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Choking in sport is a topic which is widely discussed among sport psychologists because of its negative effect on athletic performance. Performing highly challenging skills under immense pressure and in situations which are important to athletes has been something which has affected many athletes throughout their careers . The explicit monitoring theory is a key […]

Choking in sport is a topic which is widely discussed among sport psychologists because of its negative effect on athletic performance. Performing highly challenging skills under immense pressure and in situations which are important to athletes has been something which has affected many athletes throughout their careers . The explicit monitoring theory is a key theory which has been used to help us understand this phenomena.

Before looking at the explicit monitoring theory it is important to understand how a skill is learnt.  When learning a new skill a person must progress through a number of different stages.  Fitts and Posner (1967) argued that in the early stages of learning, skill execution is supported by control structures which are stored in the working memory and are constantly consciously being attended to.  When a novice learns a new skill they will be continually testing out different hypotheses of how to perform.  By doing this the person will build a platform in which they have a better understanding of the movements that need to be performed which is encoded verbally through declarative knowledge.  Over time and practice conscious attention will not be needed to concentrate on the specifics and the knowledge that underpins the skill will have been combined into automated procedural knowledge.  Beilock and Carr (2001) used the term explicit monitoring to understand why people choke under pressure.  Baumeister (1984) argues that when an athlete is in a pressured situation this in term will increase their self-consciousness and anxiety about how they should be performing a skill.  This causes the athlete to focus their attention on their self and the specifics of how to execute a skill through explicit monitoring .

Many different studies have been conducted generating evidence for the explicit monitoring theory.  However it is important to acknowledge that there are large differences when studying this theory among expert and novice performers. Firstly compared to novices the procedural knowledge to perform at expert level is less accessible to verbal recall.  Secondly because experts devote less time and attention to performing a highly challenging skill, the memory for those components will be worse for those players.  Therefore because expert performers do not need to consciously attend to skills they have more attentional resources to process other information from external stimuli. Beilock, Bertenthal, McCoy, and Carr (2004) looked at differences in expert and novice golf performers under a skill focused and dual task condition.  In the skill focused condition, novice’s performance improved as it aided execution, whereas in the dual task condition it took the focus away from this. However because experts perform skills which are largely unattended the skill focus condition disrupted performance. These differences between novices and experts shows that explicit monitoring has little influence on the control of movements in the early stages of learning. Therefore paying too much attention to skill execution when taking a penalty will disrupt performance as well-learned skills are best performed without conscious awareness.

When taking a penalty not only can we relate choking to the explicit monitoring theory but there are also many other factors which can contribute and should be taken into consideration.  Baumeister (1997) associates choking as a type of self-regulatory breakdown under ego threat.  This can be described as a form of behaviour where a player would feel distressed in a situation and therefore do whatever they can to get it over with as quickly as possible.  To avoid this stressful situation a player will engage in escapist self-regulatory behaviours such as speeding up to take the penalty.  This can also be linked very closely to avoidance behaviours such as facing away from the goalkeeper when taking a penalty (Jordet & Hartman, 2008).  Research conducted has supported this theory by looking at the links between public status and performance in penalty shootouts.  From the study it was found that players with high current status performed worse in penalty shootouts than those with low status and engaged in more escapist behaviours.  As well as this Jordet (2009a) also looked at the effects of team status on choking in penalty shootouts.  He found that players from teams who had many international awards were quicker to take their penalties in comparison to teams who had low status. Therefore high public and team status can also be a factor which contributes to choking as it can cause the players to engage in more escapist behaviour.

Hopefully this article would have provided you with a deeper insight into what happens when an athlete chokes under pressure and other factors that can play a role within the process.


In sport there is an increasing awareness of how important psychological factors are within athletic performance and it is now being recognized that physical talent is not the only component which leads to success (Gucciardi, Gordon & Dimmock, 2008).   In the scientific and sport community, mental toughness is viewed as one of the most important attributes […]

In sport there is an increasing awareness of how important psychological factors are within athletic performance and it is now being recognized that physical talent is not the only component which leads to success (Gucciardi, Gordon & Dimmock, 2008).   In the scientific and sport community, mental toughness is viewed as one of the most important attributes that will lead to a successful athletic performance (Bull, Shambrook, James, & Brooks, 2005).  At the highest level it is often the mental game which separates the elite performers from the good performers (Gould, Jackson, & Finch, 1993).  In sport there has been very little scientific attention focusing around mental toughness and this is seen as very surprising considering that the term has been widely used over the last twenty years (Gould, Hodge, Peterson & Petlichkoff, 1987).  Due to a lack of research, mental toughness is seen as one of the most overused and least understood term in the area of sport psychology (Jones, Hanton & Connaughton, 2002)

Early Perspectives

The earliest attempt to define mental toughness was proposed by Raymond Cattell who suggested that it was a personality trait (Cattell, 1957).  The concept of tough mindedness was identified by Cattell, (1957) as one of the 16 primary source traits which were measured by his 16 personality factor questionnaire (16PF).  The 16PF has been widely used in psychological research, however it has not been used in sport to measure mental toughness.  Cattell (1957) saw tough mindedness as an important trait which was part of personality and many other researchers followed in this direction (Kroll, 1967). However it can be argued that this research is not grounded in sound scientific theory and more recently researchers have been arguing that it is important to understand mental toughness from a theoretical perspective (Clough & Earle, 2002a)

Sport General Research

Within sport the term mental toughness is used by a variety of coaches, performers and sport psychologists, and it is only recently that researchers have attempted to define and understand the concept (Thelwell, Weston & Greenlees, 2005).  Fourie and Potgieter (2001) were the first to identify psychological attributes which people considered to be related to the concept of mental toughness in sport. The researchers conducted a study which looked at written responses from 160 elite athletes and 131 expert coaches from 31 individual and team sports (Gucciardi, Gordon & Dimmock, 2009. The data from these written responses was content analyzed and it was found that there were twelve main components of mental toughness which were identified by the participants. These twelve components were; team unity, preparation skills, competitiveness, motivation level, coping skills, confidence maintenance, cognitive skill, discipline and goal directedness, possession of physical and mental requirements, psychological hardiness, ethics and religious convictions (Gucciardi, Gordon et al., 2009).

