Tag: Sports Psychology

The Psychological Effect of Long Distance Pacers

By: Premier Intern Staff

 

If you have run or even watched a marathon, you have surely seen the pacers leading packs of people while carrying pieces of paper on poles signifying the time that they are pacing for. Pacers are experienced runners who keep track of the time during a race and run at a pace which will allow them to finish the race at the time their sign publicizes. Less experienced runners run nearby the pacer during a race to be sure that they finish at the time they desire without over exerting themselves.

Pacers take much of the thought out of running. Instead of a runner having to pace himself or herself, one simply has to keep up with the pacer. Because of this, pacers have been used throughout the history of running to break world records. One of the most significant of these records is Roger Bannister’s sub-four-minute mile. The sub-four-minute mile was thought to be unreachable. Athletes had tried time and time again, often running the mile just seconds above four minutes. Bannister was the first to run a mile below four minutes, finishing the mile at 3 minutes and 59.4 seconds in 1954, and he credits much of this time to the two pacers who helped him during the race, Chris Chataway and Chris Brasher. More recently, Nike put on a project for three champion marathoners to break the two-hour marathon with the help of pacers and Nike’s new marathon designed shoe. With multiple different pacing groups containing many different experienced runners, Nike created an intense pacing plan which allowed one runner to finished at 2:00:25, 2 minutes closer to the sub-two-hour marathon than ever before.

From these examples, it is clear to see that pacing is a way to both assist and push runners. But how does it work? While much of the effect of pacing can be said to be due to physiological effects, psychologically, pacers allow runners’ focus on more important aspects of race. During a race without a pacer, runners have multiple things to think about. Runners are receiving many signals throughout a race including those of pain from their aching bodies telling them to slow down or stop. If a runner is not focused on something ahead of them, they are likely to have their focus drift to the feelings of pain, causing them to slow down without even noticing it. A pacer in front of the runner allows that runner to focus solely on keeping up and keeps the runner in check.

One research study measured the effects of a self-controlled pace versus a pace set by a second runner on a nonelite runner. The results showed that when the second runner was setting the pace, the nonelite runners perceived the run as easier, despite the fact that it was still the same 5 km that they had run at a self-controlled pace (Bath et al., 2012). Yet another study showed that an externally-controlled pace aided performance when compared to a self-controlled pacing strategy due to increased attentional focus (Brick et al., 2016). The results of these two studies suggest that running alongside a pacer aids performance because it reduces the amount of mental energy a runner has to use on thoughts regarding their pace. A runner who is focused on maintaining their pace sacrifices mental energy that could be put towards more important aspects such pushing himself or herself to the finish line.

So what does this mean for other sports? While the concept of a pacemaker cannot be introduced into many other competitive realms, such as basketball, learning from the benefits gained from pacemakers can help your own performance. The main benefit gained from pacemakers is, evidently, that reducing the amount of required thought about topics which can be externally controlled can aid in both focus and performance. With this, you can take the idea of narrowing your focus, apply it to your own performance, and like a runner following a pacer, keep your head up and look forward.

 

References

Bath, D., Turner, L.A., Bosch, A.N., Tucker, R. Lambert, E.V., Thompson, K.G., & St Clair Gibson, (2012). The effect of a second runner on pacing strategy and RPE during a running time trial. International Journal of Sport Physiology Performance, 7(1), 26-32.

Brick, N.E., Campbell, M.J., Metcalfe, R.S., Mair, J.L, & MacInyre, T.E. (2016). Altering pace control and pace regulation: Attentional focus effects during running. Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise, 48(5), 879-86. doi: 10.1249/MS.0000000000000843.

Friel, A. (2016). Hired guns: A brief history of the pacer [Blog Post]. Retrieved from https://thelongslowdistance.com/2016/02/09/hired-guns-a-brief-history-of-the-pacer/.

Huebsch, T. (2017). Big names in running comprise roster of pacers set to lead Nike’s Breaking2 attempt [News Article]. Retrieved from http://runningmagazine.ca/nikes-sub-two-marathon-breaking2-pacers/.

