Education

Article

Sports can be such a relentless, ever-changing, fast-paced, unpredictable environment which can have a huge impact on our performance in a successful or unsuccessful way. How much of this can we control or influence? What factors can’t we control? How much control should we strive for? Should we let things be as they are? Firstly […]

Sports can be such a relentless, ever-changing, fast-paced, unpredictable environment which can have a huge impact on our performance in a successful or unsuccessful way.

How much of this can we control or influence? What factors can’t we control? How much control should we strive for? Should we let things be as they are?

Firstly let’s look at the uncontrollable variables, this is where the athlete has no control over or cannot influence the outcome in their favour.  Such variables are, the weather condition, opposition team, the venue, fans, how much time left in the game or to some extent the referee or umpire. The list of things not in our control are endless.

Let’s focus on what we can control, which is ‘US’ more specially our Attention and our Focus.  Attentional control relates to how an athlete can focus awareness onto the environmental stimuli that are most relevant during the task. The process of attending selectively to the most important cues involve concentration.

Nideffer’s Attentional model is a great start to build athlete awareness and understanding. Nideffer’s approach to attention, can be broken down into two dimensions.

Firstly, width. Here there are two options, broad or narrow. Broad takes in a great deal of information from the environment. Narrow is the opposite, one or two stimuli we focus and select. This dimension shows the change in the amount of information to be processed.

Secondly, direction, here is where the attention is focussed, inwards and onto the psychological state or outwards onto the environment.

These dimensions each occur on overlapping continuums, creating four “quadrants” of attentional focus.

The important piece about this model, you might be thinking what is best? Where do I need to be? At any given point in time there might be places for all of them. So instead of thinking one is right and one is wrong. It’s becoming self-aware, where do I need to be in this moment. What’s value for me right now, can I select and move through the different quadrants I need to be when I need to be there.  So coming back to when we say control the controllable, we can control where we are and recognise, right now I might be broad-external but I need to switch to internal-narrow. Then I can take the time, come back to my breath and be where I need to be. Attention and concentration in sport must be adjustable, like a zoom lens on a camera.

Maintaining concentration is critical to performing your best, yet figuring out what to focus on and maintaining the correct attentional focus during performance is not easy. This is where Nideffer’s model can come in handy.

Below are additional exercises that may be helpful in improving one’s ability to concentrate during competition.

  • Becoming self-aware of the controllable’s vs. uncontrollable’s – make two lists. One list should be the controllable’s, which are those factors athletes can do something about. The other list should be the uncontrollable’s, which are the elements of performance athletes cannot do anything about.
  • Create a “What if” plan, this can help prepare you for any obstacles or challenges you may encounter in the ever-changing, fast-paced, unpredictable environment. Address the things you really fear in the game. Just list them all. Then address them one by one, asking yourself, is it controllable or not and if it happens I will….
  • Concentration cues, highlight and develop a list of correct cues athletes should be focussing on when on and off the ball. Use trigger words or short phrases to reinforce specific concentration cues for a task or skill i.e “drop back” or “bend from your hips”.
  • Incorporate simulation pressure games or drills to train positive responses to adversity (e.g. Use time pressure, 1-0 down or bad officiating decisions etc.).

Remember athletes who can focus on the task at hand and avoid distractions enjoys the greatest possibility of success. So invest your time and energy into things you can control such as attention. You are never going to be in complete control of everything so why not accept the unpredictability and enjoy what you can control.

Article

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

(Danish et al, 1993)

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

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

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

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

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

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

(McKnight et al, 2009).

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

Become aware of your transferable skills

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

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

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

Consider your areas of interest

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

Prepare yourself

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

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

Network

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

Utilise Support 

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

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

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

Mental Health and the Whole Athlete  The mental health epidemic among adolescents has been causing us to really become aware of how to prevent these issues for the future generations. NYS having mandated mental health education and social emotional education among schools within the past year, brings us to a better place if handled effectively. […]

Mental Health and the Whole Athlete 

The mental health epidemic among adolescents has been causing us to really become aware of how to prevent these issues for the future generations. NYS having mandated mental health education and social emotional education among schools within the past year, brings us to a better place if handled effectively. Therefore, providing a facility that focuses on the whole child in conjunction with their athletic motives for success is imperative.

To reach total wellness for both adults and adolescents, we need to target fitness, the mind, and their social emotional behaviors. This delivers a necessary mind-body connection leading to self-awareness of the individual. Once an individual can achieve self-awareness, accurate self-perceptions and self-confidence is gained leading to responsible decision making in all aspects of their lives.

Adolescents often act on impulsivity due to the brain not being fully formed. Therefore, the mind-body connection is often disconnected and leads to them lacking the self-awareness skills to identify their feelings. They are in need of that reconnection and in order to do that they have to become a work in progress athletically, in their mind, and socially. Within our facility, we draw the adolescents in based on their desire to become better in their sport, but even that is not possible without fully developing the whole child. Yes, they may experience athletic progress toward their goals, but to make it consistent and above all of the rest, it is completely necessary for them to find that mind-body connection. With this connection, their ability to achieve a growth mindset, self-motivation, and self-confidence to overcome any obstacles that come their way during their athletic journey can now be achieved.

Meet Gabby. A 14-year old softball player and consistent member of my athletic performance facility. She came in as a strong softball player looking to achieve strength and perform better in her sport. However, she has had underlying mental health issues that have been creeping in on her. She was unsure of what she had been experiencing, but having had the exposure to the relationship between fitness and mental health, allowed her to continue her athletic journey and achieve. “I never really knew how serious you were about how working out and being active helps your mental health until I stopped.” Gabby, like most teenagers was learning to manage her time with school, sports, and training. She took a break from training for about a month and unfortunately, experienced the disconnection between her mind and body. As she has been predisposed to mental health issues with a family history of them, she had found that they were creeping in. “I wanted to thank you because when I look at it as a whole you really are the reason I started to step back and say to myself “are you okay” and I wasn’t.” Due to her ability to be self-aware and her exposure to the mind-body connection, she took the necessary steps to help herself and get her through the hard time eventually leading her way out of that athletic training break. Gabby was recently diagnosed with adjustment disorder and anxiety and is now working on identifying those feelings and developing additional coping skills. She realizes that the mind-body connection is a necessary part of her lifestyle and overall wellness. She has been back to training and working on her mind with additional support for now. Although, one day she may not need that service, she recognizes how it can assist now. She also recognizes how her training and consistent work on her mind-body connection at our facility is a lifestyle that she is unwilling to break from. This lifestyle not only has helped her achieve her athletic goals as a freshman Varsity athlete, but is now allowing her to achieve overall success where no obstacle can stand in her way.

Article

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Resilience in Objective Literature

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

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

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

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

Resilience Practices through Subjective Observation

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

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

Conclusion

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

Article

In the summer of 2017, I had the opportunity to volunteer with a football academy in Ghana as a mental skills trainer. Many of the athletes I worked with in Ghana had minimal knowledge on the principles of sport psychology. I was given full autonomy with respect to the strategies used when implementing interventions for the youth […]

In the summer of 2017, I had the opportunity to volunteer with a football academy in Ghana as a mental skills trainer. Many of the athletes I worked with in Ghana had minimal knowledge on the principles of sport psychology. I was given full autonomy with respect to the strategies used when implementing interventions for the youth soccer players. This led to weeks of preparation prior to my trip and intensive research on the most effective teaching method in order to maximize my efforts with the youth. The purpose of my trip to Ghana, as a student of sport psychology, was to teach the principles of the subject to athletes who may have never been previously exposed to the field. However, the result was learning more from the athletes than I could have imagined, establishing lifetime friendships with these players, and most importantly, solidifying my passion in the field of sport psychology. Additionally, this internship fostered a fascination in cultural sport psychology.

Cultural sport psychology is a developing research category that investigates marginalized topics and cultural identities, while challenging the normative sport psychology assumptions. Cultural issues have emerged as a significant aspect of the sport psychology field. The ultimate goal of cultural sport psychology is to develop the field to become more socially just, inclusive, and ethical. This goal will result in the ongoing recognition and support of diversity and difference in terms of identities and practices. Furthermore, cultural sport psychology attempts to develop life skills that have the potential to change an athlete’s life. A developing country is defined as being in a state of growth in the direction of standard situations such as economic, political, administrative, and living standard. Currently, there is lack of sport psychology research regarding emerging countries, as most academic discourse favors specific established countries.

Culture can be defined as the customary beliefs, material traits, and social forms of a particular group. Furthermore, it includes common features of everyday existence shared by people in a place or time. There are numerous cultural characteristics to consider while interacting with individuals, such as norms, values, beliefs, behaviors, enculturation and acculturation, collectivism and individualism, goal-directed behavior, space, time, and gender.

Basic Cultural Awareness Considerations for Sport Psychology 

  • Sport psychologists need to take into account their athletes’ culture and how it may differ from their own.
  • A spectrum exists in terms of athletes retaining their cultural background or assimilating into mainstream cultural norms, behaviors, and beliefs.
  • Sport psychologists have to consider with-in culture and between-culture nuances when working with athletes from different cultures.
  • Time and space vary depending on the culture, therefore, effective sport psychologists will integrate their exchanges accordingly.
  • Gender roles differ based on the culture, can be clearly defined or flexible.
  • One can develop cultural awareness by being exposed to various cultures and working with athletes from different backgrounds.

Why Cultural Sport Psychology is Necessary

  • Research indicates that culture is an important aspect in sport.
  • Research, theories, and interventions once thought to be universal require increased knowledge and may need to be adjusted.
  • It presents an opportunity to increase examination of sport psychology concepts that are not typically observed.
  • It increases cultural awareness and fosters skills that are necessary to increase multicultural competence.

 

Article

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

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

Decision Making

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

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

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

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

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

Self-Efficacy

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Self-Efficacy and Decision Making

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

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

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

Applied Implications

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

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

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

Conclusion

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

Article

Over the years, there has been many athletes that have been tipped to be the next big star, but fail to reach their full potential. One example is Freddy Adu, who in 2004, at the age of just 14, became the youngest athlete in America to sign a professional contract playing football for D.C United […]

Over the years, there has been many athletes that have been tipped to be the next big star, but fail to reach their full potential. One example is Freddy Adu, who in 2004, at the age of just 14, became the youngest athlete in America to sign a professional contract playing football for D.C United in the Major League Soccer (MLS). He was the youngest player to appear and score in the MLS and was referred to ‘as the next Pele’. Many people believed he was going to become one of football’s top players.

Fast forward 13 years. Did Freddy Adu become one of football’s top players? Sadly not. Since his big money move to Benfica in 2007, Adu has played for 10 different professional clubs in 10 years and now at the age of just 28, he is currently a ‘free agent’ and doesn’t play for any club.

So why didn’t Freddy Adu reach the levels everybody thought he would and why do so many other athletes suffer the same fate? One answer maybe some athletes don’t have the right mindset required to fulfil their potential and succeed at the elite level. If that is the case, what type of mindset does an athlete need to be successful?

According to psychologist Carol Dweck, there are two types of mindsets people possess; fixed and growth mindset. Everyone will hold both mindsets, but will often tend to favour one mindset more than the other.