Jones, Hanton et al., (2002) set out to expand on the understanding of mental toughness by focusing on what essential attributes are needed to become a mentally tough performer.  The researchers recruited ten international performers who took part in interviews, focus groups and a rank order task. After conducting the research the term mental toughness was defined as (Jones et al., 2002, p. 209):

“Mental toughness is having the natural or developed psychological edge that enables you to:

  • Generally, cope better than your opponents with the many demands (competition, training, lifestyle) that sport places on the performer.
  • Specifically, be more consistent and better than your opponents in remaining determined, focused, confident, and in control under pressure”

As well as defining mental toughness, Jones at al. (2002) investigated the key attributes which are essential to becoming a mentally tough athlete. Many of the attributes found in the study were very similar to those which have been found in previous literature (Thelwell, Weston et al., 2005).  Jones at al. (2002) conducted a rank order task to determine the order of importance of the attributes and it was found that the following were all key for a mentally tough athlete: (a) having self-belief in one’s ability to achieve goals; (b) being able to recover from set backs and having an extra determination to succeed; (c) having a high amount of self belief that one has better abilities and more qualities than their opponents; (d) having a high amount of motivation and desire to succeed; (e) being fully-focused

on the task even when there are distractions; (f) having the ability to regain psychological control following uncontrollable events; (g) having the ability to overcome emotional and physical pain; (h) being able to accept and cope with the anxiety experienced in competition; (i) thriving on pressure; (j) having the ability to not be affected by good or bad performances; (k) having the ability to remain fully focused even in the face of distraction; and (l) the ability to switch the focus on your sport on and off.

To extend on their earlier research, Jones, Hanton and Connaughton (2007) conducted a study where eight Olympic champions were interviewed along with three of their coaches and four of their sport psychologists. The main aim of this study was to develop a framework of mental toughness which would help to identify key attributes that are used in a number of different sports. The methodology used for this study was a data triangulation and it is seen as one of the most in depth investigations to date (Jones, Hanton et al., 2007).  From the study the researchers found 30 key attributes which differed from the 12 attributes which were identified by the international performers in their last study.  These attributes were put into sub categories within four central main dimensions. The first dimension was related to attitudes which were possessed by a mentally tough athlete, whereas the other three related to characteristics which were relevant for three major aspects of an athletes performance which were training, competition and post competition (Jones et al., 2007). This framework is seen as providing one the most in-depth descriptions of what types of mental toughness may be needed in specific contexts (Gucciardi et al., 2009).

Sport-specific research

In sport there have been two recent studies which have focused specifically on cricketers (Bull, Shambrook, James et al., 2005) and soccer players (Thelwell et al., 2005) views of mental toughness. Both these studies have focused on mental toughness from a specific sport context and they have both been seen as significant contributions towards its understanding.  Bull, Shambrook et al., (2005) interviewed 12 male English cricketers who were identified as being high in mental toughness. From the analysis of transcripts there were four main themes which were identified and placed in a hierarchal structure pyramid

The first theme was environmental factors, which was seen as the foundation of the development for mental toughness. Within this theme it incorporated aspects such as parental influences, childhood background and exposure to foreign cricket as an important part of environmental influences. The next three themes all related to the individual person. The second theme was tough character and this related to factors such as a resilient confidence and competitiveness. The third theme was tough attitudes which was seen as important for having a tough character.  These included attitudes such as; willing to task risks, a never giving up attitude and determination to make the most out of any challenge. The final theme was related to tough thinking which looked at aspects such as being able to think clearly and having high self confidence (Bull et al., 2005).  However, it can be argued that the study was not grounded in empirical data and that the data interpretation was very descriptive and did not involve any in-depth analysis (Gucciardi et al., 2009)

Thelwell et al., (2005) examined mental toughness within the soccer population where he was trying to expand on the finding of Jones et al., (2002) study.  The study comprised of interviewing six male soccer players and comparing their soccer definition of mental toughness to the definition which was proposed by Jones et al., (2002).  From the results it was found that there was a high amount of overlap between the two definitions, however the soccer sample saw mental toughness as always being able to cope better than their opponents as opposed to just generally coping better.  In the study conducted by Thelwell et al., (2005) it was found that the majority of participants were not uniform in their understanding of what mental toughness actually was.  From the results it was found that the soccer players characterized mental toughness as being able to react positively to situations and being able to remain calm under pressure (Crust, 2007).  However, from the six participants it was actually found that only half of them enjoyed being under pressure whilst in performance.

