How important is psychological training to your performance? If you have any doubts at all, please read on (with, I hope, an open mind). I am about to demonstrate why psychological preparation is as crucial to success as training, recovery, kit, hydration and nutrition.
No longer is sports psychology regarded by coaches and athletes as a subject for wimps needing an excuse for poor performance. Ten or fifteen years ago, that might have still been the case, but the adoption of ‘mind coaches’ (otherwise known as ‘mental game coaches’) by top athletes like Tiger Woods and professional sports clubs throughout the world soon put paid to that.
Today sports psychology is recognised as an essential component of sporting success. That’s because, the more accomplished the athlete, the bigger the role the mind plays in performance. After all, if you’re a beginner in a sport, you’re probably still working on mastering a basic competence in physical skills and not worrying about your mind game.
Moreover, we now know that it’s not simply a question of harnessing the power of the mind to achieve peak performance on the day of a big event. The correct mindset must underpin an athlete’s efforts all year round. After all, the best-designed training regime won’t help if you’re not sufficiently focused and motivated to follow it, week in and week out – or if you’re liable to ‘choke’ at the critical point in major competitions because you haven’t done the proper mental preparation for the event.
That’s why research into sports psychology has accelerated considerably in recent years, mirroring its more general acceptance amongst the sporting community. Today, sports scientists are scaling new heights in their understanding of the mental factors that underpin peak performance – and, equally, those factors that can undermine it.
I strongly feel this is an area athletes must pay considerable attention to if they want to achieve real success and the fact I have commissioned two separate reports on the subject of sports psychology really highlights that belief.
With this in mind I have arranged a fantastic offer that delivers you both of these special reports for an incredible price, full details of which you can find below.
Do you put up psychological barriers to success?
Whether you like the idea or not, most of us put up psychological barriers that interfere with our performance and enjoyment of our sport or event.
The four-minute mile was the classic example of a psychological barrier. Runners were consistently achieving times of 4:03, 4:02 and 4:01, but no one could apparently run under four minutes. This led to a common perception that running a mile in less than four minutes was physically impossible. Almost everyone believed it.
Remarkably, though, within 18 months of Roger Bannister’s famous breakthrough 16 other athletes had managed the feat.
Did these athletes suddenly get faster and train harder? No: the floodgates opened because Bannister had breached the psychological barrier and demonstrated what was possible. Athletes were no longer limited by their beliefs.
What has science to say?
Sports Psychology – the Will to Win explains why top athletes and coaches believe there is more to peak performance than a well-honed body.
As soon as you start using the intensive exercises contained within the book, you’ll experience such benefits that you won’t look back. Topics covered include:
Imagery: mental drills for physical people: how recreating all-sensory experience can profoundly affect your performance
Goal setting: one step at a time – how to raise your game by setting smarter goals
Confidence: the majestic self-belief of Jonny Wilkinson – or how expectations can make or break your performance
Performance profiling: a coaching tool for pinpointing strengths and weaknesses, designing training strategies and building better communication with athletes
Flow: for peak experiences in sport, you need to go with the flow
Emotional control: these pre-performance strategies will get a grip on your emotions before they get a grip on you
Team sports: team cohesion and success: is there really a link?
Thought control: when it comes to doing your best, it’s the thoughts that count
Injury: how much do psychological factors contribute to the risk of injury in sport?
What the scientists say: choking under pressure · Bodybuilding dependence – not just a problem for men. Thought suppression – a paradoxical effect · How encouragement boosts performance
Whatever your sport, you need to discover why top athletes and coaches consider psychological training so important. This is your chance to try out the mental training techniques that lift performances to extraordinary levels.
But that's not all!
To complement this invaluable psychological resource we have invested in a sequel to our first report.
Sports Psychology 2: think your way to success draws on the latest evidence-based thinking in sports science research – new findings that probably won’t percolate through to the general sporting press for many, many months, if they make it at all…
Here’s a quick taster of the sorts of issues Sports Psychology 2: think your way to success covers – and what you can expect to learn:
What are the three attitudinal differences that separate elite athletes from the merely good?
What’s the best way to use music to enhance athletic motivation?
Why do some approaches to goal-setting fail… and others succeed?
What’s the right (and the wrong) way to schedule positive reinforcement?
Why can too much praise sometimes undermine an athlete’s performance?
Can video and music really boost an athlete’s performance in training – and on the Big Day?
How should coaches make the most effective use of the half-time period to raise the team’s game in the second half?
What’s the right way – and the wrong way – to make a half-time substitution?
How can you use imagery and self-hypnosis to speed up recovery from sports injury?
All in all, over 200 pages of cutting-edge information every serious athlete and coach needs to know – and integrate into their training and conditioning programs.
Below are summarised extracts from both of our Sports Psychology reports. There isn’t the room within this message to carry extracts from every article, but I have picked out some that will help explain how the wrong attitude can hold you back.
