Performance

Article

What is resilience? Resilience has been defined as, “a dynamic process encompassing positive adaptation within the context of significant adversity” (Luthar, Cicchetti, & Becker, 2000, p. 435). Two conditions of resilience are understood to be inherent within this definition: 1. That there is exposure to significant adversity (or risk) 2. That positive adaptation (or competence) […]

What is resilience?

Resilience has been defined as, “a dynamic process encompassing positive adaptation within the context of significant adversity” (Luthar, Cicchetti, & Becker, 2000, p. 435). Two conditions of resilience are understood to be inherent within this definition:
1. That there is exposure to significant adversity (or risk)
2. That positive adaptation (or competence) occurs (Masten, 2001).

Within many sports resilience is often identified by coaches as a key attribute that is key to success. When identifying this, coaches are often specifically looking for players/athletes to be able to thrive under pressure and respond positively to setbacks. Gucciardi, Jackson, Coulter and Mallett (2011) examined individual resilient qualities in a sport context. Examples of such qualities were adaptability, staying focused under pressure, and handling unpleasant feelings.

Examples of Adversity

Many successful athletes at the top level will talk about how they have overcome various setbacks to reach the level that they have.

For example, Along with Jack Laugher, Chris Mears won Britain’s first ever gold medal in diving. But just seven years ago things didn’t look so promising for Chris. He contracted the life-threatening Epstein Barr virus, and was given just a 5% chance of survival. In 2009 the diver suffered a ruptured spleen and collapsed, losing five pints of blood. He stayed in hospital for a month, and had to have his spleen removed. He made a full recovery and returned to the Games in 2010, finishing fourth in the synchro at the Commonwealth Games.

Tennis star Serena Williams on resilience. After coming back from a life-threatening illness Williams went on to win Wimbledon, Olympic and U.S. Open titles in 2012, and had this to say:
“I really think a champion is defined not by their wins but by how they can recover when they fall. I have fallen several times. Each time I just get up and I dust myself off and I pray and I’m able to do better.”

Responding to adversity – Positive adaptations

Adversity doesn’t have to come in such extreme forms as those that are listed above, there may be some small setbacks in your path that require some work before you can push on. A resilient individual is aware of the stresses that they may face or are currently facing and take responsibility for their actions when faced with adversity. Here are 4 examples you may be faced with:

1. Are you part of a team that is constantly changing personnel while they are trying to find the right combination of players? How would you respond to this?
2. Are you struggling financially to remain a part of the sport that you love and want to keep playing? How would you respond to this?
3. Are you finding one skill or aspect of your performance difficult to master? How would you respond to this?

How can I become more resilient?

Some of the most resilient athletes I have worked with have utilised the following skills and strategies to help them:
• Reflect on situations – Even the smallest setback can help you develop resilience. Reflect on what happened, why it happened? Work out if there is anything you can do to prevent it happening again, if there isn’t then how will you need to respond differently in similar situations. This will help you develop a growth mindset and not stay in the same fixed processes every time.
• Build relationships with people. It doesn’t matter which of the examples you look at from the last section. Being proactive to get to know people, how they could support you and just as importantly how you could support them will help you through these challenging times.

Article

Sport practitioners deal with a number of pressure triggers that can affect their athletes’ performance levels. Two common pressure triggers include physical and mental symptoms. 1) Physical symptoms that can affect performance include: Nerves that lead to panic – Performers can start to think negatively as a result of nerves/panic. Negativity will unfortunately lead to […]

Sport practitioners deal with a number of pressure triggers that can affect their athletes’ performance levels. Two common pressure triggers include physical and mental symptoms.

1) Physical symptoms that can affect performance include:

  • Nerves that lead to panic – Performers can start to think negatively as a result of nerves/panic. Negativity will unfortunately lead to poor performance levels.
  • Feeling sick – It is possible that performers who become anxious will suffer from increased anxiety. Increased anxiety can lead performers to experiencing feelings of sickness that could lead to them throwing up.
  • Butterflies – Some performers will also notice that they are suffering from somatic symptoms that make the stomach lining feel like acid.
  • Muscle tension – Those performers that suffer from increased anxiety will invariably suffer from tension related to key muscle groups.

2) Mental symptoms that can affect performance include

  • Negative thoughts – One consequence of not dealing with pressure is that performers will start to think negatively.
  • Poor focus/direction – Failing to deal with pressure will also lead performers’ levels of focus and direction being distracted.
  • Poor concentration levels – Concentration levels are more difficult to maintain following an inability to manage pressure and can be a consequence of negative thinking.
  • Self-doubt – Increased self-doubt will affect performance levels that will lead to low confidence levels.

Although these symptoms will affect performance levels it is suggested practitioners identify strategies that support and increase performance levels. Common strategies to support performance include:

  • Positive self-talk – Performers who suffer from negative thoughts should be encouraged to replace these thoughts with positive thoughts. For example, ‘I can’t do this’ to ‘I will do this.’
  • Deep breathing – One way to decrease muscle tension is to practise deep breathing as it enables the body to relax.
  • Goal setting – Performers should be set process and performance related goals to enable increased focus and direction.
  • Concentration – One way to increase concentration levels is to consistently practise skills to gain confidence. Practitioners are also advised to use different strategies and techniques to support performers to increase concentration levels.
  • Music – The source of music is useful. Individual differences need to be considered as music choice can vary. However, research has shown that music is useful to help the mind focus.
  • Yoga – This strategy provides opportunities for the body to physically and mentally relax and focus.
  • Imagery – a useful mental strategy that provides performers with an opportunity to focus their direction and intensity onto certain tasks in practise.

The strategies identified above are all useful providing they are practised consistently to enable success.

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Article

A lot of questions swirl around the concept of culture and developing teams. Culture is a word many organizations and teams from the amateur to the professional levels use or toss out there based on performance.  For example a team is on a ten game winning streak and it means their culture is great. The […]

A lot of questions swirl around the concept of culture and developing teams. Culture is a word many organizations and teams from the amateur to the professional levels use or toss out there based on performance.  For example a team is on a ten game winning streak and it means their culture is great. The New England Patriots win the Super Bowl, which also means their culture is great. Our society tends to view culture as the final product of success. However, like most concepts in sport psychology culture is a process that must be developed on a daily basis. Just because you win doesn’t mean you have a sustainable culture. On the flip side of that just because you don’t win doesn’t mean you don’t have a strong culture.

Culture is developed through basic assumptions. This is the daily process based on the technical, off field and mental endeavors teams hold as their priorities. Basic assumptions can be good or bad in teams going through four stages. These four stages include rebuilding, competing, contending and championship. Of course on a yearly basis there is only one or possibly two championship teams taking up 10% of the league. Following your championship teams you may have 15% that are contending including runner ups, conference finalists and possibly some playoff teams. Competing teams carry 50% of the league and finally 25% of the league is rebuilding. Culture is existent in all of these stages however positive basic assumptions are very evident in championship, contending and competing teams. On the mental side basic assumptions could include self-efficacy, collective efficacy, teams response to stress (resiliency), emotional control and individual focus to name a few. Basic assumptions are the tangible aspects in culture and the three aforementioned stages are building these on a daily basis and developing them. Rebuilding teams are stuck in negative assumptions. For example, pointing fingers when things go astray.

From the sport psychology side of the player/team development spectrum when developing cohesive teams – basic assumptions must be established. On the surface these could include the development of individual mental aspects and team leadership to start. Culture can be a cliche term used in conjunction with the final outcome of winning. But to truly develop it we must look below the surface to see what the assumptions our athletes and staff hold in regard to moving through the four stages.

Article

Team cohesion in sport involves a variety of factors e.g. coaches and the environment and can be defined as: ‘a dynamic process that is reflected in the tendency of a group to stick together and remain united in the pursuit of its instrumental objectives and/or for the satisfaction of member affective needs’ which suggests the […]

Team cohesion in sport involves a variety of factors e.g. coaches and the environment and can be defined as: ‘a dynamic process that is reflected in the tendency of a group to stick together and remain united in the pursuit of its instrumental objectives and/or for the satisfaction of member affective needs’ which suggests the level of cohesion will affect outcome goals (Carron et al, 1998). The sum of the individual members of a team has been recorded to be greater than each person working independently and this explains why teamwork is so vital. Team cohesion refers to inter personal relationships and the extent to which these effect, either positively or negatively, on a team’s performance whether on a daily basis or competition.

There are many influences on cohesion and its links with success. Communication is crucial to function effectively as well as understanding and defining roles to determine common goals. There are different types of goal which can be divided into task or social and for the strongest cohesion these must be present in all individuals in the same quantities. Task cohesion: ‘refers to the degree to which members of a group work together to achieve common goals, for example, to win a specific game’ whereas social cohesion: ‘reflects the degree to which members of a team like each other and interact accordingly’ (Richardson, 2013). Even though both aspects need to be present in a team, some studies have suggested that the social factor is not as essential for team success. ‘Most coaches and athletes prefer team mates to like each other, but it appears that as long as they are completely focused on their common task and share the same goals and beliefs success is possible even without social cohesion’ (Brandon, 2014).

Even though high cohesion is viewed as a positive this may not always be true and many of the main research articles explored this topic. In some situations having too high cohesion may become negative by generating: ‘pressure to conform, groupthink, and group polarisation’ which may be associated with performance deterioration from excessive social cohesion (Rovio et al, 2009). Pressure to conform may occur when a player fears for his position within a team and of being viewed negatively: ‘a high status player revealed that he had difficulties in giving critical feedback to his team- mates’ which in turn could reduce the effectiveness of the team and overall performance (Rovio et al, 2009). However, it is the coach or sport psychologists job to prevent this, either by speaking with the team first or teaching the captain how to present feedback to increase cohesion and performance. Groupthink is another aspect which may decrease the likelihood of a team discussing any performance issues, Rovio’s research continued, ‘and it leads to the deterioration of decision making in the group’ which is a vital aspect so there is no confusion and everyone knows what needs to be done. Following these themes group polarisation demonstrates ‘a shift towards the opinion of the majority’ which again removes the chance of feedback and progression if needed and ‘the group’s assessment of its performance had become too positive’ and so even though social cohesion was very high, task cohesion may not be. However, when task cohesion or social cohesion is low especially at the individual level social loafing is likely to present, which is where ‘individuals within a group put forth less than 100% effort because of losses in motivation’ and this may be because members do not agree with the goals and so overall team performance decreases (Weinberg and Gould, 2011). Furthermore, when interlinked with the issues of high social cohesion ‘ignoring social loafers would help to preserve feelings of team unanimity’ so for the team to become successful, social cohesion may need to be reduced and task cohesion promoted with set goals that all players are agreed on for the greatest cohesiveness and  performance.

