Education

Article

Performance profiling is a valuable technique, used to identify and organise training, preparation and the development of an individual (Richards, 2008). This technique can provide important information on athletes, which can be used to implement realistic goal setting strategies and help maximise their intrinsic motivation (Butler et al. 1992; Jones, 1993). If applied correctly, these […]

Performance profiling is a valuable technique, used to identify and organise training, preparation and the development of an individual (Richards, 2008). This technique can provide important information on athletes, which can be used to implement realistic goal setting strategies and help maximise their intrinsic motivation (Butler et al. 1992; Jones, 1993). If applied correctly, these interventions can help focus the individual on the key aspects of their performance and help direct their training to the areas of perceived need.

A Theoretical Overview

The premise underlying the coach-athlete relationship is the ability to help the performer reach his or her full potential. Butler et al. (1992) suggest that the rapid spread of performance profiling across a number of sports is because coaches have now recognised the potential in enhancing their understanding of an athlete. Performance profiling allows the athlete to have a more active role in evaluating their own performance (Butler et al. 1992; Gucciardi et al. 2009). Characteristically, sports psychology includes undertaking a subjective analysis of the athlete and their chosen sport, individual assessments of the athlete, implementation of appropriate training techniques and the evaluation of the effectiveness of the programme (Butler et al. 1992).

Performance profiling can be an effective tool in raising the individual’s self-awareness of their current ability and enhancing adherence to different programmes of intervention (Butler et al. 1993; Jones, 1993). The flexibility of their performance profile has previously helped coaches and sport psychologists gain a better understanding of their athlete’s vision of a champion performer, monitoring of the athletes progress, discrepancies between the coach and athlete and an improved analysis of performance following an event (Butler et al. 1992). In order to work effectively alongside each other it is important that the discrepancy of opinion is reduced, as both the athlete and practitioner (e.g coach) must be aware that there may be disagreement at some stage.

The Method

Intrinsic motivation may be enhanced when the athlete is comfortable within the environment (Kremer et al. 1994). Therefore, it is essential the athlete choses a familiar environment to perform the performance profile, for example a training complex or a gym.

To avoid any major discrepancies or misunderstandings between athlete and practitioner, a process of ‘gaining entry’ must take place (Fifer et al. 2008). This helps to establish a more secure relationship between the two parties, by gaining an understanding of each of their expectations for the process.

The first stages of performance profiling involve the athlete selecting a number of personal performance factors for which to base the performance profile around. These factors can be broken down into 4 performance components; Tactical, Technical, Physical and Mental (the TTPM model). Using the example of Soccer, performance factors could include; Shot Accuracy, Sliding Tackle, Sprint Speed or communication. The athlete is required to complete a self-rating assessment of their current level on a 1-10 scale before rating the selected performance factors due to their importance (1 – not at all important, 10 – crucial). Realistic self-assessments are hard to achieve if an athlete is completing his/her first performance profile, or if they are an inexperienced individual. Therefore the practitioner may need to offer guidance to the athlete in order to produce a fair self-assessment.

Finally, the athlete must decide a performance rating (1-10 scale) for their ‘Ideal’ or ‘Champion’ performer. This does not have to be a real athlete for example, Gareth Bale – World Class Winger, but should be their image of a top performer in their chosen sport. More effective performance profiling has taken place when the athletes’ ‘ideal’ performer competes at a similar level, therefore providing a more realistic target to aim for.

The equation used in order to produce the ‘Final Score’ for each performance factor is:

Difference between ‘Ideal’ (Champion) and ‘Self-Assessment’     x     Importance    =   ‘Final Score’

The ‘Final Score’ enabled the athlete to identify which performance factors scored highest and therefore needed improvement.

Conclusions for the athlete

The performance profile serves to provide the athlete with a developmental agenda and training focus in order to improve their performance.  For team sports such as Soccer, any individual improvements made by an athlete may appear to have less impact than improvements in a solo sport, for example Golf.

After analysing an athletes’ performance profiling results, the next stage of the process would be planning and implementing an effective goal setting strategy. This can be done using the SMARTER (Specific, Measurable, Agreed, Realistic, Time-Phased, Exciting, Recorded) principle of goal setting. Erez et al (1983) stated that the most effective goals were set by the athletes themselves. However although performance profiling does encourage accurate self-assessment by the athlete, Butler (1997) realised that athletes may not always set appropriate goals, and may need guidance from the practitioner to steer them towards more suitable ones.

The outcome of performance profiling is to motivate athletes to improve factors of their performance, therefore enhancing their overall ability. Performance profiling has been demonstrated to be a useful tool for any athlete in order to analyse their own performance effectively (Jones, 1993). Through motivation and determination, carrying out performance profiling and implementing a subsequent goal-setting programme, the athletes’ performance in training and competition can improve.

Article

Imagery is a great tool for improving sports performance and its use and benefits have been well documented.  However it is thought that the weaknesses of imagery can limit the extent to which it is useful i.e. not all athletes have the ability to image successfully.  Therefore it is suggested that the use of observation […]

Imagery is a great tool for improving sports performance and its use and benefits have been well documented.  However it is thought that the weaknesses of imagery can limit the extent to which it is useful i.e. not all athletes have the ability to image successfully.  Therefore it is suggested that the use of observation may be more beneficial to the athlete as it overcomes many of the problems associated with imagery.  Observation simply involves videoing the performer in action,  being successful in the skills associated with their sport and replaying this to them whenever they require it.  The idea is that this should produce more kinesthesis.  Kinesthesis allows you to actually generate some feeling with the movements you are seeing in front of you and therefore this is thought to be more beneficial to performance.

Here comes the science! Research conducted by Grezes et al (2001) suggests that motor imagery shares anatomical substrates with overt behaviour and engages motor cortical areas in similar ways to actual performance.  The cortex reorganizes its effective local connections and responses following peripheral or central alterations of inputs and in response to behaviour (Buonomano and Merzenich, 1998). If motor imagery and observation accesses these same anatomical substrates then it would seem that it too can affect the organisation of the cortex and by imaging a movement continuously can change the allocation of the cortical area almost in the same way as physical practice.

Although there are many types of imagery research seems to support visual motor imagery.  During visual motor imagery the participant sees him/herself or another performing the movement as from a distance (third person perspective) (Mulder, 2007).   Therefore the use of kinesthetic imagery to improve subsequent performances would seem to be supported and will have great implications for future sport psychology interventions.  From this the sport psychologist has to realise it is not enough for the athlete to just see the action happening but it is just as important to feel the action and it is this sense of feel or kinesthesis that will positively affect future performances.  The use of video would ensure that you as the coach have control over what the athlete is seeing and also should be more successful as an intervention tool if it generates the kinesthesis required. There are many benefits of observation over imagery and these will be discussed in a future article.

Article

“Lack of direction, not lack of time, is the problem. We all have twenty-four hour days.” – Zig Ziglar This month I would like to discuss the aspect of focus and concentration to create performance and ultimately success. I’m sure it would prove beneficial to discuss the theoretical frameworks of focus and concentration. Concepts such […]

“Lack of direction, not lack of time, is the problem. We all have twenty-four hour days.” – Zig Ziglar

This month I would like to discuss the aspect of focus and concentration to create performance and ultimately success. I’m sure it would prove beneficial to discuss the theoretical frameworks of focus and concentration. Concepts such as internal, external focus, narrow and broad width and even attentional strengths (Weinberg & Gould, 2003). However taking a different approach I would like to try and give a realistic framework for focus and concentration in the form of questions we ask ourselves to attack our daily lives. These questions can add in cultivating honest awareness towards your process and achievement and hopefully, give you some focus and concentration to attack the process.

When it comes to focus and concentration we have many choices in what we spend our conscious effort on. As an example (as discussed by Rasmus Ankersen (2012)) look at our everyday life. From the grocery store to the car dealership, we have many choices which detracts from our focus. I’ll be the first to admit that when I head to the grocery store for one thing, 99% of the time I get distracted and come home with much more then what I intended. Achievement is no different, we have goals set but we make choices to spend time on less meaningful aspects, aspects that may not overwhelm us as much or put us under pressure. Examples include the internet, television or movies.

So with all these choices and the amount of information that is thrown at our athletes it is no wonder why we possibly use a lack of concentration or focus as a means to an insufficient result. In his book The Gold Mine Effect, author Rasmus Ankersen quotes Colm O’ Connell (the Godfather of Kenyan Running) as stating “(we) break an athlete down into atoms. Here is your maximum oxygen uptake, here is your muscle fibre type distribution, over here you can see your pulse, and by the way one of your legs is longer than the other. I think that kind of over analysis destroys an athlete…..If I start making my athletes too aware, I remove their instinctive drive and self-belief” (p. 125).

This quote brings into the picture drive and self-belief. What if we were to ask our athletes certain questions to improve their focus and concentration? Just questions that would trigger the conscious effort towards a task? Would it in return help with their drive and self-belief because they did “answer the bell” when it comes to daily objectives?

It is a generic answer to our problems when we use the focus or concentration quote when aspects go astray. Answers such as “we were not very focussed today” seem to enter our daily lives. This happens, I believe it is impossible to be focussed 100% of the time but with a few questions that we can answer at the start of the day we may be able to get a little more out of ourselves, even if it is just 1% more. Some of these questions could include.

• What is your outcome goal this year?

• How efficient are you, currently in obtaining that goal?

• What has led or impeded you to be on the right track for that goal?

• What are 3 priorities that could help achieve that goal (Skill/Tactical/Technical Priorities)?

• What are you going to do and by when?

In conclusion, with all those choices around us focus and concentration is an ability to make a choice to better ourselves if we want to achieve better performance. Our lives are a cluster of small processes that require our focus and concentration no matter if they are our passion or not, they are our pieces to the puzzle that enhance our ability to achieve.

Article

Abraham Lincoln once described an a optimist as someone who “finds opportunity in every difficulty” whilst a pessimist to be someone who ‘finds difficulty in every opportunity”. Another way to look at optimism is in terms of explanatory style. Explanatory style examines the way an individual explains their experiences, successes and failures (Scheier & Carver, […]

Abraham Lincoln once described an a optimist as someone who “finds opportunity in every difficulty” whilst a pessimist to be someone who ‘finds difficulty in every opportunity”.

Another way to look at optimism is in terms of explanatory style. Explanatory style examines the way an individual explains their experiences, successes and failures (Scheier & Carver, 1985 In. Martin-Krumm et al, 2003). Looking at how people explain certain events, or the reason behind the athletes success or failure, we can see if they are optimistic or not. We can also use people’s explanatory style to predict biases, and future outcomes because of their expectations of success or failures (Seligman, 1991).

What is an Optimistic Explanatory Style? (Peterson, 2000)

●Positive events: internal (within persons control) stable (this reason will always be the there) and global (effects everything) causes e.g. we won the game because I am talented.

●Negative event: external (outwith person’s control), unstable (the reason is only temporary) and specific (only effects that certain situation) factors e.g. We lost the game because the other team scored a lucky goal.