Individuals with a fixed mindset have the belief that traits such as intelligence, ability and athleticism are fixed, and no matter what you do or try, these traits cannot be changed (Dweck, 2006, 2009). As a result, these individuals tend not to value effort and are more focused upon looking the best. Often, people with a fixed mindset won’t fulfil their full potential due to not investing the required levels of effort to succeed. Research has repeatedly identified that a fixed mindset commonly leads the tendency to give up easily when faced with setbacks, due to the fear of failure and looking stupid (Dweck, 2006, 2009). In their eyes, if you can’t succeed at something, there is no point in persisting because you simply don’t have the intelligence to be successful.  Often this is reason many young athletes who are described as having lots of potential, fail to transition to the top level.

People who favour a growth mindset will perceive that success and achievement is a long journey that involves hard-work, dedication and persistence. Their belief is that traits such as talent and intelligence can be developed and improved over time and if they work hard enough they will achieve their full potential. Research has shown that developing a growth mindset can lead to positive results such as developing higher levels of resilience in the face of difficulties (Yeager & Dweck, 2012; Hinton & Hendrick, 2015), persisting for longer periods (Mueller & Dweck, 1998) and achieving higher results (Dweck, 2008).

When analysing the processes of the two mindset types, it is clear to see how a fixed mindset could have been attributed to Freddy Adu’s career failure to reach the heights people expected him to. His early career success was regularly linked to his natural ability and the similarities to the football icon Pele. However, growth mindset behaviours such as hard-work, commitment and persistence were rarely mentioned. Potentially, the constant praise on his ability could have led Freddy Adu to develop a fixed mindset and believe his success was predominately down to his natural ability. This follows previous research carried out by Mueller and Dweck (1998), who identified that when students were praised on their intelligence/ability rather than their hard-work, their motivation and performance were diminished.

With research demonstrating a growth-mindset approach to be a predictor of long-term success. The key question is, how can athletes effectively learn to develop the processes of a growth mindset and increase their chance of reaching their full potential? The first step is to be aware that the journey to long-term success won’t result from only talent and ability. If you asked any elite athlete, was becoming successful easy? They would say no and state behaviours such as high levels of effort, persistence and always striving to learn, are the vital ingredients to achieving success. The quotes below from Michael Phelps (Most decorated Olympian) and Cristiano Ronaldo (4x world footballer of the year) encapsulate the importance of always aspiring to learn and to develop.

Michael Phelps: ‘There will be obstacles, there will be doubters, there will be mistakes. But with hard work, there are no limits’.

Cristiano Ronaldo: ‘I feel an endless need to learn, to improve, to evolve, not only to please the coach and the fans, but also feel satisfied with myself’.

The second step to is to set no limits. Setting limits on what you can achieve, will limit what you can achieve. Always consider there is something new to learn and every experience you encounter, you will be able to use to help you develop.

A key ingredient to developing a growth mindset is the ability to embrace setbacks/failure and learn from those experiences, what you need to do to improve. Most importantly, use that failure to fuel your motivation to succeed and fulfil your full potential. The top athletes in the world can successfully perform in all environments; both normal and challenging because they learnt from their past mistakes and failure.

Finally, identify your sources of inspiration that pushes you to develop and succeed. Your source of inspiration could be the ambition to participate an international competition, become a professional athlete in your chosen sport, be inspired by the success of another athlete or simply have the desire to improve because you enjoy performing.

Embracing a growth mindset, could be the answer to you reaching your full potential.

Article

Our youth has many dreams and aspirations. Lots of young boys dream of scoring the winning goal in the Champions League final or win the World Cup with their country. Their dream: being a professional football player. In football only a few children become a professional football player. So talent recognition, especially in the youth […]

Our youth has many dreams and aspirations. Lots of young boys dream of scoring the winning goal in the Champions League final or win the World Cup with their country. Their dream: being a professional football player. In football only a few children become a professional football player. So talent recognition, especially in the youth departments, is a very important but delicate aspect. In generating professional football players, does it make sense to identify and select children for our academies at a very young age? Nowadays most professional football clubs start the area of talent recognition, called “scouting”, at children aged 7 years old. Smart play to be there first or ridiculous?

Why do children play sports?

Let’s start off with determining the reasons why young children play sports, first. In a report by The New York Times the results showed that most children (girls: 98%, boys: 95%) play sports for the fun of it (1).

Children who think their parents value winning, have higher scores on a checklist for burnout (2). Together with my experiences in youth football children do want to win, obviously. What they want even more is to play and to have fun on the pitch. Can we relate to that? Whether we can or not, the results are clear: children play sports mainly for the fun of it. Within these children lots of them want to become a professional football player (or athlete) as well. Children who want to become a professional athlete have a long way to follow. To keep following this path (and have success) it’s essential to have developed a love for the sport (3). Having fun in playing is very important in developing such a love. If you ever get the chance to talk with (ex) professional football players or athletes ask them what the most important thing is to become a professional player! In my experience, the likes of Van Nistelrooy and Koevermans answered like the children in the New York Times report.

How many children become a professional football player?

Children want to play and have fun and most children would like to become a professional football player. What are the odds of becoming one? The NCAA in the United States have done research on the chances of becoming a professional athlete. The NCAA is the world’s largest organization in the field of college and university sports tournaments. They organize tournaments in baseball, basketball, ice hockey, American football, soccer (here after: football). Often such a tournament is the last step before a career in the MLB, NBA, NHL, NFL or MLS. In the United States children get selected for college teams and are regarded as the best among their peers. So if you’re participating on such a tournament, what odds do you have to make the step into a professional career? Not very good! In football, the chance of becoming a professional football player is no more than 1.4%. The NCAA concluded: “Professional opportunities are extremely limited and the likelihood of a high school or even college athlete becoming a professional athlete is very low” (4).

Alright, that’s the United States. Football is not one of the most popular sports over there. So what about children in a football minded country like the Netherlands? In the Netherlands 38 professional football clubs exist. Let’s say they have an average squad size of 16 players (on contract). That means (38×16) 608 spots for our children to become a professional football player. There’s over 500.000 registered children distributed in 7 age groups playing football (5). When focusing on only one age group, the U11’s, there’s 93,310 children playing football. If they’d all want to be a professional football player at age 18, and as by a miracle all the Dutch professional football clubs in the Netherlands need to fill their complete squad at that very moment with Dutch players aged 18, then these U11 children have a (608/93310) .006% chance of becoming a professional football player. As said there’s 38 professional Dutch football clubs, what about the chances if one makes it to play in such an academy? In 2011 Elsevier (Dutch magazine) did research on this topic, their results: 4.5% of the children in a professional Dutch youth academy will reach professional football. 4.5%!

What about chances if you’re an English football player? Researchers in England have studied chances of English children in 2012. They’ve collected data on players in the U16-U18 teams from professional English football academies and found that, sit tight, of those selected children in the professional youth academy from U16-U18 99% did not become a professional football player! So only 1% of the players, playing within a professional youth academy in a U16-U18 team, progresses towards professional football. 1% makes it! (6). Conclusively the odds of becoming a professional football player are low, very low.

Actual situation

Alright, children play sports mainly for the fun of it. And lots of these children want to become a professional football player (or athlete), however only a few will make it through the academies. Therefore it seems legitimate to search for and ‘recognize’ those few players. Besides, for various reasons (one being money), we can not give every child a spot in a professional youth academy, so we have to select children. How do we do that? There’s a football match going on and on the sideline men, called scouts, appointed by professional football clubs are scanning the football pitches for young talented players. So these scouts write down the names of the boys who are talented – at least in their eyes. A couple of weeks later these children receive an invitation to have some training sessions with the club the scout was working for. Thus at a very young age children get ‘separated’ and ‘divided’ in two groups: one group labeled talented and another group labeled not talented. As a consequence those deemed talented get the chance to develop themselves within a professional football club – surrounded with people whose job it is to develop the children. The young football players labeled as not having (enough) talent are most of the time rendered to parents who try their best. Some psychologists will call this phenomenon: self-fulfilling prophecy. After all the young children in who we believe are awarded with better opportunities, have a greater chance to develop and consequently our beliefs at the beginning are (made) right. But were we truly right in the beginning? Did we select the really talented players? Based upon numbers of boys being released and replaced in academies (11) maybe we were and did not. How do you spot talent?

What is the definition of talent?

When looking at the odds of becoming a professional football player, it seems to make sense to have a desire to recognize those players who have the talent to make it as a professional football player nearly a decade later. After all, you want those few players (4.5% of all children) that will later make it at your club now, in your academy, of course. Before zooming in on what to look for, let’s rule out one possible explanation on why that few children progress through the academies to make it as a pro. Cause it could be that the wrong children are playing football, and therefore not even 5% will progress. Maybe the children that have talent to play football are not playing football? Let’s bring some more stats in. In 2015 93,310 children aged 10 & 11 were registered with the KNVB, the Dutch FA, as football player. In 2015 there were 202,028 children aged 10 & 11 in the Netherlands (7). This means that almost half of Dutch children (boys) aged 10 & 11 were playing football, 46.18% to be precise. More or less the same percentage is found with the U9, U13, & U15 age groups up until the U17 age group. At the U17’s, the percentage of boys playing football falls to 35.91% (still one third!) and descends even more at U19 (27% – still 1 in 4!). Therefore the explanation that the wrong children are playing football in the Netherlands seems to be rubbish. Nearly half of Dutch boys play football from 8 until 15 years of age. If a Dutch boy is not at home, try the local football club!

Consequently the pond of children to fish from in the Netherlands is good. So when that few children, 4.5%, breakthrough as a professional football player it makes sense to select the most talented children for one’s academy. Then what is the talent scout at the sideline looking for on the pitch? The best player! That makes sense on multiple levels. For one, taking into account what level of skill/play a football club needs at their first team level, the children who are the furthest in their development (the best) are closest to that level. On another level selecting the best player makes sense because he can win matches for your club. In the end football is a game with the goal to win. On a last level, you can’t expect much more from a scout who’s attending one match. On that very moment, the scout can’t detect more than the level of skill of the various boys. Nobody can. Then why write a piece on talent recognition? Because, in my eyes, the system is completely wrong! Recognizing and rearing talent is more than selecting the best player. Talent recognition is hard, very paradoxical and (almost) undoable from the sideline.

If the way to recognize talent is identifying the best player at the moment you’re watching, there wouldn’t be so much to it. Then scouting would not be interesting, it would be very boring and everyone could sign up for that job. Most people can select one to three players who have the most influence on the match result. Some of these players may very well be truly talented and are the right picks, but from research we know that being the best football player at a youth age is not a guarantee at all for being the best in a couple of years (8), when you should be the best as an adult football player. If one believes that the best players should be selected, then this person holds the belief that development is a linear process. The best will always be the best. But this is, we know through lots of research, not true. Development is unclear and goes with highs and lows.

What about the reason to recognize the best player on the pitch because this player is closest to the level a club aspires to play with their first squad? In answering this question we’ll take another perspective in which developing a professional football player is a process with three stages: input -> development -> output. The easiest part to define is output. The output is the level of play of the first squad of a football club. The first team has to win matches (in my opinion the only squad in a club that should) and therefore it needs players with a certain (minimum) level of qualities. The output is the skill level you need in order to be part of the team as an adult football player at a specific football club. So for example, the output level for Manchester City is higher than for Leyton Orient.

