Our greatest enemy… and our biggest ally?

I recently tweeted a riddle a few days ago. Unfortunately nobody had the answer. The riddle goes like this “I will be your greatest hindrance or your biggest aid. I will clear the road for you or block it again. Who am I?” Somebody intelligently responded “a traffic light?!”. Our biggest aid, and our greatest hindrance, is ourselves.

As sport psychology enthusiasts, we can all appreciate the power of the mind. What we sometimes find is that our minds are not conditioned to stay resilient and withhold the pressure when we need to be cool, calm and collected. At other times, we can find ourselves lacking discipline and throwing tantrums when we let something out of our hands get the better of us, like a bad line call, or an un-sportmanly shirt-pull.

Locus of control is a psychological construct that refers to peoples’ beliefs about whether they are personally in control of what happens to them. Locus of control, in short, can be a life-changing psychological construct. Whatever direction we go or how quickly we progress will determine the outcome for ourselves in these matters. Locus of control is deemed to be internal or external, internal locus meaning we take control in a situation ourselves, external locus meaning we are not in control and our outcome are affected by fate or chance.

A general indicator to establish locus of control is to take one of several questionnaires, like the Rotter scale (1966), or Levenson IPC scale (1981). It’s upto you, and of course with the aid of a sport psychologist and coach, what psychological adjustments you need to make in terms of mental skills training or even to your fitness goals. We set our goals, we give a time frame, we state exactly how we will do it and the rest is as easy as we make it.

Stay focussed on what you want to achieve and exactly what sacrifices you must make in order to gain a whole lot more. Naturally, there will always be things outside of our control that can affect our performance, or our end result, but how we tackle the external factors is what separates the champions from the competitors.

SO relating locus of control to my riddle…is the block on your road unmoveable? Or can you do something about it? Will your actions (or lack of actions) hinder your progress and the achievement of your goals, or aid them? Whether it is educational, work, or sport related, if we strive to take control of our situations, take matters into our hands, we are more likely to succeed.

Of course, athletes can put pressure on themselves by trying to do too much. Trying to take control of too much, and thus aspiring for perfectionism, and if you don’t achieve a high enough level, it can be easy to be too tough on yourself and beat yourself up. To avoid a negative outcome, and as a competitor myself, for control I try not to focus on the end result as such, rather in my own training and effort levels. For example, I cannot control on a badminton court how well my opponent(s) will be playing, or what kind of confidence level they will bring on the court, but I can control how hard I try against them. I CAN control how much effort I put in the gym. I CAN make sure I have done enough deliberate practice and reviewed my progress with a coach during sparing sessions.  I CAN make sure I have done enough video analysis before a match.  I CAN control my routine before a match. I CAN make sure I stay stubborn in the points and will chase every shuttle (or ball) that my opponent hits. As long as I have done these things and give my best effort on every stroke I play, I have succeeded. Winning is a bonus, but that’s just me.


Rotter, J.B (1966). ‘Generalized expectancies for internal versus external control of reinforcement’. Psychological Monographs: General and Applied,80 (1)
Levenson, H. (1981). ‘Differentiating among internality, powerful others, and chance’. In H. M. Lefcourt (Ed.), Research with the locus of control construct (Vol. 1, pp. 15-63). New York: Academic Press


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