Education

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.

Article

The Theory of Challenge and Threat States in Athletes (TCTSA) provides a framework for understanding how athletes react psycho-physiologically within competitive situations (Jones, Meijen, McCarthy & Sheffield 2009). To expand, the TCTSA proposes that in a sporting context an athlete’ appraisals of a sporting situation or competition will likely determine their sporting performance. Appraisals comprise […]

The Theory of Challenge and Threat States in Athletes (TCTSA) provides a framework for understanding how athletes react psycho-physiologically within competitive situations (Jones, Meijen, McCarthy & Sheffield 2009). To expand, the TCTSA proposes that in a sporting context an athlete’ appraisals of a sporting situation or competition will likely determine their sporting performance. Appraisals comprise three inter-related constructs, namely self-efficacy, perceived control, and goal orientation, all of which determine a perceived challenge or threat state and an athlete’s consequential effort, attention, decision making and physical functioning. In essence, a perceived challenge state promotes energy efficiency through glucose delivery and culminates in successful sport performance, but a perceived threat state restricts blood flow to the muscles and brain which compromises the mobilisation of attention and decision making and results in less effective sport performance (Dienstbier 1989; Jones et al 2009).

To explain a little further about the three inter-related constructs linked to appraisals, the TCTSA proposes that self-efficacy as an important determinant for appraisal formation because an individual’s belief in their ability to succeed largely depends on their perception of ability to cope with situation demand and execute skills for success (Lazarus 1999). Applied evidence within the competitive anxiety literature supports this argument, suggesting conditions for anxiety are inherent across elite level competition, however high levels of self-efficacy are associated with positive interpretations of anxiety symptoms and appraisals conducive with a challenge state that aids performance (Hanton, Mellalieu & Hall 2004).  Thus self-efficacy might mediate performance outcome.  Secondly, control influences the formation of threat and challenge states given that athletes need to feel both able to compete in a demanding situation and believe they have necessary control to perform to the best of their ability regardless of extraneous, unpredictable variables outside of their control (ie, unexpected obstacles, weather conditions for example) .  Thirdly, goal orientation can influence appraisals of a sporting competition, in that athletes who approach an event with a goal focused approach centred on demonstrating competence will likely experience challenge state on approach to competition; an approach which allows for the retention of high self-efficacy and levels of perceived control. In contrast, approaches driven by avoiding incompetence will likely trigger threat state and hinder performance.

In sum, the TCTSA model would suggest that athlete appraisals are crucial determinants of sporting performance and, more specifically that inter-related constructs of self-efficacy, perceived control, and goal orientation, likely determine a perception of being in a challenge or threat state. This perception will influence an athlete’s consequential effort, attention, decision making and physical functioning, and ultimately their sporting performance.

How can the TCTSA be applied in practice to maximise athlete performance?

The TCTSA (Jones et al 2009) has a theoretical foundation that provides a potential framework for stress management to maximise athlete performance (Turner & Jones 2014). A practical, applied strategy would seek to promote self-efficacy, perceived control and a goal focused approach, with the overall aim being to promote a challenge state that motivates sport performance (Turner et al 2013).  A strategy that combines imagery with a “challenge strategy” (Turner & Jones 2014) can aid athlete performance. Imagery is a well-documented psychological skill that involves intentional recreation of events in the absence of physical practice and has been shown to help athletes achieve a desired psychophysiological state when preparing for performance (Durand, Hall & Haslam 1997). The benefits of imagery on challenge and threat states have also been empirically examined, with findings suggesting that imagery scripts dominated by challenge based appraisals promote perceived control and self-confidence (Williams, Cumming & Balanos 2010).

Tips for developing a TCTSA driven imagery script (adapted from Williams, Cooley, Newell & Cuming 2013)

1 Have a clear rationale

At the outset, make sure the athlete knows the purpose of the imagery script and, more importantly, ensure they are in agreement it may be useful for them.

Consider whether the athlete would prefer a script in first or third person narrative.

2 Draw on past performance successes.

Develop a script that draws on an athlete’s past performance successes and what those performances looked, felt and sounded like in-vivo (sights, sounds, physical sensations, crowd noise for example)

  1. Draw on prior imagery experiences that have helped the athlete

Understand if and/or how imagery has helped the athlete in the past. What did they like about imagery? Draw on this experience.

  1. Have a plan for systematically implementing the script

When is the script most likely to be useful? i.e.  the night before a competition, on competition day, during training.

  1. Set a review

Set a date to review the script and how well it is working for the athlete. Be prepared to refine the script over time in collaboration with the athlete and their changing needs.

Example of an imagery script for a marathon runner, underpinned by the TCTSA model.

You are stood on the starting line…..you have warmed up and feel ready to run.  You are huddled in, with a competitor on each side……you can hear the crowds on the kerbside ……….you can see the starting ribbon right in front of you…… you move your legs from side to side to keep warm……you can feel the sensations of your feet touching the tarmac……..you shake your arms to loosen up and take a deep breath. You know you have around a minute before you start to run.

You notice how you think and feel in this moment. You feel able to perform well today… you can feel butterfly sensations and your heart is beating quickly. You know these feelings well from previous marathons……..they are a good sign…..they are telling you that you are ready to perform…… and perform well.

You are aware of your goals for today. You feel confident you can achieve them . You are in control. …

The gun goes off … RUN!.

You execute the first mile quickly and feel you are in control.  As the miles tick by you begin settle into the race and relax.  Your breathing becomes calmer…..this is a sign you have relaxed……you feel confident.

You maintain your momentum and relax into the run. Your arms swing freely and rhythmically…..your head nods gently……you are in control.

As you approach the final 5 miles your legs feel heavy…you know this feeling from previous races….and you know what to do to get you through it………remember to keep a steady pace and keep nodding your head gently and rhythmically……you know that doing this will maintain control. You have done successfully in past races and it works well for you…..you are confident

As you approach the final mile you can hear the crowd noise……the noise gets louder as you near the finish line…..you can anticipate that feeling of exhilaration as you cross the finish line…..you visualise yourself crossing the line strong and with confidence.

You cross the line, raise your arms and acknowledge your good performance. You reflect on the race for a few moments…..you take a few moments to look around…..the spectators are clapping and cheering. This accolade signals that you have achieved a good performance that deserves celebrating. You are proud of yourself.  Well done.

Article

There are around 2.7 million people diagnosed with diabetes in England, 90% of who have Type 2 diabetes (UK Health and Social Care Information Centre 2013); a chronic disease characterised by the body’s inability to regulate blood glucose concentrations. Incidence rate has been strongly associated with physical inactivity. (National Institute for Clinical Excellence 2012), which poses […]

There are around 2.7 million people diagnosed with diabetes in England, 90% of who have Type 2 diabetes (UK Health and Social Care Information Centre 2013); a chronic disease characterised by the body’s inability to regulate blood glucose concentrations. Incidence rate has been strongly associated with physical inactivity. (National Institute for Clinical Excellence 2012), which poses challenges for the design of physical activity interventions that both promote physical activity participation and encourage long term subscription to a physically active lifestyle.

Transtheoretical Model (TTM)

The Transtheoretical Model of change (TTM; Prochaska & DiClemente 1982) has dominated empirical evidence about the making of behavioural change. TTM stipulates behaviour change, ie, physical activity, is cyclical and involves progression through five stages. Those reporting no current or future intention to change current activity levels are categorised as being in a precontemplative stage. Those thinking about making changes but not acting on thought are categorised as contemplative. Those making small changes on an irregular basis are categorised as being in a stage of preparation. The action stage represents people who have recently increased activity levels on a regular basis and the final maintenance stage represents those performing regular physical activity for more than 6 months. The aim is to encourage people to progress through stages via goal setting, decisional balance (weighing up pros and cons of activity) and self-monitoring (Avery, Flynn, Van Wersh, Sniehotta & Trenell 2012).

Strengths and limitations of TTM

Empirical evidence has associated TTM based intervention with short term improvement in glycaemic control in diabetic populations (Zanuso et al 2010). However, there are limitations to this model’s utility for such populations. Firstly, although broadly categorising people into distinct stages and timescales can aid understanding about facilitators/barriers to change, broad categorisation into a stage does not take into account fluctuating health difficulties associated with Type 2 diabetes that may result in a person moving back and forth between stages for reasons outwith perceived control, ie cardiovascular complications. Thus people may be categorised in a particular stage but unlikely to “progress” due to ill health. Secondly, the TTM model proposes people can move back and forth between stages, which may strengthen likelihood of behaviour change as people learn from mistakes (Prochaska & DiClemente 1982). However, within Type 2 diabetes populations it may be difficult to assess whether people move across stages in response to a trigger or consequence. More specifically, engaging with regular physical activity might be “triggered” by a fear of developing diabetes related health complications, and/ or social triggers such as concerns from significant others and/or medical teams about one’s health. Alternatively, engaging with regular physical activity may be a “consequence” of reward gained from activity, improved glycaemic control and psychological well-being.  Thus the TTM doesn’t help to fully understand the variables that explain stage transition.