The logical step to see which players are close or closest to that level is to compare their actual level of play, their development, to the desired output (level of play needed als an adult). An analogy: two men are running 10 miles. Hence, the finish line is at 10 miles, that’s the output level. Albert who is at 9 miles is closer to the finish line, than Richard at 6.5 miles. Based upon this information we can say that Albert is further in his development on completing the 10 miles than Richard. Albert is better at running 10 miles than Richard. Right? This is what happens a lot at football clubs; comparing output level to actual development of players and comparing development of players with each other. Reasoning like this, it makes total sense to select those players who are the furthest in their development, who are the best players on the pitch. Next to the paradox that being the best is no guarantee for later succes (8) another arises when thinking a step further: how did that child become this good? How come that Albert has already run 9 miles, whilst Richard is at 6.5 miles? Did they start at the same time? Or has Albert been running for 1 hour already whilst Richard has just been out there for 30 minutes? In football we have not been able to steer in another direction, yet. Exhibit: Relative Age Effect. In the Netherlands most children in professional youth academies are born in the first half of the year (January to June). Wow, do children born in those months have more talent than their peers born in July to December? Of course not! Van Persie (August 6th), Lewandowski (August 21st), Zlatan (October 3rd), Wijnaldum (November 11th), & Mbappé (December 20th) were all born in the second half of the year. Perhaps this overrepresentation is the result of birth differences per month in the Netherlands? No! Birth rates per month fluctuate around 14,000 live born children per month – at least in 2016 and 2017 (9). Then how come children born in the first six months (January through June) are overrepresented in our professional youth academies? Because they’ve had more time (and opportunities) to develop themselves than their peers born in the second half of the year (July through December)! In the Netherlands children are playing in a league based upon their year of birth. The date of issue is January 1st. So a child born on January 1st 2006 plays within the same league as a child born on December 31st 2006. The January born child is fortunate because he, quite literally, has had 1 year more to develop himself than the child born on December 31st 2006. Hard to imagine? Try this. Which child do you think is furthest in his development on January 1st 2007? This doesn’t mean that children born in January can’t be talented and we should be focussing on children born on December. Kroos (4), Robben (21) & Suarez (24) were all born in January. It tells us that we shouldn’t compare children with each other!

So the actual level of play of a child tells us little about the chances of becoming pro, it has no or little predictive value. Using mathematics: the development we see at time X only tells us how good one is at moment X. It doesn’t tell us how one became that good at moment X. What led to X? It won’t tell us either how good this player will be at X+5 years or X+10 years. That’s the challenging part. So what are the factors that determine how someone developed himself? What are the factors that might foretell us a little bit about the chances of a child becoming a professional football player, achieving his dream?

In answering this, we need to have a look at the input phase. To me the most interesting part! The input phase is the catalyst of development. One factor influencing development is ‘starters luck’. It could be that the best player on the pitch, the one furthest in his development, is the best player because he has ‘starters luck’. Whenever we do something for the first time, there’s great variety in quality of performance. Some are very good right away, whereas others have trouble and struggle. The ‘starters luck’ could have something to do with our genes. Frankly, I am not aware of studies that link genes to better sport performances or abilities, but genes do play a role in building our character, behavior and performances. Although we know little about genes and we can’t influence them it is part of the input phase, the catalyst of development.

Another factor of the input phase has to do with experiences, with attention. If you give a plant attention (water) it will grow, if you don’t, it won’t. The same with kids. If one kid only practices playing the piano and another kid only practices playing the violin, which kid will be better at playing the piano? So the player who is the best on the pitch may be the kid that has had the most (learning) experiences so far. For example he has been playing football for 3 years already, whilst the others have only been playing for 2 years. This is in accordance with the iceberg illusion. We can only perceive what we see, but we aren’t necessarily aware of what made what we see possible. Messi allegedly said something like this about his qualities: “I start early, and I stay late, day after day, year after year. It took me 17 years and 114 days to become an overnight succes.”

The input phase tells us more about how good someone became, and is also part of the formula how much better one can become. A study in 2015 by Noble et al. made this very clear. They compared brains of children from different backgrounds: either grown up in a rich family or grown up in a poor family. At age 11 the children reared in a poor family had a brain which was 5% smaller than that of their peers growing up in a rich family. The ‘funny’ fact here is that their brains were also compared when they were 5 years old. Back then no differences between their brains existed! The differences emerged because of the more opportunities the rich children have had. This video (10) connects to this point.

The experiences also are an explanation why in the Netherlands most players who become a professional football player have been playing in a professional Dutch academy. Only a few, the exceptions, progressed as a pro coming from an amateur football club. The quality of training sessions, the opportunities to learn at a professional youth academy are better because the children are surrounded with people who’s (fulltime) job it is to make the children better as a football player. Whereas at amateur clubs, children often don’t get training sessions given by people who’s (fulltime) job it is to make these children better football players. These children are lucky if the good meaning parent – oft their coach – is on time for the training session after a day of hard work! Experiences are vital to development!

The last factor of the input phase is at least as important as the prior two: the ability to learn. All the skills regarding learning you can think of are part of this learning ability, for example self-reflection or intrinsic motivation. The better able a child is to process new information and learn from this, the greater the chances that he will become a better football player in the future. And even if the child is very able in learning and is given the best (learning) opportunities, it still is a very long and narrow way to become a professional football player! Having a fantastic learning ability and the best (learning) experiences are no guarantee to become a professional football player. It can only raise the odds for a child to progress through the academy, become a pro and achieve the dream. Therefore being a talent scout is a very unthankful job; it almost can’t be done!

Some realizations to conclude: 1. Children play sports mostly to have fun (1). 2. Although lots of children want to, only a handful of children will become a professional football player (4, 6). 3. We can’t foresee which children will become a professional football player – being the best in the youth is no guarantee whatsoever (8). 4. The better able a child is to learn, the greater his chances to become a better football player. Scouting thus is a very difficult job and hardly impossible. With these realizations in mind there’s plenty of ground to improve within our talent recognition and development programs in both professional and amateur level football clubs, I reckon. These realizations tell us we can’t predict the future, so let’s don’t! Let’s not write a group of (very) young children off as not talented and making this assumption right by giving them lesser opportunities to develop themselves. Why don’t we enlarge the group of children that get training sessions with people who’s (fulltime) job it is to develop children? Iceland could be an example (12)!Let’s not define talent as being the best compared to peers, but focus on the ability to learn – the catalyst of development!

Article

What is resilience? Resilience is your ability to adapt to and overcome negative emotional responses in a given situation. Or is it? A general academic/peer-reviewed search of resilience results in hundreds of thousands of articles. Results are even higher among non-peer-reviewed articles. So which one has the true definition of resilience? The answer varies. In […]

What is resilience? Resilience is your ability to adapt to and overcome negative emotional responses in a given situation. Or is it? A general academic/peer-reviewed search of resilience results in hundreds of thousands of articles. Results are even higher among non-peer-reviewed articles. So which one has the true definition of resilience? The answer varies.

In recent years, resilience has received a lot of attention among athletes and coaches trying to gain a competitive edge. Unfortunately, due to the saturated interest of both academic and non-academic sources, a common definition of resilience has not yet been established. Some individuals have based the definition of resilience on personal experience, while others have based it on varied empirical evidence. As a result, athletes may not be getting the information they need that will enable them to excel. For the purpose of this review, resilience will be broken up into five categories: 1) resilience in empirical based approaches, 2) an example of performance outcomes based on an empirical approach 3) resilience in non-empirical based approaches, 4) an example of performance outcomes based on a non-empirical approach, and 5) things to consider when looking at general research articles. By the end of this article, one should be about to research and define resilience based on what is applicable to them and supported by empirical based/peer-reviewed research.

Resilience in Empirical Based Approaches

Empirical means the way in which one can measure an outcome that has both validity and reliability. Validity, in simplistic terms, refers to whether or not researchers are measuring what they intend to measure. Reliability is also known as consistency over time (e.g., your height/weight throughout the day). Both are equally important in research and a researcher’s ability to measure an outcome determines whether or not something may be effective or ineffective.

Generally speaking, empirical research defines resilience as one’s ability to overcome cognitive obstacles (e.g., stress, negative self-talk) and maintain composure during high stress activities. Multiple factors have been identified and linked to outcome performance related to resilience. These include, but are not limited to: determination, confidence, spirituality, and one’s ability to adapt (Gonzalez, Moore, Newton, & Galli, 2016). In order to assess these components and their impact on performance, researches have been seeking new and innovative ways of measurement. One of the more well-known measures of assessment is the Connor-Davidson Resilience Scale (CD-RISC), a multi-faceted scale which utilizes self-report measures related to performance. While self-report scales have limitations for clinical application, they provide valuable information regarding how the individual perceives performance influences. That is to say, coaches can take these assessments and compare them to other athletes in order to develop a performance plan that works for the team.

An alternative measure of resiliency is the Characteristics of Resilience in Sports Teams (CREST). CREST has shown to have increased reliability between players and between teams (Decroos et al., 2017). In other words, CREST is a valuable tool for those who wish to compare the results of one team vs. another. Similar to CD-RISC, CREST assesses multiple facets of resilience. However, unlike CD-RISC, CREST utilizes team measures (e.g., ‘the team shared a common goal’). These types of measures enable researchers to not only look at the individual and his/her success, but it enables researchers to look at the team as a whole and make predictions of success based on measurable values. These values can then be utilized to help foster further team development and future performance.

The CREST and CD-RISC are just two are a wide variety of assessments currently being used by professionals to predict performance. These assessments can help provide a valuable foundation from which to build a successful team environment for success.

Performance Outcomes Utilizing an Empirical Approach

Decroos et al. (2017) assessed 1,225 athletes across 4 separate studies and revealed that CREST helps to identify performance outcomes on numerous measurable scales. Of the scales, the most significant (p < .01) revealed that not only is a team’s ability to display resilient characteristics important, but individual acknowledgement of vulnerability may actually improve long term performance and adaptation. Based on this type of evidence, the CREST assessment may be a great way to improve team communication, synchrony and performance.

Resilience in Non-empirical Based Approaches

Non-empirical approaches, while valuable on a ‘personal belief’ or ‘common sense’ level, are immeasurable. Therefore, non-empirical sources (e.g., non-cited media reports, non-peer reviewed articles, blogs) should be viewed with caution.

Currently, there are hundreds of thousands of non-empirical ‘research’ articles related to resilience. This over-saturation of ‘research’ has the potential to not only present non-factual information, it also runs the risk of harming others. Let’s look at an example:

Title: “Improve your performance with these 3 simple tricks”

First and foremost, with a title like this, one should be hesitant. In research, there is no definitive way of saying one thing will produce another. The phrase ‘correlation does not equal causation’ is a rule that researchers know very well and work hard to avoid when writing up their study results.

Content: Researchers from highly recognized US institutions have found that if you don’t eat meat, you have a significantly longer lifespan (no source)!

Second, this statement is definitive in the sense that is states, if you do x…the result is y. Remember, correlation does not equal causation. Furthermore, there is no source from which to check this statement. What if there is a source? If a source is provided, you can use any common search engine to attempt to find it. More common than not, results from studies will have a results and limitations section from which to draw conclusions from. This is where one can see the difference between: 1) ‘this study helps show that meat may or may not be a factor in longevity, but other factors such as lifestyle, career, and family support should be considered moving forward’, and 2) ‘eating meat decreases your life span’.

