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Readings Sports Psychology In Coaching

Sports Psychology
Anshel, Mark H.

Give a full explanation of exactly what it is that a sports psychologist does.

It wasn't until the mid-1960s that sports psychology made great strides to become the scientific discipline that it is today. The current professional sports psychology organizations provide scholars and practitioners with a national and international identity as a scientific discipline. This allow members to exchange ideas, communicate research experiences, hear and interact with others in their area, debate and perhaps make decisions about controversial issues and bring these ideas into practice in their own departments.

A sports psychologist engages in a multi-disciplinary area of study and practice. As a field of psychology, it includes most of the traditional psychology areas of group behavior and environmental factors affecting a person's emotions and actions, developmental changes in cognition and behavior, the cognitive links between thoughts, emotions and performance, educational learning and remembering, clinical examination of personal issues requiring professional guidance. In particular, exercise psychology links with health psychology for maintaining the physical body in tip-top shape.

The clinical services help athletes experiencing emotional problems of depression, anorexia, panic, etc. While laws vary from state to state, only professionals licensed to practice should provide treatment.

Teaching sports psychology typically involves a university campus or community seminars, or consulting with teams and individual athletes. Techniques of relaxation, concentration, imagery and coping strategies for stress management exemplify these cognitive skills.

Sports psychologists provide treatments for athletic performances. This can lead to conflicting claims of effectiveness. Problems can easily arise from linking mental skills and performance outcomes. Widespread criticisms can result from scientific evidence not supporting verbal arguments of consistent improvements in measurements of psychological programs. Be aware that superlative claims can and will be viewed skeptically. This can impact the consulting role when working with coaches or athletes.

Discuss the general basic behavioral characteristics of an athlete.

Highly successful athlete take risks. A risk, in sports, can be associated with physical injury during competitive events. Risks narrow the margin of safety both physically and psychologically in terms of the changes of failure. The athlete's perception of danger creates excitement and a desire to master the environment.

Along with risks, stimulus-seeking ranks high with athletes. They enjoy the challenge in competitive sports. These stimuli are generally kinesthetic in nature. Some athletes push to a chronic level of activation. Some sports obviously qualify as high-risk taking: hang gliding, bungee-cord jumping, while others, such as bowling, are considered sedate.

All athletes want to win, they thrive on competition. Three dimensions of competitiveness have been suggested: competitiveness (strive for success in competition), win orientation (focus on winning and avoid losing), and goal orientation (focus on personal goals).

Self-confidence scores as the highest mental state for success in sports competition. The athlete believes in their own ability to be successful in performing the desired skill. Positive emotions always accompany self-confidence: improved concentration, increased effort, lower susceptibility to mental distractions, reduced muscular tension, improved ability to remember and use game strategies and more rapid and accurate decision making.

The attentional style orients the athlete towards the environment. This may be internal, external, narrow, or broad. The specific task at the moment determines the style. Elite athletes can shift attention when and where necessary.

Athletes expect success. Expectations of success too high can result in upsets in sports as the athletes are expected to win easily do not perceive their opponents as threatening to their continued success. However, low expectations of success becomes self-fulfilling. Competitors optimal motivation seems to be about a 50 percent chance of winning.

Stress regulation keeps athletes cool under tight situations. Stress signs a true champion as they take risks when they are uptight, anxious or too aroused. The idea lies not in stress elimination, but in coping with proper techniques. The ability to cope with failure represents another aspect of stress.

Elite athletes put less effort and intensity into practice than they do in the competitive event. They seem to produce a level of energy and skill during serious competition that exceeds their achievements during practice. When it comes to physical training, they go all-out to get into and maintain tip-top shape all season.

Athletes feel increasingly confident with detailed competition plans and have contingency plans if things do not go as expected. They feel capable of coping and adapting to unusual situation that arise during a contest. And before the contest, they prefer to remain alone and tend to use relaxation techniques while reviewing individual and team strategies, image successful performances and verbalize self-statements to promote self-confidence.

They don't worry about other competitors before a contest. While they acknowledge the other contestants strengths, this doesn't consume their energies. They can certainly be nervous and tense. This translates into high levels of controlled arousal as a desirable state. When troubled, stressed or too excited they can regain their composure. Their concentration on the upcoming event can be total.

Skilled athlete accurately assess how well they will do in the upcoming competition as they are keenly aware of their own mental and physical status. Unfamiliar environments do not affect their performance.

When fatigued, they concentrate more on technique and effort rather than outcome. This concentration distracts them from fatigue and reduces the possibility of injuries and helps in maintaining proper form and performance quality. They fight pain and fatigue without succumbing. They even continue when injured and don't give-up.

Poor calls by officials may be annoying, but they can definitely be withstood.

