Well Being

Article

Stress is a common attribute and trigger that we all suffer from on a daily basis. This stress is normally attributed to high levels and is based on external influences. However, we also need to be mindful that stress can actually be a positive mechanism and it not always purely negative. This article will purposefully […]

Stress is a common attribute and trigger that we all suffer from on a daily basis. This stress is normally attributed to high levels and is based on external influences. However, we also need to be mindful that stress can actually be a positive mechanism and it not always purely negative. This article will purposefully look at negative stress and how we can manage its symptoms through the use of purposeful strategies.

There are 4 key stages to stress:

1) Causes of stress – An emotional demand places physical or psychological pressure

All stress will have a cause that is formed from factors beyond our control. Stress is normally caused by factors that are external and predominately humans react to these negatively as they cause distress. Based on these influences humans will suffer both physical and psychological symptoms of stress as it is the inability of not coping under pressure.

Reflective practice is a useful strategy that can help overcome symptoms and causes of stress. We should all appreciate our strengths and also become aware of limitations. Further, reflective practice enables us to develop self-awareness which enables us to become more empowered. Indeed, empowerment enables our physical symptoms of stress to alleviate. The use of setting smart and measureable goals is also important because this leads to focus and clear direction. Indeed, most of our stress is based on being disorganised and therefore goal setting will also help alleviate stress.

2) Individual perception of the demand – The person produces an individual view of the situation and whether it is threatening to them

Based on the causes of stress we react either positively or negatively. This reaction can be formed on experience and maturity. For example, sitting an exam for the first time will arouse different levels of stress to one where you sit a different exam for the 5th time.

Simply put the situation that one finds themselves in could be the difference between fearing the situation and meeting with its demands. Much of this is placed on the human mind and reaction. Perception is a vital ingredient in meeting with stressful demands.

It is suggested that to develop perception one should be clear of what they are attempting to achieve. Somebody who has a task to complete for a deadline is more likely to be less fearful if they have planned accordingly. Conversely, if somebody has not planned and is not aware of the task demands they are more likely to be fearful of the situation.

3) Stress response – Production of physical and psychological changes in the individual

Stress does produce physical and psychological changes in all individuals. These physical changes relate to feeling nervous and jittery, increased heart rate levels, stomach churning and general appearance changes on the skin. Psychologically one can suffer from negative thinking, lack of concentration and lost in thought. The production of these symptoms can only add to further stress and worry.

Strategies to overcome these responses are based on patience and resilience. Some symptoms of stress once they arrive take longer to leave. However, exercise (light, moderate or intense) will help the bloodstream produce positive chemicals that will alleviate stressful symptoms. Listening to music is also known to help the mind and body relax to a certain degree. The introduction to therapies such as mindfulness, yoga and meditation are strategies that can help decrease levels of stress and should be practised consistently. The case with these strategies is that not all will agree with the individual concerned and therefore trial and error is suggested.

4) Behaviour consequences – Any positive or negative changes in performance resulting from the perceived threat

Our behaviour is a manifestation of our own ability to cope. Behaviour that is irrational and negative will result in irritability, verbal language that is harmful, physical harm and overthinking. Our minds are programmed by a computer and alongside this we have a chimp and a human mind. The chimp and human will clash if there is a disagreement. As the chimp is more powerful the human will not win. Therefore, the human mind must slowly appraise the situation once the danger has passed. For example, there are many times we lose our temper only to regret it after. The temper is actually the chimp, the regret is the human.

One way to facilitate behaviour consequences is to appraise the situation on reflection following the event. Ask yourself some key questions and how you would handle the situation differently in the future. The key of behaviour consequence is based on a simple rule. Following your own appraisal have you learnt? If the answer is yes, then you as a person will be in a better position to deal with in the future as self-awareness has increased.

In summary, stress is an on-going battle that we cannot switch off. What we can do is develop strategies to enable us to cope when the pressure is on.

Article

Introduction “What a liberation to realise that the “voice in my head” is not who I am. Who am I then? The one who sees that”. – Eckhart Tolle When Michael Jordan was asked how he was able to transform his on-court leadership and lead the Chicago Bulls to six NBA championships, he attributed it […]

Introduction

“What a liberation to realise that the “voice in my head” is not who I am. Who am I then? The one who sees that”. – Eckhart Tolle

When Michael Jordan was asked how he was able to transform his on-court leadership and lead the Chicago Bulls to six NBA championships, he attributed it to a pretty unsuspecting character. George Mumford, his mindfulness meditation teacher, who has also worked with the likes of Kobe Bryant and Shaquille O’Neal on optimising their sporting performance (Mumford, 2015). Since the late 1990’s, there has been an exponential rise in published research on the topic of mindfulness-based interventions. Eighteen million Americans now have a meditation routine, and 44% of all U.S. companies offer mindfulness training to their members of staff (Kotler & Wheal, 2017). What started as an alternative approach within mind/body medicine, has now breached the domains of the mainstream, with major developments being seen in clinical and sport psychology, cognitive therapy, neuroscience, education, law, business, and the military (Williams & Kabat-Zinn, 2011). This article will seek to understand the eastern origins of mindfulness practice and highlight its key characteristics, before examining how it has been secularised and developed to form interventions such as Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) and Mindfulness-Based Cognitive Therapy (MBCT). Finally, differences in cultural ontology between east and west, particularly in relation to the self, will be used to examine the difficulties in operationalising mindfulness within a dualistic scientific setting and incorporating mindfulness techniques into reductionist interventions.

What is Mindfulness?

The medicine for my suffering I had within me from the very beginning, but I did not take it. My ailment came from within myself, but I did not observe it. Until this moment. Now I see that I will never find the light unless, like the candle, I am my own fuel”. – Bruce Lee

Mindfulness originates from Buddhist philosophy and acts as the central tenet for many of its meditative traditions, such as Zen, Shambhala, and Vipassana (Khusid & Vythilingham, 2016) and has been defined as “the awareness that emerges through paying attention on purpose, in the present moment, and nonjudgmentally to the unfolding of experience moment by moment” (Kabat-Zinn, 2003; p145). Translated from the Pali word sati, mindfulness encompasses an array of meanings, but the most important relate to “clear awareness” and “memory” (Dreyfus, 2011; Harris, 2014). In Buddhism, the origins of suffering (dukkha) are thought to be caused by our ignorance of the impermanent nature of the universe (anitya), and our patterns of attachment and resistance towards pleasant or unpleasant experiences (Vago & Silbersveig). Through formal meditative practice, which entails sitting or lying still and placing awareness on a particular aspect of experience, such as the rhythm of breathing, physical sensations, or a chosen mantra, or participating in mindfulness-based movement activities such as yoga, tai-chi, and qigong (Crane, 2017; Lucas et al. 2016), the individual is able to practice becoming aware of, and disidentifying from, their habitual unconscious cognitions and develop a sense of familiarity with the feeling of clarity and calmness that arises (Vago & Silbersveig, 2012). The cultivation of this state of awareness allows the individual to adopt a much more accepting, non-judgemental attitude; a kind of ‘go with the flow’ mentality, towards both internal and external stimuli, which can cause drastic improvements in general well-being (Shapiro et al. 2008). These experiences are validated by studies in neuroscience, which show the ability of mindfulness meditation to elicit structural changes in the brain, specifically, increasing the density of white matter in the anterior cingulate cortex; responsible for self-regulation, and reducing the density of grey matter in the right hemisphere of the amygdala; responsible for the expression of negative emotional states (Hölzel et al. 2009; Tang et al. 2010). Mindfulness has been shown to demonstrate broad utility across a vast array of clinical settings, including predicting the efficiency of attentional networks (Di Francesco et al. 2017), enhancing adaptive affective processing (Dixon & Overall, 2016; Kang et al. 2017), building cognitive resilience in high-stress populations (Jha et al. 2017), increasing divergent, creative thinking capabilities (Berkovich-Ohana et al. 2017), reducing depressive ruminative thoughts (Perestelo-Perez et al. 2017), addressing emotional eating problems in bariatric patients (Wnuk et al. 2017), improving smoking abstinence programs (Davis et al. 2017), and even promoting political compromise in areas of prolonged intergroup conflict (Alkoby et al. 2017). The benefits also translate to many dimensions of sporting performance, with research demonstrating the ability of mindfulness to reduce perceived stress and subsequent rates of athlete burnout (Gustafsson et al. 2015), improve pain management, enhance self-esteem (Carlisle 2017), as well as facilitate the experience of flow (Kee & Wang, 2008; Kaufman, Glass, & Arnkoff, 2009; Bervoets, 2013).

