Applying positivity in sport1 Opinion
Positivism is a framework in psychology that encompasses positive emotions in a re-evaluation of strengths and weaknesses. Researchers such as Eid and Larson (2008), and Lyumbomrisky and colleagues have focused on pursuit of well-being in the development of mentally balanced and happy individuals. Thus the area endorses the move to enable individuals, societies and communities to flourish through increasing the quality of life in the face of life stressors. As such Duckworth, Steen & Seligman (2005) state that the focus on only the removal of negative emotions in traditional therapy does not take into account a individual’s need to further develop their quality of life in a realm of strength building post depression, anxiety or stress. According to Fredrickson (2001) the framework focuses on enabling flourishing whereby valued subjective experiences in the past, present and future influence what’s known as ‘affect’ as opposed to emotions. ‘Affect’ provides a more substantial free-floating evaluation of experiences, while emotions are brief yet emotionally meaningful. Therefore, negative emotions and possible resulting depressive states, which reflect immediate problems, can be reduced by the input of positivism by learning to cope with negative appraisals in life (Seligman & Csikszentmihalyi, 2000; Sin & Lyumbomirsky, 2005).
Therapeutic methods known as positive psychology interventions (PPI) are key in the development of positive feelings, behaviours and thoughts in the overall cultivation of well-being. Layous and collegues (2011) state that positivism teaches people to increase these elements without professional help thus creating a tool within the person to identify and prevent falling into a depressive state. With positivism the athlete can then be empowered with increases in independence in the face of stressors in sport or life. In an analysis of a wide range of published research Sin & Lyumbomirsky (2005) stated that the majority of studies investigating PPI’s observed an increase in well-being and a decrease in depression. This outlines the possible benefits in the highly evaluative environment of sport.
What comprises the term PPI and how adaptable is it to the everyday person and athlete?
Research has noted that PPI’s include practicing gratitude, optimism, acts of kindness, counting one’s blessings and reminiscing on one’s strengths. These can be materialised in sport through an approach know as ‘Three Good Things’ which involves writing down three good things every day or after a training session. Research has shown that PPI interventions such as the ‘Three Good Things’ can bring about a larger and quicker benefit for depressed individuals compared to non-depressed individuals as anti-depressant drugs bring a slow and minimal level of relief (Sin &Lyumbomirsky, 2005; Layous et al., 2011). Furthermore those with extensive depression may benefit from both traditional therapy and PPI’s. This is of benefit to athletes struggling with self-confidence and negative evaluations of training and performance as they contain an eagerness to bring about change and improvement. Thus positivism and PPI’s, which focus on preventing the problem, enable more robust results than traditional individual therapy, which only concentrates on fixing the problem.
How do PPI’s and positivism manifest in athletes?
An individual’s ability to cope with threatening situations is amplified by positive emotions by what’s known as emotional resilience. According to Fredrickson, Tugade, Waugh & Larkin (2003) traits of resilience such as gratitude, interest and positivity in the face of extreme stress disengaged depressive mood states. The authors found that observed resilience induced resources such as optimism or satisfaction due to frequent positive emotions. As such through resilience attention is broadened which subsequently broadens perspectives of the performance situation in both training and competition. Therefore, the ability to cope with life’s general demands lends resources and influence in training and competition.
How does resilience apply to sport?
In sport emotional resilience can be related to the common concept of mental toughness. This enables athlete’s coping mechanisms to maintain consistency during training and competition demands, consequently determining performance. This can manifest itself in the control of events, enjoyment of challenges, and commitment among elite athletes. Consequently the sporting champion’s the ability to cope derives from characteristics, which allow them to deal with larger psychological stressors such as injury or illness. In more scientific terms Denny & Steiner (2009) state that these abilities are invoked through internal personality factors over external personality factors, which are outlined and improved by the athlete through the identification of the contributing factors to happiness rather than a generic measure of happiness. For coaches this applied in the creation of valued experiences during and after training sessions in an environment, which enables the flourishing of athletes. Furthermore a system of support beyond the training and sport context is important with relationships with coaches, parents, spouses or friends manipulating athlete positivity and resilience (Connaughton, Wadey, Hanton, & Jones, 2008; Denny & Steiner, 2008).
The ability to cope with demands is derived from the ability to address both the problem and subsequent emotions that stressors initiate in sporting contexts. Research by Denny & Steiner (2008), found that athlete happiness is derived from, the maintenance of self-belief, lack of distress and mindfulness. In addition, Guccardi & Jones (2011) state that a further development of intelligence, desire to achieve, and attentional control are important to mental toughness and emotional relsilience, resulting in the flourishing of athletes. These elements of mental toughness and emotional resilience in sport can be achieved through interventions such as goal-setting, visualisation, relaxation and concentration in the elite environment. Therefore athletes are systematically grounded to the task at hand, managing their energy and attention, while being prepared for difficult situations with coping resources (Hammermeister, Pickering, McGraw & Ohlson, 2012). However emotional resilience in the realm of positivity is more important in the cultivation of optimal sport performance as ‘resiliance’ denotes that set backs are acceptable and an experience which can be overcome. ‘Toughness’ on the other hand is more intolerant of naturally occurring stressors in life indicating that athletes should engage in coping resources without indentifying the initial problem leading to possible failure to flourish and improve quality of life if the problem re-occurs. Yet the two terms are ambiguous in the overall realm of positivism. The key for the athlete is the ability to empower oneself in the face of regular obstacles in life and sport.
Key elements to remember for athletes and coaches
Positivism is not confined to positivity in the sport context as general well-being and ability to cope with life stressors plays a key role in increasing and maintaining the quality of life.
Interventions seek to empower and facilitate athletes independence prior to stressors throughpracticing gratitude, optimism, acts of kindness, counting one’s blessings, reminiscing on one’s trait strengths, control of events, enjoyment of challenges, and commitment.
Positivism is manifested in mental toughness but more specifically emotional resilience in sport.
The emotional resilience of athletes is further influenced by training environments and relationships with significant others.
Interventions with athletes can ground them to the task at hand preventing a lapse in attention and performance when faced with stressors such as injury or illness, or during performance and competition.
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Tags:Coaching Video InterviewsPositive PsychologyPsychology of SportSport PsychologySports Psychology
About Leah Moore
Leah holds a Master degree specialising in Sport Psychology from Brunel University. She works as a Wellbeing Coach and Personal Trainer in the corporate sector in Dublin, Ireland, while she also works with teams on Sport Psychology