Recently Gucciardi, Gordon et al., (2008) provided researchers with a theoretical advancement into the area of mental toughness by interviewing 11 elite Australian football coaches which was developed from a personal construct psychology framework (Gucciardi et al., 2009). The researchers addressed this from a grounded theory approach where there were three components that were seen as key to the development of mental toughness. These three components were characteristics, behaviours and situations (Gucciardi et al., 2009). The characteristics represented 11 bipolar constructs such as tough attitude versus weak attitude, concentration versus distraction and resilience versus fragile minded.  The situations related to the different events that the athlete experienced which helped develop mental toughness (e.g. injury, fatigue).  Behaviours related to what the athletes would do in situations that required mental toughness. This research was unique to the area of mental toughness as it looked at how you develop mental toughness (processes) and what outcomes come out from it.

Mental Toughness Literature: Problems

To understand mental toughness Jones et al (2002) used a three-stage procedure using ten elite athletes from a number of different sports. The first step of the procedure involved a focus group which involved using three elite players to all brainstorm about mental toughness.  Within research focus groups are often seen as a method that can obtain descriptive rich data, however there are also a number of limitations which should be acknowledged (Gibbs, 1997). There are three main limitations: lack of confidentiality among the participants, lack of diverse opinions from the participants and finally a lack of control from the researcher (Gibbs, 1997).  Focus groups are often seen as place where individuals can be open about experiences and challenge each other in what is said (Kitzinger, 1995).  Therefore when conducing a focus group it is often suggested that a researcher uses group sizes which are between six and ten participants (Bloor, Frankland, Thomas, & Robson, 2001).  In the study conducted by Jones at al., (2002) the focus group was the first part of the study and it can therefore be argued that this would have an affect on stage two and three of the study. As well as this the sample size was very small and therefore this should be taken into account when looking at the validity and reliability of the study.

Within the research it can be argued that individual differences have not been taken into account.  While there are consistent attributes of mental toughness in many studies, there are also many attributes that are not consistent among studies (Crust, 2007).  The mental toughness needed for rowing could be very different to the mental toughness which is needed for a soccer or rugby player.  Ignoring individual differences this can have a detrimental affect on helping to develop high levels of mental toughness among the sport population.

Measuring Mental Toughness

To study mental toughness, qualitative research is seen as one of the most common to help us understand what mental toughness is and how people acquire it (Crust, 2008).  However researchers should also be encouraged to used quantitative methods to help look at differences among athletes in relation to their cognitions and behaviours (Crust, 2008).

Within the mental toughness research the main method which has been used to measure this construct has been through the use of questionnaires (Crust, 2007).  The main questionnaire which has been used in many studies (Golby, Sheard and Lavalle, 2003; Shin, Kim & Lee, 1993) is the Psychological Performance Inventory (PPI; Loehr, 1986).  The PPI consists of 42 items which measures seven subscales which are self confidence, attentional control, visualization, imagery control, negative energy, attitude control and positive energy.  Recently researchers have conducted tests to assess the psychometric properties of the PPI (Crust, 2007).  Middleton, Marsh, Martin, Richards and Perry (2004a) tested the construct validity of the PPI and found that the questionnaire was not a valid measure for the definition of mental toughness.

Clough, Earle and Sewell (2002b) developed the Mental toughness 48 inventory (MT48) which consists of four subscales which are control, commitment, challenge and confidence. Clough, Earle et al., (2002b) conducted research to test the psychometric properties of the MT48 and it was found that it had a high-test retest coefficient of 0.9 and there was high internal consistency of all four subscales. The MT48 subscales were developed through an association with hardiness and mental toughness and it has been argued that Clough et al., (2002b) did not provide sufficient justification between the two concepts.

Middleton, Marsh, Martin, Richards and Perry (2004b) developed the mental toughness inventory (MTI) which was used for their own definition of mental toughness.  The questionnaire consists of 67 items and measures 12 different components of mental toughness. The questionnaire has been developed from justified research and has been found to have strong psychometric properties (Middleton, Marsh, Martin, Richards et al., 2004b).  However the instrument needs to be tested on much larger populations to see whether it can be used to compare elite and non-elite players.  The development of these questionnaires is very important for researchers who want to study mental toughness, however most of them need further testing of validity and reliability before they can be accepted to be used (Crust, 2007).

Development of Mental Toughness

In the literature there are still many arguments concerning issues as to whether mental toughness is a personality trait or a mindset (Crust & Clough, 2011). It is therefore very important to look at the underlying factors that help develop mental toughness.

Even though personality traits are influenced by genetics they are also affected by the environment and are constantly going through a developmental process (Crust and Clough, 2005).  Psychologists are now adopting the approach that both nature and nurture are important with contributing to the development of behaviour and personality. Horsburgh, Schermer, Veselka, and Vernon, (2009) assessed mental toughness among twins and found that it had a strong genetic influence and was also influenced by the environment. As well as this, there have been recent studies looking at differences in brain structures between more and less tough participants. Clough et al (2010) found that there was a positive correlation between high mental toughness scores and more grey matter tissue in a person’s right frontal lobe. All of this research shows us that it is clear that genetics play a key part in the developmental of mental toughness, however it is equally apparent that there are other environmental and developmental processes which need to be taken into account.