Mindfulness-Based Interventions

As MBSR teachers, we cannot teach someone their insights; at best, we create the space in the MBSR classroom for insights to bubble up from awareness, naturally on their own”. – Allan Goldstein

Although mindfulness practice originates from spiritual traditions, the key premises can be easily transferred to a secular setting (Harris, 2014). This has seen the development of two key mindfulness-based interventions, Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) and Mindfulness-Based Cognitive Therapy (MBCT). MBSR was first developed in 1979 by Dr. Jon Kabat-Zinn at the University of Massachusetts as a holistic method for treating patients with a wide variety of physical and psychological problems. The program consists of eight 2.5 hour weekly sessions of extensive mindfulness practice with each individual encouraged to do 45-minutes daily practice on their own accord (Crane, 2017). Although MBSR has seen significantly positive treatment effects in populations such as breast cancer survivors (Christensen & Marck, 2017), war veterans with post-traumatic stress disorder (Cole et al. 2015) and adolescents with mental health concerns (Van Vliet et al. 2016), the holistic nature of the practice has made it difficult for science to isolate the specific mechanisms of action. This seems to highlight friction between cultural viewpoints, as the scientific community demands that all interventions be evidence-based from randomised controlled trials, where cause and effect relationships can be isolated and established, which leads to doubt over the empirical basis of a lot of the mindfulness research. Conversely, mindfulness practitioners see the cut-throat reductionist analysis of something so complex and multi-faceted as a disservice to the heart and spirit of the teachings, and worry that the authenticity of the practices are being lost in translation (Fennell & Segal, 2011). Kabat-Zinn himself voiced his concerns over the cognitive therapy community’s implementation of mindfulness techniques into interventions such as MBCT, over fears that it would be “plugged into a behaviourist paradigm with the aim of driving desirable change, or fixing what is broken” without respecting the unique essence of mindfulness as an ongoing practice or a lifestyle, rather than a temporary treatment technique or exercise.

Nevertheless, the development of MBCT, which was specifically designed by Segal, Williams, and Teasdale (2002) to prevent patients recovering from serious depression from engaging in thought patterns that may increase the likelihood of relapse, attempted to bridge the gap between the purely acceptance-based MBSR and the more control-oriented Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT). Unlike MBSR, participants in MBCT are taught the techniques of mindfulness meditation in a group-based setting and the teachings of non-judgemental acceptance are placed within a more control-based cognitive framework. The program consists of eight weekly 2-hour sessions, including one silent whole day of mindfulness practice. Throughout the course of the eight weeks, students are taught body-scan meditation (moving awareness through various regions of the body), mindful movement (maintaining present awareness of all sensations associated with each movement pattern), sitting meditation and ‘the 3-minute breathing space’, which is a mini-meditation practice that can be implemented in particularly stressful situations (Crane, 2017). Participants are taught to use their enhancements in attention to try and notice the origins of their depressive ruminative thought patterns, but the ability to decentre from their thought patterns is only implemented at times of potential relapse. Teasdale elucidates the incompatibility of mindfulness and relapses in depressive mind-states and suggests that the process of “shifting” into a mindful mode of being can be used to interrupt the chain of negative feedback loops and prevent the onset of depressive episodes (Segal, Williams, Teasdale, 2012). A meta-analysis by Perestelo-Perez et al. (2017) examining the efficacy of MBCT on reducing ruminative thought patterns in participants who had suffered at least one major depressive episode, included nine randomised controlled trials and revealed a significant moderate effect of MBCT when compared to treatment as usual. Evidently, MBCT provides an extremely potent alternative for helping people with their psychological issues, but the question remains: is MBCT a true representation of mindfulness practice? Or has is just been “plugged” into a behaviourist paradigm as Jon Kabat-Zinn feared? In order to better understand these questions, ontological differences between eastern and western culture must be considered.

The Self: East vs West

“Imagination builds the image of the self, and thought then functions within its shadows. From this self-concept grows the conflict between what is and what should be, the conflict in duality”. – Jiddu Krishnamurti

In Buddhism, the ultimate goal is to attain Nirvana, which translates to “blowing out”, where the cessation of suffering (dukkha) is finally realised. One of the key realisations along this process is that of “non-self” (anattã), which means that nothing exists independently; everything in the universe is in a dynamic web of interrelatedness. This includes the notion of the self, and roots Buddhism in an ontology of monistic idealism, as opposed to the material dualism that permeates the majority of western culture. By realising the “illusion of the self”, the propensity for desire, craving and attachment (tanhã) is also transcended, which contributes to the cessation of dukkha (Kabat-Zinn, 2011; Teasdale & Chaskalson, 2011). Academics have tussled with this idea, as Norman (2017) likens deeply mindful states to metacognition, where an individual’s identification with thoughts and emotions is broken, and they begin to view them with greater objectivity, rather than as facets of the self. Many other terms have been coined to describe this process, such as decentering, deautomisation, detachment, and reperceiving, all alluding to a fundamental shift in perspective, where one escapes the limiting parameters of their own subjective point of view (Shapiro et al. 2006). Thus, mindfulness can be thought of as the tool that is used to become aware of awareness, to “use the mind to see through the mind”. This deconstruction of the self is essential to overcome what Van Gordon et al. (2016) calls ontological addiction, which has been defined as “the unwillingness to relinquish an erroneous and deep-rooted belief in an inherently existing ‘self’ or ‘I’ as well as the impaired functionality that arises from such a belief”. It is posited that the belief in a separate self is a logical fallacy and scientifically impossible, considering the multitude of conditions that the human being is reliant upon, such as air, water, food and so on. This is supported by recent developments in neuroscience research, which calls the phenomena of consciousness the “hard problem”, and suggests that, although people tacitly assume that there is a unified, central agent to all of their experiences, this cannot be proven (Hyland, 2015). However, dualist science is predicated upon the perspective of subject/object observation, so it is understandable that this perspective is difficult to incorporate authentically. This is most evident in research by Xiao et al. (2017) who introduces the concept of “the mindful self” in an attempt to integrate Buddhist psychology with one’s self-schemas, suggesting the development of another self, rather than the transcendence of self-concepts entirely. So, does this highlight a fundamental disconnect in the way Western psychology has adopted the use of mindfulness when compared to its Buddhist origins? Buddhist texts treat mindfulness as a constant practice that progresses through multiple phases of development, starting with the awareness of bodily sensations and advancing to clearer awareness of deeper cognitive processes, emotional states, and finally an altered view of self in relation to the universe. Systematic practice is required for its gradual refinement, rather than it being implemented as a symptomatic remedy once psychological issues arise. Conversely, Western psychology seeks to label mindfulness as a stable psychological skill that ignores the developmental and contextual facets of its Eastern origins. Mindfulness is operationalised from intellectual knowledge and contemporary measures of self-reported assessments, rather than from direct phenomenological experience, which does not account for the gradual refinement of the practice, the subsequent increases in experiential vividness, or the difficulty associated with implementing mindful awareness into everyday life (Grossman & Van Dam, 2011). Although the aforementioned scientific studies demonstrate the efficacy of mindfulness-based interventions for alleviating psychological issues in a vast array of settings, further research must aim to reach consensus on the definitions, characteristics, and cultural nuances of such a multi-faceted phenomenon, to ensure that the construct is not misconstrued.

Article

Assisting youth and professional athletes outside of the sporting environment has been a challenge for many years.  There has not been an accepted specific name for the industry or a blueprint for curriculum design. We are missing guidelines for practical applications focused on helping the youth and professional athletes in their personal, social and professional […]

Assisting youth and professional athletes outside of the sporting environment has been a challenge for many years.  There has not been an accepted specific name for the industry or a blueprint for curriculum design. We are missing guidelines for practical applications focused on helping the youth and professional athletes in their personal, social and professional development. These three ingredients are the pillars of personal development and when administered correctly produce a fruitful and sustainable athlete.

Mental health has become an everyday term for ordinary people, which is why I  focused on becoming a mental health professional.  Over the course of an athletic career, I quickly learned mental health is personal development for athletes.  But few athletes are receiving personal development and pushed in the direction of mental health.  Due to an athlete’s lifestyle, consistent pressure to perform and behavioral expectations away from sports eliminates athletes from the category of ordinary people.  Neglecting the need for personal development and replacing it with common mental health principles can explain why we are witnessing so many athletes move from mental health to mental illness.

Personal development for athletes is currently called different things throughout the global sporting community.  The National Collegiate Athletic Association, British University and College Sports, National Football League, National Basketball Association and Premier League all have different names for professionals working with athletes in the area of personal development.  The link connecting the above helping professionals together is the job they are all attempting to accomplish.  These teams and organizations seek to take a personal approach to a player and develop that player.  Resulting in Personal Player Development (PPD).

The biggest challenge for helping professionals working in the PPD industry is deep rooted in accepting the need to be trained in the PPD field.  A Sports Psychologist is highly trained in delivering maximum performance of athletes.  Athletic trainers are also highly trained in keeping athletes fit and key on recovery maintenance.  But what type of PPD training do Welfare Officers, (UK) or Life Skills professionals (USA) receive?  Most often the qualifications of these helping professionals don’t match the job duties as they pertain to the personal, social and professional development of the athlete.

The lack of qualified professionals working with athletes can be blamed on 1) the lack of curriculum focused on PPD of the athlete and 2)  the investment and the return on investment, is in its infancy stage.  Currently very few dare to make the leap to fully embracing PPD. More importantly, they are not sure of the value a PPD professional brings to an organization or an athlete.  A PPD professional works with athletes on the daily personal, social and professional issues athletes encounter.