Evidence for long term efficacy

Evidence from applied studies suggest that a stage based activity programme based on TTM philosophy is effective in supporting people with diabetes to make short term changes in activity, however activity frequency returns to baseline levels over the long term (Krug, Haire-Joshu & Heady 1991). The heterogeneous nature of interventions (ie group versus individual format), cross sectional designs, and a lack of details about intervention content also limit generalisation and replicability of findings.

Conclusions

In light of the above, it is suggested alternative psychological models are worthy of further exploration to help develop empirically coherent and robust formulations about physical activity and adults with long term conditions such as diabetes. Further work to understand the complexity of factors contributing to long term enthusiasm for physical activity particularly amongst adults with Type 2 diabetes is also suggested.

Article

The term ‘muscle dysmorphia’ was coined in 1997 (Pope, Gruber, Choi, Olivardia, & Phillips, 1997) to describe this new form of disorder, commonly referred to as ‘reverse anorexia’, and now more commonly ‘bigorexia’. The causes are not known but two key ideas revolve around bigorexia as a form of obsessive compulsive behaviour and secondly, the […]

The term ‘muscle dysmorphia’ was coined in 1997 (Pope, Gruber, Choi, Olivardia, & Phillips, 1997) to describe this new form of disorder, commonly referred to as ‘reverse anorexia’, and now more commonly ‘bigorexia’. The causes are not known but two key ideas revolve around bigorexia as a form of obsessive compulsive behaviour and secondly, the effect of the media putting the same type of pressure on men to conform to an ideal shape as has been the case with women for years.

The predominant characteristic of bigorexia is that regardless of time and effort spent the view is that they are not as muscular as they want, regardless of others viewpoints. This condition is more predominant in male gym goers but in recent years with the emergence of the sub culture of female bodybuilding this condition has been sparsely reported in females, this how ever does not mean that all male gym goers have this condition. Found that normal male gym goers spend on average 40 minutes a day contemplating their physical development, in the case of bigorexia these males spend 5 hours plus a day contemplating their physical under development and how to correct it. They examine their body through mirror checks averaging 12 times a day in comparison to other male gym goers who on average mirror check three times a day (Zubcevic-Basic, 2013).

Males with bigorexia often overlook personal commitments such as social events, birthdays, holidays, socialising and in cases work obligations as they may interrupt training schedules. In reported cases the delusion of needed to grow in size has led to individuals quitting their jobs to focus more on training (Zubcevic-Basic, 2013). This training requires a very strict diet, this may lead to the individual feeling uncomfortable eating outside of their home as their dietary restrictions and balance may not be met or they may feel awkward eating in front of others whom may judge their choices, this a major factor which leads to males developing eating disorders (Segura, Castell, Baeza, & Guillén, 2015). The need to be the biggest leads to self-comparisons being drawn to other males, it has been found that when they compare themselves to others of exact equal size males with bigorexia have judged themselves to be smaller and not as strong (Zubcevic-Basic, 2013).

In the quest to reach what they internally deem their ideal for many individuals turn to the use of anabolic steroids to gain strength and size at a quicker rate despite the many side effects associated with the use of steroids, the sub culture of bigorexia gym goers influences the use of such drugs to keep up and gain recognition from peers for their physical development. The ideal body in these cases involves an obsession with a lowered body fat percentage while gaining muscular weight and size another contributing factor the development of eating disorders as stated earlier (Joubert & Melluish, 2014).

There are many psychological abnormalities associated with bigorexia, although they may training intensely and to those external of the sub culture may appear to be “bodybuilders” or have the physic of one, there is a stark difference between the two. A bodybuilder trains to show their physic whereas bigorexia will cause the individual to hide their physic as they themselves do not deem their body shape ideal (Joubert & Melluish, 2014). Bigorexia has been found to influence low self-esteem, as the individual never sees their physic as ideal leading to feelings of worthlessness, despite external comments. This low self-esteem may manifest itself into drastic mood swings due to abnormal eating habits or hormonal imbalances within individuals found to have bigorexia (Segura, Castell, Baeza, & Guillén, 2015).

There is limited research available to suggest a treatment for bigorexia either in groups or individuals, with the main issue being those who suffer from bigorexia do not see it as a condition but rather a driving force to improve themselves regardless of the side effects it is perceived as something natural through influencing factors in the sub culture. There is however limited research on the effectiveness of cognitive behavioural treatment highlighting changes in thought patterns towards long term and short term goals, future longitudinal research may identify treatment for bigorexia. In current society the growing prevalence towards body image in the media as well as social media may cause the sub culture of bigorexia the grow meaning this previously unknown psychological condition if not treated may cause long term side effects in the future (Al-Kasadi, 2013).

Article

As an avid football fan myself, I often wonder if all the effort I put into supporting my team from the stand really does help them to win the game. Therefore, I thought that I’d take a look at the phenomenon of the ‘home advantage’ (HA) and crowd support in professional football. The most common […]

As an avid football fan myself, I often wonder if all the effort I put into supporting my team from the stand really does help them to win the game. Therefore, I thought that I’d take a look at the phenomenon of the ‘home advantage’ (HA) and crowd support in professional football.

The most common definition of HA is from Courneya and Carron, (1992) who describe it as the phenomenon of the home team winning over half of the games played in their home stadium, when the same number of home and away fixtures are played during a season. Research on if HA really does exist in football shows consistent findings. Bray (1999) found that teams in the National hockey league won, on average, 17.5% more of their home games than away. Supporting this, Carmichael & Thomas (2005), found football teams who played at their own stadiums exhibited more accurate shooting and more effective attacking play. Nevill, Newell & Gale (1996), discovered that there was a HA effect on factors such as red cards and penalties scored, as well as games won by the home team. The HA in English professional football is said to be worth just over half a goal a game (Clarke & Norman, 1995).

One of the earliest theories that underpins the occurrence of HA is the theory of social facilitation, by Zajonc (1965) (cited in Shaver & Liebling, 1976, p. 260). This theory suggests that the presence of an observer produces an increased performance on tasks that are well rehearsed or dominant. However the presence would produce a decreased performance on unknown or complex tasks (Shaver & Liebling, 1976). Evidence to support the theory of social facilitation in a sporting context, includes Snyder, Anderson-Hanley and Arciero (2012), who found that competitive individuals showed greater intensity in a cycling task when they were watched by an audience. This is also supported by Rhea, Landers, Alvar and Arent (2003) who tested the effects of an audience on weightlifters. Results suggested that the presence of an audience would significantly increase the performance of the weightlifters. Zajonc (1965) (cited in Feinberg & Aiello, 2006, p. 1088) proposed that the presence of others increases the arousal or drive of the individual, leading to either a positive or negative response, depending on if the appropriate actions are dominant or not.

Taking into account Zajonc’s (1965) theory of social facilitation, it would be fair to assume that the presence of a crowd has a huge effect on the HA of a professional football team. Many studies have looked at the crowd effects on HA. Nevill, Newell and Gale (1996) found that the degree of the HA in English and Scottish football varied across different leagues, furthermore, the leagues with lower crowd sizes yielded a significantly reduced HA, than the leagues with larger crowds. This is supported by Goumas (2014), who investigated the effect of crowd size and density on the HA of teams in the UEFA Champions League. It was found that as the size of the crowd increased, so did the HA for a team. This was attributed to the number of goals scored by the home team increasing as crowd size increased, and the number of goals scored by the away team decreasing as the crowd size increased.

As well as improving the performance of the home team via social facilitation, another area in which the crowd can effects which is investigated in the HA literature is refereeing decisions. Downward and Jones (2007) researched the awarding of yellow cards during the FA cup competition. Results suggested that the likelihood of a member of the home team receiving a yellow card would decrease as the crowd size increased. This was supported by Unkelbach and Memmert (2010), who found that crowd density can predict the amount of yellow cards that were rewarded to the away team. They also found that the relationship was stronger when the crowd was closer to the pitch. In a second study, Unkelbach and Memmert (2010), put referees into a laboratory setting and played them clips from a recent football match, at either a high volume of crowd noise or a low volume of crowd noise. The referees were asked to decide if the player in the clip warranted a yellow card or not. The results indicated that the high volume crowd noise led to significantly more yellow cards that the low volume crowd noise. Unkelbach and Memmert (2010) suggest that these results are due to the referee making a connection between the noise of the crowd and the seriousness of the foul that has been committed by the individual.