But can we really be saying it’s all your fault? That you could put in far superior performances with just a little mental adjustment?
The answer is yes – in many cases it’s the only thing holding you back.
Jonathan Pye Publisher Peak Performance
How goal-setting enhances performance by 78%
You may not have used goal setting before. Or if you have tried and discarded it, there’s a good chance you misunderstood how it works.
One of the main problems is that not all coaches or athletes are aware of the principles of goal setting and how to apply them effectively. So a key purpose of this section of Sports Psychology – the Will to Win is to give a better understanding of how to use goal-setting to enhance performance and avoid disappointments.
Not everyone has the talent to be a Usain Bolt, but anyone can achieve significant improvements in performance by the same means.
Many people associate goal setting with New Year resolutions, and are quick to dismiss the process as ineffective, since most well intentioned, if vague, resolutions have failed before the end of January. Let’s get one thing clear straight away:
Most such resolutions are perfect examples of how not to set goals!
Research on goal setting in the world of business as well as sport and exercise has consistently shown that it can lead to enhanced performance.
In fact, a recent meta-analysis (evaluation of pooled data from a whole series of studies) showed that goal setting led to performance enhancement in 78% of sport and exercise research studies, with moderate-to strong effects. So how is it done?
Top athletes have understood that, although dream goals such as Olympic gold medals are important in helping to direct our efforts, it is the day- to-day ‘short-term’ goals that provide the key to success. Psychology – the Will to Win classifies goals into three types:
Dream goals are the ones that seem a long way off and difficult to achieve. In time terms, they may be anything from six months to several years away
Intermediate goals are markers of where you want to be at a specific time. For example, if your dream goal is to reduce your 400m PB by one second over 10 months, an intermediate goal could be a half second improvement after five months
Short-term or daily goals are the most important because they provide a focus for our training in each and every session. Past research on Olympic athletes found that setting daily training goals was one factor that distinguished successful performers from their less successful counterparts.
We explain what you need to do in order to take the necessary steps towards your ultimate dream goal and why you need to set goals not just for competition, but for practice and training periods too.
Using performance profiling
Performance profiling has many benefits and is useful for assessing physical and technical prowess as well as psychological factors.
But as with all these techniques, there is a right and wrong way to go about it.
For many years the typical psychological evaluation resembled a medical consultation, with the psychologist making his or her assessment and deciding on techniques for a change and the athlete playing a relatively passive role.
However, science research has identified an inherent weakness in this process since studies had shown that people’s intrinsic motivation could be weakened by the application of external controls. To put it simply, for athletes to remain motivated to adhere to psychological skills training Programs, they need to be more involved in the decision-making processes.
With performance profiling the athlete is self-determining and his or her perspective becomes a central rather than peripheral focus. In devising this technique, researchers also provided a mechanism by which athletes could explore aspects of their performance that they may have taken for granted, and coaches and psychologists could gain further insight into their athletes’ cognitive processes.
The point about involving both parties in the profiling process is that such differences are highlighted and can then be dealt with effectively through dialogue. Performance profiling can help coaches and psychologists develop a better understanding of their athletes by:
Highlighting perceived strengths and weaknesses
Clarifying the athlete’s and coach’s vision of the key determinants of elite performance, and highlighting any differences
Establishing areas where the athlete might resist change (as demonstrated by the perceived low importance of one or more constructs)
Providing a means of monitoring progress
Highlighting discrepancies between the athlete’s and coach’s assessment of performance
In summary, then, the performance profile is a tool that is particularly useful for aiding the design of specific mental, physical and technical training programs. The central involvement of the athlete in the process is a key strength that can boost motivation and promote adherence to any intervention strategies devised.
It may also facilitate the coach / athlete relationship by promoting dialogue and addressing any perceived discrepancies. Additionally, the profile can be used as a monitoring device to assess the effectiveness of any interventions and highlight areas of good and poor progress.
Competition can bring out the best or the worst in athletes, and the psychological demands are especially high when individuals or teams are striving to achieve the same goals. When physical skills are evenly matched, it is often the competitor with the stronger mental approach, who can control his or her mind before and during events, who wins. However, many athletes wrongly assume that mental aspects of performance are innate and unchangeable when, in reality, systematic mental training can have a similar impact on performance as physical workouts.
Getting into the correct mind-set prior to competition is one of the most crucial aspects of top performance. In fact, a study of Olympic athletes showed that the combination of mental and physical readiness was a key factor that distinguished more successful athletes from their less successful counterparts in the Olympic Games. Perhaps even more impressive is the finding that, of the three states of readiness assessed (mental, physical and technical), only mental factors were statistically linked with final Olympic rankings.
Emotional reactions to stressful situations can drain an athlete’s resources and impact negatively on performance if poorly managed. That is why it is important to have in place a strategy to deal with pre-performance stress. It is important to challenge the belief of some athletes that emotions and mood states are simply reactions to external events; in fact, the athlete has considerable capacity for control in this area.
