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?
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?
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:
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.
Sport is a complex equation; there are many components you have to try and combine in order to achieve optimal performance. The four C’s I will define and explain below encompass all the dominant elements needed to excel in the psychological aspect of performance. Confidence “The feeling of trust in one’s abilities, qualities, and judgment” Confidence […]
Sport is a complex equation; there are many components you have to try and combine in order to achieve optimal performance. The four C’s I will define and explain below encompass all the dominant elements needed to excel in the psychological aspect of performance.
“The feeling of trust in one’s abilities, qualities, and judgment”
Confidence is an invaluable component of performance. Having belief that you will achieve your goals is a factor that can single-handedly carry you through games and make you successful. High levels of confidence help stimulate a positive mentality that can in turn lead to an increased will to persevere – no matter what events unfold.
Also, confidence is a factor that can be easily identified from what you say and how you act. Not only is this important to acknowledge individually but it can also send a variety of messages to your opponent. Players with low confidence levels will often be negative in their approach; they will express negative thoughts and feelings (tense, fear, predetermined defeat etc.), they will focus on uncontrollable factors (for example the conditions or referee), and they will exhibit unenthusiastic behavior (slouched shoulders, head down, lack of excitement, unwilling to participate etc.). Contrasting this, positivity will flow players high in confidence; they will be excited, keen, brave, focused, take chances, give 100% effort, and willing to learn.
As with most emotions, fluctuating to the extremes is not ideal, so an optimal middle ground must be sought. Two methods to improve a player’s confidence are mental imagery and appropriate goal setting; these can elicit positivity and focus an individuals mindset on small achievable targets. At the other end of the spectrum goal setting can also be beneficial; a players feet can be kept on the ground by ensuring they remain focused on the task in hand and by continually challenging them to improve.
Theodore Roosevelt “Believe you can and you are halfway there”.
“A promise/firm decision to do something”
Commitment is the attribute that fulfills the other half of Roosevelt’s quote, once you believe you can do something you have to be dedicated to achieve it. Commitment is the inner drive to put your heart and soul into accomplishing your goals, it can be viewed as a statement of intent.
The psychologically taxing nature of sport often makes fulfilling a commitment difficult; when things are going well it is easy to work hard because you are seeing/achieving results, but when times get tough and things aren’t going your way, you are more likely to give up and stop trying.
During these hard times your commitment and dedication is truly tested, some methods to increase commitment are; to stay as positive as you can by highlighting your successes, to use SMART goals because they provide realistic targets to continually work towards, and try to generate a positive, hard-working team atmosphere as this can increase and maintain the enjoyment and interest of all players for a longer period of time.
Peter F. Drucker “Commitment turns dreams into reality”
Neal A. Maxwell “Never give up what you want most for what you want today.”
“The action or power of focusing one’s attention or mental effort”
This factor is highly linked with commitment; the ability to concentrate and maintain focus on your goals is key in helping you to continually make improvements towards them. Concentration is always having tunnel-vision on optimal performance.
To meet your goals and be the best you can be you are required to be 100% concentrated 100% of the time, everything you do off the field affects what you can do on it. Therefore training yourself to make performance-focused decisions off the field, no matter when, where or what, can better your game on the field.
Additionally (and obviously) concentration is also of upmost importance on the field; when competing you need to be fully focused in order to perform maximally. Any distractions or lapses of concentration could be the difference between winning and loosing. Common distractions include; opponents, mistakes, referee’s, supporters, manager, anxiety and negative thoughts.
Preparation is a key aspect in ensuring and improving concentration; mental relaxation exercises, familiar routines and trigger stimuli (e.g. a song or a quote) can all be used prior to performance and they will help a player focus on the task in hand.
Stan Smith: “When you walk on a court, clear your mind of everything unrelated to the goal of playing the match as well as you can”
“The ability to restrain oneself especially in difficult situations”
Sport can toy with our emotions; one day it can make us feel ecstatic, elated and triumphant the next it can put us down in the dumps, utterly frustrated and defeated. The ability to control these emotions and maintain a sense of calm and collectedness is a vital trait to have in sport.
It is very easy to loose our concentration in the heat of a game and, even if its just for a moment, this can hinder performance. Whether you are winning easily and you enter a false sense of security or whether you’re loosing and frustration gets the best of you, an exaggerated fluctuation of emotion is never ideal.
Control should not be confused with passion and by no means am I saying you should show no emotion at all, it is all about monitoring it to the level that best suits you – for example some players thrive off of frustration but others play better when the just enjoy playing. The goal is always optimal performance, so the objective is to control emotions and behaviors to the point where negative effects are prevented. Adequately completing this is ultimately down to the individual in the moment, but their decision in that instant can be influenced and trained by regular and repeated practice of relaxation techniques and coping methods.
Dorothy M. Neddermeyer “Life is ten percent what you experience and ninety percent how you respond to it.”
To conclude, performance is factor that can be influenced and impacted by a multitude of components. By continually assessing and controlling your confidence, commitment, concentration and control levels you can positively benefit your psychological mindset during all aspects of a sport and ultimately induce your optimal on field performance.
Competitive Will has been fortunate to work with some organizations in the last few months on leadership development. Through team building exercises and workshops we have diligently discussed the concept of leadership. Key aspects we have approached include trying to view leadership as a task orientated approach. In the team building sessions, our focus was […]
Competitive Will has been fortunate to work with some organizations in the last few months on leadership development. Through team building exercises and workshops we have diligently discussed the concept of leadership. Key aspects we have approached include trying to view leadership as a task orientated approach.
In the team building sessions, our focus was on communication, perseverance and problem solving. Challenges that arose for subgroups included other teams finishing quicker and the feeling of pressure to complete increased for teams. Another example was when subgroups and teams that finished entering the role as supporters proved to be a challenge as our task centered approach dwindled (no more outcome – a little bit like “I’m done how can you not be?”). What worked great was revolving these activities around concepts of communication, perseverance and problem solving. This provided great feedback with a narrow focus on objectives.
During the workshop we once again approached conversations using a task orientated approach. Meaning defining leadership in areas the individual can develop. Key areas and definitions that were discussed included:
These aspects are all in our control as individuals. It may be more difficult on some areas for individuals but they can all be within our control and can be created in an efficient manner. Leadership can be derived from these focus points. For example, leadership involves our daily ambition to solving problems. From missing the bus to finalizing a merger, leaders are able to choose a path for success and not let the failure hinder their opportunity. Another great example of leadership is the trial and tribulations Travis Ishikawa went through before hitting the home run that sent the Giants to the World Series. Ishikawa has a 2010 World Series ring but lately has been struggling to stay put with a major league team. April 19 he was designated by the Pirates and six days later signed a minor league contract with the Giants. For months he was stuck in Fresno and on July 29 the Giants purchased his contract, he got 47 games in and all of a sudden was the starting left fielder this post season. Although there were times he thought about quitting he didn’t and now he has an outcome all athletes crave for. To me that is leadership, and is a great example of how everyone can be a leader.
Most importantly these areas can all be developed, to do so – an individual must get out of their comfort zone and think outside the box (also keys to high performance).
A complex process of self appraisals and self persuasion form the basis of judgements that individuals create with regards to whether they believe they have the capabilities to achieve. This is known as self efficacy and it relies on cognitive processing from a wide range of sources of efficacy information (Bandura, 1990). Self efficacy is […]
A complex process of self appraisals and self persuasion form the basis of judgements that individuals create with regards to whether they believe they have the capabilities to achieve. This is known as self efficacy and it relies on cognitive processing from a wide range of sources of efficacy information (Bandura, 1990).
Self efficacy is a psychological mechanism that inhabits an individual’s belief surrounding their capabilities to formulate control over situations that affect their lives (Bandura, 1989). How well one believes they can organise and execute courses of action enabling the attainment of successful performance is not based on the skills one has, but what the individual believes they can achieve with the skills (Bandura, 1986).
Self efficacy can be seen as a situationally specific self confidence, influencing the types of activities individuals choose to approach, the effort they put forth and the degree of persistence they demonstrate in situations of failure (Moritz, Feltz, Fahrbach & Mack, 2000).
At the core of self efficacy lie two distinct aspects of self efficacy that play their own part with regards to the behaviour of an individual and the outcome. Outcome expectancies involve an individual’s belief that a given behaviour will lead to certain outcomes. Efficacy expectations are the key cognitive variable and determine how much effort an individual will put forth and how long they will persist when facing adversities (Bandura, 1977).
According to Bandura (1977), expectations of personal efficacy are based on four main sources of information. Performance accomplishments are the most influential source of self efficacy information (Bandura, 1997), with strong efficacy expectations developed through continual successful performances. Greater self efficacy derived from previous performance accomplishment determines sustained effort and persistence, which is key to overcoming occasional failures, ultimately improving performance.
Vicarious experiences involve directly observing one’s own performance or the performance of another, which enhances efficacy expectations specifically when observing successful performances. Self efficacy can determine performance in sport and exercise through observing others as individuals persist in their efforts until the performance outcome matches the self created standards made from vicarious experiences (Bandura, 1977). Research has shown how vicarious experiences in terms of modelling can enhance the self efficacy of individuals and leads to enhanced performance (Feltz, Landers & Raeder, 1979; McAuley, 1985).
Verbal persuasion is used frequently due to ease, with individuals persuaded that they can cope successfully with what may have overwhelmed them in the past. Individuals who are socially persuaded by coaches, parents and peers to believe they have the capabilities to achieve are more likely to exhibit greater effort and persistence, enhancing their performance (Bandura, 1977).
In terms of physiological states, simply acknowledging that physiological arousal is informative and motivating determines the levels of motivational inducements such as effort and persistence towards action (Weiner, 1972).
The consequences of how these various sources of efficacy information are processed to create judgements on different tasks determines an individuals’ level of motivation which is reflected in their effort put forward and persistence shown.
The Self Efficacy Theory (Bandura, 1977) suggests that self efficacy beliefs predict one’s behaviours, thought patterns and motivation. Individuals with high self efficacy will participate readily and more frequently, will put more effort in and persist longer, enhancing performance in sport and exercise (Bandura, 1986).
Previous research has examined the relationship between self efficacy, motivation and its mediating roles upon performance in sport. Studies have found that the higher the self efficacy, the greater the persistence and effort, as measured by motor performance (Weinberg, Gould & Jackson, 1979) and muscular endurance (Gould & Weiss, 1981; George, Feltz & Chase, 1992). Although the latter two of these studies only used female participants minimising the generalisability, these earlier studies show how high beliefs about one’s capabilities to use their skills and execute a successful performance can drive effort and persistence, consequently improving performance.
