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sports psychology? | Coaching Adults

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Posted in: Understanding Behaviour Change

sports psychology?

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  • Ralph

    "any athlete found to be working with a sports psychologist would be dropped from the team and transfer listed. The coach went on to explain that such athletes would be considered “soft” and “lacking the needed mental toughness”.

    what do you think?

  • Surely the fact that they are working with a sports psychologist means that they are employing techniques to strengthen the mental aspect of their game to further improve performance. 

    This statement harks back to the times when sports psychology was discounted as being a reputable branch of sports science, when in actual fact its one of the most important. 

  • Ralph

    isn't that a circular argument?

    aren't they seeing a sports psych because they have a mental aspect that is weak?

    is it a reasonable position for a coach to only be working on technique, tactics and fitness; as a professional athlete, shouldn't' they already have their head sorted out?

  • Yes possibly they do have a weakness somewhere ... but if you had a weakness in your technical ability wouldn't you address that by employing the skills of a coach? Or is that also seen as weak.

    No athlete is at the top of their game 100% of the time. All, at some point, will need help with some aspect of their training.

    Yes a coaches main priority is technical / tactical .... most often not fitness if they have the help of a multidisciplinary sports science team (which most professional clubs do) ... but then you also have to realise professional athletes are human, coping with human emotions and juggling life in and out of the sporting arena - both of which come with their own specific pressures.

  • Ralph

    so, unprofessional for a coach, not to look at sports psych as a resource?

  • Unprofessional might be the wrong term ... narrow minded maybe or even just stubborn in their beliefs.

    I think more background into why the coach feels this way would clarify the situation more? Might have been the way they were coached, might be how they were brought up etc which has shaped their coaching outlook.

  • AndyP

    I'd be more minded to transfer list the coach and give him a copy of Carol Dweck's "Mindset" as a parting gift

  • IanMahoney

    What do athletes do before a big competition? Self take and sykes themselves up, Any manager that wants to transfer someone who can inspire the whole team to perform, should be sacked themselves,

    Quite simple  thinking you will lose, you will lose, believing you can win (even you don't) you stand a good chance of least having a fair competition.

    Don't believe me? try it and find out!

  • Ralph

    sorry, maybe i'm being a bit thick.

    what do you need psyching up for, what's with all this self convincing and need for inspiration; if you know you're going to win? if you have ultimate confidence, go and do the job youre expected to do, especially in highly paid professional sports.

    fair competition? life ain't fair, what has fair got to do with anything, one hopes a level playing field, neutral ref but that's about it.

  • IanMahoney

    As I said try it and find out. When you have given it a fair chance come back and tell me if it doesn't work.

    Athletics may different than football. None of my athletes have it as there second nature.

    I football is different it might be the reason England football have had 51 years of hurt?! because they have grasps the basics if setting themselves up to win.

  • pippaglen

    Some great comments on this post. I have coached young athletes to older athletes from team sports to single event's sports. Over the years I have watched young athletes work hard with developing skill and have watched older much more developed athletes in way of performance grow. I'm currently working with disability athletes many with mental health disabilities due to head injuries, I have seen athletes go from rock bottom and lack of self confidence to becoming high performance athletes with the help and input from many different coaches including myself. As Ian states in athletics and also other sports like Rugby, basketball players will syke themselves up to score, to run faster, harder and throw further this is there own choice of course not the choice of the coach, I'm currently coaching an ex police officer with a brain injury and every training session I have found that he throws and performs better when syking himself up but then I coach other athletes that like throws to be calm and collected.  At high levels I think rather than penalise the athlete for working together with a sport psychologist and trying to sort the issue out wouldn't it be a better idea to work with the athletes and also look at what is going wrong, why are they there in the first place and who else it's effecting like other players / athletes having the same issues rather than put blame on the athlete surely this in time will make the athlete and team stronger and more mentally prepared. Athletes these days are put under so much more pressure to perform at higher standards to keep the likes of fans happy and yes they are paid high amounts of money to play but money doesn't always fix the behind the scene issues whether mentally or physical issues. high performance over long periods can mentally destroy the athlete or athletes especially when the team aren't winning.  

  • AndyP

    If anyone has a few spare minutes, this interview with hurdler Jack Green is well worth a listen. 