Research within cohesion has integrated a broad range of topics which suggests that there are a number of factors which it is influenced by and these all must coincide for the greatest results. There can be negatives to high cohesion especially within the social aspect, as team members could become too involved and lose focus of the team and there is also more likely to be clashes between members. However, high social cohesion can also be a positive as those individuals are more likely to enjoy sport and therefore extend length of participation. There must be defined and specific goals to avoid confusion and promote the best cohesion and undoubtedly this should enhance success and high level performance from all players. This is fundamental for psychologists, coaches and players alike to understand in order to promote the best team environment and team building interventions are a thriving method of improving cohesiveness. Therefore, all aspects of cohesion must be balanced and positive within a sports team both at an individual and group level in order to have the highest level of performance and success.

Article

Have you ever noticed players not getting on well within a team but are key players? They perform well on the biggest stage and enjoy the admiration and have a massive amount of self-worth! Narcissists perceive themselves to be exceptional performers and seek opportunities for personal glory. If a narcissists’ performance is clearly identifiable within […]

Have you ever noticed players not getting on well within a team but are key players? They perform well on the biggest stage and enjoy the admiration and have a massive amount of self-worth!

Narcissists perceive themselves to be exceptional performers and seek opportunities for personal glory. If a narcissists’ performance is clearly identifiable within the team, they should invest more effort and perform better. Conversely, if a narcissists’ performance is not identifiable within the team, they should loaf (invest less effort and perform less well).

Dr. Ross Roberts, stated, “We think the reason why narcissists thrive in these stressful situations is because when they perform exceptional well under these conditions; they receive the admiration and glorification that they crave” (Evans, 2012). This offers as an explanation to why some great athletes are involved in individual sports or were not seen as the best team players as a narcissist would find it difficult to share victory and if a failure occurred team members or other factors would be to blame. However, most great professional athletes tend to show narcissistic characteristics.

It is all good to have highlighted the features of this personality trait, but how do you deal with them?

Recently, the research on narcissism in sport has started to look more at the applied aspect, for example the influence of psychological skills and coach behaviours on narcissists’ performance. Taking an interactionist perspective, narcissists’ love competing which may mean that psychological skills which are specifically designed to help athletes in performance may not be particularly beneficial for narcissists as they already perform well in these types of environments, however for low narcissists it is more likely to be beneficial. In performance terms, there is evidence to suggest that narcissists benefit from skills such as relaxation, self-talk (Roberts et al, 2013), and imagery, if the imagery is the image of the self (i.e. external perspective) (Roberts et al, 2010).

Looking at the coaches’ influence on the narcissists’ behaviour has quite limited research, although what research appears to suggest is that narcissists benefit from mastery or performance motivational environments, due to the environments allowing the narcissists to get their coaches’ attention (Roberts et al, 2015). Additionally, coaches who have greater expectations and try to adopt feelings of unity in the group may make the narcissist respond less positively, due to the coaching styles reducing the chance for personal glory (Arthur et al, 2011), although this unity may be better for the rest of the group, so be cautious with your approach.

Although research is limited when looking at narcissists, this topic does warrant further investigation in the sporting domain to get the most out of player and team performance, and demonstrates the importance of personality and individual differences within sport.

Article

For athletes, one key area which is important to them is improvement. They are always looking for something that poses as a weakness to them in order for them to enhance their performance and in turn make them better athletes. Kosslyn, Thompson & Ganis, (2006) describe how during the timeframe of a century, many researchers […]

For athletes, one key area which is important to them is improvement. They are always looking for something that poses as a weakness to them in order for them to enhance their performance and in turn make them better athletes. Kosslyn, Thompson & Ganis, (2006) describe how during the timeframe of a century, many researchers have attempted to investigate and analyse the construction behind mental imagery where with the absence of sensory input appropriately, “we can represent perceptual information in our minds”. Watt, Spittle and Morris (2002) defined imagery use as the manner in which people imagine themselves in ways that can lead to learning and developing skills and can facilitate performance of those skills. Alongside this, imagery can be a factor that decreases anxiety which enhances self confidence and concentration (Post and Wrisberg, 2012). Both self confidence and concentration are important elements within sport that all athletes need to work on early in their career. Ultimately by concentrating well, an athlete takes in the information necessary to make good decisions, such as responding to an opponent or adapting to the environment. Athletes who concentrate well, make good decisions within a competitive environment and develop overall self-confidence. The confidence an individual feels during a particular activity or situation is generally derived from one or more of the following six elements; performance accomplishments, being involved with the success of others, verbal persuasion, imagery experiences, physiological states and/or emotional states.

The well known football manager Alex Ferguson stated, “without question, at the top level, concentration is a big part of a players game – whether they’re a keeper or outfield” (Northcroft, 2009, p.12). Ferguson has a very successful background with both being a player and winning numerous titles and trophies at the professional football club, Manchester United. With his status being so high, it shows the various range of concentration levels he has witnessed. Mirrored with the quote from Alex Ferguson, Petr Cech describes “everything is about concentration” (Szeczepanik, 2005, p.100). These quotes provide knowledge for how important concentration is in sport, but more specifically football as they are both professionals in the field.

Moran, (2009) describes that a crucial way for sport performance to become successful, athlete’s need to be able to ignore distractions whilst using concentration to focus on the task at hand. Psychologists understand that attention is focused on information which is irrelevant to the task at hand, meaning the “concentration is never really lost”, rather directed elsewhere (Moran, 2012, p.147). It is important when the concentration gets directed elsewhere to focus upon using positive emotions to try and get back to a level state within performance. There are a wide range of variables that can affect the attention of athlete’s, a main cause could be anxiety. Emotions such as anxiety are described by McCarthy, Allen and Jones, (2012) as a distraction to athlete’s coming from irrelevant thoughts. The result of becoming an anxious individual, shows that the performance is more likely to be lower from the Attentional Control Theory (ACT; Eysenck & Derakshan, 2011).

Distraction training aims to replicate a certain situation in order for an athlete to practice to transfer into a real-life situation in this instance, sport. Maynard, Warwick-Evans and Smith, (1995), proposes that by simulating practice conditions, real-life situations will become more effective for athletes’ concentration levels. Smith, (2002), used an example with the international football team of Mexico, where the coach, Javier Aguirre, practiced penalties leading up to a tournament and analysed “there will always be noise and that is the best way to practice”. By using distraction training, it aims to provide various distractions to athletes in order to train the mind to deal with the same situations in games. Theory describes that practicing in the same way you play, provides automaticity allowing the athlete to not have to think about the execution of the skill or movement whilst in a game day environment.

Despite the benefits of this technique, Moran, (2004) critiques the area by explaining we cannot fully prepare the athlete in competitive situations as we cannot replicate exact arousal levels. Ronan O’Gara, a rugby out-half, describes, “it’s completely different in a match where my heartbeat is probably 115 beats a minute whereas in training its about 90-100” (Fanning, 2002). Within this training technique, replicating the crowd, opponents and situations are relatively easy to do, although to be able to replicate the emotional feelings toward a game situation is almost impossible.

Alongside distraction training, imagery could be implemented as it is known as a widely used mental training technique, which has been proven to be beneficial to athletes. For athlete’s to become aware and gauge their ideal performance state, they should use the technique imagery.

To work on ‘imagery’ within sport, Holmes and Collins (2001) developed a model of motor imagery which uses an acronym; PETTLEP. The acronym is broken down to be described as; Physical, Environment, Task, Timing, Learning, Emotion and Perspective. It is proposed that in order to use this model efficiently, the devised intervention should aim to simulate exact situations with “relevant movements and their subsequent emotional impact”. The seven areas described can be adapted to use in various aspects of sport, but again should be used to simulate exact areas which occur within the certain environment. Using a game situation as the outcome can allow for the PETTLEP model to be devised to work on the areas within training to become an automatic response for the athletes. Much research around the area of the model has proved to be highly successful and valuable within different settings. Imagery interventions have been used in sport in order to enhance technical skills (Wakefield & Smith, 2009) and to work on the improvement of strength within performance (Wright & Smith, 2009; Wakefield & Smith, 2011).

Article

Introduction As a Trainee Sport Psychologist, I have been offered many opportunities to work with young athletes at various stages of their personal development and progression within their chosen sport. When these roles were first offered, it was challenging to understand the needs of each age group that I was working with and the best […]

Introduction

As a Trainee Sport Psychologist, I have been offered many opportunities to work with young athletes at various stages of their personal development and progression within their chosen sport. When these roles were first offered, it was challenging to understand the needs of each age group that I was working with and the best way to develop Sport Psychology sessions in a way that was fun and engaging for children. The following sections of this article will overview how I have developed as a practitioner to help young athletes understand the role that Sport Psychology can play in their development.

One common question: what is sport psychology?

As with adult and elite athletes this question is just as (if not more) prevalent when working with youth athletes. During my early training I found it difficult to find a definition that helped this age group without using terms that have negative connotations for some e.g. ‘mental’ side of the game. These first impressions were key and I often came away thinking that I could paint Sport Psychology in a more positive light.
Now I have progressed this to simply explain it as a ‘piece of the puzzle’ for their overall performance. During training camps, they may have sessions focusing on tactics, technique, performance analysis, physio (performance recovery, injury recovery), nutrition and strength and conditioning. The psychology sessions are simply another piece being added to the puzzle that can help athletes process this information and understand how they are performing and why they are performing that way.

How early can we introduce Sport Psychology to athletes?

At first I was sceptical of introducing Sport Psychology to athletes between 6-11 years of age (mid-childhood). Shouldn’t we be working with the parents and coaches instead of the children? Yes, we should, but can we build up contact time with the athletes. Then I read Mental training with youth sport teams: Developmental considerations and best-practice recommendations (Visek, Harris & Blom, 2013). Delivering Sport Psychology to these athletes is just as important, the sessions may not be named and delivered with Sport Psychology titles but they can provide useful developmental tools for young athletes if delivered in the right way (Evans and Slater, 2014). If we gain the impact and buy in at these earlier ages will these athletes be better placed to ‘work with’ the pressure and expectations that are placed on them in performance environments? Will this then improve their overall well-being during their next stages of development.