Early research has explored self efficacy as a determinant of performance in marathon runners. Pre and post questionnaires were completed by 90 marathon runners completing their 2nd marathon (Okwumabua, 1986). Analyses indicated that marathon finishing time was related to self efficacy, with 46% of the variance in marathon finishing time due to self efficacy. Having high self efficacy can lead to greater performance accomplishments in marathon running.
More recently, Moritz, Feltz, Fahrbach and Mack (2000) conducted a meta-analysis in order to clarify the existing literature surrounding self efficacy and performance in sport and exercise. Self efficacy and performance had a positive and moderately significant relationship, with an average correlation of .38. This research provided clear evidence for a significant relationship between self efficacy and performance, with studies including different tasks and measures allowing for generalisation over a number of sporting situations. However, the conclusion drawn from the meta-analysis is compromised by inadequate data reporting practises in several included studies.
Hazelwood and Burke (2011) investigated whether self efficacy beliefs play the mediational role of predicting performance in triathlon, conducting a study on a competitive ultra endurance triathlon group. Performance self efficacy was found to be the only measure that was significantly related to the performance of the tri-athletes. Athletes with a higher self efficacy performed better than those with lower self efficacy.
These studies show how self efficacy determines effort, persistence and performance in sport. Individuals with higher self efficacy hold stronger beliefs regarding their capabilities to run certain times, finish in a specific position and execute a particular skill. With the enhanced self efficacy comes a strong willingness to put in more effort and persist even when met with an aversive condition. The effort and persistence works to enhance performance in sport and exercise (Bandura, 1977).
Many studies have provided results showing that having enhanced self efficacy results in the individual putting more effort in, persisting longer and performing better compared to individuals with low self efficacy. However, research has also shown contrasting findings.
In a study by Gernigon and Delloye (2003), the influence of unexpected outcomes in a first sprint trial on an athlete’s self efficacy and performance were measured. Successful feedback increased self efficacy however, there were no subsequent changes in performance due to the differing self efficacy.
Beattie, Lief, Adamoulas and Oliver (2011) conducted experiments to explore the reciprocal relationship between self efficacy and performance. Novice golfers took park in two putting conditions, with the task difficulty varying in each. At the between person level self efficacy and performance were positively related but at the within-person level there was a weak non-significant, negative relationship between self efficacy and sport performance (2.7% at best).
These findings show that self efficacy may not always strongly predict subsequent performance. At the within-person level on tasks that are skill based, the evidence surrounding a positive self efficacy and performance relationship is questionable. It has been argued that individuals with high self efficacy may become optimistic to the extent that they apply fewer resources when meeting goals, decreasing their performance (Vancouver & Kendall, 2006).
Central to the Social Cognitive Theory is self efficacy, which has continuously been identified as a determinant to a range of health behaviours including physical activity (Bandura, 1997; McAuley & Blissmer, 2000). Depending on what stage an individual is currently at with exercise participation, it will determine the salience of self efficacy perceptions for most individuals (Bandura, 1997). During the initial stage of exercise participation, self efficacy is suggested to impact upon an individual’s performance strongest due to barriers such as fatigue and lack of time augmenting the perceived difficulty of maintaining the exercise (Oman & King, 1998).
Recent literature has provided findings to show how self efficacy can determine effort, persistence and performance in exercise. Tenenbaum et al (2001) examined the association between goal orientation, self esteem, perceived ability, effort, commitment, exertion, feedback tolerance and process/outcome measures. Self efficacy predicted dart accuracy performance in all conditions where feedback was manipulated to be either positive or negative. In a computer-simulated running task, self efficacy and task specific psychological states accounted for 63%-68% of the performance variance. Self efficacy was shown to predict the length at which an individual can put forth effort and withstand discomfort.
Conn et al (2003) examined the predictors of exercise behaviour in 147 older adults. Self efficacy was the most important predictor of exercise frequency, intensity and duration providing strong evidence to show how self efficacy predicts effort, persistence and performance in exercise.
Linde, Rothman, Baldwin and Jeffery (2006) examined the relationship between self efficacy beliefs, weight control behaviours and weight change among 349 participants partaking in a weight loss trial. Self efficacy beliefs were strongly related to the loss of weight and control behaviours, predicting the amount of blocks walked and stairs climbed as well as adherence to an exercise plan.
Further to this, Hutchinson, Sherman and Martinovic (2008) examined the role of self efficacy in predicting sustained effort during an isometric hand grip task. 72 male and female participants were randomly assigned to three groups: High Efficacy, Low Efficacy or Control. By using false performance feedback, efficacy expectations were influenced. The High Efficacy group demonstrated greater tolerance of the task than the Low Efficacy or Control group denoted by the length of time a participant could maintain the task. This study showed how self efficacy plays an important role in enhancing performance and physical effort tolerance. However, this study recruited predominantly Caucasian participants, limiting the generalisability of the results. In addition, the study relied on the judgements of the researcher to decide when the participant was unable to sustain the contraction intensity required of them; it would have been more accurate to use an electronic hand dynamometer.
McAuley et al (2011) explored the relationship between self efficacy and exercise adherence to a 12 month exercise intervention. 117 older adults volunteered and were inactive previous to the study. Baseline measures of self efficacy were taken at three weeks to account for recalibration of self efficacy and the number of exercise classes attended for 12 months were measured. The results showed that individuals with high self efficacy at 3 weeks attended significantly more exercise classes compared to individuals with low self efficacy.
These studies show how higher self efficacy in individuals leads to a stronger adherence to exercise than individuals who have lower self efficacy. Individuals with higher self efficacy are more likely to put in the effort and persist, overcoming barriers such as fatigue or lack of time, leading to exercise maintenance and enhanced performance in the context of exercise.
A large body of research provides evidence to show that self efficacy determines effort, persistence and performance in a sport and exercise setting. However, at the within-participant level there is evidence to show no effects of self efficacy on performance. Literature is not without its limitations and with self efficacy being an unobservable variable, it is impossible to know whether what is being measured is self efficacy or another psychological variable such as motivation or goal striving. Future research should aim to measure a range of variables together with self efficacy, at the between and within-participant level in order to provide a valid conclusion as to whether self efficacy consistently determine effort, persistence and performance in sport and exercise.
Research within sport psychology highlights and emphasises the potentially stressful nature of sports participation (e.g., Fletcher, Hanton & Mellalieu, 2006; Fletcher, Hanton Mellalieu & Neil, 2012; Giacobbi, Foore, & Weinberg, 2004). Stress can significantly influence both an athletes’ well-being (DiBartolo & Shaffer, 2002; Tabei, Fletcher, & Goodger, 2012), competitive performance (Humphrey, Yow, & Bowden, 2000) […]
Research within sport psychology highlights and emphasises the potentially stressful nature of sports participation (e.g., Fletcher, Hanton & Mellalieu, 2006; Fletcher, Hanton Mellalieu & Neil, 2012; Giacobbi, Foore, & Weinberg, 2004). Stress can significantly influence both an athletes’ well-being (DiBartolo & Shaffer, 2002; Tabei, Fletcher, & Goodger, 2012), competitive performance (Humphrey, Yow, & Bowden, 2000) and mental health (Brennan, 2001). One major stressor of note that has come around in the media of late in relation to Women’s professional football (in particular the FA WSL) has been the risk of injury, where many players and media outlets have raised a generalised view around the issue of ACL (Anterior Cruciate Ligament) injury risk and a general fear around ACL injury within the world of female sports participation. This fear was highlighted most recently within my own M.Sc research study regarding organisational stress in WSL footballers and also by recent media stories and debates regarding the use of artificial surfaces at the 2015 Womens World Cup in Canada.
One reason for this generalisation around ACL injury may originate from the participation of some WSL fixtures and training sessions on artificial surfaces. In addition, research around the link between artificial surfaces and risk of ACL injury has espoused that a greater risk of injury from playing on artificial surfaces than that of natural turf surface (Dragoo, Braun, & Harris, 2013; Dragoo, Braun, Durham, Chen & Harris, 2012). Physiological research also suggests that female athletes are more susceptible to ACL injury in particular when compared to their male counterparts (Waldén, Hägglund, Werner, & Ekstrand, 2011). However, what these recent highlighting reports in the media have not alluded to is the additional psychological risks that stem from the ACL injury lay-off itself and the length of recovery for many athletes. ACL Injury has the capability of producing various negative and dysfunctional psychological effects, in particular, and not limited to an athlete’s self-confidence and athletic identity, and may also result in symptoms of anxiety, negative emotional response, depression and even eating disorders or self-harm.
Professional/elite-level athletes who financially benefit from their involvement in sport may feel additional pressures to return to their sport. Previous research (Bianco, 2001; Crossman, 1997) reported athletes feeling pressure in wanting to regain their position on the team, fear of letting team-mates or coaches down by not returning as they predicted, and concerns about an inability to perform at their pre-injury levels upon return. Long term injury lay-offs in professional athletes in addition to media portrayals and stereotypes of female athletes can also lead to self-objectification behaviours (Harrison, K., & Fredrickson, B. L. 2003). These perceived stresses may lead to premature return to participation before they are psychologically ready to do so, which has subsequently been found to increase the likelihood of re-injury and illness risk. In addition, many WSL footballers also undertake part-time/full-time study, employment or a combination of both to cope with external demands and also in preparation for the eventual transition out of elite level sports participation. However, for many players, football is still considered to be the number one priority with the expectation placed upon total commitment to their football club. This in itself can bring about organisational stressors and forces compromise in order to cope with such demands (Miller & Kerr, 2002).