The backbone to PPD is a unique understanding of athletic identity for this generation.  Athletic Identity for this generation of athletes involves more than identifying as an athlete or retiring from the sport.  It’s an everyday phenomenon athletes experience.  Athletes require this daily phenomenon to be explored and maximized to achieve ultimate success in and outside of the sporting environment.  Being an athlete is not what we do its who we are because of our unique daily belief system.

Why is PPD so important to all of us? To universities or professional organizations, real PPD provides significant brand protection. For the coach, PPD assists in the overall performance of an athlete. For the parent, PPD is the essence of developing an athletically gifted child to become a fully functioning successful adult. The helping professional becomes prepared with actually developing an athlete for long term success.  PPD allows athletes to develop a skill set in which they are infrequently introduced. Ultimately, it will prove valuable during and after their sporting experience. It is of particular importance to understand athletic identity, decision-making, and coping skills as athlete’s experience a multi-level platform of transitions which include the post-athletic phase of their lives.

Article

The operationalised definition of sports injury differs within the existing sport psychology literature often owing to the differing severities and durations of injury (Nicholl et al, 1995), this variation in definition can therefore result in discrepancies regarding empirical results (Pargman, 2007). However, despite this debate regarding operationalisation, there is no debate that sports injuries can […]

The operationalised definition of sports injury differs within the existing sport psychology literature often owing to the differing severities and durations of injury (Nicholl et al, 1995), this variation in definition can therefore result in discrepancies regarding empirical results (Pargman, 2007). However, despite this debate regarding operationalisation, there is no debate that sports injuries can have a significant psychological effect upon elite athletes, especially young, elite athletes. Studies that investigate the temporary psychological mentality of injured and uninjured performers have consistently found injured athletes as having a lower psychological affect than uninjured athletes as well as lower self-esteem, higher levels of depression and more incidences of negative thoughts (Chan & Grossman, 1988; Johnston & Carroll, 1998; Leddy et al, 1994; McGowan et al, 1994; Pearson & Jones, 1992). The effects of injury are not limited to one aspect of the athlete’s life, and consequences can impact athletes’ psychological, social and biological domains (Wiese-Bjornstal et al, 2008).

These negative effects cause understandably significant psychological issues for adult athletes, however, for a young elite athlete trying to improve and excel in their sport only to be knocked back by an injury, it can be catastrophic (Weiss, 2003).  For example, Newcomer and Perna (2003) stated that adolescent athletes suffer from injury related distress long after the injury has been recovered from. Moreover, Manuel et al (2003) found that depressive symptoms in injured adolescent athletes showed a negative correlation with the age of the athlete, further supporting the theory that younger athletes experience a greater negative psychological response to injury. This article will examine the psychological effects of sports injuries on elite athletes, why these effects may occur, and attempt to explain why these effects can be magnified in specifically elite, young athletes.

There are differing models that attempt to explain the psychological impact that sports injuries can have upon young athletes. Some models are based upon existing theories relating to negative mood and depression, an example of this would be the Grief Model which centres itself upon the idea that the injured athlete will feel as though they have lost a major part of their ‘self’, potentially leading to the onset of negative thoughts and beliefs. The Grief Model of injury uses the Kuhbler-Ross Model of Bereavement (from the 1969 book ‘On Death and Dying’) to try and explain the effects of this loss of ‘self’. This model sets out five stages that will occur for a person dealing with loss; Disbelief and Denial, Anger, Bargaining, Depression and, Acceptance and Resignation, and it has been argued that an athlete experiences each of these stages in some form whilst recovering from injury. A young professional football player from Premier League team Bournemouth FC, showed a clear example of the Disbelief and Denial stage during a recent interview following a severe cruciate ligament injury. The player was quoted as saying ‘I can make a return before the end of the season’ despite the club doctor informing him that he wouldn’t be physically fit enough to play again until the following campaign. This denial of the seriousness of his injury could cause psychological issues and potentially prolong his rehabilitation. If the Grief Model of injury is to be believed, then it is clear as to why young athletes can react so much worse psychologically to injury. It has already been discussed that injured adult athletes can respond poorly to their ‘loss’, therefore, with their greater immaturity and their inability to express and identify their grief as coherently (Moody & Moody, 2007), a child or adolescent’s psychological response can be disastrous. When going through grief and loss, a child can also develop depression and anxiety both at the time and throughout later life (Koblenz, 2016), implying that the effects can continue to affect a young athlete’s career long after they have physically recovered.

Limitations of the Grief Model of Injury (Heil, 1993; Udry et al, 1997) led Brewer (1994) to propose the ‘Cognitive Appraisal Model of Psychological Adjustment from Athletic Injury’, which argues that an athlete’s response to injury is based upon how they cognitively appraise their situation. The theory builds upon the Stress and Coping Models of Lazarus and Folkman (1984), with the athlete having to assess the stress that the injury is causing them and then evaluate the severity of that stress, whilst also understanding the effect it could have upon them. It is these cognitive appraisals that will determine the athletes’ emotional response to the situation. For example, Brewer (1994) argues that an athlete’s fear of re-injury can cause anger and depression, a finding also supported by researchers such as Leddy et al (1994) and McGowan et al (1994). This fearful emotional response can in turn affect the behaviour that athletes show, such as their adherence to a rehabilitation programme, leading to an increase in recovery time. The inability for children and adolescents to respond to stress in a calm and reasoned manner (Varni et al, 1991) is a factor that could explain the increased negative effect that sports injuries can have upon them. The negative stressors that an injured young athlete experiences can also lead to an increase in negative emotional responses such as depression (Masten et al, 1988), which as Brewer states, can then affect behavioural responses and ultimately recovery time.

With injured athletes suffering the psychological effects discussed above, there is no doubt that psychological support is needed to help them not only recover from injury physically, but mentally too. However, in adult sport this support is not always delivered effectively or timely, arguably often due to the negative stigma attached to mental health, throughout youth sport on the other hand, there should be no such excuse for this provision not being promoted and encouraged. A positive sustainable attitude from coaches and parents alike regarding psychological support during injury could direct elite young athletes onto a sensible path towards recognising when to use the psychological support at their disposal. Psychologists working with coaches to institute measures that can aid youngsters in their psychological recovery and development is therefore a necessity for youth sport. This support could simply take the form of teaching young athletes basic stress reduction and relaxation techniques (Smoll & Smith, 1990) to reduce their negative emotional responses (Schwab-Reese et al, 2012) and help them to cope better with the heightened stress caused by injury. The interventions introduced by sport psychologists must be utilised, as their importance with regards to both young athletes’ physical and mental health is patent. More must be done to encourage young athletes to seek help and to ensure they receive the help that they require and deserve. Injury for an elite athlete is a major cause for worry and concern, but for elite young athletes who are still developing psychologically and still trying to grow and mature, the effects can be disastrous.

Article

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

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

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

Resilience in Empirical Based Approaches

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

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

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

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

Performance Outcomes Utilizing an Empirical Approach

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

Resilience in Non-empirical Based Approaches

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Performance Outcomes Based on Non-empirical Approach (Consequences)

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

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

Other Things to Consider Regarding Articles

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

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

Discussion

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

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

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“I am feeling lost and with no direction, no purpose, no career, no identity and who the hell do I go to?” and “How can I train myself for this? I’m in a world I don’t know.” (Gail Emms, 2017) Lots of athletes talk about their athletic career and the retirement process once they’ve been […]

“I am feeling lost and with no direction, no purpose, no career, no identity and who the hell do I go to?” and “How can I train myself for this? I’m in a world I don’t know.” (Gail Emms, 2017)

Lots of athletes talk about their athletic career and the retirement process once they’ve been retired for a few years, as shown with the recent quote from Gail Emms. It would be beneficial to bridge this gap and ease the process in some way for athletes.

Retirement from elite sport is considered a career transition amongst the majority of the literature (Alfermann, Lavallee, & Wylleman, 2004). The process can also be somewhat stressful, exciting and considered a period of confusion for elite athletes (Dacyshyn & Kerr, 2000). Thus support is imperative at this point in an athlete’s career.

Research shows that athletes have a very strong athletic identity (Lavallee & Robinson, 2007), which is therefore impacted upon during the retirement process. Those individuals who identify strongly with their athletic identity, are more likely to be vulnerable to difficulties with the transition out of elite sport (Grove, Gordon & Lavallee, 1997).  Similar results have found that identity is a common theme amongst the findings and that athletes felt lost post retirement (Lavallee & Robinson, 2007). Despite the initial identity issues, athletes appear to commit to other identities and succeed in making a smooth retirement once they have reached one year of retirement (Lally, 2007).