Each contest brings the elite athlete closer toward some inner goal. Coaches, teammates and even spectators provide feedback for this process as they continue to hone their strategies.

Describe the coach's role in preparing players for a game.

Coaches must appreciate each player as an individual. Coaches cannot, therefore, get into the heart and mind of each player and force a certain feeling. Each player reacts differently and thus processes internal experiences differently than anyone else. This illustrates the heart of the "T-E-A-M" approach so widely supported. In this strategy, everyone on the team goes through the same mental and physical preparation before a contest. While this can be effective for some players, others, particularly at the advanced level, prepare for contest in their own way: by being alone, by being in company, while being with other friends.

Sometimes players need to "psyche-down" from pre-contest emotions. Stress results from the body's fight-or-flight reaction to emotional states. It is, of course, not possible to release this emotion until the contest begins. Some athlete respond to brisk movement. A high arousal sport such as football may require brisker movements than a low arousal sport such as golf. The traditional warm-up exercises help tremendously. There have been, however, warnings about overuse of this activity.

A coach must consider the player as an individual: skill level, age, psychological needs, position and task. Younger players generally require less psyching up than older players. Less skillful players need to focus on form, concentration and planned maneuvers. The ability to control both positive and negative emotions improves with age. In particular, younger players are more susceptible to the deleterious effects of disapproval and negative feedback from significant others than are older athletes.

Timing can be an important factor. Despite convention to the contrary, getting the team excited about a game the night before is probably not a good idea as it disturbs sleep and concentration. Some coaches play visual aids of previous contests. This has merit in reminding the team of potential progress and refreshes them on the opponents. Another approach would be to play the team's best previous performances to instill a sense of self-confidence and to remind athletes of their past successes.

For psychological arousal to produce effective heart rate, respiration rate, muscular tension, and brain wave activity it must be used for optimal levels, not maximal levels. Techniques would include increasing voice intensity, using bright indoor lighting, generating loud noises such as clapping, foot stomping, or fast-paced music, physical contact with the athlete, using players' first names, setting immediate performance goals, and introducing players to the crowd before the contest.

What are the eight attributions used to motivate athletes, and how do they work?

1. Knowing when to use the internal and external attributions. Usually coaches should not promote the use the use of external attributions of task difficulty or luck to explain the lack of goal achievement or not meeting expectations. A better approach would involve indicating that future effort must be increased for success rather than blaming the official, bad luck, skill difficulty or a superior opponent. Using these external attributions for failure might promote the feeling that the player can do little to change present or future outcomes. The incentive for improvement vanishes. In such circumstances, statements that degrade a player's self-esteem cannot be helpful at all.

2. Know when to use task difficultly attributions. Attributing failure to a difficult task is common among good athletes. While difficulties can be useful in attribution, they also prevent low self-confidence, poor self-esteem, and low ability attributes. If the athlete's expectations were high, then feelings of low ability or helplessness may still occur.

3. Teach skills. Nothing is more important than learning skills and performing them proficiently. Skill development improves performance and reduces feelings of helplessness for athletes of all ages. Poor skills promote continued failure. Quality education provides quality feedback for performance improvement.

4. Create sports situations that foster success. Match opponents based on age, skill and physical maturity. A gross mismatch does not provide adequate skill practice and presents a psychological maladjustment.

5. Avoid comparing athletes. "Why can't you be like Harry?" Such comparative statements reduce feelings of self-confidence. Talking about the superior skills of an older, more experienced team member will not hurt if proper objective criteria based on standards and reasonable expectations frame the discussion. "Darlene is playing ahead of you because she is aggressive in getting rebounds," demonstrates a skill based criteria that helps the less-skill player understand why the current positioning was made. Also, the player kept back can view the game with a special interest in improving skills from the bench. A general subjective statement such as "Darlene is a better player than you," will not elicit such a response. Be sensory specific.

6. Offer supportive verbal and nonverbal messages. This is most important. Athletes must feel accepted. Support such as "Good job," "Nice try," "Great dribbling," and nonverbals such as a thumbs up communicate a sense of acceptance, recognition and approval. Guilt inducers such as "You bums, you can't hit your way out of a wet paper bag," or nonverbals such as looking the other way when the athlete passes cannot help.

7. Be positive when evaluating external factors. Difficulties already abound and a coach downplaying an athlete's success will not help. Attributing success to luck or an inferior opponent only insults the players. An effective luck attribute could be, "We played well today, but the other team had a few good breaks and won. Keep up the good work."

8. Reflect reality in attribution. Be honest and treat people with respect. Athletes are people too and know what is happening. This means if a player has misjudged a ball that should have been caught, internal attribution of effort and ability is appropriate.