Self-determination theory (Deci & Ryan, 2000) provides an appropriate framework to which sports psychologists, physiotherapists and other members of the support team around the footballers may specifically focus on when returning the athlete into sport. It also enables the team to account for individual differences in psychological responses, to assist those key stakeholders around the athlete to identify and subsequently address dysfunctional psychological behaviours that may provide risks to the athletes mental health and well-being. If these dysfunctional responses are not regulated, it may eventually result in dropout from the sport. The key factors to consider, informed by self-determination theory include:
By increasing the athletes’ positive perceptions of returning to sport this increases the potential for a successful transition back into participation following injury (Ardern et al., 2012; Ardern et al., 2013). Furthermore, by involving the athlete in the process of identifying a realistic potential time of return to training, contact and game time, this will promote a sense of autonomy. Competence can be promoted by the use of goal setting with key stake holders in the rehabilitation process and also the use of imagery throughout the rehabilitation period to target a positive increase in self-confidence and self-esteem. Improvements in confidence may also be achieved via congruence from key stakeholders and social support network (e.g. coaches, parents, spouse, physiotherapist, and academic/vocational stakeholders) which will contribute to reducing potential conflicts, will aid in setting realistic performance expectations and also in recognising advancements and/or setbacks in the process (Bianco, 2001; Johnston, 1998). Consequently, when negative perceptions appear post-injury/surgery, the potential of non-return and negative psychological risk increases (Johnston, 1997).
A further component to a successful transition back into sport following injury and improved mental health and well-being provision in sport is the use of athlete psychological screening post injury, post-surgery and additionally, further along the rehabilitation phase. This enables the support team to identify potentially dysfunctional psychological responses to injury. Furthermore, by identifying potentially dysfunctional responses to injury, the ability to implement strategies to address and combat such responses increases. Any such screening may include psychological factors such as, measures of motivation (autonomy), confidence and fear (competence) and perceptions of identity within the sport/organisation (Relatedness) should be considered. The ACL-RSI is an applicable example of psychological screening for patients returning to sport after ACL injury.
Vealey (1986) proposed a sport specific theory of confidence, she defined sport confidence as `the belief or degree of certainty individuals possess about their ability to be successful in sport’. Sport Confidence theory measures two factors: trait sports confidence (SC trait) and state sports confidence (SC State). Trait sports confidence (SC trait) is innate and […]
Vealey (1986) proposed a sport specific theory of confidence, she defined sport confidence as `the belief or degree of certainty individuals possess about their ability to be successful in sport’. Sport Confidence theory measures two factors: trait sports confidence (SC trait) and state sports confidence (SC State).
Trait sports confidence (SC trait) is innate and described as a natural disposition. Like all personality traits it is relatively stable. Trait confidence is different from specific confidence as it relates to a generalised belief of an individual about the extent to which their ability will bring success across a wide range of sports. For this reason trait confidence is also global.
State sports confidence (SC state) can be developed through learning and tends to be unstable and changeable. State confidence relates to an individual’s belief about the extent to which their ability will bring success at one particular moment. For this reason, state confidence is also specific to a situation.
State sports confidence directly determines the quality of the skill that is to be performed, for example a putt in golf. The degree of state sports confidence is determined by the interaction of three factors:
1) Trait sports confidence (Innate and described as a natural disposition)
2) The objective sports situation (The type of skill that is to be performed. This could include the situation in which the skill could be performed)
3) The performers competitive orientation (The extent to which an individual is prepared to compete. Also , whether an individual strives to achieve a performance goal or product goal.
The interaction is shown in Fig 1 below.
The extent to which the athlete perceives the performance has been successful is termed the subjective outcome. The subjective outcomes produce the following effects, firstly an outcome which is perceived to be good will increase trait sports confidence and competitiveness. State confidence will also increase. Secondly an outcome which is perceived as poor will decrease trait sports confidence and competitiveness. State confidence will also decrease.
Most importantly, the variations in the levels of trait sports confidence and competitiveness orientations produce the following effects. Table 1 showing the effect variation in levels of trait sport confidence (SC Trait) and competitive orientation.
Vealey (1986) identified a number of strategies to improve state sport confidence (SC State) which are described below.
By way of conclusion, Vealey’s sport confidence model is very useful for explaining the relationship between general sport confidence and situation-specific sport confidence. An athlete who is very successful at one sport transfers much of the confidence derived from his success to other sport situations.
Who would have thought that, in a sport with the participation of over 60 million girls and women worldwide, somehow women coaches are still largely underrepresented on the football pitch (Norman, 2010)? It seems as though the transition from player to coach is not being made… Why? Title IX was enacted in 1972 in the […]
Who would have thought that, in a sport with the participation of over 60 million girls and women worldwide, somehow women coaches are still largely underrepresented on the football pitch (Norman, 2010)? It seems as though the transition from player to coach is not being made… Why?
Title IX was enacted in 1972 in the USA, with the purpose of trying to even out the playing field by requiring the same amount of money be placed in educational programs for both males and females, including sports (Acosta & Carpenter, 2012). Acosta and Carpenter (2012) found in their longitudinal, 35-year study an immediate positive response, with more than 90% of women’s NCAA teams having female coaches in 1972. However, there has since been a large decrease, with only 42.9% of female coaches in the NCAA in 2012.
There are speculations that there are just too many external barriers, with issues such as unequal assumption of competence, fear of lesbianism, lack of female mentors, and hiring from a principle of homogeneity, where male administrators hire male coaches due to their similarities (Kilty, 2006). Not to mention the internal barriers that female coaches have been found to have to cope with, such as perfectionism, lack of assertiveness, inhibition in promotion of accomplishments, and the high stress of balancing work and personal life (Kilty, 2006).
While male coaches may experience similar stressors, recent research recognized that the socio-historical context has been left out of previous research, and that women are more susceptible to some of them. Recent research has found that female coaches lack the confidence to take on higher leadership positions, for example (Norman, 2014). Given that football is a male-dominated sport and that there is a lingering stigma that women’s sport is viewed as secondary to men’s, women coaches do not feel confident in their ability to take on higher positions of leadership (Norman, 2014). In addition, there is the belief that women’s coaching experiences are shaped by historical and cultural restraints, and the fact that a sport coach is not viewed as a “feminine” career creates a belief that leads women to consider themselves unfit for a higher or more senior coaching position (Norman, 2014).
Female coaches need to be aware of these constraints and act accordingly. They need to believe in themselves and their abilities, overcome adversity, and not allow themselves to be influenced by historical or cultural factors. However, the responsibility does not only fall on the women. Football administrators and male coaches need to do their part. They need to view these female coaches and treat them for what they truly are, first and foremost: COACHES. They need to set the assumptions and stereotypes aside and view their female counterparts as equals. It is the responsibility of everyone involved in football, at all levels and in all positions, to do their part in ensuring a level playing field with regards to gender.
There are many opinions of what a group really is defined as. According to Carron, Hausenblas, and Eys (2005) a group in a sporting context is defined as more than two people that have a common identity or objective, with an organised structure, eventually leading to the same fate at the end of their journey […]
There are many opinions of what a group really is defined as. According to Carron, Hausenblas, and Eys (2005) a group in a sporting context is defined as more than two people that have a common identity or objective, with an organised structure, eventually leading to the same fate at the end of their journey together as a group.
Carron and Eys (2012) have a theory that every group is different and unique from one another. These authors go on to explain that there are two reasons of existence for any group; to have a goal to work towards and to fill the needs of every person to belong and be a part of something involving others. This theory of needing to belong is supported by Abraham Maslow’s ‘Hierarchy of Needs’ (1954, cited in Zastrow & Kirst-Ashman, 2010) in which the third tier of needs suggests each and every person has social needs and has to feel a sense of belonging.
There are two main perspectives on how a team is formed to become successful. According to Tuckman (1965, cited in Egolf & Chester, 2007) There is something seen as a more linear perspective in which a team is faced with an issue of not being able to perform or have good team cohesion but these issues are then dealt with and handled by the team and the group moves on to continue performing. Tuckman has a theory that there are four main stages to the development of a team or sporting group. Firstly the players come together to form a team, sharing the common identity with the same kit, club name or selection for a team. At this point social comparisons are made between new acquaintances. This is known as the forming stage in which all that is taken into account is the fact all of the players have been chosen to come together. The second part of the process includes friction between personalities, and often the leader of the group. Arguments often occur at this stage regarding perceptions on performance etc. which may cause unrest between people in a way that stops them from being able to complete their role in the team. After this storming process the players begin to realise similarities between each other and that personalities may be more alike than first thought. After hours practising the sport in the group environment, it helps the players or group to norm with each other and find out a way in which they are able to use each other’s strengths to help the team. Roles are created within the team as the players begin to respect one another. The penultimate stage is arguably the most important and the reason the team was formed and brought together in the beginning, to complete the common goal of performing together in the match or championships to try to be successful as not only a group of players but now as a team. In recent years Tuckman and Jensen (1977, cited in Nijstad 2009) have added to Tuckman’s original theory by including a final stage to the process. The final stage of this is that the teams adjourn, have a break in season or end of competition and rest, perhaps ready to rebuild for the next year and start the whole process again. According to Maples (2008) “Graduate students in group work find Tuckman’s theory of the stages of group development too limiting”. The author goes on to suggest a second level needs to be added to clarify the five stages.
Another perspective of how groups are formed was created by Worchel (1994, cited in Capozza & Brown 2000). This is known as the pendulum perspective. In this theory, Worchel believed the main theme or pattern that is constantly repeated is that firstly conflict occurs, followed by the team resolving this issue and finally the cohesion after this resolution. There are five main stage to this theory; firstly discontent occurs from not all group members feeling part of the group, perhaps due to others alienating them or due to an individual having different backgrounds from the majority. The next stage of this theory is called group identification and involves players renewing their commitment, e.g. a footballer may sign a new contract with a club to show his intentions of working for the team, either this or may decide to leave the club which will help the team to work out which players are really part of the team. The third stage is known as group productivity in which Worchel believes goals can now be set and the team can come together to rebuild after the conflict. The penultimate stage involves individual players wanting the recognition for their part of the team they feel they deserve. Finally, this individualisation results in more decay as players are not happy and therefore either want to leave or do not help the team as much as they could, returning the team to the beginning of the cycle to repeat this again and again.
The linear perspective of this can be applied to the formation of a professional sports team that has had its storming and performing very much in the public eye in recent years. In 2010 Manchester City football club added seven new players to the squad (Telegraph 2010), all with believed high abilities to improve the squad. The players then had to form together in the pre-season of that campaign and within weeks there were reports of players that were originally at the club unable to play in the new system provided by the manager Roberto Mancini and not being able to work with the newer players due to the perceived abilities of them and their ‘world class’ tags by the media compared to the lower profiles and reputations of players such as Stephen Ireland, Benjani and others. This then led to player Stephen Ireland leaving the club along with former talisman Robinho. This shows that it is not possible for all players to form together in a sporting team and that storming does often occur after this stage. After the storming stage the players remaining were able to norm and understand how each other’s ways of playing and personalities to produce better performances in the game situations and eventually performing well together evident by the winning of the FA Cup. The team then adjourned and had a break ready to build for the next season and start the whole process again.