There are multiple reasons why an athletes career may come to an end. Previous research has demonstrated how the retirement from elite sport can be due to a variety of reasons. Evidence demonstrates that retirement is primarily due to injury (Heinonen, Kettunen, Kujala & Ristolainen, 2012). Athletes are often used to coping with niggling injuries but one that ends their career is completely different. Relationships, family and career satisfaction have also been found to be influential in the decision to retire (Japhag, Stambulova, & Stephen, 2007)

Regardless of how the career terminates, retirement from elite sport does not necessarily mean that all sporting involvement will cease. Research has found that upon retirement, athletes may relocate their involvement in the sporting context by becoming coaches or commentators, for example (Cruz, Boixodos, Torregrosa, & Valiente, 2004).

Mental well-being is becoming a real priority in the sporting world which is perhaps driven by the openness of retired athletes. It is commonly noted that athletes experience periods of low mental health during the career exit process, especially if the exit was unplanned. Experiences of anxiety, depression and post-traumatic stress (Wippert & Wippert, 2008; Wolff & Lester, 1989) are especially cited in the literature. It is pivotal that athletes are provided with support during this period to minimise any periods of low mental health and encourage them to seek help. It would be ideal to provide the athletes with psychological support during this time to process their thoughts and changes in their identity.

With athletes frequently leaving school and going straight into a career as a professional athlete, it is unsurprising that goals and achievements out of sport often aren’t considered. However, this can be hugely beneficial to the athlete if the career exit process is forced upon them (from injury for example) as it means they have other identities and self-concepts which they can draw upon as they make the exit from a career as a full time professional athlete.

I would encourage athletes to look for goals out of their athletic career as well as in sport as it can often lead to beneficial transferable skills that can even help in their sport. This could be related to sport in the form of a coaching qualification, drawing upon your current skillset or it could be totally separate, for example doing a marketing course. This could provide the athlete with beneficial skills for their own self-promotion, as well as a skill they can utilise when the retirement process occurs.

The Australian swimmer’s association does this well in terms of having a personal excellence (PE) program which focusses on three key areas of the athlete’s life: dual career, sport/life and progression. The dual career element provides guidance to their athletes, in terms of encouraging lifelong learning through achieving qualifications in and out of their sport (Swimming Australia, 2017).

The career exit process can be a period of uncertainty. We can facilitate this process by having an identity which is not isolated to sport, through achieving skills outside of sport during one’s athletic career.  This will hopefully minimise the effects of being thrust into a period of unknown when that career exiting process occurs.

Article

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Article

Muscle Dysmorphia, or Bigorexia as it is commonly known, is a body dysmorphic disorder which affects 1 in 10 male gym goers. The disorder revolves around an individual’s desire for a larger or more muscular body (Pope et al., 2000). When this concept was first investigated, it was originally diagnosed as ‘reverse anorexia’ in a […]

Muscle Dysmorphia, or Bigorexia as it is commonly known, is a body dysmorphic disorder which affects 1 in 10 male gym goers. The disorder revolves around an individual’s desire for a larger or more muscular body (Pope et al., 2000). When this concept was first investigated, it was originally diagnosed as ‘reverse anorexia’ in a population of male bodybuilders who had previously been anorexic. Interestingly, their thought patterns had changed from feelings of being too big, to feelings of being inadequate and weak (Pope, Katz & Hudson, 1993). Consequently, Pope, Gruber, Choi, Olivardia and Phillips (1997) proposed a diagnostic criteria, with individuals suffering from muscle dysmorphia relating to at least two of the four criteria:

1) Giving up important social, occupational or recreational activities due to a compulsive need to exercise

2) Avoid situations where his or her body is exposed to others.

3) Pre- occupation about the inadequacy of body size or musculature, causing significant distress or impairment in social occupational or other important areas of functioning.

4) The individual continues to work out, diet or using performance- enhancing substances.

Within the media, the consumption of performance-enhancing substances (anabolic steroids) and extreme dieting have received attention. With startling statistics showing steroid use to have increased by 600% over the last 10 years (Telegraph, 2017), which coincides with the rise of social media and the large volume of males engaging in resistance training. Thereby, to several gym goers developing an unhealthy obsession with how their body looks, with muscle dysmorphic individual’s becoming dissatisfied with their degree of muscularity. For instance, the average gym-goer typically spends an average of 40 minutes contemplating their physical development, in relation to muscle dysmorphic individuals who spend 5 hours a day considering their physical under development (Zubcevic- Basic, 2013). Consequently, this dissatisfaction can drive males to take anabolic steroids, which, in its basic form, enables the individual to achieve desired strength and size by delivering an increased supply of oxygen to muscles, boosting stamina and aiding the production of lean muscle (Joubert & Melluish, 2016).Whilst the short-term benefits are well documented, the dark side of steroid abuse can be catastrophic, with several debilitative short and long term consequences identified (Mosley, 2008). However, these are ignored as gym goers search for self-gratification and praise from their peers regarding their appearance.

Closely linked with the consumption of anabolic steroids is eating disorders, with the term bigorexia based on the idea of reverse anorexia- eating a large number of calories in a bid to put on muscle mass (Pope et al., 1993). Here, it is important to differentiate between a regular gym goer and a muscle dysmorphic individual. For example, whilst a regular gym goer is happy to eat out and indulge in food as part of a healthy, balanced diet, muscle dysmorphic individuals are unable to do so, leading to them declining social events involving food as they feel uncomfortable eating outside of their strict dietary requirements (Morgan, 2008), which can lead to an eating disorder (Segura, Castell,  Baeza & Guillén,2015). The most common eating disorder associated with muscle dysmorphia is a form of bulimia nervosa (Segura et al., 2015), with individuals over eating on a regular basis due to a fear that a lack of calories will result in them looking smaller, inadequate and weak. However, further research needs to examine this eating disorder to gain a greater understanding.

As previously touched on, the rise in anabolic steroid use and eating disorders coincides with the emergence of social media with platforms such as Instagram, Twitter and Facebook giving users the opportunity to post pictures presenting them in a favourable light, whilst the speed and ease with which you can post a picture leading to ready and multiple comparisons that gym-goers up and down the country engage in (Tiggemann & Miller, 2010). Consequently, research has noted young men are becoming dissatisfied with their appearance (Mosley, 2008). This satisfaction has been intensified by the praise the media gives to the muscular male body ideal (Pope, Phillips & Olivardia, 2000) , with the role social media now plays cannot be underestimated. For instance, recent research identified 57% of 1,000 boys noted to feel pressure from social media to look a specific way. Whilst social media can be used as a useful platform to promote a healthy, active lifestyle, research has shown males who observe muscular images of men on social media to report negative body dissatisfaction (Olivardia, Pope, Borrowiecki & Cohane, 2004), with this relationship intensified by how long an individual engages in social media. Whilst the images may be aiming to inspire individuals, it can be suggested it is in fact doing the opposite, leading to the rise in anabolic steroid use and eating disorders. With the long-term effects of body dysmorphic disorders unknown, the next decade will generate a greater understanding about how harmful muscle dysmorphia can be to an individual.

Article

This is an important period for those who are taking exams. Most people who take exams during this period can be categorised as GCSE, A Level and Undergraduate students. During exam period there is no doubt that students will encounter stress and anxiety. This blog will outline strategies from the field of elite sport that […]

This is an important period for those who are taking exams. Most people who take exams during this period can be categorised as GCSE, A Level and Undergraduate students. During exam period there is no doubt that students will encounter stress and anxiety. This blog will outline strategies from the field of elite sport that can be used to reduce stress and anxiety.

  1. Goal Setting – there is no doubt that research has associated the use of specific and smart goals to help improve performance. Indeed, there is evidence of goal setting being effective in the field of business, education and sport. The purpose of goal setting is to develop focus and direction. Focus involves opportunities to get revision completed. Direction is to enable intrinsic motivation to be enhanced. In short, some students find it difficult to start revision because they have too much to complete. The use of goal setting and appropriate time management will help to alleviate this issue as focus and direction is met.
  2. Confidence Building – students are encouraged to develop confidence levels when revising. Using positive self-talk and having a self-belief that one can complete their revision will help to build confidence levels. A useful strategy would be to look at past exam papers. Completing past exam papers is useful as it enables one to focus on question types. Further, the more students’ complete exam questions the more effective they become at answering. Forming habits are a useful strategy during the exam period.
  3. Olympic Feel – There is no doubt that the exam period is like an Olympics. Students should set aside this opportunity and believe that it is their platform to perform. Like Olympian athletes the key for exam period is preparation and focus. This period of 6-8 weeks is similar to the Olympics. Students will be sitting exams but in order to be effective they will have to prepare accordingly and in line with Olympians.
  4. Relaxation – The exam period is strenuous and stressful. Stress can lead to anxiety and one should be aware of symptoms. Whilst a lower order of anxiety can be managed it is possible that without awareness higher levels can impact performance. Therefore, it is advised that students do not over complicate their revision and take regular breaks with relaxation. Exam revision is similar to a workout. Following a workout the body requires rest and repair. The mind is no different. One will not be able to cope with more information if the mind is already tired and exhausted.
  5. Deep Breathing – Students are encouraged to use deep breathing as a coping mechanism. Deep breathing enables the body to relax and feel calm and reduce stress and anxiety. To be effective, deep breathing involves a breath through the nose (hold for 3 seconds) and then release out the mouth (5 seconds). It is sometimes easier to place a hand on your stomach to get the feel of your hand rising on inhale (nose) and exhale (mouth).
  6. Mindfulness – A range of literature outlines the use of mindfulness to help awareness and reduce stress and anxiety. It is encouraged that students become aware of their situation with the use of mindfulness. Using a quite space, one should take a feel of their muscles, smell, touch and focus on their body. In other words, mindfulness enables one to move away from thoughts and emotions and concentrate on the present moment. For example, if you are focusing on your touch then ideally you are focused on the touch and feel of the skin.
  7. Hydration, food and sleep – A car can only operate if it has fuel. The mind and body is no different. When one feels stress and anxiety they absorb sugary drinks and sweets. However, water is essential as it helps absorption and clears the kidneys of waste. Consuming regular and healthy meals is also essential, although the temptation to have easy take-out food is tempting. Indeed, maintaining this discipline is important as it aligns with exam preparation too. Finally, sleep is important and with proper rest one can focus. Sleep deprivation is one common cause of stress and anxiety and therefore with proper rest and relaxation one should achieve optimal sleep patterns.

