciding which movement to make. Once the performer has decided which movement to make, they shall move on to the response programming stage. This next stage receives the decision about which movement to make and is responsible for organising our system to carry out the appropriate movement.

Memory plays an important role in information processing, particularly in the interpretation of information when we rely on our previous experiences. It is also important in determining the motor programme we are going to use to send the appropriate information to the muscles. This importance can be seen in the way memory links with other processes in the information processing model.

Atkinson and Shiffrin (1968) created a model to link information processes to memory, which was known as ‘The multi-store model and memory’. This model describes memory in terms of the information flow through a system. It identifies that memory involves a sequence of three stages or stores: Sensory memory, short term memory and long term memory as seen in the diagram below.

 2

The first stage of the model, sensory memory stores; all stimuli entering the information processing system are held for a very short time (0.25-1 second). These stores have a very large capacity with a separate store for each sense. The perceptual mechanism determines which of the information is important for us and we direct our attention to this. Other irrelevant information is quickly lost from the sensory stores to be replaced by new information. This filtering process is known as selective attention. By focusing our attention on relevant information we filter this information through onto the short term memory. Selective attention enables the important information to be filtered and concentrated on. For example, sprinters will focus their attention on the track and the gun, ignoring fellow competitors and the crowd.

The second stage of the model, short term memory; this aspect of memory is often referred to as the ‘workplace’. It is here that the incoming information is compared to that previously learned and stored in the long term memory. The short term memory has a limited capacity, both in terms of the quantity of information it can store and the length of time it can be stored for. Generally, these limits are thought to be between 5 and 9 pieces of information for up to 30 seconds. The number can be increased by linking or chunking bits of information together and remembering them as one piece of information. For example in rugby, line-out strategies are remembered by the players referring to them with a number or name. Information in the short term memory that is considered to be important is rehearsed or practised and by this process passes into the long term memory for future use.

The third stage of the model, long term memory; information is held here once information has been well learned and practised. It’s capacity is thought to be limitless and the information is held for a long period of time.  Motor programmes are stored in the long term memory as a result of repetitive practice. This memory store is also the recognition part of the perceptual process when the stored information in the long term memory is retrieved and compared to the new information which is then recognised.

Now we realise how important memory is to our performance, it would help us if we were able to improve our ability to store information and to be able to remember it. Sports psychologist believe that we can do this by the following methods below.

3 

Overall by reading this article, you should understand that information process is key to performance. Information processing helps performers identify relevant cues via selective attention, therefore increasing movement reactions which will lead ultimately to a successful outcome. Successful outcomes are increased if strategies to help enhance our ability to store more information in the long term memory is practiced.

Article

Roy Hodgson’s squad for the forthcoming World Cup remains England’s second youngest squad ever taken to the major tournament, to some extent reflecting the desire for sport in England to work towards the future. What is more, such an occasion can create bursts of participation within younger individuals, who long for the success displayed by […]

Roy Hodgson’s squad for the forthcoming World Cup remains England’s second youngest squad ever taken to the major tournament, to some extent reflecting the desire for sport in England to work towards the future. What is more, such an occasion can create bursts of participation within younger individuals, who long for the success displayed by their favourite stars. And yet, research suggests a large proportion of younger sportsmen lose interest in physical activity and sport, in turn attenuating participation levels (Van Wersch, Trew & Turner, 1992). It is therefore necessary to understand what motivates children to continue participation in sport as potential ramifications range from greater well-being to lessened financial strain upon National Health Services.

One explanation is provided by Achievement Goal Theory, which holds the premise that ongoing motivation to participate in any behaviour relies upon the individual feeling competent. Nonetheless, young sportsmen’s understanding of ‘competence’ differs and has been broadly divided into ‘performance’ or ‘mastery’ goals (Dweck, 1975; Nicholls, 1983; Ames & Archer, 1987). Whilst performance goals refer to the desire to outperform or demonstrate competence to others, mastery goals refer to a need for self-improvement and learning in order to feel competent. Crucially, the goals held significantly differ in how they affect an individual’s emotional, psychological and behavioural responses to sport and exercise, in turn determining participation levels. Indeed, mastery goals within physical education classes have been associated with greater levels of intrinsic motivation and positive affect towards sport, subsequently maintaining participation levels outside of obligatory sport within school (Duda et al., 1995; Goudas, Biddle & Fox, 1994). Meanwhile, the positivity of outcomes resulting from performance goals seem to rely on numerous other factors, such as a high self-esteem and whether they are accompanied by mastery goals to some extent (Carr, 2006; Dweck & Leggett, 1988). Since the benefits of performance goals are by no means universal, it seems appropriate to desire mastery goals within young sportsmen in order to prolong participation in sport. The question begs therefore: how do we promote mastery goals?

Rather than mere didactic instruction to hold certain goals, children and sportsmen internalise the goals perceived within their environment. Ames (1992) has subsequently distinguished between mastery- and performance-oriented climates, whereby individuals perceive importance to be placed upon self-improvement or outperforming others respectively by their environment. One environmental influence which may play an especially vital role within later sport participation is that of physical education lessons, as they act as an early reflection of the wider sport and fitness domain and thus may reinforce a physically active lifestyle (Duda, 1996). Whilst it has been found that those who endorse both high mastery and performance goals seem to have high levels of intrinsic motivation regardless of the perceived motivational climate, the rest of the population seems significantly more likely to demonstrate high levels of mastery goals and intrinsic motivation when they perceive a mastery climate within physical education lessons (Carr & Weigand, 2008). This research highlights a vital role for teachers and coaches to emphasise the importance of self-improvement rather than outperforming others in order to promote mastery goals which can be transferred to later sporting experiences.

Equally, research has documented the effects of motivational climate as extending beyond teachers and coaches to the motivational climate created by parents (e.g. White, 1996). However, Keegan et al.’s (2009) focus group study delineated the precise mechanisms of these separate motivational climates, finding that parents play a more salient role in how they support a child’s sporting participation in general. This may include providing financial or transportation support for sporting opportunities, suggesting that the role played by parents extends upon how they influence a child’s goal orientation. Furthermore, Vazou, Ntoumanis and Duda’s (2005) focus groups looked at the effects of peer motivational climate within participation, finding that novel dimensions such as ‘intra-team conflict’ and ‘relatedness support’ emerged. Similarly, research has highlighted the importance of close social relationships with peers within ongoing participation (Ullrich-French & Smith, 2009). It may therefore be concluded that peers play an especially vital role within providing social support, parents within supporting participation and coaches within creating a mastery climate. If each of these facets is provided, it is plausible that ongoing sporting participation should be expected.

In conclusion, the Achievement Goal framework reflects just one of many lenses (another lens may be Deci and Ryan’s (1985) Self-Determination Theory) through which the increasingly pertinent topic of sport participation may be understood. Moreover, through consideration of motivational climate, Achievement Goal Theory enables understanding of how participation may be maintained. Nonetheless, parents and peers may be influential in participation behaviour beyond shaping goal orientations, suggesting future theory and practice should not limit itself to teachers and coaches when considering participation in sport.

Article

For those of us that have watched Ray Winstone’s performance of ‘Angry Football Dad’ for the FA’s Respect campaign, we can truly experience the extremes of negative adult involvement in grassroots’ football. The Lancashire FA’s “Silent Weekend” is a recent initiative set out to improve the behaviour of adults in grassroots football and, as a […]

For those of us that have watched Ray Winstone’s performance of ‘Angry Football Dad’ for the FA’s Respect campaign, we can truly experience the extremes of negative adult involvement in grassroots’ football. The Lancashire FA’s “Silent Weekend” is a recent initiative set out to improve the behaviour of adults in grassroots football and, as a consequence, allow the children involved more enjoyment. In simple terms, one could describe that the aim of reducing to nil the hyperventilated verbal exhortations from parents to their “mini-me’s” cuts out so many potential moments of doubt, anger, frustration, confrontation and, at its worst, abuse.

We seem to live in a generation of cosseting parents who want to check on and, to an extent, do every last thing for their children when in fact it’s likely that with minimum interaction the children will most likely work it out for themselves. The term “helicopter parents” coined by a journalist sums up the notion exactly. An example strengthening this claim, via a counter-example, is Skateboarding. Very much an American import but is becoming extremely popular with British youngsters; skateboarding can demonstrate how minimal to no adult interaction can boost the skills of participants in the sport. Skateboarders have a culture built upon respect, tolerance and nurture, without the interference of pushy parents. Why is this case? Simple-there are, in a large number of cases, no rules on the skate-parks, but everyone knows them. I have seen several parks where there are no specified sets of rules, where skaters of all ages mix safely taking turns in the half-pipe and are watching out for each other. Older skaters are particularly helpful to beginners who are going to fall over once in a while. Compared to football, many parents won’t have experience of skateboarding; they can’t be shouting from the sidelines when to change direction or the right technique to land because they have never done it before. Support comes from within and from peers who are stood alongside “on the pitch”.

Particularly with football matches in England, children will continually look to the sidelines for instruction throughout the game. Too much instruction will hamper the child’s ability in decision making. Instead children should be coached to figure out solutions for themselves; this way they will gain a much better understanding of the game simply by exploring it themselves. The famous image of Gary Lineker signaling to the bench when Paul Gascoigne had just been booked in the 1990 World Cup England v Germany is etched in the memory for many but redolent with interaction to coaches on the sidelines. This is a clear example of players who, when playing well were good, but when things went wrong didn’t know what to do. Children should be coached to have the ability to solve and work out their own difficulties during game time. Looking abroad, the Atletico Madrid Football academy has children as young as 12 taking over the training sessions. This would only improve the understanding of their own team members as well as the game. Perhaps this is a lesson that coaches in the UK can take away.

My personal experience with Silent Weekend as a grassroots coach has been very positive. I have seen my team play with more freedom and enjoyment, resulting in a number of good scores. One study by Omli and Wiese-Bjornstal (2013) found that children prefer their parents to be silent on match-day, which further supports the argument that there should be silence on the sidelines. However, throughout childhood, it is parents’ and other significant adults who are the primary sources of social support and encouragement (Harter, 1999); therefore parents’ voices should be heard. Perhaps then a compromise should be made, so that parents can still cheer and encourage their children, but leave the instructions for the coach to make before, at half time, and after the match. Too many instructions from coaches, parents and even other teammates are bound to confuse players and decrease enjoyment.

To summarise, the advantages of spectator silence are:

• That it avoids unnecessary criticism of players
• It allows coaches and parents to watch and enjoy the game better
• The children will enjoy themselves more
• It allows players and coaches to reflect on the game better
• It reduces the pressure put on players and allow greater performances

The skate-park culture is a fantastic example of seeing how children can work out the skills of the sport for themselves. Football can learn from this model during match days so that children can be given the freedom to express, explore and enjoy themselves in the beautiful game.