Another common non-empirical way of presenting information is through general literature reviews. While literature reviews are a great way of looking at the literature related to a specific topic, more common than not, they fail to break down empirical research in their entirety. This has the potential to have individuals make definitive and non-evidence based statements centered on personal belief rather than measurable statistics.

Performance Outcomes Based on Non-empirical Approach (Consequences)

A good example of some of the fallout related to a non-empirical/non-peer reviewed research method was the creation of the US Army Comprehensive Soldier Fitness (CSF) program in 2009. In 2012, psychologists revealed that the US Army was utilizing a resiliency program which was developed on proven principles from other fields (e.g., academic, sports, business) and combined to make one large resilience strategy. While acceptable at face value, further investigation revealed the resiliency approaches had not gone under any type of combined controlled experiment. As a result, the impact of resiliency training was called under question across the research community.

In 2015, a follow-up report revealed that of the over half of the 400,000 US Army service members who took the US Army resiliency assessment were below the positive resiliency threshold. While a general search of CSF in peer-reviewed journals from 2012 – 2017 reveal numerous review articles of the structure of CSF, no articles were shown to have any empirical support. It is important to note that while no studies in this search revealed CSF to be effective, no articles were found to prove that it is ineffective either. Still, psychologists point to rising numbers of suicide and PTSD rates among personnel in recent years as considerations for future CSF effectiveness research (Griffith & Bryan, 2015). This type of resilience program not only casts doubt on future programs created by the organization, but it also runs the risk of putting others at risk for increased harm and/or decreased operational performance

Other Things to Consider Regarding Articles

The following are some general questions to consider when looking at articles of interest. While this is a basic list and professionals go through an extensive amount of training to help identify article origin and application, this list can help others who are not as familiar draw their own conclusions based on critical thinking.

  1. Is it empirical?
  2. Is it peer-reviewed?
  3. Are the limitations listed?
  4. Are there definitive statements that fall into ‘correlation = causation’?
  5. Has there been an extensive literature review prior to the article?
  6. Are there sources listed?
  7. Has the study been conducted in a controllable environment that measures as many possible outcomes as possible?
  8. What are the validity and reliability measures?

Discussion

Empirical/peer-reviewed approaches are the best way to quantifiably measure and state a claim. While empirical evidence is helpful, it is not considered definitive. Not all empirical evidence is conducted the same, and therefore a certain amount of skepticism can be held based on how the study was carried out. However, when it comes to the non-empirical/non peer-reviewed approaches, high amounts of skepticism should be used regardless of how big or recognized the organization is. Large amounts of report saturation may inhibit future research due to some of the controversy surrounding background research and implementation plans. And lastly, use your judgment. If something isn’t backed up by numbers that are cited and credible, it is most likely that the article is making exaggerated claims.

As coaches and athletes, we are responsible for the well-being of each other. By knowing basic research skills we can assist in the development and implementation of proven performance strategies. This will enable us to have better confidence going into future competition and create an environment that is highly adaptable, measurable, and successful.

Article

Sports related head injuries (e.g., concussions) affect one’s ability to concentrate, make decisions, foster learning, and perform both individually and collaboratively as part of a team (Asplund, C., Mckeag, D., & Olsen, C., 2004). Furthermore, head injuries have the potential to become more dangerous over time if not understood properly and taken care of in […]

Sports related head injuries (e.g., concussions) affect one’s ability to concentrate, make decisions, foster learning, and perform both individually and collaboratively as part of a team (Asplund, C., Mckeag, D., & Olsen, C., 2004). Furthermore, head injuries have the potential to become more dangerous over time if not understood properly and taken care of in an appropriate manner (Senthinathan, A., Mainwaring, L., Psych, C., & Hutchison, M., 2017). While the threat of personal injury is overwhelmingly important, many coaches and/or athletes may lose sight of this by sacrificing recovery over return-to-play [RTP*] (Wallace, J., Covassin, T., & Lafevor, M., 2016). This sacrifice not only puts the athlete at risk for more severe injury but puts the coaches, affiliated school/organization and team in a position of responsibility should anything happen to the injured athlete. As a result of this threat, a mutual understanding of what head injuries are and how they affect performance is imperative. In addition, a better understanding of the rehabilitation associated with head injuries may assist in reducing future unintended harm and reduce repeated rehabilitation. This, in turn, may increase athletes’ self-confidence, expedited return to optimal performance, and create greater team cohesion.

Before getting into a discussion regarding RTP, it is important to gain a basic understanding about brain injuries. Traumatic brain injuries (TBI) and mild traumatic brain injuries (mTBI), more often referred to as concussions, occur when there is a sudden acceleration and deceleration of the head. This results in one’s brain moving with an abnormal force. Subsequently, the brain will experience what is called axonal shearing (Asplund et al., 2004). Put in simple terms, a concussion is a force, either internal or external, that results in one’s brain moving in a sudden and rapid manner which commonly results in internal damage to the brain (Kissick & Johnston, 2005). As with all injuries, there are symptoms. Common symptoms associated with traumatic brain injuries include, but are not limited to: amnesia, loss of consciousness (LOC), headaches, confusion, difficulty concentrating, and visual impairment (Asplud et al., 2004). There has been debate over which symptom has the most influence regarding the severity of TBI an individual may have sustained, but for the purpose of this article, we will not be addressing debate.

The main dangers surrounding TBIs are that the majority of the symptoms are not external. This means, as coaches, we must trust the athlete to report any uncomfortable symptoms after sustaining a head injury. Granted, there are exceptions that coaches can see in order to make more sound judgment calls (e.g., heavy hits, falls, and penetrating injuries). This process of revealing possible symptoms to a coach or trainer is what is called the initial reporting process. The reporting process is the timeframe from which an athlete may have initially sustained an injury, but the symptoms may not yet severe enough to be overly apparent. Common symptoms in this category are headaches, dizziness, and/or nausea. This time is crucial because it gives coaches the opportunity to remove the athlete from activity that may compound the injury and make it more severe.

What is to say my athlete will hide these symptoms in order to avoid losing ‘play’ time? This question is a primary obstacle that coaches may face when it comes to self-reported injuries. The first thing to consider when trying to develop a remove-from-play (RFP) strategy may be by simply asking oneself: “are my athletes aware of the dangers that head injuries pose?” If the answer is no, than the answer may be as simple as exposing your athlete’s to what TBI(s) are and the dangers they pose. Moreover, educating athletes about compound concussions resulting from underreported symptoms may hold the key in getting athletes ‘on-the-fence’ of reporting to come forward. It is a coach’s responsibility, to help educate athletes both on and off the field. This includes information about the sport of which they play, and the dangers of which the athletes will be exposed to.

Another way to approach the difficulty of unseen injuries is through continuing education for coaches and staff. There are a wide variety of sources one can use to educate their coaches and staff. Sources include, but are not limited to: online education, seminars, workshops, and medical training. These approaches, while more time consuming, may enable coaches to identify some of the smaller external factors that pair with TBI(s) (e.g., stumbling, slurred speech, abnormal eye movement). In the end, the end goal of continuing education should aim at providing coaches with a broader knowledge of the symptoms of TBI. This, in turn, may enable coaches to make better decisions regarding RFP and RTP moving forward.

So what about an RTP plan? Currently, there are no universal RTP plans that are in place specific to brain injuries. The main reason is due to the complexities that are associated with head injuries. How hard one hits his/her head, susceptibility, repeated concussions, and post-concussive syndrome (PCS) are just a few of the factors that have shown to have an influence on TBI severity (Asplund et al., 2004; Senthinathan et al., 2017). When it comes to head injuries, it is up to the on-site medical provider to provide guidance from which route is best for the athlete. However, this is not to say coaches are helpless in assisting his/her athletes.

As a coach, a potential starting point for determining whether or not to address a potential TBI is to ask the following questions:

  1. How did the athlete hit his/her head?
  2. Was the impact violent in nature (e.g., head snap forward and backward)?
  3. Has the athlete shown visible TBI related symptoms (e.g., confusion, LOC, inability to keep eye contact, difficulty concentrating)
  4. ASK THE ATHLETE!
  5. Did it take a longer than average amount of time for the athlete to get up?

When in doubt, the best thing a coach can do if he/she is concerned about an athlete is to consult a medical professional. Athletes are the first line of defense in protecting themselves. Coaches are there to provide authoritative guidance when necessary and ultimately have the power to initially remove athletes if they are concerned. However, most coaches are not medical professionals or experts in the field of TBI. As a result, it is their responsibility to report an injury regardless of the consequence to team performance. Concussions remain dangerous regardless of the stage/severity. Research and media reports show that TBI(s), if gone unchecked, have the ultimate severity of, in rare cases, death (Senthinathan et al., 2017).

In the end, the expectation that athletes are supposed to be tough and perform, regardless of circumstance, may be harmful. Athletes should be expected to perform, but they should be expected to perform by the safest means possible to maintain their performance. In other words, athletes should not be placed in a situation where the game/competition/practice comes before personal safety. After all, an athlete who has cognitive performance deficiencies related to a head injury is not an effective athlete. We, as coaches, owe it to our athletes to assist them in performing to their fullest potential by keeping them healthy and educating them about how to keep themselves healthy in the future. Our ability to perform pends on their ability to perform. Optimal performance begins and ends with optimal health.

* RTP refers to the process of rehabilitating individuals who have suffered a head injury and returning them to full sport participation (e.g., practice and competition).

Article

Coaching styles and coaching strategies are terms typically thrown around in academia, the media, and sport. For the purpose of this read, I will refer to a coaching style as a concrete, well established framework from which to base a game-plan. A coaching strategy however, will be referred to a coach’s adaptation style and how […]

Coaching styles and coaching strategies are terms typically thrown around in academia, the media, and sport. For the purpose of this read, I will refer to a coaching style as a concrete, well established framework from which to base a game-plan. A coaching strategy however, will be referred to a coach’s adaptation style and how he or she applies it to the situation, given unforeseen elements. Let’s look at an example:

A track coach whom specializes in sprints is given the task of coaching mid-distance runners at a large track and field event. The meet is expected run in large heats, but each of his athletes are running in the same heat of roughly 20 individuals. The coach, experienced in sprint style training, decides to put the slower and larger runners up front as ‘rabbits’ or pacers. The purpose is to hide his faster runners behind the ‘rabbits’ for the final 200 meters in the race. Once the last 200m arrives, the larger runners will open a ‘gap’ of which the smaller, faster runners can break out of while the larger runners become ‘blockers’.

In this situation, the coaching style is sprints; the situation is a distance event; the elements would be the large amount of people within the heat; and the strategy would be the ‘rabbit/blocking’ technique. So why do we care? Researchers in psychology have discovered that specific coaching strategies and styles have the potential to both directly and indirectly affect sport performance (Amorose & Anderson-Butcher, 2007; Macquet, Ferrand, & Stanton, 2015).

One strategy of coaching that is clearly seen throughout competition is known as planning. Planning is an integral part of each coaches’ ability to approach new challenges. Planning involves the prioritization of duties, observation of behavioral cues, evaluation of action efficiency and assessments of past performances. Through planning, coaches have the ability to directly reduce the time it takes for their athletes to recover both mentally and physically (Macquet et al., 2015).