In general psychological development and the development of mental toughness is a long complex process which involves a number of environmental factors (Connaughton, Wadey, Hanton & Jones, 2008; MacNamara, Button & Collins, 2010).  The first moment an athlete is in contact with his coach the developmental process will already start to have an impact on that player’s performance.  In Bulls et al., (2005) study it was found that environmental influences such as parental influences and childhood upbringing are key for mental toughness.  Other research has also supported this, showing that coaches, parents, and athletes play a significant role in the development of mental toughness (Crust & Clough 2011).  A study which can relate to these aspects was conduced by Van Yperen (2009) who looked at success in soccer players over a 15 year time period.  It was found that players who had more siblings and had parents who were more likely to divorce experienced more successful transitions.  Therefore by experiencing stressful events, players might develop coping strategies which allow them to deal with the high pressures in their sport.  Coulter, Mallett and Gucciardi (2010) also found that experiencing stressful events inside and outside of sport aids with the development of mental toughness. This research shows us how important the environment is for developing mental toughness and shows us how some of these aspects can be easily manipulated.

Future Recommendations

While there has been much research focusing on trying to define mental toughness, more work needs to be conducted due to differences in peoples understanding of the concept.  Research needs to focus on trying to define mental toughness which is grounded in relevant personality theories.  It needs to be understood whether mental toughness is best studied from a sport general perspective or a sport specific perspective.  As well as this more research needs to be conducted around the observational analysis of mental toughness behaviors so that sport psychologists can intervene and identify how to improve mental toughness (Crust, 2007).  Future research could look at the relationship between mental toughness and a persons cognitions (Crust, 2007).  For example do mentally tough athletes exhibit more positive self-talk in comparison to less mentally tough athletes.  Most studies focusing around mental toughness have lacked methodological diversity and therefore longitudinal studies may benefit researchers who are trying to study mental toughness. By focusing on developing this future research, this could help to build programmes which will develop more mentally tough athletes for the future.

Overall mental toughness is an extremely important topic within sport, however much of the research which has been conducted is based on personal opinion rather that sound empirical research.  Future researchers face the challenges of exploring mental toughness in a broader context and more attention is needed to look at how mentally tough individuals perform in all areas of their life.


Athletes do not lose physical ability overnight. The reason for a change in performance is more likely to be related to fluctuations in cognitive processes, one of which being attention. Generally the terms attention and concentration can get mixed up, however attention is the umbrella term for concentration, selectivity of perception and/or the ability to […]

Athletes do not lose physical ability overnight. The reason for a change in performance is more likely to be related to fluctuations in cognitive processes, one of which being attention.

Generally the terms attention and concentration can get mixed up, however attention is the umbrella term for concentration, selectivity of perception and/or the ability to co-ordinate two or more actions at the same time. (Kremer et. al 2012)

Whether it be in the last ten minutes of play, the closing holes of a major tournament or the last mile of a marathon, an athlete needs to focus their attention on the correct things.

Focusing on the wrong stimulus can lead to lapses in concentration. An athlete’s focus of attention can vary from internal to external which, according to Wulf (2007) can have an impact on learning and performance of new skills. He found that having an external focus of attention was more effective in this area compared to an internal focus of attention. An athlete with an external focus of attention will direct their attention to the effects their movements have on the environment. An athlete with an internal focus of attention will direct their attention inwards on their own movements.

However external and internal factors can also lead to lapses in concentration and poor performance. For instance distraction theories suggests that perceived pressure (from outside forces such as parents, coaches or spectators) can cause an increase in anxiety crowding the working memory resources leading to inability to play at a high level.

Conversely self-focus theories propose that anxiety leads to an increase in athlete’s levels of self consciousness causing them to focus their attention inwards causing them to over think their own actions.

A beneficial way to combat concentration lapse is to create a stressful situation in training or practice which might normally lead to a sharp decline in performance. Having people watch you practice a specific aspect of your sport for example can help increase confidence to the point where an athlete is not phased anymore having spectators watch them.

Michael Phelps’ swimming coach admittedly broke his goggles during practice to enable the Oylmpic gold medallist to practice swimming without them should it ever happen during competition. Ironically it did during the last 100m of the butterfly in the 2008 Oylmpics and Phelps went on to win the race. (Whitworth, 2008).

Having a pre performance routine (PPR) is also a huge benefit when intense situations arise in competition. Having an individual task relevant set routine of thoughts and actions to stick to no matter what the circumstances can help an athlete to relax and prepare for whatever task they are performing.

Cotterill (2010) studied amateur golfers use of PPRs and found they used it to help in attentional processes such as “switching on and off” and staying in the present.

Therefore attention would appear to be an extremely important aspect of mental preparation for competition. Using the strategies above may help you to perform that little bit better and stay in the present


It is common to hear music blaring in sports stadiums and a frequent sight at events, such as the Olympics, is to see athletes ‘psyching’ themselves up with their headphones pre competition; but how useful is music in aiding performance? Music often evokes certain feelings or memories with people, for example, your first dance at […]

It is common to hear music blaring in sports stadiums and a frequent sight at events, such as the Olympics, is to see athletes ‘psyching’ themselves up with their headphones pre competition; but how useful is music in aiding performance?

Music often evokes certain feelings or memories with people, for example, your first dance at a wedding will always remind you of your partner and that day, or a song on an advert will remind you of that product the next time you hear it. Musical association with feelings and memories can help you prepare for competition.

Michael Phelps, 18 times Olympic Gold Medalist, is renowned for listening to music until just before diving in the pool. Not only will this allow him to listen to the music that mentally prepares him for competition, but it also allows him to block out the sound of the crowd and removes distraction from his ideal competitive mental state.

Music choice will ultimately depend on the individual, as a song that evokes the feeling of apathy in one individual, may inspire motivation in another. Athletes’ specific song choices are not directly important, it is the emotions and feelings they create that are key to producing the perfect competition mindset.