 

Article

With 6 days to go to until we kick off the 2014 FIFA Soccer World Cup I found myself wondering about the past few months of preparation for the teams and athletes taking part. With players having been dispersed all around the world involved with their various clubs, I started to question the environment that […]

With 6 days to go to until we kick off the 2014 FIFA Soccer World Cup I found myself wondering about the past few months of preparation for the teams and athletes taking part. With players having been dispersed all around the world involved with their various clubs, I started to question the environment that these players would enter into as they begin preparing for their respective World Cup games. The idea of players coming from different setups, different ways of operating and being exposed to different coaching structures and methods and then having to ‘gel’ together as a competitive unit for the World Cup is fascinating. Having worked with many teams and athletic groups I have come to understand how crucial and beneficial it is for coaching and management staff (as well as support staff) to be conscious about the role they play in creating a suitable environment for their players. To clarify, I am not referring specifically to a physical environment but rather a psychological environment. Experience has helped me realise that by creating the right psychological environment for athletes we will inevitably increase the opportunities these athletes have in obtaining an enhanced performance potential. It is safe to say that by the time the international athletes come together as a training squad and begin preparing for the World Cup, it is more a matter of finalising who is playing where and what the specific game plan and plays are going to look like as opposed to grooming or developing better players physically or technically. The environment we are therefore talking about here has a very specific aim, that being the efficient extraction of the highest possible performance from the athletes.

There are however multiple methods by which this can be done and it is exactly this diversity that formed the premise of this small article. What do the psychological environments look like within the different countries? How do the different cultures mould the nature of these environments? How do the different coaching styles affect the different environments that are created? How do the different players respond to the same environment? I think this is what is so fascinating about the nature of the work we get involved in.

Custom Built Trumps Blueprint

It is rare to come across a generic blueprint on how to develop, perform and maintain something that is suitable and effective for all contexts. It depends highly on the people involved, the guiding culture and the agenda of those calling the shots or the “powers that be”. As a professional it is naïve to believe that previously developed blueprints or generic plans will have as much effect on players as opposed to something that is custom created to suit the players and coaching staff being directly dealt with. This is why sport psychologists and performance experts should never be seen as a periphery service to be added last minute or only around competition time. This in itself is a major problem in our industry, the stereotype of having sport psychologists or performance professionals involved only when there is a problem or being seen as a “quick fix” to performance concerns. The sooner sporting organisations take the steps to engrain sport psychologists at grass root levels and allow them to stand beside the coaching and management staff when developing the plans going forward the sooner we will see an improvement in the quality of sporting setups.

Learning From The Best: The Environment Of The All Blacks

Switching focus from soccer to rugby for a second, we can get great insight into this idea of creating psychological environments by reviewing a journal article titled A Case Study of Excellence in Elite Sport: Motivational Climate in a World Champion Team written by Ken Hodge, Graham Henry and Wayne Smith in the journal The Sport Psychologist. This particular article touches on specific detail pertaining to the development of a particular psychological climate and culture that the New Zealand All Blacks adopted between 2004 and winning the World Cup in 2011. This is not the avenue for a full review on this article but for the purpose of the topic in question the following points help in underlining the importance of professional environment creation for athletes. Various situational experiences and critical turning points motivated the need for creating a better environment for the All Black players. The coaching staff, management staff and the players themselves, by means of creating various structures within their setup, managed to develop a specific culture that in turn helped players create certain components deemed to be vital for delivering high performances. Two of the major components of this environment creation were an autonomy supportive motivational climate and the development of transformational leadership. Some of the complimentary components that were developed can be viewed in the diagram below.  Screen Shot 2014-06-06 at 11.07.34

The Process Of Evolution And Customisation

As already mentioned, I believe that we should always avoid promoting blueprint models previously used, however we can promote particular guiding principles that coaches and management staff can use as a skeleton structure to developing their own competitive environment and performance culture. Coaching and management staff can utilise these points as a founding platform and after considering their own cultures, ideas and opinions can then flesh it out specifically based on their needs and develop their own tailor-made action plan and psychological environment.

Tools For The Environment Architect

Below are some ideas that I feel are worth investigating as a sporting unit. If created correctly these components can have a profound effect on athletic performance and the created environment can provide great opportunity for the longevity of success and high performances. I must mention at this point that these ideas were generated by means of multiple research efforts combined with our own experience and are therefore methods that we have had success with in the past when applying it to the clients we work with. They may not be suitable for all contexts. Below are the ideas that we find useful.

Screen Shot 2014-06-06 at 11.08.47

 

Know Your Players

From our experience with athletes we have established that the better understanding you have of your players and the more established your relationship with them the better the chances are of them responding positively to your setup. Happy players tend to be better aligned for delivering a higher performance. Coaches, managing staff as well as support staff must make an effort to get to know their players both personally and professionally. The familiarity and comfort that is created by establishing these relationships develops a healthy sense of trust and transparency that is crucial for extracting high performances out of players. There are multiple ways by which coaches can get to know their players personally and professionally. Some methods include: regular informal and formal one-on-one sessions, informal and formal contextual mapping sessions (contextual mapping would consist of asking various questions informally and formally regarding the athlete’s general life, athletic performances and / or training routines. It may touch on things like family life, interests and hobbies, performance anxiety concerns as well as perceived strengths and weaknesses) and group meeting sessions (with potential leadership groups or certain player units for example). The methods of getting to know your players both personally and professionally will differ depending on your particular context and the player base that you are working with. Regardless of this, begin developing suitable and applicable structures for you to tick this box.

Build A Shared Vision

All teams need a vision, a purpose and a clear map as to how they are going to achieve these elements along with a clear understanding about how each individual team member (and staff) fits in with this overall picture. Without these components team success will only be determined by how far the natural talent alone will take them. Spend time developing a sense of what the team’s ultimate dreams and visions are. What do these look like and what do these feel like? How can you best describe these moments? Discuss what makes successful teams a ‘winning team’. What are the components of this ‘winning team’? How can we rank ourselves within these components? This helps create a useful comparison between the teams ‘ideal self’ and their ‘current self’. Continuing from here, establish an elaborate goal map going forward, one that includes ‘time based ultimate goals’, a series of ‘medium term milestones’ and an array of ‘everyday activators’. Map this out as thoroughly as possible. Once a clear picture is portrayed establish with your team the essential ‘non-negotiables’ surrounding this goal map. These elements will be an outline of the non-negotiable components such as communication channels, communication nature, time management, behaviour and attitude around practice and competition etc. Ensure that all players are on the same page with regard to this procedure and each one of them understand his / her role and responsibility within the overall picture. You may have your own ideas about effective goal setting in which case utilise these methods but ensure that a vision, a purpose and a direction are clearly mapped out at the end.

Transformational Leadership

The next two components concern that of further accentuating the already created culture by developing transformational leadership and involving a player led mentality into this environment. By ticking the first two environmental components you will have already established some sense of a positive culture. To add to this it is important that coaches develop responsibility, accountability and leadership in their players. Coaches must be encouraged to get players involved in a number of selected decision making processes and empower certain players to take control in a variety of situations. Provide opportunities and platforms for players to lead the group and for the team to slowly develop a sense of responsibility and accountability for their actions, behaviours and performances. As with the abovementioned ideas, methods of achieving this are numerous so choose the methods that you feel are most influential.

Process Orientation And Intrinsic Motivation

The next component presented is the idea of creating the best motivational climate for your setup. People who are involved in something for the wrong reasons will crumble when times get a little challenging, they often fail to occupy that inner purpose or climate that will keep them going strong in the face of adversity. Hopefully, by this stage of environment creation, all parties involved will have bought into the previous steps and will therefore be sharing similar visions and purposes and are therefore involved for the right reasons. The process should naturally wean out those with alternative agendas. Your players will always arrive with their own sense of what motivates them. As coaches it is our job to create an atmosphere whereby we can improve the longevity of this motivation and provide a platform that will encourage and motivate athletes when things are a little tough. This is a challenging concept as we are rarely motivated by other people’s reasons for doing something. Coaches must be encouraged to develop a ‘task / process orientated motivational climate’ as opposed to an ‘ego / outcome orientated motivational climate’. The later comprises an environment motivated by rewards, results, status and money where the focus is solely on the outcome and athletes derive self-worth based purely on results. The former is an environment motivated by enjoyment and passion where the focus is on the smaller steps to success and value is placed on growth, development and positive progress. The former system provides a more suitable method of dealing with setbacks as these experiences are seen as an opportunity to learn, adapt and further develop. Coaches must open up opportunities to create a task / process orientated motivational climate where progress, strengths, growth and learning are praised and encouraged. Despite being ideal, this does take time and will require a potential mind shift within a variety of players and coaching staff.

The Right People

The right group of people can often be a determining factor between success and failure. These environments prove very difficult to create if you do not have the right people working alongside you sharing the same vision and passion for what is being created. A cohesive unit who are chasing the same dream and walking the same journey at a similar pace is vital for creating the most professional psychological environment for athletes. Therefore, if you are lucky enough to have a say in who your support staff should be, choose wisely and ensure that each person involved has a significant skill set that will inevitably add immense value to your overall setup. Having the right people doesn’t only extend toward the coaching, management and support staff, it extends further into the player base as well. As harsh as it may sound, sometimes the art of selecting players based on behaviour and attitude (as the All Blacks have done) will reap longer lasting positives results than purely selecting based on talent and skill. I personally have been involved in a team where one player’s credentials far outweighed any other players’ in the team. He was arguably the most talented player on the field, but due to his poor attitude and individual-natured behaviour his talents were lost and he ended up bringing the whole team down! Needless to say, the system naturally weaned him out and a more positive atmosphere was re-established.

Growth And Innovation

Finally, the need (not desire) to continuously improve your knowledge (and impart that knowledge) as a coaching staff is vital for the success of this environment. We live in an information age where we need to adopt an ‘information obsessed mentality’. What we do to allow us to succeed today may not be enough to succeed tomorrow. The lessons we learn from success, ours and others, becomes part of best-practice industry wide, and the onus in on us to develop our skills and keep improving, or get left behind. Coaches and management staff need to adopt an organic approach where they embrace innovation, capitalise on change, evolve as a body and continuously seek to apply their newly acquired knowledge. Sport in many ways can be compared to any business with a product. Daily operations must be targeted at getting the best out of that product and ensuring that you set yourself aside from any competitors. Athletes require new, innovative, ground breaking information about how to improve as a performer so as to stay ahead of the continuously changing demands of modern day sport.

Take Action

The abovementioned ideas are merely the start to creating the most conducive environment for eliciting high performing athletes. I would like to encourage coaches and their management / support staff to consider these as a bare minimum start to creating your own environments. Use these ideas, adapt them, mould them to suit your context and add your own spin on creating a competitive and comfortable environment for your athletes. At the end of the day the more professional your athletes feel the better are the chances of delivering competitive performances. If anything at all, at least we are likely to be involved in the process that will inevitably create a slightly better person.