Another important aspect of coaching which has been empirically researched and supported is the notion of message delivery. The manner in which coaches address their athletes has shown to directly and indirectly impact an athletes’ sense of autonomy, relatedness, and competence (Mellinger & Cheek, 2014). The strength of these components, in turn, have the potential to influence overall motivation in sport-related activity (Amorose & Anderson-Butcher, 2007). Researchers have termed this idea as: Self-Determination Theory (SDT).

This theory suggests that greater motivation will create greater a sense of positivity and performance as a result (Ntoumanis, 2001). With this in mind, when coaches plan their strategies and apply their styles, it is important to remember that the overall goal is to create a positive environment from which to increase motivation and enhance overall athletic performance. So, what does all of this mean? As previously noted, there are a multitude of coaching styles. Furthermore, there are endless ways to design and enhance applied strategies. The most effective styles of coaching, according to Self-Determination Theory are those that establish a greater sense of autonomy, relatedness, and competence within the athletes’ minds.

Let’s review the original example. A sprint coach was given a task to win a mid-distance race. Utilizing his experiences in an alternative specialization, he established a clear and concise strategy based on the strengths of his athletes (relatedness) and what has been personally successful in the past. This strategy works based on trust and how well the athletes can execute it (autonomy). Therefore, individual experience and understanding of an alternative strategy will have a major impact on the overall success of the team (competence). This collective unit approach summarizes everything SDT needs to be successful.

Properly educating coaches on sport psychological theories such as SDT, have the potential to enhance both the styles and strategies coaches need to be successful. Overall, coaches will always be seeking new and innovative ways to gain an edge over their opponents. Continuing education appears to be an easy, and potentially cost effective way, to start.

Article

Sleep is an integral part of what makes humans function (Harris et al., 2015). It is a common need that, if neglected, has the potential to negatively impact our daily performance (Wickens, Hutchins, Laux, & Sebok, 2015). Researchers from numerous organizations and universities have attempted to determine exactly how much sleep is needed. While the […]

Sleep is an integral part of what makes humans function (Harris et al., 2015). It is a common need that, if neglected, has the potential to negatively impact our daily performance (Wickens, Hutchins, Laux, & Sebok, 2015). Researchers from numerous organizations and universities have attempted to determine exactly how much sleep is needed. While the empirical evidence supports optimal performance after 7.5 to 8 hours of sleep, performance varies across different individuals. As a result, researchers are left to give general recommendations rather than definitive statements and give the general public information on what sleep is and what sleep can do for performance. For the purpose of this article, the methods of how sleep is being researched will be discussed with reference to two key factors of sleep: 1) quantity and 2) quality.

Sleep quantity is another way of describing how much sleep an individual gets over a period of time. Currently, researchers suggest that individual’s need between 7.5 and 8 hours a sleep each night (Harris et al., 2015). Researchers assessing sleep quantity conduct their examination utilizing many techniques including, but not limited to: observational methods, longitudinal routine studies, and simple/complex task based activities. When cross analyzing each of these techniques, a negative correlation can be observed between hours of prolonged ‘awakeness’ and performance. While results are unique to each participant, cluster sampling revealed the majority of participants’ optimal performance occured within a 7.5 to 8-hour sleep quantity (Harris et al., 2015).

External influences such as conditioning, supplements, diet, and lifestyle may be a major influence on performance and a reason why there are large disparities across multiple studies. A potential way to account for these disparities is through strictly controlled studies taking into account the external influences previously noted.

Sleep quality is a self-reported measure of how ‘well’ one has slept (Harris et al., 2015). A common method to assess sleep quality is through a Likert scale. As previously discussed with sleep quantity, sleep quality has external influences as well. As with many self-reported measures, results are largely based on individual perception rather than definitive reactive observations (e.g., fMRI, fcMRI). While self-report measures are difficult to draw concrete conclusions from, it is not to say that they aren’t a valuable research tool. Properly educating the general public through proper ways of self-reporting could play a major role on the validity and reliability of longitudinal data.

Research surrounding sleep is both complex and valuable. Sleep is a major influence regarding how an individual performs daily tasks. Sleep detriment has a negative impact over time. In other words, the more time that passes while an individual is awake, the less likely they are to perform optimally (Wickens et al., 2015). The detriment resulting from sleep deprivation is what researchers call compounded. In simplistic terms, one night of 12 hours of sleep will not make up for the 4 hours of sleep gathered the previous week. Performance will continuously be influenced, either positively or negatively, through both sleep quantity and sleep quality (Harris et al., 2015).

In summary, sleep is important. The absence of sleep quality and quantity have shown to directly impact performance. The 7.5 to 8-hour sleep recommendation has both empirical and observational support and should be taken under consideration for individuals interested in optimal performance levels. Compounded sleep loss and loss of performance become more evident as time awake progresses. In the end, sleep quantity is self-determined. Sleep quality, however, has a place for future studies and should be a primary focus for performance related research.

Article

One of the most discussed topics in sport at present is the doping scandal and corruption that has taken place widespread across athletics, resulting in many athletes losing confidence in the sport and the people that govern it. As more and more information comes out of the woodwork about the possibility of athletes taking performance […]

One of the most discussed topics in sport at present is the doping scandal and corruption that has taken place widespread across athletics, resulting in many athletes losing confidence in the sport and the people that govern it. As more and more information comes out of the woodwork about the possibility of athletes taking performance enhancing drugs or covering up the intake of them, we witness many well known athletes that were once seen as incredibly talented individuals become better known for their lies and deceit towards the sport as the truth is uncovered regarding their doping involvement.

Recently, it became apparent that Ethiopian born 2014 World Indoor 1500m Champion, Abeba Aregawi, failed an out-of-competition dugs test and has voluntarily pulled out of competition whilst further tests are carried out.  It has been rumoured that Aregawi has tested positive for Meldonium (also known as Mildronate). This is a performance enhancer originally meant for the treatment of Ischemia, which occurs due to a lack of blood flow to a limb causing the limb tissues to become starved of oxygen. Interestingly, Ethiopia’s 2015 Tokyo marathon winner Endeshaw Negesse has recently tested positive on a doping test for Meldonium. Other athletes to have reportedly tested positive for the drug are Ukrainian biathletes Artem Tyshchenko and Olga Abramova. Meldonium was only added to the World Anti-Doping Agency banned list on January 1st 2016, so there could yet be more and more athletes who test positive for this performance enhancer in the near future.

So, what exactly is Mildronate?

Also known as Meldonium, Mildronate was originally developed as a growth-promoting agent for animals and has since been identified as an effective anti-ischemic drug (Simkhovich et al., 1988). The clinical benefits of Mildronate stem from carnitine metabolism, which plays an important role regulating cellular energy metabolism via a fatty acid beta-oxidation pathway and glycolysis; in the mitochondria carnitine is the main molecule in fatty acid metabolism (Gorgens et al., 2015). Mildronate works to inhibit the last step of carnitine biosynthesis. During oxygen deficient conditions (anaerobic exercise), there is insufficient oxygen supply and a lower amount of free carnitine which means fatty acid metabolism is lowered and glycolysis is enhanced. This increases the effectiveness of ATP production. Rather than fatty acid oxidation producing energy, there is carbohydrate oxidation which requires less oxygen per ATP molecule compared to fatty acid oxidation (Liepinsh, Kalvinsh & Dambrova, 2011), making the body more efficient at producing energy in those tough, anaerobic states.

When it comes to showing the performance benefits of Mildronate, studies have demonstrated an increase in endurance performance in athletes, an improvement in recovery after exercise and an increase in learning and memory performance (Gorgens et al., 2015), which can be a benefit for many athletes across a wide variety of sports (Dzintare & Kalvins, 2012; Klusa et al., 2013). The use of such a drug has been shown to be worryingly vast across many elite sports and the easy access of Mildronate has allowed many athletes to use it freely and without guilt before the inevitable ban earlier this year (Gorgens et al., 2015).

Whilst it is wrong to take performance enhancing drugs and cheat your way to the top, we often forget the larger context and what it is that drives people to do this rather than just train hard like everyone else and be the best you can be naturally. The psychology of drug taking in sport is extremely interesting and opens your mind into an area that is very rarely discussed.

One of the most common reasons to use performance enhancing drugs in sport is to achieve athletic success, closely followed by financial gain (Morente-Sánchez & Zabala, 2013). This is important. Many athletes dedicate their lives to their chosen sport and sacrifice so much in order to gain huge performance accomplishments that could financially support their family and change their lives. The decision to take a drug to increase performance is a massive risk, however for some it could be an opportunity to enhance their performance to a level that would enable them to provide for their family and to make the years of gruelling training, knockbacks, giving up time with family, injury and psychological strain worth it. The mere thought of gaining recognition for sporting achievements as opposed to going unnoticed for so long is a tempting outlook, one which could push an athlete into believing that taking a performance enhancing drug is the only way forward.

On the other hand, some athletes are pressured by their coach or family members (Pitsch, Emrich & Klein, 2007). The power of manipulation stemming from a coach that craves world class results could pressure an athlete into taking a drug that they don’t even know is a banned substance. Who really knows what goes on in the world of athletics these days?

Some athletes genuinely believe that taking performance enhancing supplements is the only way to continue in their career or to prevent nutritional deficiencies, maintaining their ‘natural’ health (Erdman, Fung, Doyle-Baker, Verhoef & Reimer, 2007; Lentillon-Kaestner & Carstairs, 2010).

The concept of the “false consensus effect” has been studied in literature (Petroczi, Mazanov, Nepusz, Backhouse & Naughton, 2008) and it suggests that athletes who take performance enhancing drugs usually overestimate the prevalence of drug taking in sport. It seems that athletes who believe that other athletes are taking drugs to enhance their performance are more likely to take drugs themselves which could lead us into a vicious cycle that propagates a pro-doping culture (Tangen & Breivik, 2001; Uvacsek et al., 2011). This is something that can be applied to the doping culture in athletics of recent.

In relation is “the doping dilemma” which stems from the classical prisoner’s dilemma (Haugen, 2004). If there is suspicion that other athletes are doing, which there certainly is right now, other athletes feel they need to take performance enhancing drugs in order to play on a level playing field. The power of the unknown comes into play here, with athletes being sceptical as to whether the competitor on the start line next to them is clean or not. The decision to take performance enhancing drugs suddenly seems that little bit more acceptable.

When Lance Armstrong was asked whether he would dope again after being caught he replied with “If I was racing in 2015, no, I wouldn’t do it again because I don’t think you have to. If you take me back to 1995, when doping was completely pervasive, I would probably do it again.” When an athlete believes that everyone else is taking performance enhancing drugs they are more likely to take part in this same behaviour; social acceptability within a small, performance focused environment can pressure an athlete into doping whilst they strive to be the best.

Unfortunately there remains a lack of education surrounding the use of doping in sport and it is important that at an early age sport coaches should emphasis to their athletes that drug taking in sport is simply not an option; if a sport coach’s task is to educate their athletes in this way then the coach will be the primary source of sport education for that athlete (Vangrunderbeek & Tolleneer, 2010). Without such an education regarding this matter an athlete may be more likely to regard drug taking in sport as an option.