Sport Specialisation: The drawbacks and the positives

During the initial stages of my training I was a big believer that children should compete in a variety of sports and test their skills in different environments. I still very much see the benefits of this philosophy and understand that this is a key for many parents to feel their child has a choice of activities/sports to choose from. This is supported by the belief that youth athletes who do focus on one sport can suffer from withdrawal and burnout (Coakley, 2009; Gould, 2010). Youth athletes that specialise can also be affected by high levels of stress that comes from the expectations that are on them (Wiersma, 2000). However, specialisation will always occur in a competitive, performance environment such as the world of sport. So, my philosophy and approach to supporting young athletes has developed to ensure that if I am in these environments I can be the neutral avenue of support to recognise and understand if things are getting too much and these signs of burnout get noticed and resolved. Talented young athletes will often decide to specialise in the sport they are best at so we should have a focus on utilising the knowledge of Sport Psychologists to support them.

Final thoughts…

It is clear from this brief reflection that my perspective and opinions on Sport Psychology in youth sport have developed over the last 5 years. This has come through the opportunity to work in a variety of youth sports. There are clear divisions in the opinions of Sport Psychology and its role with young athletes and each athlete, parent and sport organisation will have a different view. But, I leave you with this question that I now ask myself:

‘Should there be a Sport Psychology piece to every young athlete’s puzzle?’

Article

Exercise and sport, collectively, represent the most popular leisure activity for the adolescent age group (Gerber, Holsboer-Trachsler et al. 2011). As a result, there are many benefits, including increased social contact with peers, development of self-esteem and confidence, the opportunity to improve leadership qualities and the promotion of optimal health and fitness. Exercise and sport […]

Exercise and sport, collectively, represent the most popular leisure activity for the adolescent age group (Gerber, Holsboer-Trachsler et al. 2011). As a result, there are many benefits, including increased social contact with peers, development of self-esteem and confidence, the opportunity to improve leadership qualities and the promotion of optimal health and fitness. Exercise and sport have been shown to have an association with positive adolescent mental and physical well-being (Gerber, Holsboer-Trachsler et al. 2011). Further, exercise and sport may foster psychological coping resources such as autonomy, self-efficacy, optimism and social support. Prior research suggests that exercise and sport are able to buffer stress-related psychopathological symptoms within this age group (Gerber, Holsboer-Trachsler et al. 2011).

Despite the many benefits of sport and exercise, there are numerous negative consequences which occur as a result of sport during adolescence. Young athletes are required to participate in extensive training schedules as well as in large numbers of competitive events. At this age, there are many causes of stress, adult dominance and drop-out or attrition problems. The drive to win and attain selection at the elite level can be the cause of great psychological and physical stress (DiFiori, Benjamin et al. 2014).

In order to reach the elite level, athletes are required to invest much time and energy to the sport. There may be additional psychological strain due to pressures originating from parents, coaches, peers or the athlete themselves. Not all adolescents are able to cope with these demands and external expectations, which may make it difficult to reduce participation or quit the sport. This may place some adolescents at risk of developing long-term psychosomatic symptoms (Gerber, Holsboer-Trachsler et al. 2011). This article will discuss the many forms of stress that adolescent athletes encounter and provide some firm recommendations from a bio-psycho-social perspective.

School:

Having strong academic performance is an important goal for adolescent athletes. In order to provide athletes with an opportunity to combine elite sport and schooling, many countries have proactively established special sport schools and sport classes. Given that stress is a key factor in the cause of psychopathological disorders among adolescents, attempts to facilitate the fusion of school and elite sport seem relevant, especially as adults tend to underestimate the level of stress perceived by adolescents themselves (Gerber, Holsboer-Trachsler et al. 2011).

Early specialisation:

Young adolescent athletes face many pressures and demands. One of these demands is the pressure for to specialise early in any given sport (DiFiori, Benjamin et al. 2014). With the exception of young age sports such as gymnastics and the martial arts, early sport specialisation can lead to staleness and burnout (DiFiori, Benjamin et al. 2014). Further, large numbers of children do not limit their sports to a given ‘season’ and are involved throughout the calendar year. Diversified sports training during early and middle adolescence may be more effective than early sport specialisation in developing elite-level skills in the primary sport due to skill transfer (DiFiori, Benjamin et al. 2014).

Growth and development:

Readiness for sports depends on a child’s level of growth and development (motor, sensory, cognitive, social, and emotional) and the tasks/demands of the individual’s competitive sport. If a young athlete is expected to learn too many skills, beyond their ability, there will be little motivation to learn new skills. Mastering tasks and developing a feeling of competence may sustain a child’s interest and motivate him or her to learn new skills (DiFiori, Benjamin et al. 2014).

Careful monitoring of training workload during the adolescent growth spurt is recommended as there is greater injury risk during this phase. This relates to diminished size-adjusted bone mineral density, asynchronous growth patterns, relative weakness of growth cartilage and physeal vascular susceptibility (DiFiori, Benjamin et al. 2014).

External pressure (parents, coaches and peers):

Parents and coaches are often guilty of placing unrealistic expectations on adolescent athletes. This may result in feelings of insecurity and displeasure in their achieved progress in their sport, comparing themselves to their chronological peers. As a consequence, children may lose self-esteem and withdraw from the sport. Readiness is assessed by determining what requisite antecedent skills will provide the basis for mastering the new activity. For example, a young athlete requires good eye tracking prior to hitting a pitched ball effectively (DiFiori, Benjamin et al. 2014).

Athlete coping:

Coping with stress in sport is a pivotal self-regulatory factor that promotes optimal levels of sporting achievement (Nicolas, Gaudreau et al. 2011). Individual-related factors (personality, motivation, cognitive evaluation) are key predictors of sport-related coping. Task-oriented coping represents the strategy to directly manage the stressful situation (that is, problem-focused) and its resulting cognitive and affective activation (approach emotion focused). This is also called approach or engagement coping and includes strategies such as effort expenditure, thought control, relaxation, logical analysis, mental imagery, and support seeking. Indicators of task-oriented coping have been associated with objective and subjective indicators of achievement (Nicolas, Gaudreau et al. 2011).

Disengagement-oriented coping, represents the strategies that enable the person to withdraw from the process of striving for the fulfilment of desired outcomes. This dimension has been negatively associated with the indicators of achievement and includes behavioural disengagement and venting of unpleasant emotions (Nicolas, Gaudreau et al. 2011).

Coach related factors in athlete coping:

Effective coaching requires not only the establishment of a satisfactory relationship but also adequate physical, technical, mental and tactical preparation of the athletes. Supportive coaching is used to refer to a broad and multi-faceted coaching style that incorporates distinct yet interrelated emotional/relational and structural/instrumental components of effective coaching. Supportive coaching can play a positive role in providing guidance in the goal striving process and nurturing of athletic and mental skills. It can be seen as a resource likely to make athletes more capable of problem solving and preparing them to cope with the stress inherent to sport competitions. Task-involving motivational climate are positively correlated with task-oriented coping (TOC) in the sporting domain (Nicolas, Gaudreau et al. 2011).

An environment which includes an ego-motivated coaching culture may provide athletes with an unsupportive coaching style. As a result of an unsupportive environment, athletes experience excessive pressure from coaches, favouritism, and greater time spent with the best athletes are important risk factors for impaired self-regulation. This is shown by associations between ego-involving motivation climate and the use of disengagement-oriented coping (DOC) in the sport domain (Nicolas, Gaudreau et al. 2011).

Burnout:

Holistically young aspiring athletes are at risk of developing burnout , as they face not only high physical demands but also psychological pressure to reach the elite level (Gustafsson and Skoog 2012). Burnout appears to be linked to chronic emotional and interpersonal stressors in a person’s relationship with their work (Gerber, Holsboer-Trachsler et al. 2011). In athletes, burnout is associated with negative outcomes such as performance impairment, reduced enjoyment, depressed mood and, potentially sport termination (Gustafsson and Skoog 2012). Optimists perceive their life as less stressful than pessimists, which may be why they are less likely to burnout (Gustafsson and Skoog 2012). Exhaustion is a central component to burnout and is related to stress associated with intense training and competition demands. Reduced sense of athletic accomplishment is manifested in a perception of low ability with regard to performance and skill level. Sport devaluation manifests itself in a loss of motivation, with the athlete ceasing to care about his or her previously beloved sport (DiFiori, Benjamin et al. 2014).

Sleep:

To date, no evidence has been found to suggest that elite sport participation protects against depressive and anxious symptoms originating from poor sleep, or that sport participation interacts with stress and sleep. This is in contrast to models that state stress to precipitate the onset of and exacerbates the impairments resulting from disturbed sleep (Gerber, Holsboer-Trachsler et al. 2011).

Literature supports beneficial health effects of leisure exercise and sport participation among youths (Gerber, Holsboer-Trachsler et al. 2011). In a recent paper, athletes reported less stress, better sleep and decreased depressive and anxious symptoms. Delayed sleep onset and a need of more than 9 hours for adolescents clash with social constraints such as family life and school schedules. As a result sleep debt increases and sleep quality becomes worse, which are factors associated with cognitive and emotional impairment (Gerber, Holsboer-Trachsler et al. 2011).

There are five main reasons as to why addressing poor sleep in adolescent athletes is important in buffering stress. First, sleep complaints in adolescents are related to both mental and physical ill-health. Second, cognitive models of insomnia suggest that stress precipitates the occurrence of sleep complaints. Third, exercise and sport may be associated with better sleep among young people. Fourth, good sleep is an important factor for elite athletes since rest has a restorative function and aids recovery from strenuous training schedules (Kellmann and Kallus 2001, Samuels 2008). Fifth, the adolescent brain undergoes dramatic changes (Fietze, Strauch et al. 2009): quantitatively, from the age of 10 to 18 years, the amount of white matter increases as compared to gray matter, whereas the brain volume remains unchanged. Importantly, changes and peaks in gray matter volume do vary between different brain regions (for example, peak of frontal gray matter: 10-12 years; peak of temporal gray matter: 16-18 years) (Gerber, Holsboer-Trachsler et al. 2011).

Qualitatively, change in the stability of stressor-sensitive regions such as the dopamine systems is considered key for adolescents’ brain response to reward (Gerber, Holsboer-Trachsler et al. 2011). With regard to sleep, a wealth of research provides evidence that adolescents still need a minimum of nine hours of sleep per night during the changes mentioned (Mercer, Merritt et al. 1998). At the same time, puberty changes the circadian rhythm such that preferred sleep onset time is after 10pm. As described above, there is good evidence that adolescence is accompanied by substantial brain changes in brain structures and sleep (Gerber, Holsboer-Trachsler et al. 2011). Therefore, positive sleep hygiene is particularly important in this age group.