Therefore, all the effort that the crowd (including myself) put into supporting their team onto victory, may not be in vein after all.

Article

We all know that nutrition helps the body complete the tasks we set for it, but does it also influence cognitive and psychological systems? Nutrition is an essential part of athletics, but the actual focus on athletic performance is rather narrow, focusing on the physical benefits and ignoring many other important sport-related aspects. This is […]

We all know that nutrition helps the body complete the tasks we set for it, but does it also influence cognitive and psychological systems? Nutrition is an essential part of athletics, but the actual focus on athletic performance is rather narrow, focusing on the physical benefits and ignoring many other important sport-related aspects. This is compacted when trying to individualize nutritional education. Many high-level clubs have athletic trainers or strength and conditioning coaches, but few (non-elite?) organizations have registered dieticians. Athletes tend to trust their parents, coaches and athletic trainers for nutrition advice, but research has shown that these sources of information are average to slightly below-average (1). Education seems like the obvious answer, but it is very difficult to get everyone adequately informed for his or her sport and team. Finding decent nutritional information on your own is relatively simple, and something that should be done by everyone, athlete or not. Looking into sports nutrition can give us a good idea of why it is so important, not just physically, but also psychologically. So what does a deeper look at the psychology of sports nutrition give us?

First, we need to look at the basics. There are generally three energy systems that govern physical movement:

  1. Anaerobic glycolysis – The transformation of sugars to energy in low oxygen environments such as sprints and short, intense exercise;
  2. Aerobic glycolysis – Transforming sugars to energy in oxygen-rich environments such as longer sprints ranging from a few seconds to a few minutes; and
  3. Aerobic mobilization of fats – Using fat stores as energy during longer periods of exercise or movement, like long-distance running, field sports, etc.

Metabolic rate is the rate at which energy is expended during activity; that is, how much energy is used during a 90-minute soccer match, or how many calories are burned in a 100-meter sprint. The brain is a relatively metabolically active organ, using a high percentage of energy, so providing the right fuel should help to maintain proper function.

Branched-chain amino acids (found in foods like chicken, fish, and dairy) provide the body with glucose, the sugars we need for energy short-term exercise, as well as proteins and carbohydrates to help with longer-term activity and recovery, which are metabolically taxing. There is a cognitive benefit to these, as well. Uptake of things like dopamine (pleasure/reward) and noradrenaline (heart rate/attention) are increased when these foods are eaten (2). Chicken, fish, and milk also contain tyrosine, which helps regulate stress and recovery from stressful situations. There is even a suggestion that carbohydrates may help increase exercise capacity in hot environments (3). The physical effects of the carbohydrates in these foods are well known, but evidence suggests that the process of converting them to energy may also improve long-term exercise performance, having an effect on perceived fatigue and the will to exercise (3). Carbohydrate metabolism in the brain can change the way the brain acts in response to physical activity, improving long-term exercise performance and perceptions of fatigue by acting on the chemicals transmitted to the brain (4).

In a 2014 article, Meeusen notes that proper nutrition is also correlated with brain plasticity, synaptic function, memory, as well as the physical structure of the brain (3). In an athletic environment, this is extremely important because an athlete needs proper cognitive function in order to perform at his or her best. For example, an athlete needs to be able to quickly and accurately recall a set play, or respond to an opponent’s action in order to properly defend. It is also extremely important in terms of understanding the tactical and technical aspects of the game and training. An athlete with proper nutritional and dietary habits will better retain the information gained during a training session, and will learn more in a shorter period of time. So, from a cognitive perspective, having proper nutrition makes a big difference in what an athlete will learn and how well he or she will be able to respond during games and training session.

Perhaps one of the most important aspects, though, is the ability of an athlete with proper nutrition to recover from and avoid central fatigue. The Central Fatigue Hypothesis states that fatigue is governed by the central nervous system, and not the muscles themselves, suggesting that the fatigue is actually coming from the brain (5, 6). As noted, proper nutrition may be able to help with the cognitive aspects of perceived effort and fatigue, and it is a basic definition of human movement that performing some physical task requires energy, which comes from nutrients obtained from food. So, we have a physical explanation of reducing fatigue; that is, proper nutritional habits will allow more energy for the tasks you set for your body. We also have a potential explanation of cognitive fatigue that may be influenced by nutrition. On the psychological side of things, fatigue can have detrimental effects on an athlete in the form of burnout, failure to self-regulate, negative motivational changes, and mood disturbances (7).

So, does nutrition influence our cognitive and psychological systems? The answer is a resounding yes. In order to properly train as an athlete, it is important to note what is going into your body and to make sure you have enough of everything. Proper nutrition is relatively simple. Eat lots of different fruits and vegetables (my teachers used to tell me to get as much color on my plate as possible). Carbohydrates should make up a big portion of your diet, as they are an essential part of maintaining proper nutrition. Aim for about 50% of your energy coming from carbohydrates. Protein is also an essential part of the diet, coming from foods like eggs, dairy products, meat, and chicken. Fish can be a good source of essential fatty acids, as well as protein. As an athlete, pay attention to your training load. It might seem like common sense, but if your training increases, you need to make sure your nutrient intake increases along with it.

Finding information on nutrition and how to properly fuel your body for athletics is not very difficult and should be an essential for all athletes looking to improve or maintain their performance. Health magazines and weight-loss website are not the right place to look for this kind of information – RELIABLE sources are important, not ones trying to sell something or ‘change your life’. These will only to tell you that you’re not good enough and are eating too much. Instead, look for information from your national health center, like the Livsmedelsverket in Sweden, or the American Nutrition Association (Swedish-American bias, I suppose). I think that this website – SELFNutrition Data – is quite good and provides decent information about food compositions without judgment. You don’t need a crazy diet or weight-loss tricks, you need to have an idea of how much energy you are using and what kind of foods will provide you with the nutrition you need. I think it’s a good idea to start by looking at the nutritional components of some common foods you eat to see if it fits with your lifestyle. Do you eat enough carbs and proteins for an athlete? What about essential vitamins and minerals? Remember that you are an athlete and will need more than the average person, so don’t listen to anyone telling you what you should be eating. Think about your activity levels and listen to your body. If your club has a nutritionist available, talk to him or her to figure out what you can do to optimize your nutrient intake, if your club doesn’t have one full-time, maybe they could bring in someone for a workshop to encourage proper education. Educate yourself on nutritional sources and reap the rewards on the field!

Article

Today we are living in a digital era, and the advancements being made in technology are continuing to grow at extortionate rates. Since the invention of gadgets such as the iPod Nike +, GPS watches such as the Garmin runner, coupled with the explosion of social media, we upload more and more about our sporting […]

Today we are living in a digital era, and the advancements being made in technology are continuing to grow at extortionate rates. Since the invention of gadgets such as the iPod Nike +, GPS watches such as the Garmin runner, coupled with the explosion of social media, we upload more and more about our sporting success on platforms such as Facebook, Instagram and Twitter, and share the music we listen to on our ‘running playlist’ on internet sites such as Spotify. In addition to this, the use of motivational words, and ‘quotes’, has also become a popular theme in social media, in our own home interiors, and in particular corporate gyms and training grounds. In sports science literature these quotes, or a certain motivational stimuli, is known as priming. But to what extent does the personal iPods’ ‘gym playlist’ and unconscious glances at a motivational quote on our iPhone, or gymnasium wall actually bare an impact on our mental state, and in turn, our performance?

In many respects, music and sport are seen to be quite disparate. Yet, on close inspection of their two worlds, it is evident that they share a great deal in common. One certain stimulus that has been widely reported to bear an influence on people’s motivation and psychological states in the domain of sport and physical activity, is music (e.g., Blood et al., 2013; Fritz et al., 2013; Sanchez, Moss, Twist & Karageorghis, 2014). The use of music has become extremely prevalent, from group exercise classes, gymnasiums, sports stadiums blearing music in the warm-up and half-time breaks, and the solo exerciser plugging into their iPod, music is now almost inescapable in almost any sport and exercise setting.

It is now apparent that even professional athletes routinely use music to enhance both motivational states and performance (e.g., Bishop et al., 2007; Harwood et al., 2011). However, despite the fact that athletes often report positive effects of music during training and competition (e.g., Bishop et al., 2007; Laukka & Quick, 2013), scientific evidence to support such effects remains limited. Almost any sport and exercise setting can incorporate music in four main ways; pre-task, synchronous, asynchronous, and recuperative. Pre-task music is applied immediately before a physical task or event, as a tool to arouse, relax or regulate mood (Terry & Karageorghis, 2011, p. 316). For example, In 2012, such deliberate use of music as a pre-performance strategy could be witnessed not only in the swimming pool (e.g., Eleanor Simmonds), but also on the athletics track (Tahmina Kohistani), in the white water centre (Jasmin Schornberg), and in the velodrome (Chris Hoy). Music is clearly valued as a preparatory tool by Olympic athletes, including gold medallists – and this seems to parallel young people’s daily use of music to manage their moods (Saarikallio & Erkkilä, 2007).