We are more likely to cheat if we see others doing so. We tend to conform to accepted norms of reasonable behaviour, rather than adhere to strict rules.” – Evan Davis.

Whilst it is easy to point the finger at athletes who have taken drugs in order to enhance their sporting capabilities, we are far too reluctant to take into consideration the wider context and the problems that still face us regarding the lack of education for doping in sport. The above points are not excuses for doping, they are reasons, and behind the reason is a person who knows that the behaviour is wrong but still feels the need to go ahead with the decision to dope, even with all the devastating consequences that could follow.

A focus is needed on the antecedents of doping behaviour and associated attitudes and behaviours that lead up to the action. With a focus here and the correct education, doping in sport could be lowered and hopefully diminished in the long term, allowing a wide open space for natural ability to blossom through and a regaining of trust and confidence in sport.

Article

I dislike how we use the word ‘talent’. A quick google of the word ‘talent’ provides the following definition: natural aptitude or skill. Despite this rather narrow definition, I feel ‘talent’ is too often given as the independent reason and cause to explain how people reach elite performance in sport. I would instead argue that […]

I dislike how we use the word ‘talent’. A quick google of the word ‘talent’ provides the following definition: natural aptitude or skill. Despite this rather narrow definition, I feel ‘talent’ is too often given as the independent reason and cause to explain how people reach elite performance in sport. I would instead argue that talent is not enough.

My argument isn’t a new one, yet it still fails to pervade lay understanding of elite performance. Of course, talent undoubtedly plays a role in helping sportspeople to reach elite performance, though there are other factors which are too often neglected. Let’s look at two of them: opportunity and prolonged deliberate practice.

1) Opportunity

One of my favourite illustrations of the importance of opportunity in reaching elite performance has been popularised by Malcolm Gladwell, who was citing a Canadian psychologist named Roger Barnsley (Gladwell, 2009). Whilst studying elite Canadian hockey players, Barnsley uncovered that 40% of professional players were born between January and March, 30% between April and June, 20% between July and September and only 10% between October and December.

Does this suggest players born between January and March have more talent, or ‘natural aptitude or skill’? I don’t think so. Rather, the cut-off for age-class hockey is the 1st of January in Canada. So, when coaches are scouting players for junior sides, they understandably choose those born earlier in the year since these children tend to be better due to their extra months of physical and motor development. The result is that only these children are able to regularly practice in the ice rink and benefit from professional coaching. This only serves to enlarge the performance gap between these children and their unfortunate peers who have equal talent but not opportunity. And despite this, we still attribute elite performance solely to natural talent.

2) Prolonged Deliberate Practice

Deliberate practice is a well-known concept in sport psychology, where individuals specifically look to practise specific skills to improve their performance. Equally well-known is the 10,000 hour rule where in general, elite sportspeople have had 10,000 hours of deliberate practice before they reach an elite level. Indeed, the importance of deliberate practice to reach an expert or professional level has become so well-known because it is based on a great level of empirical research (Colvin, 2010). For instance, in summarising their research, Ericcson, Krampe and Clemens (1993) stated:

“We deny that these differences are immutable, that is, due to innate talent. Only a few exceptions, most notably height, are genetically prescribed. Instead, we argue that the differences between expert performers and normal adults reflect a life-long period of deliberate effort to improve performance in a specific domain. 

So it’s clear that thousands of hours of deliberate practice are vital for elite performance. So why do we continue to label people as ‘talented’?

Maybe it’s because we like to put others on pedestals, praising their ‘supernatural’ talent because it’s the easiest reason for us to give. Maybe because it’s easier than saying ‘I might be able to be that good if I put in a few thousand hours of good practice’. Or maybe because it’s easy to see the current gap in ability between us and elite performers, but not the thousands of hours of practice that they had to put in to get there. Whatever the reason, research has dispelled the myth that talent is enough to ensure elite performance. Not only should we adopt this view because research supports it, but also because our current outlook on high performance merely serves to encourage a fixed mindset: ‘he/she is that good, you’re this good and there’s little you can do about it. However, if we were to listen to the research, we’d have a far more positive and healthy understanding of high performance.

Although it’s undeniable that some individuals are born more talented than others (not all ice hockey players born in January are scouted by coaches!), a huge amount of research has shown us that natural talent is rarely enough for elite performance. By recognising the importance of opportunity and deliberate practice, I’ve only scratched the surface in accounting for what underlies elite performance. For instance, attitude and resilience, amongst other factors, are also undoubtedly key to reaching world-class performance.

Why do you think we continue to use the word ‘talent’ as the sole reason underlying high performance?

What else do you think needs to accompany talent to reach elite performance?

Article

Reflective Practice is “an improvement tool to produce a change in practice” (Knowles et al., 2006) and can be applied in a personal as well as a professional context (Ghaye, 2001; cited in Anderson, Knowles & Gilbourne, 2004). Knowles, Gilbourne, Cropley and Dugdill (2014) describe reflective practice as a complicated procedure which allows experience to […]

Reflective Practice is “an improvement tool to produce a change in practice” (Knowles et al., 2006) and can be applied in a personal as well as a professional context (Ghaye, 2001; cited in Anderson, Knowles & Gilbourne, 2004). Knowles, Gilbourne, Cropley and Dugdill (2014) describe reflective practice as a complicated procedure which allows experience to be converted into learning (p.10). Reflecting in such a way comprises of cognitive processing where expert knowledge and professional practice are combined in order to encourage knowledge-in-action (Boud, Koegh & Walker, 1985; cited in Anderson, Knowles & Gilbourne, 2004).

Benefits of Reflective Practice

There are a range of benefits that come with the use of reflective practice (Anderson, Knowles & Gilbourne, 2004; Cropley et al., 2010). An increased level of self-awareness is an advantage of reflective exercises, through documenting activity, the individual’s understanding of their own application and techniques as a coach, practitioner (psychologist, physiotherapist etc.), or athlete can be improved (Cropley et al., 2010; Anderson, Knowles & Gilbourne, 2004). Another benefit of reflection would be the individual’s opportunity to overcome any conflict or unease that they may be experiencing internally following practice or performance and it’s requirements, providing a chance to express concerns and attempt to find resolutions (Anderson, Knowles & Gilbourne, 2004). The use of knowledge-in-action, often referred to as craft knowledge (e.g. Knowles et al., 2001; cited in Anderson, Knowles & Gilbourne, 2004) or tacit knowledge (e.g. Martens, 1987; cited in Anderson, Knowles & Gilbourne, 2004), and defined as knowledge acquired through carrying out a role rather than obtained through educational means (Knowles & Telfer, 2009), can be particularly advantageous to individuals during reflective activity. This knowledge can be used to assess situations and influence behaviour that follows, increasing effectiveness (Cropley et al., 2010).

Methods of Reflection

There are different models which offer guidance in reflective practice techniques available to those choosing to incorporate it into their service (e.g. Gibbs, 1998; Atkins & Murphy 1994). John’s (1994) structured reflection process (as revised by Anderson, 1999) provides a series of 21 questions to assist the use of reflective practice, prompting thoughts, for example, on the consequences of their actions, as well as considerations of alternative approaches (cited in Heanley, Oakley & Rea, 2009, p.30). Cropley et al. (2007) advocated use of this model and summarised it to be a “structured and meaningful” method of reflection after the first author in that paper expressed an improved insight into his own professional and reflective methodologies. This model would be beneficial to follow when engaging in reflection, as it has rigid structure which encourages a methodical reflective process instead of simply thinking through the happenings of practice (Knowles et al., 2001; cited in Cropley et al., 2007).

It is also possible to fulfil the needs of reflective practice in the form of a diary entry (Knowles, Katz & Gilbourne, 2012; Anderson, Knowles & Gilbourne, 2004; Cropley et al., 2010) this would not only comply to guidance of the above model, but also assert the use of ‘reflection-in-action’, meaning that reflection could take place during events along with between sessions (training, consulation etc.), stating thoughts, feelings and decisions in the moment. The inclusion of professional judgement and decision making (PJDM) may also be valuable in order to justify and evaluate such feelings and choices, producing a greater level of intensity during self-reflection (Martindale & Collins, 2007).

Types of Reflection

Staged reflection, is a form of reflection that encourages individuals to reflect instantly after service delivery or during events, as well as using deferred techniques, by reflecting again after a prolonged period of time following the event (Knowles, Katz & Gilbourne, 2012). In the Knowles, Katz and Gilbourne (2012) paper, staged reflection was demonstrated by author two, who then invited peer inquisitorial processes from author one and three to trigger the further engrossment in reflection on the same events one year later. This therefore also displayed the involvement of layered, or shared reflection, by communicatively expressing reflective thoughts with others (Knowles, Katz & Gilbourne, 2012; Knowles et al., 2007). Layered reflection is an additional method that can be employed within reflective practice as it offers and provokes further affections and points of view surrounding practice (Knowles, Katz & Gilbourne, 2012). This would again be beneficial as reflection in isolation may display deficit in some areas of knowledge and experience (Knowles et al., 2001; cited in Cropley et al., 2010). In circumstances of supervision, with utilisation of layered reflection, collective engagements are essential in order for the supervision to be collaborative in a beneficial way for both parties (Knowles et al., 2007).

Another form of reflection, critical reflection, is described by Knowles, Katz and Gilbourne (2012) as “a process that includes moments of evaluative activity” refocusing individuals from a “professional in-context to the person in a more global and interactive sense”, although a difficult form of reflection, is vital to practice (Knowles, Katz & Gilbourne, 2012). In order to exhibit critical practice, there is a requirement of assessing the limitations of “social, political and economic factors” (Knowles et al., 2006), however this can be particularly difficult to include.

It can therefore be recognised that there are a vast number of benefits to be gained through carrying out reflective practice, not only to the evaluation of practice but also to self-development both personally and professionally (Anderson, Knowles & Gilbourne, 2004; Cropley et al., 2010; Anderson, Miles, Mahoney & Robinson, 2002; cited in Anderson, Knowles & Gilbourne, 2004) and the use of it could be employed through following models (such as John’s, 1994) along with the procedures of staged and layered reflection (Knowles, Katz & Gilbourne, 2012; Knowles et al., 2007) in order to reflect in the most beneficial way for the individual as well as anyone else concerned.

Article

Let’s be honest, everyone tries to impress other people on a daily basis. We all (or at least most) try to impress others – whether that is demonstrating positivity, attempting humour, or simply laughing at other people’s jokes so that they like you, it happens. Managing an impression of yourself is one thing, but it […]

Let’s be honest, everyone tries to impress other people on a daily basis. We all (or at least most) try to impress others – whether that is demonstrating positivity, attempting humour, or simply laughing at other people’s jokes so that they like you, it happens. Managing an impression of yourself is one thing, but it is also possible to manage the impression, or public image, of many things. For example, businesses create a tempting impression of their services in an attempt to entice people to use them. Impression management is defined as the process of attempting to control how people perceive, evaluate, and react to information about an entity or person (Schneider, 1981). This statement is often used in tandem with ‘self-presentation’, which refers to individuals who are motivated to manage their public impressions.