So why is it good for athletes to be optimistic?

The main advantages of having an optimistic explanatory style is that you are more likely to be persistent and committed during the action phase of working towards a goal and are more likely to be able to tolerate uncontrollable suffereing (Espahbodi, Dugar & Tehranian, 1991). When someone has an optimistic explanatory style, the belief that one will have a successful performance is within their control, and the reason is stable e.g. I am a good player. Whilst they view unsuccessful performances as temporary setbacks, and the cause to be something out with their control e.g. Bad weather. Therefore, their self esteem is not effected because they believe that they are in control of the good and not of the negative.

By believing that you are had a good performance because you are talented (internal, stable, global) and not because you play in a good team, or you were lucky (external, temporary) will allow you to believe you are capable of future positive performances. Performers who have an optimistic explanatory style are more likely to believe they will succeed in the future.

There have been various studies that show the benefits of being optimistic such as:

●Better performance and less variability (football; Gordan & Kane, 2001);
●Overcome adversities, motivation, and persistence. (Carver, Blaney & Scheier, 1979 In. Kavussanu & McAuley, 1995).
●More wins (basketball, baseball: Rettew & Reivich, 1995 In Bonniwell, 2006).
●Little variability (Swimming: Seligman et al., 1990).
●Less likely to burn out (Tsai, Chen & Kee, 2007 In. Seligman, 2006)).

Research in Seligman’s book (2006) shows that people who have a pessimistic explanatory style are:

● More susceptible to depression when things go wrong
● More likely to underachieve
●Prone to feel helpless when face a stressful situation
●Liable to under perofrm in sport when faced with stressful game or defeat

Therefore, to sustain or promote positive self esteem, we could try to make athletes more optimistic. In 2010, I completed a study “the effectiveness of a positive psychology intervention on optimism levels of female soccer players” where I carried out 8 sessions of positive psychology sessions with 15 semi professional female soccer players in the ‘Hampton Roads Piranhas’ from Virginia Beach, Virginia.

What is Positive Psychology?

Seligman and Csikszentmihalyi (2000) reported that positive psychology, “has many distinguished ancestors, and we make no claim of originality” (p. 13). It is the scientific study of optimal functioning of people, groups, and institutions which promotes positive aspects of life such as happiness, well-being, satisfaction, hope and optimism (Joseph & Linley, 2007). I created an intervention to use with the footballers based on this theory using both Seligman’s book “Learned Optimism” (2006) and “Group Psychotherapy Psychology Manual” (PPT; Park & Seligman, 2007). The intervention was devised to increase awareness of explanatory style; and to encourage player’s to look at positive aspects of self and their strengths.

The results of the study showed that scores of optimistic explanatory style increased from pre-test to post-test and there was significant difference on internality and globality but not stability (two out of the three indicators of optimistic explanatory style). For example, the explanation of ability being the cause of a positive event almost doubled on post-test whilst the number of negative events attributed to ability decreased by 50%. Additionally, the number of unstable references to performance decreased.

The players evaluated the program and indicated that afterwards, they had more awareness of explanatory styles; a positive effect on player’s thought processes e.g. made me think more positively; and think differently about discouraging situations; and were more aware of effect football has on them e.g. ‘I learned that soccer influences my every day life and attitude”.

Conclusion

In conclusion, by increasing and building optimism, we are less likely to have our self esteem hurt when we are faced with negative events, and our self esteem will continue to grow when we are faced with positive events. We can do this by using different activities geared towards promoting understanding about explanatory style as well as building g on strengths and positive aspects of character. Feel free to contact me about any of the activities used within the positive psychology intervention.

 

Article

Athletic identity is defined as the degree to which an individual identifies with the athlete role (Brewer, Van Raalte, & Linder, 1993). Athletes are usually rewarded for complete commitment to being an athlete and placing their sport as their highest priority. Unfortunately, there has been evidence that a strong and exclusive athletic identity is potentially […]

Athletic identity is defined as the degree to which an individual identifies with the athlete role (Brewer, Van Raalte, & Linder, 1993). Athletes are usually rewarded for complete commitment to being an athlete and placing their sport as their highest priority. Unfortunately, there has been evidence that a strong and exclusive athletic identity is potentially harmful.
The relationship between the impact of injury and athletic identity has been shown to be one of the potential costs. A strong, exclusive identification with the athlete role is correlated to a depressive reaction to a real or hypothetical injury (Brewer, 1993). This means that athletes with a higher athletic identity are more vulnerable to depression after experiencing an injury than those with a weaker athletic identity. Athletic identity was also shown to be a positive predictor of both rehabilitation overadherence and premature return to sport in high school and collegiate athletes (Podlog, Gao, Kenlow, Kleinert, Granquist, Netwon, & Hannon, 2013). Podlog et al. (2013) concluded that individuals with a strong athletic identity may feel compelled to expedite their rehabilitation and return to sport as quickly as possible in order to resume the activity that defines them.

Another potential cost of having a strong athletic identity is the relationship to stereotype threat. Stereotype threat is defined as “being at risk of confirming as self-characteristic, a negative stereotype about one’s group” (Steele & Aronson, 1995, p. 797) and has been offered as an explanation for some athlete’s underperformance in the academic setting (Feltz, Schneider, Hwang, & Skogsberg, 2013; Yopyk & Prentice, 2005). Yopyk and Prentice (2005) found that when primed with their athletic identity prior to a taking a difficult math test, athletes did significantly worse than those who were primed with their student identity. Feltz, Schneider, Hwang, & Skogsberg (2013) found a significant positive relationship between athletic identity and the “dumb jock” stereotype threat in the academic setting. They also found that the athlete’s perception of how their coach viewed their academic ability was significantly negatively correlated with athletic identity (Feltz, Schneider, Hwang, & Skogsberg, 2013). This means that athletes who strongly identify with the athlete role, perceive greater stereotype threat in the classroom and also perceive their coach to have lower regard for their academic ability.

The relationship between athletic identity and sport retirement is another potential cost and an area of concern. Research shows that not all athletes handle the transition in the same way and indicate that those with a strong and exclusive athletic identity may be worse off and suffer more difficulty with retirement (Webb et al., 1998). An inverse relationship between athletic identity and career maturity has been demonstrated to exist with intercollegiate student-athletes (Murphy, Petitpas, & Brewer, 1996). Therefore, it has been suggested that individuals with a strong and exclusive athletic identity spend less career planning before their retirement and in turn they may have less strong decision-making skills and be may be less prepared for postsport careers (Baillie & Danish, 1992; Pearson & Petitpas, 1990). Warriner and Lavallee (2008) found that when gymnasts who had exclusively adhered to the athlete role during their adolescence retired from their sport they suffered extreme distress, loss and confusion of identity, felt suddenly alone and unsupported, and struggled to adjust to the lack of structure and direction without sport in their lives.

These concerning correlations are important to keep in mind. Yes, athletes should be committed to their sport; but not at the sacrifice of other pieces of their identity. It is potentially damaging to see oneself as one-dimensional: athlete only. All individuals are complex and unique. Athletes should be encouraged to explore and come to understand other roles they hold and other values, needs, and beliefs that they identify with.

Article

In may 2013, Alex Fergunsons`26 years, successful leadership of Manchester United came to an end. During his career as manager, the club won the Premier League 13 times and Champions league both in 1999 and 2008. Stories about “hairdryer-treatment”, fatherly leadership and the fact that he rebuilt winning teams again and again, makes him not […]

In may 2013, Alex Fergunsons`26 years, successful leadership of Manchester United came to an end. During his career as manager, the club won the Premier League 13 times and Champions league both in 1999 and 2008. Stories about “hairdryer-treatment”, fatherly leadership and the fact that he rebuilt winning teams again and again, makes him not only one of the best managers in english footballs history – but also a legend.

David Moyes, the former Everton manager, was chosen to take on one of the toughest jobs in the world of sports. Currently Man Utd is struggling in the league, 10 points behind leader Arsenal. And the FA-cup exit against Swansea, carried more wood to the fire for the supporters demanding Moyes` handing in his resignation.

Moyes took with him his current coaching-staff from Everton to Man Utd – and cut loose Alex Fergusons`co-workers, Renè Meulensteen, Eric Steele, Mike Phelan. A whole new performance environment is to be established at Old Trafford under David Moyes`leadership with Phil Neville, Ryan Giggs, Chris Woods and Steve Round as his be-trusted coaching staff.

Lets take a look at what group psychological factors, that might influence Man Utd during this process. A whole new coaching staff, new manager and some new players – changes the groups dynamics. According to Bruce Tuckmans` (1965) linear perspective theory on development of groups – a new group go through 4 stages. The stages of forming, storming, norming and performing.

Phase one; Forming of a group. New relationships is now to be established. Team members are oriented towards sorting out leadership and coaching-style of their new coaches and trying to reestablish their role in the group. In this phase, players tend to be dependent on their leaders – figuring out their roles, comparing new philosophy with former philosophy etc. The team is also in a testing phase – where new ways to work and look at things is introduced and incorporated as a team standard. This first period often seems friction-free and so it did for Manchester United in pre-season. Players where positive to the new coaches, training regime and looked forward to develop under their new manager.

The second phase of group development; storming – is characterized by more friction than phase one. There is a major pressure on a performance-group like Manchester United and this nurtures both interpersonal conflict, resistance to the leaders and resistance to be controlled by the groups norms. This is always the case at Man Utd, but taking in consideration the group-psychology perspective – the challenge becomes even more evident. Some players taking a more active approach to the new regimen, whereas others favor a more defensive style – choosing safety. These differences in perspective creates potential conflicts among players, but also among players and coaches. According to Bennis and Sheperd (1956) frustration, emotional struggles and direct rivalry over the leader position in the performance group are clearly evident during this phase. Managers and coaches need to be aware of this situation and expect it to take place. Seems for Manchester United that this phase surely is taking parts in a critical part of the year – when they rather should be performing. Hopefully players, fans and manager will endure this phase in order to evolve into a more productive developmental stage as a team.

The third stage is named; norming – where hostility and friction within the team is replaced by development of group cohesion. Group cohesion is defined by Carron, Brawley and Widmeyer (1998) as “a dynamic process that is reflected in a the tendency for a group to stick together and remain united in pursuit of its instrumental objects and/or for the satisfaction of member affective needs” (p. 213). Solidarity within the team, cooperation and a sense of unity in the quest of fulfilling a common goal – now becomes the teams major concern. The team roles is more clarified and a environment for performance development emerges. Players, coaches and manager strives after their common goals and to maximize efficiency within the team. It is labelled by Tuckman (1965) as a “patching-up” phase – where the norms and values of the team evolves and becomes evident. Bennis and Shepard (1956) also describes the resolution of authority problems as a key element during this stage. When a team transits into this stage – the hope and dream is to evolve into stage four; performing. Group cohesion is strong. Problem solving willingness is high and the team has developed routines and roles for working through difficult tasks and challenges. The primary goal is team success, and every team member strives to attain this shared objective.