Karageorghis & Priest (2012a, 2012b), have discovered 4 influencing factors that music has on physical activity. These were: (a) encourage the movement pattern to synchronise with the beat of the music, (b) reduced perceived effort used to complete the task by transferring their attention away from the physical sensation of fatigue, (c) influenced psychomotor arousal, and (d) improved mood of the exercise participant. In the most recent research to date, Hutchinson and Karageorghis (2015), examined the psychological effects of music and music-video during treadmill running. Here, it was found that the music-video condition elicited the highest levels of dissociation, lowest RPE, and most positive affective responses regardless of exercise intensity.

In the instance of motivational words, the term ‘priming’ is used to describe “the influence a stimulus has on subsequent performance of the processing system” (Braddeley, 1997, p.325). Priming was traditionally used to explore the relative automaticity of certain behaviours, and has since developed into the investigation of desired behaviours unconsciously through priming methods (see Bargh & Chatrand, 2000). There is a well-established literature demonstrating the influence of visual primes on decision-making processes and situational motivation. It has been proposed that human motivation can be activated automatically without the involvement of conscious guidance or choice. During a study conducted by, Aarts & Dijksterhuis (2002) it was found that priming participants with words associated with fast animals (cheetah, antelope) or slow animals (snail, turtle) led to faster and slower walking speeds. Thus, highlighting the potential benefits of priming methods to physical performance. In a more recent study, Loizou & Karageorghis (2014) looked into the effects of priming, video and music on anaerobic exercise performance. Results indicated that the combined use of video, music and primes was the most effective (compared to no music, video or primes) in terms of influencing participants pre-task affect and subsequent anaerobic performance, followed by the music-only condition.

So, next time you prepare for an event, or routine workout or training. Think about the music on your playlist, the inspirational lyrics you hear, and picture those motivational quotes that are the current fashion on our news feed and gym walls. Theoretical research shows it may just give you that extra edge…

Article

Anxiety is both a psychological and physiological phenomenon. Anxiety is related to emotions such as fear, and negative thoughts such as not being able to cope. The physiological aspects of anxiety include sweating, not sleeping, feeling tense, headaches, raised blood pressure and problems with eating/digestive functions. What is Anxiety? Barlow (2002) defines anxiety as an […]

Anxiety is both a psychological and physiological phenomenon. Anxiety is related to emotions such as fear, and negative thoughts such as not being able to cope. The physiological aspects of anxiety include sweating, not sleeping, feeling tense, headaches, raised blood pressure and problems with eating/digestive functions.

What is Anxiety?

Barlow (2002) defines anxiety as an unpleasant inner state in which we are anticipating something dreadful happening that is not entirely predictable from our actual circumstances. Anxiety is therefore a complex blend of physiological, behavioural and cognitive components.

The common characteristics of anxiety such as, physical tension, a high degree of bodily arousal and persistent feelings of worry are not accidental symptoms, but they are the result of our ‘fight or flight mechanism. These symptoms are crucial indicators to help us to prepare for either ‘fight’ or ‘flight’. Despite the lack of ‘threat to survival’ in sport, the mechanism is the same although the threat is more likely to be towards your ‘self-concept’.

Anxiety is therefore a useful motivator but can be both adaptive and maladaptive. Where a little anxiety can be positive and encourage you, high levels of anxiety can actually discourage your engagement due to fear, therefore becoming maladaptive.

The difference between fear/worry and anxiety is uncertain. However, fear is generally considered to be due to an identifiable source of danger which is usually obvious, as it is a specific person/situation/object. With anxiety it is more difficult to specify exactly what the danger is, as it is more of a general level of worry and/or apprehension.

The state of ‘worry’ refers to a cognitive element in anxiety and includes whether a person perceives that they have sufficient resources to cope with a situation. Whereas, ‘emotionality’ refers to the amount of physiological response to anxiety, such as headaches and sweating.

There are two main types of anxiety; state and trait.

State anxiety is short term anxiety. It is the state of emotional arousal following a perceived threat or other particular reason or circumstance and links to the fight or flight reaction. In short, state anxiety is a temporary condition in response to some perceived threat, such as anxiety prior to speaking in public.

Trait anxiety is long term anxiety and means the individual has anxiety as a personality trait. This trait refers to individual differences in responding to a situation with state anxiety, which means producing an arousal response. For example, people with higher trait anxiety are more likely to be aroused in certain situations than others.

With regards to sport, whilst an moderate level of anxiety or worry can actually ensure that athletes are adequately prepared for performance, high anxiety levels often cause people to perform below their usual standard of performance. An obvious example of this is a penalty shoot-out in football, used to decide tied games in major football competitions. The burden of responsibility on the players chosen to take the penalties frequently lead to spectacular misses as they are unable to handle the pressure.

‘Choking’ in sport is an extreme symptom of anxiety which occurs due to athletes focusing on the execution of component parts of a skill rather than allowing them to flow automatically, without conscious effort. However, if you accept anxiety as a normal psychological reaction to competition, it will be less likely to affect your performance. Understanding what is anxiety is important for every athlete and coach and I hope this article has given you a deeper insight into the area of anxiety in sport.

Article

Where can I study a Sport Psychology Course? There are a number of sport psychology courses that students can study. Below you will find a useful map of a number of sport psychology courses in the UK, at both masters and undergraduate level.

Where can I study a Sport Psychology Course?

There are a number of sport psychology courses that students can study. Below you will find a useful map of a number of sport psychology courses in the UK, at both masters and undergraduate level.

Article

We’ve all been there. Sometimes a team performance just clicks. Every play works, everyone seems to read the mind of their team mates and be in the right place at the right time. It’s a wonderful feeling. Conversely there are awful times when you wonder why a team made up of such talented individuals just […]

We’ve all been there. Sometimes a team performance just clicks. Every play works, everyone seems to read the mind of their team mates and be in the right place at the right time. It’s a wonderful feeling. Conversely there are awful times when you wonder why a team made up of such talented individuals just does not perform as a team, and in a team sport that is not a winning formula. When playing a team sport having cohesion and collective efficacy is an important factor in having a successful team performance. This is the ‘belief in their collective ability to perform successfully (Bandura, 1997).

Building efficacy can be split into three sections; before competition, during competition and after competition (Weinberg, Gold 2011). Before competition or the ‘production process’ involves building a strong team dynamic and building perceptions that each individual is physically prepared for the task in hand. Team building exercises such as army assault course days, cooking skills courses, or simply a social night out gives team members a chance to get to know each other better and to trust each other. Trust is an important team word. During competition is an important part of how the team performs together. In order to perform well the team needs to believe in one another’s capability and have confidence that each individual can play their part. Finally, the after competition or ‘evaluation process’, this part of the process has the potential to be the make or break of how quickly a team bounces back after a negative performance. After an unsuccessful performance evaluating what went wrong and why is crucial to help the team and individuals start to regain confidence.

To have an effective team, the individuals and coach need to create an effective team climate. This is not only the climate on the pitch, but also in the changing room, in the gym and everywhere else that the team works as a unit to improve together. At the end of the day the coach will have a major impact on the team climate (Zander, 1982). But it is up to the individuals and their perceived relationships with each other that will make the difference. Each individual will have a role to play in the team dynamic. For some people this will be the ‘joker’ in the changing room, playing pranks and keeping everyone relaxed before a game, all the way up to the captain who is the leader for the group. A person people can look up to and an important person determining the effectiveness of the group.

A player’s confidence in their ability to perform their role within the team will influence their performance beyond their self confidence to execute their individual skills (Bray et al, 2002). As a coach this is an important thing to consider when managing a team. For example putting someone in a role that they are not prepared for may have a negative effect on not only that individuals self confidence but also the belief that the team has in the ability for that person to carry out their role. Lack of confidence will have a negative impact on the team’s performance. Individuals won’t be fully focused on their roles, but  instead will have it in the back of their minds to do each others, which will take away from the effectiveness of the team. Beware the player who thinks they can do it all themselves.