 

Article

The nature versus nurture debate is still an ongoing debate concerning athletic expertise. As I have written before I believe athletes are made rather than born. My view thus leans more towards nurture than nature and from what I’ve been reading lately scientists are holding such a view more and more too. This view is also […]

The nature versus nurture debate is still an ongoing debate concerning athletic expertise. As I have written before I believe athletes are made rather than born. My view thus leans more towards nurture than nature and from what I’ve been reading lately scientists are holding such a view more and more too. This view is also known as the Growth Mindset, as first coined by Carol D. Dweck. Dweck laid the foundation on Growth Mindset with her groundbreaking research. A Growth Mindset holds the belief that qualities are malleable through learning and not fixed by genes. In part one of this article I will discuss the debate about reaching athletic expertise and in doing so address concepts like talent, neural plasticity, & myelin. In part two of this article I will discuss critical learning periods & motivation and their effects on development.

Talent

Talent is one of the concepts that are important in this discussion, although there remains haziness about its definition. Talent might have the most possible definitions of all words we know in our vocabulary. Have you ever asked your friends what talent is? I reckon you will not be be able to form a conclusive definition coming from the variety of answers you will get. It might be a fun way to ignite a discussion among yourselves though. But if you are looking for a conclusive definition however, let me share my thoughts about talent with you. Talent – in my opinion – has both an identification as a developmental definition. In the identification definition talent is outperforming others on a specific discipline in a given cohort. For example, a 14 year old football player (discipline) who is the best compared to his peers (cohort) can be considered a talent. A first year student of mathematics (discipline) who gains the highest grades of all first year math students (cohort) can be considered a talent. I think you get my point. Talent is about being better than average or  what you might expect from one given a certain discipline in a specific cohort. Talent also is multidisciplinary, it could be that the 14 year old football player is considered a talent in football, but gains the worst grades in math. You can be good at one discipline, and lack skill at another. This definition of talent is what I call the talent identification definition. Perfectly fine to use this definition in identification programs, but for developmental purposes it’s best to use the developmental definition of talent!

Because how does talent evolve? Is it innate or developed? In my opinion talent is developed, and the developmental definition of talent consists of four components that on top of their sole influence also interact with each other in developing talent. Those four components are: genes, the ability and motivation to learn, hours of practice and the length of potential. With genes I mean one’s physical make-up and it seems some physical abilities are really difficult or impossible to improve (e.g. height, muscle fibers). The ability and motivation to learn is how open someone is to learning and how fast he or she then picks up new things or learns new skills and so forth. The hours of practice are of course the time invested in a given discipline. For now the hours of practice is the easiest component to measure and the more hours the better the talent. Length of potential is the maximum capacity one has, the reach of his potential. It is very important to be aware that we don’t know too much about it.  Nobody, yet,  knows whether a 13 year old football talent in his national team under 14 will still be one of the best players of his nation when he is 25. I mean right now we can’t tell with 100% certainty whether he will even make it into professional football! It could be his potential ‘only’ reaches to the highest amateur level.

Legendary Italian goalkeeper Gianluigi Buffon said : “ You can only measure one’s potential after his career.” Because then you can tell what one was able to achieve, beforehand we don’t know. What we do know however is that the more effort you put in your development the higher your chances of reaching expertise in a given discipline are. More scientists are also reaching the view that talent is a developed quality. Like Ackerman (2013) states: “Talent is not properly thought of as a genetic or innate endowment, but rather as a developed set of traits that are integral to the further development of expert/elite performance.” A final note on the developmental definition of talent, the environment plays a significant role too in developing talent. Environment can be thought of as the learning incentives/possibilities given by others around you (e.g. parenting, coaching, social support, materials available etc.) and for many players is essential in becoming talented.

Neural Plasticity

To demonstrate that talent is developed meet neural plasticity. Neural plasticity is a process that takes place in your brain. Scientists used to believe that after youth the brain wouldn’t develop anymore, that your brain and intelligence would freeze after a certain adolescence age. Now we know that’s nonsense. Your brain keeps on learning throughout your whole life! We know now that you have a tremendous influence on your own thoughts, conduct and feelings because of our brain’s ability to form new pathways based upon our experiences and learning process. Have a look at what Discovery Channel has to say about neural plasticity here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8XwFahi-qf8 and Sentis here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ELpfYCZa87g.

Myelin

In Daniel Coyle’s The Talent Code Dr. Fields speaks about how the brain develops. His point of view has everything to do with neural plasticity: “Your brain has so many connections and possibilities that your genes can’t code the neurons to time things so precisely. But you can use myelin to build it.” He states that genes are not coded or wired yet, so no talent or action patterns have already been formed. Ackerman (2013) writes about that too: “humans are born with a relatively small set of inherited fixed action patterns (or reflexes).” Or as David Epstein puts it in his book The Sports Gene about elite athletes’ skills: “No one is born with the anticipatory skills required of an elite athlete.” Thus genes are just building blocks, without being connected. This connecting happens through neural plasticity and myelin seems to the distinguishing factor in this. It is the substance you create when learning or practicing. Myelin thickens the pathways in your brain. Here’s Coyle’s elaboration on myelin from his book:

“Every human movement, thought, or feeling is a precisely timed electrical signal traveling through a chain of neurons – a circuit of nerve fibers. Myelin is the insulation that wraps these nerve fibers and increases signal strength, speed, and accuracy. The more we fire a particular circuit, the more myelin optimizes that circuit, and the stronger, faster, and more fluent our movements and thoughts become.”

Thus myelin enables you to learn! The conclusion after part one of this article is that athletic talent and expertise are developed, not innate! In part two of this article I will take a deeper look into development with some nuances. Because working hard and neural plasticity are essential in becoming talented, it’s not always sufficient. Critical learning periods, in which children need to acquire several skills in order to be (better) able to learn necessary skills later in sports, seem to exist. Partly related to the critical learning periods is the physical aspect in sports. Several studies have shown that certain physical aspects (e.g. Achilles tendon for jumping power) are really difficult or even impossible to improve, especially when missed out during a critical learning period. Therefore a potential limit to each and every one of us exists, at least for certain physical attributes that’s true. But then again we can only tell one’s limit after his career, hence learn and practice as often as you can for you can raise and reach your true potential!

Article

Sports performance is determined by many factors. According to Serpa (1999), and the trends from the literature, the coach-athlete relationship is an important factor affecting sport performance. Within the realms of the 3 C’s Conceptual Model, the coach-athlete relationship is defined by the interdependence and influence between coaches’ and athletes’ thoughts, feelings and behaviours (Jowett […]

Sports performance is determined by many factors. According to Serpa (1999), and the trends from the literature, the coach-athlete relationship is an important factor affecting sport performance. Within the realms of the 3 C’s Conceptual Model, the coach-athlete relationship is defined by the interdependence and influence between coaches’ and athletes’ thoughts, feelings and behaviours (Jowett & Cockerill, 2002).

The three key constructs used to examine coach-athlete relationship are closeness, commitment and Complementarity and can be determined by the Coach-Athlete Relationship Questionnaire (CART-Q) (Jowett & Ntoumanis, 2001). Research studies have found that high scores within these areas are associated with higher levels of performance and personal treatment (Jowett & Don Carolis, 2003); higher levels of team cohesion (Jowett & Chaundy, 2004), and lower levels of role ambiguity in team sports (Olympiou et al, 2005 In. Jowett, 2005); and motivation of athletes participating in team sports (Olympiou et al, 2008).

Research focuses mainly on coaches’ behaviours and the impact on athletes performance through the use of observation or questionnaires. There seems to be a wealth of research emphasising coaches positive behaviour, however, there is a gap in research on coach’s behaviours leading to athletes negative emotions. Not all coach-athlete relationships are positive and effective.

Inadequate relationships can develop and conflict can occur. Conflict is defined as the experience of incompatibility between people (Deutsch,1973 In. Jowett & Cockerill, 2002). The 3 C’s model can be used to identify problem areas and assess relationship issues between the coach and athlete. Having adequate conflict management skills allow for coaches and athletes to remain focused in high pressure competition, and training. Therefore, it is important that we have an understanding of effective relationships and ways to resolve conflicts.

An important concept of dealing with conflict is maintaining the relationship. Dindia and Canary (1993) described relationship maintenance as strategies used to keep a relationship in a specified state or condition. Ways to maintain relationships may include discussing an area of disagreement and coming to a joint decision of how it can be resolved (i.e., conflict management) or team building (i.e., socializing).

Although no sport psychology research has directly considered relationship maintenance within the coach-athlete relationship, some research appeared to address issues related to maintenance strategies. For example, Gould, Lauer, Collins, and Chung (2007) examined the coach-athlete relationship by interviewing ten American football coaches who all received awards for their abilities to facilitate their athletes‟ personal development.

In the interviews, these coaches emphasized the importance of communication (i.e., having open lines of communication with their athletes, possessing clear expectations, and holding their players accountable). These coaches also avoided using punishment or criticisms that were directed towards their players‟ characters or personalities, and showed that they cared, trusted, and respected their players as people. These ways of communicating paralleled the relationship maintenance strategies labelled as positivity, openness, and assurance (Stafford & Canary, 1991). Additionally, research examining coaches’ behaviours consistently has shown that supportive and encouraging coaches were likely to have a positive influence on their athletes development (Coatsworth & Conroy, 2006). This supportive coaching was particularly effective when their athletes were less confident about themselves (Smith & Smoll, 1990). Thus, the use of maintenance strategies in sport has been indirectly associated with positive outcomes.

Article

Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT) (Hayes, Strosahl, & Wilson, 1999) is a treatment approach that views experiential avoidance, inflexible attentional processes and reduced attempts to pursue valued behaviors as the sources of psychological dysfunction. These issues result in what is known as psychological inflexibility, or the inability to change one’s behavior or focus of attention […]

Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT) (Hayes, Strosahl, & Wilson, 1999) is a treatment approach that views experiential avoidance, inflexible attentional processes and reduced attempts to pursue valued behaviors as the sources of psychological dysfunction. These issues result in what is known as psychological inflexibility, or the inability to change one’s behavior or focus of attention in order to succeed in a given situation. The primary focus of ACT, then, is to promote the idea of psychological flexibility, or the abilities to contact the present moment fully, switch and focus attention, and behave in the service of one’s own values (Hayes, Stroshal, & Wilson., 2012).

Psychologists have recently begun applying the principles of ACT in a variety of sports, believing that if athletes can switch their attention to the relevant athletic task versus internal states such as anxiety or frustration, they will be able to perform more successfully. This may be especially true in situations of heightened stress or arousal, such as a penalty kick in football or a free throw in basketball.

ACT attempts to enhance psychological flexibility via six core processes of change: acceptance, cognitive defusion, contact with the present moment, self as context, value-driven behavior, and committed action towards value-driven behavior (Twohig, 2012). These six processes have been nicknamed the “ACT Hexaflex (Hayes et al., 2012).”

