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:
Sport is not just about winning or losing, but sometimes coaches get lost in this trap. The trap of allowing results determine their self worth, just as players allow their performance to determine how they feel about themselves. Yesterday, I listened to Baroness Sue Campbell at the Global Coach House conference, and she emphasized "Good coaches make good athletes, whereas great coaches make great people". This is everything I believe, and is in line with my philosophy used within my applied psychology work. I had the privledge to listen to many inspiring leaders over the past couple of days who have reinforced my beliefs and also what I teach in my performance psychology practice.
Self esteem is how you value yourself and your evaluation of self worth. I see it frequently, when a young person's self worth is based on their sporting ability. They feel good when they have played well, and feel bad when things haven't went their way. And for maladaptive perfectionists, they probably rarely feel good because of the unattainable expectations they put on themselves.
Society often puts us into boxes, and even in the sports field. I have seen it many times, where an athlete is in a sport for a reason other than enjoyment. Whether it be that their parents like the sport, maybe the parent either succeeded or failed in the sport, or because they feel pressure to play that sport. By allowing young people to make their own choices on their sport, will enhance their intrinsic motivation, and in turn, keep more young people participating.
This goes in line with teaching individuality. Teaching young people to be themselves. I continue to emphasise uniqueness and ways to feel good about being different. To embrace who you are, and be okay to stand out and go against the grain. As athletes, we do that and also as coaches. We may not always conform to the societal norm...work a 9-5 job, go home, make dinner, watch some tv. As athletes, and coaches, we put in time and effort, we miss social engagements, and family events. We get up early to train, we stay up late. We spend money and time trying to be the best we can be. We spend many hours training and competing. We are evaluated constantly and probably constantly evaluate self. So with all of this, the most important thing that will keep us striving for excellence, is to enjoy. To enjoy what we do. To love what we do. To have passion. To feel good as a person. To value self and have confidence, not only in ability, but in ourselves as people. As coaches and leaders, I feel it's our duty to promote good people and I am glad that this is also what the pioneers of sporting change believe too. What action can you take today to promote good people in sport?
Understanding the psychological components that help with optimal athletic performance is a key priority for applied sport psychology. A controversial issue within the field is perfectionism. Perfectionism is described as a broad multidimensional personality trait characterised by the pursuit of extremely high standards; striving for flawlessness, and over critical performance evaluation (Frost et al. 1990; Flett & Hewitt, 2005). Some may debate that being a perfectionist athlete is admirable because of the desire to achieve, and high motivation levels (Stoeber, Uphill, & Hotham, 2009). Nevertheless, perfectionism in sport is a controversial issue to which perfectionistic tendencies are seen as both adaptive and maladaptive (Frost et al, 1993; Terry-Short et al., 1995).
The multidimensional perfectionism scale devised by Hewitt & Flett (1991) evaluates perfectionism from three perspectives; self-orientated; other orientated and socially prescribed perfectionism. Self-orientated is the
excessive desire for perfectionism from one’s self, other orientated is demanding perfection from those around you and socially prescribed is the perception that significant others demand perfection from you (Flett &
Hewitt, 2005). There has been much controversy within the literature regarding which dimensions are adaptive and maladaptive, but the general consensus is that socially prescribed is associated with the unhealthy maladaptive perfectionism and self-orientated is linked to healthy adaptive (Hill et al. 1997; Flett &
Adaptive perfectionism can be explained as a positive pursuit towards achievement, whereas maladaptive perfectionism is associated with being concerned with evaluation; having a fear of failure and reacting negatively to defeat (Stoeber et al., 2008). Adaptive perfectionists typically set realistic goals prior to performance which ensures self confidence and motivation is maintained due to the belief that goals are obtainable (Slade & Owens, 1998). Therefore, adaptive perfectionism positively correlates with self-efficacy, motivation and high achievement amongst other desirable characteristics (Bieling et al. 2004).
Flett and Hewitt reported that although certain components of perfectionism may be positive, perfectionism is primarily maladaptive among athletes and exercisers (2005). Maladaptive perfectionism is positively associated with psychological difficulties such as distress (Stoeber & Eismann, 2007), injury (Krasnow et al. 1999), depression (Minarik & Ahrens, 1996); self destruction; anxiety (Antony et al, 1998; Egan et al, 2006); neuroticism; personality disorders and eating disorders (Haase et al 2001; Anshel, 2004); decreased physical health and well-being due to over training, disordered eating, and low self esteem (Hill et al, 2010; Hewitt & Flett 1991; Hewitt et al. 1992). Hall (2006) also detailed that perfectionism is also associated with shame (Tangney, 2002); performance anxiety (Hall, Kerr & Mathew, 1998); and suicide ideation (Hewitt, Flett, & Turnbull-Donavon, 1992). Evidence suggests that perfectionism may also act as a predisposing factor to athletes developing burnout during their performance career (Hill et al, 2008). When goals are not reached, maladaptive perfectionists engage in harsh self criticism and irrational beliefs resulting in feelings of inadequacy; reduced motivation and decreased self-confidence (Flett & Hewitt 2005).
The cognitive processes underpinning perfectionism were first examined by Horney (1950 In, Hall, 2013) and Ellis (1962, In. Hall, Hill & Appleton, 2013) who argued the core qualities of perfectionism are having a set of
irrational beliefs and a dysfunctional attitude. Flett et al. (1998) found that perfectionists may induce a pattern of intrusive self-focused thoughts about achieving perfectionism. Hill and Appleton (2011) showed that this cognitive process has corrosive influence on the quality of motivation in elite junior athletes. Nevertheless, there has been little research conducted on how perfectionism has been defined in sport, as the core qualities have emerged from other achievement disciplines.
Blatt (1995) offered that perfectionists may be resistant to direct attempts to alter ways of thinking and therefore, it may be effective to structure the learning and performance environment to change the perfectionist cognitions. Being able to create an optimal motivational climate in athletes is also likely
to lead to increased participation and enjoyment (Keegan, Harwood, Spray & Lavallee, 2009). Environments which are seen to be extremely critical, rigid and promote social comparison will foster numerous debilitating cognitive and affective outcomes (Mainwaring, 2009 In. Hall & Hill, 2012). Providing a learning environment to promote adaptive perfectionism may be an effective way to challenge perfectionist mindset.
Are coaches able to identify which athletes have perfectionist traits? And how can we help coaches create an environment to promote adaptive perfectionism and healthy motivation? Ideally, for coaches, it would be beneficial to not only know the signs of a perfectionist athlete, but also how to create the best environment to dissolve maladaptive perfectionism. In line with Stirling and Kerrs’ suggestions for future research, “the development of guidelines for coaches and parents to assist them in assessing, monitoring, and motivating
perfectionistic athletes may also be helpful.” (2001, p. 22), I believe that it would be beneficial for coachecs to have a better understanding on getting the best out of their perfectionist players.
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Tracy Donachie, MSc in Performance Psychology.