Both of these theories by Tuckman & Jensen and Worchel respectively can be made to fit many situation such as the Manchester City scenario provided but it all depends on the viewer’s outlook on conflict resolution and how a team develops as a group.
“Teams win games, squads win titles.” (Sir Alex Ferguson) Sir Alex Ferguson’s philosophy paid dividends in the 1999 European Cup Final when Teddy Sheringham and Ole Gunnar Solskjear (two substitutes) scored late goals to secure a 2-1 victory. Other high profile substitutes who have came to the fore on the big occasion include Kevin Mc […]
“Teams win games, squads win titles.” (Sir Alex Ferguson)
Sir Alex Ferguson’s philosophy paid dividends in the 1999 European Cup Final when Teddy Sheringham and Ole Gunnar Solskjear (two substitutes) scored late goals to secure a 2-1 victory.
Other high profile substitutes who have came to the fore on the big occasion include Kevin Mc Manamon who scored the decisive goal for Dublin in the 2011 All Ireland title and Stephen Donald kicking the crucial penalty in New Zealand’s 2011 Rugby World Cup success.
Substitutes play a more subtle, unseen, yet equally important role in the context of training. If all players in a squad are committed to attending and to giving 100%, the quality and intensity of training will be at an optimum level. With a healthy competition for starting places no player will be able to coast through training leading to increased performance throughout the squad. This is a scenario managers crave.
By contrast, if managed poorly, substitutes can develop a sense of learned helplessness. This is common in people who suffer depression, where they adopt a ‘what’s the point’ mindset. Managers can actually foster similar feelings (not depression per sé but associated feelings towards their sport) where substitutes can feel there is no point and potentially give up the sport or don’t exert their maximum effort.
In a school team I was part of I experienced this. Throughout my school years I was a committed player and regular starter, however, one particular year I found myself in the unusual position of being a substitute. By the end of the season I had lost the motivation required to make the first 15. Whilst ultimately an individual has to take accountability for their own actions, on reflection the environment fostered by the management also contributed to my attitude.
Firstly, the starting 15 and two subs used in each game were nearly always the same, irrespective of their level of performance.
It must be recognised that team selection is a particularly difficult part of management. A settled team leads to greater cohesion and understanding among the starting team. However, if substitutes believe they are not going to get a chance to play in matches no matter how things are going, it is human nature for motivation, and hence effort in training, to decrease.
Gary Neville sums up two different philosophies taken by different managers he played under; “The boss would leave out big players in big games, showing the courage that makes him such a great manager” (on Sir Alex Ferguson); “if I had a worry it was that Sven created a fixed first XI. While it is helpful to have a settled team, it doesn’t keep players on their toes” (On Sven Goran Erikkson).
Secondly, our starting school team was named individually with the phrase, ‘the rest of you lads are subs, take a jersey’, covering the others. During the shooting phase of the warm up the starting 15 took active involvement while it was the sub’s job to retrieve the balls. Essentially the coaches had created a two tiered system elevating the starting players above the subs.
N.B (See http://www.thesportinmind.com/articles/developing-an-inner-drive-within-players/ on this in relation to self-determination).
This two tiered approach is in direct contrast to that of the triple European winning Leinster rugby team. “With Leinster, there was less of a split between first team and peripheral players in later years, and that helped us” (Brian O’Driscoll http://www.bbc.co.uk/sport/0/rugby-union/29837289).
Thirdly, during school training sessions the coaches very rarely engaged in any dialogue with the substitutes, rather, focusing exclusively on the starting players. No feedback was given on how I could improve or what I could do to put myself in the frame for the starting 15.
These factors added to a ‘whats the point’ attitude. On one particular Saturday towards the end of our unsuccessful campaign, I turned off my alarm and went back to sleep instead attending an early morning training session. I look back on this incident as something I am not proud off. As perviously stated, individual accountability has to come to the fore, however, on reflection it is clear to me that poor man management was also a factor on why this happened.
The following are some tips for managers to combat the feeling of learned helplessness within their squad, thereby helping to establish an environment where all players will be pushing themselves in training.
1. Managers must communicate to ALL players – the substitutes have to know exactly why they aren’t starting and what they can do to to enhance their chances of making the team.
2. Substitutes must feel valuable members of the team and, I feel, should be in the changing rooms along with the other members of the team before the game and at half time. Although a lot of bodies may add a slight distraction, I feel everybody ‘in it together’ outweighs any con.
3. A lot of teams play ‘in house’ games, where the likely starters play against the subs. These games allows a coach to focus on tactics, shape and movement. A smart ploy used by a recent All Ireland hurling winning team was for their manager to give a team talk and feedback to the substitutes during such a game. The assistant manager did the same with the starting 15. This strategy gave the subs an elevated sense of importance and worth as the main manager was investing time and effort in them and their role within the team.
Renowned basketball coach John Wooden believed in publicly praising the unseen sub during feedback in coaching, enhancing their confidence and highlighting his appreciation for the role they were doing. Other players were praised and encouraged privately. Managing his squad instead on the starting team was a philosophy he deployed successfully throughout his career.
Youth sport is a subject close to my heart. As a parent of three pre school-age children, participation in organised sporting activities is already a big part of our family life. We like to think that encouraging participation now is laying the foundations for an active lifestyle throughout school and participation / competition for many […]
Youth sport is a subject close to my heart. As a parent of three pre school-age children, participation in organised sporting activities is already a big part of our family life. We like to think that encouraging participation now is laying the foundations for an active lifestyle throughout school and participation / competition for many years beyond.
Unfortunately, the research paints a different picture. This article outlines some of the key research in the area of youth sport participation, and highlights the main reasons that kids quit sport. Finally, some comments are made about effective strategies coaches and parents can adopt to encourage long-term participation in sport.
Youth sport participation has been shown to have considerable health benefits, can be helpful in developing important social skills and can even help improve academic performance. For example, a study of 207 children (Lakes & Hoyt, 2004) from Kindergarten through to grade 5 found students who participated in a three-month program of taekwondo had improved sociable behaviour, improved classroom conduct, performed better on maths tests and had better cognitive and emotional self-regulation.
Despite the benefits, significant numbers of kids regularly withdraw from one or more sports that they participate in. For example, a retrospective ten-year study of sports participation in North American schools (n = 1,387) found that 94 per cent of kids had withdrawn from at least one sport with withdrawals increasing with age (Butcher, Lindner & Johns, 2002). The good news from this study was that 70 per cent continued in at least one sport and 55 per cent took up new sports after withdrawing from others.
So why do kids quit? The following briefly summarises the main reasons:
It’s not fun anymore
Enjoyment is one of the most significant reasons kids stop playing particular sports. It is also the number one reason why kids who are trying out a new sport would not keep going. In fact, in a recent study about girls’ decisions to continue in sport, enjoyment was the only significant factor in predicting intention to continue for the next 6-12 months (Atkins, Johnson, Force & Petrie, 2013). Other studies have highlighted the importance of intrinsic motivation (doing something for the enjoyment of it) versus extrinsic motivation (doing something for reward or to please others) as a factor influencing drop out (Ryska, Hohensee, Cooley & Jones, 2002).
Pressure to perform… and injuries
Performance pressure is the number one reason why elite participants dropout (Butcher, Lindner & Johns, 2002). This is often linked with injuries that can result from overtraining due to pressure to perform and achieve from a young age. In fact, one in five elite athletes cites injuries as the main reason they quit. These findings have significant implications for sports governing bodies that need to find a balance in their programming between pushing for results and keeping youth athletes in sport for a long period of time. Funding allocation linked to medal outcomes can often be seen to run counter to a philosophy of long-term athlete development.
It is also important to note where the pressure comes from. A recent study of youth soccer participants found more than half reported performance pressure with the main sources being teammates, parents, coaches and even themselves (Keithley, Himelein & Srigley, 2013).
The important role parents’ play in keeping kids in sport has been articulated extremely well in school-sport coach Mike Bergstrom’s book ‘The Car Ride Home’ which describes how parents can often put too much pressure on their kids to perform. Research suggests that parents (particularly fathers) may not perceive their own behaviours as exerting pressure and it has been well documented that children who perceive parental pressure are likely to experience competitive anxiety and sport burnout (Kanters & Casper, 2008).
Perceived lack of competence
Competence is an important driver for both girls and boys but seems to be more important for girls as they get older (Butcher, Lindner & Johns, 2002). Perceptions of not being good enough are often stated as reasons for ceasing participation. This is another area where the role of parents is critical. For example, a study of girls’ continuation in sport (Atkins, Johnson, Force & Petrie, 2013) found that where they perceived their parents as involved, warm and supportive they reported higher levels of sport competence.
Unsurprisingly, time demands become more of an issue as children get older, with time to study and job conflicts leaving less time for professional sport. This issue is particularly prevalent at key times (e.g. key exam periods) and when the sport requires travel over long distances to compete.
So what can coaches and parents do with this to keep kids participating in sport? Whilst each athlete is unique and may have different needs, the following four strategies warrant consideration:
Professional players in the world of sport are expected to be, as they are labelled, professional. With recent events highly publicised in the media, how professional and level-headed are these athletes at the elite level? Are cases of over-the-top aggression becoming the norm? Or due to media coverage are we just hearing more about them? […]
Professional players in the world of sport are expected to be, as they are labelled, professional. With recent events highly publicised in the media, how professional and level-headed are these athletes at the elite level? Are cases of over-the-top aggression becoming the norm? Or due to media coverage are we just hearing more about them?
Firstly we start with what a professional athlete can be. Some say they must train and/or play in excess of 40 hours per week. Others state that they have paid employment from an organisation or team. Either way in today’s society it is expected that these professional athletes, whatever the sport or role they hold, are consistently at the top of their game.
With the label professional, comes pressure. This can be from sources such as; fans, employers, team members, the media, to name a few. How players deal with this pressure can be seen in every scenario that arises during every event you watch. Some players choke, others thrive. However at this elite and professional level, that we love to watch every week, sometimes this pressure can be released as uncontrollable aggression. This is when your sport suddenly becomes public.