Acceptance involves adapting a willing mindset to experience any emotion or thought that may arise in the context of a particular situation, without having to judge these experiences as positive or negative and without letting these experiences guide behavior. Cognitive defusion is the process of viewing thoughts simply as automatic events in the mind that do not necessarily influence behavior. Contact with the present moment refers to nonjudgmental contact with psychological and environmental events as they occur (Hayes et al., 1999). The conceptualized self refers to self-evaluations that are formed through interactions with the environment and with others. Although the conceptualized self may be helpful in guiding behavior, ACT teaches individuals to view the self as ever-changing and influenced by both internal and external events (Twohig, 2012). Values-driven behavior is the ability to act in accordance with one’s goals and values. Committed action to these values involves engaging in values-driven behavior even in the face of undesirable thoughts, emotions, or events.

The ACT Hexaflex can be readily applied to any sport. For instance, before a World Cup match, it would be expected that even the most gifted of players would experience anxiety about the upcoming game. Instead of attempting to control, reduce, eliminate, or block out thoughts of worry and feelings of tension, players practicing acceptance would instead observe these internal events as simple, normal reactions to the upcoming match, and may even develop a certain appreciation of these thoughts and emotions and embrace them as a result of his current situation. In the same idea, cognitive defusion may be used to change the player’s relationship with their thoughts and emotions. Instead of viewing these internal events as things that should influence how they prepare for the match or perform in the game, defusing from these thoughts and emotions would allow players to have space between what they are feeling inside and what is actually happening around them on the pitch.

Becoming more in touch with the present moment may enable a golfer to become more aware of environmental cues that may impact his shot. For instance, paying attention to the present moment may allow the player to notice the direction of the wind, the lie of the grass, the slope of the green, and other factors that are important to making a good shot. The opposite of being fully present may be a golfer becoming preoccupied with their last shot, the next hole, or things unrelated to golf, which may distract the golfer from giving his full attention to the shot at hand. Regarding the conceptualized self, an elite athlete may become “fused” to their identity as a world-class athlete, which could potentially be a source of guilt and frustration for them if they do not succeed every time they step on to the field or court. In contrast, by viewing oneself in the context of the event, the athlete may realize that environmental factors such as teammates, opponents, playing surface, and other variables may also impact their performance, not just their skill level and reputation.

Values-driven behavior may help an athlete who is struggling with motivation. Athletes should clarify what they want to get out of their athletic endeavor and performance, whether it be personal satisfaction, financial success, social status, or physical health. Values clarification may provide the athlete with the motivation needed to adhere to actions that align with their values. Similarly, committed action may be used to motivate the athlete who is struggling with fatigue or apathy on a particular training day. For instance, by reminding himself of his vision of becoming the champion of his weight class, a wrestler may realize that he needs to train that day despite his low motivation in order to put himself in a better position to beat his next opponent.

The ACT Hexaflex is a useful tool for sport psychologists, coaches, and athletes who believe in the power of psychological flexibility. Through committed and values-driven behavior, present-moment awareness, and acceptance of thoughts and emotions, athletes can enhance their ability to fully attend to their athletic situations. In turn, the athlete will perform in a more targeted, focused, and motivated manner, ultimately leading to athletic success.

Article

England has during the last World Cups experienced different styles of coaching. Sven Gøran Eriksson applied his democratic coaching style on the English stars, getting critique for not being able to control the performance setting enough, when failing to make it to the final in the World Cup in 2006. Fabio Cappello took a different […]

England has during the last World Cups experienced different styles of coaching. Sven Gøran Eriksson applied his democratic coaching style on the English stars, getting critique for not being able to control the performance setting enough, when failing to make it to the final in the World Cup in 2006. Fabio Cappello took a different approach when coaching the Three Lions in South Africa – 2010. The autocratic Italian, managed the English team with an iron fist. The result: even worse than the two previous World Cups.

Vincente Del Bosque – the coach of the successful Spanish national team stated a few weeks ago – that one of his major concerns before and during the World Cup in Brazil, was to keep his players happy and enjoying the experience of the performance setting.

So what to make of this? We clearly see that different coaching styles being used by different coaches in the World Cup, but how could this affect World Cup performance?

Autocratic leadership is defined by Weinberg and Gould (2011) as a coaching style that uses independent decision making and stresses personal authority when working with decision making. Athletes input to training, goals and plans are generally not invited and the coach often uses punishment when not following instructions. On the other hand; democratic leadership is being characterized by the athletes`participation in decision-making, goals and forming of plans, tactics and methods (Weinberg & Gould, 2011).

Clearly the two perspectives differ from one another, but coaches use different approaches as the situational and contextual factors change and develops (Chelladurai, 1993). Some situations (e.g. tactical changes during a game, substitutes, quick error correction) require a more autocratic decision-making whereas other situations and contexts (e.g. preparing technically, tactically and socially for the game/ in half-time talk) might provide better results with a democratic coaching-style. Another factor to consider is the interesting point from Chelladurais`model of leadership (1993) – that athletes expectations of coaching style and decision-making play a major role in coaching effectiveness. If your team has not experienced a democratic coaching-style before, you might not start this process during the championship in Brazil. This process needs to be trained and clearly communicated within the team – to get approval and understanding of the choice of coaching-philosophy and what this implies for the team and players.

If we take a look into what a high performing team strive for to acquire success – factors like; strong team cohesion, high efforts and work ethics, quality in preparation, effective on-pitch decision-making, strong motivation and low levels of anxiety – clearly play a part on the pathway to the final at Maracanà stadium, 13th of july. Kidman (2001) points out that a democratic coaching-style will make athletes and teams better off in a performance setting. This – he argues is because of the teams/individuals increased involvement in development, higher motivation for learning and improving, greater understanding of tactics and skills and increased ability to high quality decision-making in high pressure situations. Last he emphasizes another critical factor for a World Cup team – teamwork would be enhanced, resulting in greater on-field success.

Team cohesion – keeping the group together towards a common shared goal, is clearly linked towards a democratic coaching style (Gardner, Shields, Bredemeier, & Bostrom, 1996) with the coach providing social support, instructive feedback and being perceived as low in an autocratic behavior. To keep your team together and focused on the challenges ahead – requires a lot of attention from the coaching staff. A cohesive team pulls the extra weight during tight games and follows up common shared goals and game plans – to maximize the results.

High-performance settings as the World Cup, also provides high pressure/high anxiety settings for athletes and coaches. We see again and again teams not being cohesive and resilient enough, and thereby choking under the enormous pressure the World Cup sets up. In this part psychology plays a major role. A democratic coaching style provides more social support and gives teams and athletes a better buffering zone against anxiety and performance pressure hence allowing team-athletes performing at their peak (Pensgaard & Roberts, 2002).

Research also indicates that when coaches are being  highly intrinsically motivated, they tend to be more autonomous in their coaching style (Fredrick & Morrison, 1999). Such coaching behavior applies well into supporting athlete and team autonomy – which in turn is seen as a strong facilitator for intrinsically motivated behavior within the team, with all the positive consequences that follows (Deci & Ryan, 2002). Coaches that use mainly a democratic approach might be more aware of the underlying psychological mechanisms that comes into play when performing in high pressure settings?

It is an interesting fact that psychological mechanisms as; group cohesion, social support, intrinsic motivation, common shared goals, feeling of autonomy and competence plays a major role in developing top performance – all of these qualities  seems to be feeding directly into a democratic coaching environment – giving a strong body of evidence to evaluate use of coaching style and its impact on team and athlete performance.

So when you are watching the World Cup in Brazil this following month – don`t just enjoy the fantastic footballers, but look into how their coaches behave and what coaching-style the World Cup coaches exhibit. Remember the fact that different contexts requires different approaches and that the best results often are made when coaches are able to provide the right type of coaching-style at the right moment, but with a strong and solid fundamental philosophy.

Have an entertaining and educating World Cup!

 

 

Article

As many theories in psychology suggest, our actions, behaviour and personality is greatly influenced by those within our lives, whether friends, parents, teachers, or in a sporting scenario, our coaches. This article shall look at how a coach can hold significant power in the coach-athlete relationship, which ultimately can play a role in athlete burnout. […]

As many theories in psychology suggest, our actions, behaviour and personality is greatly influenced by those within our lives, whether friends, parents, teachers, or in a sporting scenario, our coaches. This article shall look at how a coach can hold significant power in the coach-athlete relationship, which ultimately can play a role in athlete burnout.

Burnout can be referred to as “a withdrawal from [sport] noted by a reduced sense of accomplishment, devaluation/resentment of sport, and physical/psychological exhaustion”, and occurs when an athlete experiences an increase in stress-induced costs, such as the amounting pressure to perform (Smith, 1986; Raedeke et al., 2002). Ultimately, burnout would result in dropout and withdrawal from sport. Our role as coaches or sport psychologists is to find the trigger and predictor of burnout, in order to prevent burnout from occurring.

Perceived coaching styles/behaviours have been found to predict athlete burnout (Vealey, Armstrong, Comar and Greenleaf, 1998). With much of the coaching field being dominated by coaches who possess a goal-orientated and coach-centred approach to coaching, the results have a tendency to be the predominant focus. For some coaches, how the player gets to the successful end result is not important, which explains coaches direct linear approach to coaching and decision-making. Sport is primarily based on providing opportunities, so when an athlete has a lack of control and autonomy in the decisions influencing their actions and performance in sport it can trigger burnout. With this in mind, it suggests that burnout can be perceived more as a social and interpersonal problem, instead of a personal failure (Coakley, 1992).

When an athlete becomes absorbed into the sport they may connect their identity with the sport. Therefore, if a coach has control over the direction of sport, it may be thought that a coach has control of the shaping of an athlete’s identity.  As an athlete becomes somewhat ‘powerless’ in the decision making process with a lack of autonomy, it may be assumed that their identity and personal development spirals out of their control (Kimball, 2007). When this occurs, athletes may experience burnout, due to the confusion, and therefore stress, and detach themselves from sport in attempt to regain control of their identity (Coakley, 1992). This in itself is a highly emotional process, as feeling the need to detach yourself from a sport which you are highly involved in just to gain control of your self-identity can be perceived as a big decision and lifestyle change.

As a result of the focus of sport today primarily being directed towards winning and results, coaches may push their athletes to their physical and mental limitations. Coaches may enforce repetitive practice in hope to see success. This may result in overtraining; training to the extent where there are no benefits, just consequences (Brenner, 2007). With no evidential benefits, players may have no motives to continue and therefore become demotivated to continue trying, resulting in withdrawal from sport. In addition, players may devaluate sport. Devaluation in sport relates to the loss of interest and resentment a person holds towards a sport due to a coaches focus on performance, oppose to the individual holistically (Goodger, Gorely, Lavallee and Harwood, 2007). This means that by a coach highlighting results and winning as the key focus instead of holistic player development, players may become detached from the sport; they may feel that they are participating because they have to, instead of intrinsically wanting to, thus causing burnout (Goodger et al., 2007).