The perfect competition mindset will vary depending on the sport, but generally involves:

  • Confidence in ability
  • Positivity
  • Emotional stablility
  • Feelings of control
  • Mental alertness
  • Motivation

Listening to the same playlist before every competition should help to ensure that the correct competition  mindset is achieved everytime. The songs then will not just have their individual associations with certain feelings, but the whole playlist will induce the ideal feelings and emotions.

“In training build ups for major races, I put together a playlist and listen to it during the run-in. It helps me psych up and reminds me of times in the build-up when I have worked really hard, or felt good. With the right music, I do a much harder workout” – Paula Radcliffe, Marathon World Record Holder.

The type of music listened to pre competition will not only depend on the individuals’ personal choice, but also on the sport they compete in. For example, a golfer needs to be very calm and relaxed, where as a boxer needs to be confident and aggressive. The music that will create these contrasting states will more than likely be opposing genres; the golfer is more likely to listen to classical music, whilst the boxer is more likely to listen to upbeat rock music.

However, not all sports are individual. Whilst listening to headphones and blocking out distraction would work well for a tennis player, if the members of a football team all listened to different music on headphones, their team spirit would suffer. This could lead to a reduction in the quality of performance. To ensure team camaraderie prevails, speakers should be used for pre competition playlists; professional teams may benefit further by playing pre competition playlists over their stadiums’ loud speakers, which would also hype up the crowd. Used in the correct way, music can optimise performance.


Within Psychology personality refers to “psychological qualities that contribute to an individual’s enduring and distinctive patterns of feeling, thinking and behaving”. This psychohistory of Tiger Woods intends to examine several theories of personality in an attempt to discover and learn more about what motivates him. Adler’s Birth Order Effect will be explored as a possible […]

Within Psychology personality refers to “psychological qualities that contribute to an individual’s enduring and distinctive patterns of feeling, thinking and behaving”. This psychohistory of Tiger Woods intends to examine several theories of personality in an attempt to discover and learn more about what motivates him. Adler’s Birth Order Effect will be explored as a possible explanation for some of Tiger Woods’ characteristics while also evaluating the influence of Bowlby and Ainswoth’s Attachment theory in relation to parent/child attachment in Tiger’s early childhood. As Tiger progresses through to adolescence Freud’s theory of psychosexual development will be examined to explore the possibility of Tiger entering the phallic stage with reference to Carl Jung’s theory of the structure of personality. Bandura’s social-cognitive theory will also be examined in length to account for how and why Tiger displays many of his personality characteristics and finally an investigation as to whether Tiger can be described or understood with regard to the Big-Five Factor model of personality.

Tiger was born in 1975 to Earl and Kultida and would be their only child. Adler (1937) put forward a theory of Birth Order Effect as a major social determinant of personality.  He believed it was a critical motivator of development and explained children “striving for superiority”.  Tiger could potentially be deemed as an only child or as the youngest of four children, as he has three step siblings. Characteristics of Adler’s youngest child birth order effect are spoilt but happy, immature and irresponsible, confident and happy, more relaxed on rules, little family responsibility and generally not given many duties. They will remain irresponsible by avoiding responsibilities and commitments once his personality is shaped. They have to take risks in order to develop their own sphere of influence and personal leadership and sometimes will refuse to grow up and become responsible. There is no doubt that Tiger was groomed from a very young age by his father’s ambition for him to excel and succeed. His father brought him up very strictly and militaristically often speaking to him in adult language as a very young child. He would sometimes use prisoner-of-war interrogation techniques on him to make him mentally strong. Tiger was labelled a ‘child prodigy’. At the age of three he shot 48 over nine holes at the Cypress Navy course. He first broke 80 at the age of eight and went on to win the Junior World Championships six times, including four consecutive wins from 1988-1991.

Albert Bandura is a social psychologist who conducted many studies on how children are most likely to model and imitate others.   He believed that much of our behaviour and personality is learned, that it is the result of our nurture. Social learning is often called observational learning. A child will observe and then copy someone and in this particular case young Tiger was copying and imitating his father’s behaviour. Earl used reinforcement techniques to fine tune his son’s skill with golf and he also conditioned him by using his army training to groom the young boy. Environmental and social factors, particularly learning-based habit patterns and maladaptive cognitive styles, have also been identified as possible casual factors in personality development.    Many of these maladaptive habits and cognitive styles may originate in disturbed parent-child attachment relationships, rather the depriving simply from temperamental differences.   Early attachment relationships are thought by development psychologists to create models for children of what relationships should be like.  If early models are not healthy, this may predispose a child to a pattern of personality development that can lead to the diagnosis of personality disorder later in life.

As Tiger moved into adolescence he became known as ‘The Great Black Hope’ adding to the already enormous pressures and expectations he had on himself.  Tiger did not only want to be the best black golfer in history but to be the best golfer who ever lived.  At the age of fifteen he revealed these goals inadvertently saying that he wanted to become the Michael Jordan of golf.  This was one of the first signs that Tiger, according to Freud’s stages of development, was moving into his phallic stage.  He started to gain control on the golf course over his emotional outbursts and lapses in temper.  Tiger had now set targets in his career and was striving to meet these targets.  He was becoming outwardly competitive and potent on the golf course.  This is a natural development according to Jung’s structure of personality in which, a persona or mask is developed to represent a person’s public image.  Tiger was showing the world his calm, together and focused self every time he played on a golf course, creating impressions to manipulate and influence people’s opinions of him.