Protective behavioural traits:

Optimism can be regarded as generalised outcome expectancy or as a sense of confidence that a goal can be attained (or a lack of doubt as to the goal’s attainability). Optimism is associated with a sense of control and confidence, making optimists more likely to adopt active and proactive coping as well as less avoidance coping and therefore prevent negative consequences of stress such as ill-health (Gustafsson and Skoog 2012).

Optimists are better at developing social relationships than pessimists and this is known to have positive effects on health and well-being. Not spending time with significant others has been related to burnout in athletes (Kjormo and Halvari 2002). Optimists react less reactively to stressors and therefore as less stressful. Optimists also are more prone to acceptance in uncontrollable situations whereas pessimists tend towards denial (Gustafsson and Skoog 2012).

A recent study has shown a significant negative association between optimism and both stress and burnout (Gustafsson and Skoog 2012). Optimistic athletes displayed lower levels of emotional/physical exhaustion and sport devaluation and less of a reduced sense of accomplishment. Therefore, it appears optimism is associated with lower perceptions of burnout (DiFiori, Benjamin et al. 2014).

Mediation analyses showed perceived stress to fully mediate the links between optimism and two symptoms of burnout (emotional/physical exhaustion and sport devaluation) and partly mediated the link between optimism and a third symptom, reduced sense of accomplishment (Gustafsson and Skoog 2012).

High levels of self-efficacy, perceived control and a focus on approach goals underpin a challenge state, whereas low levels of self-efficacy, perceived control and a focus on avoidance goals underpin a threat state (Turner, Jones et al. 2013). A challenge states displays improved decision making, effective and maintained cognitive function, decreased likelihood of reinvestment, efficient self-regulation and increased aerobic power, all likely to lead to successful competitive performance (Meijen, Jones et al. 2013).

Physiology of Protective Traits:

In terms of cardiovascular reactivity: a challenge state is accompanied by increased catecholamine (epinephrine and norepinephrine), indicating sympathetic adreno-medullary activity, which is reflected in increased heart rate (HR) and cardiac output (CO), attenuated pre-ejection period (PEP) and decreased total peripheral resistance (TPR). This challenge CV reactivity pattern represents an efficient physiological response to stressors, where the energy needed for successful performance (e.g. glucose) is released into the blood and can reach the brain and muscles efficiently due to decreased vascular resistance and enhanced blood flow (Turner, Jones et al. 2013).

A threat state, similar to a challenge state, is also marked by increased sympathetic adreno-medullary activity, but is accompanied by increased pituitary adrenal-cortical activity, which stimulates cortisol release (Turner, Jones et al. 2013). Thus, increased HR and attenuated PEP occurs, but with an increase or stabilisation of TPR, and a small increase, decrease or stabilisation in CO. In this pattern, pituitary-adreno-cortical activity is thought to temper sympathetic adreno-medullary activity. Therefore, compared with a challenge CV activity pattern, efficient energy delivery to the brain and muscles does not occur (Turner, Jones et al. 2013)

A threat state is proposed to lead to ineffective decision making and cognitive function, increased likelihood of reinvestment, inefficient self-regulation, and decreased aerobic power and decreased anaerobic power (compared with a challenge state); all likely to lead to unsuccessful competitive performance (Meijen, Jones et al. 2013, Turner, Jones et al. 2013).

Mental Toughness:

Adolescent faith in their coping abilities decreases during adolescence. Mental toughness is important in adolescents as finishing high school and transitioning into full time work or university may form hot spots for the onset or offset of psychopathology. During developmental transitions, vulnerabilities and opportunities may change, which may alter the course of adolescent development (Gerber, Kalak et al. 2013). Therefore, it has been suggested that athletes foster their mental toughness through addressing four components: challenge mindset, commitment, control and confidence (Gerber, Kalak et al. 2013).

There is a great deal of overlap between mental toughness and the concept of ‘hardiness’. Hardiness represents a trait like characteristic that influences the way people perceive situations and react in stressful circumstances. Hardy individuals are more effective in coping with stress and that hardiness protects against stress-induced health symptoms (Maddison and Prapavessis 2005).

The three components of hardiness overlap with those for mental toughness, outlined above. These include: control, commitment and challenge. Control is defined as ‘feeling and acting as if one is influential in the face of the varied contingencies of life’. Commitment is defined as ‘becoming involved in experiences rather than experiencing alienation from whatever one encounters’. Challenge is defined as ‘a belief that change, rather than stability, is normal in life and that the anticipation of changes is an interesting incentive to growth rather than a threat to security’ (Gerber, Kalak et al. 2013).

Control helps individuals to make appropriate decisions about how to cope with stressful situations. Commitment helps people to remain proactive instead of passively accepting a given situation. Challenge supports personal development and growth, rather than safeguarding what the person already has. Confidence describes how individuals feel valuable and competent in overcoming general and interpersonal problems (Gerber, Kalak et al. 2013). A person who perceives high levels of control, remains committed despite difficulties, perceives problems as challenges and feels generally valuable is less likely to exhibit depressive symptoms, especially under high perceived stress (Gustafsson, Kenttä et al. 2011).

Mentally tough individuals are characterised by a strong tendency to view their personal environment as controllable, to perceive themselves as capable and influential, to stay committed even under adverse circumstances and to consider problems as natural challenges, which allow personal growth (Gerber, Kalak et al. 2013).

Research shows that cricketers with elevated mental toughness were associated with more developmental assets (including support, empowerment, boundaries and expectations, commitment to learning, positive values, social competencies and positive identity) and lower levels of negative emotional states (Turner, Jones et al. 2013). Further, mental toughness can be viewed not only from the traditional view of optimal performance but also from a resilience perspective outside of sport (Gerber, Kalak et al. 2013).

Interventions:

Monitoring:

Stress, if not managed effectively, can have a substantial impact on athlete welfare, affecting an athlete’s mental and physical readiness to perform (Main and Grove 2009). Therefore, is it important that player wellness, including stress is monitored on a regular basis. Self-analysis tools, such as the “Hooper Index” may provide an easy and valuable measure of how an athlete is coping with the demands of training (Hooper, Mackinnon et al. 1995). This index rates factors such as perceived exertion, muscles soreness, sleep quality and mood states and have application in the monitoring and management of overtraining; however, these still lack formal validation (Hooper and Mackinnon 1995).

Promoting optimistic attitudes may be a potential way of intervening to prevent stress and burnout in athletes. Coping skills can help to supplement psychological resilience and can include both reactive and proactive strategies. Macro-level coping, or ‘cognitive avoidance’ may be another method of managing stress. Averting attention from stress-related information may reduce feelings of distress and negative consequences of an encounter (Gustafsson and Skoog 2012). Social support can help facilitate influence on sporting performance, and appropriate training to the family and friends of athletes can help to optimise its effect as an assistive strategy (Gustafsson, Kenttä et al. 2011).

There are two methods that have been shown to increase an athlete’s challenge state over that of a threat state. The first presents a challenge imagery script that emphasises the athlete’s resources to meet the demands of any given situation and helps to develop higher confidence (self-efficacy), demonstrate competence (higher perceived control) and foster approach goal setting. This method has led athletes to identify their emotional response as more helpful for performance, become more confident and appraise their situation as less threatening (Turner, Jones et al. 2013). The second method focuses on the physiological response to stress for the given athletes through cardiovascular reactivity. When provided with this information and interpretation of this information, a given athlete is more able to understand their responses to pressure, and more likely to seek assistance and guidance in further strategies to enhance their ability to deal with pressure (Turner, Jones et al. 2013).

Cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) has been shown as an effective tool to manage stress and also foster positive behavioural traits, such as optimism (Gustafsson and Skoog 2012).  Therapy focuses on changing specific thoughts and distorted thinking. CBT can make an individual more aware of pessimistic thinking, to challenge such thinking and use positive reframing to deal with pessimistic beliefs, reduce stress and potentially reduce the risk of burnout (Gustafsson and Skoog 2012).

Stress inoculation strategies function to assess the effects of stress on athletes by repeatedly exposing them to pressure situations and recording CV reactivity before their performance. Prior task exposure and stress inoculation programs integrating visualisation, self-talk and relaxation strategies can diminish the effects of sympathetic adreno-medullary activity of the heart, which may help athletes to be more relaxed under competition pressure (Turner, Jones et al. 2013).

The development of a mindset of mental toughness may represent a target intervention for resilient adaptation programmes (Gerber, Kalak et al. 2013). Controlled exposure to relevant negative stimuli (Rutter 1993), question whether mental toughness can be improved by controlled exposure to challenges or by means of specific coping training programmes (Gerber, Holsboer-Trachsler et al. 2011)

Stress management interventions typically focus on changing an individual’s psychological reactions to stressors (Rumbold 2012). Instead of viewing stress as a solely personal issue, sport organisations should acknowledge the full impact of their own processes and procedures in addressing these types of stress in sport performers. Maslach and Leiter (1997) suggest a model of matching the individual with 6 work domains: workload, control, reward, community, fairness, and values. Effective matching on these domains can be translated to the less risk of burnout (DiFiori, Benjamin et al. 2014).

An effective, proactive and preventive organisational approach to stress management seeks to make changes in the macro environment (organisation culture), the micro environment (task redesign), or in the worker’s perceptions of control (for example, enhanced decision making opportunities). Organisations are recommended to proactively address the underlying causes of the stressors, establish effective mechanisms to recognise and respond to stressor warning signs, properly identify the perspectives of stakeholders, and to implement systematic organisational learning and un-learning (Arnold and Fletcher 2012).  Further environmental interventions should focus on moderating external pressures for the athlete and to monitoring and modify their training demands (Gustafsson and Skoog 2012).

Summary

Stress in adolescent athletes is a key issue that needs to be explored and managed in order to optimise performance and prevent burnout. This article has examined the various causes of stress, and interventions from a bio-psycho-social perspective. The physiology of stress has been explained through cardiovascular reactivity and the behavioural genesis of stress has been outlined through specific behavioural traits of challenge-threat response, mental toughness, hardiness, and strategies of coping. The effect that coaches, parents and peers have on creating additional pressure for athletes has been discussed as well as the landscape that many adolescent athletes need to deal with in terms of academic demands and in maintaining good sleep hygiene. Overall, stress in adolescent athletes needs to be monitored appropriately and adequate education and preventive strategies employed from an early age.