When comparing two teams the team with the best individual talents may not necessarily make the best team. This is because individual sacrifice towards the collective team goal by all players has a big impact on the team performance. This desire and want to perform as a team and work hard for each other is an environment that everyone involved in the team on and off of the pitch has to contribute to. The standards are set by the team, lead by the captain and maintained by the coach. A happy organized team where everyone is aware of their team role is a pre-requisite to success.

Article

Within sport there is a noted paucity of research on the reasons as to why sportspeople drink in excess (O’Brien, Kolt, Webber & Hunter, 2010).  In sport, alcohol is seen as the most widely used drug in the athletic population.  Studies have shown that up 88% of intercollegiate American athletes use alcohol (O’Brien & Lyons, […]

Within sport there is a noted paucity of research on the reasons as to why sportspeople drink in excess (O’Brien, Kolt, Webber & Hunter, 2010).  In sport, alcohol is seen as the most widely used drug in the athletic population.  Studies have shown that up 88% of intercollegiate American athletes use alcohol (O’Brien & Lyons, 2000) and men between the age of 18 and 24 have been shown to have an increased chance of problem drinking (Thornley, 1985).  To help us understand alcohol addiction of athletes, we shall look at it from a behavioural and social perspective.

In todays society teenagers are now being introduced to alcohol from a very young age.  Most teenagers will start drinking from a social perspective so that they feel as though they fit in with their friends.  Peer pressure plays a large role within the drinking culture in sport and it can be said that there are a large majority of individuals who drink so that they are accepted socially into a group.  In relation to the social norms of drinking, it is argued that a person’s behaviour, beliefs and attitudes are influenced by their perceptions of how their peers behave (Perkins, 2002).  Individuals use role models and peers as a barometer of how they will act (Nattive & Puffer, 1991).  It can be argued that athletes can be heavily influenced by the social norms of drinking and by seeing their peers drink.  The normative expectations in relation to drinking can cause sports players to drink with other people through a sense of duty rather than for their own desire (O’Brien, Kolt, Webber & Hunter, 2010).  Therefore the social norm attached to drinking can be very strong for an athlete as it causes a large amount of pressure for a player to drink (Foxcroft & Lowe, 1995).

Research has shown that it is common practice for athletes to consume alcohol after a sport event, to help relax, celebrate or drown sorrows (Davies & Foxall, 2011; Bacon, 1973).  Most teams will often engage in drinking after a game on the weekend.  In the UK, there is a common pattern of behaviour for males who participate in sport to drink alcohol while watching a sporting event (Eastman & Land, 1997).  Collins and Vamplew (2002) described how important the centrality of the pub is in a person’s sporting life.  The pub has an extremely strong link with sport teams and activities and has a shared tradition of a masculine culture (Martens, Dams-O’Connor, Duffy-Paiement & Gibson, 2006).

Behavioural

To understand how an athlete can become addicted to alcohol we shall look at the addiction from a behavioral perspective.  Classical conditioning has been found to play an important role in the development and maintenance of an addictive behaviour (Greeley & Westbrook, 1991).  The cue exposure theory is linked very closely to classical conditioning and it argues that cues are important in the development of addiction (Heather &  Greeley, 1990).  A cue that was present when drugs are administered will more likely cause a conditioned response (cue reactivity) (Greeley, Swift & Heather, 1992).  The number of cues which a can be associated to an addiction are infinite. There are two types of cues; exteroceptive and interoceptive. Exteroceptive cues occur before the use of a drug and can include things such as the smell of an alcoholic drink.  Interoceptive cues include things such as mood cues (depressed mood).  The response to these cues may be autonomic, behavioural or symbolic expressive (Drummond, Tiffany, Glautier & Remington, 1995).  Autonomic responses can include aspects such as changes in heart rate.  Behavioural responses include an increased likelihood to use that drug and symbolic expressive include things such as urges to drink.  When an athlete becomes addicted to alcohol it can be argued that they will be constantly around different cues that are increasing their urge to drink, such as being with players who enjoy drinking (social cues).  As well as this there are many interoceptive cues that could have an influence on a player.  Throughout a players career there are many setbacks and pressures which can affect a players mood state in many ways.  The negative mood state that an athlete might experience from injury or under performance could as a cue for a person to drink. When a player is withdrawn from their sport this could act as another cue for the individual to drink.

Overall it can be seen that there are many factors which can lead to a player becoming addicted to alcohol.  Alcohol addiction can have a large effect on a player and it can be seen that the normative drinking environment is just one of many factors which can trigger an addiction to alcohol.

Article

It is accepted that throughout an athlete’s career they will encounter injury setbacks. But it does appear, at least anecdotally, that some athletes experience more injuries than others. I’m sure any sports fan could come up with an example of an athlete who has had seemingly endless injury problems. Without wishing to name any names, […]

It is accepted that throughout an athlete’s career they will encounter injury setbacks. But it does appear, at least anecdotally, that some athletes experience more injuries than others. I’m sure any sports fan could come up with an example of an athlete who has had seemingly endless injury problems. Without wishing to name any names, I can think of a certain footballer who has had a torrid time with injury. Indeed, according to the physioroom.com from the beginning of 2011 to today he has had 24 separate injuries, all of varying severity. Whilst there are undoubtedly a range of factors ranging from physical to genetic that determine injury, this article will focus on the psychological factors that may influence injury risk.

Andersen and Williams (1988) first proposed a model of stress and athletic injury, which has since been revised (Williams & Andersen, 1998) and extended (Petrie & Perna, 2004). Essentially the model proposes that certain psychological factors predispose an athlete to become more stressed when under pressure. This stress response leads to physiological and attentional changes that can increase one’s propensity to injury. The psychological factors included in the model are: personality, history of stressors, and coping resources. Research into each of these factors has identified more specifically what variables are important (see Johnson, 2007 for a review). However, it should be noted that the research has been carried out in a variety of contexts and using a range of sports. Whether or not certain factors are more or less relevant in certain sports is yet to be clarified.

Regarding personality, the characteristics of competitive trait anxiety, somatic trait anxiety, mood states, perfectionism, self-confidence/ self-esteem and mistrust have all demonstrated relationships with the stress response and subsequent injury risk. The history of stressors category is composed of daily hassles and life event stress. Whilst it is unclear whether daily hassles such as being late or unexpected arguments have an effect in this model, life event stress does appear to be influential. These major life events like moving to a new city, divorce, or a new baby can be linked to increased stress and propensity towards injury. Finally, coping resources refer to factors that may help an athlete to cope with stress, such as social support from family and friends. An athlete’s coping resources does appear to be linked to subsequent injury.

To try and give you a better idea of what I am talking about let’s put this into an example. Say an athlete is about to compete in a major final. Their personality is high in trait anxiety and perfectionism and they have recently divorced from their partner and had to move into a new house. Moreover, they are don’t have many friends in this area and their family lives far away. All these factors, coupled with the high pressure of the competition leads to the player becoming highly stressed.

That they will be stressed in this situation is unsurprising, but why should being stressed increase the likelihood of a player getting injured? To explain one must examine the changes that can occur under stress. One proposed change is an increased in generalised muscle tension. This not only can mean that the muscles are more likely to rip or tear but also it restricts the athletes’ ability to move easily. Therefore, if an opponent is trying to tackle them, they may be less able to avoid it. Another change during stress involves a narrowing of the visual field. This restricts the view of the periphery which may mean the player is less likely to spot a dangerous situation, such as the opponent arriving to tackle them. The final change included in the model is increased distractibility. It is hypothesised that when under stress, people are more prone to focus on distracting stimuli. Once again this increases the possibility that an athlete may fail to notice a potentially injurious situation.

It is important to remember that the model does not claim to be 100% accurate in predicting injury and it does not mean that stressed athletes will get injured. The very nature of elite competition is stressful and clearly not every athlete competing at this level is injured. However, the model does have potential to identify athletes who are most at risk of injury and give ideas about how to help them, for instance by increasing their coping resources.

Article

Choking under pressure has become a widely researched area within sports psychology and it’s exact definition is still unclear. The term ‘choking under pressure’, or an individuals skill levels being at a lower standard is feared by athletes of all standards. In any given situation, an athlete performing at a high level with an anxious […]

Choking under pressure has become a widely researched area within sports psychology and it’s exact definition is still unclear. The term ‘choking under pressure’, or an individuals skill levels being at a lower standard is feared by athletes of all standards. In any given situation, an athlete performing at a high level with an anxious desire to succeed is known as performance pressure. (Hardy, Mullen, & Jones, 1996). The occurrence of choking under pressure is of interest in a real-world and experimental setting where action-based and sensorimotor skills become more evident. (Beilock & Carr, 2001). Working memory is located in the prefrontal cortex and associated areas.  It was updated from short term memory by Baddeley and Hitch in 1974. They argued that Atkinson and Shiffrin’s (1968) multi-store system was far too simple. Over the years, both working memory and short term memory has been researched in many different ways by various psychologists. Working memory consists of a central executive system which controls and co-ordinates two sub-sections: phonological loop and the visuo spatial pad. By creating this alternative model, working memory was described in further detail. Short term memory was noted as not a system of a single unitary from research and evidence provided in the 1970’s and 80’s from a brain damaged patient. Working memory is used inefficiently and the use of the pre-frontal cortex is not always beneficial. In stressful situations, the pre frontal cortex stops working the way it should. It then begins to focus too much, resulting in working too hard,  which disrupts what you are doing which derails the original focus. Distraction can become an explanation as to why athlete’s choke under pressure as it makes the athlete worry about a situation and its consequence. It provides task irrelevant cues and compromises working memory. Self-focus becomes a factor as pressure raises self consciousness in an athlete.