9. Avoid effort attributes for failure when the outcome is based on physiological parameters. Thus if a distance runner is not successful (the coach's definition of success), then saying "You didn't try enough" may be inaccurate. Athletes whose performance is based on physiological measures of strength, speed, or cardiovascular endurance can then avoid effort attributions for failure because there is no doubt about the effort they expended.

Explain the difference between intrinsic and extrinsic motivation. Give an original example of each.

Cognition and motivation theory provide insight into the connections between a person's thoughts and how these thoughts influence actions. The cognition approach to motivation uses goal-directed behavior as a basis. Deci has postulated two primary drives or innate needs that compel a person toward goal-directed behavior. A person must feel competent and be self-determining in coping and interacting with the environment. A person who experiences success tends to attribute it to high ability. The activity causes an internal sense of enjoyment and participation continues. A person who participates in activity for its enjoyment and without an external reward possesses an intrinsic motivation. In sports, this ability creates a person's ability to participate and continue to improve. Actions continue to voluntarily assert themselves and they remain a pleasure inducing activity.

Typical research on internal motivation includes the measure of a person's baseline of motivation for performing a task. Comparisons can be made between an intervention provided to one group and not another with an associated followup in an attempt to assess each person's intrinsic motivation to the task. Another approach involves recording the extent to which a person persists in practicing a task that involves no external demand or reward. For example, studies have been made of intrinsic motivation using "successful imagery" while learning a putting task. The length of time practicing the task served as the primary measure of intrinsic motivation. The group that used imagery performed golf putting significantly longer than control subjects that did not use imagery. The researchers reasoned that mental rehearsal provided an expectation of success and self-confidence, both of which have been associated with intrinsic motivation.

An interesting intrinsic motivation I assisted involved pistol shooting in lieu of a lunch hour. The woman used mental imagery to "blow away" the various people who annoyed her in the working environment. She projected their image onto the targets and became quite proficient at releasing stress in this manner. I assisted her with pistol training exercises I read involving Milton Erickson working with the Olympic pistol team. Her shooting score increased to such as extent that she consistently out-shot the person that was teaching her to shoot. She attributed this dramatic increase to consistent practice along with her internal images of "stress busting." To my knowledge, she had no great interest in extrinsic motivations such as trophies, prizes or other oscial adaptations.

Extrinsic motivation uses external factors such as money or trophies as anticipatory goals. As expected, intrinsically motivated behaviors yield more enjoyment and the person's self-image become more enhanced as compared to extrinsically motivated actions. Albert Einstein has stated that his studies alone are reward enough, that the "lust" for fame or money does not exist. However, an intrinsically motivated person also offered extrinsic rewards can begin to care about the score and winning and losing.

I briefly attempted to assist an individual wanting to satisfy his father with a golf trophy. While he admitted that he has little interest in golf, he explained that his father always wanted him to be a golf "pro." Since my client had no deep abiding interest in golf, he simply wanted me to "hypnotize" him into being good enough to win a local prize of two. When I began to work on his own internal state by eliciting meta programs and values and then start ranking them, he began to realize that he was the person in charge. In the short time we worked, I was not able to access that part of him that had this conflict. I felt that the important work would lie within and that once he became congruent within, his golf game, should he continue with this "interest," would improve significantly on its own. He was not able to accept this and only wanted a quick fix to his problem. He left because I was not able to provide the quick fix he wanted. His extrinsic motivation could be be fulfilled.

Compare and contrast the fustration-aggression hypothesis with the social and learning theory.

The frustration-aggression hypothesis derives from a skilled competitor not meeting goals and not satisfying personal needs and the resulting anger. The authors of this hypothesis, Dollard and colleagues at Yale University, propose that aggressive behavior follows as a logical consequence to frustration. Examples of direct aggression that tend to support this abound.

What happens without a possibility of direct retaliation? Behavior called displaced aggression replaces the direct destruction of the source of frustration. Teammates could experience heightened aggression in frustrated attempts to score a goal. More than mere frustration can trigger an aggressive response. Other aspects of the response include strength and intensity of the frustration, frequency of occurrence, and the degree of interference. An example that can happen in normal circumstances would be a player attempting, unsuccessfully, to overpower an opponent. The player could try many times and then resort to aggressive behavior instead of accepting "defeat."

This hypothesis does not elicit acceptance from everyone. Certainly not all frustration leads to aggression. Certainly people with low self-esteem or low ability tend to withdraw from the activity or reduce their efforts. Another limitation comes from the assumption that if aggression is the response to frustration, then the release of this frustration, through competition or watching a violent movie, should have a cathartic effect. Studies have shown, however, that this link does not exist. To the contrary, aggression often increases after players observe others engaging in aggressive activity.

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