Overall, much of what has been mention relates to the coach being predominantly in control of the direction and decision surrounding an athlete’s involvement in sport. As burnout can be influenced by significant others, such as coaches, it suggests that burnout is not only based on physiological exhaustion, but also social complications. The lack of awareness a coach has in relation to the power in the coach-athlete relationship can fundamentally trigger burnout, due to the assumption that coaches have the responsibility to make decisions within sport.  Instead, power in the coach-athlete should be seen as constantly shifting, meaning that athletes too should have the freedom to make decisions and have input in regards to direction and choices surrounding their involvement in sport. Coaches should therefore be more aware of how influential their input is, so instead to telling an athlete what to do, they could instead scaffold and guide their learning in order to give them a sense of achievement. This would ultimately retain engagement within sport and reduce the chances of burnout, as athletes may recognize that they do have control of their own lives. Instead of sport and coaches controlling the shaping of player identity, sport instead can act as a tool to guide and enhance self-identity and a positive development.

Article

Everything within our lives is subject to change; whether it be our looks, where we live, or our friendship circle. In sport, as an athlete develops and progresses it is likely that they are going to experience changes, such as who they are being coached by, their teams, or in some cases, the country they […]

Everything within our lives is subject to change; whether it be our looks, where we live, or our friendship circle. In sport, as an athlete develops and progresses it is likely that they are going to experience changes, such as who they are being coached by, their teams, or in some cases, the country they train in. Change can be defined as ‘an act or process through which something becomes different’. Within sport, athletes go through many changes and ‘transitional periods’; “an event or a non-event which results in a change in assumptions about oneself and the world and, thus, requires a corresponding change in one’s behaviour and relationships” (Schlossberg, 1981).

For athletes wishing to pursue sport at an elite level, dealing with and being flexible to change is crucial. Wylleman and Lavallee (2004) propose four transitional phases an athlete experiences throughout their life, in regards to:

1)      Athletic career (e.g., initiation into a sport, injury, retirement).

2)      Psychological development (e.g., moving from adolescence into adulthood, recreational play to competition).

3)      Social development (e.g., adapting to a new coach, new teammates).

4)      Educative and professional development (e.g., moving from novice to professional, college to university).

Success through each transition is undermined by individual differences, in relation to how an individual views change and copes with the problems that arise. For instance, one player may struggle playing under a new coach, whereas another may thrive under the experience. These individuals who find change beneficial tend to be optimistic and see change as a new challenge and opportunity to achieve. On the other hand, those who are pessimistic towards change, or feel cautious towards change, may struggle to adapt through each transition. Poor awareness and lack of ability to cope and adapt may result in feelings of anxiety and discomfort (Alfermann and Stambulova, 2007. This supports the famous words of Arnold Bennet, who once said that “any change, even a change for the better, is always accompanied by drawbacks and discomforts”.  There are thought to be five stages we go through when facing a change, and as we go through these stages it is thought that we progressively desensitized from the change (Zutphen, 2008). The five stages consist of:

1)      Denial: the initial fight against the new proposal of change.

2)      Anger: the feeling of insecurity and frustration against the change.

3)      Dejection: the depressed state an individual feels when recognising that a change is going to occur.

4)      Acceptance: knowing that change is going to happen and preparing for it.

5)      Learning: reflecting on the idea that change may be beneficial on performance.

Many individuals fear change and the unknowingness of the future. This fear stimulates pessimistic beliefs about the outcome change brings about, due to familiarity bias about the security of the presences (Cao, Han, Hirshleifer and Zhang, 2011). In regards to sport, an example of this fear of change could be moving to a different team. Insecurity arises from this change, which can stimulate anger and frustration, which can ultimately be detrimental in an athlete’s performance, in regards to consciously forcing performance, overtraining and thus causing injuries. On the other hand, accepting change and recognising that change can be beneficial can result in a positive transition and overall boost in self-confidence. An example of this is being promoted within rooster of a team; going from bench warmer to starting line-up.

To conclude, change is natural occurrence in life which everyone experiences, whether they are consciously aware of it or not. Athletes may experience many changes throughout their careers, whether planned, such as a change of club, or unplanned, such as becoming injured. The way in which an athlete responds to changes and transitional periods throughout their career is very much undermined by individual differences, such as their personality. With this in mind, coaches should be aware that every athlete may respond differently to change, meaning their approach should be individually adapted.

Article

Ex-England cricket batsman Kevin Pietersen (KP) is in the limelight again as Paul Downton, the managing director of the England and Wales Cricket Board (ECB) talks about the reasons behind KP’s early departure from international cricket. KP was controversially axed from the England side following the team’s 5-0 Ashes series loss in Australia earlier this […]

Ex-England cricket batsman Kevin Pietersen (KP) is in the limelight again as Paul Downton, the managing director of the England and Wales Cricket Board (ECB) talks about the reasons behind KP’s early departure from international cricket. KP was controversially axed from the England side following the team’s 5-0 Ashes series loss in Australia earlier this year. I view KP as one of the most exciting and talented batsman English cricket has ever seen, and stats back this up; he scored 8,181 runs at an average of 47 in 104 Tests, in addition to 4,440 runs in 136 One-Day Internationals and 1,176 runs in 37 Twenty20s. Regardless of these sensational career statistics that place KP as England’s all-time leading run-scorer across all formats, the ECB did not want him to remain in the side. Downton said in interview that “I couldn’t find one supporter who wanted Kevin to stay in the side”, and “he had too many different agendas and wasn’t 100 per cent focused on playing for England” He also stated that “Kevin was starting to play a bit like a luxury player. There was a ‘this-is-the-way-I-play’ type of attitude”. Suggesting (as many already have) that KP is not a team player.

Following the KP saga it seems fitting to address the issue of team cohesion (or lack of it). To fully understand cohesion and its impact on team performance, it must first be understood what cohesion is. Carron et al. (1998) describe team cohesion as “a dynamic process which is reflected in the tendency for a group to stick together and remain united in the pursuit of goals and objectives.” Within this, there are two further dimensions of cohesion:

  • Task cohesion: the degree to which members of a team work together to achieve a specific and identifiable goal.
  • Social cohesion: the degree to which members of a team like each other and enjoy personal satisfaction from being members of the team.

Carron et al. (2002) conducted a meta-analysis of the cohesion-performance relationship in sport. The analysis included 46 studies containing a total of 164 effect sizes. Overall, a moderate-large relationship was found between cohesion and performance. In contrast to early research by Lenk (1969) who found that social cohesion was not an important component in achieving a successful performance, Carron et al. (2000) concluded that both task and social cohesion were found to contribute to better performance.

The implications of these findings to avoid a ‘KP-like’ sacking is that coaches and managers should look to assess their team’s cohesion and develop team-building strategies to improve team cohesion at every given opportunity, to ultimately improve team performance. Specifically, coaches should work on making sure that team members are clear about and happy with team goals that have been identified. Secondly, appropriate action should be taken to ensure that players like each other and enjoy being part of the team. Lastly, coaches could and should work on developing team communication and shared responsibility – developing the ‘we’ mentality, that it would appear KP lacked.

“Talent wins games, but teamwork and intelligence wins championships” – Michael Jordan

Article

We have all heard the old adage of “practice makes perfect”… maybe even “perfect practice makes perfect”. But there is something about the way that we practice skills that matters when it comes to skill transfer and long-term retention. For years researchers have known that skills can be learned through either blocked practice or random […]

We have all heard the old adage of “practice makes perfect”… maybe even “perfect practice makes perfect”. But there is something about the way that we practice skills that matters when it comes to skill transfer and long-term retention. For years researchers have known that skills can be learned through either blocked practice or random practice

So what is the difference between the two and which practice is more effective for skill learning?

In blocked practice individuals rehearse the same skill over and over until some improvement is seen. This is commonly done in skill drills where players practice a single skill numerous times before moving on to the next drill.

On the other hand, random practice involves practicing multiple skills in a random order with minimisation of the number of consecutive repetitions of any one skill.

Research investigated which form of practice was more beneficial. Shea and Morgan (1979) conducted a test in which subjects practice three different tasks (A, B, and C). The experiment involved responding to a stimulus with a correct series of rapid hand movements, with each task having a predetermined sequence. There were two experimental groups; one group that used block practice and one that used random practice. The blocked practice group completed all tasks in order, completing all of task A practice before moving onto task B which they completed before moving to task C. The random practice group practiced the tasks in no particular order just that no more than two consecutive trials could occur for any one task. The results of the experiment were split into an acquisition and retention phase. For the acquisition phase of the experiment the block practice group performed better. However differences during acquisition cannot be interpreted as differences in learning. Instead, retention tests are needed to evaluate learning.   In the retention tests, the results indicated that it was the random group that performed better on the retention task thus suggesting that random practice is more effective in the learning of motor skills.

But why is random practice more effective?

One possible reason for the success of random practice stems from the elaboration hypothesis. This hypothesis states that when a learner performs a series of separate skills in a random order, the learner are able to compare and contrast the different skills and as such recognise the similarities and differences between the skills.  By understanding and feeling how each movement is distinctive, the learner is able to store the movement more effectively within their long term memory.

Another possible explanation as to why random practice is more effective is the action plan reconstruction hypothesis (or the Forgetting Hypothesis).  Lee and Magill (1983) suggested that when the learner switches from task A to task B, the “solution” that was generated (in short term memory) for performing task B causes the previously generated solution to task A to be forgotten. When task A is encountered again a few trials later, the learner must generate the solution anew; this leads to a relatively poor practice performance. However, this solution generation process is assumed to be of benefit to learning (Cuddy & Jacoby, 1982). In a blocked practice, the solution generated to the first trial is simply applied to the next trial, thus reducing the number of times that the learner must generate new solutions. Given this, practice performance for blocked trials is effective as once the solution is generated s remembered for a number of trials.  However, learning is poor as the learner is not required to generate a new solution to the task for every trial. Given this, the key focus of the forgetting hypothesis is that new solutions are required frequently in random practice but not in blocked practice. Hence the development of the solution for the task is the key feature that facilitates learning.

Research has provided evidence supporting both the elaboration hypothesis and the forgetting hypothesis; but a clear “winner” has yet to emerge.  As a result, it is probably best if these hypotheses are considered as complementary rather than competing explanations of block versus random practice.

In conclusion the beneficial effects of random practice may be due to several factors:

▶ Random practice forces the learner to become more actively engaged in the learning process by preventing simple repetitions of actions.

▶ Random practice gives the learner more meaningful and distinguishable memories of the various tasks, increasing memory strength and decreasing confusion among tasks.

▶ Random practice causes the learner to forget the short-term solutions (from working memory) to the movement problem after each task change.

▶ Forgetting the short-term solution forces the learner to generate the solution again on the task’s next trial, which is beneficial to learning.

Article

Everybody working in the field of sports knows that one critical factor to develop and perform is to get in the zone. The zone is that state in which one feels optimal to perform. He/she feels confident, free in mind, looking forward to the challenge, in short everything that’s needed to perform the best that […]

Everybody working in the field of sports knows that one critical factor to develop and perform is to get in the zone. The zone is that state in which one feels optimal to perform. He/she feels confident, free in mind, looking forward to the challenge, in short everything that’s needed to perform the best that he or she can. The question of how to get in the zone and how all the psychological constructs relate to each other herein have been aching my brains and that of youth coaches in football (soccer) for quite a while now. Most of us are aware of the IZOF, the inverted U and other theories about performing. Those were groundbreaking insights on which I now try to build further, with relating the different psychological constructs in a logical manner  – so there’s a clear picture to derive practical tools from.