Within an athletes lifestyle there are various ways of including techniques to enhance the athlete’s understanding of choking under pressure. Process goals can be defined as a way to execute a task effectively, by understanding which strategies, skills and behaviours are essential (Mullen, Faull, Jones & Kingston, 2015). Using this method can be beneficial to individuals who experience high levels of anxiety as it helps the performers deal with their anxiety levels by focusing their attention upon other aspects. By focusing on other aspects such as movement and the technique of their movement, Mullen & Hardy (2010; as cited in Mullen, Faull, Jones & Kingston, 2015) explain it could affect the processing of tasks for the skilled performers which were automatic. By affecting the automatic processing, it illustrates the conscious processing hypothesis (CPH) that Masters’ (1992) designed. Masters’ (1992) describes how by focusing upon a specific movement, the explicit knowledge could be what affects any automatic processing the athlete may be used too. When anxiety is elevated, a vital component to ensure success is to be able to remain focused and to be able to control attention (Janelle, 2002, as cited in, Vine, Moore & Wilson, 2014). In relation to remaining focused and the ability to control attention, quiet eye training is an interesting technique which has shown positive benefits within athlete’s performances.  Following on from this statement, it shows how important using the ‘quiet eye’ technique is because it can analyse where an individual is looking before, during and after executing a shot. By being able to watch and analyse this information, it can be relayed back to athlete’s to inform them what needs to be done to provide optimal performance and train the brain and eyes to focus upon certain information for a long enough duration to deliver results. Following along the spectrum of using technology to improve and enhance individuals performance by reducing the likelihood of choking under pressure, a electroencephalography (EEG) has been introduced. The EEG uses movement tasks to asses an individuals cortical activity (Cooke, 2013 as cited in Ring, Cooke, Kavussanu, McIntyre & Masters, 2015). Both novices and experts are shown to be a benefit by using this method as experts show cortical specificity greater than novices, although novices show when learning the motor skill, greater increasing levels of the cortical specificity. Due to this research being up to date, this means the evidence is extremely limited. Ring et al, (2015) discuss although the research is very limited, there are case studies of elite athletes who explain how the feedback of using EEG has enhanced their performance levels.

Although this phenomenon is explored and feared by many athletes, more often than not, athlete’s will only be aware of the phenomenon and not understand there are ways to train to overcome this experience. As with learning any skill, the younger that you acquire these skills, the more efficient they become. Charness & Campbell, (1988); Harrington & Haaland, (1992 as cited in Touron, 2004), all agree that when comparing adults, older adults are more reluctant to be slower when grasping new skills, and not reaching the same optimal level as younger adults. Bryan, Lowe, Harter, & Noble (1897) and Miles, (1933 as cited in as cited in Touron, 2004) state that for a long period of time, there has been a deficit within the learning processing of skills which is specific to age. This can be implemented when analysing choking under pressure into individuals, for psychologists, coaches or players to understand what is happening within the phenomenon it would become easier for them to implement strategies from a younger age.

Article

Aggression is the display of an intentionally harmful physical action, rather than a cognitive or affective state (Tod, Thatcher & Rahman, 2010). It takes two major forms, the first being hostile aggression, which consists of harmful intent without the desire to achieve a competitive benefit. The second type is instrumental aggression, which holds focus on […]

Aggression is the display of an intentionally harmful physical action, rather than a cognitive or affective state (Tod, Thatcher & Rahman, 2010). It takes two major forms, the first being hostile aggression, which consists of harmful intent without the desire to achieve a competitive benefit. The second type is instrumental aggression, which holds focus on completing a competitive goal through harmful means (Tod, Thatcher & Rahman, 2010).

Assertion is also frequently associated with aggression, but is accepted and often encouraged in sport as it is defined as a legitimate force, without intent to harm and usually involves a heightened level of effort (Silva, 1979; cited in Cox, 2007).

Aggression in different contexts

Burton (2005) suggested that aggression is an essential element of sport and the application of it can be recognised as passion for that particular game, and therefore in some cases, a desirable characteristic. Earlier research by Zilman, Johnson and Day (1974) found a similar outcome where aggressive behaviour displayed in contact sports was commonly rewarded, providing a form of positive reinforcement, and encouraging the same nature of behaviour outside of a sporting context (cited in Lemieux, Mckelvie & Stout, 2002). Football and Rugby, two very popular contact sports, have also been identified as more likely to trigger aggression both on and off the field (Tenebaum et al, 1997; cited in Lemieux, Mckelvie & Stout, 2002).

A lab study conducted in 1999 on high school athletes provided results showing that individuals who participate in high contact sport demonstrated a higher chance of behaving aggressively following provocation than those involved in low contact sports (Huang et al, 1999; cited in Lemieux, Mckelvie & Stout, 2002).

Theoretical perspectives

Bandura (1973) and the Social Learning Theory propose the idea that the behaviour of significant others and even oneself during sport, can have a strong influence on the way that individuals act outside of a sporting context (cited in Lemieux, Mckelvie & Stout, 2002). Aggressive behaviour away from sport is more likely to be demonstrated by those involved or interested in sport which allows contact (Bandura, 1973; cited in Lemieux, Mckelvie & Stout, 2002). Conroy et al (2001) also found that athletes participating in non- contact sports did not perceive acts of aggression to be tolerable in the way that individuals who participated in contact sports did (cited in Tod, Thatcher & Rahman, 2010).

However, the Catharsis Theory also argues that aggression is a natural and intuitive motivation which has the compelling need for release through physical action within a controlled environment (Bushman et al., 1999; cited in Cox, 2007). Similarly, the more recent Reversal Theory submits that contact permitting sports are predominantly opted for, due to the opportunity to exert a certain level of aggression through the nature of play (Kerr, 2004; cited in Tod, Thatcher & Rahman, 2010).

So, although there has been findings to suggest that contact sports have a causal effect on aggression both in and out of a sporting context (Bandura, 1973; Zilman, Johnson & Day, 1974; Tenenbaum, 1997), there are also contrary beliefs that aggression can be utilised positively through sport as an opportunity for release of naturally accumulated aggression (Apter, 2001; Kerr, 2004; Bushman et al, 1999).

Article

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Article

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Article

Many international footballers have missed penalties in FIFA World Cups over the years. Whether it be Italy’s Roberto Baggio in the 1994 final; or Frank Lampard in the 2006 quarter final defeat to Portugal, the pressure on a world stage sometimes gets the better of these high quality players. Their psychological strength seems to be […]

Many international footballers have missed penalties in FIFA World Cups over the years. Whether it be Italy’s Roberto Baggio in the 1994 final; or Frank Lampard in the 2006 quarter final defeat to Portugal, the pressure on a world stage sometimes gets the better of these high quality players. Their psychological strength seems to be overridden by the situation when thousands of people are watching in the stadium and millions at home.

 

Specifically, England hold the worst record in FIFA world cup penalty shootouts – three losses in as many attempts. More recently, they lost the Euro 2012 quarter final to Italy on penalties. Following an early exit from the competition in 2014, they will not have the opportunity to take part in a knockout stage shootout. However, it will be interesting to see how the other nations fair following extra time. The question is: how do footballers with vast amounts of experience, skill and quality succumb to the pressure of taking a penalty?

The psychological route an individual takes when a new demand (penalty taking) is encountered can be described by the Stress Process (McGrath, 1970):

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If there is an imbalance between the ability of the performer and perceived demands of an activity (McGrath, 1970), state anxiety or arousal changes occur. This article will focus on the effect of state anxiety on penalty shootout performance.