Nolan, A. (2017). So close! Kipchoge runs a 2:00:25 in the Breaking2 attempt [News Article]. Retrieved from http://www.runnersworld.com/2-hour-marathon/so-close-kipchoge-runs-a-20025-in-the-breaking2-attempt.

 

 

The Use of Psychological Profiling in Drafting

By: Premier Intern Staff

 

There is more science behind the NFL drafting process than one may think, for psychologists have discovered new ways to help coaches assess which players are more or less likely to succeed in the NFL based on the psychological and behavioral qualities that they bring to the table. These qualities are exposed by mental assessments that key in on facets such as mental speed, behavioral traits, impact traits, learning traits, and cognitive functions that would not otherwise be visible to the eye. One specific test that has assessed more than 10,000 past and current NFL players is called the TAP (Troutwine Athletic Profile) (Duncan, 2014). Used by approximately 95% of current NFL franchises, the TAP allows coaches to not only see whether a player will fit well with their team, it also compares the mental profile of the draftee with previous successful and unsuccessful NFL players, to see where they rank with regard to their overall mental capabilities (Athletic Types, 2016). Pretty cool huh?

So what kind of mental and behavioral qualities are coaches looking for based on previous successful NFL players?

One important quality picked up by the TAP is “drive”. Coaches are ultimately seeking players who continually look for ways to push and challenge themselves, not because of any external rewards that are on the line, but because they are internally driven to improve. They want players who are intrinsically motivated to train and play hard even when there is nobody watching.  Players who display this kind of drive make their teammates around them better, and create an atmosphere of integrity and tenacity both in the weight room and out on the field.

Another key quality that coaches are looking for is coachability. A player who has a high level of coachability is someone who is willing to listen to and internalize any feedback that the coach has to give. They use positive feedback to reinforce productive habits, and accept constructive criticism as a tool to make corrections and enhance their play. Because of their natural humility and openness to feedback, every bit of additional information that they can get from coach is wanted. Now, “being coachable doesn’t mean you have surrendered and don’t have an opinion of your own. It means you have the awareness, perseverance and determination to seek out someone to help you be better” (Probert, 2016).  Coaches appreciate players who are receptive to their coaching, and who readily adapt to their roles within the coach’s schemes.

One final quality that coaches are looking for in an athlete’s psychological profile is the ability to communicate effectively.  On the football field, this skill is particularly important for quarterbacks. In fact, the TAP helped the Colts select Peyton Manning over Ryan Leaf in the 1998 NFL Draft as a result of his promising scores in communication, focus, and preparation (Athletic Types, 2016).  “Although Ryan Leaf was the stronger athlete in many respects, he turned out to have a 10-cent emotional quotient to go with his million-dollar arm” (Haberman, 2014).  These emotional dynamics were picked up by the TAP, and helped lead the Colts away from Leaf and toward Manning, who became one of the best quarterbacks of all time.

Although there are additional qualities that could be added to this list, I encourage you to assess where you fall within these three metrics, and incorporate them into your life on and off the field.  The drive to improve, a commitment to mindset training, and the ability to listen and to learn from feedback, both positive and corrective, are deal-makers for NFL prospects.  They can be for you, too.

 

References:

Duncan, D. (2014). Hiring A New Team Player? Lessons From The NFL Draft

https://www.forbes.com/sites/rodgerdeanduncan/2014/05/04/hiring-a-new-team-player-lessons-from-the-nfl-draft/#2ac87a557077

Athletic Types. (2016). About the TAP

http://athletetypes.com/about-tap/

Probert, L. (2016). What it Means to be Coachable and Why You Should Care.

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/laura-probert-mpt/what-it-means-to-be-coachable-and-why-you-should-care_b_9178372.html

Athletic Types. (2016). TAP History

http://athletetypes.com/company/

 

 

QUIZ (DISTANCE RUNNING): What does your attentional focus type say about your race performance?

By: Premier Intern Staff

If you are a distance runner, it’s quite possible that you are familiar with the question, “What do you focus on during such a long race?” This may be especially true for those of you who run marathons. 26.2 grueling miles’ worth of running, which typically equates to several hours, is more than plenty of time for your mind to really hone in on something—whether that be your running form, your levels of exertion and pain, the people around you, your breathing, or simply the ground in front of you. So it’s only natural for those who do not compete in long-distance races to wonder how you mentally make it through, and just what you could possibly be thinking about that whole time.