Article

What is imagery Imagery is a process of creating a mental image or intention, which a person would want to happen or feel and it engages all the senses. Using the mind, the athletes are able to re-create these ideas again and again and strengthen their skills through repetition, which is similar to physical exercise […]

What is imagery

Imagery is a process of creating a mental image or intention, which a person would want to happen or feel and it engages all the senses. Using the mind, the athletes are able to re-create these ideas again and again and strengthen their skills through repetition, which is similar to physical exercise (Williams & Krane 2015). Imagery is often referred to as visualisation, however imagery is a more complex process, which includes all the senses such as visual, auditory, olfactory, tactile, gustatory and kinesthetic (Nordin & Cumming 2005). Dancers reported, that they are implementing all of these senses while imaging (Nordin & Cumming 2005). The imagery from dancer’s perspective could be described as a conscious ability to use senses to create or re-create an either real or imaginary experience in the mind, that may affect the movement (Pavlik & Nordin-Bates 2016). According to research, imagery is considered as a powerful tool as the human brain interprets the images created during imagery process completely identical to the actual stimulus situation (Williams & Krane 2015). A good example of this could be a breakdancer creating an image of himself in a showcase scenario doing his powerful dance routine for the audience and during this process, his brain will interpret his images and contract the muscles as if he was actually on stage doing the performance (Williams & Krane 2015). The main power of imagery is in that the athletes might practice their skills, strategies and mental skills without the need of being on an actual training or competitive environment (Williams & Krane 2015). Dancers images about movement are typically visual (what the dancer “see” in the imagery) or kinesthetic (e.g how the dancer can “feel” the movement or an action) or the combination of both (Cumming & Williams 2013). While using visual imagery, the dancer is able to see through the mind’s eye either from first person perspective (internal) or third person perspective (external) depending on a desired outcome (Cumming & Williams 2013). For example, in internal perspective, the dancers see the image as through their own eyes, whereas in external perspective they see the image as they were an audience member (Overby & Dunn 2011; Goldschmidt 2002).  To achieve the most of imagery it has been suggested that the environment should closely match the actual environment where the behaviour would occur (Wakefield et al. 2012; Holmes & Colins 2001). That being said, if the dancer’s goal is to reduce the anxiety or fright on a stage, the perfect image would be himself standing on an actual stage, where his performance would take a place (Cumming & Williams 2013).

Imagery might affect several aspects of a dancer’s performance as it has been shown that dancers use their imagery before, during and after classes, rehearsals and performances (Nordin & Cumming 2007). Additionally, dancers use imagery in both static and dynamic states, while athletes use imagery predominantly in static state or doing only minimal gestures (Vergeer & Hanrahan 1998). According to Pavlik & Nordin-Bates (2016), imagery is used by dancers of all ages and levels as a tool to enhance dancing in some way and they also reported, that the more experience the dancer has the more frequently he uses imagery.

How imagery impacts dance performance

According to Dance Imagery Questionnaire (DIQ) created by Nordin & Cumming (2006), there are four types of imagery used in dance (Williams et al. 2013; Williams et al. 2011). Mental rehearsal of movements or sequences is associated with Technique imagery, whereas Mastery imagery is connected to focus, anxiety control and planning (Pavlik & Nordin-Bates 2016). As an example of technique imagery in a real world could be dancer preparing for a stage performance creating images of himself doing the actual movements and routines in his solo, whereas for master imagery, the dancer would create an image of himself staying calm, confident and focused during the performance. The third type of imagery is a Goal imagery which could be beneficial in boosting arousal and motivation in a dancer (Pavlik & Nordin-Bates 2016). Goal imagery is related to dancer’s images of achieving specific dance-related goals. For example, this could be either image of walking off stage to roaring applause after flawless performance or images of achieving an excellent execution of some difficult movements. The fourth type of imagery is called Role and movement quality imagery, which includes images of roles and characters and most metaphorical or indirect imagery (Pavlik & Nordin-Bates 2016). During this type of imagery, the dancer is creating an images of how a character within a ballet might feel or an image of the dancer’s arms turning into wings. According to Nordin & Cumming (2008), dancers predominantly use technique imagery, while mastery imagery is used the least. For instance, in 2005 the National inquiry into dancers health and injury in the UK found that over 50% of the participated dancers suffered from low self-confidence (Nordin & Cumming 2006). Pavlik & Nordin-Bates (2016) suggested that dancers should examine the effect of using more mastery imagery as this type of imagery is related to an increase in self-confidence and decrease in anxiety (Nordin & Cumming 2008; Fish et al. 2004). When dancers used images created from their own bodies, abstract ideas and the space around them, they reported that imagery helped them to create and enhance their movement, choose where in the space to move and sort the sequence of the dance (May et al. 2011). Using an image of strong emotions might also have an impact on dancers who need a dramatic element in their performances as well as anatomical images for improving posture or jumps (Vergeer & Hanrahan 1998).

Strategies for improving dancer’s imagery

According to studies, the imagery ability might not be a static quality and it could be increased by using multiple interventions (Williams et al. 2013; Williams et al. 2011). Nordin & Cumming (2006) stated that the best development of dance imagery is in a dance settings. Also, imagery is not only a naturally occurring complex psychological skill but it could also be impacted by individuals themselves as well as others, for example dance teachers (Nordin & Cumming 2006). It is suggested that both dance teachers and dancers should learn about imagery as well as use it creatively in order to achieve its valuable potential (Nordin & Cumming 2006). According to Karageorghis et al. (2012), the imagery frequency in dancers could be improved by the implementation of voice enhancement technology or relaxing music into imagery training as it enhances the vocal clarity on attentional processes. In addition, the best results were achieved when the relaxing music was played in the background of an actual imagery training (Karageorghis et al. 2012). That being said, this method might be able to increase the efficacy of imagery interventions (Karageorghis et al. 2012). It had been also found that both movement execution and observation could be used to enhance the ease of imaging in athletes (Williams et al. 2011). This method enhances the individual’s imagery ability and therefore it could be used for the enhancement of the effectiveness of an imagery intervention (Williams et al. 2011).

Article

This sport involves surfers to ride waves that can build to the height of 60-80feet (and above) (Beal et al. 2010). Unlike normal surfing that involves tricks, this type of surfing is predominantly judged by the competency of the rider to surf: ‘biggest wave surfed, most critical drop and making the wave’, that is stipulated […]

This sport involves surfers to ride waves that can build to the height of 60-80feet (and above) (Beal et al. 2010). Unlike normal surfing that involves tricks, this type of surfing is predominantly judged by the competency of the rider to surf: ‘biggest wave surfed, most critical drop and making the wave’, that is stipulated into a point scoring system (Partington et al. 2009). As this sport has major ramifications in risk taking, this can result to death or near death experiences and therefore the psychology of these athlete, have a deeper element than other generic sports e.g. the pressure in a penalty kick in football (Palmer 2002). The lifestyle of this extreme sport has been recognized as a healthy mental attitude even though these athletes are pushing against the instinct of fear (Brymer and Oades 2012). As a surfer’s life is in the balance in this sport, the demands of training is in the ocean, where there is constant commitment to surf where the swells are located. This means that training is extremely dangerous as well as competition (Partington et al. 2009).

‘It was just that mental challenge that I wanted to see, this idea of fear how I could can really grow from it, not just run to the other direction but to embrace it, then when you figure out the rhythm of it physical challenge that goes along with it, it just becomes what’s next?’

-Greg Long

Instinctively as humans, it is unnatural to go against fear, this is however not necessarily a weakness as fear can be perceived as healthy and even a motive whereas panic is not (Colvard et al. 2003). Therefore, the main psychological problem that is recognized is anxiety of death because of severe consequences such as a ‘wipeout’ where the surfer falls into the wave; The weight of a wave (2016) indicates a wipeout is the equivalent of 410 tonnes of water that is dropped onto a surfer’s body which can result in severe injury and potentially death.

The perception in riders focus on goal orientated to emphasize on performance rather than contemplating a potential death in training or competition as this could cause catastrophe in performance (Partington et al. 2009). Fear is an automatic response not a conscious decision, this means that in performance absolute focus on the specific physical requirements in big wave surfing (BWS). Such as the techniques to ride these waves and this usually requires an intrinsic personality because of the individual focus and movements are required in BWS (Diehm et al. 2004). Surfers tend to have a high intrinsic personality as this sport is individual; this demands a perspective with internal focus on an individual performance.  As fear is predominant in this sport this can therefore create anxiety as Conroy and Elliot (2004) state that fear of failure can be perceived as a motive in the context of individual mastery orientation of the skill, as the performance in riding these waves needs high consistency to complete the wave safely, to prevent ramifications occurring (Diehm et al 2004). Encouraging the youth and riders who are new in partaking to BWS, experienced riders encourage youth and new riders that teach a coherent pathway on methods of riding the wave (Waitt et al. 2008). Hence there is a support network that can help overcome fear and anxiety in riding death defying waves, with the support of social media that can give external rewards and feedback (Waitt et al. 2008).

The decisions that these surfers make are calculated and are not deliberately left to improvisation in training and competition, although there are circumstances where improvisation is required to overcome a hostile situation during a wave that may result in a wipeout (Partington et al. 2009). However, from a performance perspective that these riders have, the risk that is being undertaken is more calculative today, than when BWS began (Lyng 2005). In retrospect, BWS did not have jet skis and technology was limited, therefore there was less safety in surfing and the likely hood of drowning was more apparent. Whereas today safety is far more adequate to cope with the potential risks of surfers being held under water with frequent sets of waves crashing down when this is blocking a surfer to swim away (Caprara 2007).

The use of imagery in BWS

Independent Zone of Optimum Functioning (IZOF) is utilized by surfers to meditate and visually analyse what physically goes on pre competition (Davis et al. 2002). This can reduce somatic anxiety of physical symptoms e.g. shivering and cognitive anxiety by analysing the mechanisms involved in BWS and during the surf of a big wave (Davis et al. 2002). This establishes absolute focus when the use of visualization is utilized prior to going into the water so there is a progressive pathway in how the surfer can imagine each phase on what is needed to be done physically to ride the wave (Partington et al. 2009). Imagery can be linked to the use of vicarious experiences by reminiscing on positive and negative memories can benefit the surfer to overcome negative consequences that may arise during the ride, this can be used to prevent the same mistake occurring (FELTZ 1988).