Schlenker & Leary (1982) refer to self-presentation as ‘…a goal-directed act designed, or at least in part, to generate particular images of self, and thereby influence how audiences perceive and treat the actor’. This outlines the ‘self’ as a corporation of sorts, which explains why people often only select certain aspects of themselves to appease a particular audience. Essentially, we market ourselves in order to influence others in exchange for desirable rewards (Schlenker, 2006).

On occasions, particularly in sport, the impression formed by influential individuals (e.g., coaches) is largely consisted of a person’s psychological ‘makeup’. Therefore, athletes need to be aware that one’s ‘product’ is versatile (physical, technical, mental, tactical, lifestyle) and to market it appropriately.

Impression management is often used interchangeably with self-presentation; however, this is inaccurate due to the former being a complex process consisting of numerous phases. Actually, the antecedent cognitions of actions, gestures, and speech (the physical manifestations) are the result of a goal-directed act (self-presentation).

Four key phases are often carried out when an individual strives to attain their self-presentational outcomes (Leary, 1995; Leary & Kowalski, 1990). These include:

  1. Impression Monitoring, the level to which one is aware of the need or opportunity to self-present.
  1. Impression Motivation, the driving force behind managing one’s impressions.
  1. Impression Efficacy, the subjective probability of making the desired impression.
  1. Impression construction, factors that help the individual decide on the specifics of the image they would like to portray.

The previous five decades have researched this phenomenon of self-presentation, however, sport psychology research only dates back to the 1980s (e.g., Baumeister & Steinhilber, 1984). Erving Goffman (1959) originally proposed that it was necessary to deliver an effective self-presentation in order to facilitate smooth everyday social encounters. Primarily interested in the ‘arts of impression management’, Goffman’s initial statements started a vast range of studies that demonstrated the wide-ranging importance of self-presentation to accommodate an individual’s social and psychological well-being.

The target of our self-presentation is often referred to as the ‘high-strength other’, which include teachers, interviewers, friends, partners, coaches, and selectors. It’s plausible to suggest that in each of these roles, success is almost always measured in terms of the impressions others form. For example, if we are not exhibiting the perceived desirable behaviours of being hard-working, friendly, interesting, or handling pressure, we run the risk of not being given the rewards that we desire (Baumeister, 1982). The same process is viewed from those in a position of a ‘high-strength other’ as they ensure their self-presentation matches the expectations of those in such a position. Those who are motivated to impression-manage and achieve success are able to satisfy their needs due to meeting the intra- and inter-personal goals that they have set (Leary, 1995; Leary & Kowalski, 1990; Schlenker & Leary, 1982). On the other hand, a ‘high-strength other’ who has invested time and emotional energy within a role, but then experiences self-presentational failure or underachievement could then be damaged by the psychological, social, and financial effects (Leary, 1995; Leary & Kowalski, 1990; Schlenker & Leary, 1982).

Competitive sport is just one of the many areas which demonstrates the importance of possessing an effective self-presentation (Leary, 1992). Everything an athlete or player does can be scrutinised by those high-strength others, including, an athlete’s performance, dedication to practice, interaction with other team members, personal conduct, and so on. Therefore, the desired outcomes of attaining a place in the squad, having an opportunity to play, receiving money through sponsorship, are all largely dependent on high-strength others forming a positive impression (Leary, 1992).

Furthermore, these high-strength others all have a considerable influence and control over an individual’s experience of sport. Each stakeholder will have slightly different expectations of the athlete. There are numerous opportunities to succeed or fail in one’s self-presentation, with the athlete’s performance the most prominent. Training, competition, travelling to a match, and even changing rooms are all opportunities that provide a platform for an athlete to adhere to the demands of the ‘audience’ (Goffman, 1959).

Impression management is a complex topic that athletes and stakeholders are aware of, but it is often a type of behaviour that is accepted than improved or discussed. The next article will look at impression management from a social anxiety perspective and how it can be addressed.

Article

Considering the new name of the website, I thought it would be fitting to expand on the relationship between belief and performance. In order to maximize athletic potential, it is important to have belief in your abilities (e.g., Connaughton, Hanton, & Jones, 2010; Martin & Gill, 1991). As the stakes in sport get higher, the […]

Considering the new name of the website, I thought it would be fitting to expand on the relationship between belief and performance.

In order to maximize athletic potential, it is important to have belief in your abilities (e.g., Connaughton, Hanton, & Jones, 2010; Martin & Gill, 1991). As the stakes in sport get higher, the competition harder, and the level of play tougher, self-belief starts to play a more integral role in performance (Jones, Hanton, & Connaughton, 2002). Beginner athletes can have success by fulfilling the tasks assigned to them by their coach. They see improvements by an increase in training, dedication, and frequency of competition. As the talent level funnels at the elite level, self-belief becomes more important. A good coach, supportive parents, and teammates can temporarily fill the void in self-belief that an athlete may have. For example, a coach can inject confidence through encouragement, the expression of their belief, and highlighting the positive strides the athlete has made. However, at the top level in sports, it is important that an athlete truly believes that they can achieve their goals, whether it is representing their country at an international event, or competing on the biggest stage, such as the Olympic Games. Training for one of these pursuits with doubt or hesitation will serve as a roadblock.

Nevertheless, even the best athletes in the world can suffer from a lack of self-belief. They may train with excitement about reaching their goals, but when they step onto the pitch or up to the starting line, their mind is clouded with doubt and fear. A question I get asked a lot by athletes is: “How can I become more confident in my abilities?”

Research highlights the important impact that self-efficacy can have on increasing the persistence and effort in achieving a performance goal (e.g., Feltz, Short, & Sullivan, 2008). In short, self-efficacy is the extent to which people have belief in their ability to achieve their goals and perform at a desired level. Bandura’s social cognitive theory (1986) explains four key components that promote self-efficacy: (1) mastery experiences (2) vicarious learning (3) messages from peers, coaches, and others important in your sporting domain and (4) personal interpretation of the physiological and emotional sates related to sport. Below, I focus on the first of these four components: Mastery experiences.

Self-belief is impacted by past experiences and performances, referred to as mastery experiences. These experiences are the most powerful tools for creating belief (Valiante & Morris, 2013). Successfully achieving a desired outcome in the past increases belief in achieving a desired outcome in the future. Mastery experiences form the foundation of perceived success, which helps build self-belief (Feltz & Ressinger, 1990). As an athlete, a successful performance will add more ammunition to your self-belief. Conversely, failures have a tendency to undermine self-belief (Bandura, 1997; Feltz & Ressinger, 1990). It is important for athletes to reflect on their successes and use these experiences to build confidence.

As an athlete, what are some ways to help facilitate successful mastery experiences?

First, it is important to have realistic, yet challenging goals (Locke & Latham, 2002; Valiante & Morris, 2013). Goals are the foundation of an athlete’s career: They help direct attention and motivate athletes. It is important that the goals are challenging enough to help develop confidence, but are still achievable. Long-term goals with process-oriented goals that serve as check points along the way are useful.

Second, develop a constructive way to handle successes and failures. As the saying goes, you win some and you lose some. However, both wins and losses can help you develop momentum towards your athletic goals. A failure is a great learning opportunity and gives athletes a chance to re-visit their goals. Re-framing failures is important because it prevents athletes from focusing on negative aspects of sport that can be detrimental to self-belief. A success helps build confidence and create more challenging goals in the future.

Third, reflect on your training. Athletes can make the mistake of blindly following their coach’s workouts. Trust is important in a coach-athlete relationship, but taking ownership over your training and learning the meaning behind training can help develop self-belief. A coach’s belief in their athlete can only take the athlete so far. Reviewing progress in training and consistency in workouts can help athletes learn and reduce competitive anxiety (Hanton, Cropley, & Lee, 2009), which in turn may increases their belief in their abilities (i.e., self-efficacy; Chase, Magyar, & Drake, 2005). Training is an important physical part of the sport, but it is also an opportunity to strengthen your mentality and belief.

“Make sure your worst enemy doesn’t live between your own two ears.” — Laird Hamilton

Article

Sports Psychology is an area which is constantly growing within the academic world. Sport students at both A Level and BTec will study at one least module focusing around sports psychology. To go on and increase your understanding of sports psychology there are now a number of Universities across the United Kingdom which offer specific […]

Sports Psychology is an area which is constantly growing within the academic world. Sport students at both A Level and BTec will study at one least module focusing around sports psychology. To go on and increase your understanding of sports psychology there are now a number of Universities across the United Kingdom which offer specific sport psychology courses. These courses focus on a number of different areas including: Aggression, Anxiety, Applied Sports Psychology, Arousal, Concentration, Confidence, Exercise Psychology, Imagery, Mental Health, Mental Toughness, Mental Skills Training, Motivation, Psychological Skills Training, Resilience, Retirement, Wellbeing

Not only will you learn about certain topics but you will also be provided with athlete case studies and be given the opportunity to learn how psychology is applied to real life performance. Some universities offer sport psychology placements to their students and this is a fantastic opportunity for students to see how top athletes apply psychology to their performance.

Work Opportunities

Most students who study sports psychology at undergraduate will often go on and study a specific sports psychology masters course. This is classified as the first stage of training to become a chartered sport and exercise psychologist. After completing a masters some students continue their studies and will find a supervisor to complete the second and final stage to become an official chartered sport and exercise psychologist.  Sport Psychologists have the opportunities to work with individual athletes, teams, coaches, students, teachers and parents. The field of sport psychology can also be related to business, well being and other areas of performance.

We have compiled a list of all the Undergraduate and Masters Sports Psychology Courses which you can study at universities across the UK.

Undergraduate Courses

  • Abertay University: Sport and Psychology
  • Bangor University: Sport and Exercise Psychology
  • Bournemouth University: Sport Psychology and Coaching Science
  • Buckinghamshire New University: Sports Psychology
  • UCFB Wembley: Sports Psychology
  • Canterbury Christ Church University: Psychology (Sport and Exercise)
  • University of Central Lancashire: Sport and Exercise Psychology
  • University of Chester: Sport and Exercise Sciences and Psychology
  • University of Chester: Sport and Exercise Psychology
  • Coventry University: Sport Psychology
  • Edge Hill University: Sport and Exercise Psychology
  • University of Exeter: Psychology with Sport and Exercise Science
  • University of Hertfordshire: Sport Studies/Psychology
  • Leeds Trinity University: Sport and Exercise Sciences (Sport Psychology)
  • Liverpool Hope University: Sport Psychology
  • Liverpool John Moores University: Applied Sport Psychology
  • London Metropolitan University: Sports Psychology and Coaching
  • Loughborough University: Sport and Exercise Psychology
  • The Manchester Metropolitan University: Psychology of Sport and Exercise
  • University of Northampton: Sport Studies/Psychology
  • Northumbria University: Psychology with Sport Science
  • University of Roehampton: Sport Psychology
  • University of South Wales: Sport Psychology
  • Staffordshire University: Sport and Exercise Psychology
  • University of Worcester: Sport and Exercise Psychology

Masters Courses

  • Brunel University: Sport and Exercise Psychology
  • Cardiff Metropolitan University: Applied Sport Psychology
  • University of Central Lancashire: Sport and Exercise Psychology
  • University of Chichester: Sport and Exercise Psychology
  • University of Gloucestershire: Psychology of Sport and Exercise
  • Leeds Beckett: Sport and Exercise Psychology
  • Liverpool John Moores: Sports Psychology
  • University of East London: Sport Psychology
  • Loughborough University: Psychology of Sport and Exercise
  • Manchester Metropolitan University: Exercise and Sport psychology
  • Northumbria University Newcastle: Sport and Exercise Psychology
  • Portsmouth University: Sport and Exercise Psychology
  • University of Roehampton: Sport and Exercise Psychology
  • Sheffield Hallam University: Sport and Exercise Psychology
  • St Marys University: Applied Sport Psychology
  • Staffordshire University: Sport and Exercise Psychology
  • Staffordshire University: Applied Sport and Exercise Psychology
  • University of the West of England: Sport and Exercise Psychology
  • University of Winchester: Sport and Exercise Psychology
Article

There has recently been a lot of speculation regarding the use of medication for treating thyroid problems across the athletic population. It therefore seems fitting to try and grasp an understanding of the current issue surrounding the controversial stance of thyroid medication across athletes and why we should all be wary of the contrasting literature […]

There has recently been a lot of speculation regarding the use of medication for treating thyroid problems across the athletic population. It therefore seems fitting to try and grasp an understanding of the current issue surrounding the controversial stance of thyroid medication across athletes and why we should all be wary of the contrasting literature surrounding this topic.