Taken together, the exam period is an intense situation that evolves over 6-8 week period. The process can be effective providing one can develop positive habits and maintain a sense of semblance related to preparation.

Article

Each and every day athletes are trying to gain an edge over their competitors. Regardless of how an athlete trains (e.g., diets, exercise, or studying film), the idea remains the same: be at the top of his/her game. Athletics is highly competitive and athletes will do what is necessary to succeed. As the intensity of […]

Each and every day athletes are trying to gain an edge over their competitors. Regardless of how an athlete trains (e.g., diets, exercise, or studying film), the idea remains the same: be at the top of his/her game. Athletics is highly competitive and athletes will do what is necessary to succeed. As the intensity of training increases and competition becomes more aggressive, the potential risk for personal injury becomes greater. Because of this risk, it becomes imperative that coaches have the knowledge and proper training to help identify and facilitate the safest and most effective ways of competitive training. Overall, athletics should be a vehicle that fosters personal growth and development.

Obviously physical development remains one of the primary focuses of athletes. It is not uncommon for individuals to fall short in other aspects of training such as proper diet and academic goals. As a result, it becomes increasingly important for coaches to guide their athletes to be well rounded and promote excellence in all areas of personal development. While this may be many coaches’ intent, it is up to the athletes to fully grasp and apply the concepts which the coach encourages. The relationship between an athlete and a coach should be one of professionalism and respect. Additionally, it should be a relationship that provides a foundation of values and core ethics of which an athlete can draw upon retrospectively.

In order to assist in the development of an effective and balanced coaching strategy, this article will focus on the concept of visualization or the practice of harnessing the body’s senses to create imagery (Ungerleider & Golding, 1991). In examining visualization, this article will be broken up into three main components: 1) visualization in research, 2) practicing visualization as a soft-impact practice alternative, and 3) practicing visualization as a non-impact practice alternative.

Visualization in Research: A Brief Case Study

Recently, there has been a large push in visualization related research. Universities, government organizations and sport institutes have been at the forefront of some of the most significant gains regarding how visualization is interpreted and how it relates to other cognitive components [e.g., mental toughness, cognition, relaxation, and concentration] (Ungerleider & Golding, 1991).

Athletes spend a large amount of time training and the risk of injury has the potential to increase as the demands of competition become greater.  As a result, it would be to the athletes’ benefit to find additional training methods to supplement his/her practice regiments. It would also be to the coaches’ benefit to familiarize him/herself to alternative means of training and the research supporting and/or negating that method. This style of planning can assist in the development of a well-balanced practice plan that incorporates both the physical and mental components of training to keep athletes healthy. Familiarizing oneself with empirical based research can eliminate any predisposed notions coaches or athletes may have about training methods they are not familiar with.

For example, a coach unfamiliar with visualization training may believe positive visualization techniques will yield positive motivation and sport performance. While this may be a good argument, empirical research has found limited support between the positive thoughts resulting in positive motivation (MacIntyre & Moran, 2007).

Some of the most significant visualization research relates the association between cognitive training exposure and mental toughness. Results from a case study conducted by Sheard & Golding (2011) revealed positive associations among 49 elite athletes’ positive cognitive, visualization, total mental toughness, and feeling of a challenge related to performance outcomes in international competition. While there are other factors to consider (e.g., weather, game tactics, injuries) this study provides valuable insight of how cognitive training could positively influence performance.

With this in mind, these results may not represent each and every athlete. Personal coaching experience and observational coaching are valuable skills and powerful tools for success. However, for those lacking experience, sport research can be a great place to start developing training plans. The evidence supporting positive psychological development in athletes is encouraging (Sheard & Golding, 2011). Furthermore, the continuing education of athletes related to supplemental training styles is also encouraging (Ungerleider & Golding, 1991).

Currently, there are large amounts of information surrounding the use of visualization in sport. Results have shown that visualization has the potential to be a valuable tool for success in athletics (Sheard & Golding, 2011). However, there is minimal evidence that definitively states how visualization should be applied. Furthermore, the use of visualization with elite athletes is lacking. Visualization should therefore be used as a supplement for coaches looking to create more diverse practice plans.

Visualization as a ‘soft-impact’ Practice Alternative

Competitive athletes undergo a gauntlet of training methods throughout their ‘peak’ seasons. During this period of time, the risk for injury and over-working an athlete increases. As a result, coaches need to be aware of the emotional and physical feedback their athletes exhibit. If an athlete begins to show signs of increased stress or fatigue, it may be a good time to rest the athlete.

Rest periods should be considered time the athlete takes away from the constant physical demands of competition and training. However, this does not mean all activity the athlete undergoes has to cease. Typical rest days may be filled with stretching or mild aerobics in order to induce relaxation and promote recovery. While these are great physical alternatives to methods such as running or weightlifting, they have the potential to fall short in preparing athletes for competitions mentally. This is where visualization techniques have the potential to be an effective alternative.

Visualization can be a valuable asset to any training regimen in the sense that it can be utilized both on and off the field. As previously stated, visualization is ‘the practice of harnessing the body’s senses to create imagery‘ (Ungerleider & Golding, 1991). The body’s senses comprise of five major components: 1) sight, 2) sound, 3) smell, 4) taste, and 5) touch. In order to get the maximum effect out of visualization, it important to engage, during practice, as many of the senses the athlete may experience in competition. Let’s look at a soft-impact example:

A track and field athlete is tasked with running a 4×100 meter relay with three other athletes. The weather has been a consistent 70 degrees, but it is expected to rain the following day during the competition.

In this example, touch and sight appear as the primary senses a coach may want to look at. The athletes hands are going to be wet and their eyesight diminished due to the rain. A coach in this situation cannot control the weather, but they can prepare their athletes for the elements through the senses. To engage a sense of touch, a coach may pour water over the athletes’ hands during hand-offs or in their shoes to simulate poor weather conditions.

A second sense, sight, could be manipulated through the use of darkened sunglasses in an indoor training facility. This, in turn, can foster a greater understanding of how to adapt to alternative conditions.

The other three senses (sound, smell and taste) are slightly more difficult to engage. Perhaps the competition area has a specific smell or plays music. These other senses, while more difficult to simulate, are not impossible to create. Overall, this should be a preparatory stage just like a common impact practice.

Visualization as a non-impact Practice Alternative

Similar to soft-impact practices, non-impact practices are meant to foster recovery and provide a break from high intensity training. The main difference between ‘soft-impact’ training and ‘non-impact’ training is how the technique is applied. Looking back at the previous example, soft-impact training usually involves a pre-competition practice component (e.g., jogging, stretching). Non-impact training is meant to engage an athlete’s mental understanding of the sport. In other words, non-impact training involves placing an athlete in various positions he/she is expected to be during competition and having them visualize his/her reactions to specific stimuli. This visualization, coupled with verbal feedback, can be a powerful tool in assessing the overall competency of an athlete and their understanding of their body in space.

Summary

To recap, visualization is a promising supplement for athletes during training sessions and during rest periods. Research surrounding this type of training, while still being developed, has revealed a variety of additional factors to consider when developing training plans. With this in mind, it would be to both the coach’s and athlete’s benefit to explore these supplemental training methods to enhance overall performance.

Article

Coverage of mental health has increased in both popular press and academic research. There is no doubt that mental health is on the increase and may reach proportions that will stretch services. Whilst there has been much work with the area of mental health nobody should be in doubt that more is required. Mental health […]

Coverage of mental health has increased in both popular press and academic research. There is no doubt that mental health is on the increase and may reach proportions that will stretch services. Whilst there has been much work with the area of mental health nobody should be in doubt that more is required. Mental health can strike anybody and it does not consider age, gender, culture or profession. There are many reasons why mental health can occur and no one case can be considered to be the same.