Imagery during the surf of a big wave by visually analysing the pathway of how the surfer is going to drop into the wave, imaging the essential stance on the board and imaging the barrel of the wave imaging the speed that is needed to surf away from the white water (Partington et al 2009). This method can help to construct a foundation almost like a simulation of the actual event that, relates to the realism of a competition (Hall et al. 1990). As Martin and Gill (1991) suggests ‘Goal Orientation’ in sport is predominantly utilized to prevent distraction by using selective attention on the task that is currently in the present moment and the goal to ride the wave safely is the objective. Applying this can reduce the possibilities of potential wipeouts (Partington et al 2009). Fear can cause a mental barrier to surf and therefore a method to overcome is through kinaesthetic imagery, physiologically this has shown to elicit motor evoked potentials, that increase corticospinal excitability Gregg et al. 2016). By practicing the movements without equipment or on the wave is useful to isolate and to deeply engage with the fundamental movements that are used in the big wave surfing (BWS) (Hall et al. 1990). As this is isolating the movements the focus can be engaged solely on what is required without being distracted by the environment (Vadoa et al.1997).

Reminiscing on positive experiences in performances by utilizing imagery techniques can be extrapolated to reality by visualizing on facilitating learning and performance skill. Ultimately this can re-establish the self-efficacy of the surfer where self-belief is reinforced and therefore can reduce anxiety (Callow et al.2001). This is extremely positive in this type of extreme sport as the philosophy of why the athlete is competing in an event that engages in an extremely hostile situations during riding, the athlete can cue memories that are positive and to remind themselves of individual philosophy to prevent panic (Waitt et al. 2008). This can be reinforced and extrapolated to each surfer’s self-motivational reason(s) to surf and perform effectively during the technical parts of the wave (Partington 2009 et al.).

‘No matter how many headaches you have in life, all of that kind of drifts away as soon as you stand up on a wave, your solely intently focused on what is 2feet in front of you and processing what is going to be coming after that’.

-Ian Walsh

Article

There is no doubt that performers in sport thrive on high levels of confidence. Examples exist where performers score a goal and then continue to score as a result of renewed levels of confidence. A batter in cricket may start scoring runs freely after a few tricky spells. In individual sports a tennis performer may […]

There is no doubt that performers in sport thrive on high levels of confidence. Examples exist where performers score a goal and then continue to score as a result of renewed levels of confidence. A batter in cricket may start scoring runs freely after a few tricky spells. In individual sports a tennis performer may all of a sudden start to gain belief having being 2 sets down. A golfer may start to reach the fairway and greens with a smoother technique. These are just a few examples that we can use where self-confidence can be the difference between success and failure given the fine margins that exist in sport. Despite this, we must acknowledge that self-confidence is like a rollercoaster that will mean levels of confidence can fluctuate between high and low.  This blog identifies 12 key steps in raising your own levels of self-confidence.

  1. Remember that somebody believes in you. This somebody could be a coach, manager, trainer or fellow performer.  They will have the belief in your ability that you currently may not have. There is no harm in asking them for purposes of re-assurance.
  2. Think in positive ways at all times. Positivity can be developed by assessing each day (training) and game/competition sessions. Assess your own positivity through forms of achievement through technique, practice and movement. Thinking positively leads to better mind and body balance. Positive thinking enables the neural pathways within the mind to operate with clarity and purpose. For example, a cricketer can look at line and length when bowling and use positive self-talk to guide them when carrying out the action.
  3. Understand that it can be done. Embark on each task as a champion by having a clear and defined plan. Achieve your task step by step. Do not take on a big task and expect to complete it quickly. Have patience and believe in yourself. Rome was never built in a day. For example, golfers have 18 holes to play and each shot and hole should be looked at from a strength and area to improve opportunity. Performers should become talkers in the mind to appreciate and become aware of how it can be done.
  4. Stay in control of the controllable. Maintaining the controllable builds self-confidence because it provides you with a sense of focus and directive. Remember that you can never control what others are thinking/doing but you can control what you are achieving. There are a range of variables within sport that can lead to performers losing sight of the controllable. External factors/influences will only hinder performance and must be beaten. For example, in team games there is no need to get involved with the mind games that sometimes are played in public.
  5. Engage in mental preparation. One should work on engaging their mind onto each task they embark on. Mental preparation can follow many trends like, mindfulness, imagery, reflective thinking, positive self-talk, goal setting, meditation and concentration training amongst others. One should find a strategy that works for them and then use this to provide that inner desire to build confidence. There has been plenty of evidence within elite sport of the use of mental preparation. Mental preparation is useful as it can support the levels of self-confidence required to perform. For example, a gymnast will need to have balance and resilience to perfect routines. By engaging in mental preparation practices the performer can start to use routines to help them relax and perform on the task at hand.
  6. Recall previous success. A mantra that I use is related to distance travelled. Think about previous successes that you have had. What did that feel like? How were your emotions during this time? Further, how confident did that make you feel? Recall is a positive mechanism to enable one to re-build confidence as it associates with belief. One just needs to look at body language during competition of teams in winning positions against those in losing positions. These positions are actually good experiences that can be used when required.
  7. Performance must be consistent. Successful people will build confidence because they are consistent and appreciate the value of success. Consistency is like a habit that is formed through experience of situations. In other words the more you do the better you become at the task in hand. Elite performers will work hard and do whatever to achieve their ultimate aim. Look at Andy Murray and his recent success which arguably is built on consistency and stability.
  8. Be constructive in own self-evaluation. Through self-evaluation one can become more effective at building self-confidence. Building your own level of evaluation will enable you to become critical. But it also enables you to build on this critique to create higher levels of confidence. Alex Ferguson suggested that he learnt more from defeat than success. This is true of most successful performers as they use defeat/backward steps/rejection to fuel the fire to comeback stronger.
  9. Reflect positively following performances. There is no doubt that the more you reflect the better you become at practice/competition. Reflective practice relates to becoming aware of your strengths and identifying areas that you can improve. Therefore, logically the more you reflect the higher chance you will increase your self-confidence levels. For example, performers should use training and competition settings to reflect robustly.
  10. Continuously set short-term goals. Most performers suffer from low self-confidence because they allow the issue(s) to prolong and as a consequence fail to deal with problems head on. To overcome these issues, set short-term goals that will enable the flow of confidence (no matter how small) to start. Through constantly achieving your short-term goals you will build your levels of self-confidence like a snowball growing bigger. Short-term goals should be related to processes that can be achieved.
  11. Respect yourself and don’t be too harsh on own performances. Life is about trial and error. Performers should learn from the many challenges that they face. However, performers must not be too harsh and should take regular breaks when needed. Performers should eat well and sleep well. Performers should respect mind and body. It is through respect that performers can learn to rebuild confidence.
  12. Focus leads to natural confidence. When focused there is no doubt that body language is good. Therefore, performers should develop focus through appreciating what is required and build this through application. Performers should address concerns and tackle any issues early. Confidence building is about remaining resilient in the face of pressure.
Article

This brief practical guide will provide feasible recommendations for developing emotional control in high pressure situations. Encouraging Emotional Intelligence: This very useful form of intelligence can begin to be developed simply by asking individuals to be more aware of their emotions and reactions in high pressure situations. Frequent prompts during these situations may be initially […]

This brief practical guide will provide feasible recommendations for developing emotional control in high pressure situations.

  • Encouraging Emotional Intelligence: This very useful form of intelligence can begin to be developed simply by asking individuals to be more aware of their emotions and reactions in high pressure situations. Frequent prompts during these situations may be initially necessary to encourage individuals to recognise and acknowledge their emotions.
  • Reappraisal: Reappraisal of a situation using psychological skills such as positive self-talk and imagery can increase belief of performing successfully. Encouraging individuals to praise themselves either internally or aloud following successful performance and encouraging themselves when they are not performing well, can greatly increase confidence and focus. Imagery also increases these valuable attributes as it can facilitate focus on correct technique. Finally, reappraisal can occur in terms of physiological symptoms of arousal. Individuals should be encouraged to appraise feelings such as butterflies or increased heartrate as readiness for performance as opposed to anxiety.
  • Situation Selection: This is a practice which is simple to implement with little skill required, therefore it is feasible for many individuals. Individuals should be instructed how to place themselves in a desirable situation when possible, as opposed to an undesirable one when facing a high-pressure situation. This increases the likelihood of achieving a desired emotional state.
  • Changing Arousal: This involves practices such as progressive muscular relaxation and deep-breathing exercises. There are many books and applications which can guide individuals through these practices.
  • Mindfulness: This practice perhaps requires more commitment both financially and in terms of effort, however meditation can be very beneficial in terms of emotional control and overall wellbeing. There are many online and face-to-face mindfulness courses available, after which, mindfulness is a largely feasible and convenient practice.
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As our lives become increasingly fast-paced, with everything accessible at merely the touch of a button, both our personal and professional lives are becoming increasingly high-pressured and demanding upon our emotional resources. Whether facing an important meeting or presentation within a business setting, training to compete at the Olympic Games, or preparing to serve within […]

As our lives become increasingly fast-paced, with everything accessible at merely the touch of a button, both our personal and professional lives are becoming increasingly high-pressured and demanding upon our emotional resources. Whether facing an important meeting or presentation within a business setting, training to compete at the Olympic Games, or preparing to serve within the military where the stakes are frighteningly high, everyone faces challenging situations which put their emotional control to the test. Therefore, coping under pressure has become a valuable, if not vital skill that can facilitate success in competitive domains such as sport and business, the performing arts, and life-threatening situations such as military operations. As a result, developing coping mechanisms to implement in high pressure situations are of benefit to all individuals who are striving to improve their performance under pressure.

As the margin between individuals’ skills and physical capabilities decreases, searching for something to gain that extra edge over opponents has become increasingly vital within performance. This is perhaps most relevant in competitive areas such as business and sports, but also various other areas which require a high level of skill and ability to withstand pressure. In recent years, the ‘something’ that performers have been looking for has been psychology. With performance at such a high and competitive level in many domains, psychology is perhaps one of the most neglected areas in terms of implementing skills to improve performance and outperform competitors. Therefore, by exploring and adopting a range of psychological skills, individuals are able to improve their performance within high pressure situations, regardless of their domain. In light of this, this blog aims to discuss performing under pressure and the relevance of capitalising on performance improvement as a result of psychology.