Yet, have you ever asked yourself these questions? Do you voluntarily choose where to put your focus during a race, or have you even considered the idea that your decision could have significant effects on your performance? Take the quiz in order to find out if and how you can possibly improve your race results—just in time for this year’s Boston Marathon.

 

1. Where do you put the majority of your focus during a race?

A) Externally: I tend to focus most on my surroundings, e.g., other runners, the scenery, my music, or the crowd and people who are cheering me on –– go to question 2

B) Internally: I tend to focus most on my breathing and/or other immanent factors, e.g., physical sensations, speed, pain, running form, or perceived exertion –– go to question 3

 

2. Do you believe that having a primarily external focus helps your performance, or is your area of focus and attention something you hope to change in order to improve?

A) I think that keeping my focus on my surroundings makes me run faster and/or more efficiently than focusing on internal factors and sensations. –– result: E/E

B) I think that I could improve my overall race performance if I were to shift my primary focus from external to internal conditions. –– go to question 4

C) I don’t think it really matters. –– result: X

 

3. Have you ever been told that you should focus on your breathing during a race, did you do so, and did that seem to positively affect your performance?

A) Yes, I have been told to focus on my breathing. I did so, and I believe that it helped me. –– go to question 5

B) Yes, I have been told to focus on my breathing. I did so, and I believe that it either did nothing in regards to my overall performance or negatively affected it. –– go to question 6

C) Yes, I have been told to focus on my breathing. But I did not actually do so, because it seemed like either it would negatively impact my performance or it would be pointless. –– go to question 6

D) No, I cannot recall having been told to focus on my breathing. –– go to question 6

 

4. In what way do you believe that remaining internally-focused throughout the majority a race could most positively affect you?

A) I don’t think it would necessarily help me run a faster time, but it could help me avoid pain by allowing me to monitor and correctly pace myself and/or by allowing me to concentrate on running form and thus decrease chance of injury. OR, it could help me in some other way, but still, it would not improve my overall race time. –– result: E/X

B) It would help me run a faster time because I can focus on form and thereby maximize my running efficiency. –– result: E/I

C) It would help me run a faster time because I can pay more attention to how I am pacing myself. –– result: E/I

D) It would help me run a faster time for a reason other than the options listed above. –– result: E/I

 

5. Do you believe that focusing on your breathing throughout a race would always or almost always help you run a faster time?

A) Yes, focusing on breathing while I race is something which has continued and/or can continue to boost my performance. –– result: B/B

B) No, focusing on my breathing was just something which helped me that one time, and I don’t believe that it will (likely) continue to be something which helps me throughout races in the future. –– go to question 6

 

6. Do you believe that having a primarily internal focus helps your performance, or is your area of focus and attention something you hope to change in order to improve?

A) I think that keeping my focus internal makes me run faster and/or more efficiently than focusing on external factors. –– result: I/I

B) I think that I could improve my overall race performance if I were to shift my primary focus from internal to external conditions. –– go to question 7

C) I don’t think it really matters. –– result: X

 

7. In what way do you believe that remaining externally focused throughout the majority of a race could most positively affect you?

A) I don’t think it would necessarily help me run a faster time, but it could help me avoid pain by distracting me. OR, it could help me in some other way, but still, it would not improve my overall race time. –– result: I/X

B) It would help me run a faster time because I can focus on passing/staying ahead of other runners. –– result: I/E

C) It would help me run a faster time because it could help me avoid pain by distracting me, thus allowing me to push myself harder. –– result: I/E

D) It would help me run a faster time for a reason other than the options listed above. –– result: I/E

 

Results:

E/E

Whether it is your music, the crowd, the scenery, the course itself, or other runners, you pay most attention to factors which are outside of your body and/or its physical sensations. You also do not plan on changing this direction of attentional focus anytime soon. Good news—not only are you right to be focusing on external conditions, but you are also correct in deeming this something which does not need to be changed. Running economy, defined in terms of oxygen consumption at sub-maximum running speed (so not during all-out sprinting), is maximized when you choose not to place your focus on internal factors and instead direct it externally. This means that at a given running speed, you consume less oxygen when your focus is directed externally than you do when it is directed internally. Or, you can look at it this way: at a given level of oxygen consumption, your running speed while focusing externally is faster than it is while focusing internally. Thus, it is likely that directing your attention outside of yourself when racing creates a better running economy, a better running economy means less depletion of physiological resources at a given speed, and less depletion of resources means running a faster overall time (Schücker, Hagemann, Strauss, & Völker, 2009).

 

X

Even though you believe that it doesn’t matter where you put your focus during a race, you took this quiz. So whether it was out of boredom, curiosity, or some sliver of doubt in your belief, you were nonetheless right in doing so. The good news, therefore, is that you are already on the right track. The first step to improving is realizing that you have both the potential and the desire to do so. And if you do, in fact, hope to improve your running times, then you have completed step one. Running economy, defined in terms of oxygen consumption at sub-maximum running speed (so not during all-out sprinting), is maximized when you choose not to place your focus on internal factors (e.g., physical sensations, speed, pain, running form, or perceived exertion) and instead direct it externally (e.g., focusing on your music, the crowd, the scenery, the course itself, or other runners). This means that at a given running speed, you consume less oxygen when your focus is directed externally than you do when it is directed internally. Or, you can look at it this way: at a given level of oxygen consumption, your running speed while focusing externally is faster than it is while focusing internally. Thus, it is likely that directing your attention outside of yourself when racing creates a better running economy, a better running economy means less depletion of physiological resources at a given speed, and less depletion of resources means running a faster overall time (Schücker, Hagemann, Strauss, & Völker, 2009).

 

E/X

Whether it is your music, the crowd, the scenery, the course itself, or other runners, you pay most attention to factors which are outside of your body and/or its physical sensations. Even if you did not realize it, you have been putting your attention where it is most beneficial to your running economy—so despite being previously unaware that direction of attentional focus could affect your times, you are already in a good habit. Running economy, defined in terms of oxygen consumption at sub-maximum running speed (so not during all-out sprinting), is maximized when you choose not to place your focus on internal factors (e.g., physical sensations, speed, pain, running form, or perceived exertion) and instead direct it externally. This means that at a given running speed, you consume less oxygen when your focus is directed externally than you do when it is directed internally. Or, you can look at it this way: at a given level of oxygen consumption, your running speed while focusing externally is faster than it is while focusing internally. Thus, it is likely that directing your attention outside of yourself when racing creates a better running economy, a better running economy means less depletion of physiological resources at a given speed, and less depletion of resources means running a faster overall time (Schücker, Hagemann, Strauss, & Völker, 2009).

 

E/I

Whether it is your music, the crowd, the scenery, the course itself, or other runners, you pay most attention to factors which are outside of your body and/or its physical sensations. Even if you did not realize it, you are already putting your focus where it will likely maximize your running economy, so there is no need to change. Running economy, defined in terms of oxygen consumption at sub-maximum running speed (so not during all-out sprinting), is maximized when you choose not to place your focus on internal factors (e.g., physical sensations, speed, pain, running form, or perceived exertion) and instead direct it externally. This means that at a given running speed, you consume less oxygen when your focus is directed externally than you do when it is directed internally. Or, you can look at it this way: at a given level of oxygen consumption, your running speed while focusing externally is faster than it is while focusing internally. Thus, it is likely that directing your attention outside of yourself when racing creates a better running economy, a better running economy means less depletion of physiological resources at a given speed, and less depletion of resources means running a faster overall time (Schücker, Hagemann, Strauss, & Völker, 2009).