In this blog, I am proposing the use of emotional intelligence in supporting strategies to help people with mental health. However, this blog post is no substitute for receiving actual medical advice and therapy. Further, this blog is arguably proposing something for people who may believe they are suffering at the lower ends of mental health. The purpose of this blog post outlines how the use of emotional intelligence could help with the onset of mental health. In consideration, emotional intelligence can be modelled with self-awareness, regulating emotion, motivation, empathy and relationship building.

Self-awareness is the ability to assess own emotions and understanding the impact they can have on oneself. Through self-awareness one can identify their own strengths and areas to improve. This alone can provide somebody with mental health issues to appreciate their current position. Self-awareness is a core component of emotional intelligence and has been tested in many fields. Within mental health it is deemed that at the lower levels if one can become aware of their emotions it may allow recognition of issues much earlier. Mental health is an important topic and reality would enable us to deal with issues earlier. In other words, prevention is better than cure. Therefore, the implementation of self-awareness becomes integral for own mind and balance. For example, if I am self-aware of my actions and can identify that these are not helping me control my emotions I have started to develop awareness. Based on this recognition, I am able to develop strategies to control my emotions. For example, I may not take on more tasks as they increase stress leading to poor emotional control. In addition, I can also identify areas that I am performing well and use these to build self-confidence. Indeed, it is through building self-confidence that one creates positivity to enhance mindset and feeling of happiness to facilitate balance.

The ability to regulate emotion could be integral for dealing with mental health. Our emotions can fluctuate throughout the day and their very nature can dictate whether we can control these emotions. When experiencing mental health it can be deemed that minor issues become major due to inability to cope. Regulating emotion is not easy and is something that should be practised consistently. Common strategies to regulate emotion include setting goals, mindfulness, deep breathing, meditation, positive self-talk, listening to music and reflective practice. Through setting goals one can regain focus and direction to complete tasks. Having achieved these goals one can start to regain emotional control. Mindfulness enables us to stay in the present moment. Humans have a tendency to focus on past and future events/possibilities. Crucially we do not spend enough time on the present. In other words the present is in our control and we can do something about it. The past has gone and the future isn’t here. Therefore, with mindfulness it is suggested that people see their current situation and start to set those small goals that can be achieved. Mindfulness can help people to appreciate their current situation and find ways to deal with each aspect. For example, deep breathing enables people to stay in the present and provide more control to regain balance in mind and body. Meditation is a practice that not all people will feel comfortable with but can be effective if used well. Meditation does not have to be religious based but can also relate to other forms of practice. Meditation can help mental health sufferers by offering scope and focus as one can practice deep breathing and bodily movement to provide energy. Indeed, a lack of energy is a common factor associated to mental health. An increase in energy can also be important as some people with mental health lack energy and motivation. Positive self-talk is an ability to replace negative thoughts but must be believed and comes from within. Clearly, somebody with mental health may not feel positive to change their thinking. However, some small changes can lead to positivity and one example could be from ‘I can’t do this’ to ‘I will do this.’ Music is a subjective strategy but one that has been proven within research to help lift mood and emotion. Aligned to all these strategies the use of reflective practice is vital. Reflective practice will facilitate and support processes. Mental health patients require encouragement that they are doing well and reflective practice provides them opportunities to self-assess their own progress.

To enable growth, motivation is a necessity and need that has been proposed by theorists. We all have intrinsic (internal) and extrinsic (external) needs. These needs can be physical, physiological, mental, nutrition and normally a combination of all. Motivation can be more effectively directed through the use of process goals. Within mental health one of the key drivers to support people is the use of motivation as it can create the required energy. Arguably, a lack of motivation can be related to one aspect of mental health. Therefore, the use of motivation strategies (e.g. goal setting and positive self-talk) could reverse this trend.

Empathy is placing one in another person’s shoes. People should practice the art of empathy as it prevents the isolation and seclusion that one can feel. However, there are opportunities with empathy that can be utilised. It is recommended that empathy enables one to assess and examine things from another’s perspective. Somebody with mental health can recognise empathy if they associate with a fellow sufferer. Indeed, joining groups or meeting others can actually be useful to build empathy.

The ability to build relationships can be the cornerstone of developing opportunities to support mental health. Relationship building is an opportunity to meet new people and to perform on tasks that build cohesion. Of course the nature of mental health may render this difficult but within time and space it can be possible. Building new and developing existing friendships can enable people to open up and further achieve coherence of trust. Indeed, a cornerstone of mental health is to open up and talk to people through relationship building.

The key aim of this article was to develop the purpose of how one model of emotional intelligence could support people with mental health. To summarise, one should not substitute this blog article for important medical advice. However, people with lower levels of mental health could benefit with the incorporation of emotional intelligence.

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Good mental health is more than the absence of a mental health problem. This Mental Health Awareness Week, we are going to look at mental health from a new angle. Rather than ask why so many people are living with mental health problems, we will seek to uncover why too few of us are thriving […]

Good mental health is more than the absence of a mental health problem. This Mental Health Awareness Week, we are going to look at mental health from a new angle. Rather than ask why so many people are living with mental health problems, we will seek to uncover why too few of us are thriving with good mental health (Mental Health Foundation)

Recent increases in media coverage and public knowledge have shed light on Sport and exercise as key contributors to our mental health. However, the contrast between discussions in each of these areas is clear:

• Discussions around sport and mental health link to the concerns for athletes in the pressure environments of high level competitive sport
• Discussions around exercise and mental health link to the benefits of exercise to improve mental health

Mental Health – What is it?

Mental health is ‘a state of well being in which the individual realises their abilities, can cope with the normal stresses of life, can work productively and fruitfully, and is able to contribute to his or her community’ (WHO 2001, 1). Therefore, in contrast, mental health problems are characterised by alterations in cognition, emotion or social behaviour associated with distress or impaired functioning (Sawyer et al. 2000).

Mental Health and Exercise

There have been many publications citing the mental health benefits of physical activity. There are benefits from the social interaction and mutual support resulting from participating in group exercise (Peluso & Andrade, 2005, p. 62); the improved mood, self-confidence and self-esteem resulting from engaging in challenging physical activity (Biddle & Mutrie, 2008); and the distraction that physical activity provides from day-to-day stressors (Morgan, 1985).

Other suggested reasons for taking part range from the sense of autonomy that comes from self-selecting the exercise and doing it voluntarily and solely in one’s own interests and the importance of the effort expended in exercising through to the improved sense of relatedness created by engaging in physical activities with others (Deci and Ryan, 2002 ; Sylvester et al., 2012).

Mental Health and Sport

Elite athletes are not immune to developing a mental illness and are often at the peak of their competitive careers during these high-risk years (Allen and Hopkins, 2015). Moreover, elite athletes experience unique stressors that can have deleterious effects on mental health including sport-related stress (Noblet and Gifford, 2002), injuries (Smith, 1996; Appaneal et al., 2009), living away from home (Bruner et al., 2008), and burnout (Gustafsson et al., 2011).

Mental toughness in sport has always been a buzz phrase. However, it has been proposed that mental health and mental toughness are contradictory concepts in the world of elite sport. Accordingly, mental toughness – ‘an unshakeable perseverance and conviction towards some goal despite pressure or adversity’ (Middleton et al. 2004) – has long been valued in sport and is an important factor in determining sporting outcomes and success. Athletes with greater mental toughness cope more effectively with adversity and pressure, possess increased resilience in the face of challenges and deliver more consistent, cognitive and physical performance in sport (Crust 2007). This link provides motivation for coaches to play a role in the promotion and practice of psychological skills that are beneficial to athlete mental wellbeing.

Behind the attention on the Mental Health challenges that many athletes face we have lost the focus on the many positives that playing competitive sport can bring to athletes. The sports environment fosters positive athlete development (Fraser-Thomas, Cote, and Deakin 2005) by facilitating the self-esteem, identity formation and feelings of competence, and encouraging positive peer relationships, leadership skills, teamwork, commitment and discipline (Danish, Forneris, and Wallace 2005). The reciprocal social support that occurs in sport is also an important factor in promoting physical and mental well being (Carless and Douglas 2008).

Good mental health is not ‘one size fits all’…

For some sport and/or exercise is the activity that helps them overcome mental health issues. While for many it is the social network from these environments that help them. Therefore, Within sport, multidisciplinary sport science and medicine teams play an important role in achieving an optimal balance between preventing athlete ill-health and optimizing well being and performance. The role of support staff is reinforced by the fact that when people do reach out, they prefer to seek help from someone they already know and trust. This is a form of guidance from trusted connections in order to seek appropriate professional help for their mental health problems (Rickwood et al. 2005).

‘Whether you opt for competitive sport or exercise, find the activity and support network that helps you establish and maintain good mental health’

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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.

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As the greatest show on earth – The Olympic Games – grips our attention once more, there is an increased focus on the way in which women are portrayed in the media. But what influence could the media portrayal of women have upon female participation in sport and exercise? This article will explore past research […]

As the greatest show on earth – The Olympic Games – grips our attention once more, there is an increased focus on the way in which women are portrayed in the media. But what influence could the media portrayal of women have upon female participation in sport and exercise? This article will explore past research alongside my dissertation findings.