This last phase is where Alex Ferguson took his Manchester United during the same group developmental processes as David Moyes is being challenged with. For all Man Utd fans – lets hope Moyes` has the ability to work through this process and that fans, players, co-workers and board-members has the insight to let the team develop once again.

Article

If you were to ask a golfer coming off the 18th green following their best round of golf how they perceived the course, they might describe the fairways and greens as being ‘as large as an ocean’ and liken the hole to a ‘bucket’. Whereas if you ask a golfer coming off the 18th after […]

If you were to ask a golfer coming off the 18th green following their best round of golf how they perceived the course, they might describe the fairways and greens as being ‘as large as an ocean’ and liken the hole to a ‘bucket’. Whereas if you ask a golfer coming off the 18th after hitting a below par (…pun intended) score, they might describe the hole being ‘as small as a pea’.

Embodied cognition argues that our motor system influences our cognition and perceptions, just as our cognitions influence our bodily actions. As seen in the first example, this could be both facilitative and debilitative to performance, self-efficacy and motivation.

Perceiving the environment does not rely on the stimuli visible to the naked eye alone. It also depends on the athlete current intention to perform a task. For example, Witt, Proffitt, and Epstein (2004) demonstrated that as effort of throwing a ball increases, perceived distance to a target decrease. This means that someone who handled a lighter ball perceived the target as closer and someone who handled a heavier ball perceived the target as further away.

Feeling the light weight of a ball automatically triggers recollections of events that were successful. Therefore an improved recollection of a previously successful event can lead to an athlete to gain a heightened initial intention to perform at a high level. This means professional athletes who have successfully practised several difficult skills in different situations will lead to more positive anticipation and intentions. This means well skilled athlete may perceive certain tasks as easier compared to amateur athletes.

Positive relationships between perception and performance have previously been found. In baseball, Witt and Proffitt (2005) found that players with higher batting averages perceived the baseball as being larger than average compared to those who had a lower batting average. Because the players are aware that they are hitting well, the perceive effort of performing the task of hitting the ball decreases.

Similarly, Witt and Dorsch (2009) found that American Football Kickers perceived the goals posts width and height differently depending on the type of performance. For example, kickers who missed short perceived the cross bar as being further off the ground. If the kicker made the distance but missed left or right, they perceived the uprights as being closer together. Kickers with very high completion rates perceived the cross bar closer to the ground and wider than they actually are.

Expanding further, Witt, Linkenauger, Bakdash, and Proffitt (2008) showed that golfers who played better judged the hole to be bigger than the golfers who played poorly. The perceived hole size correlated with putting performance on the last hole but not with overall performance on the last hole. This therefore suggests that these effects are specific to the relevant task and better subsequent putting performance can increase hole size perception. Follow up tests demonstrated that easier conditions (i.e. short putts) lead to increased performance and therefore larger hole perception. this demonstrated that performing easier tasks leads to an increased or reinforced intent to perform the action optimally with minimal effort on cognition.

Now, how can we utilise embodied cognition to put the odds in our favour? Before having to perform, every or at least most athletes go through a well thought out pre-performance routine. This may come in the form of practicing the task around an hour before competition. To increase perceived ease of a task, errors have to be reduced. Using archery as an example, reducing errors can be done by first shooting at the target from a close distance then moving steadily away from the target. Reducing errors from the start gives the illusion of increased performance through constant positive feedback.

A word of caution, reducing errors does not necessarily improve performance when learning and practicing. This error-reduced intervention should ideally be used shortly before competition to reinforce motor skills that can lead to improved coping under pressure. To reinforce this point, for more comprehensive learning and practice away from competition, deliberate practice is need.

 

Article

Intrinsic motivation can be defined as “engaging in an activity for itself and for the pleasure and satisfaction derived from participation” (Vallerand, 2004). The coach’s ability to intrinsically motivate players is crucial for long term athlete development, in regards to facilitating performance, providing a positive experience, and promoting a healthy lifestyle. The pedagogic setting that […]

Intrinsic motivation can be defined as “engaging in an activity for itself and for the pleasure and satisfaction derived from participation” (Vallerand, 2004). The coach’s ability to intrinsically motivate players is crucial for long term athlete development, in regards to facilitating performance, providing a positive experience, and promoting a healthy lifestyle. The pedagogic setting that a coach creates, and the coaching style a coach holds, is important for athlete development and setting the platform for intrinsic motivation.

The most common pedagogic approach is linear coaching. A linear coach would believe that in order to progress players to a state of expertise, they should partake in repetitive/deliberate technique-based drills (Renshaw, Oldham and Bawden, 2012). This linear coaching approach is found to cause significant motivational problems for not only the athletes, but the coaches too. This is because of the large amounts of repetition, which causes boredom. Linear coaches coaching strategies are very behaviourist, and involve the use of punishment and bribery in attempt to increase motivation. This mainly promotes extrinsic motivation with performers who have low levels of engagement, as they tend to only be practicing due to the presences of a coach or significant other, rather than engaging for personal satisfaction.

Cognitive Evaluation Theory suggests that optimal intrinsic motivation “develops from conditions where the need for competence and autonomy are met” (Deci and Ryan, 1980). This arises in practice game play situations, where players set personal and meaningful goals, and use previous successes and obtained knowledge to achieve them. Using basketball as an example, a coach in training may be working on exploiting a zone defence in order to attack the basket. The players aim is to score, and the players do so by using knowledge from previous experiences to figure out how to accomplish this aim. This shows the importance of setting the pedagogic environment as a place that personally challenges and creates direction and goals for the athletes.

It’s argued that coaches can facilitate the development of intrinsic motivation through non-linear coaching. The non-linear pedagogy philosophy is based on the notion of Ecological Psychology and Dynamical Systems. This involves the coach constraining the environment in order to allow the athletes to facilitate and create meaning of their own knowledge through decision making and goal setting processes, oppose to being told what to do and how to do it (Chow et al, 2008; Hopper, 2011). This coaching approach is athlete-centred, as it involves athletes exploring and finding their own answers to the problems that occur in games. For athletes, their perception of their competence is not threatened by the coach telling them they are wrong. This is because there are no wrong answers, as each player constructs knowledge for a specific scenario which can then be applied in future game situations. Thus instead, their perception of their competence in their performance increases, and the achievement accomplished increases intrinsic motivation and self-efficacy.

Comparing this to the linear approach previously discussed, coaches who create a strict pedagogic environment may diminish athlete’s self-efficacy and intrinsic motivation. In addition, they may prevent a construction of meaningful knowledge, as athlete’s focus is primarily on ensuring they are executing what they have been told to do by the coach.

To conclude, the chaos and variety of non-linear pedagogy can be intrinsically motivating for athletes. Academic theory suggests that athletes become intrinsically motivated during non-linear sessions due to their positive perception of their competence and ability when independently making decisions that influence the game. Coaches who adopt a linear approach to coaching may find that although athletes quickly progress, their intrinsic motives towards the sport rapidly diminish, as their motives are merely extrinsic. Therefore, in order to keep athletes engaged and enthused in sport, non-linear coaching can be perceived as the best method to do so.

References

Chow, J. Y., Davids, K., Button, C., Shuttleworth, R., Renshaw, I., & Araujo, D. (2006). Nonlinear pedagogy: a constraints-led framework for understanding emergence of game play and movement skills. Nonlinear dynamics, psychology, and life sciences, 10(1), 71.

Deci, E. L., & Ryan, R. M. (1980). The empirical exploration of intrinsic motivational processes. Advances in experimental social psychology, 13(2), 39-80.

Hopper, T. (2011). Game-as-teacher: Modification by adaptation in learning through game-play. Asia-Pacific Journal of Health, Sport and Physical Education, 2(2), 3-21.

Renshaw, I., Oldham, A. R., & Bawden, M. (2012). Nonlinear pedagogy underpins intrinsic motivation in sports coaching. The Open Sports Sciences Journal, 5, 88-99.

Vallerand, R. J. (2004). Intrinsic and extrinsic motivation in sport. Encyclopedia of applied psychology, 2, 427-435.

 

Article

Impressions that people hold of athletes commonly change in response to media reports. The phrasing of these can also affect how athletes consequently view themselves, which in turn affects their performance. Indeed, the effect that words can have on athletes is starting to be recognised. Team GB triathlete Hollie Avil retired from elite sport in […]

Impressions that people hold of athletes commonly change in response to media reports. The phrasing of these can also affect how athletes consequently view themselves, which in turn affects their performance. Indeed, the effect that words can have on athletes is starting to be recognised. Team GB triathlete Hollie Avil retired from elite sport in 2012 following an eating disorder which she claimed was triggered by her coach’s comment; “If you want to be quicker, you should watch your weight”.

Even at non elite levels the statements that sport performers hear about teammates, their club and themselves guide their thinking and actions. But what about the way sports performers speak about themselves? How does that impact their self-perception?

Narrative therapy follows the premise that meaning is socially constructed through language. Therapists therefore pay close attention to the language individuals use when describing themselves, as it reflects what is important to the individual. For example the stories they choose to tell, what they emphasise about themselves, their ambitions and professions all construct an identity. In therapy, assessing the language someone uses creates distance between the individual and their problem, so that they can become the expert in handling and understanding it. This also allows solutions which are appropriate to the personal history and cultural context to be investigated.

Denison and Winslade (2006) outline ways in which such therapy could be applied to athletes. At the outset the sport psychologist should pay more attention to the way in which the athlete describes their issue. In this way the athlete can name their problem in their own terms, which will be embedded in their culture and the influence other people have had. The sport psychologist and athlete can then work together to explore how previous experiences the athlete has had would suggest and shape improvement strategies. Using the personal knowledge this provides can bring forth possible solutions which may be better fitting than generalised practices.

Let me borrow Denison and Winslade’s example to highlight the influence of language, and how the presenting narrative of a problem already limits how it is addressed. An athlete initially coming to a sports psychologist with help for ‘burn out’ refers to the issue as centred on themselves. A ‘burnt out’ athlete is typically exhausted, or has lost meaning and focus on their sport. The psychologist and athlete dealing with burn out are therefore already focussing on a problem which must be fixed within the athlete. The strategies which could be used to address these may be appropriate and successful, however may also be too narrow. If terms such as ‘extreme external pressure’ are used to describe the problem instead then issues concerning training plans and other influences will also be considered. These may not only be dealt with in a different manner, but prevent the athlete from seeing the ‘burn out’ as a personal deficit, which could further deteriorate performance. Following a narrative therapy, terms used by the athlete which imply that they are weak would be deconstructed. The problem could then instead be explained by high demands of competition causing an overemphasis of sport to their identity. This overemphasis restricts other identities, such as a family identity, and leads to unsurprising ‘burnt out’ feelings concerning their sport.

Leahy and Harrigan (2006) have investigated the application of a seven-point narrative therapy programme to promote positive body image in elite female athletes. The narratives of some of the participants suggested an influence of family history, stemming from sibling comments; “you eat like a pig and not an athlete”.  Within the programme such stories were deconstructed into preferred ones, and other associated terms were replaced. For example the meaning of attractive feminine bodies was changed to include athletic characteristics such as ‘strong’, ‘fit’ and ‘fast’.

