For those who know me, they will know that I am very passionate about the mental side of performance, and also how this can be applied in different aspects of life. I believe that the mental side of the game is something that we don’t train as much as any other aspects. 10,000 hours to become an expert, however, how many hours of that are mental skills training? How often do we hear elite athletes talking about the
mental aspects of the game to make them either perform successfully or crumble under pressure?
If you listen to athletes competing in the Olympics, Wimbledon etc, they will mention the things like “effort, dealing with pressure, motivation”, but how often do we actually consciously train those things? When I teach performance psychology skills, I aim to give athletes strategies to help them improve performance but also self-awareness, skills to self-evaluate and build confidence. Mental preparation is vital success, and I think sometimes the stigma attached to “psychology” stops people seeking help to be ready in the mind. I believe you can have all the skills and talent in the world, but if you are unable to manage the psychological demands of performance, then their skills and talents will suffer. For example, a performer who suffers extreme anxiety may not be able to reach peak performance due to the strain on their body from being constantly stressed. Therefore, the role of performance psychology is to assist this person in dealing with anxiety.
Are there differences between male and female athletes?
I believe so. According to research, women are more likely to attribute their success in sport to effort or luck, e.g. “I tried hard; I put in the effort; I was just lucky on the day!” Whereas men are more likely to attribute success to their talents, “I am talented, I won because I am good!” How can we teach women to be more confident about their ability. A study completed in the USA asked men and women to predict their exam results. Women predicted grades lower than they received, whereas men overestimated and said they would do better than they actually did.
What can we do to make women more confident?
First of all, by motivating females to stay in sport could be beneficial to overall confidence and self esteem.
According to the Women’s Sport Foundation:
High school girls who play sports are less likely to be involved in an unintended pregnancy; more likely to get better grades in school and more likely to graduate than girls who do not play sports.Girls and women who play sports have higher levels of confidence and self-esteem and lower levels of depression.
Girls and women who play sports have a more positive body image and experience higher states of psychological well-being than girls and women who do not play sports.
“Girls lose confidence, so they quit competing in sports, thereby depriving themselves of one of the best ways to regain it.”(Confidence Gap, 2014)
Whilst continued involvement in sport has significant benefits to females confidence, I think by teaching women to be proud of their talents and their participation in sport we can further increase confidence. Just like learning how to catch a ball, or develop skills in sport, mental skills take time and training. To build confidence is a journey, and there will be situations in which an athlete’s confidence is high and others in which it is low, but how can we get athletes to have high confidence in more situations?
I believe that it is important to teach females to be proud of being different, and being proud of who they are. In many cases, I feel like sports define athletes, and their self confidence is based on results or sports performance. My favourite quote is “sport is something you do, not who you are!”. It is important we make females aware of their positive personality traits, and not just have their self esteem built upon the things
they are good at. Emphasising uniqueness, and be the best person you can be. Can we teach that it is okay
to be different? And that in fact, more successful athletes are those who aren’t afraid to be different? To be brave and be the one to stay later at training, to skip parties, to choose healthy foods when friends aren’t. Can we teach that being different is something you should be proud of and be confident about? To have the confidence to be different?
Lastly, the reason I love my job helping athletes in gaining psychological skills is because when we can instil
confidence in young people and empower them to be “their own coach”, it is the most rewarding feeling to see them progress, not just in their sport but in their self acceptance. For me, this is the most rewarding part of my job. Even the smallest of changes, can bring around the biggest results, and that is why I love helping people to be more confident and gain psychological skills to help them in life and competition.
I am running a series of workshops as part of the Festival of Sport in September.
Culture of Club: Creating a Female-Friendly Climate
It is important to understand the impact a club environment and climate can have on female coaches, female club leaders, female participants and those females outwith the club itself. This workshop will identify what makes a female – friendly climate and look at how the characteristics of different team and individual sports can, in turn, meet athletes’ needs and demands by working with coaches to develop young athletes. In order to maintain and increase females within our clubs at all levels, we must be able to create an optimal environment in which all females thrive upon and develop.
Club personnel and Coaches can expect to leave the workshop with the ability to:
Identify ways to increase female participation.
Create a sporting culture where females feel confident and valued.
Identify key principles in promoting a female friendly environment.
Female Coaching: Challenges and Solutions
By the end of this workshop, you will have an understanding of the following:
The challenges faced as a female coach e.g. confidence, communication, stress
Sport and gender differences for coach consideration.
Solutions and strategies to overcome challenges.
This workshop offers an interactive opportunity to share good coaching practice, and gain ideas that can be implemented in a coaching capacity.
Understanding the Mental Barriers of Female Coaches
Coaches can expect to leave the workshop with knowledge of:
Factors and common problems that female coaches may face.
Simple guidance on how to overcome the barriers.
Why, what, when and how coaches can become more self aware.
This workshop offers an interactive opportunity to share good coaching practice, and develop ways to become more self awareness, and reflective as coaches.
Coaching Young Females – The Mental Tools
This workshop will provide ideas for managing potential psychological issues
that may arise when coaching young female athletes.
Coaches can expect to leave the workshop with the knowledge and understanding of:
The psychological differences between males and females and the implications for coaches.
Basic psychological principles which are key for peak mental performance.
Understanding ways to implement mental skills training within the coaching field.
An important aim of the workshop is to provide an opportunity for exchange of ideas based on both the attendees’ and the presenters’ experiences.
Feel free to sign up:
I recently attended the "Appearance Matters" Conference at the University of Bristol, which heightened my knowledge of the research behind self confidence and physical appearance. Within my role at Edinburgh Leisure, I feel we do a great job targeting teenage girls, and vulnerable young people to help them improve confidence within the realm of health and physical activity, but also to teach understanding of general confidence and build self esteem.