Throughout history there have been numerous occasions when players’ frustration and anger has been vented on a global sporting stage. For the purposes of this article we will look at one topical case in particular. Initially it is important to understand that the term “aggression” is not always bad. The old adage “controlled aggression” is a real thing. This is evident every time you watch Rugby, Football, Squash, or any other sport in fact. Players perform tasks that require them to use instrumental aggression, where by the aim is to successfully achieve an object but some form of physical harm may be a by-product, such as tackling an opponent in Rugby. Yes the aim is to stop the ball carrier, but as a result you can cause harm to the opposition. Then, in games such as Rugby, it becomes an intrinsic battle to stop that becoming hostile aggression. This is when the aim is to intentionally cause physical harm.
It is the intentional act of causing harm to another person which has recently been seen in high level sport. For example in Super League Grand Final only two minutes in Ben Flower took the law of the game into his own hands. An off the ball incident involving Flower and Saints Wellens, led to the Wigan man receiving a red card for striking an undefended opponent. As a result of this act it sparked a nationwide debate on social media about the justification of the players’ actions. The consensus was deemed that the player went above and beyond any reasonable reaction and force. This in turn led to Flower receiving a six month ban, the longest in Super League history.
Why and how did this happen? It’s complicated, only the player himself can truly justify the actions, if there is any justification at all. However we will look at some reasons that could account for this behaviour.
Firstly looking into the pre-match schedule being completed by the players and staff is important. The players will need a certain amount of direction and control during the pre-match rituals. This should be a combination of match specific skills and, with a sport like rugby, you would hope for a certain degree of physical contact. Perhaps this was where the player began to fuel their frustrated state? Although from a professional team a vast amount of money, time and effort is poured into these simple things to ensure players are physically and mentally prepared for kick-off. There are no excuses or reasons here; one should be led to believe.
The player holds a lot of clues as to whether or not situations like this are avoidable. This brings me back to the point on professionalism. These parts of the game I agree are rare, nevertheless they are remembered. They cause debates and people will write about them. During every situation they are avoidable. Professionalism is at the forefront of what spectators view, whether this in the stands of a sport such as rugby, or on television in the comfort of your own home. You would not expect your Postman to rip up your mail before they deliver it.
These flash points are always down to psychology. Are the players psychologically prepared, able, and fit for purpose? Whether their mind sate is that of a professional athlete or not is arguable. It was only at the start of this Premier League season that Morgan Schneiderlin of Southampton declared himself as mentally unprepared to play. He chose to take the steps to remove himself from a situation he could not handle, the correct decision from him at that time.
Yet the player may not always see this as the case. This is when the responsibility falls to the staff and people around them to highlight the fact. Being in the greatest possible situation and being professional has its benefits. Access to the finest facilities and staff should lead to the decline in situations like this from ever occurring. Again, with the best will in the world, athletes must be in control of their own actions and ultimately cannot shift the blame for these situations.
Having said this athletes being sent off in the opening exchanges of games is nothing new. They go from the controlled environment of the changing room, to the uncontrollable on the field. Sometimes this is dealt with in a poor manor and results in stupidity. In the changing room players go through cycles of emotion, with high arousal and adrenaline among others. When this arousal becomes too much, as stated in Hardys’ (1987) Catastrophe Model, something has to give. Perhaps what was seen with Flower was this release of arousal in a hostile way through violence.
Ultimately it is up to the athlete, and them alone to control the way they act during a sporting occasion. In the professional environment especially, players have a duty to respect the game they play. The core values, whatever they may be, must be upheld. A future where emerging athletes feel these situations are acceptable should never happen. All persons involved at sport, at any level must promote the morals of their game. However it is important to understand that from time to time these things happen. It is vital to not tar every player with the same brush and disciplinary boards are in place to deal with such events. But at the end of the day could these situations truly be avoided? Or are they just another part of sport?
Dwight Eisenhower, the 34th President of the United States, once said that “motivation is the art of getting people to do what you want them to do because they want to do it”. Research in the area of motivation suggests that he wasn’t too far wrong. Motivation is an internal energy that can determine aspects […]
Dwight Eisenhower, the 34th President of the United States, once said that “motivation is the art of getting people to do what you want them to do because they want to do it”. Research in the area of motivation suggests that he wasn’t too far wrong.
Motivation is an internal energy that can determine aspects of our behaviour: it impacts on how we think, feel and interact with others. An essential prerequisite in sport for getting athletes to fulfil their potential is high levels of motivation. However, given its abstract nature this is a force that is often difficult to fully exploit. Some coaches, like former Manchester United manager Alex Ferguson, appear to have the ‘magic touch’ so to speak in being able to get a great deal more out of a team than the sum of its individual parts; on the other hand others find motivation to be an elusive concept that they are forever struggling to master.
There are numerous approaches to the study of motivation. Some are based on schedules of positive and negative reinforcement (e.g. BF Skinner’s and Ivan Pavlov’s behaviourism) while others focus on an individual sense of mastery over a set of circumstances (e.g. Bandura’s self-efficacy theory). This article explores the constituents of motivation using contemporary approach know as self-determination theory (Deci and Ryan) which emphasises the role of individual choice.
Different types of motivation
Self-determination theory is one of the most widely tested approaches to motivation in sport (Deci & Ryan, 1987). This theory is based on a number of motives or regulations, which vary in terms of the degree of self-determination they reflect. Self-determination has to do with the degree to which your behaviours are chosen and self-initiated. The behavioural regulations can be placed on a self-determination continuum. From the least to the most self-determined they are amotivation, external regulation, introjected regulation, identified regulation, integrated regulation and intrinsic motivation.
Amotivation represents a lack of intention to engage in behaviour. This is accompanied by feelings such as incompetence and a lack of connection between one’s behaviour and the expected outcome. Athletes who are amotivated may be heard to be saying things such as ‘I can’t see the point in training- it just makes me tired’ or ‘I just don’t get the buzz from competition anymore’/ Such athletes exhibit a sense of helplessness and are highly prone to dropping out.
External and introjected regulations represent non-self-determined or controlling types of extrinsic motivation because athletes do not sense that their behaviour is choiceful and, as a consequence they experience psychological pressure. Participating in sport to receive prize money, win a trophy or medal typifies external regulation.
Identified and integrated regulations represent self-determined types of extrinsic motivation because behaviour is initiated out of choice, although it is not necessarily perceived to be enjoyable. These types of regulation account for why some athletes devote hundreds of hours to repeating mundane drills; they realise that such activity will ultimately help them to improve. Identified regulation represents engagement in behaviour because it is highly valued, whereas when behaviour becomes integrate it is in harmony with ones sense of self and almost entirely self-determined. Completing daily flexibility exercises because you realise they are part of an overarching goal of enhanced performance might be an example of integrated regulation
Intrinsic motivation comes from within, is fully self-determined and characterised by interest in and enjoyment derived from sports participation. There are three types of intrinsic motivation; intrinsic motivation to know, intrinsic motivation to accomplish and intrinsic motivation to experience stimulation. Intrinsic motivation is considered to be the healthiest type of motivation and reflects an athlete’s motivation to perform an activity simply for the reward inherent in their participation.
According to psychologist Csikszentmihalyi, the highest level of intrinsic motivation is flow state (Csikszentmihalyi, 1975; 1990). Flow is characterised by complete immersion in an activity, to the degree that nothing else matters. Central to the attainment of flow is a situation in which there is a perfect match between the perceived demands of an activity and an athlete’s perceived ability or skills. During flow, self0consciousness is lost and athletes become one with the activity. For example, a tennis player may describe how their racquet feels like an extension of their arm while they are in flow.
An overbearing or unrealistic challenge can cause excess anxiety, which means that coaches need to ensure that athletes set realistic goals. Conversely, if athletes bring a high level of skill to an activity and the challenge that it provides is relatively low, the can result in boredom. Apathy transpires when both challenge and skill are low. To promote flow it is important to fins challenges that are going to stretch athletes just a touch further than they have been stretched before.
Enhancing motivation is primarily about a change in attitude, developing a positive mind-set and engaging in behaviours (in this case short term process goals that can be used to help keep focused on checkmarks that lead to the overall long term goals) that facilitate improvement in performance.
My players don’t want to be at training”, “They are losing interest”, “There is no motivation in our lot.” From my coaching experiences over the last 10 years these are quite often remarks I hear coaches make and I too have experienced as a novice coach. In this piece I will look at Sport Psychology […]
My players don’t want to be at training”, “They are losing interest”, “There is no motivation in our lot.” From my coaching experiences over the last 10 years these are quite often remarks I hear coaches make and I too have experienced as a novice coach.
In this piece I will look at Sport Psychology theory with cited examples of how they can be utilised in an applied setting across different levels of sports performance.
The Self-Determination Theory (Deci & Ryan 2000) states that three core elements are essential for players having an inner determination or intrinsic motivation to train and compete. These are competence, autonomy and relatedness.
Competence by definition is the feeling of perceived success in something people do.
Within one group of special needs children I had the pleasure of coaching, lay a girl who was on the autistic spectrum. Trying to get her to participate was extremely difficult, she was quite clumsy and was extremely harsh on herself in regard her self-talk. Out of chance she ventured into goals for a game, bravely threw herself in the way of a number of goal bound efforts and essentially carried out the key role of a goal keeper successfully.
This three minute stint had a powerful effect. In the following sessions instead of trying to make excuses not to take part, she was in fact first there. In addition, she purchased herself a pair of goal keeper gloves. Why? Because she was having the associated feelings of success. This sense of competence was a stronger motivating factor than feedback or reinforcement I as a coach could ever give.
Moreover we as coaches have an integral role in developing competence, based upon on how we set up our coaching sessions. With children a key facet in this is the art of differentiation. Essentially setting up your coaching session in such a way that every child is achieving some form of success. This may be the same exercise with each child having a different target relevant to their ability levels. Yet when each child reaches their target this must be celebrated in equal measures.
When an individual/ team is low in confidence, one significant reason for this is a perceived lack of recent competence. e.g. a forward line struggling to get scores. A method to increase their competence could be within a coaching session to overload forwards against defenders in order to give them the opportunity to experience more success.
Autonomy is where people feel control over their own behaviours.
The use of open-ended questions is a great way of instilling this: e.g. Why was it a good pass? Or what would be a better next time? Often as coaches we are so keen to correct mistakes that we are “commentating” and telling players what to do. By players having to work it out for themselves, they are gaining ownership over their game and a sense of control over their own behaviours. In addition, this is a key step in establishing “thinking players”
With adult teams especially at a high level where more resources are available, video analysis is a powerful way of instilling autonomy.I know of one County GAA senior football team using this to great effect. They give the players clips of themselves in action which they have to view and actually feedback to their team mates. They also give units of the team clips and they feed back on patterns of play and movement. Although this may have elements of risk, if managed properly is an extremely effective way of instilling autonomy and again “thinking players.”