Although application of programmes such as Leahy and Harrigan’s (2006) in athletes is still in its infancy, it demonstrates that there is room for narrative therapy to help athletes with eating disorders. Along with the example of ‘burn out’ (Denison & Winslade, 2006) the suggestion is that awareness of the power of language should be raised, and an understanding of narrative therapy could be a useful addition to the skillset of sport psychologists.

Article

Further to my last article on “attention” I decided to come back to the more specific aspect of concentration. Despite it being one of the more obvious mental skills that athletes utilise to perform at their best, a loss of it is often blamed for poor performance. On the other hand athletes also contribute a […]

Further to my last article on “attention” I decided to come back to the more specific aspect of concentration. Despite it being one of the more obvious mental skills that athletes utilise to perform at their best, a loss of it is often blamed for poor performance. On the other hand athletes also contribute a good performance to their ability to focus at the right time. This article will attempt to define the mental skill of concentration and outline the factors that can influence an athlete’s concentration in competition. I will also outline some useful strategies and training exercises which can help to improve focus at the vital time.

Concentration

As stated in my previous article, concentration is one aspect under the broad term of attention. It relates to the ability to exert deliberate mental effort in a given situation. For example a rugby kicker would focus on picking a spot either a few feet in front of them or between the posts to aim at when kicking a penalty or conversion. Exerting mental effort in a given situation means that concentration doesn’t extend beyond that situation. In other words the rugby kicker would maintain his/her focus for the period before and during the kick, but not after. It’s important to remember that in order to avoid fatigue; athletes need to be able to switch their focus on when it’s needed and off when it isn’t.

Much research has been conducted detailing the benefits of a mental skills programme (including concentration techniques) on athletes’ performance. Sheard & Golby (2011) studied the effects of a psychological skills training (PST) program on young swimmers performances and positive psychological development. Thirty six national level swimmers followed a 7 week long PST programme which involved learning skills such as visualisation, relaxation and concentration among others for 45 minutes per week. A significant improvement was found in 3 swimming strokes and the swimmers post intervention psychological profiles which demonstrates how beneficial a brief period of PST once a week can have on physical and psychological performance.

Although it’s always a good idea to have these strategies in your game plan sometimes other aspects of competition can interfere (positively or negatively) with confidence levels as Vast, Young & Thomas (2010) found during their study on the perceived effects of emotion on concentration, attention and performance. They examined how both positive and negative emotions impacted on concentration and found positive emotions like excitement and happiness were more likely to lead to performance related concentration than negative emotions such as anxiety and anger. They also reported that the more intense the emotion, the greater the link.

Concentration Practice

It’s very likely that the following concentration exercises were practiced in the above mentioned studies as a means to improve athlete’s focus in preparation for competition. At some stage in their life an athlete has imagined him/herself performing at the highest level in their sport, whether it’s the winning goal in the world cup final or a serve to be Wimbledon Champion. However visualising yourself in these types of situations and simulating them in practice situations also serves the athlete to concentrate and cope more effectively in pressure situations when they happen for real. Matlin (2002) found people’s recall of information is improved when conditions resemble those in which the original encoding took place. This can also be applied to the sporting world where often athletes train at the location where a major event is taking place.

Setting goals can also enable athletes to improve concentration especially when the goals are performance based and not results based (Winter & Martin 1991). It makes sense that focusing on something that is controllable (your actions) rather than something that largely isn’t (the outcome) can improve concentration and ultimately, performance.  Jackson & Roberts (1992) found collegiate athletes actually performed worst when focusing on results goals compared to performance goals when they performed a great deal better. Kingston & Hardy (1997) also found golfers performance and concentration improved when focus on specific action goals.

The use of routines also plays a huge part within the realm of improving concentration. It’s not very hard to find athletes who use routines in their sport and they may do this for several reasons. Firstly routines may work as a way of settling nerves as you are relying on a routine that has been practiced again and again in many different stressful and nervous situations. It can also enable concentration on the task at hand (the performance goal) rather than the result (outcome goal). There is evidence in the literature to suggest that performance routines can improve concentration. For instance Shaw (2002) reported that a golfer who had been using a pre performance routine experienced more focus during each shot and was less affected by distractions.

Hopefully this article has provided an accurate overview of how concentration is defined, what affects it and how it can influence performance. The research surrounding mental skills training highlights the ways in which an athlete’s focus can be improved through practicing concentration exercises. Some concentration exercise have also been included which athletes, coaches or parents can use as a part of training to develop and practice focus.

Article

This article aims to give an insight into the deliberate use of emotions within sport performance through an applied perspective. The course of the article will move firstly through the association between sport and emotion, then through to the concept of emotion regulation with examples of how it is used within an intervention. What is […]

This article aims to give an insight into the deliberate use of emotions within sport performance through an applied perspective. The course of the article will move firstly through the association between sport and emotion, then through to the concept of emotion regulation with examples of how it is used within an intervention.

What is emotion regulation?

Research suggests that emotional states are predictive of sports performance (Beedie et al., 2000; Hanin, 2010), and that athletes regulate emotions accordingly (Totterdell & Leach, 2001; Hanin, 2003, 2010; Jones, 2003; Robazza et al., 2006; Ruiz & Hanin, 2011). Emotion regulation is the automatic or deliberate use of strategies to initiate, maintain, modify or display emotions in a given situation (Gross & Thompson, 2007)- for example the subjective experience (feelings), cognitive responses (thoughts), emotion-related physiological responses (for example heart rate or hormonal activity), and emotion-related behaviour (bodily actions or expressions).

Situation Selection

It is important at this point to define differences in goal behaviour. Situation selection involves choosing to avoid or approach an emotionally relevant situation. If a person selects to avoid or disengage from an emotionally relevant situation, he or she is decreasing the likelihood of experiencing an emotion. Alternatively, if a person selects to approach or engage with an emotionally relevant situation, he or she is increasing the likelihood of experiencing an emotion (Gross, 1998). Thus not all goals are directed towards approaching a desirable outcome, motivations may be directed towards avoiding failure or a display of incompetence. Approach goals involve demonstrating competence to others, whilst avoidance goals involve avoiding an undesirable outcome such as avoiding the demonstration of incompetence to others, otherwise known as avoidance goals. Avoidance goals may elicit an intense anxiety provoking response (e.g tenseness, nervousness) whereby emotion regulatory strategies are most useful.

Regulatory techniques

According to the work of Gross & John (2003) there are two techniques towards regulating emotion that are namely ‘Cognitive Reappraisal’ and ‘Expressive Suppression’. Cognitive Reappraisal (Situation Modification) is a strategy whereby an individual thinks about a situation to change its emotional impact (Gross & John, 2003). To exemplify, an athlete may visualise an anxiety provoking situation and perceive it as either nerve wracking or alternatively, ‘reappraise’ to perceive it as an opportunity to learn more about their performance, thus making the gravity of the situation appear less threatening. Expressive suppression however is the process of supressing feeling of nervousness about the anxiety provoking situation in an attempt to be less likely to engage in displaying emotion expressive behaviours (Gross & John, 2003). Expressive suppression is generally considered to be a maladaptive emotion-regulation strategy. Compared to reappraisal, it is correlated positively with many psychological disorders (Aldao, Nolen-Hoeksema, & Schweizer., 2010), associated with worse interpersonal outcomes, is negatively related to wellbeing (Gross & John, 2003), and requires the mobilization of a relatively substantial amount of cognitive resources (Richards, 2004).

There are two distinct motivations to regulate emotion in the form of ‘Hedonic’ or ‘Instrumental’ (Tamir, 2009). The hedonic approach is the motivation to turn a negative event or emotion into a relatively stable level of happiness. An example may be an athlete that wakes feeling angry or tense may wish to go for a jog to make themselves feel more positive emotions thus regulating for hedonic reasons. The instrumental motivational approach may involve an athlete having learned from previous experience that they perform better when angry or tense, may use memories or imagery of anger-inducing events to up-regulate their anger prior to competition, thus facilitating an improved performance through initiating these temporary unpleasant emotions for instrumental reasons (Tamir, 2009).

The link below serves to demonstrate the use of the instrumental motivational approach put into practice with a professional Ultimate Fighting Competitor Diego Sanchez, who deploys the said method to initiate an emotional response upon entrance into the ‘Octagon’.

Diego Sanchez Entrance to the UFC 107- http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rjzHK_F3Ywg

As seen the athlete uses a ‘trigger word’/Self talk (“Yes!”) and is seen closing his eyes to visualise (using emotive imagery) and maintain the emotional response which in this case is aggression, in order to ‘psych-up’ for the fight. As in the sport of Mixed Martial Arts (MMA) and other sports such as weightlifting or powerlifting that require a high levels of  physiological and psychological arousal, the instrumental motivational approach to inducing emotions can be highly effective for facilitating an athletes’ performance. The essential element within Emotion Regulatory techniques is to create individual profiles, specific to the individual athletes’ needs and optimal functioning zone.

Having explained the foundations and theoretical background of Emotion Regulation, I will now explain how this may be applied within a Sport Psychology intervention. The strategy will be used within an Olympic Weightlifting domain with an athlete hereby referred to as the pseudonym ‘Rob’. Rob is an international standard weightlifter that has recently broken through into the national team. He normally performs well when in his ‘comfort zone’ of competition standard that he is well seasoned and used to (e.g national and regional standard competitions). However ‘Rob’ has recently been attaining better (heavier) lifts and new personal bests in competition when put under intense pressure, even though these feelings have been identified as unpleasant. He approached a Sport Psychologist in order to learn how to utilise and control these emotional states so he is able to adapt to differing competitive situations. To clarify, these differing situations relate to emotional states associated with approach (comfort zone) and avoidance (outside of comfort zone, feeling the intense pressure) goals.

Initial Assessment

As with any intervention, it is important to recognise that there is no set mould technique that can be used with every athlete. Each specific intervention needs to be applied with the individual athlete in mind. Thus we must firstly understand the athletes’ Individual Zone of Optimal Functioning (IZOF) (Hanin, 1997, 2000) (displayed in Figure 1). The IZOF makes several empirically supported individual-orientated predictions of emotion-performance relationships between the arousal/anxiety balance and the athletes’ performance. Each athlete has a specific constellation (Hanin, 1993, 1995, 1997, 2000) or a ‘recipe’ (Gould & Udry, 1994) of individually optimal and dysfunctional emotional states (their individual optimal zone), with variance occurring across pre-, mid-, and post-event performance situations (Hanin & Stambulova, 2002).

Once the athletes IZOF (Hanin, 1997, 2000) is identified, the consultant can then begin to work on creating emotional profiles with the athlete that are specific to their performance goals (approach vs avoidance) as well as how the emotions associated with this performance feels.