First of all, the emotion must be triggered. During a football world cup, the importance and pressure of the event can cause these feelings to occur. Anxiety may be sparked by past experiences (negative or positive) of the individual or team. Thoughts, such as the fear of missing and uncertainty can have a detrimental impact on performance. Penalty shootout anxiety, known as competitive state anxiety may be caused by a number of factors however the way in which it is perceived dictates how it affects performance. Anxiety has commonly been associated with reduced performance levels through association with negativity. The control model of competitive state anxiety (Jones, 1995) shows that anxiety can have a direction – facilitative or debilitative. Therefore two footballers in a penalty shootout may experience the same symptoms of anxiety, but interpret them differently.

Control Model of Competitive State Anxiety (Jones, 1995):

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The symptoms, regardless of direction, that commonly occur are increases in muscle tension affecting coordination; an increase in heart rate and sweating; while lactate and epinephrine levels can rise. Psychologically, anxiety can cause concentration changes such as loss of awareness due to mantel tension or poor selective perception. The debilitative physiological and attentional changes that occur are the factors which lead to ‘choking’.

‘Choking’ is a process which all high level sportsmen and women want to avoid. Poor control of state anxiety can develop to ‘choking’ in important circumstances. Hanin (1980) proposed that athletes in sport have an optimum state of anxiety where performance levels are potentially at their best. This theory is known as the Individual Zones of Optimal Functioning. Each player has their own bandwidth (or zone) where they perform best and everyone is different. The zone for each footballer determines whether the direction of anxiety facilitates or debilitates performance.

Not only do footballers aim to improve their emotional control during the tournament, but also their motor skills – the ability to place penalty kicks with accuracy, pace and speed of thought. The strategy which the England manager, Roy Hodgson, used was to eliminate goalkeepers in training so the team did not normalise their penalty taking against only Joe Hart, Ben Foster or Fraser Forster. Instead, he challenged the players to hit certain areas of the goal: bottom right and left hand corners; top left and right hand corners; and top centre. This practice technique is known as simulation training (an on-site technique to manage anxiety).

Before a group stage exit was anticipated, England recruited one of the world’s leading sports psychologists – Dr. Steve Peters. The predominant reason behind the appointment was to rectify England’s recent misery in penalty shootouts on the world stage. However, how does a sports psychologist help to manage the anxiety levels of the players?

Anxiety management techniques psychologists use can be divided into somatic or cognitive. Somatic refers to managing anxiety physiologically, whereas cognitive management regulates anxiety psychologically. These techniques are used in order to counteract and eliminate the symptoms which anxiety causes. Prior to the use of some of these techniques, certain measurements of anxiety levels during competition may be made, through the use of self-report questionnaires or observation of physiological responses.

Somatic anxiety management techniques:

  • Breathing (or Centering)

Control of the player’s breathing in order to regulate the respiratory system prior to performance is vital. The player will take up a comfortable position in a relaxing and peaceful environment. The aim of the exercises is to cause breathing to be smooth, deep, rhythmical so that the player is calm, confident and in control of their body. The inhale: exhale ratio advised is 1:2.

  • Biofeedback (Greenberg, 1990)

Machines e.g. EEG (electroencephalogram), EMG (electromyogram), GSR (Galvanic Skin Response) monitor various signals emitted by the player being monitored in a situation of high anxiety. This may be a change in: heart rate, muscle tension, breathing, brain activity, perspiration levels. Over a long period of time by experimenting in different situations of anxiety in a laboratory, the participant recognises the development of anxiety symptoms. As a result, players aim to regulate anxiety by changing thoughts and thought stopping techniques e.g. cue words in order to re-focus.

  • PMR – Progressive Muscle Relaxation (Jacobsen, 1932)

A commonly used method in many sports. This directly reduces muscle tension through the contraction and relaxation of separate muscle groups. It allows the athlete to create awareness of relaxation and tension within the body. Therefore, these individuals can develop an understanding of when muscle tension develops and how it feels comparatively. They have the ability to control the anxiety symptoms of muscle tension.

Cognitive anxiety management techniques:

  • Relaxation Response (Benson & Procter, 1984)

Benson and Procter derived a technique from meditation. They proposed a strategy of managing anxiety levels with basic meditation components, without the religion or spirituality. Four key requirements to make relaxation response effective were put forward:

  1. Quiet place.
  2. Comfortable position.
  3. Mental device, such as a thought or a word.
  4. Passive attitude to the technique.
  • Autogenic Training (Schultz & Luthe, 1969)

Even though it is labelled as a cognitive technique, autogenic training involves performing exercises that specifically create a relaxed state of warmth and heaviness. The aims of the method are to regulate cardiac activity; regulate breathing; provide warmth to the core; and cool the temperature of the forehead.

The anxiety management techniques I have outlined are not the only ones around. These are just some of the methods psychologists may use with certain players at this year’s world cup. The aim is to manage the players’ anxiety levels in order to contain them within their individual bandwidth of optimal functioning.

Some countries will be using sports psychologists to work with players and manage anxiety levels; others will not. Will there be a significant difference in shootout performances for those with and without such professionals?

It will be interesting to see how will the likes of Brazil, Germany and Holland fair when anxiety strikes. And will Pirlo emulate his calm, confident and controlled nature from Euro 2012?

Article

So for once, England’s fate will  not be decided by penalties in the World Cup. Their early exit at the group stage has saved as the agony of the dreaded penalty shootout, which the England team have a troublesome history to contend with in major tournaments. A bank of confidence it is certainly not, with just one […]

So for once, England’s fate will  not be decided by penalties in the World Cup. Their early exit at the group stage has saved as the agony of the dreaded penalty shootout, which the England team have a troublesome history to contend with in major tournaments. A bank of confidence it is certainly not, with just one win in six penalty shoot outs in World Cups and European Championships. We regularly hear cries from the losing fans of “well penalties are just a lottery aren’t they”, “they’re just pot-luck”, “the Germans /Portuguese /Italians /Argentineans got lucky” etc.

But if this were the case, why is England’s record so poor? If the shoot out is no better than a toss of a coin, why isn’t England’s record of success closer to 50% (rather than 17%)? Is the penalty shoot out really just a lottery? Studies which have examined the history of penalty shootouts have suggested otherwise (Jordet and Hartman, 2008; Jordet, 2009a; Jordet, 2009b). Player’s behaviours before taking penalty kicks, plus players’ statuses, have been shown to perhaps play a role in their eventual success or failure.

Jordet and Hartman (2008) examined all the penalty shootouts that had taken place in the FIFA World Cup, European Championships and the UEFA Champions League (36 shootouts with 359 penalty kicks) and discovered a number of things. When a particular penalty kick was to win the shootout, players were successful 92% of the time. When a penalty kick was to keep a team in the shootout (i.e. not to lose), players were only 61.8% successful. This finding was attributed to “avoidance motivation” (Jordet and Hartman 2008), where those faced with a kick to avoid losing were forced into an avoidance (negative) mindset.

This conclusion was backed up when the behaviour of players before taking penalty kicks was also examined. When players walked back from the ball having placed it on the penalty spot, a note was made of whether they walked back facing the goal or looking away from the goal. Looking away from the goal was identified as “avoidance behaviour”, a sign of players trying to disengage with the task at hand by looking away. On shots to win the shootout, players faced away from the goal 14.4% of the time, while on shots to avoid losing they looked away 44.1% of the time. This suggests that avoidance motivation is more likely to lead to avoidance behaviour in penalty kick takers (Jordet and Hartman, 2008).

So this indicates that penalties aren’t such a lottery, and that the mindset and motivation of penalty kick takers can play a significant role in deciding a team’s fate. You could argue that, to be more successful, penalty kick takers could try to treat each penalty as if it’s to win the shootout, in order to maintain a positive mindset and keep avoidance motivation at bay. However, this still doesn’t explain why England in particular have been so poor in the past.

Jordet (2009a) examined which countries had the best penalty shootout record in World Cups and European Championships. Surprisingly, the Czech Republic had been successful with every kick taken in penalty shootouts (20 out of 20), closely followed by Germany (92.9%) and then Denmark (90%). Rather unsurprisingly England were the second worse nation (67.7%), only 1% better than the Netherlands (66.7%). However, on shots when the keeper went in the correct direction, England were rock bottom with 50% (with the Czech republic still top). So why was this the case? Not only were the perennial under-achievers England amongst the worst, but two regularly un-fancied teams (the Czechs and Danish) had two of the best records. Jordet (2009a) proposed that choking is triggered in the first instance by “ego-threat”, when an athlete perceives a situation as being potential harmful or threatening to their stature or status (Jordet, 2009a). This in turn leads to avoidance motivation and avoidance behaviour (as described earlier). The Czech Republic and Denmark featured no players who had been named on the shortlist for FIFA World Player of the year, no players to have won the World Cup Golden, Silver or Bronze Boot, finished in the top 3 for the Ballon D’or or had featured in the UEFA club team of the year (Jordet, 2009a). On the other hand, on average 19.4% and 20.8% of England and the Netherlands teams respectively had featured players who had won one of these individual accolades. In other words, players from England and the Netherlands in the past have had more reasons to experience threats to their egos, whereas the Czech Republic and Denmark had not.