Relatedness is where people feel a sense of belonging or attachment to what they are doing. The following clip shows the power of sport to instil a sense of relatedness in human beings they may not get in other aspects of their lives. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0Ejh_hb15Fc
As a coach I try to increase a sense of relatedness in my players by talking to at least four or five different players each session and actively listening to what they say. This also helps build up a sense of trust and shows your players you care.
Having all your team kitted out in the same training gear, team wrist bands and team buzz words based on your team principles are further examples to help this process. Additionally, further examples may be involving all the players in pre game huddles and not just the starting team, or at half time bringing all players into the changing room as opposed to just the starting team. The last thing a coach wants is two separate teams within one team.
Therefore we can see what the three strands of the Self-Determination Theory are and how by utilising them as coaches we can have more intrinsically motivated players.
Eating disorders and disordered eating behaviour are serious mental conditions “that manifest themselves in a variety of eating and weight-related signs and symptoms” (Thompson & Sherman, 2010, p. 7) and can affect both males and females of all age groups. The spectrum of eating disorders and disordered eating behaviour is broad and extensive; characteristics and […]
Eating disorders and disordered eating behaviour are serious mental conditions “that manifest themselves in a variety of eating and weight-related signs and symptoms” (Thompson & Sherman, 2010, p. 7) and can affect both males and females of all age groups. The spectrum of eating disorders and disordered eating behaviour is broad and extensive; characteristics and behaviours are distinguished as medically recognised disorders should they correlate with criteria stated on the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (APA, 2013). Both terms capture behaviours intended by the individual to lose or control weight (Collins, 2010), the key difference being behaviours of a certain severity which comply with the criteria of the DSM-V are classified as medically recognised disorders. Individuals whose eating characteristics are of a lower severity and do not comply with the DSM-V criteria are termed to be struggling with disordered eating behaviour.
Within a sporting context, not only is an athletes’ health and well-being threatened but also their sporting performance. Of all the conditions along the spectrum of eating disorders and disordered eating, anorexia nervosa has the highest mortality rate (Thompson and Sherman, 2010, p. 10) and cardiovascular problems, which account for around half of the deaths of anorexic patients, are the most common medical complication which is caused by starvation and purging techniques. The most widely known eating disorder associated with sport participation is the female athlete triad. This consists of the interrelated problems of disordered eating and also amenorrhea (the loss of the female’s menstrual cycle) and osteoporosis which are both consequences of an inconsistent diet and calorie intake (Yeager, Agostini, Nativ and Drinkwater, 1993). In addition to the physiological effects of these conditions, the psychological effects are also severe. Depression, decreased concentration and insomnia have been found to be effects of semi-starvation (Thompson and Sherman, 2010).
It has been estimated that the prevalence of disordered eating in athletes ranges from 15-62% (Walsh, Wheat and Freund, 2000) and 14-19% have subclinical symptoms (Greenleaf, Carter, Petrie, and Reel, 2009). There is not one specific cause for the development of eating disorders or disordered eating behaviour but rather a combination of socio-cultural, familial, personality and genetic factors (Thompson and Sherman, 2010). With this being known, who is in the best position to provide help and support to athletes and is there enough education within sport to teach coaches how to manage and treat athletes under their care struggling with these issues?
Studies have shown that sports coaches currently possess poor knowledge regarding eating disorders in athletes (Nattiv, Loucks, Manore, Sanborn, Sundgot-Borgen and Warren, 2007). This is supported by research conducted by Sherman, Thompson, DeHass and Wilfert (2005) that discovered that only 51% of coaches had attended lectures on the subject which is similar to research conducted by Turk et al (1999) which found that less than half of the coaches involved had attended educational programmes on eating disorders. The current state of education for coaches concerning detection and treatment of eating disorders and disordered eating behaviour in athletes was summarised by Currie in 2010 to be a “severe lack of knowledge in this area” and this “could be a serious implication for the welfare of athletes”.
As stated by Currie (2010), potential eating disorder and disordered eating problems should be approached “early, directly, supportively, and confidentially”. It has often been remarked within the literature that coaches are in the best position for early identification of eating disorders and disordered eating issues within their athletes due to their position and ability to observe them on a regular basis (Zimmerman, 1999). Coaches spend a large quantity of time with their athletes during training, competition and even travelling which provides ample opportunities to observe and monitor individuals’ habits. Coaches often also have a special relationship with their athletes consisting of trust and friendship which may also make athletes feel more comfortable disclosing close and personal information, such as if they are struggling with disordered eating issues, to their coaches rather than to parents or a medical professional.
A study conducted by Arthur-Cameselle and Baltzell in 2012 is concerned with what could be learned from athletes who had recovered from eating disorders and gives advice to coaches, parents and other athletes regarding the subject. They reached a very important conclusion; that there was a strong need for further education for coaches in identifying and treating athletes struggling with eating disorders and disordered eating problems. This is supported by a large amount of relevant literature such as Bratland-Sanda and Sundgot-Borgen (2013) who stated that for it to be possible for the appropriate identifications and referrals to be made, coaches required a full and working knowledge of eating disorders and disordered eating behaviour. Research conducted by Currie in 2010 stated that programmes that support athletes struggling with disordered eating issues and also prevent their occurrence should be developed to assist the management and treatment of the matter. Further to this, he also stated that responsibility lies with sporting organisations and individual sports governing bodies to develop and implement relevant preventative practises. As with any other medical conditions, prevention is key and so the sporting environment must acknowledge the risks associated with sport participation and the development of eating disorders and disordered eating problems so that preventative practises become the norm.
Identifying talent is one of sports biggest and most profitable issues. There is a constant seek for a new Christiano Ronaldo in the world of football, the next LeBron James on the basketball-court, Mo Farah of running. This process has over the last years become a major industry for clubs and independent agents – driving […]
Identifying talent is one of sports biggest and most profitable issues. There is a constant seek for a new Christiano Ronaldo in the world of football, the next LeBron James on the basketball-court, Mo Farah of running. This process has over the last years become a major industry for clubs and independent agents – driving talent-development from being “by chance” to a more systematically approach. But some evidence make us question – are we using the right tools for identifying talent?
A lot of talent identification processes are biased. We like to think that professional and trained personnel tend to pick the right players, but for some reason – they don`t. Malcolm Gladwell authored an interesting book “Outliers”, claiming talent development has for some reason gone awry. He stated that in the case of NHL talent-draf, it emerges a pattern difficult to oversee – the majority of players are born in the first quarter of the year. This pattern is also revealed in European football as well as American baseball, he claims (Gladwell, 2008). Gladwell`s argument has been scientifically supported in a study of selection-bias in Euorpean youth-football (age 15-18) with an average skewness of selection, favoring the first quarter 43 % selection-rate vs 9 % of the players, born in the last quarter (Helsen, Van Winkel & Williams, 2005). One could clearly argue talent-develoment processes are creating an accumulative advance for the athletes born in the first quarter. They get more training with better competition, access to better coaching, more opportunity for deliberate practice provided with quality feedback and often financial relief for their families. It becomes hard, if not impossible for the talents born late in the selection year, to catch up.
What biases the decision-makers in the world of sport business? Is it the common mistake of picking a physical grown teenager over the weaker kid? Yes – in many cases this is true. Growth and physical appearance seems to be selected over other sorts of “talent” again and again. Perhaps the world of talent identification also feels the pressure of picking the right player – quickly. No one can really blame them, when performance managers seeks “value for money” in their talent-development investment, good decision making and long-term thinking goes over board. It is easily imaginable that this sort of pressure clearly biases decision-making even for professional talent-identifyers.
Identifying talent is more than physical size and differences in testosterone-levels, making its contribution to who runs faster, jumps higher, dribbles better, shoots harder, passes longer. We need an approach that tries to make this process more about what talent and athletic potential is all about; of course physical attributes comes into play when evaluating potential, but what about the athletes ability to show flexibility over different sports? A Norwegian study of 18 international gold medalists clearly sets out that one of the differences compared to the control group was that the gold-medalists specialized on a later point, had participated in several sports and kept a second competitive sport longer (Gilberg & Breivik, 1998). This approach has also been tested in a more systematic way by the German Tennis Federation (Epstein, 2013). They hired the psychologist Wolfgang Schneider to seek out how to find which talent would be the next elite player. Players that came into the program were tested for tennis-specific skills, but also general athleticism. What they discovered was that – the better general athleticism, the more tennis specific skills the tennis-talents were able to acquire.
This finding could be exclusive for tennis, but we see a lot of anecdotal evidence that this notion might be true for other sports as well. The larger an athletes` software for sports in general is – the more sport specific software he/she seems to be able to download and adapt. Perhaps talent-programs, clubs and coaches would benefit from extending their measurements of skills, not to exclusively consider the sport-specific ability, but also more general athletic abilities? Just to be increase precision in predicting who is more likely to make it to the top level in sports.
Another interesting approach to add to the toolbox of talent-ID is testing resiliency. An article in The Star, referring to an article where Robert Danner is the co-author, provides information of players that do excel beyond the early selection-bias and becomes NHL-players despite being born late in the year – have more successful careers. This finding is interesting and supports the common psychological view; that you need a strong motivation and endurance – to keep training for the approximately 10.000hrs – you need to be resilient (Baker et al, 2014; VanYperen, 2009, Ericsson, Krampe & Tech-Römer, 1993). Resiliency in face of obstacles, disappointments, injuries, success, setbacks. They are all key aspects on the road to success and it is important to handle the different scenarios in a constructive and developmental way. Some considers it the soft-sides of judging an athletes potential, but really, this is what could make the whole difference. The absolute core.
Is it measurable – or is it some fancy X-factor that gradually evolves within some athletes as they go along the path? How do we know what traits to look for over different sports? This is not an easy answered question, and I bet there are many approaches that could do the trick. But what we know from development and learning is that strong motivation, ability to stay on task when it gets difficult and challenging, joy in training, and coachability are very central to the developmental process. In an article by Daniel Coyle he describes The San Fransisco 49ers coach, Jim Harbaugh, having his own approach when testing these traits. He plays catch. Every player they seek to draft, he plays catch with – not to see their technique, but to test their response to whenever he is throwing a bad ball. A little to difficult ball. A to long ball. How do they respond? With anger and confrontation or do they simply apply themselves, try harder, run for the ball? Do they respond to the coaching during this challenging task? No doubt in Jim Harbaughs mind which player makes the draft. Not over technique or physical greatness, but resilience, motivation and grit. These are the true keywords on the way to elite sports.
