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?
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.
Abraham Lincoln once described an a optimist as someone who “finds opportunity in every difficulty” whilst a pessimist to be someone who ‘finds difficulty in every opportunity”.
Another way to look at optimism is in terms of explanatory style. Explanatory style examines the way an individual explains their experiences, successes and failures (Scheier & Carver, 1985 In. Martin-Krumm et al, 2003). Looking at how people explain certain events, or the reason behind the athletes success or failure, we can see if they are optimistic or not. We can also use people’s explanatory style to predict biases, and future outcomes because of their expectations of success or failures (Seligman, 1991).
What is an Optimistic Explanatory Style? (Peterson, 2000)
●Positive events: internal (within persons control) stable (this reason will always be the there) and global (effects everything) causes e.g. we won the game because I am talented.
●Negative event: external (outwith person’s control), unstable (the reason is only temporary) and specific (only effects that certain situation) factors e.g. We lost the game because the other team scored a lucky goal.
So why is it good for athletes to be optimistic?
The main advantages of having an optimistic explanatory style is that you are more likely to be persistent and committed during the action phase of working towards a goal and are more likely to be able to tolerate uncontrollable suffereing (Espahbodi, Dugar & Tehranian, 1991). When someone has an optimistic explanatory style, the belief that one will have a successful performance is within their control, and the reason is stable e.g. I am a good player. Whilst they view unsuccessful performances as temporary setbacks, and the cause to be something out with their control e.g. Bad weather. Therefore, their self esteem is not effected because they believe that they are in control of the good and not of the negative.
By believing that you are had a good performance because you are talented (internal, stable, global) and not because you play in a good team, or you were lucky (external, temporary) will allow you to believe you are capable of future positive performances. Performers who have an optimistic explanatory style are more likely to believe they will succeed in the future.
There have been various studies that show the benefits of being optimistic such as:
●Better performance and less variability (football; Gordan & Kane, 2001);
Research in Seligman’s book (2006) shows that people who have a pessimistic explanatory style are:
● More susceptible to depression when things go wrong
Therefore, to sustain or promote positive self esteem, we could try to make athletes more optimistic. In 2010, I completed a study “the effectiveness of a positive psychology intervention on optimism levels of female soccer players” where I carried out 8 sessions of positive psychology sessions with 15 semi professional female soccer players in the ’Hampton Roads Piranhas’ from Virginia Beach, Virginia.
What is Positive Psychology?
Seligman and Csikszentmihalyi (2000) reported that positive psychology, “has many distinguished ancestors, and we make no claim of originality” (p. 13). It is the scientific study of optimal functioning of people, groups, and institutions which promotes positive aspects of life such as happiness, well-being, satisfaction, hope and optimism (Joseph & Linley, 2007). I created an intervention to use with the footballers based on this theory using both Seligman’s book “Learned Optimism” (2006) and “Group Psychotherapy Psychology Manual” (PPT; Park & Seligman, 2007). The intervention was devised to increase awareness of explanatory style; and to encourage player’s to look at positive aspects of self and their strengths.
The results of the study showed that scores of optimistic explanatory style increased from pre-test to post-test and there was significant difference on internality and globality but not stability (two out of the three indicators of optimistic explanatory style). For example, the explanation of ability being the cause of a positive event almost doubled on post-test whilst the number of negative events attributed to ability decreased by 50%. Additionally, the number of unstable references to performance decreased.
The players evaluated the program and indicated that afterwards, they had more awareness of explanatory styles; a positive effect on player’s thought processes e.g. made me think more positively; and think differently about discouraging situations; and were more aware of effect football has on them e.g. ‘I learned that soccer influences my every day life and attitude”.
In conclusion, by increasing and building optimism, we are less likely to have our self esteem hurt when we are faced with negative events, and our self esteem will continue to grow when we are faced with positive events. We can do this by using different activities geared towards promoting understanding about explanatory style as well as building g on strengths and positive aspects of character. Feel free to contact me about any of the activities used within the positive psychology intervention.
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Tracy Donachie, MSc in Performance Psychology.