England players also engaged in far more avoidance behaviours than their more successful counterparts (Jordet, 2009a). 56.7% of England players looked away from the goal as they prepared their run up for penalty kicks (avoidance behaviour), compared to 4.5% of Spanish players (Jordet, 2009a). In summary, England’s most decorated footballers have choked in the past because they are more likely to experience a greater threat to their ego when faced with a high stakes penalty kick. This is compared to international teams featuring players with less reputation to lose from a failed spot kick.

Jordet (2009b) also analysed the success rates of spot kick takers who had won individual accolades and awards at the time of taking their kicks (“Current Stars”), compared to players who would go on to win them in the future at the time of the spot kick (“Future Stars”). Current stars (who in theory would experience more ego threat having already won their awards) were only 65% successful from the penalty spot, while future stars had a staggering success rate of 88.9% (with players who never won any awards in their career at 73.6%). It could be argued that the future stars were more successful because a high pressure penalty shoot out was perceived in their eyes as an opportunity to go out and win their reputation.

Therefore, this research by Jordet (2009b) would suggest that when faced with a penalty shoot-out, younger, more  in-experienced players yet to fulfil there potential are more likely to be successful than some of their more experienced, decorated team mates. With this knowledge, would teams facing a penalty shootout in the knockout stage of this year’s tournament push their young guns up the order for a penalty shoot out? This remains to be seen. Some say that penalty shoot-outs are an unfair method for deciding the result of the football match. However, many psychologists would argue that they are the ultimate test of nerve and technique under pressure. Who will rise to the occasion and who will crumble come the knockout stages?

Article

The internet is filled with great advice from well-meaning advocates of exercise and the consensus is clear – if you want to have the best chance of sticking at your exercise regime and get the most out of it, then you should find someone or a group of people to exercise with. The benefits cited […]

The internet is filled with great advice from well-meaning advocates of exercise and the consensus is clear – if you want to have the best chance of sticking at your exercise regime and get the most out of it, then you should find someone or a group of people to exercise with. The benefits cited include:

  • You’ll be less likely to skip an exercise session
  • You’ll work harder and lose more weight
  • Your mood will be better
  • You won’t have to worry about planning what to do
  • You will make new friends

Indeed, there is significant evidence to support the physiological benefits of working out with others, with studies such as Plante, Coscarelli and Ford, 2001 suggesting exercising with others can help reduce stress, make you work harder and improve wellbeing in comparison to exercising alone.

The significant issue to highlight is the psychological challenge of initiating group-based exercise participation, particularly for those who may have significant body image concerns.  Body image dissatisfaction occurs when there is a negative difference between our body image reality and our ideal. This healthy body ideal is linked to social norms depicted in the media and affects both men and women in different ways. Women typically perceive a ‘thin ideal’ leading to attitudes related to a need to lose weight whereas men typically perceive a ‘muscular ideal’ leading to attitudes related to a need to bulk up and gain weight.

The Catch 22 here is that whilst physical exercise has been shown to have positive benefits on body image satisfaction, concerns with body image can prevent an individual from engaging in exercise in the first place. And the issue the websites don’t seem to talk about is that exercising with other people can be an additional social barrier to participation. According to Leary’s (1992) self-presentation framework, the way an individual presents themselves is strongly connected to cultural ideals such as the healthy body ideal, and this will shape how they feel they are being evaluated by others.  Accordingly, those with the highest body image concerns (and who have the most to gain from exercise) report being the most likely to want to exercise on their own away from others in order to avoid embarrassment or shame. In fact, group exercise sessions where physique is mentioned can exacerbate the problem. The assumption of a lot of gyms and personal training businesses is that a fit and toned instructor acts as a powerful positive role model to participants. The reality is that unfortunately it can have the opposite effect by causing additional anxiety and a feeling that we are being judged.

The bottom line is that encouraging any form of exercise should be the goal. If exercising alone is the way an individual needs to do it in order to get started then this should be applauded and supported. Encouraging progression into supportive group exercise environments with other like- minded individuals will no doubt increase the likelihood that exercise behaviours will be maintained, but we need to be careful not to mistake which modality will give the biggest returns over time with the one that will be most likely to get the individual to start the journey.

 

Article

Frank Gardner and Zella Moore (2001) developed the Mindfulness-Acceptance-Commitment (MAC) approach to sport performance enhancement in a response to the absence of research supporting traditional psychological skills training (PST) techniques such as goal setting, imagery, self-talk, and arousal control. The MAC approach is comprised of a combination of mindfulness exercises and acceptance techniques, and is […]

Frank Gardner and Zella Moore (2001) developed the Mindfulness-Acceptance-Commitment (MAC) approach to sport performance enhancement in a response to the absence of research supporting traditional psychological skills training (PST) techniques such as goal setting, imagery, self-talk, and arousal control. The MAC approach is comprised of a combination of mindfulness exercises and acceptance techniques, and is designed to enhance sport performance and general psychological well-being. Whereas the focus of traditional PST  programs is on the control of thoughts and feelings and the elimination of distress, the MAC approach aims to enhance performance through the promotion of a non-judgmental, present-moment awareness and acceptance of one’s thoughts and emotion. The program also promotes focused attention to the performance task and effortful, values-driven commitment to behaviors that support athletic goals (Gardner & Moore, 2012).

The MAC program consists of seven weekly meetings between the athlete or athletes and a consultant, and includes out-of-session exercises. The first session provides participants with the rationale and goals of the MAC approach, and includes an explanation of the role of self-regulation of attention in sport performance, the importance of self-awareness, and an introduction to the idea of allowing thoughts and emotions to be experienced without letting them affect performance. The next step in the MAC approach is to introduce the concept of mindfulness. Participants are provided instruction on engaging in mindful awareness so that they can become more self-aware and experience thoughts, emotions, or aspects of the athletic situation without reacting automatically to them. The program then transitions into a discussion values-driven behavior. Participants identify values and learn of the importance of acting in a manner that is congruent with these values instead of being influenced by their thoughts and emotions. The concept of acceptance is discussed, as the ability to accept negative internal and external events without letting them affect behavior is critical in maintaining values-driven behavior. Next, specific behaviors and situations are defined so that participants may practice the mindfulness, commitment, and acceptance skills and concepts that they have learned thus far. Finally, potential obstacles to mindfulness, commitment, and acceptance are explored, and future practice of these skills is planned (Gardner & Moore, 2007).

At present, there are four published case studies, two open trials, and one randomized controlled trial examining the efficacy of the MAC approach for sport performance enhancement (Gardner & Moore, 2012). The first empirical test of the MAC approach was conducted through two case studies of an elite adult weightlifter and a collegiate swimmer (Gardner and Moore, 2004). Results indicated that the male swimmer scored significantly lower on a sport anxiety measure after the program and the female power weightlifter lifted 15% beyond her previous best. Two subsequent case studies found similar results with a collegiate lacrosse player (Lutkenhouse, 2007) and an elite adolescent swimmer (Schwanhausser, 2009).

Two open trials have been conducted to evaluate the effectiveness of the MAC approach, both using collegiate athlete samples. Wolanin (2005) randomly assigned 11 collegiate field hockey and volleyball players to complete either the MAC program or a control condition. Wolanin found that participants who had completed the MAC intervention demonstrated a significant increase in both self and coach ratings of athletic performance, task focused attention, and practice intensity compared to those who were in the control group. Hasker (2010) compared the MAC approach to a traditional PST program for 19 collegiate athletes of various sports. Her results indicated that athletes in the MAC group displayed significant increases in their ability to describe their thoughts and emotions, accept present-moment experiences with reacting to them, and commit to behaviors directly related to achieving their athletic goals.

In the randomized controlled trial examining the MAC approach, 118 collegiate athletes from the sports of soccer, field hockey, crew, and wrestling were randomly assigned to complete the MAC program or a traditional PST program (Lutkenhouse, Gardner, & Moore, 2007). Results revealed that the MAC participants exhibited significantly greater increases in coach ratings of performance than the PST participants. The MAC participants also showed significant reductions in experiential avoidance and increases in flow experiences (Lutkenhouse et al., 2007).

The MAC Approach is continuing to grow in popularity in the field of applied sports psychology. With further research and use, the program may finally provide the field with an empirically supported intervention that can be applied to a wide variety of sports and athletes. For a more in-depth description of the program, see my next article outlining the each session of the MAC Approach.