According to the social-cognitive theory, goals play an important part in personality structure. A person’s goals enable them to set down a specific course of action and, thus, motivate and direct their own behaviour. Goals therefore contribute to their capacity for self-control. Goals help a person to establish priorities. Tiger’s goal at this stage was to become the greatest golf player in the world. Evaluative standards also play an important role in the social-cognitive theory. They concern one self’s personal standards, and are of particular relevance to the case of Tiger. The theory recognises that people commonly evaluate their ongoing behaviour in accordance with internalised personal standards. During his adolescence, Tiger had set his standards very high. He practiced golf religiously each day; however, his high standards were not limited to golf alone. When it was time for Tiger to decide on which college he would attend he focused on three in particular, each with a history of success at golf. Tiger opted for Stanford- the most academically rigorous of the three.  Tiger was not content to excel at just sport, he wanted to do well academically also. According to this same theory, evaluative standards often trigger emotional reactions. It states that we react with pride when we meet our own standards and are dissatisfied when we fail to meet them. This is certainly true of Tiger who, on wining the U.S. Junior Amateur, in a rare moment of emotional outpouring, had tears streaming down his face. The social-cognitive theory thus emphasises that evaluative standards are central to behaviour that we call “moral” versus “immoral”. This aspect of the theory may account for Tiger’s more recent behaviour. “People who disengage their moral standards say things to themselves that temporarily enable them to disregard their own standards of behaviour”. His whole life Tiger has exercised an admirable level of self control and an imperturbable pursuit of his goals, and this may in some way explain his uncharacteristically deviant behaviour.

Tiger’s adult personality can be examined under the Big-Five Factor Model as proposed by McCrae & Costa (2003). These theorists believed that there were five factors of personality that seemed to be universal to all humans.  The five factors are openness, conscientiousness, extraversion, agreeableness and neuroticism. Tiger appears to be moderately extraverted, in that he is very outgoing and sociable, active and talkative.  He is deeply stimulated by the game of golf and excels at it. He would score very high on conscientiousness given that he is extremely driven, methodical and organised, thorough and hard-working, self-disciplined and punctual in all aspects of his profession. He is relentless and opportunistic in his pursuit to dominate golf and break previous records set by Jack Nicklaus and he is highly motivated, competitive and goal-oriented which also links with Freud’s concept of the phallic personality type.  Some of these conscientiousness qualities may not however apply to his personal life.  He displays very little anxiety, guilt and depression which would show him low on neuroticism.  When he is on the golf course he will always appear calm, relaxed and unemotional. He has a hardy personality trait that appeared unpenetrateable until recent revelations of infidelities in his marriage. It could be argued however that Tiger could score quite high on neuroticism in respect of his personal life, namely due to recent news of his transgressions which would describe him as emotionally unstable and using maladaptive coping mechanisms to deal with his personal problems.

Tiger Woods is a practicing Buddhist and credits his religion for giving him self-awareness and believes that his religion has taught him that he needs to work on flaws in his personality, stubbornness and impatience. He has attributed his deviations and infidelities to his loosing track of Buddhism saying that Buddhism teaches him to stop following every impulse and to learn restraint. Infidelity occurs for many reasons, ranging from personality factors to evolution-based theories.

Tiger Woods exhibits high levels of  agreebleness as a factor in his personality. Together with his parents, they established ‘The Tiger Woods Foundation’ and‘The Tiger Woods Learning Centre’ in an attempt to promote both golf and other, non-sport activities for disadvantaged children.  This displays true alturism and compassion for disadvantaged children helping them achieve their dreams through education.  With regard to openness Tiger shows that he is sociable and charismatic, however he also shows a lack of self control, values and selfishness.  Recent events in his personal life has seen Tiger described in the media as being a ‘party boy womanizer’ and in a public statement in February 2010 regarding his transgressions he apologised to his family, sponsors and media for his repeated irresponsible behaviour stating that “…achievemets in golf are only part of setting an example, character and decency are what really counts”.

Taking into account Tiger’s achievements and misgivings since his professional career began, and exploring his personaltiy on the Big-Five Factor model the trait theories reflect important structures of the personality but it doesn’t consider all aspects. Tiger has exhibited some extreme aspects to his personality, on one hand he is a consummate professional, an extreme sports achiever and influential role model but on the other hand, there are questionable personality traits that dominate his personal life that reflect the polar opposite of his celebrity/public persona which was already discussed in relation to Jung’s theory of personality

Western society believes that people are “essentially good but society corrupts them” and  “that people are born innocent but experience a world of temptations and fall from grace”. It is true in the case of Tiger Woods that it is not as simple as blaming society for our inadequacies. There are a myriad of factors that need to be taken into account when trying to comprehend the complex nature of personality. From this investigation, Earl Woods, Tiger’s father, had a major influence on Tiger’s early development not least with regard to the social-cognitive theory of learning. Tiger’s slow progression to the phallic stage according to Freud may have resulted in a very conflicting public and private persona in adulthood.