Another thing to look into when scouting for talents are the environment where the players have been trained and schooled and how their early coaches have developed them. Thats for an later article.
These are facts and thoughts on talent-identification processes and what science, best practice and common sense tell us about how to develop it and scout for it. Hope this has gained some new perspectives and provoked some ideas. Try to think of talent-identification in a new way. Use multiple approaches, both sport specific and sport general. Most of all – find a sport specific way of testing their resilience and heart, that would save you a lot of time and mistakes.
The term ‘mental toughness’ is probably the most used psychological term used by pundits, writers, journalists, coaches and athletes alike. Yet the definition of the term is probably the most contested theory in sport psychology. As for myself, I feel that the term ‘resilience’ best articulates the underlying characteristics great teams and individuals possess to […]
The term ‘mental toughness’ is probably the most used psychological term used by pundits, writers, journalists, coaches and athletes alike. Yet the definition of the term is probably the most contested theory in sport psychology. As for myself, I feel that the term ‘resilience’ best articulates the underlying characteristics great teams and individuals possess to positively adapt to situations that significantly challenge them. With the Rugby World Cup coming to England in 2015, this article will look at what defines resilience using rugby union as an example.
What makes a resilient team?
In rugby, there is no linear line to success. It’s a roller-coaster of peaks and troughs, swings and roundabouts, ups and downs. It’s how the team copes with these changes that defines resilience. Experiencing the ride of the rugby roller-coaster opens up psychological processes that protect the team from certain negative effects by filtering out the stresses and anxieties of performance.
A resilient team are aware of the stresses and take responsibility for their actions when faced with adversity. This adversity can either be used as excuse for under performance (e.g. “the other team are unbeaten this season, they will probably beat us”) or it can be seen as a challenge (e.g. “the other team are unbeaten this season, I look forward to testing my skills against the best”). It’s easy to see which one is more beneficial. With challenge comes responsibility, with responsibility comes effort and with effort comes development. A combined effort allows a team to adopt a mindset focused on growth and development from both adversity and success to guide future performance.
What are the characteristics of team resilience?
A team needs order. Without order, there would be chaos. A team with clear goals, a positive culture and structure is a high functioning team. This include optimising collective resources by having team members in their optimal positions allows for the effective use of each of the individuals resources. This also includes shared leadership within the team with a core set of individuals, usually 2 or 3, that are able to lift a team, listen, decide and lead by example.
Resilient teams share values and norms that allow the group to reflect on their purpose within the team. When facing adversity, these values guide the team on what is important and what are the agreed behavioural principles needed to overcome difficult times.
Communication is the glue that holds this structure together. Having frequent, positive, open and honest communication channels leads to a greater understanding and perspective on where the teams is and where they are looking to go. Communication on and off the field allows the group to grow and learn how to bring their resources together to deal with set backs and develop.
2. Growth mindset
A growth mindset allows the team to learn from both positive and negative performances. A resilient team focuses on personal development and what is important to the team. This means having effective responses to setbacks and adversity. For example, being fully prepared for a setback in team such as a player going to the sin bin through simulation training. This could also be done through sustaining effort throughout the game, digging in when faced with challenges and accepting setbacks and moving on.
When seeking out challenges, it’s difficult to plan for what might happen next. A team must therefore be able to adapt to what is in front of them to maximise performance. This might be difficult at first but when you have mindset that promotes learning, you can reflect on setbacks and see how they can be dealt with in the future. These reflection can then guide what you can do in training to cope with similar setbacks.
Experiencing this for myself, rugby doesn’t have much of a problem when it comes to forming emotional bonds, loyalty, trust and friendship in times of need. These are key to allow members of the group to lift others up when faced with adversity. This sense of togetherness and cohesion allows individuals to feel comfortable enough to seek out emotional, tangible and informational support when needed without feeling judged. This links back to the growth mindset. This will hopefully lead to a no blame culture where the team takes responsibility for their development and view setbacks as an opportunity to learn. This positive view will then allow the team to participate in selfless exchanges and frequent positive interactions.
4. Collective beliefs
Finally, if a group tells themselves they can’t overcome setbacks or perform when needed, then they won’t. It is therefore important for the team to gain confidence from past success, where they have grown and developed as a team in the face of adversity. This belief can also come from the knowledge that your team fight for each other and that all of your fellow players will commit and challenge themselves to make each tackle, pass and kick count. Furthermore, to make this belief stick, communication though social persuasion can allow individuals to elicit positive team behaviours, communication and thoughts to enthuse and gain momentum during performance.
What team will win the Rugby World Cup 2015?
Team resilience doesn’t appear overnight, it is built up over months or even years. I believe the team that will go on to win the world cup will demonstrate all four characteristics in both the run up to and throughout the tournament. One team comes to mind when looking at who has an overall collective belief in their ability, are cohesive, can thrive in challenging situation and have a clear vision of what they want to achieve. Any guesses who I think this is? Yes, the All Blacks. However, with England having an experienced squad with a relatively low average age they are on the way to building a mentally resilient team in time for the World Cup.
Article inspired by BPS DSEP workshop titled ‘Developing mental strength: Applying positive psychology in sport’. Based on Morgan, P. B., Fletcher, D., & Sarkar, M. (2013). Defining and characterising team resilience in elite sport. Psychology of Sport and Exercise, 14(4), 549-559.
Positive outcomes from sports participation cannot be assumed. This article explores the current evidence from Developmental Psychology on the right environment for positive youth development and discusses how the research recommendations from Developmental Psychology could be applied to sport sessions. Sport is often assigned mythological status in society. Politicians utilize sport to bring nations together […]
Positive outcomes from sports participation cannot be assumed. This article explores the current evidence from Developmental Psychology on the right environment for positive youth development and discusses how the research recommendations from Developmental Psychology could be applied to sport sessions.
Sport is often assigned mythological status in society. Politicians utilize sport to bring nations together and solve mass social problems. Educators try to re-engage ‘bad kids’ through sport and community programs use sport to mould young people into contributing members of society (Sandford, Armour, & Warmington, 2006). There is no doubt that sport can be used as a vehicle to promote life skills and psychological assets (Danish & Nellen, 1997; Harwood, 2008). However, a common belief exists within coaches, educators and policy makers that it is sports participation alone that instigates positive change in individuals. It’s true that sports participation has been associated with positive outcomes such as increased confidence, lower levels of risky behaviours, and higher levels of pro-social behaviour. However, decreased self-esteem, burnout and increased aggression have also been associated with sports participation. This apparent contradiction has led sport psychologists to contest that simply participating in sport has a positive impact on an individual.
Researchers are now investigating what factors instigate positive development in sport. The main focus of this research area is on youth development. This is because the life period of youth is viewed as a critical time for development (Holt, 2008). The current article will not cover the debate around conceptualizing positive youth development (see King et al., 2005) and defines positive youth development as the engagement of positive, functional behaviours (defined by culture) and the avoidance of behaviours that are harmful to the individual’s wellbeing and future (adapted from Roth, Brooks-Gunn, Murray, & Foster, 1998; Robinson, 2010). In this article I aim to look at how positive youth development can be promoted through the coaching environment you create.
Promoting Positive Youth Development
Positive youth development research in sport is largely still in its infancy. The current recommendations are taken from Developmental Psychology where there is a wealth of research and information on positive youth development (Lerner et al., 2006). The National Research Council Institute of Medicine (NRCIM, 2002) examined various youth projects and suggested eight features about the environment that should be present in order to instigate positive youth development. Listed below are those features and some suggestions on how to meet these criterions as a sports coach.
The majority of coach education programmes include physical safety elements in their training. However, coaches often do not consider the psychological safety of their sessions. Ensuring that peer interactions are respectful and your own behaviour is supportive (Côté, Strachan, & Fraser-Thomas, 2008) will go some way to ensuring the climate is psychologically safe.
This does not refer to session planning, but the rules and boundaries that need to be set for your athletes. Introducing a few simple rules for behaviour ensures that your athletes are aware of the boundaries and your expectations of them.
The relationship between the coach and athletes is key to creating positive developmental experiences. Hellison (2011) recommends that coaches should make a determined effort to interact positively with every one of their athletes during the session. Likewise, Sandford et al (2006) advocates small group sizes to encourage support.
Using team building and social activities outside of the sports sessions are good ways for coaches to encourage belonging and friendship within the group. Some individuals also advocate team training kit, wrist bands or hats to promote a physical sense of belonging.
This is obviously heavily linked with providing appropriate structure for behaviour. Additionally, coaches should aspire to be positive role models and encourage the development of moral behaviours such as, fair play, sportsmanship and self-regulation if they want their sessions to be positive developmental experiences.
Allowing your athletes to exercise autonomy and independent decision making promotes positive youth development. In sport psychology research, this is often referred to as autonomy-supportive coaching and can be promoted by providing choice, acknowledging athletes’ feeling and minimize the use of pressures (Black & Deci, 2000; see Amorose, 2007 for further insight).
Of course this criterion is easy to meet in regards to physical and sport skill building. However, the coaching environment can also be used to offer opportunities for life skills development. Coaches should also consider how their sessions could be adapted to promote skills like communication, teamwork and respect.
As a coach, there is a limited amount of integration you could or would want to do. One key element of youth sport is the behaviour of the parents (Holt & Sehn, 2008). Several governing bodies have attempted to tackle maladaptive parental behaviour through the introduction of parent codes. The most recent example would be the FA’s respect campaign (see www.thefa.com/respectguide). Introducing a requirement for parents to conduct themselves in line with a code would be a great way of ensuring that your hard work to promote positive youth development isn’t undone by maladaptive parental behaviour.
The current article has presented a number of features that coaches could use to promote positive youth development within their sports sessions. Sport-specific research on these features is limited. However, these recommendations are gaining increasing support within youth sport research (Fraser-Thomas, Côté, & Deakin, 2005; Holt, 2008).
The age old question, are leaders born or are they made? I’m sure many have opinions but the question of leadership is not as simple as personality traits but rather our typical responses in highly pressurized situations. We usually do not discuss leadership in the realms of golf, as it is an individual sport (i.e. […]
The age old question, are leaders born or are they made? I’m sure many have opinions but the question of leadership is not as simple as personality traits but rather our typical responses in highly pressurized situations.