In this framework expectations are key. Expectations are what an athlete expects from himself, what an athlete believes his teammates and coaches expect and what an athlete believes press and audience expect. These three subjective views determine the degree of expectations. Expectations can be sky high (e.g. England win every World or European Championship Football), however that doesn’t mean they have to have a detrimental effect upon development or performance. Expectations can be met by confidence an athlete holds within himself or his team about their ability on such a task. Self-confidence consists of mainly state confidence (specific task confidence: penalty kick) and of trait confidence (overall confidence: as a football player). Expectations and self-confidence are thus related to each other. This relationship leads to three different states in an athlete before any given task. 1. If expectations clearly exceed self-confidence the athlete will experience pressure and anxiety to perform. 2. If self-confidence clearly exceeds expectations the athlete will experience nonchalance and perhaps even disinterest to perform. 3. If expectations and self-confidence match each other the athlete will experience a healthy tension to perform. That’s when he’s in the zone.

And being in the zone is what an athlete needs to look for. Expectations should slightly exceed self-confidence so that an athlete experiences a healthy dose of tension that triggers his body to get ready for optimal performance. He becomes cognitively and physically sharp to perform. On top of that, in order to succeed he has to work hard and as a consequence learns to value working hard to develop and perform. As a coach it’s possible to help balance this relationship. During training the coach can match the task/challenge to the ability level of the individual player. If the coach is able to do this he will stretch the ability of the player as  the player is in the zone of optimal development and performance.

The foregoing relationship of getting in the zone is probably applicable to the majority of players. However as every player is unique, other sorts of zones to perform are known. For example some athletes and teams thrive when expectations are low. In the Dutch Premier League RKC Waalwijk is a good example of this phenomenon. RKC Waalwijk has a budget that ranks them 17th out of 18 clubs in the Premier League. Hence, it’s no surprise they have to struggle against relegation every season. What is a surprise is that they gather most points playing against the top 9 of the league, at least at home. In last three seasons they gathered 3 points more against top 9 clubs than they did against direct competitors (ranked 10th – 18th). Dutch giants PSV Eindhoven (2nd budget), Feyenoord (4th budget) and  Vitesse (5th budget) haven’t won at RKC Waalwijk in those 3 years, PSV and Vitesse lost all 3 matches, Feyenoord lost 2. After beating PSV at home this season RKC captain Duits told the press that they ‘feel less pressure playing the giants of the league’. In this case the expectations drop so much that self-confidence is about the same level and the pressure is either gone or little. It creates a nothing to lose and everything to win feeling for them. This phenomenon might also partly explain the success of Guus Hiddink with South Korea during the World Championships Football in 2002. South Korea doesn’t have an impressive history in football, with having qualified only 5 times before 2002 and never reaching beyond the group stage. With wins against Italy and Spain in the knock out stage, South Korea surprised the entire football world by only being stopped in the semi-finals, as Germany beat them 1-0. As no one could have dreamed South Korea to reach this far, the expectations were low and in balance with self-confidence so little pressure on Hiddink’s equipe existed. Again that feeling of nothing to lose and everything to win probably emerged.

Now that I’ve made my point, let’s elaborate on the framework. It is both a way to understand and how to get in the zone as it is to have an image of how all sport psychology subjects and mechanisms are related to each other.

   Expectations  Self-Confidence Consequence  1. Pressure 2. Nonchalance 3. Healthy tension
 Given: Task/challenge at handPrevious achievements AbilityPrevious achievements Importance (interest + future)
 Tools: Goal settingCoaching/FeedbackSelf-Awareness Growth MindsetMastery ClimatePracticeCoaching/FeedbackSelf-Awareness RelaxationSelf-talkBreathing exercisesPerspective
 Results

Intrinsic Motivation

Emotions        Flow Resilience   Perseverance

Table 1. Framework of getting in the zone with an overview of sports psychology mechanisms and their relationships to each other. There’s more to it, just the core aspects are represented here.

Expectations are created by a lot of things, an athlete’s own goal setting is one of them. Goal setting can help lower or rise the expectations of himself or of those of others (press, audience). Goal setting can be seen as a tool to adjust expectations in order to make the formula right and to get the athlete in the zone. José Mourinho and Louis van Gaal are experts in lowering expectations of the crowd on their players by stating they’re not the favorite but rather the underdog in a match or competition. Besides they are also masters in shifting the focus from their players to other irrelevant topics not concerning them.

Growth mindset is a powerful tool to create self-confidence. With a growth mindset an athelete is convinced that qualities are malleable. How then does this raise self-confidence? It does because the athlete is aware that his ability level can be raised and is not fixed. If it were fixed the athlete can either perform a task or he can’t, there’s no room for improvement or future success. With a growth mindset the athlete is aware that he is able to raise that ability level through learning, working hard and practice. This raises self-confidence because the athlete knows he can overcome challenges and tasks, even if he can’t overcome those right now.

What if we have tried to match the relationship, to solve the formula, but it didn’t work? Just before the match the athlete experiences pressure or anxiety to perform. If this is the case an athlete has trouble to focus. One tool athletes can make use of is breathing exercises. Athletes can monitor their breathing and bring their breathing down by using their belly instead of their chest while inhaling. Because our brains become somewhat blocked when feeling pressure and anxious, taking deep breaths through the belly resolves the blockade by addressing those brain parts involved in relaxation, concentration and focus. Dealing with pressure is a form of ‘curing/coping’, whilst with this framework a lot can be approached or prevented by adjusting the expectations and self-confidence.

Often it’s not the content of a message that makes us feel bad, angry or sad, but it’s the why people say it to us. If I get told what I’ve done wrong and how I should improve, most of the time I’m aware of it myself and I can agree with the content. But if I have the feeling the reasons that person is telling me aren’t in my best interest I feel a resistance to listen to him and pick up his instructions, although they might even be the right thing to do! This often is the case in sales where people want to be helped in their needs and not helping the salesman achieving his targets. But also in coaching it can happen. Let me clarify this a bit more.

We have expectations about the reasons someone tells us something. Especially considering feedback it is important to be aware of this. For example, when peers in a high performance climate are coaching each other, suspicion among them might arise. Take Duncan who gets feedback from his teammate Johan. Even if Johan delivers his feedback in the right way Duncan might not pick up this feedback, for other reasons than not being able to. It could be Duncan might not want to listen because he believes Johan wants to express his superiority over him by pointing out Duncan’s mistakes or shortcomings and knowing better. In this case Johan has to clarify his intentions are in the best interest of Duncan (wanting to help him to perform better, to win the game together). Kids might not be able to do this, so the coach plays an important role. By creating a mastery climate (a focus upon development instead of being better than others)  a big deal is done to this already.

For anyone working with kids make sure your motivation is clear to them, because kids can also be resistant to a coach’s feedback. Your motivation to work with kids and give them feedback/advice should and probably is to help them improve, to see them develop. For reasons, sometimes nothing to do with you, the kid might not see your true motivation to help him. By stressing out your purpose with the kid (to develop him the best you can), coaching the right way (emphasize effort, point out good behavior, indicate what went wrong, ask and then give instructions how to do it better next time and have a positive outlook for the future) and be the right example yourself (be vulnerable, admit it when you’re wrong or make a mistake and learn from them and feedback by others) your kid will probably see your true motivation in coaching him and will start to listen and improve.

I believe expectations to be the number one reason why people have problems with communicating to each other and experience disappointments. By acknowledging it’s crucial role I am convinced you can save yourself from a lot of unwanted and unnecessary trouble!

Want to learn more about this framework plus the given psychological constructs and where other (psychological) constructs – e.g. injuries, leadership, creativity, willpower, self-regulation – are placed within? Feel free to contact me!

Article

We’ve all seen it or heard about it – stories of top football coaches shouting, throwing things all in the name of getting the best out of their players. From Sir Alex Ferguson’s legendary temper in the changing rooms, to Graham Taylors’ touchline fury broadcast in the 1994 BBC documentary ‘An Impossible Job’, you could […]

We’ve all seen it or heard about it – stories of top football coaches shouting, throwing things all in the name of getting the best out of their players. From Sir Alex Ferguson’s legendary temper in the changing rooms, to Graham Taylors’ touchline fury broadcast in the 1994 BBC documentary ‘An Impossible Job’, you could be forgiven for making the assumption that a short temper is critical for success in football management. But is it? Whilst these two examples are likely more reflective of the pressure of managing Manchester United or, perhaps even worse, the England Football Team, it is easy to make the link between these angry outbursts and a directive, autocratic style of leadership and to assume that this is the most effective way to get the best out of teams.

On the eve of the 2014 World Cup in Rio, the world’s media spotlight will again be on the touchline during games, witnessing the actions of the coaches. It is timely then to take a look at what the research says about which coaching style creates the most successful teams, and whether the autocratic style is really the best way, be it in football or in other team sports.

It is important to note that football management is a complex task and success of a football team is likely due to numerous factors that extend beyond the leadership style of the coach. These include availability of resources, governance, quality of players and the stability of the team. However, studies have shown that there exists a strong relationship between team cohesion and success (Carron, Bray & Eys, 2002) and team cohesion is related to leadership behaviour (Ramzaninezhad & Kehstan, 2009). Results of the latter study indicated that increases in Iranian football players’ perceptions of team cohesion was positively correlated with perceptions of their coach exhibiting higher levels of social support, positive feedback, democratic behaviour and lower levels of autocratic behaviour.

So a democratic style is better for team cohesion, so that must be the more effective style. But is it that clear cut? Chelladurai’s Multi-dimensional model of leadership stresses the importance of a leader fitting their style to the needs of the team, with some authors suggesting an autocratic style can be effective when dealing with young and unpredictable teams (Weinberg & Gould, 2003). Further, where large squads of players are involved, it is possible that more autocratic styles will predominate by necessity since democratic styles have been shown to be less effective for complex problems and are more time consuming (Chelladurai & Doherty, 1998).

It appears, therefore, that it is not so much whether an autocratic style is more effective than a democratic, or supportive one, but rather whether the style is right for the situation and for the team. The importance of coach flexibility cannot be ignored, with a critical skill being the ability to perceive the needs of the team in the moment and to adapt as necessary to maximise team performance (Crust & Lawrence, 2006).