By developing consistent routines and ways of coping with distractions, uncertainty can be reduced and you are less likely to be negatively affected by external factors. Sports Psychology – the Will to Win identifies a number of strategies that can be employed by athletes to regulate their moods. These ideas are all designed to be put into practice in the hour before competition, although the principles can be adapted for other times.
The Psychology of Motivation: how do you lift your sporting potential?
What is it that makes veteran individuals churn out outstanding performances year in, year out?
Like the 35-year-old marathon runner Haile Gebrselassie, who broke the marathon world record in Germany 2008 and the 30 kilometers world record in Germany 2009. Or the 36-year-old footballer Ryan Giggs, who is still playing regularly and winning trophies for Manchester United and who won the PFA Player of the Year award in 2009.
Elite athletes such as Gebrselassie and Giggs have developed an ability to channel their energies extremely effectively. Indeed, motivation is essentially about the direction of effort over a prolonged period of time.
There are numerous approaches to the study of motivation. Some are based on schedules of positive and negative reinforcement (e.g. BF Skinner’s and Ivan Pavlov’s behaviourism) while others focus on an individual’s sense of mastery over a set of circumstances (eg Albert Bandura’s self-efficacy theory).
Sports Psychology 2: think your way to success explains the very latest thinking, explores the constituents of motivation using a contemporary approach, popularised by Americans Edward Deci and Richard Ryan, known as self-determination theory, which emphasises the role of individual choice.
We examine some of the key findings from recent literature and set out four evidence-based techniques you can use to enhance motivation. You will be able to tailor the motivational techniques to enhance your participation in sport or the performance of others, in the pursuit of superior sporting performance.
The discussion includes an explanation of the differences between high achievers and also-rans in the world of sport. We provide the results of a recent study, based on interviews with 10 elite Australian track and field athletes, that reveals the three central attitudinal differences between merely good and elite athletes. Coaches will find this section particularly interesting as we also identify the best way to set and pursue sporting goals, the correct approach to praising and rewarding athletes, the value of using motivational music and the key role of self-talk in enhancing motivation amongst athletes.
You get all the information you need to understand how motivation works – and how you can put it to work for yourself, or your team.
Emotional Intelligence: why your head should rule your heart
In recent years, sports psychology research has seen the rise of a concept named emotional intelligence. But what is it, how can it help sports performance and how can we enhance our own emotional intelligence?
Emotional intelligence can be briefly summarised thus:
The ability to recognise different emotional states
Assessing the effects of emotions on subsequent behaviour
The ability to switch into the best emotional state to manage a particular situation
Not surprisingly many businesses have used emotional intelligence ratings as part of their selection processes, but the ability to recognise the emotional states in others in the sporting context is clearly desirable, and the skill of raising the emotions of the team is a potentially priceless asset.
So in Sports Psychology 2: think your way to success we devote a double section to this important topic. Part One provides a full grounding of the thinking and fundamental concepts behind emotional intelligence, including a step-by-step summary of how to develop this mind skill. Part Two focuses in on emotional intelligence for endurance athletes, where the mind can suffer as much as the body.
You’ll learn how to develop emotional self-awareness, then how to master this ability during daily training and competition. So many athletes fail to explicitly recognise the personal emotional profile that they associate with success – and are therefore unable to harness it correctly.
You’ll also be given strategies for regulating emotion, and visualising success, before finding out how to set emotionally-focused goals. Finally we discuss the value of positive self-talk and of role-play in developing an individual athlete’s emotional control competencies.
The result? A new understanding of both the role of emotion in influencing sporting performance, and the power of harnessing it correctly.
The Assessment of Performance: how to learn from sporting success and failure alike
In order to learn from mistakes and failures, it is important to be able to assess what has happened objectively. But this is less easy than it sounds since the emotions connected with both success and disappointments can cloud our judgement and compromise our objectivity.
When we compete against others, or against our own standards, the consequences of what sport psychologists call ‘achievement strivings’ are quite naturally going to provoke evaluation when the outcomes are very important to the individual. In such situations, people naturally strive to make sense of what has happened to them. The problem is not about persuading coaches and athletes to reflect on and evaluate their successes and failures but ensuring this is done in an objective manner.
One thing that is clear from examining the research literature is that in situations with definite outcomes (i.e. win/lose), our perceptions of why we either won or lost have important consequences for our affective states (eg feelings of pride, anger or shame), self-esteem, future motivations and behaviours (e.g. persistence)
So in Sports Psychology 2: think your way to success we discuss several theoretical frameworks designed to enable sports psychologists to study how attributions influence individual, and suggest how best a coach can remain objective when faced with such situations.
You’ll learn the best way to deal with different athletes – from those who refuse to accept their role in failure on the field… to those individuals who always assume it’s all their fault.