‘I don’t want to be a role model because it’s a hard task and I’m human.  I make mistakes.  I’m not perfect.’  (Tiger Woods)


Positivism is a framework in psychology that encompasses positive emotions in a re-evaluation of strengths and weaknesses. Researchers such as Eid and Larson (2008), and Lyumbomrisky and colleagues have focused on pursuit of well-being in the development of mentally balanced and happy individuals. Thus the area endorses the move to enable individuals, societies and communities […]

Positivism is a framework in psychology that encompasses positive emotions in a re-evaluation of strengths and weaknesses. Researchers such as Eid and Larson (2008), and Lyumbomrisky and colleagues have focused on pursuit of well-being in the development of mentally balanced and happy individuals. Thus the area endorses the move to enable individuals, societies and communities to flourish through increasing the quality of life in the face of life stressors. As such Duckworth, Steen & Seligman (2005) state that the focus on only the removal of negative emotions in traditional therapy does not take into account a individual’s need to further develop their quality of life in a realm of strength building post depression, anxiety or stress. According to Fredrickson (2001) the framework focuses on enabling flourishing whereby valued subjective experiences in the past, present and future influence what’s known as ‘affect’ as opposed to emotions. ‘Affect’ provides a more substantial free-floating evaluation of experiences, while emotions are brief yet emotionally meaningful. Therefore, negative emotions and possible resulting depressive states, which reflect immediate problems, can be reduced by the input of positivism by learning to cope with negative appraisals in life (Seligman & Csikszentmihalyi, 2000; Sin & Lyumbomirsky, 2005).

Therapeutic methods known as positive psychology interventions (PPI) are key in the development of positive feelings, behaviours and thoughts in the overall cultivation of well-being. Layous and collegues (2011) state that positivism teaches people to increase these elements without professional help thus creating a tool within the person to identify and prevent falling into a depressive state. With positivism the athlete can then be empowered with increases in independence in the face of stressors in sport or life. In an analysis of a wide range of published research Sin & Lyumbomirsky (2005) stated that the majority of studies investigating PPI’s observed an increase in well-being and a decrease in depression. This outlines the possible benefits in the highly evaluative environment of sport.

What comprises the term PPI and how adaptable is it to the everyday person and athlete?

Research has noted that PPI’s include practicing gratitude, optimism, acts of kindness, counting one’s blessings and reminiscing on one’s strengths. These can be materialised in sport through an approach know as ‘Three Good Things’ which involves writing down three good things every day or after a training session.  Research has shown that PPI interventions such as the ‘Three Good Things’ can bring about a larger and quicker benefit for depressed individuals compared to non-depressed individuals as anti-depressant drugs bring a slow and minimal level of relief (Sin &Lyumbomirsky, 2005; Layous et al., 2011). Furthermore those with extensive depression may benefit from both traditional therapy and PPI’s. This is of benefit to athletes struggling with self-confidence and negative evaluations of training and performance as they contain an eagerness to bring about change and improvement. Thus positivism and PPI’s, which focus on preventing the problem, enable more robust results than traditional individual therapy, which only concentrates on fixing the problem.

How do PPI’s and positivism manifest in athletes?

An individual’s ability to cope with threatening situations is amplified by positive emotions by what’s known as emotional resilience. According to Fredrickson, Tugade, Waugh & Larkin (2003) traits of resilience such as gratitude, interest and positivity in the face of extreme stress disengaged depressive mood states. The authors found that observed resilience induced resources such as optimism or satisfaction due to frequent positive emotions. As such through resilience attention is broadened which subsequently broadens perspectives of the performance situation in both training and competition. Therefore, the ability to cope with life’s general demands lends resources and influence in training and competition.

How does resilience apply to sport?

In sport emotional resilience can be related to the common concept of mental toughness. This enables athlete’s coping mechanisms to maintain consistency during training and competition demands, consequently determining performance. This can manifest itself in the control of events, enjoyment of challenges, and commitment among elite athletes. Consequently the sporting champion’s the ability to cope derives from characteristics, which allow them to deal with larger psychological stressors such as injury or illness. In more scientific terms Denny & Steiner (2009) state that these abilities are invoked through internal personality factors over external personality factors, which are outlined and improved by the athlete through the identification of the contributing factors to happiness rather than a generic measure of happiness. For coaches this applied in the creation of valued experiences during and after training sessions in an environment, which enables the flourishing of athletes. Furthermore a system of support beyond the training and sport context is important with relationships with coaches, parents, spouses or friends manipulating athlete positivity and resilience (Connaughton, Wadey, Hanton, & Jones, 2008; Denny & Steiner, 2008).

The ability to cope with demands is derived from the ability to address both the problem and subsequent emotions that stressors initiate in sporting contexts. Research by Denny & Steiner (2008), found that athlete happiness is derived from, the maintenance of self-belief, lack of distress and mindfulness. In addition, Guccardi & Jones (2011) state that a further development of intelligence, desire to achieve, and attentional control are important to mental toughness and emotional relsilience, resulting in the flourishing of athletes. These elements of mental toughness and emotional resilience in sport can be achieved through interventions such as goal-setting, visualisation, relaxation and concentration in the elite environment. Therefore athletes are systematically grounded to the task at hand, managing their energy and attention, while being prepared for difficult situations with coping resources (Hammermeister, Pickering, McGraw & Ohlson, 2012). However emotional resilience in the realm of positivity is more important in the cultivation of optimal sport performance as ‘resiliance’ denotes that set backs are acceptable and an experience which can be overcome. ‘Toughness’ on the other hand is more intolerant of naturally occurring stressors in life indicating that athletes should engage in coping resources without indentifying the initial problem leading to possible failure to flourish and improve quality of life if the problem re-occurs. Yet the two terms are ambiguous in the overall realm of positivism. The key for the athlete is the ability to empower oneself in the face of regular obstacles in life and sport.