 

B/B

Whether it is your physical sensations, speed, amount and category of pain, running form, or levels of perceived exertion, you pay most attention to factors internal to your body. Additionally, and as a subtype of these internal conditions, you put intentional focus on your breathing. However, breathing is likely the most sub-optimal direction of attentional focus during endurance races—at least in terms of running economy, that is. But good news: you are now on the right track. The first step to improving is realizing that you have both the potential and the desire to do so. And if you do, in fact, hope to improve your running times, then in taking this quiz you have completed step one. Running economy, defined in terms of oxygen consumption at sub-maximum running speed (so not during all-out sprinting), is maximized when you choose not to place your focus on internal factors and instead direct it externally (e.g., focusing on your music, the crowd, the scenery, the course itself, or other runners). This means that at a given running speed, you consume less oxygen when your focus is directed externally than you do when it is directed internally. Or, you can look at it this way: at a given level of oxygen consumption, your running speed while focusing externally is faster than it is while focusing internally. Thus, it is likely that directing your attention outside of yourself when racing creates a better running economy, a better running economy means less depletion of physiological resources at a given speed, and less depletion of resources means running a faster overall time (Schücker, Hagemann, Strauss, & Völker, 2009).

 

I/I

Whether it is your physical sensations, speed, amount and category of pain, running form, or levels of perceived exertion, you pay most attention to factors internal to your body. However, the most optimal direction of attentional focus during endurance races—in terms of running economy, at least—is not internal. But good news: you are now on the right track. The first step to improving is realizing that you have both the potential and the desire to do so. And if you do, in fact, hope to improve your running times, then in taking this quiz you have completed step one. Running economy, defined in terms of oxygen consumption at sub-maximum running speed (so not during all-out sprinting), is maximized when you choose not to place your focus on internal factors and instead direct it externally (e.g., focusing on your music, the crowd, the scenery, the course itself, or other runners). This means that at a given running speed, you consume less oxygen when your focus is directed externally than you do when it is directed internally. Or, you can look at it this way: at a given level of oxygen consumption, your running speed while focusing externally is faster than it is while focusing internally. Thus, it is likely that directing your attention outside of yourself when racing creates a better running economy, a better running economy means less depletion of physiological resources at a given speed, and less depletion of resources means running a faster overall time (Schücker, Hagemann, Strauss, & Völker, 2009).

 

I/X

Whether it is your physical sensations, speed, amount and category of pain, running form, or levels of perceived exertion, you pay most attention to factors internal to your body. However, the most optimal direction of attentional focus during endurance races—in terms of running economy, at least—is not internal. But good news: you are now on the right track. The first step to improving is realizing that you have both the potential and the desire to do so. And if you do, in fact, hope to improve your running times, then in taking this quiz you have completed step one. Running economy, defined in terms of oxygen consumption at sub-maximum running speed (so not during all-out sprinting), is maximized when you choose not to place your focus on internal factors and instead direct it externally (e.g., focusing on your music, the crowd, the scenery, the course itself, or other runners). This means that at a given running speed, you consume less oxygen when your focus is directed externally than you do when it is directed internally. Or, you can look at it this way: at a given level of oxygen consumption, your running speed while focusing externally is faster than it is while focusing internally. Thus, it is likely that directing your attention outside of yourself when racing creates a better running economy, a better running economy means less depletion of physiological resources at a given speed, and less depletion of resources means running a faster overall time (Schücker, Hagemann, Strauss, & Völker, 2009).

 

I/E

Whether it is your physical sensations, speed, amount and category of pain, running form, or levels of perceived exertion, you pay most attention to factors internal to your body—yet you hope to change this. The most optimal direction of attentional focus during endurance races—in terms of running economy, at least—is not internal. So good news: you are now on the right track. Running economy, defined in terms of oxygen consumption at sub-maximum running speed (so not during all-out sprinting), is maximized when you choose not to place your focus on internal factors and instead direct it externally (e.g., focusing on your music, the crowd, the scenery, the course itself, or other runners). This means that at a given running speed, you consume less oxygen when your focus is directed externally than you do when it is directed internally. Or, you can look at it this way: at a given level of oxygen consumption, your running speed while focusing externally is faster than it is while focusing internally. Thus, it is likely that directing your attention outside of yourself when racing creates a better running economy, a better running economy means less depletion of physiological resources at a given speed, and less depletion of resources means running a faster overall time (Schücker, Hagemann, Strauss, & Völker, 2009).