Research shows that the media has the power to shape public beliefs and values. How the public view themselves, and are viewed by others can be greatly determined by their media representation (Kane 1988; Dyer 1993). My study investigated the way in which the media portrays women, and its potential influence on female participation in sport and exercise, by conducting a focus group on women who reported regularly engaging in exercise, physical activity or sport.

Higgs, Weiller & Martin (2003) suggest that sports media can influence how people view sports participation, and that certain aspects of female sport are emphasised while other aspects are ignored. This effectively manipulates how spectators view women’s sport, and influences public opinion regarding athletes. In particular there is often a focus on women’s sex appeal and femininity rather than their athletic accomplishments (Bissel & Duke 2007). My findings support the ability of the media to pressure women into looking a certain way by publishing unrealistic images. As a result, self-objectification and psychological issues such as low self-esteem can plague the female audience.

Therefore, despite an ever-increasing view that sport is an appropriate pastime for women, perhaps an underlying message asserts that whilst competing, women must still conform to society’s view of femininity (Higgs, Weiller & Martin 2003). Furthermore, manipulative media techniques may be found to influence female sport participation levels by portraying which sports are deemed gender appropriate. Trolan (2013) supports this by suggesting that female athletes who conform to the traditional ideas of femininity receive greater benefits than those who do not conform to societal norms. As an example, Anna Kournikova, despite never winning a major tennis tournament is worth more than any other tennis player past or present, due to endorsements based on her appearance rather than athletic skill.

Consequently, the lack of focus on health and fitness was also suggested as a demotivating factor in terms of women’s participation in sport and exercise. Participants particularly disliked the use of women’s bodies to sell products in a sexual manner. It was suggested that media of this nature would fail to engage with women by neglecting to exhibit their athletic abilities. Participants also highlighted that many females engage in sport and exercise in a non-sexualised manner and thus it is not necessary to sexualise physical activity to encourage participation. This promotes the view that the media portray an unrealistic view of women and thus contribute to a feeling of misunderstanding between women and the media. This may have implications for not only women in sport, but in their daily lives.

Contrastingly, alongside previous research, my findings suggested that media with an instrumental focus (which focuses upon athletic skill) has the potential to influence sport and exercise participation (Daniels 2009; Daniels 2012). By promoting athleticism and the instrumental value of the female body, the capabilities of women within sport and exercise can be demonstrated, and women can be inspired to consider their own bodies instrumentally.

Images with an instrumental focus have also been found to result in less self-objectification and pressure upon women than sexualised images (Fallon & Hausenblas 2005). Further, the demonstration of athleticism and health may encourage women to participate in physical activity to improve their own fitness levels without the pressure to conform to society’s unrealistic standards of physical appearance. These findings are consistent with Daniels’ (2012) proposal that images with an instrumental focus invoked admiration for athletes’ accomplishments, solidarity with other women and the athletes were also considered to be role models. Consequently, media is able to have a positive influence upon sport and exercise participation in women when emphasis is placed upon improving health and wellbeing.

My findings suggested that a more realistic portrayal of women within the media by portraying a diverse range of women may serve to combat the issue of intimidation felt by women who may compare themselves with the models within sports campaigns. The realistic portrayal of women and female athletes could demonstrate the journey towards health and fitness and not only display the benefits of sport and exercise, but also the challenges. This may create more inclusive media campaigns that encourage and inspire women to participate in sport and exercise, contributing positively to psychological wellbeing and therefore the psychological state of the general public.

To conclude, the media can significantly influence female participation rates in physical activity. Research continues to highlight the negative influence that sexualised sports media can have on women both psychologically and physiologically. However, performance images with an instrumental focus regarding the female body can serve to motivate women and encourage confidence, health and wellbeing through sport and exercise. Furthermore, action must be taken to encourage positive media which emphasises female athletes’ physical capabilities and triumphs in order to promote physical activity for all and champion our female athletes.

Article

The current UK guidelines suggest that adults should accumulate 150 minutes of moderate intensity physical activity across the week (National Institute for Health and Care Excellence [NICE}, 2012). Despite evidence of the positive health benefits, a paradox exists where exercise may produce negative effects such as depression and anxiety (Szabo, 1998). A dependence on exercise […]

The current UK guidelines suggest that adults should accumulate 150 minutes of moderate intensity physical activity across the week (National Institute for Health and Care Excellence [NICE}, 2012). Despite evidence of the positive health benefits, a paradox exists where exercise may produce negative effects such as depression and anxiety (Szabo, 1998). A dependence on exercise is often cited as a symptom of an underlying eating disorder, such as anorexia nervosa (Yates, Leehey & Shisslak, 1983) conditions all of which are recognised by the DSM-V. This has raised a debate about whether the dependence on exercise can occur without another underlying psychological disorder being present.

Positive and Negative Dependence

Research examining the negative consequences of physical activity has mainly focused on exercise dependence (Hausenblas & Symons Downs, 2002a). The term was first used to describe over-commitment to exercise in middle-aged men who continued to exercise despite suffering injuries from involvement (Little, 1969). Baekeland (1970) suggested that exercise dependence can have either a positive or negative nature. It was first described as a ‘positive’ addiction because it was thought to produce both psychological and physiological benefits such as feelings of euphoria, increased mental strength and could lead to self-transcendence (Glasser, 1976). By contrast, a negative addiction reflects the withdrawal symptoms of agitation, anxiety and depression (Szabo, 1998) experienced by exercisers when they are denied access to exercise opportunities (Allegre, Souville, Therme & Griffiths, 2006).

Negative dependence on exercise was researched by Morgan (1979). Dependence was present if the individual required daily exercise in order to exist or cope and if deprived of exercise, the individual would manifest withdrawal symptoms (such as depression, anxiety or irritability) Morgan argued that these withdrawal symptoms were no different to the chemical-dependence process seen for other drug and substance abuses. Symptoms of negative dependence include: an increased in dose dependence with exercise, an increase in withdrawal symptoms (including depression, anxiety, irritability, muscle tension and decreased appetite) and putting exercise as a high priority (Morgan, 1979). In 1985, Dishman coined the term obligatory exercise which described people who have an unhealthy need to exercise. This included the three symptoms of negative dependence described by Morgan.

Classification in the ICD and DSM

Goodman (1998) argues that addictions are distinguished from impulsive and compulsive behaviour by their dual capacity to reduce negative affect and create a positive mood. The ICD-10 doesn’t classify exercise dependence as an individual disorder, but rather as: symptoms of compulsion (a desire/compulsion to take the substance); impaired control (difficulty in controlling behaviour regarding the substance); withdrawal (occurring once the substance has been withdrawn); relief use (substance is used to avoid or relieve symptoms of withdrawal); tolerance (increased amount of substance required to achieve the desired effect) and salience (increase in the amount of time taking, obtaining and recovering from the effects of the substance).

By contrast, within the DSM-V, exercise dependence is not classified as a standalone disorder but rather as a symptom of another such as anorexia nervosa (APA, 2013). Despite this, Hausenblas and Symons Down (2002b) used the DSM-IV criteria for substance abuse to demonstrate the plausibility of individuals fulfilling the criteria of this disorder. These include: tolerance (need for an increase in exercise); withdrawal (anxiety or fatigue); intention effect (more exercise is undertaken then was intended); lack of control (a desire or unsuccessful effort to cut down or control exercise); time (spent on activities needed to obtain exercise); reduction of other activities (such as social or occupational) and continuance (exercise is continued despite the knowledge of an injury or psychological problem).

Currently, within the sport and exercise psychology literature, the Hausenblas and Symons Down (2002a) definition is utilised. However, the debate still continues as to whether it can ever be viewed as a primary or secondary phenomena. Indeed, revisions of the DSM made to version 5 saw the introduction of gambling disorder which reflects the evidence that some behaviour activated the brain reward system with effects similar to those of drug abuse (APA, 2013). This lack of recognition of exercise as a form of substance abuse further illustrates the divergent opinions on the origins of dependence on exercise.

Primary and Secondary Dependence

As described above, exercise dependence can be split into two elements namely: primary dependence and secondary dependence. Primacy dependence is defined as meeting the criteria for exercise dependence and continually exercising solely for the psychological gratification resulting from the exercise behaviour its self (Bamber, Cockerill & Carroll, 2003). Secondary exercise dependence is defined as meeting the criteria for exercise dependence but using excessive exercise to accomplish some other end (e.g. weight loss) that is related to another disorder, such as an eating disorder (Bamber et al., 2003). Secondary exercise dependence is secondary to a more severe psychopathy and presents more severe consequences such as earlier eating disorder onset, lower BMI, more eating disorder symptoms and higher anxiety (Dalle, Grave, Calugi, & Marchesini, 2008).

Who is susceptible?