Key elements to remember for athletes and coaches

Positivism is not confined to positivity in the sport context as general well-being and ability to cope with life stressors plays a key role in increasing and maintaining the quality of life.

Interventions seek to empower and facilitate athletes independence prior to stressors throughpracticing gratitude, optimism, acts of kindness, counting one’s blessings, reminiscing on one’s trait strengths, control of events, enjoyment of challenges, and commitment.

Positivism is manifested in mental toughness but more specifically emotional resilience in sport.

The emotional resilience of athletes is further influenced by training environments and relationships with significant others.

Interventions with athletes can ground them to the task at hand preventing a lapse in attention and performance when faced with stressors such as injury or illness, or during performance and competition.


Sports psychology, as knows, is one of the fastest growing sectors in the world. The ever-growing financial, mental and emotional pressures placed on athletes is leading to a more prominent role for sports psychologists in Western societies. Famous sports stars such as Marcus Trescothick and (tragically) Robert Enke have suffered depression, whilst coaches have […]

Sports psychology, as knows, is one of the fastest growing sectors in the world. The ever-growing financial, mental and emotional pressures placed on athletes is leading to a more prominent role for sports psychologists in Western societies. Famous sports stars such as Marcus Trescothick and (tragically) Robert Enke have suffered depression, whilst coaches have pushed athletes to breaking point in the scramble for success in sport. Constant demands are placed on sports stars, coaches and organisations – leading to the current increase in sports psychology.

Officials of the sports we love have one of the most important jobs in the sporting world. It’s a horrible cliché, but without officials these competitive sports would not take place. Referees are the subject of constant physiological and psychological pressures when officiating (Wolfson & Neave 2007). These pressures include fitness demands, verbal abuse and pressure to make a number of correct decisions over the course of a match. High profile cases of the pressure referees are under is the retirement of Anders Frisk due to death threats he received from Chelsea fans after refereeing a Champions League match against Barcelona in 2005, while Mark Clattenburg was the subject of false claims of racial discrimination in 2013 and considered his future in the game. Sports such as tennis, cricket and rugby have attempted to help referees by implementing technology such as the DRS in cricket and “Hawk-Eye” in tennis helps, along with the general etiquette of the giants who play rugby. Although not psychological support per se, these technological interventions reduce the impact of immediate decisions on the game as a second opinion can quickly be obtained.

Soccer is decades behind in the implementation for technology to help referees (although this ‘debate’ is left for a different day). This means soccer referees are arguably under the most pressure over the 90 minutes of officiating than any other sport – however the mass media are constantly moaning about the decreasing standard of referees in the game. Soccer referees regularly suffer physical and verbal abuse from players, coaches and spectators; additionally get no help from video technology – leading to their big decisions becoming even more stressful due to the importance they hold. In particular younger, less experienced soccer referees are more prone to aggression and threats in the form of verbal abuse (Folkesson, Nyberg, Archer & Norlander 2002). Furthermore younger referees’ concentration was more affected by aggressive behaviour – 79% of soccer referees in the sample had experienced physical or verbal threats on at least one occasion during their officiating. The drop-out rate of newly qualified referees in the UK, currently stands at over 50% of referees dropping out 12 months after qualifying (Manchester Evening News 2013). However in the current FA level one refereeing course there is no help whatsoever on managing conflict, players, or dealing with the demands of officiating the game. Surely some focus on the development and/or education of coping strategies which can be used by newly qualified officials would help referees deal with the stressors reported, and could dramatically reduce the drop-out rate in the UK.

Voight (2008) developed a ‘Sources of Officiating Stress Questionnaire’ (SOSQ) which investigated sources of stressors among US soccer referees (N = 200) and found that the main sources of stress officials experienced were: making an incorrect/controversial call, positional concerns, abuse from coaches and a conflict between their officiating and life outside refereeing (i.e. family and other work). There have been little/no studies into the sources of stress for UK soccer referees specifically – in fact research is scant into officials in general. So much focus is placed (rightly so) on competitors and (to a lesser extent) teams and coaches, but officials could also benefit from the help of sports psychologists.

Research has been conducted into coping strategies and responses to stressors used by referees. Voight (2008) also investigated coping strategies in USA officials by developing an Acute Coping Questionnaire for Officials (ACQO), based on Crocker & Graham’s (1995) COPE model. Voight (2008) found that problem-focused coping strategies were used more often by referees than coping strategies (as opposed to emotion-focused strategies). Problem-focused coping strategies included doing things like reviewing performance or asking peers for an analysis of decisions made in order to improve performance. Neave & Wolfson (2007) identified soccer referees who displayed a problem-solving coping strategy tended to learn from their mistakes, whereas less confident referees reported feeling a loss of pride and ruminating over mistakes – hinting at more emotional-focused coping strategies.

All in all, a lot of referee hyperbole is put into the media by the English F.A. (football association) such as the RESPECT campaign but is it actually working? Just as the focus of attention in soccer players has moved from the top to grassroots, the same needs to be implemented for referees. The current drop-out rate is unacceptable, and needs to be remedied: the fun has gone out of officiating in football (I know that from personal experience). A quick module on coping with the demands of refereeing unruly teenagers and young adults on a miserable Sunday morning could work wonders for the confidence and competence of referees in this country, and who knows, make a small start on the long ladder to producing a batch of world-class officials who can cope with the demands of the beautiful game.