Article

Internal dialogue or self-talk, as it is most commonly referred to in sport psychology, is an occurrence nearly every athlete experiences. Although positive self-talk is possible, typically, our thoughts and self-statements are negative and consciously appear at the most inconvenient of times. However, it is when we fuse with these thoughts that they become influential […]

Internal dialogue or self-talk, as it is most commonly referred to in sport psychology, is an occurrence nearly every athlete experiences. Although positive self-talk is possible, typically, our thoughts and self-statements are negative and consciously appear at the most inconvenient of times. However, it is when we fuse with these thoughts that they become influential on our performance.  Increasing our self-awareness of our internal voice is critical, if we want to use it to our advantage and increase our ‘workability’ (I’ll come back to that word later).

Traditional psychological approaches suggest that we can control our thoughts and therefore positively influence our performances. Considering such approaches, our thoughts can be controlled through an activation of more appropriate responses. Generally, this means replacing our negative thoughts with positive statements. This is clearly indicated in the following definition of self-talk, “a way to override our past negative programming by erasing or replacing it with conscious positive new directions” (Helmstetter, 1991). Sport Psychology research suggests that positive self-talk is associated with better performances by increasing confidence, concentration, motivation, emotional control and decreasing anxiety and stress levels. A meta-analysis in 2011(Hatzigeorgiadis et al.,) stressed the effectiveness of self-talk strategies in sport for improved task performance, with Weinberg (2012) supporting this when finding self-talk to be positively influential from pre to post intervention over a period of a week. One of the few studies published actually considers competitive sport performance in real competition (Schuler & Langens, 2007). However, they agreed with previous research as they found that marathon runners who experienced a large psychological crisis and used self-talk coped better than those in the comparative control group.

However, other research has argued that when we replace a negative thought with a positive alternative, this in effect actually produces more negative thoughts. This belief is one of a positive psychology approach known as Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT), which is gathering strong momentum in Sport Psychology. Unlike traditional psychology approaches, ACT is not concerned with whether or not our thoughts are good, bad, positive, negative, right, wrong, optimistic, pessimistic, true, false, pleasant or unpleasant. Additionally, it is not concerned, as to whether our self-talk is instructional, neutral or motivational. Rather it is concerned with whether our thoughts and internal dialogue is helpful and workable.

‘Workability’ is a term used to help individuals assess whether or not their thoughts, behaviours, feelings are going to help them. So with self-talk, if the thought does not help you work efficiently toward a mindful values-guided action in the long run, then it is not for you. Acceptance is a key component of this theory, and considered one of their six core principles (defusion, expansion, acceptance, the observing self, values and committed action). Here, it is widely believed that we cannot control our thoughts as much as traditional theories suggest, and at least not for a pro-longed period of time whereby we no longer retreat back to our old habits. Instead, self-talk is about acceptance. So when those thoughts in your head are telling you “I can’t do it”, “I’m not good enough”, “I haven’t practiced hard enough, I always struggle with this skill” instead of using cognitive restructuring and saying positive alternatives like, “I can do it”, “I have practiced hard and efficiently”, “I am able to complete this skill” – you accept your thoughts for what they are – nothing more than a string of words. True acceptance is not about tolerance, putting up with, avoiding or admitting defeat. Rather acceptance is an attitude of openness, interest and receptiveness whereby you allow your thoughts to come and go as they please without fighting them, running away from them or giving them undue attention. It is strongly believed that acceptance is the first step toward taking effective action. It is important to remember however, that if our thoughts are helpful, great! Use them! If they are not helpful or workable, accept them, and defuse from them if you find yourself entangled amongst them (defusion means relating to your thoughts in a new way so that they have a significantly lower impact on your performance – there are countless defusion skills available and ready to practice and use in ACT).

So where traditional psychological intervention strategies may encourage control and cognitive restructuring, ACT encourages acceptance to allow you to heighten your workability and psychological flexibility. However, in order for us to decide whether our thoughts are helpful or not, we first must acknowledge the importance of self-awareness and develop skills to heighten our self-awareness, for how can we accept our thoughts if we first do not realise their presence?

Heightening our self-awareness allows us to make much greater choices as to how we want to act and behave, and therefore gives us a much greater opportunity to perform to our strengths. But how exactly can we begin to increase our self-awareness? There are a number of ways in which this can be achieved, but it is important for you to experiment with such interventions and continue with one that works for you. Here are just a few examples…

–       Diary entries: notice the little things you do each day, notice the consequences. Note down your thoughts, feelings, behaviours, when they occurred, the language used, the sensations and urges that were apparent too. Consider conversations you had, listen closely to people. Open up your senses!

–       Paperclip task: in your right pocket place a handful of paperclips. Each time you notice a particular thought, feelings or behaviour that you feel is unhelpful, move a paperclip to your left pocket. At the end of the day count how may paper clips in your left pocket, thus highlighting the frequency of your thoughts, feelings and behaviours and ultimately heightening your self-awareness.

–       Post performance reflections: reflect on your performance, on where improvements could have been made, how you could have prepared and performed differently, reflect on your strengths and what worked well as well as your areas of development. Note down the little things you may not always recognise from thoughts, feelings, behaviours to urges, sensations, images, language, body language etc.

–       Using the observing self: the observing self doesn’t think, it is an internal part of you that is responsible for focus, attention and awareness. Your observing self pays attention to your thoughts rather than produces them, and registers your experiences directly. To tune into your observing self, choose anything you are aware of (sight, sound, smell, taste, sensation, thought, feeling, movement, body part, material object) like the log fire roaring in front of you. Explore it, focus on it, observe it, like you’ve never seen it before and notice who’s doing the observing.

Increasing our self-awareness will not only help us in accepting your self-talk but ultimately in our confidence, concentration, emotional control on a much broader performance level. But as I am sure you have heard countless times before, positive change and performance enhancement comes through deliberate practice and committed action!

Article

In the recent decade there has been a fair amount of quality information regarding long-term planning of athletic development.  To note, two of the most popular conceptual models to date are the Long-Term Athlete Development (LTAD) model (Bayli) and the Youth Development Model (YDM) (Lloyd).  The LTAD model originally illustrated qualities of development that should […]

In the recent decade there has been a fair amount of quality information regarding long-term planning of athletic development.  To note, two of the most popular conceptual models to date are the Long-Term Athlete Development (LTAD) model (Bayli) and the Youth Development Model (YDM) (Lloyd).  The LTAD model originally illustrated qualities of development that should be emphasized during various stages of chronological maturation; to whereas the YDM model promotes a more holistic and individualized approach.  In theory, basing a conceptual model off of chronological age seems very fitting; however, not all individuals mature at the same rate as the YDM model states.  Since their original work both authors have published updated stances of their models to include biological and maturational markers of development.  They have noted that several factors dictate growth and maturation (peak height velocity, growth plates, pubescent growth, etc) but some notable factors tend to be overlooked.  Those factors are sheer genetics (organism), environment, and task constraints (Newell).  Genetic factors cannot be changed but evidence suggests genetics can be influenced based from the environmental and task constraints imposed on the individual.  It has been stated by Smith and colleagues (2003) that “even very small differences in beginning stages of development can amplify and lead to large individual differences” later in life.

Environmental and Task factors can include, but not limited to:

  • Geographical conditions (terrestrial, natural, technogenic, demographic, etc)
  • Home life (parents, siblings, type of home, time spent engaged in interactive activities, etc)
  • Athletic Exposure (running, jumping, and striking in different scenarios)

There’s not enough scientific evidence out there to answer the questions on what are “best practices” for childhood development; however, it is difficult to disagree that a certain level of physical fitness and motor control are needed for longevity in athletics and activity.  Neuromotor reflexes must be taught at a cognitive level in early phases of development in order to become procedural patterns during more complex training and activities.  The type of physical activity and the direction to carry on with development has not been discussed thoroughly in any LTAD nor YDM literature beyond the basics of “Strength, Speed, Balance, Flexibility, Agility” emphasis.  Future research should attempt to provide the framework for rudimentary progressions emphasizing mastery of weight shift and center of mass in order to enhance future training in athletics.

When working with youth and/or underdeveloped athletes rudimentary options (medicine balls, pvc pipes, weighted vest, etc) should be considered.  Task constraints must be appropriate to the population in order to optimize transfer of training.  As simple as it sounds one must consider the Goldilock’s Theory:

  • If the constraint is not stimulating enough then there will be limited transfer.
  • If the constraint is overly stimulating/advanced then there will be limited transfer.
  • However, if the constraint is appropriate then optimal transfer of training presents itself.

The constraint, or modality of training, must be specific to the athlete’s current state of training and ability.  Clark (2005) argues that patterns of coordination and perceptual-motor linkages between the vestibular and motor system should be acquired in early stages of development for optimal transfer of training in later phases.  She points out that an athlete should reflect “deep grammar” of trunk and limb coordination and control in order to advance in complex motor skill competence.  Clark  also references mastery of “weight shift” as highly relevant to context-specific skill learning in “throwing, skiing, or performing other activities that require rapid changes of direction.”   Coincidentally, weight shift is a pivotal component of executing weightlifting movements and their derivatives.  Far too often in today’s society we see adolescents and youth being promoted to more complex skill and developmental training prior to physically “earning” their advancement thus potentially setting them up for “long-term underdevelopment” / injuries.

A key evaluation the practitioner must make is whether they are training their athletes for performance or training for development.  Development should emphasize proficiency of “natural” movements specific to the population at hand while progressively getting more task specific over the course of training. Youth and developmental training should primarily focus around progressing through “stages”.  Gesell (1946) defines “stages” as a series of postural transformations that should emphasize coordination.  Rate of development is independent to each individual based on organisimic and environmental constraints; however, simply learning how to move appropriately is the underlying overarching goal for development.  Once the athlete has advanced in their developmental stages the practitioner can then consider performance oriented optimal training and loading for weightlifting task.  Critical features must be addressed prior to implementation of “advanced” movements of fundamental training for weightlifting and resistance movements (i.e. weight shift and body control).

It is important to recall that weightlifting (often used in sport training) is a sport itself and a skill.  Guthrie (1952) defines “skill” as “the ability to bring about some end result with maximum certainty and minimum outlay of energy, or of time and energy.”  Activities such as weightlifting, jumping, and sprinting are skills and are learned through practice as they are not maturational movements such as walking.  Though the human body can mature and develop for “strength” we must not neglect the importance to develop early with foundational strength and quality of movements in order to express “movement” more proficiently in later stages of development.  None of the aspects of developmental growth should be disregarded in any phase as all are essential for proper sequencing of movements and rate coding; however, emphasis should be given where it is needed most for each individual.

According to Smith and colleagues (2003) in order to reach the “critical condition” (peak performance) one must change their training process over time and therefore enhance the emergence of a new mode of behavior.  This can be viewed as a rudimentary version of Stone’s “phase potentiation” model (2007) which states (simply) that we must change “X” in order to potentially enhance & witness “Y” and “Z”.  In this instance X can be referred to neuromuscular development to whereas Y and Z can be viewed as strength/speed and performance, respectively.   A child does not first learn the alphabet backwards nor should we professionals develop them in that order.  ABC’s (fundamental motor skills) before XYZ’s.