There has been research carried out to try and identify who (if anyone) is susceptible to developing exercise dependence. Research suggests that the number of people suffering from exercise dependence ranges from 2-3% (Symos Down, Hausenblas & Nigg, 2004; Griffiths, Szabo & Terry, 2005) to 20-30% (Zmijewski & Howard, 2003; Anderson, Basson & Geils, 1997). Research also suggests that between 15-20% of people with exercise dependence are also addicted to nicotine, alcohol or drugs (Aidman & Wollard, 2003) and it is also common within individuals who are addicted to sex and have buying addiction (Lejoyeux, Avril, Richoux, Embouazza & Nivoli, 2008; Carnes, Murray & Charpentier, 2005). Endurance sports such as running, swimming and triathlons are believed to attract or develop people with an addiction to exercise (Chapman & DeCastro, 1990; Kerr, 1997; Pierce, McGowan & Lynn, 1993; Veale, 1985).

Exercise Dependence and Eating Disorders

It has been suggested that 39-48% of people who suffer from an eating disorder also suffer from exercise dependence (Hausenblas & Downs, 2002a; Klein, Bennett, Schebendach, Foltin, Devlin & Walsh, 2004; Bamber, Cockerill, Rogers & Carroll, 2000). As discussed earlier, this idea of exercise dependence in line with an underlying psychological disorder is referred to as secondary dependence. There is strong empirical evidence that links eating disorders to secondary exercise dependence (Blaydon & Lindner, 2002). With this in mind, Bamber, Cockerill and Carroll (2000) argue that in the absence of an eating disorder, those who identify as exercise dependent do not exhibit the level of psychological distress that warrant primary exercise dependence as a widespread pathology. Eating disorders serve as an ineffective coping strategy to cope with emotional regulation, with exercise also serving as a similar regulatory function (Lawson, Baron-Cohen, & Wheelwright, 2004).

The characteristics of exercise dependence are common among eating disorder patients (Touyz, Beumont, Hook, 1987). 28% of eating disorder patients described themselves as compulsive exercisers (Brewerton, Stellefson, Hibbs, & Hodges, & Cochrane 1995) while another study found that 93% of eating disorder patients felt their need to be active was out of control (Davis, Kennedy, Ralevski, & Dionne 1994). Bamber et al, (2000) state that if exercise dependence is pathological, sufferers should display clear evidence of psychological issues, at a similar level for other behavioural pathologies. In a study for pathological gamblers, 60% had a lifetime mood disorder, 40% a lifetime anxiety disorder and 87% a personality disorder (Black & Moyer, 1998). Similarly, 60% of heroin addicts have been found to have an anxiety disorder and 41% have a depressive illness (Darke & Ross, 1997). There is little information on psychological disturbances and distress as general characteristics of exercise dependence (Bamber et al., 2000) suggesting that exercise dependence is a secondary disorder to another disorder, such as an eating disorder.

Within the exercise dependence and eating disorder literature, the primary focus is with exercise dependence and anorexia nervosa (Veale, 1987). There is a strong similarity between obligatory runners and anorexic patients (Yates et al., 1983). Yates et al, (1983) argued that male obligatory runners resembled anorexia nervosa patients on personality traits such as introversion, inhibition of anger, high expectations, depression and excessive use of denial and as such they could be viewed as ‘sister activities.’ Exercise behaviour is also reinforcing to individuals who suffer with anorexia nervosa (Klein et al., 2004).

There is also evidence to suggest that exercise dependence is linked to muscle dysmorphic disorder in experienced bodybuilders and strength athletes (Hurst, Hale, Smith & Collins, 2000). Muscle dysmorphia is a condition that can be characterised by individuals having a distorted body image including gaining muscle size and definition and a fear of being perceived as weak or thin (Hurst et al., 2000). An exploratory study predicted that some individuals start bodybuilding because they suffer from poor self-esteem and become dependent on the training to feel good about their body (Smith, Hale & Collins, 1998). Although, as this was only an exploration, more research would need to be conducted before this relationship can really be determined.

It is clear that exercise dependence does in some form exist. However, in order for those suffering to get access to the treatment they need, than it should be included as a primary disorder and not just treated alongside a secondary eating disorder. Although more research is being done into the area, better methods of testing should also be developed before this area is fully understood.

Article

It doesn’t seem that long since the London 2012 Olympic Games were gracing our TV screens in the Summer that saw Great Britain achieve 29 Olympic Gold medals across 26 sports. Fast forward to the present and we are edging ever so closer to another sport filled Summer, with the 2016 Olympic Games being held […]

It doesn’t seem that long since the London 2012 Olympic Games were gracing our TV screens in the Summer that saw Great Britain achieve 29 Olympic Gold medals across 26 sports. Fast forward to the present and we are edging ever so closer to another sport filled Summer, with the 2016 Olympic Games being held in Rio De Janeiro, Brazil. With average temperatures at that time of the year approximately 24 degrees celsius and a 50% chance of a cloudy day, the weather conditions have potential to be close to perfect, or at least better than the UK.

There are a whole host of things that can play upon the performance of an athlete; the weather, travelling, diet, sleep, training and physical ability. One of the most important aspects of sporting performance, regardless of the type of sport, is the mental mind set of the athlete. The physical performance of an athlete can only take them so far; everyone at the Olympics trains hard, eats right, gets the right amount of sleep, and what sets an athlete apart from the rest is their mental game.

An athlete’s mental game comes in the form of mental toughness. A mentally tough performer can be thought of as an individual who makes fewer mistakes, who doesn’t deny the problem but is efficient with their response, and who does not dwell on defeat but accepts its inevitability graciously at some point in their career (Sheard, 2012).

“Every practise and competition begins with the way you think. The quality of your thoughts is critical; think in ways that promote the outcomes that you desire”

  • Stephany Coakley

Across many sports athletes often attribute their success to mental toughness, but what exactly is mental toughness and how is it defined?

Unfortunately there are many different definitions of mental toughness in literature including: an ability to cope with pressure, stress and adversity (Goldberg, 1998), an ability to overcome or rebound from failures (Dennis, 1981), and the possession of superior mental skills (Bull, Albinson & Shambrook, 1996). There are also many characteristics of mentally tough athletes as proposed in literature, such as high levels of optimism, confidence, self belief, determination and concentration (Loehr, 1982). Despite the general lack of clarity surrounding mental toughness it has long since been one of the most important aspects of sporting performance (Gould et al., 1987). Research shows that sport performers achieving the best results are those with more mental toughness, as measured by commonly associated attributes (Crust & Clough, 2005; Golby & Sheard, 2004).

Research conducted on international athletes has attempted to define and identify key attributes of mental toughness in order to set fourth a universally accepted set of attributes (Jones, 2002). From the study, a definition of mental toughness emerged as having a psychological edge that enables:

  • The athlete to cope better than opponents with the demands sport places on them
  • The athlete to be more consistent than components in remaining determined, focused and confident
  • The athlete to remain in control when under pressure (Jones, 2002).

The attribute of self belief emerged to be the most critical aspect of mental toughness closely followed by motivation in the form of desire and determination (Jones, 2002).

Other important attributes of mental toughness were:

  • Being able to cope with an internally-derived anxiety response to the pressures of competition
  • Being able to remain focused
  • Being able to maintain technique and effort whilst experiencing physical and emotional pain resulting from failure (Jones, 2002).

This study made clear conclusions regarding a generally accepted view of mental toughness from the qualitative interviews of international athletes themselves, giving a valid representation of such an important sporting quality.

As mental toughness is so important for sporting performance, how does one become more mentally tough? Development of mental toughness is a long term process that requires many underlying mechanisms that operate in combination to achieve such a mind set (Connaughton, Wadey, Hanton & Jones, 2008). These underlying mechanisms are associated with the motivational climate of an athlete (whether they are involved in sport for enjoyment or for rewards). In addition, coaches, parents and peers are amongst many individuals who affect the mental toughness of an athlete with the work of a sport psychologist playing a pivotal role too (Connaughton et al., 2008). Experiences in and outside of sport and internalised motives to succeed are also important aspects of developing mental toughness (Connaughton et al., 2008). Once mental toughness has been developed the maintenance relies on an internalised desire and motivation to succeed, a support network within and outside of the sporting environment and effective use of basic and advanced psychological skills (Connaughton et al., 2008).

Whilst it is not certain what exactly may equate to mental toughness, it is a commonly accepted view that mental toughness is as important to sporting performance as physical ability. Perhaps mental toughness is different for every individual and what defines it is not something that can be put into words but something you know is there inside of your mind that gives you the strength to push on when it gets tough, ignoring the pain and the opposition’s determination. When it seems the world is against you and everything is set out to destroy your performance, the mental toughness inside of you persists and does not give in.

There are many aspects of sport that can impact upon performance and the important thing to remember is that every single athlete there at that moment may also be competing against those setbacks too, whether it be bad weather conditions, tiredness and fatigue from travelling, not having enough sleep or not eating the right food prior to performance. What makes an athlete a champion is that regardless of all those implications that are standing in the way of the athlete and success, they stand tall in the face of adversity and remain in belief of their ability to win. Success does not come with time, it comes with toil and to those who persevere, compete with guts, dignity and integrity, holding themselves together when things are trying to tear their performance apart. Believe in yourself and the rest will follow.

“Mental toughness is the stuff of champions”

Sheard (2012)