As aforementioned, coping under pressure is perhaps one of the most sought after psychological skills in terms of performance. One particularly challenging aspect of coping under pressure is emotional control. Emotional control involves implementing strategies to maintain, modify or display emotions in order to achieve one’s goals, and is often required when there is a discrepancy between an individuals’ current and desired emotions (Gross and Thompson, 2007). Emotional control and regulation is often considered a significant element of successful performance and psychological wellbeing across many domains. But how can we achieve emotional control if we are unable to recognise and acknowledge emotions? This is where Emotional Intelligence perhaps precedes the ability to effectively control our emotions. Emotional Intelligence refers to developing an awareness of one’s own and others’ emotions. When speaking about performance under pressure, Olympic sprinter Michael Johnson stated that “First of all you have to acknowledge the pressure, but you can’t ignore it. That’s the mistake a lot of athletes and people make”. (BBC Sport, 2012) This quote supports the value of Emotional Intelligence in becoming aware of and acknowledging your environment and emotions in order to effectively cope under pressure.

This form of intelligence is said to have many benefits which are relevant across various domains, thus Emotional Intelligence and further, emotional control is a valuable asset to any individual, team or organisation. As a practical example, some of the skills that can be acquired and improved as a result of Emotional Intelligence are, employee socialisation which facilitates effectively functioning within an organisation, high job performance, increased ability to implement adaptive coping skills, and perhaps most importantly, Emotional Intelligence facilitates wellbeing. It is hopefully apparent that these valuable skills can be applied to many domains, thus the value of Emotional Intelligence in unprecedented when striving to improve emotional control in high pressure situations.

As a result of developing Emotional Intelligence and thus successfully recognising and acknowledging emotions, individuals are perhaps in an improved position to attempt to control their emotions under pressure. When discussing the use of emotional control within high pressure situations, it is perhaps easy to forget that we use emotional control frequently within our daily lives. Humans are highly adaptive and have developed the ability to influence what emotions they have, when they have them and how they express them (Gross, 1998a). Therefore, developing increased emotional control is a feasible coping mechanism for many individuals who are striving to improve their performance across various domains. The advantages that can be gained as a result of improving emotional control before, during and after performance are vast. Emotional control can assist with many psychological skills which are conducive to effectively coping under pressure, these skills involve, effective communication which can be vital when working within a team, improving attentional focus on the task, appraising emotions and feelings of arousal in a positive and useful manner, and reducing the influence of challenging external factors such as opponents, colleagues, or the environment. In addition, emotional control can also assist in preventing undesirable emotions and reactions within a high pressure situation. These undesirable reactions may include, choking under pressure, becoming rattled by opponents or various individuals within the environment, negatively appraising emotions or situations which are not conducive to successful performance, and failing to focus on the task at hand.

In light of the high level of performance within business, sport and performing arts, the severity of situations within the military and uniformed services, and the benefits of developing emotional control, it is perhaps worth asking, can you afford not to develop your psychological skills? If the answer is no, then it is fundamental to begin exploring and implementing a range of psychological strategies which are tailored to the needs of the individual(s). There is a wide range of psychological techniques which can be adopted in order to achieve improved coping under pressure by regulating emotions and reactions which may negatively impact performance, and fostering emotions and reactions which may facilitate improved performance. These techniques include Psychological Skills Training which encompasses skills such as positive self-talk, imagery and goal-setting and techniques which regulate an individual’s level of arousal, to name but a few. In addition, the eastern practice of mindfulness which has recently gained popularity within the western world can encourage the acknowledgement and acceptance of emotion. This allows for more effective cognitive functioning, resulting in less cognitive resources being used in high pressure situations. This can facilitate improved performance. Furthermore, there are numerous strategies for individuals to explore and adopt if they are proven to be effective.

Finally, but perhaps most importantly, wellbeing of individuals must be considered by the individual themselves, by managers, colleagues, coaches, support staff, and other various individuals within high pressure environments. This is not only a fundamental aspect of psychology, but also fundamental in facilitating effective performance. Emotional labour is a particularly common issue within high pressure situations and can threaten the wellbeing of individuals by reducing their job satisfaction, and as a result, their performance efficacy (Hulscheger and Schewe 2011). However, by adopting emotional regulation strategies and becoming more aware of one’s emotions, individuals can increase their enjoyment within their profession, their motivation and their wellbeing, and therefore their performance is enhanced. Furthermore, when considering enhancing performance using any psychological techniques, ensuring wellbeing should be considered a priority and in return performers will reap the benefits of an enhanced psychological state.

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Mental toughness has been discussed in the sports literature for many years. Indeed, mental toughness has been related to both business and sporting worlds owing to the alignment and common framework it carries. This blog outlines 10 key characteristics of mental toughness amongst sports performers. Ability to bounce back from defeat – Sports performers will […]

Mental toughness has been discussed in the sports literature for many years. Indeed, mental toughness has been related to both business and sporting worlds owing to the alignment and common framework it carries. This blog outlines 10 key characteristics of mental toughness amongst sports performers.

  1. Ability to bounce back from defeat – Sports performers will experience defeat. Champion performers like Michael Phelps, Novak Djokovic, Lionel Messi and Lewis Hamilton have suffered from defeat. However, elite performers have this innate ability to bounce back. The ability to bounce back is imperative in order to restore positivity and self-confidence. Performers channel their deep inner sanctums and respond by fuelling their fire on defeat to achieve future success. In other words, defeat hurts enough for them to bounce back.
  2. Resilience – A resilient performer will look at each task and perform to their maximum to achieve the end goal. Resilience does relate to the ability to bounce back and also to work on coping under pressure. Resilience is a characteristic that performers can use to build self-confidence with the use of mental skills. A good example of resilience is from tennis where performers fight back from 2 sets down during tournaments.
  3. Consistent – Performers need to have consistency and stability within their performance and training. The drive theory is associated to forming habits and the more you do something (e.g. free throw in Basketball) the better you should become. Consistency is also about mental and physical preparation within your own sport.
  4. Composed – Sport contains with it an array of emotions that can influence and impact outcomes. The purpose of composure enables performers to execute tasks with maximum application and minimal energy expenditure. For example, the mind and body require balance prior to a gymnastic routine being successfully executed. Performers who are unsuccessful may indeed be anxious of the outcome that leads to failure. Nervousness and tension created will only subject the body to tighten and mind to get confused.
  5. Motivation – There is no doubt that performers require both intrinsic and extrinsic motivation in order to be champion athletes. The inner self-belief is imperative as it outlines desire and commitment. Based on this inner self-belief performers can use extrinsic motivation to influence their choices. The key to motivation is having the ability to set process related goals and to achieve these effectively.
  6. Confidence – Given the nature of sport and its fluctuating fortunes it is important to consider confidence. There are a range of models that direct the purpose of confidence. In short, confidence can relate to the ability of being aware that you can achieve a set goal or execute a certain skill. When self-doubt occurs, levels of confidence will be low. When a performer builds self-efficacy levels of confidence increase.
  7. Desire – Aligned closely to confidence is desire and the willingness to achieve. Desire is also formed from an inner belief that success can be achieved. When teams have set goals and believe that they can achieve them it is noticeable to assess positive body language. Conversely, when teams are disjointed there is the opposite effect of poor body language.
  8. Organised – A top performer will always be organised in order to achieve their goals. Organisation is based on many aspects of which some are subtle but just as important. Preparation and arriving punctually are key characteristics of being organised. Following key instructions and understanding these are also important. For example, a performer who is organised is most likely to be prepared and focused on the task at hand.
  9. Attention to detail – This is a key ingredient that top performers possess. It is evident within elite sport (performers or coaches) can tactically spot something much quicker than others. Considering elite sport contains within it fine margins then attention to detail becomes important. Indeed, within some team sports there is evidence of the use of GPS systems to assess how much ground performers have covered.
  10. Determined – Performers who want to achieve success need to be determined. Determination is formed from inner self-belief. It is through determination that performers become successful and finds ways to progress onto the next level. Recent examples of determined performers who have successfully moved onto the next level include Andy Murray, England Rugby Union and the Indian Test Team.

Built into mental toughness is reflective practice. In order words, to be mentally tough one should use reflective practice that provides opportunities to assess strengths and build on areas to improve. One common strategy to align this opportunity is through goal setting. Taken together, mental toughness, reflective practice and mental skills are aligned to support and facilitate performance.

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The relationship between perfectionism and sporting excellence is often endorsed into many athletes; in order to be the best you must strive for perfection. A precursor for sporting success can be perceived as obtaining the ‘ideal body’. For example, dancers/gymnasts are expected to be small and compact, whereas swimmers are expected to be tall and […]

The relationship between perfectionism and sporting excellence is often endorsed into many athletes; in order to be the best you must strive for perfection. A precursor for sporting success can be perceived as obtaining the ‘ideal body’. For example, dancers/gymnasts are expected to be small and compact, whereas swimmers are expected to be tall and broad. By achieving the ‘ideal body’ required by your sport, you will in turn have a greater advantage of winning. But what if your body isn’t naturally made like this?  How can you obtain this body image in order to excel ?

On the basis that athletes are driven to perform well, the goal-orientation in defining success differs between individuals. Some see success as winning and outperforming their competitors whereas other see success as beating their personal best. The Achievement Goal Theory by Duda & Nicholls (1992) focuses on two goal orientations: ego-orientation and task-orientation. Task-orientation can be defined as self-referenced goals, such as mastering a skill, therefore he/she feels competent when made progress. Alternatively, ego-orientation is to demonstrate ability in relation to the ability of others, these athletes therefore feel competent when relative to their peers.

The drive to succeed can also be related to the underlying personality trait of perfectionism. Perfectionism is a trait often found in high achievers but also a key risk factor in the development of an eating disorder. Perfectionism can be split up into: self-orientated perfectionism and socially prescribed perfectionism. Self-orientated perfectionism involves setting unrealistic and overly high standards for oneself. In comparison, socially prescribed perfectionism is the belief that external factors (family, friends) hold excessively high standards for oneself; thus creating an extra pressure for that individual as they feel the need to meet with those expectations (Polivy & Herman, 2002).

The onset of disordered eating patterns can therefore be explained through goal orientation and perfectionism interactions. Athletes who are highly ego-orientated and socially-prescribed perfectionists could particularly be at risk, due to the concept of social comparison. These athletes are driven to engage in disordered eating with an intent in altering the body’s size to meet the requirements of social external factors. Particularly, the interaction between athletes who are highly ego-orientated adopt the “win at all costs” philosophy, and often embrace the idea that winning in the end, justifies all means (Roberts, 2001). As these highly ego-orientated athletes are also high socially-prescribed perfectionists, they will not only have concerns about one’s appearance, (Hewitt & Flett, 1991) but also evidently recognise athletes that fit the ‘ideal body image’ more then themselves. These athletes will then associate this body image with the contribution to success, and therefore result to pathogenic eating methods in order to meet these rigid body requirements.