Creation of Emotion Profiles

To create the emotion profiles, the consultant provides the athlete with information regarding concepts of pre-competition emotions and associated bodily reactions and their effects upon performance for the athlete to identify how they feel pre-competition. The consultant must also explain that these emotions and bodily reactions could be pleasant or unpleasant regardless of them being beneficial or detrimental to performance. The athlete is then asked to identify emotions and physiological states associated with their recalled best and worst performances in order to identify four categories of emotion profiles that are displayed in Figure 2.

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Figure 2. Emotion Profiles

From this information of identified emotion and physiological feelings, the athlete can then be presented with emotion and somatic symptom descriptors (serving to identify the associated emotions) in the four categories. An Emotion Somatic Symptom Descriptor Table can then be generated to identify the facilitative/debilitative emotions/somatic responses and pleasant/unpleasant emotions/somatic responses. Figure 3 below displays the Emotion Somatic Symptom Descriptor Table consisting of the associated emotions and symptoms identified by ‘Rob’ for each of the four categories of performance.

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Figure 3. Emotion Somatic Descriptor Table

As visible from Figure 3, the emotions and symptoms are consistent with the type of goal during specific competitions. The ‘Facilitating-Pleasant’ category displays ‘Robs’ ability to stay calm when demonstrating competence through an approach goal, remaining cheerful and relaxed which is compatible with his recollections of national and regional competitions. It is also evident from Figure 3 that ‘Rob’ experiences unpleasant emotions and symptoms consistent with an avoidance goal where ‘Rob’ feels much less relaxed and more under pressure, compatible with his recollection of international competitions that he has just beginning to experience. Although these emotions and symptoms have been identified as ‘unpleasant’ by ‘Rob’, it is also important to note that these are facilitative to performance, thus enduring these short term emotions and symptoms during completion may actually lead to a positive outcome post-competition. For the purpose of this article, only the facilitative categories (highlighted by the red boundary) are going to be dissected into an intervention strategy.

Intervention Techniques

For ‘Rob’ to enter and maintain these particular facilitative ‘emotion profiles’, there needs to be intervention techniques to initiate and maintain these emotions that ‘Rob’ must be able to reproduce to enter his IZOF (Hanin, 1997, 2000), as well as maintain the emotion (as seen in the Diego Sanchez video above). As well as ‘Psyching Up’ (Energising), increasing his arousal levels to adapt to high pressure, ‘Rob’ may also wish to use the intervention techniques for calming reasons such as an approach goal in National or regional level. However ‘Rob’ may also use these techniques to pursue an avoidance goal if he is feeling anxious about his position within the competition (e.g. Sub top 3 placing). To do this we may incorporate a number of intervention strategies.

Instrumental Imagery

“Remember how you felt in the backstage weight room just before your successful lift”. This intervention strategy involves the use of emotive imagery used in an instrumental fashion in order to recreate and use the facilitative feelings, symptoms and emotions immediately prior to the successful lift, regardless of whether they were unpleasant or pleasant. This may be used to ‘Psych Up’ and increase arousal or aggressiveness to attain a ‘big lift’ (Energising technique), but also may be used to relax the athlete in an attempt to block out any distractions or pressure (through the use of a suppressive method) with emphasis on ‘Controlling the controllable’ (Calming technique). Any external factors outside of the competitors control will not actually have an impact on the individual athletes’ performance if the athlete remains task orientated and in control of their ‘own game’.

Reappraisal Self-Talk

Self-talk refers to the thoughts and words athletes and performers say to themselves, usually in their minds. Self-talk phrases (or cues) are used to direct attention towards a particular thing in order to improve focus or are used alongside other techniques to facilitate their effectiveness (Vealey, 2005). The technique revised to include a reappraisal component may change the gravity of the situation and alter its perception to the athlete, as well as providing ‘Trigger words’/ self-talk to use to maintain an energising (“Power”, “Strong”) or calming (“Calm”, “Relax”) technique in pursuit of an avoidance (high arousal) or approach (low arousal) dependent on the athletes IZOF.

Relaxation Techniques

Such as breathing exercises or Progressive Muscular Relaxation (Jacobson, 1938), which is a technique for learning to monitor and control the state of muscular tension. This intervention method may be used for a calming approach to aid the athlete in pursuit of an approach goal.

Practice

Just like physical practice, mental rehearsal and practice is also extremely important to an athletes’ performance and development. Thus, an athlete can become more skilled at the processes of Emotion Regulation and the strategies involved in the concept (eg. Imagery, re-appraisal self-talk) then this will require a set schedule to allow for practice. Set practice hours would be negotiated between the practitioner and the athlete that would be supervised by the Sport Psychologist at first to enable the athlete to learn how to use and control the techniques under supervision, before being used by the athlete independently. These sessions would entail an induced state of these emotion profiles (Facilitative-Pleasant- & Facilitative- Unpleasant) through the use of a mental imagery technique. These sessions would also include teaching relaxation techniques such as breathing exercises and progressive muscular relaxation (P.M.A) to enable the athlete to enter the pleasant-facilitative when involved with an approach goal, or if they feel their anxiety levels are increasing, thus leading to exiting their IZOF. During these consultations, the practitioner may also negotiate ‘metaphors’ or ‘trigger words’/ Self-talk with the athlete that have specific meanings or reactions to the athlete (E.g. “Power”, “Strong”, “Calm”, “Relax” etc.) to use in physical practice and competition in order to help induce the desired emotional state. This may also be integrated into the athletes pre-performance routine in order to gain a standardised procedure whereby the athlete has a set schedule and has the perception of being in control prior to competing.

Below is a flow chart of the intervention process taken from one of my lectures I have previously conducted on emotion regulation (Fig. 4). It shows the intervention strategy in its more basic visual form that allows to see progressive stages easily throughout the consultancy process.

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Figure 4. Flow chart of Emotion Regulation Intervention

Monitoring and evaluation of the technique

For evaluation of the technique and to establish weak points or its effectiveness, the consultant may wish to assess how the athlete is using the technique through a series of questionnaires. For pre-competition emotion monitoring, the consultant may use the BORG cr-10 questionnaire and adapt it to incorporate a rating scale of the ‘client identified’ emotions with a rating of intensity from 0-11 (as is already existent on the questionnaire). This method which may serve as useful to gain knowledge of the emotions the athlete is feeling pre-competition may also be detrimental as with all questionnaires immediately prior to competition. In this time period, the athlete needs to be preparing for the competition in hand, whereas having to fill out a questionnaire may be seen as intrusive and distracting to the competitor. Thus, the method may be used in a less ecologically valid way by its use within replicated competitive training sessions (eg. Induced pressure such as sparring sessions in boxing) to gain an insight into the emotional states that has less probability of a detrimental impact on performance.

A consultant may also wish to use the Emotion Regulation Questionnaire (Gross & John, 2003) to assess whether the athlete is using the techniques correctly. For example, to look at whether the athlete is actually using a re-appraising technique rather than suppressing.

Post-competition monitoring may also be used through a variety of questionnaires such as a Profile of Mood States (McNair et al., 1971) or Brunel Mood Rating Scale (Terry et al., 1999, 2003) to assess the athletes’ mood prior or during the competition retrospectively. However this method also has its weaknesses in the fact that retrospective questionnaires as equivocal in their reliability due to the retrieval of a mood state at a previous time that may be distorted through subjective changes in the athletes’ perception when recalling.

 

Article

Cell assembly theory developed by Donald Hebb (1949) explains how within the brain we develop neural pathways that act like roads, these are formed through learning, experiences, and the thoughts we have. In simple terms when a thought or experience is had cells fire in the brain, if the thought is rarely repeated and not […]

Cell assembly theory developed by Donald Hebb (1949) explains how within the brain we develop neural pathways that act like roads, these are formed through learning, experiences, and the thoughts we have. In simple terms when a thought or experience is had cells fire in the brain, if the thought is rarely repeated and not particularly meaningful the neurons used to create the pathway are not likely to strengthen, however a thought that is regularly repeated or which holds significant power is likely to fire the cells associated with this thought often enough so that they become strengthened, what this means is that when we think a particular thought on a regular basis a neural pathway is created in the brain which becomes stronger and stronger each time and before long it becomes a hard wired part of our beliefs about the world.

So what can we learn from this and how can we use it in a sporting context? Well, we could quite simply decide on the way we would like to think and the beliefs we would like to hold, for example we might want to be great under pressure, we would then develop a belief for this such as “I play my best under pressure”, the more we tell ourselves this the more a neural pathway for this belief is fired in the brain and the stronger it becomes, after this has been rehearsed enough the neural pathway for this belief becomes so strong that the belief becomes extremely well ingrained and the cells can fire with little to no effort which is great, who wouldn’t want to have a belief that constantly jumps in to our train of thought reminding us that we are great under pressure! However, although this approach is all fine and well it may be worth considering any limiting beliefs we currently hold which we may have strong neural pathways for. You may find that there is a particular thought or belief that seems to jump in and cause you anxiety, fear, and doubts, for example you may have a big match coming up which at first seems like an exciting opportunity but immediately following this comes the belief or thought that tells you that this may go wrong and there could be potential for embarrassment, this clearly would be an unhelpful belief that would hinder a performer and there will be a strong neural pathway in the brain specifically for this limiting belief which seems to fire at will without us being able to do much about it. This is likely to have been learnt from previous experiences but it doesn’t mean it’s the truth and may be completely irrational, in order to rid ourselves of such limiting beliefs we must develop a new more helpful belief to directly counter against the limiting one, for the example given this may be something along the lines of “what others think or say about me really doesn’t bother me in the slightest, I play because I enjoy it”, we would then need to practice this thought and fire the neurons in the brain until a neural pathway is developed and strengthened, meanwhile the opposite limiting thought is gradually weakening due to being fired less often and in time dies off and the new helpful belief that “what others say or think really doesn’t bother me at all” becomes well ingrained and we find ourselves being much less concerned with what others say and think about us. But remember these old neural pathways may be well strengthened so this takes time and practice before changes can be made which is likely to take weeks or months.
One great example of how this works would be to consider an overgrown field that currently has one pathway through it that is well trampled down and easy to walk down, in the case above this may be our limiting belief pathway that is really easy to go down, to choose a different pathway would take lots of effort and it would be easy to give up and go back to the easy route, however if we decide that we want to create a new belief and stop going down the old trampled pathway we would need to take a new route and gradually trample a new pathway through the field, each time we go down this new route it becomes easier the next time and so on, after a while this new pathway will take no effort to walk down as it is nice and wide, meanwhile the old pathway has started to grow over due to being used less and before long becomes overgrown and much more difficult to go down, this is how the neural pathways in the brain work.