Article

It is not uncommon in team sports to repeatedly hear the quote “There is no I in Team” and, analytically, this is both literally and figuratively true. However, I believe it is important to compare and reason that famous statement with the phrase “you can only control the controllables” and, consequently, somewhat adopt that mentality […]

It is not uncommon in team sports to repeatedly hear the quote “There is no I in Team” and, analytically, this is both literally and figuratively true. However, I believe it is important to compare and reason that famous statement with the phrase “you can only control the controllables” and, consequently, somewhat adopt that mentality to apply the “me in team” principle that I will explain below.

From personal experience, there is no better feeling than that of success in a team sport; the bond of togetherness, the enjoyment of camaraderie and the longevity of shared memories. Being involved in such a positive moment with your teammates – who more often than not also happen to be some of your closest friends – is an emotion that reigns supreme and it is simply very special to see that you have achieved your goal, together.

This said, what is the purpose of the “me in team” principle? Well, as mentioned despite the idea of team sports you are ultimately only in control of what you personally do and so you should, to some extent, focus solely on those controllable factors – ie. The “me”. As I will go on to explain, this self-focus can help individual preparation, motivation, frustration and resultantly performance. However, a key rule is that this principle should be used in connection with and as additional support to your primary ambition of benefitting your team.

When defined, a team is a said to be collective group of individuals who prepare, challenge and apply themselves with the dedicated ambition of bettering their team. However within such a group every player has their own personal preferences, mentalities and actions regarding all aspects of sporting performance. For example, each player will have their own, individual pre-match routine; procedures they follow, superstitions they trust and preferred methods for motivation. If every player prepared in a generalised team way then the response wouldn’t be the same, it simply wouldn’t work for some players. This is a case where the “me” in team is vital; players need a sense of self-focus and they need to take individually driven actions.

A sense of individual focus is also required during game situations as, when things don’t go to plan, frustration can easily spread throughout a team. So, it is in those challenging times that your own attitude needs to be resilient and enable you to continue to focus on your own performance. Getting annoyed will only distract you from doing your job for the team and any lapse in concentration will result in a decrease in your level of performance. Thus, each individual needs to psychologically train him or herself to concentrate on only what they can impact – “control their controllables”.

Additionally, what if you are not making the starting team for your games? Do you sit back and happily applaud your teammates from the bench. No. You work hard in training and you compete – in the right manner – to try and earn your right to start the game. Without appropriate levels of competition in training there will be no progression in the squad, no drive and no competitiveness on match days. This stems from the individuals challenging themselves to be the best within their team, for them to keep developing and improving as a player. Healthy competition between motivated individuals is vital for team success.

Conclusively, the team mentality is undoubtedly crucial but it is also essential that individuals within a team focus on themselves. Athletes need to ensure that they are in control of their performance and that they can make the most positive, effective and advantageous contribution to their team. This “me” attitude should not outweigh the team mentality but it should be a continual desire used to promote team progression and success.

Article

Although research into perfectionism has increased exponentially in recent years a lot of controversy still surrounds the topic ( Flett & Hewitt,2005) . The debate continues as to whether perfectionism is an adaptive or maladaptive process in sport. A commonly held belief among athletes and prominent sport psychologists is that perfectionism is a marker of […]

Although research into perfectionism has increased exponentially in recent years a lot of controversy still surrounds the topic ( Flett & Hewitt,2005) . The debate continues as to whether perfectionism is an adaptive or maladaptive process in sport. A commonly held belief among athletes and prominent sport psychologists is that perfectionism is a marker of high performance athletes ( Dunn, Causgrove-Dunn and Syrotuik ,2002). Perfectionism is ultimately the idea than anything less than 100% is unacceptable. Athletes who are perfectionists will set themselves unrealistically high standards and they hold themselves accountable for negative consequences when they do not reach those standards.

In order to distinguish between adaptive and maladaptive forms of perfectionism it is first important to note how researchers measure perfectionism ( Flett & Hewitt,2002). Firstly, Frost et al (1990)  developed the Multidimensional perfectionism scale (MPS). It has 6 subscales; Personal standards, concerns over mistakes, doubts about actions, parental expectations, parental criticism and organization. Secondly, Hewitt and Flett’s (1991)Multidimensional approach  divided perfectionism into  the 3 dimensions ; Self-orientated, other-orientated and socially prescribed perfectionism. Self- orientated perfectionism is what you expect of yourself, other –orientated perfectionism are the demands and expecations you place on others . Socially prescribed perfectionism is what you perceive from others, other people demand perfection from you (this may be real or not). Both scales have been widely used across the literature.

Few studies have investigated the positive relationships associated with Perfectionism. In 2009, Stoeber et al argued that athletes need to have perfectionist tendencies in order to achieve the best possible results. Being a perfectionist gives you not only an emotional boost but also a motivational one and can make the difference between a good and poor performance. Those who can control their negative emotions about imperfection can in fact, experience higher levels of self- confidence. Gould et al (2002) even went as far as to state that perfectionism is a key characteristic of Olympic Champions.Recently, researchers have started to investigate the idea that it is only specific dimensions that are maladaptive to performance i.e. socially prescribed perfectionism and concern over mistakes, other constructs are adaptive.

On the other hand, there is a large body of evidence supporting the idea that having perfectionist tendencies can be debilitative to athletic performance . Being a perfectionist has positive relationships with negative behavioral outcomes such an higher competitive anxiety (Frost & Hendersom,1991) burnout ( Hill, Hall, Appleton and Kozub,2008) and anger ( Dunn,Gotwals & Dunn,2006).  That is, it can lead to having “self-defeating outcomes and can ultimately produce unhealthy behaviour” patterns in athletes, (Flett & Hewitt,2005).

Many famous world-class athletes have struggled with perfectionist tendencies including Olympic cycling champion, Victoria Pendalton, who is a self-confessed perfectionist , she was quoted saying, “I’m an insecure person. I am emotional. I am a self-critical perfectionist… I’m terrible. I beat myself up the whole time because I’m striving for something I’ll basically never achieve.”

Another famous name , Ronnie O’Sullivan, (English professional snooker player-reigning World Snooker Champion) commented on his decision to walk out on a game in 2006 , “Anyone who knows me knows I’m a perfectionist.” He later added ,“Today I got so annoyed with myself that I lost my patience and walked away from a game that, with hindsight, I should have continued.”

Both Pendalton and O’Sullivan compete in predominantly individual events so does this mean perfectionism is more common in individual sports rather than team games like rugby, netball or football ? This is not necessarily the case, as another name who has been associated with perfectionism is former England Rugby Union Player, Jonny Wilkinson, who is known for his ‘perfect’ pre-kick routine.

It is well known that perfection cannot be obtained as everyone has a different definition of what perfection is, but athletes who are perfectionists, will not be satisfied with a performance until they have achieved what they define as perfection. Here lies the idea of the Perfection Paradox, is it unhealthy for athletes to strive to be the best? Ultimately we want to produce the best athletes and performances in the chosen context but does that come at the price of our athletes becoming psychologically unhealthy?

Further Research:

More research is called for in order to investigate perfectionism in team performances , if one athlete is a perfectionist then what is the impact on other team mates?  Do these characteristics transfer to the team and affect performance or is it simply one individual’s performance that is affected.

Little research has also been done into the role perfectionism in coaches themselves. If a coach is expecting unrealistically high standards from his/her players and they cannot deliver or they lose a competition, what affect might this have on the athletes?

Article

What if I told you that I could influence your exercise performance just by making you read a book or play a computer game? Well, research suggests that I could. In a previous article (http://www.thesportinmind.com/articles/what-limits-endurance-exercise-performance/) I presented some evidence that endurance performance is limited by psychological factors, rather than physiological mechanisms. Originally this viewpoint was […]

What if I told you that I could influence your exercise performance just by making you read a book or play a computer game? Well, research suggests that I could.

In a previous article (http://www.thesportinmind.com/articles/what-limits-endurance-exercise-performance/) I presented some evidence that endurance performance is limited by psychological factors, rather than physiological mechanisms. Originally this viewpoint was quite controversial and according to some sports scientists, it still is. Controversy aside, it is an important discovery that has been expanded upon by an interesting body of research surrounding mental fatigue.  These studies all used cognitively demanding computer or reading tasks to induce mental fatigue in athletes before different types of exercise. The athletes also performed the same exercise tests following a non-fatiguing control treatment and the results were compared.

OK, so they weren’t just playing Super Mario or reading Harry Potter, but the mental tasks didn’t involve any physical effort, so they shouldn’t influence physical performance. Should they? Well, perhaps the best way to summarise the findings of this research is with the title of an article published in the Journal of Applied Physiology (1): Mental fatigue impairs physical performance in humans. Below is a brief outline of the findings of this, and several similar studies:

  • Mental fatigue decreased cycling time to exhaustion by nearly 2 minutes (16% decline in performance). Athletes cycled at 80% of peak power for 12:34 (12 minutes and 34 seconds)  in the control condition but only 10:40 when mentally fatigued (1).
  • Mental fatigue decreased power output during two 10-min self-paced cycling bouts. When mentally fatigued, athletes produced by 17.5% less power when cycling at a fairly light pace and 8% less power at a hard pace (2).
  • Mental fatigue decreased time to exhaustion in a sub-maximal contraction of the knee extensors by an average of 36 seconds (13% decline in performance). Athletes were able to maintain the contraction for 4:26 in the control condition but only 3:50 when mentally fatigued (3).
  • A difficult reading task impaired 5-km running time trial performance by an average of 5.5% (1 minute and 18 seconds). On average, athletes took 23:06 to run 5 km in the control condition, compared to 24:24 in the difficult reading task condition (4).
  • Giving long lectures or examinations decreased muscular endurance of the index finger (5). It’s a study from the 1800’s so I don’t have the data; sorry.
  • Recently, we have found that mental fatigue reduces running velocity during intermittent running designed to simulate the demands of team sport.
  • We have also seen impaired performance on soccer specific skills tasks in mentally fatigued players. You can find out more when these studies are published.

Overall it is pretty clear that being mentally fatigued is detrimental for several different types of physical performance. Practically speaking, this means it is important for athletes to avoid mentally fatiguing activity immediately before competition and perhaps even taper mental workload in a similar way to physical workload.

But what exactly is it that makes a task mentally fatiguing? Firstly, mentally fatiguing tasks lead to feelings of tiredness and lack of energy. Secondly, they are prolonged (at least 30 min in the studies mentioned above). Thirdly, they are boring but require focussed attention. Finally, they usually require response inhibition (stopping your natural response to a stimulus, before responding appropriately) like in the Stroop task. Here is a link to an example of the Stroop task, try it out and let me know how you went (my best score for the second round is just under 15 seconds): https://faculty.washington.edu/chudler/java/ready.html

Now imagine doing this task for at least 30 min and then going for a run. I’m sure you can see that you might not perform as well as usual. But what if athletes repeated this, or similar tasks a few times a week for a couple of months? Could we actually improve performance just like we do with physical training? This “Brain Endurance Training” is currently being investigated and the preliminary results seem promising, but I will save that for another post.