Given that athletes are also high perfectionists in setting exceptional standards for oneself and dealing poorly with small failures, these individuals when immersed in a competitive environment will in turn increase their risk of developing disordered eating patterns (Fosbery & Lock, 2006).  As a performance climate inhibits the view that ability is predetermined and demonstrated by achieving superiority (Theeboom, De Knop & Weiss (1995).  Coaches/teachers who therefore clearly emphasise the differences between ‘the best’ athletes and the ‘less able’ due to their natural ability or physique; may lead their pupils resorting to pathogenic weight control methods in order to fit within this perceived ‘ideal body’.  Thus it appears the coaches’ opinion or view is important to the athlete, but also related to success.

So how can a coach help to reduce an athletes risk of disordered eating?

Throughout the literature, mastery climates have been found to have negative correlations to dieting and coach/peer pressure, suggesting that when performers perceived their climate as mastery there was a reduce in risk. Coaches that provide a supporting, co-operative environment that does not compare dancers/gymnasts on ability, seem to reduce the disordered eating risk which in turn decreases the weight-related pressure perceived by their pupils (Smoll, Smith & Cumming, 2007.).

In summary, it can be suggested that goal-orientation, perfectionism and motivational climate are all risk factors in the development of disordered eating. Athletes who are socially-prescribed perfectionists and highly ego-orientated seem to be at an increased risk. Highly-ego involved athletes want to outperform others by consistently comparing themselves. This in turn may lead to social comparison; an individual who sees success in others related to body image, will hypothetically compare that body image to others and themselves. This will then be used as basis to succeed within their sport. Environmental factors can be changed in order to reduce eating disorder risk within athletes. Examples of additional factors, that could also contribute to an athletes disordered eating that are not explored within this article are self esteem, injury/illness, and biological/genetic.

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After failing to score for the fifth game running, pundits, journalists and fans alike are trying to pinpoint why Daniel Sturridge is struggling to recapture the form he displayed in 2013/2014 season, which saw him form a devastating attacking trident with Raheem Stirling and Luis Suarez. During that season, Sturridge scored 21 Premier league goals […]

After failing to score for the fifth game running, pundits, journalists and fans alike are trying to pinpoint why Daniel Sturridge is struggling to recapture the form he displayed in 2013/2014 season, which saw him form a devastating attacking trident with Raheem Stirling and Luis Suarez. During that season, Sturridge scored 21 Premier league goals as Liverpool narrowly missed out on the title to Manchester City. On the back of this stunning season, he was widely regarded as one of the most dangerous strikers in Europe.  Fast forward three years and a completely different picture is painted. Having had to contend with two injury hit seasons, Sturridge for the most part, has managed to stay fit this campaign. However, his performances have been somewhat underwhelming, with several quarters questioning his work ethic and adaptability, Sturridge has found himself in and out of Jürgen Klopp’s high pressing free flowing Liverpool side. Still only 27, why has a player who seemed to have the world at his feet stagnated so badly?

One possible explanation is that Daniel Sturridge has lost the electric pace which made him such a dangerous player. This has been supported by a recent article published by Sky Sports, which showed a sharp decline in Daniels Sturridge top sprint speed since the 2013/2014 season. Interestingly, Jamie Carragher picked up on the idea that Sturridge may be worried about getting injured again: “I don’t know if his pace has completely gone or whether he’s that worried with injuries that he pulls out of something”. Despite this comment from Jamie Carragher seemingly addressing a psychological explanation of injury, little is understood about the psychological consequences of injury, despite research identifying athletes returning to sport to experience; feelings of isolation, lack of athletic identity, lack of confidence and trust and increased anxiety (Podlog, Dimmock & Miller, 2011; Podlog & Eklund, 2007; Walker, Thatcher, Lavallee & Golby, 2004).

A common theme with Sturridge’s injury history is that he has often picked up a different injury after just returning to full fitness. Since the 2013/2014 season, Sturridge has suffered eight separate injuries (hip, leg, calf, foot, thigh, hamstring, knee, ankle ligaments). Whilst there are several physiological explanations for his re-injury, an alternative explanation can come from the psychology of injury, notably in the form of re-injury anxiety (Heil, 1993). According to research, re- injury anxiety concerns begin to exist once an athlete gets closer to returning to sport (Udry,Gould, Bridges & Beck, 1997). This anxiety leads to an athlete experiencing a sense of apprehension about putting themselves in a similar situation to the one that caused the original injury (Podlog & Eklund, 2006),  with athletes who have high levels of anxiety likely suffer another injury (Bianco, 2001). The idea of an athlete being apprehensive could explain Sturridge’s decline in maximum sprint speed over the last few years because of previous experience. This therefore could lead to him being reluctant forcibly exert himself during a game and put himself in a situation which led to the original injury (Heil, 1993).

One criticism aimed at Sturridge is that he is not a ‘team player’ and does not offer the work rate required to fit into a Klopp team. Whilst this may be partly true, Sturridge has previously formed an interchangeable front three during the 2013/2014 season where he was more willing to be a team player. Injuries have inevitably not helped his willingness to be a team player, with his appearances being restricted to starting only 28 % of all games in the last three seasons. One problem Sturridge may be facing is the impact injuries have had on his inability to reach pre-injury standards, as he has been unable to perform his skills for a prolonged period (Podlog & Eklund, 2007). The lack of a consistent run of games over the last two seasons, may have led Sturridge to unconsciously adapt his game to stop the occurrence of injuries. This is supported by a longitudinal investigation examining NFL players, who experienced a decrease in performance after returning from injury. Notably, running backs and wide receivers exhibited a 33% drop in rushing and receiving yards as well as touch downs (Carey, Huffman, Parekh & Sennett, 2006). The researchers noted that upon the return the athletes had decreased confidence and trust in their bodies, which explained their reduced performance levels. In relation to Sturridge, his reluctance to be a team player may simply come down to his unwillingness to put his body through too much strain which has inevitably reduced his performance levels and team performance.

A final explanation stems from pressure on Sturridge to return to football early (Bauman, 2005). During the first few weeks of his reign, Klopp openly questioned Sturridge’s ability to distinguish between pain and real pain, urging the striker to distinguish between the two. This, accompanied by a media fanfare surrounding his chequered injury history has created a pressurised environment for Daniel Sturridge to return from injury early. Whilst coaches will usually assess if a player is physically ready, little is understood as to whether a player is mentally ready to return to action (Murphy & Waddington, 2007).  According to Bauman (2005), elite athletes are under increasing pressure to make a quick return from injury. In Sturridge’s case, he was often portrayed as the man who could save Liverpool and England. This pressure could have led to Sturridge feeling guilty and returning from injury when he was not physically and psychologically ready to do so, which ultimately led to him picking up another injury shortly after returning to the team (Podlog & Eklund, 2005). This can further validate why his sprint performance has decreased over the last four years.

Whilst psychological factors play an undoubted role, this article is not denouncing physiological and biomechanical explanations for his injury history and reduced sprint speed, with researchers identifying the importance to account for the many factors which influence a player’s poor injury history (Podlog & Eklund, 2004). At the time of writing, Daniel Sturridge has not scored in his last five games with many media outlets touting him for a move away from Liverpool. Whilst he has received widespread criticism, he has played more games at this stage than in the previous two seasons, having seemingly overcome his injury problems, for now at least. The next year represents a critical point in his career, as he aims to shake off his injury problems for good and recapture the form which made him one of Europe’s deadliest strikers.

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Sport Psychology is a growing discipline and one that I find myself privileged to be involved in. Despite this growth, I still wonder why it can often be viewed as a last resort for some. This was highlighted in a recent article on Laura Robson utilising Sport Psychology services to ‘revive’ her tennis career. This […]

Sport Psychology is a growing discipline and one that I find myself privileged to be involved in. Despite this growth, I still wonder why it can often be viewed as a last resort for some. This was highlighted in a recent article on Laura Robson utilising Sport Psychology services to ‘revive’ her tennis career.

This bought me back to a sticking point that I frequently encounter, how can we encourage sport organisations and athletes to utilise Sport Psychology support on all levels before we hit a ‘crisis’ point and cling to the hope of it getting athletes out of trouble. Very rarely have I been approached by an athlete who says everything is going well, I want to ensure I have all the tools to maintain that success.

The article states that Robson does not lack talent but the mental side of her game often appears fragile. Could she have learnt valuable mental skills at a younger age to build upon and help her prepare for a career at the top level of her game? It also discusses the issue she has around double faults and having to repeat her throw up. If this is so commonly related to nerves could we arm young players with the strategies to understand their nerves and still perform effectively?

There is still an element of doubt and lack of commitment to Sport Psychology programmes in some environments. But, if athletes are reaching a stage in their career where they are ‘trying everything’ to rescue their chances, should we encourage a more structured process for young athletes so they have already explored the options available and understand what works for them.

I am yet to come across a sport organisation or athlete that does not understand the combination of technical, tactical, physical, nutritional and psychological elements that are required to compete at the top level in any sport. The struggle lies within the balance of time and understanding that is given to each area throughout the sporting career.

My purpose in writing this is not to direct every athlete towards regular contact with a sport psychologist, but to ensure that we all take time to contemplate what we could gain from understanding the mental side of our game in relation to performance and well-being. This may involve a discussion with your coach, fellow team mates or family about the positives of your performances or aspects you want to improve. Some may want to explore professional assistance to develop deeper level mental skills for performance or discuss how non-sport commitments impact your performances in a positive or negative way.

The well know phrase, ‘prevention is better than cure’ sums up how Sport Psychology is currently utilised in some environments. I’m not saying that Sport Psychologists cannot work after numerous setbacks or struggles to help athletes succeed. But, are there more effective ways to utilise the skill-set when things are going well and as a development tool for younger athletes.

Which is more effective –

Sessions to develop skills to help you understand when things are going well or not so well and how ‘you’ can do something to change or maintain it?

Or,

Sessions to unpick the difficulties you are having, followed by a process to build yourself back up?

My answer – Both have their place, but is prevention better than cure?

There has been a recent increase in the discussion of Sport Psychologists becoming embedded in sport environments and working closer with the team of support staff over several months and years to create an environment where the mental side of the game is on a par with other sport science disciplines. National Governing Bodies are utilising the support at the top end of their sports with multi-disciplinary teams. However, can we reduce the stigma of Sport Psychology, help younger athletes understand their ‘mental game’, and create environments where Sport Psychology is the ‘norm’, in the same way as pitch and gym sessions, are an integral part of competitive sport.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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