A few tips for choosing the beliefs you want are to make your beliefs realistic and logical, trying to create a belief that is far from realistic such as “I will win every time I play” is not likely to help us because this belief is likely to be contradicted often as there are other good players and teams around and it’s something which isn’t fully in our control, instead try to develop beliefs that will help us and that are rational, this way it won’t come back to haunt us in the future, a couple of examples may be “I enjoy pressure situations and I learn a lot from them”, “success for me is enjoying my sport and giving maximum effort start to finish” “I don’t expect to win every week but I am capable of winning a lot matches and I will certainly try my best”

Article

Motivation involves the biological, emotional, social and cognitive forces that activate our behaviour. In simpler terms, motivation is used to describe why we do something. Motivation is a big topic of conversation in all sports. Whether it is amongst pundits, fans or academics, it always provides a strong debate on how and why athletes are […]

Motivation involves the biological, emotional, social and cognitive forces that activate our behaviour. In simpler terms, motivation is used to describe why we do something. Motivation is a big topic of conversation in all sports. Whether it is amongst pundits, fans or academics, it always provides a strong debate on how and why athletes are motivated to play. If we take football as an example, many believe that the players are motivated by money and that is all that drives them. However there are some pursuits out there who believe some players are motivated by doing well for their club and improving themselves as a player.

To help us understand this we can look at the two types of motivation; intrinsic and extrinsic. Intrinsic motivation is something that is inherently enjoyable to the individual (Ryan and Deci, 2000). This means that people’s motivation comes from within themselves and they do things for themselves. They often find tasks personally rewarding and they are willing and eager to learn and develop themselves. For example, in football, a player who is intrinsically motivated would be driven to improve themselves and would find this personally rewarding. The benefits of this e.g. money and fame would be of secondary importance to them.

Extrinsically motivated athletes on the other hand are driven by things that are external to them. This means that their motivations are not related to them personally and they often see tasks as having a means to an end. For example, in football, an extrinsically motivated player may see the end goal of making lots of money as their motivator so they need to improve as a player and get signed. They are often motivated by goods, rewards and recognition.

Everyone would prefer that people are motivated intrinsically as seeing them ‘play for the jersey’ and wanting to improve themselves would likely gain more support and possibly respect. Unfortunately, in the football, we have seen all too often the case of a player wanting to leave their club for money or saying that they want to leave in order to force the club to improve their contract. With football being a results driven business and fans all wanting success, it has become more and more common place that extrinsically motivated players call the shots. The motivators of the business, the managers, are not exempt from this either. We have seen Sunderland manager, Paulo Di Canio, lose his job last week. One of the reasons cited for his dismissal where his man management methods and his unsuccessful attempts to motivate his players. There was often criticism of players publically and reports of various arguments amongst Di Canio and senior players. Criticism can sometimes motivate players more as they feel that they have to prove their coach wrong but it can often back fire as players become disillusioned with being criticised and become de-motivated (Keegan et al., 2009).

When trying to motivate your players, you have to understand that each person is different and are motivated if different ways. For intrinsically motivated players, it is important to ensure that there are opportunities for them to develop and that they are enjoying their sport. Providing feedback and praise increases player’s motivation and also boosts self esteem and confidence. For extrinsically motivated players, it would be difficult to stay motivated during periods of their career where they are not winning trophies or getting recognition. Ensuring that extrinsically motivated players are challenged to succeed is important and for them, playing in a winning team is key. This is a difficult situation to provide but ensuring that they are given the opportunity to succeed is important and will motivate them.

Studies have shown that it is actually important for an athlete to have a mix of intrinsic and extrinsic motivation. This is because intrinsic motivation will push the athlete to better themselves and enjoy their sport whilst extrinsic motivation will ensure that they want to win and have a strong competitive streak (Karageorghis and Terry, 2011).

Therefore, when coaching, managing or teaching, it is important to understand how people are motivated in different ways and will respond to different types of motivators. Motivation is a very powerful attribute and when harnessed in the correct way, can provide great results.

Article

The turnaround in fortunes of the Australian cricket team has been a remarkable story as Darren Lehmann’s men went from perennial losers to Ashes winners in the space of six months. The likes of Mitchell Johnson and Brad Haddin have deservedly taken the accolades for the part they played in regaining the famous Ashes urn […]

The turnaround in fortunes of the Australian cricket team has been a remarkable story as Darren Lehmann’s men went from perennial losers to Ashes winners in the space of six months. The likes of Mitchell Johnson and Brad Haddin have deservedly taken the accolades for the part they played in regaining the famous Ashes urn with a 5-0 annihilation of England this winter, although the head coach deserves huge credit for their transformation. Lehmann had little time to work his magic when he replaced Mickey Arthur as Australian coach just three weeks before the start of the 2013 Ashes series in England and his team duly went on to suffer a 3-0 loss last summer. However, there were signs of recovery in defeat and Lehmann had already begun to set the platform for a stunning heist during the 2013/14 return series ‘Down Under’.

Lehmann’s impact on a bunch of cricketers, who had previously been a shadow of the past all-conquering Australian teams, highlights the important role a leader can have upon the performance of individuals and teams. The personality traits of a leader and the situational factors can impact upon the effectiveness of leadership (Cotterill, 2013) and a variety of approaches have attempted to explain leadership (Carron et al., 2005), while numerous models of leadership have been proposed.

Transformational Leadership

The concept of ‘transformational’ leadership is a popular one in modern sport psychology and Yukl (1989) characterises it as ‘the process of influencing major changes in the attitudes and assumptions of an organisation’s [a team’s] members and building commitment for major changes in the organisation’s objections and strategies’.

Lehmann’s style of leadership would appear to fit the ‘transformational’ concept perfectly as he created an environment where the Australian players felt comfortable. The players bought into his ideas and this winter’s 5-0 whitewash of England is testament to the major change in their attitude . His style was a far cry from the methods of his predecessor, Mickey Arthur, who used a more ‘transactional’ method where the focus was on tasks and rules. For example, before his departure, Arthur suspended several senior Australian players for failing to complete a homework task, whereas Lehmann preferred to emphasise the importance of co-operation among team members to complete tasks and how individual contributions are for the good of the team.

A new vision was needed and Lehmann was the man to provide it.

Transformational leadership describes four leader behaviours that have been shown to influence team members’ values, needs, awareness and performance (Bass and Riggio, 2006), and Lehmann appears to fulfil all four criteria:

1. Idealised Influence
The leader seeks to instil pride in the players, setting good examples and earning the respect of the team. Lehmann seemed to achieve idealised influence early on thanks to his role as a former Australian cricketer of some repute. Mitchell Johnson, who took a series-defining 37 wickets during the Ashes, said of Lehmann: “He understands the players as he’s been in the situation before as a player. He knows how people tick and he’s definitely found that with me. We have got a lot of trust and trust is another big part of it.”

2. Inspirational Motivation
Inspirational motivation refers to leaders who convey optimism and enthusiasm to the players, and in doing so they enhance the players’ self-confidence. Former Aussie great, Adam Gilchrist, told Cricinfo, “His fingerprints are all over the atmosphere around that team. I know from personal experience he’s a guy who creates the right atmosphere for people to feel they can do their best.”

Such a leader also provides a collective purpose and a shared vision, which in turns contributes to team spirit and morale. Chris Rogers, the veteran Australian opener, said: “He (Lehmann) has given us a real direction in how he wants us to play and also how he wants us to act on and off the field.”

3. Intellectual Stimulation
The leader encourages player to be creative, solve problems in innovative ways and question established assumptions. It would appear that Mickey Arthur’s Australia weren’t able to express themselves in quite this way, while, in contrast, intellectual stimulation is a key philosophy of Lehmann, who revealed, “as a coach Id be mad to say I have all the answers – they’ll often come up with better answers than I have. You want to have different ideas and chew the ideas as a group, but come up with the solutions and get the direction you want to go.”

4. Individualised Consideration
A transformational leader seeks to address the unique needs and capabilities of each member of the team through advising, listening, compassion and empathy (Hoption et al., 2007). Lehmann’s biggest attribute would appear to be his man-management skills as he eliminated anxiety by introducing a sense of calm and fun in the Australian dressing room. Indeed, the Australian wicket-keeper, Brad Haddin, highlighted the difference in approaches between Arthur and Lehmann as he felt under the leadership of the latter “everyone was relaxed and knew exactly where they stood”.

Australia knew exactly where they stood at the beginning of the latest Ashes series and by the end of it they were standing on top of an open top bus with the Ashes urn safely in their grasp. In contrast, England were left broken, bruised and battered by a most humiliating defeat. This time last year England were being tipped to beat Australia 10-0 over the course of back-to-back Ashes series, but now they are staring into the abyss. English cricket is in the midst of a crisis of confidence after parting ways with their own leader, Andy Flower. They must decide who is the right man to take England forward and what type of leader a much-changed squad of players needs. Transformational or transactional leadership? Australia know which they prefer.

Article

Skill Acquisition in Sport This article attempts to provide simplistic insight into the concept of Skill Acquisition in sport, and specifically what actions coaches and teachers need to be conscious of to help ensure their athletes are presented with the best possible chance of achieving excellence. In an effort to effectively develop talent and impart […]

Skill Acquisition in Sport

This article attempts to provide simplistic insight into the concept of Skill Acquisition in sport, and specifically what actions coaches and teachers need to be conscious of to help ensure their athletes are presented with the best possible chance of achieving excellence.

In an effort to effectively develop talent and impart learning, coaches need to be aware of the proposition offered by Sports scientists that denotes the journey any young performer passes through on their route to expertise, consists of three distinct stages. Simplistically, these are referred to as the Cognitive Stage, Associative Stage and Autonomous Stage of Skill Acquisition. Skill Acquisition is the science that underpins movement learning and execution and is more commonly termed motor learning and control (Williams & Ford, 2009). Each stage embodies unique characteristics relative to an athlete’s level of performance of a skill or activity. All of which, are affected by a range of environmental constraints that can include factors such as: level of instruction, quality and frequency of feedback, opportunity to make decisions, type and frequency of practice, exposure to other sports, organismic factors and socio-economic/cultural limitations (Ericsson & Lehman, 1996; Fairbrother, 2010; Magill, 2009; Newell, 1986 & Schmidt & Wrisberg, 2004).

Cognitive Stage

The Cognitive stage is affiliated with a performer’s introduction to a skillset or activity and as such; awkwardness, errors and confusion/disorientation are to be expected. Beyond this, however, it is important for practitioners to recognize what types of exercises and coaching behaviors are most conducive to providing athletes’ with the best possible foundation for growth whilst embedded in this stage. Continuous feedback that is both informative and positive in nature is essential in facilitating both confidence in and an understanding of, a task (Magill,1998, Schemmp, McCullick and Mason, 2006). Furthermore, tasks should be structured to ensure that a high degree of early success is witnessed ensuring a performer’s feelings of their own inherent competence grows (Mitchell,1996). To supplement this, coaches must be cognizant of the benefit that appropriate demonstrations can bring within this stage of development. Painting the correct picture of how a skill or task is to be completed, whilst not overwhelming the child is an integral coaching/teaching tool within this phase (Bailey, 2001, Stafford, 2011).

Lastly, when discussing a performer’s ability to graduate out of this stage there is perhaps no greater focus point than ensuring a platform of functional movement skills is appropriately provided. This can be achieved through engagement with a range of: tasks, sports, games and exercises. Functional Movement Skills (Locomotor, Non Locomotor & Manipulative) provide the base from which Sport Specific movements later grow and therefore, their importance cannot be underestimated. This is specifically critical for coaches and teachers of those from less socially fortunate backgrounds to understand, considering Newell’s (1986) claim that Environmental factors have the ability to significantly impact a person’s ability to acquire physical literacy skills considering their lack of exposure to practice opportunities.