  • TrainingBible

    'Mental toughness' as a popular term covers a wide variety of associated mental skills areas. I would say the coach should engage with a Sports Psych or find out more about 'mental toughness' as this statement shows a lack of understanding about the subject. Mental Toughness in its popular understanding covers developmental skills like self confidence and self worth, emotional control, responding to challenge, level and depth of commitment. These are all skills that can be enhanced and developed through training and experience and not just by sports psychs but by coaches and trainers in how they work with their teams and athletes.

    Its not just about being 'psyched up' for a game. Some athletes get too psyched up for a game and find it difficult to control their emotions, getting sent off in the first 10 mins is not going to help a team! They need to develop better emotional control. Some athletes are self confident in their ability, but lack other mental skills, like interpersonal relationship skills that limit their development. Some athletes have great self confidence and other mental skills but find it hard to focus their attention and therefore go off track and sometimes off the rails. 

    Having great mental toughness can also work against an athlete, they might play on when they are injured, over train, or have such a level of self confidence they find it hard to work in a team structure. 

    Any athletes/players looking to develop themselves should be congratulated and encouraged to continue.

  • Ralph

    'Try it and see' is probably the worst advice i've ever heard. life too short to test everything and learn from every mistake. i'd rather see what the best brain have to say. after all, athletes come to us coaches, because we allegedly have superior knowledge, yet paradoxically, a lot of coaches; try it and see!

    Positive thinking impedes performance because it relaxes and drains the energy we need to take action. After having participants in one study positively fantasise about the future for as little as a few minutes, declines in systolic blood pressure, a standard measure of a person’s energy level. These declines were significant: whereas smoking a cigarette will typically raise a person’s blood pressure by five or 10 points, engaging in positive fantasies lowers it by about half as much.

    Such relaxation occurs because positive fantasies fool our minds into thinking that we’ve already achieved our goals – what psychologists call ‘mental attainment’. We achieve our goals virtually and thus feel less need to take action in the real world. As a result, we don’t do what it takes to actually succeed in achieving our goals. In multiple experiments, we found that people who positively fantasise about the future don’t, in fact, work as hard as those with more negative, questioning or factual thoughts, and this leaves them to struggle with poorer performance. i suspect that why Bolt didn't bring it.

    Given the relationship between positive thinking and declines in performance, does positive thinking increase a person’s chance of depression?  Researchers have shown that poor performance can give rise to symptoms of depression. In addition, psychologists have theorised that people who become depressed begin to see things in a distorted way, obsessing over negative stimuli and perceiving otherwise neutral elements in a negative way, too. Stress can trigger these cognitive biases, which otherwise lie dormant in our minds. And discovering that you have failed at achieving a goal might be all the stress you need to start seeing life in a gloomier way, thus hastening depression.

  • Jakebrown853

    I don't think you should be replying in such a way to someone responding in a positive and constructive way saying it is the "worst ive ever heard".

    This is a platform for us to help each other and improve each other not to bring in an element of my opinion is better or more valuable than yours. 

    I appreciate that your points could be an interesting subject:

    Do you have more references in terms of athletic performance with correlation to visualisation?  From reading the journals you referenced it seems more focused on having energy to go out and make something happen in a world outside of athletics (how much undergraduate students want high heeled shoes?)  as if the athletes are professional they will have training scheduled and unlikely to have problems in energy to train as it is something they will have had to done for many years to get to where they are.

    And to question Bolt? He has pushed the whole of athletics on by a huge margin and almost every event has benefited from the increased interest around the world. Could it be possible that he had achieved everything already and to be honest possible that others are catching up to him as he gets older?

    Your jump from questionable positive thinking creates poor performance, poor performance creates depression is too huge unreliable to come to a conclusion like that.

    I like that you are questioning otherwise unquestioned actions to increase performance and possible that positive thinking may not work for some athletes and they need to have realism as their thought to get the best out of themselves is something i could get on board with. 

  • Ralph

    Hi Jake, thanks for your response.

    For the reasons outlined earlier, it was not a positive nor constructive response, to indirectly accuse a fellow coach of doing something wrong, especially as he didn’t ask for it. Also as written above, ‘do nothing wrong’ actually is destructive. It handcuffs us as coaches, where we become robots afraid to make any mistakes or upset anyone. It forces us to try and please everyone, all of the time. Yet our wise fathers taught us:

    You can only please some of the people some of the time, and never please everyone all of the time.

    We are in a place in society where no one can be criticised and everyone’s opinion should be heard, everyone is entitled to an unqualified voice.