The Health 4U Program targets third year girls and teaches various components of health and wellbeing as well as communication, dealing with stress, mental health, photoshopping, energy balance etc. I believe its a great tool for young people to have a better understanding of these components and learn in an interactive way. During the lessons, we use some videos created by the Dove Self Esteem Project.
Thirteen million young people reached through the Dove Self Esteem program, with providing education to help build self esteem. I also use the videos for psychology particulary when working with coaches on building self confidence and helping them understand some of the issues that young people may face. The presenter from the Dove Project noted:
Only 4% of women consider themselves beautiful.
9/10 would change something about themselves
6/10 opt out of activity because of body image
These startling figures makes me even more keen to try to teach young people about self acceptance and feeling good about themselves. In a world were society defines what is beautiful, and what is normal, its even more important to teach young people to love themselves for being themselves. The thin ideal is hard to obtain and can lead to maladaptive perfectionism as these ideals are unrealistic, and when people cannot obtain them, and their self confidence comes from their appearance, then they will rarely have the feeling of self satisfaction. The Dove Project use fortune cookies with self esteem messages in them, and I received one of my favorite quotes.Check out their website for more information and great resources for working with young people about self esteem and body image.
Most of the time, we think about negative body image, and how people feel negatively about themselves. How can we encourage a positive body image rather just eradicating the negative? When a person has positive body image, they have an appreciation for their body which led to health related behaviours. I find that with my psychology I try to promote individuals strengths, rather than just working on how we can improve their weaknesses. Therefore, by knowing what a positive body image, we can find ways to teach young people how to have confidence and have positive body image, rather than just helping those with severe negative body image.
Promote a positive body image by:
Also, in line with my approach to psychology, would be looking at body image in line with goal setting, One study examined the motivation and goals for body image, and compared the differences between those with health goals and those with appearance goals. Those who had appearance goals had a feeling of "have to" and a feeling of pressure to look a certain way. This promoted guilt and shame, and could become maladaptive. This is my fear for those purely wanting to lose weight to look a certain way. What happens when you weigh what you want to weigh? Will you feel good about yourself? Will that make you a better person? Will it be healthy?
Those who have health goals feel like they 'want' to be healthy, and health is a personal importance to them rather than a need. They are motivated internally, and living a healthy life is just part of their every day. Having the 'want to' feeling is more adaptive and can result in more self satisfaction. Those with "health goals" were more likely to engage in healthy eating, and decreased binge-eating, whereas those with "appearance goals" were motivated by drive for thinness and engaged in binge eating.
Health and becoming healthy, to most people, would be mainly eating better and exercising. And usually for the most part, the people I know see it as cutting calories and losing weight. To me, there are four aspects of health: physical, social, emotional and mental and I believe all are linked.
When January rolls around, it's the kick start to the year and people quickly address the physical side. Facebook statuses and tweets are about going to the gym, being starving and eating no more chocolate. The gyms are chaos, and you are lucky if you get yourself on a treadmill. The other day, I heard a woman say, "I can't wait until February so the new year resolution people stop coming!" Is she right? How many of us kick start the year with a health kick? And how many of us end the year with a blow out?
To me, it's not about dieting. It's not about starving yourself for part of the year. It's not about letting your weight continually yo yo. It's about having a healthy lifestyle that's just part of your day to day. It's not about restricting one type of food: chocolate, carbs, fats. Sometimes people even restrict food: baby food diet, water diet, detox diet. Our bodies need a balanced diet but not a diet diet. We must fuel our bodies enough to function. Our bodies are just like a car. If we don't put petrol in, how can you expect the car to go anywhere?
Nevertheless, it does make me happy that people have a fitness focus for the start of the year. And I hope that people maintain it. Not the obsessing over calories or the things they can't have, but to enjoy fitness, and have it as part of their daily living.
As part of your daily living, exercise and eating healthy adds to other aspects of health. It can help you have routine. It can help you have a focus. It helps promote self esteem. How good does it feel when you have had a stretch of eating well and working out? However, when it becomes obsessive, we start to stress our bodies out. We start to isolate the one aspect of health and forget about other ones eg socializing, interacting with others, being happy. And we rely on 'getting thin' to be happy. Does having a slim waist line change the person you are? Does it make you a better person? Yes it shows you are a person who has stuck to routine, challenged yourself and had a focus. However, when our self esteem relies on what weight we are, then I believe this to be a problem. We need to first and foremost, look at ourselves and our character. That we will always have. Underneath the skin, and muscle. Are we good people? Are we caring? Are we kind? Are we good friends?
So when we choose exercise for losing a few pounds, we can often feel bad when this doesn't happen, when we put weight back on or when we never reach the weight we want to. This hurts our self esteem. Especially if we have unrealistic expectations.
By making exercise and healthy eating about being healthy and a daily routine, we allow it to happen naturally. We can lose the obsession with numbers of calories and pound, and merely live a healthy lifestyle in moderation.
Some people do need to have a little more structure. A plan to when they are working out, perhaps keeping a food diary, or use a fitness app. There are many resources out there to help you plan your work outs, help you understand what you should be eating but the way we explain to our kids - it's all about energy balance. We want to balance out what we put in, and the activities that we do.
Fitness and exercise should be for life. A part of your everyday. Just something you do. For health. Not just for shedding pounds. For feeling good. For releasing good hormones. For socialising. For being happy. For knowing that if we put good things in your body, we can feel good.
So here is to healthy choices and living a healthy life rather than dieting and starving ourselves.
Tracy Donachie, MSc in Performance Psychology.