Borrowing from the work of a range of researchers who have sought to understand how elite athletes are grown and developed – such actions equate to those suggested in the: Sampling Years (Cote & Hay 2002), the Fundamental Movement Skills of Gallahue and Ozman (1995) and the FUNdamental stage of Balyi and Hamilton’s (2004) Long Term Athlete Development (LTAD) model. Steel, Harris, Baxter and King (2013) summarize the importance of such an introduction to sport by suggesting that multidisciplinary backgrounds provide for a more resilient and effective performer.

The duration for which a performer stays embedded within the Cognitive Stage is dependent upon a multitude of factors. Some may simply never graduate from it. What is acknowledged however, is that when a performer seems to be displaying an understanding and execution of a skill void from conscious mechanical thought their journey to the Associative Stage of learning has begun.

Associative Stage

Embodied by an emphasis on practice, the Associative Stage of Skill Acquisition is the second step on the journey to expertise. The learner having acquired an understanding of what the skill is needs to repeat the movement to enhance the synchronization of their mind and muscles. This concept of myelination is fast becoming the most commonly associated difference between those that excel and those that do not.

Each time the brain completes a skill an impulse/message is sent between the brain and the functioning body part. The more purposeful this action and the more times it is repeated the thicker the layer of insulation (Myelin Sheath) surrounding the message is. The thicker the Myelin Sheath is – the faster an impulse travels from the brain to the moving muscle thus increasing the efficiency  and accuracy of the action and reducing the time taken for the skill to be completed (Coyle, 2009).

This phase can still embody some of the error strewn characteristics of the Cognitive stage however, these instances are now less frequent and importantly the value of feedback, reflection and adjustment should now be inherently apparent. The constant attention to detail and correction required to complete the skill efficiently and effectively is being learned and as such, the value of such specificity cannot be overlooked. In his research into the Development of Expertise, researcher Anders Ericsson offered the contention that it would take an athlete 10,000 hours of Deliberate Practice to achieve Excellence. The deliberate practice framework developed by Ericsson and colleagues suggested that it is not sufficient to simply practice skills. Engagement must also be characterized by effort and attention with the aim of improving performance rather than gaining immediate social gains, i.e., practice should be work-like (Farrow, Baker, & MacMahon, 2008). Note here, the link to the growth and development of Myelin referred to earlier. We want the body to fire very specific impulses and messages when attempting to complete a skill. As a result, the depth and detail of the feedback provided by coaches and the technical nature of the practices they put forth are essential.

Autonomous Stage

In order for a skill to be autonomous the performer must have correctly refined all of the inherent sub routines and building blocks required for efficient execution. From a physical literacy perspective, athletes must be able to now combine the simple movements learned in the Cognitive stage into sport specific, complex sequences in aesthetically pleasing fluency. The highly specific technical points within a skill such as striking a soccer ball now must be unconsciously attended too. The transition to automaticity means that the performer is now able to effectively and efficiently execute the type of skill or action in a context and environment that now demands decisions to be proactively made (e.g. a game). As a result, one’s focus and attention is now on a range of visual cues that will influence said decision. Here is where the transition to Expert and Elite is found.

Naturally, the types of activities an athlete is engaged in, and exposed to at this level differ significantly from those offered at the introductory levels. It is expected that an athlete’s investment in their chosen sport is now significant and as such the specificity of practice is essential.

Stratton, Ward and Smeeton (2003) provided the diagram below to demonstrate the changing nature of skills as performers pass through respective development models.

Model Pyramid

Cote and Hay

Gallahue and   Ozmun

Balyi and   Hamilton

 

Regardless of the Development Model followed, what is evident is that the nature of practices evolves as the level of investment in a sport evolves and as the skillset of the performer evolves. This evolving nature of practice is what ensures skill and performance levels continue to develop. As discussed earlier, it is here the value of deliberate practice, deep practice and the subsequent production of myelin become important.

In his book The Talent Code, Dan Coyle discusses the concept of Deep Practice as the first of his three pillars towards achieving skilled performance. In order to both achieve and remain in the autonomous stage performers must be consistently challenged by coaches. Once the early success and understanding of a skill is achieved a paradigm shift is unleashed that almost sees the effortless completion of a skill and demonstration of talent as a negative thing. “Deep practice is built on a paradox: struggling in certain targeted ways – operating at the edges of your ability, where you make mistakes-makes you smarter. We think of effortless performance as desirable, but it’s really a terrible way to learn” (Coyle, 2009 pg. 18). Conventional wisdom suggests the longer one practices the better they will become. However, if that practice is not purposeful, not challenging, not laden with precise and ever evolving decisions to make a performer will not develop. They will not reach autonomous execution.

Conclusion

To conclude, the journey a performer passes through in order to achieve the level of skill acquisition required for expert performance is an arduous one influenced by an abundance of factors. Those factors however, must be purposefully planned for in order to generate the foundation upon which skilled performance can be displayed.

Coaches must attend to the need for athletes to develop the physical literacy required for multiple sport specific actions. Subsequently, exposure to a range of games, sports and activities is suggested in their early years. Beyond this, see their progression as you would a practice session. Activities should begin simple with a high degree of success and proficiency and build to ones more complex in nature. Instruction and feedback should be detailed and informative and facilitate an understanding of the intricacies required for the successful performance of a skill. As skilled performance becomes more common and less conscious, the athlete/s should be guided to invest in the concept of constant reflection and adjustment in the hope of further understanding what it feels like to perform optimally. When this is achieved the coach furthers the challenge presented by requesting that practice performances are now performed under the constraints of continual decision making ensuring the athlete has to attend to environmental cues before choosing how or when to perform a skill or technique. The key is simply to keep practice purposeful and learning deep.

Many performers never reach the autonomous stage of skill acquisition. Can you be a coach that helps your athletes get there?

Article

There are many theories surrounding the development of personality. The Biological Approach to personality suggests that genetics are responsible, with a well researched link between genetics and personality traits (Eysenck, 1967). Behavioural theories associate personality characteristics with the individual and their interaction with the environment; focusing on learning stemming from increased behaviours that have positive […]

There are many theories surrounding the development of personality. The Biological Approach to personality suggests that genetics are responsible, with a well researched link between genetics and personality traits (Eysenck, 1967).

Behavioural theories associate personality characteristics with the individual and their interaction with the environment; focusing on learning stemming from increased behaviours that have positive consequences (Skinner, 1935).

Trait theorists assume that individuals each possess particular personality traits to either a greater or lesser degree. A trait remains stable over time, across a wide diversity of environmental and social situations and can cause individuals to behave in different ways. The five factor theory of personality suggests there are five basic dimensions of personality, Openness, Conscientiousness, Extraversion, Agreeableness and Neuroticism (OCEAN), referred to as the “Big 5” personality traits (McCrae & John, 1992).

The importance of free will surrounds the Humanistic Approach to personality, involving individuals making conscious decisions and not being controlled by a past history of reinforcement, punishment or repressed trauma. In this view, individuals are responsible for their lives and have the freedom to change their behaviour (Maslow, 1943; Maslow, 1954).

Last but not least is the Psychodynamic Approach. The Psychodynamic Approach, by far the most awkwardly amusing approach, is heavily influenced by the likes of Sigmund Freud, who placed large emphasis on a sexual drive and unconscious thoughts (Freud, 1954; Freud, 1989). Freud suggested three main aspects of personality known as the id, the ego and the superego, all fighting for satisfaction of needs and urges whilst being moral and conforming to social ideals.

Developing on from Freudian work, Alfred Adler emphasised an approach that focuses on the social world and its influence on personality development (Adler, 1931). An interesting perspective placed upon personality development is birth order, Adler being the first psychologist to theorise the effects of birth order on personality development (Adler, 1927; Adler, 1956). It is suggested that the order in which an individual is born (first born, middle child, third born etc.) has a great impact upon their personality.

An early study exploring the relationship between birth order and vocational interest, provided results showing that first born children responded more positively to academic activities, whereas later born children had one specific occupational preference, athletics (Bryant, 1987).

Theroux, (1993), produced findings suggesting that later born children cultivate athletic ability as a counter to first born ‘academic primogeniture’, which reflects the tendency of first born children to occupy the family niche of the achievement orientated sibling. Within sport, there are times when risks have to be taken, and with risk taking comes the confidence to do so. Later born children have been shown to engage in sports high in risk taking compared to first borns (Sulloway & Zweigenhaft).

However, Sulloway, (1996), asserts that first born children are more achievement-orientated, self confident and organised, and more likely to affiliate under stress. Leman, (2009) also suggests that first born children are more likely to be high achievers, perfectionists, hard driving, well organised, and more motivated to achieve compared to later born children. These characteristics are some that would typically be associated with individuals taking part in sport.

In a review study by Eckstein et al., (2010), 200 published articles with statistically significant findings of birth order characteristics, found typical characteristics associated with the individual’s specific birth order position. First born children were found be to high achievers, highly motivated and have high self esteem, qualities of which are favourable when being involved in sport.

More recently, athletes representing 34 sports were assessed in a study exploring birth order and sport expertise development (Hopwood, Baker, MacMahon & Farrow, 2010). Findings showed that elite athletes were more likely to be later-born children, while pre-elite and non-elite athletes were more likely to be first born children. In terms of athletics, later born children were more likely to be successful.

Interestingly, later born children have also been shown to have lower anxiety compared to first born children. Flowers & Brown, (2002), sought to examine the perceived level of cognitive and somatic anxiety before a competitive event in athletes competing in the 1500m and the 4 x 100m relay. First born athletes reported significantly higher cognitive and somatic state-anxiety compared to later born athletes.

Research surrounding the notion of birth order and its influence upon personality is equivocal. Recent literature suggests that first borns are more highly motivated and more likely to achieve, however, in a sporting context it has been shown that later born children are more successful and have a preferential occupation of athletics.

And of course, all these characteristics are influenced by other environmental, social and genetic factors, with birth order being a relatively small influence on personality in the grand scheme of things. It does however, offer an interesting insight and different perspective into the influence of birth order on sporting success.

Article

“I’ve failed over and over and over again in my life and that is why I succeed.” Michael Jordan In sport, the requirement to bounce back from adversity is key to long-term success. Research across a range of sports strongly suggests that those who demonstrate resilience to adversity are more likely to reach set goals […]

“I’ve failed over and over and over again in my life and that is why I succeed.”
Michael Jordan

In sport, the requirement to bounce back from adversity is key to long-term success. Research across a range of sports strongly suggests that those who demonstrate resilience to adversity are more likely to reach set goals (Jones, 2002; Mummery, Schofield & Perry, 2004). What is more, a study by Galli and Vealey (2008) in fact suggests that athletes reap long-term benefits from overcoming adversity in their careers, through promoting resilience to future adversity.