    It is true, everything is important but where I think you are wrong is, that is equal. What is more accurate is: everything is important but in varying amounts. Quantise and values. That’s the point of a head coach, his/her experience is greater, that’s the point of a Gold medal, the best won, Gold of more value.

    The other of many reasons why not all opinions are the same nor should be treated the same, is to do with ‘thought viruses’. Good coaches try to be very careful with their words.

    One of the worst bits of advice I gave was “don’t worry that if you win this match, you become national champion!” destination not journey. They played terribly, and I believe that was down to my worst piece of advice.

    As sport people we are always and our job is; to quantify stuff, from best to worst. Imo, it is the worst, within my experience from a fellow coach, on this kind of forum.

    I have tons of research and journals from highly qualified opinions on many aspects, I will put a few up, that will be of interest to the thinking coach,

    I agree with you about Bolt and will post research also.

    Your 6th statement is not what I said, ‘research states, positive coaching could create poor performance.’ And poor performance does not necessarily create depression but largely can in the highly positive athlete. And amazing success does not create positivesness. I assume you are aware Kelly Holmes self-harmed by cutting her forearms?

  • Ralph

    “People are notoriously overconfident. {it’s a bit like, liking an opinion and then un-liking it]. Regardless of the context - sports, finance, politics - people believe that their judgements and decisions are better than they really are. The shock comes later after Steven Bradbury wins a Winter Olympic gold medal, Brexit destabilises financial markets, and Donald Trump wins the Republican nomination.

    Overconfidence has been blamed for everything from the sinking of the Titanic to the Great Recession. Research into overconfidence implicates it in impairing judgements across a range of situations including investors’ over-trading behaviour, managers' poor forecasting, their tendency to introduce risky products, and their tendency to engage in value-destroying mergers.

    Overconfidence is one of the most powerful cognitive biases because it is so ubiquitous, and causes us to make important judgements and decisions without a sensible degree of consideration.

    Overconfidence is typically measured in terms of judgement accuracy when estimating a range of plausible outcomes. Scientists call this a “confidence interval”.

    A confidence interval comprises of two numbers – a lower bound and an upper bound – that together create a range that you are, typically, 80% sure will include the true answer. If asked to create a number different 80% confidence intervals for several different questions then 80% of these confidence intervals should turn out to be accurate and contain the true outcome.

    Typically, however, accuracy rates are much lower than they should be. For example, in one comprehensive study, peoples’ 80% intervals contained the correct answer just 48% of the time. Therefore, people’s judgements are overconfident because the range of outcomes they consider plausible often misses the truth.

    Although several theories have been proposed to explain why people are so overconfident, none of them explain all of the observations that scientists have made and so currently there is no overarching theory of overconfidence.

    According to one theory, when making a judgement, people make an initial best guess that serves as the starting point and then estimate the range of plausible outcomes by expanding outward from that anchor.

    According to this anchoring theory, people’s final range of plausible outcomes remains too close to the starting point and, as a result, they appear overconfident because their expected range often does not include the truth.

    This theory predicts that setting an explicit anchor by having people first stating their starting point should increase overconfidence and yet research has found the opposite.

    A second theory  states that, when communicating with others, people prefer being informative to being accurate. The latter is certainly more accurate but is relatively uninformative and not practically useful.

    However, when people judge only a narrow set of outcomes to be plausible, they appear overconfident because their expected range often does not include the truth. This theory predicts the degree of overconfidence to change depending on the context (for example, how important accuracy is). However, there’s no evidence that such changes in context affect the degree of overconfidence.

    A third theory states that overconfidence actually reflects extremely poor starting point guesses. In this case, no matter how wide you expanded your range of plausible outcomes from this starting point, you will appear overconfident because your expected range would not include the truth.

    This theory has support in laboratory contexts where judgements are made about chance events where the researchers can work out the correct range of plausible outcomes. However, this theory is impossible to test in most typical circumstances when the correct range cannot be calculated.

    Although overconfidence is one of the most powerful cognitive biases, there are some strategies that can be used to reduce it. The most effective strategies encourage consideration of more information and possible alternatives

    R. Camilleri Lecturer in Marketing, RMIT University

  • Ralph

    “In science it often happens that scientists say, ‘You know that’s a really good argument; my position is mistaken,’ and then they would actually change their minds and you never hear that old view from them again. They really do it. It doesn’t happen as often as it should, because scientists are human and change is sometimes painful. But it happens every day. I cannot recall the last time something like that happened in politics or religion.” -Carl Sagan

    nor sport

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