Unsurprisingly, the controversy starts with a ‘medical consultant’ called Dr. Jeffrey S. Brown, an endocrinologist based in America. The term medical consultant is used loosely as in many interviews Dr. Brown refers to himself as a consultant to the United States of America Track and Field group and to the U.S. Olympic Committee; however both have said that he is not a consultant and Dr. Brown himself admits that the term medical consultant for these agencies is “loosely run”. But that’s another story.

Dr. Brown does work for Nike, and within this has treated many of Alberto Salazar’s athletes. In fact, out of the 30 athletes Salazar coaches, 5 have been treated by Dr. Brown with Hypothyroidism, including Galen Rupp and many athletes that are unnamed due to medical privacy rules.

The belief in the centre of all the scepticism is that when endurance athletes train hard this can induce an early onset of a thyroid hormonal imbalance called Hypothyroidism which involves a fatigue like condition that can prevent an athlete from performing at their peak. The medication for this is a synthetic thyroid hormone called Levothyroxine which helps to regulate the body’s metabolism. The diagnosis for Hypothyroidism is done using blood samples that measure another hormone, Thyroid Stimulating Hormone (TSH), which controls the production of the thyroid hormones. An increase in TSH means a decrease in thyroid hormone production and a large possibility that you have an underactive thyroid and need medication.

Based on the American College of Endocrinology Literature, the normal range of TSH is very broad, ranging from a low 0.5 to 5, with a TSH level of greater than 4 along with reported fatigue being enough to warrant medication for underactive thyroid, similar to the guidelines stated in the UK. However, Dr. Brown, stated as the best endocrinologist in the world by Salazar, argues that an underactive thyroid can be defined by a TSH level as low as 2. What’s more worrying than this fact is that Nike Inc. pay Dr. Brown to evaluate Nike athlete’s medical tests. I’m sure he does this really vigorously and reliably though.

Interestingly, an early study exploring performance and the effects of overtraining on a variety of hormones, including the thyroid hormones TSH, tri-iodothyronine (T3) and thyroxine (T4), showed no differences in the level of thyroid hormones through-out the study (Lehmann et al., 1992). 17 distance runners were physically over-trained as the main aim of this study in order to examine the impact of an exhaustively high volume and intensity training program on several hormones. Even with a plateau in endurance performance and maximum performance due to overtraining, thyroid hormone levels remained stable from baseline to training end. And this isn’t the only research to show the stability of thyroid hormones when training gets intense and the volume increases (Mujika et al., 1996).

More recently, an investigation on the relationship between thyroid hormones and common symptoms of overtraining were explored across 16 female track and field athletes (Nicoll, 2014). A 14 week descriptive study encompassed the beginning of indoor season and the end of outdoor season. There was a significant correlation between fatigue and running performance at week 12 suggesting overtraining. There were no significant changes in TSH, T3 and T4 from pre to post study. However, there were significant correlations between total caloric intake at the end of the study and hormones tri-iodothyronine (T3) and thyroxine (T4). This research is suggestive of the idea that changes in thyroid function in athletes may be primarily associated with decreased caloric intake. This was also noted in another study looking at sprinters, elite marathons runners and sedentary controls where the only significant difference between the groups was the ratio of TSH to free T3 which is independently associated with levels of leptin, the appetite hormone (Perseghin, 2009).

Conversely, there is evidence to show that an underactive thyroid, a lack of thyroid hormones, can cause sporting performance to decrease. An inverse correlation has been found between a thyroid hormone, triiodothyronine [T(3)], and VO2max which has shown that as the level of this thyroid hormone decreases, the VO2max of elite endurance athletes decreases when performing a 20 minute cycle ergometer test at 80% VO2max (Lucia, Hoyos, Pérez & Chicharro, 2001).

The contrasting evidence suggests that an underactive thyroid can debilitate performance, but is not necessarily caused by overtraining, as Dr. Brown would have athletes believe. Dr. Brown’s opinion is that excessive exercise causes a sufficient amount of stress on the body to cause underactive thyroid.  Based on the conflicting evidence, it should remain just an opinion.

Unfortunately, some athletes do actually have an underactive thyroid and need the medication. However, there is potential for athletes to be abusing this and using the medication to enhance performance as the thyroid hormone thyroxine is a stimulant. With a lack of evidence showing performance enhancements from underactive thyroid medication, just an unnerving amount of elite athletes taking the drug and performing well, it is unknown how and if the medication does produce such beneficial performance effects. What should definitely be considered is a tighter control over the diagnosis for such a condition and what constitutes as an underactive thyroid rather than a broad definition with regards to the level of hormones that seem to be interchangeable depending on who has the last word/opinion.

 

 

 

 

 

Article

Now 2016 is fully upon us, many of us will have noticed an increase in the amount of people in your local gym. A diverse range of individuals, some of whom may never have taken part in any exercise before, will be busting a gut on the cross trainer, hoping to burn off the calories […]

Now 2016 is fully upon us, many of us will have noticed an increase in the amount of people in your local gym. A diverse range of individuals, some of whom may never have taken part in any exercise before, will be busting a gut on the cross trainer, hoping to burn off the calories from over Christmas. The 1st of January brings with it a burst of motivation, in stark contrast to the end of January when the gyms are back to how they were just before Christmas. Motivation to take yourself to the gym or to go out on a run starts to decrease when teamed with having to balance it with a work life, social life or family life.  Understanding motivation and how to maintain motivation is the key to establishing a lifestyle that incorporates regular exercise for the long term.

Motivation represents one of the most important variables within sport and exercise, known to be one of the most important elements that facilitate exercise participation and a positive experience (Vallerand, 2004). The two main types of motivation are intrinsic and extrinsic motivation. Intrinsic motivation is evident when individuals engage in exercise purely for the pleasure and satisfaction of participation. An example of intrinsic motivation would be when an individual takes part in a spinning class because they enjoy it and find it satisfying when they complete the session. The psychological needs that underpin intrinsic motivation are the needs to determine one’s behaviour, the need to feel competent and the need for relatedness (Adie, Duda & Ntoumanis, 2008). When these basic needs are satisfied, an individual will have high intrinsic motivation, striving to learn new skills, get fitter and adhere to exercise regimes.

Extrinsic motivation involves individuals taking part in exercise for some kind of reward that is external to the activity itself (Vallerand, 2004). An example of extrinsic motivation would be when an individual partakes in exercise in order to beat someone in a competition or perform better than their personal best. Further to this, a number of types of extrinsic motivation exist on a self determination continuum (Deci & Ryan, 2011). External regulation, the lowest level of self determination, refers to behaviour that is regulated through external means such as avoiding constraints or achieving rewards. Introjected regulation refers to when the individual begins to internalise the reasons for exercise, exercising to avoid feeling guilty. When the behaviour becomes valued and important to the individual, for example when an individual exercises to get fitter and run for longer next time, it is referred to as identified regulation. Finally, the highest level of self determination is integrated regulation which refers to when an individual exercises because it is good for their health.

“If a reward—money, awards, praise, or winning a contest—comes to be seen as the reason one is engaging in an activity, that activity will be viewed as less enjoyable in its own right.” Alfred Kohn.

For maintaining motivation, intrinsic motivation is extremely important. Extrinsic motivation is not sustainable alone because as soon as the reward is taken away the motivation disappears. If the rewards stay at the same level, motivation will slowly drop off and to get the same motivation each time, the reward needs to get bigger. Individuals who have the best motivational outcomes such as persistence, a positive attitude and excellent concentration are those who are both extrinsically and intrinsically motivated (Karageorghis & Terry, 2011). If you are a person who regularly takes part in exercise by going to the gym or attending classes, you may be motivated by both an internal satisfaction and enjoyment of exercising but also because you want to be better, fitter and more able to exercise harder each time.

Once a basic understanding of motivation is developed, it is always handy to know ways to keep the motivation high and not dip as the weeks go on. One important area within exercise adherence involves a situation that we all may find ourselves in; high risk situations combined with a lack of coping resources. In other words: finding the time to continue exercising when you are faced with the daily challenges of family life, work life, going on holiday, poor weather, stress and travelling. This is known as the Relapse Prevention Model (Marlatt & Gorden, 1985). Identifying these situations and developing strategies in order to deal with them early on will prevent lapses or relapses in an exercise regime (Jones & Rose, 2005).

Often, many of us do not feel like exercising; the mere thought of going to the gym after work or early in the morning fills us with dread. Part of the Relapse Prevention Model is to help individuals question their “all-or-nothing” thinking, for instance, when an exercise session is missed, many individuals decide to wait until the following week or even month to resume their regime with the all too familiar, “I’ll start again on Monday”. The negatives thoughts that lead to this can be replaced with more realistic and positive ones by being aware of how the negative thought lead to the behaviour of missing that gym session or not going for that run. It is important to challenge those thoughts! Think about what you would say to a friend that has the same negative thought and is contemplating not continuing with the exercise, and focus on the positivity you would give to them.

It is also useful to remind yourself why you started exercising in the first place. Write down all the reasons you want to start exercising and when the going gets tough read through them and think about why you started in the first place. Continue to set goals, short term and long term, which will help you get through the days, weeks and months and keep your mind focused on that final aim, making it easier to overcome any hurdles along the way. Write down at the start of each week a goal that you want to achieve by the end of the week, and do the same for each month as well as having one big goal that you want to achieve by the end of the year. All the short term goals will help you to reach that long term goal.

Some people find that a good motivating tool is to take a picture of themselves at the start of an exercising regime and have it on their mirror at home so on days when you don’t feel like exercising you can look at the picture and get a boost of motivation.

Finally, remember the balance of extrinsic and intrinsic motivation. It is great to have a motivation that stems from wanting to be a bit competitive and be beat people or be able to set personal bests or received rewards, but the most important aspect of exercising is the intrinsic enjoyment. There is nothing that will keep you exercising more than the internal drive that is rooted in enjoyment. Enjoy what you do, and it won’t feel like a regime or a ‘chore’, it will make you wonder why you haven’t been doing it all along.