Critical to overcoming adversity is a resilient mindset and social support (Galli & Vealey, 2008). A resilient mindset has also been termed ‘hardiness’ or ‘mental toughness’ within sports psychology and has been categorised into three components by Maddi (2004), the three ‘C’s:

Commitment to the desired goals, demonstrated through ongoing perseverance and determination. To reach maximum commitment, it is necessary to focus on why adversity must be faced: what are the goals and potential benefits resulting from overcoming the current adversity? It must further be noted that intrinsic motivation is more effective in increasing commitment than external motivation. In the case of Michael Jordan, his hunger to succeed and be the best far outweighed external rewards in importance.

Control over one’s own environment and future, labelled by Rotter (1954) as an ‘internal locus of control’. There are inevitably many things that cannot be controlled, our competitor’s strengths and weaknesses for one. It is worthwhile to focus on what can be controlled. You can train harder to better yourself, you can keep to routines which maximise emotional control and you can succeed through assuring you commit to the goal and challenge yourself.

Challenge refers to the understanding that some degree of adversity is inevitable on the road to success, and also to the confidence to overcome this adversity. Henderson (2007) notes that training provides a ‘repertoire of strategies’ to challenge future adversity. Targets set must be hard but achievable, so to challenge but avoid instilling a feeling of powerlessness, low confidence and lack of control. In turn, confidence, or ‘self-efficacy’, is enhanced which increases future ability to tackle adversity.

As mentioned earlier, a resilient mindset should be accompanied by social support. Wider biological and psychological research suggests that wider social support can maximise hardiness in sport. For instance, Poulin and Holman (2013) recently revealed that those with greater social support demonstrated lower levels of stress. On a biological level, Poulin and Holman note that oxytocin, also known as the ‘bonding hormone’, is released through close social relations, which in turn decreases stress levels. Such findings are easily applied to sport: social support from coaches, family and friends decrease the negative effects of stress resulting from facing adversity, in turn making it easier to commit to the goal, control one’s immediate environment and have the confidence to face challenges and adversity.

To conclude, both a resilient mindset and wider social support are vital in bouncing back from adversity. This ability to face, overcome and bounce back from adversity increases the number of goals reached, in addition to enhancing resiliency to future adversity.

Article

Often, we make the excuse that if we were “motivated enough” to go to the gym to lift weights, shoot extra free throws after practice, or run that extra mile on the track, we could achieve our goals of being a better athlete or achieve a greater level of fitness. However, motivation is a resource […]

Often, we make the excuse that if we were “motivated enough” to go to the gym to lift weights, shoot extra free throws after practice, or run that extra mile on the track, we could achieve our goals of being a better athlete or achieve a greater level of fitness. However, motivation is a resource that we all possess. According to Merriam-Webster (2014), motivation is defined as “the condition of being eager to act or work.” Motivation is comparable to a feeling of desire, or a psychological state. All individuals can experience an emotion such as desire. A critical distinction can be made between the condition of motivation, and the process of achievement – a process known as committed action.

Committed action is exhibited when an individual consistently demonstrates the specific behaviors needed to result in optimal performance (Gardner & Moore, 2007). Committed action is a result of acting in service of personal values. Values are the desired qualities an individual wants to possess and display (Harris, 2009). Values can help guide our behavior in any given situation. For example, we may choose to take a few extra backhand strokes after practice to work on our tennis shot, in order to achieve our personal value of becoming a more well-rounded tennis player.

Values-driven behavior, or committed action, is easiest when conditions favor acting in service of one’s personal performance demands. When your coach offers you incentives for working towards your values, such as offering more playing time in the upcoming match for making a certain percentage of your shots, it is easy to choose to practice your jump shot in order to make a higher percentage so that you can play more. However, think about a situation in which there is no directly observable external reward, and when other conditions are unfavorable like having a low level of energy, bad weather, or not having the amount of time desired. In these situations, many people may feel that a “low level of motivation” was a reason for not practicing. Instead, one could propose that bringing personal values to the forefront of his mind would provide ample motivation.

In each and every situation, there will be some reason not to act in accordance with values. Fatigue, weather conditions, time limitations, anger, frustration, anxiety, and other factors can constantly serve as barriers to values-driven behavior. In these situations, it is critical to keep in mind your personal performance values when choosing how to behave. This may involve running several more sprints even though you are exhausted, sacrificing time with others in order to train, or choosing to stay late or come early to practice. It is critical to realize that is not these thoughts, emotions, or influences that are preventing you from committed action; rather, it is your reaction to these events. The key here is act in accordance with your values while being able to tolerate negative thoughts, emotions, and influences, a concept known as poise (Gardner and Moore, 2007).

In order to engage in values-driven behavior, it can be helpful to write down your personal performance values. After specifying your values, think of some short-term and long-term goals that are associated with your performance values. Remember to keep in mind the acronym S.M.A.R.T. when setting your goals. S.M.A.R.T. stands for specific, measurable, attainable, relevant, and timely, and should serve as a set of guidelines when creating goals. Goals should be clear, assessable, realistic, appropriate, and time-bound (Meyer, 2003).

For example, a basketball player may wish to improve his or her shooting ability. Using S.M.A.R.T. goals as a guide, the player would specify that his or her free throw percentage would be the target, and that making a specific number out of 10 would be the measurement. Realistically, the player would plan on making 7 out of 10 free throws, and that the goal is relevant to shooting because free throw shots are a part of the game. Then, the player would plan on improving his or her free throw percentage to 70% by the end of the month.

Finally, think of behaviors in specific situations that will act in service of your goals and values. Begin by planning out the actions you will take when faced with certain obstacles such as thoughts, emotions, and influences. This will allow you to remain cognizant of your values when put in those situations. Next, seek out performance situations that will test your ability to engage in committed action. Finally, reflect on your ability to act in a values-driven way in performance situations, and adjust your specific behaviors or goals as need be.

Committed action is a necessary process for achieving your personal performance goals. Writing down your values, goals, and the specific behaviors you will engage in can be a useful way to track your performance desires. By defining and keeping yourself deliberately aware of your performance goals, you will be able to perform in a way that will help you become more successful, be that on the field, court, track, or gym.

Article

Understanding the psychological components that help with optimal athletic performance is a key priority for applied sport psychology. One factor that has been examined since the 1980s is flow which defined by Cziksentmihalyi as “a state in which people are so involved in an activity that nothing else seems to matter; the experience is so […]

Understanding the psychological components that help with optimal athletic performance is a key priority for applied sport psychology. One factor that has been examined since the 1980s is flow which defined by Cziksentmihalyi as “a state in which people are so involved in an activity that nothing else seems to matter; the experience is so enjoyable that people will continue to do it even at great cost, for the sheer sake of doing it.” (1990, p.4).

Flow is an optimal psychological state that occurs when there is a balance between perceived challenges and skills in an activity (Csikszentmihalyi, 1990) and is also known as being ‘in the zone’. Research on flow in sport and exercise increased in the 1990s (e.g., Jackson, 1992; 1995; 1996; Jackson, Kimiecik, Ford, & Marsh, 1998; Jackson & Marsh, 1996; Kimiecik & Stein, 1992 & Csikszentmihalyi, 1992 In. Csikszentmihalyi & Nakumu, 2005) which promoted applying the flow theory in physical activity settings.  Activating flow states is important outcome for athletes at all levels, and coaches who are able to facilitate flow states are more likely to help their athletes succeed.

Csikszentmihalyi identified different elements which help to achieve flow including: setting clear goals; receiving immediate feedback; becoming immersed in the activity by paying attention to what is happening in the moment; enjoying the current experience, and when the task challenges you but not too much that you are really anxious  Schaffer (2013) proposed 7 flow conditions: 1) knowing what to do; 2) knowing how to do it 3) how well you are doing it; 4) knowing where you are going; 5) high perceived challenge; 6) high perceived skills; and 7) freedom from distractions.

I found the book by Eckhart Tolle, “The Power of Now” a helpful tool for myself and when working with athletes, and coaches, to encourage them to focus on being ‘in the now’, ‘playing free’ and ‘being in the moment’. The concept of flow is extremely interesting to me, as I know as a football player, performing whilst in this state keeps me passionate about playing and intrinsically motivated.

By the age of 13-15 years old, only 48% of girls meet the daily recommended amount of physical activity, compared to 69% of boys (Scottish Health Survey, 2012). Carli, Delle Fave & Massimini (1998), Mayers (1978), & Nakumaru (1988) found that achieving flow encouraged commitment and achievement in high school years. If we can get high school girls partaking physical activity whilst in the state of flow, will this help them with continuing sport?  If we can teach more athletes to enjoy moments and achieve flow, then not only, will their performance be enhanced but participation may continue at the time when they are more likely to drop out?

Are coaches with no background in sport psychology aware of the psychological states of their athletes? How do we tell if someone is performing in a state of flow, or not? Ideally, for coaches, it would be beneficial to know not only the signs an athlete is in flow, but also how to create the best environment, to where the athlete achieves this state. Additionally, it would be beneficial to coaches, and athletes to know how to achieve the state of flow and reach peak performance.

Article

Observation as an alternative to imagery – II In my last article (click to view) I suggested that observation could be used as an alternative to imagery. What I mean by the term observation is simply to video record the athlete in the situations that you would be asking them to imagine.  Other authors on […]

Observation as an alternative to imagery – II

In my last article (click to view) I suggested that observation could be used as an alternative to imagery. What I mean by the term observation is simply to video record the athlete in the situations that you would be asking them to imagine.  Other authors on this site have made reference to the PETTLEP model of imagery, which identifies the 7 key elements that need to be included during an imagery session, in order to make it most effective. So lets look through each of these elements and see how using a video recording of the performer could be used as an alternative to imagery, in the event that the athlete cannot image, or cannot satisfy the 7 key elements suggested by the PETTLEP model.

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There are multiple uses for observation or videoing techniques as an alternative for imagery.

Improve confidence – replaying the athlete performing skills successfully can increase the confidence they have for executing a particular skill.  This can be useful in times when the athlete has made a few mistakes e.g. a golfer hooking his drive causing him to keep doing this.  Showing him the replays of him performing the drive successfully then he can regain the confidence in himself.

Improve technique – sometimes the athlete is aware that they are making mistakes but is not sure what is causing them to do so.  Again using the golfer hooking his/her drives as an example, if he is recorded taking the drive, his swing can easily be compared to previous attempts and he/she can identify the change in their technique and the cause of the hook.

Motivation – capturing the athlete or team in their most inspiring moments and adding these to music can assist the athlete in getting motivated for a particular performance.

Pre –performance routine – A video could be used to increase the arousal levels of the athlete or to prepare them for what lies ahead.  For the golfer it could be  a recording of each hole where they can start to think about the types of shots they might like to play or a recording of them actually playing the holes successfully so that they can more easily repeat this performance in the next round.

Whatever you use this technique for remember to keep it positive.  A positive capturing of the athletes skills and abilities will ultimately be good for performance.  Good luck.