We usually do not discuss leadership in the realms of golf, as it is an individual sport (i.e. nobody leading the team so to speak) but golf gets dialed into the leadership discussion during the Ryder Cup. This year we saw Tom Watson send all 3 rookies into the Friday morning matchups (first matches of the tournament) as opposed to Europe captain Paul McGinley sending just one rookie in. Paul McGinley stated “My ideas might backfire as well, but that’s what you do as captain. You make your decisions, set out your stall, see what happens and you adapt to what happens.” (http://www.pgatour.com/news/2014/09/25/tom-watson-rookies-morning-ryder-cup.html).
It is not a matter of being right when a leader makes a decision but if that so called decision does not work – how well do they adapt and make their next decision? There is no way a leader is right 100% of the time but our best or world-class leaders are able to adapt, most who struggle in leadership get caught up with emotions in the wrong decision which increases the internal and external pressure on themselves and inhibits proper responses. It is how we respond that makes us strong leaders as opposed to our personality’s psychological core.
Strong leaders hold themselves accountable to the process of success even after “bad” decisions. There is a strong determination and intensity under stress to determine the proper route to success. What holds most “amateur” (i.e. coaches) leaders is that their emotions on “bad” decisions seem to impale their thought process, they do not seek opportunities in negative situations, and they see the current situation as a threat. When pressure arises the majority of individuals are not willing to take another step, their emotions halts them, however strong leadership takes the steps nobody else bothers with because of an optimal mindset to handle adversity. Mediocrity requires us to stay put in our comfort zone, lacking a desire to comprehend our end goals.
In order for leadership to flourish, the self-worth of a leader is not dependent on right or wrong decisions but the process of adapting to those decisions and creating standards. Leadership is responding to our environment and situations with a clear understanding of the “next move.”
Leadership is an everyday commitment through good and bad.
The debate between nature and nurture in sports still exists. In my view the nurture part is more important than the nature part, because I believe a lot can be developed and learned. On top of that, why focus on an aspect you can do nothing about (nature) when you’re working in talent development! In […]
The debate between nature and nurture in sports still exists. In my view the nurture part is more important than the nature part, because I believe a lot can be developed and learned. On top of that, why focus on an aspect you can do nothing about (nature) when you’re working in talent development! In talent development one focus should reign: developing children! As discussed before Are top athletes born or made? & What is Talent: A growth Mindset 1/2) , a lot can be developed. Talent, expertise, skills they can all be acquired through hard work and neural plasticity. Neural plasticity is, if you recall, the ability of your brain to keep on learning throughout your whole life. Your brain builds new pathways when you learn new thoughts, behavior and feelings. The more you think, act or feel the stronger the new pathways in your brain will be, because of the myelin. Myelin is the substance that enhances learning by thickening pathways to be executed easier & better. Myelin thus enables you to learn throughout your whole life! Though there are nuances to this learning process, which I will discuss here, in part two of this article.
Critical learning periods
We can learn throughout our lives, how fantastic is that! But how come children learn a foreign language so quick and seemingly easy, while I as an adult am struggling? That’s a fair question! A very important aspect in development is what scientists call critical learning periods. In their infancy children have periods where their brains are more open to learning and improvement. In a critical learning period the brain of a child functions like a spunge and accelerates their ability to learn. In other words the best conditions for development within a child are met. If you’d look at a learning curve, it would be a steep one. After a critical learning period a child, or an adult, can still learn, but the learning curve will be much less steep. It will take longer to learn, for instance a second language. According to Sean Botherson (Family Science Specialist) and Karen DeBord (PhD Child Development) the critical learning period or a peak period in learning exists between roughly 3 and 10 years of age. In those years different developmental characteristics (physical, intellectual, motor) claim attention at different times. For example the prime time or critical learning period for language and talk is from birth until around 10 years of age, whilst physical and motor development has its ‘growth spurt’ until 12 years of age (Botherson, 2009).
The term critical signifies that in some domains it is truly critical to learn skills or pick up on things, you won’t be able to later in life. For example development of intelligence or becoming an elite ballerina, which has to do more with the physical development actually, are known to have critical periods of learning (Ackerman, 2013). After that period a certain skill (ballerina) or complex thinking (intelligence) has been developed and that will be the basis for the rest of one’s life.
Overcoming physical limitations
In disciplines where you need physical improvements it gets tougher the older you get. You might never even reach those required physical qualities. For example if you want to be a ballerina it’s necessary that you have learned certain movements before a very young age (around 9 or so), it’s almost impossible to catch up afterwards. Or is it? In at least football it’s not. Take ball operation speed in football. Great players always seem to keep possession. Keeping possession consists of handling the ball, moving your body and passing the ball along. There’s an asymptote of time that you can’t beat in doing this. It is physically impossible to control the ball and pass it in less than for example 1 second. Then how come some players (the world class players actually) seem to be able to always find a teammate whilst others don’t? That has to do with perception according to Geir Jordet (2005) – a Norwegian football psychologist & former professional football player and coach. He has been studying why the likes of Xavi, Iniesta, & Pirlo amongst others seem to be unbeatable in possession, even in little space whilst under pressure. He found that those world class players are actively perceiving the situation on the pitch. They’re exploring their position, scanning where teammates and opponents are so they know in advance what to do with the ball. Their focus is not solely on the circulating ball. They explore the pitch. That’s how you can deal with or overcome the physical limitation by already knowing what to do with the ball in possession. So next to the physical component there’s perception/insight component to ball operation speed. If used correctly one can use the perception/insight component to stand a better chance keeping possession in little space and time. And you know what’s funny? You can train this component! Have a look at Jordet’s article if you’re interested.
Motivation is one of the major influences on development. It is the fuel that drives one to practice, to be willing to learn, to improve, to cope with setbacks or challenges. It is really hard to make someone do and be something he doesn’t want to. Although allegedly former tennis player André Agassi is an example it can be done. It’s been said that Agassi ‘never had much fun playing tennis but his father made him’. Or could this be deliberate practice in optima forma? What holds true in talent development is that you shouldn’t always have a child have it his way. Focus on and act in accordance with the long-term goal, instead of the status quo (both socially and developmentally) granted by focusing on short-term satisfaction and social harmony. A beautiful example of what I mean are former Dutch football twins Frank and Ronald de Boer. At a very young age they made it clear they wanted to become professional football players. Their parents respected that and sometimes for the sake of their long-term development made them work hard for it whilst they wouldn’t want to. If they didn’t feel like practicing or learning in football, they’re father made sure they would. Having to be the bad guy in the eyes of his sons their father made sure the long-term goal was prevailing: to become a professional football player. This means that if a goal is clear and motivation has set in, you can be demanding of children. Children can’t oversee such a long term goal and the process needed herein, but you can! That’s why parents and coaches are so important!
How does motivation evolve? According to Ackerman (2013) likes, dislikes and motivation are developed at a very young age already. A few aspects are important in forming motivation in early childhood. One aspect is possibilities given by the environment. Imagine a child growing up with a football, a tennis ball and racket, a hill with trees, a swimming pool, numerous board games and 3 siblings as opposed to an only child with an xbox and a sole tree in the garden – alright I’ve painted it quite black and white, but you see what I mean. In what situation is a child given more possibilities to (broadly) develop himself and his likes, dislikes and motivation?
Feedback is another important aspect. A child gets feedback from executing the game: perceived success. If a child perceives to be learning and executing it in a good way, he will like it. The first step of motivation. Also the feedback given by others, especially parents, is important. Focus on the effort made instead of on abilities (e.g. ‘You did really good, you must have worked hard for this!’). In this way the child will credit success to hard work instead. He or she will learn that tasks, qualities and outcomes are malleable and not fixed by innate ability. A third very important aspect is parenting. A child can sense his parents and their feelings from an early age. If a parent is over concerned, and never lets the child explore, then what would you expect the child to become? How then can you possibly expect a child to have Zlatan like self-confidence, the courage to make mistakes like an enthusiastic startup and have the drive to aim for something new like Barack Obama? You can’t! You only can when you give a child the space and opportunities that are needed for such a development. Now then, what is a good opportunity?
Free play is a good opportunity and might even be the best one! Free play is good for both developing talent and especially interests/motivation. Jessica Lahey wrote a beautiful piece on this for The Atlantic (http://www.theatlantic.com/education/archive/2014/06/for-better-school-results-clear-the-schedule-and-let-kids-play/373144/). When you give children the freedom to do what they want, let them explore what is out there and have them try, fail and succeed, they are given autonomy. Therefore they will learn by trial and error, by making own choices and experience the consequences. There’s no better way to learn than by experiencing. A child will thus learn a great deal about decision making – I know that if I choose to do X, then Y will happen, do I want Y to happen? The child will also learn that new things or challenging situations aren’t necessarily scary. He will explore and experience new things to be safe or being able to deal with or overcome challenging situations. The trying, failing, trying again and succeeding process can also teach them a Growth Mindset. All consequences of free play are important for the child’s openness to others, to the unknown, to change, and to new situations. It can even influence the way the child will deal with such situations in the long run, as an adult. Last but not least children will learn what they like and dislike, they will ignite or enhance their motivation for one or more activities because they were free to do and to be. Remember that their motivation is key to their development!
To conclude this large article divided in two, I would like to join the group of scientists who express doubts about having a nature versus nurture debate in talent development and athletic expertise. One of such scientists is Scott Barry Kaufman who wrote a great article about the same subject here:
I reckon this nature vs nurture debate is faux and I’ve been wrong looking at it like this before. It’s not either nature or nurture, it takes both! They’re interwoven in talent development. You need nature, it’s necessary to meet the conditions needed to perform in a certain discipline (e.g. two legs, two arms, normal functioning brain in football). Some physical characteristics are claimed to be fixed; you either have it or not so much. Though the question remains: were they inborn or developed during a critical learning period? Of course children have different levels of ability when doing things for the first time, influenced by both nature and nurture foundations. But given the right challenges that meet their qualities, children can improve their (initial) levels of ability. Therefore I believe people working in talent development programs should foremost be interested in the nurture part of the collaboration between nature and nurture in talent development. It’s all about developing children, all of them! Free play, playing different games/sports, exploring, fantasy play, trial and error are ways to enhance the learning, motivation and development of our children. Feel free to use them! Last but not least: given the fact that critical learning periods are acknowledged by researchers, it can only mean one thing: you can develop almost everything!