 

 

 

Reference:
Schücker, L., Hagemann, N., Strauss, B., & Völker, K. (2009). The effect of attentional focus on running economy. Journal of Sports Sciences, 27(12), 1241-1248. http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/02640410903150467

 

 

Adversity: (N.) Fortunate Misfortune

By: Premier Intern Staff

 

Imagine that right now, you are given a piece of paper. On this paper is a list, and this list contains all of the painful, frustrating, and heartbreaking experiences that you will have within the future of your athletic career. You are then given the option to cross off any or all of the items, thereby eliminating them from your life’s timeline and saving yourself from facing these setbacks down the road. Would you do so? Or what if: you are given the list, but you cannot change anything on it. You can, however, move to a new sport so as to avoid these otherwise inevitable experiences. Would you change sports in hopes of finding a smoother, more pleasant path toward your ultimate goals

Assuming that your desire is to maximize overall success, and that you want to become the best athlete you can be, you should have answered “no” to these questions. (This is also assuming that the setbacks are not so disabling as to cause PTSD or long-term trauma, as not all adversity has positive outcomes.) However, if you replied with “yes” to either of them, don’t be so hard on yourself. It is our natural instinct as humans to avoid danger and pain, so of course you wouldn’t look at that list and automatically shout, “Yes! I really want to go through all of these horrible events!” Yet…are they really so horrible? In the moment, yes, they very likely are. But with one or more people who are there to support you, and with the prerequisite skills and attitudes, these events are actually not horrible in the long run. In fact, they are beneficial, as they will likely move you further toward your goals than you may have travelled otherwise (Savage, Collins, & Cruickshank, 2017)

To gain an understanding as to why exactly this is, let’s step back for a moment and take a look at what can occur when an athlete experiences a setback. Let’s say, for example, that you get sick, and it’s the middle of the season. You are forced to sit out and rest until you recover, and this is likely frustrating in and of itself. But then when you return to practice, you are significantly weaker, and you feel as though you lost all the endurance that you had worked so hard to build up throughout the past few months. At this point, you essentially have two options. You can throw in the towel and give up on the season. Or, despite feeling angry and disappointed, you can proceed to work relentlessly—not only toward the level which you were once at, but also toward surpassing this level and becoming even greater. In this scenario, you choose the latter. You are somewhat disheartened, but your unwavering desire to reach your goals drives a determination within you which is greater than your sense of defeat.

Later in your career, you are able to see the full picture when looking back. Getting sick in the heart of the season had seemed like a purely unfortunate event. Nothing good came of it at the time. You couldn’t change it, so you gave all that you had in your fight to return to the top. And maybe the season didn’t turn out the way that you had hoped, but you now realize that you augmented your resilience and mental toughness as a result of the way in which you dealt with the setback. The overall payoff thus proved itself to be greater in magnitude than the initial negative impact of the adversity (Savage et al., 2017).

There are three aspects of this example which are important to recognize. First, when faced with the decision as to whether you wanted to confront the challenge head-on or accept the misfortune, you strengthened your resolve and chose the former. This decision was made by you, not for you (i.e., by someone else). Second, when struggling to get back on your feet and working through the grind, you employed the skills, attitude, and knowledge which you already had, including the initiative to seek external support (e.g., from family members, coaches, or trained psychologists). Even before this incident, you were a motivated, resilient, hard-working, and mentally tough athlete. It is also likely that you had previously witnessed others bounce back from injury or illness, so you had a sense of what it would take. And third, you learned from your experience by subsequently reflecting upon it, thus adding to the personal growth with which it enabled you (Savage et al., 2017).

Though it’s tempting, you should not erase your future adversities from that theoretical list. Similarly, it is not advantageous for you to constantly avoid situations which yield the possibility of failure or disappointment. Frustration and heartbreak can work to your benefit in the long run, given that you have the necessary mental tools and prior skillset to navigate them and pick yourself back up. These skills are consequently refined and strengthened, and your experience becomes a resource that you can draw upon when faced with adversity down the road. As such, setbacks cause an initial drop in perceived performance potential, but their subsequent rebounds exceed the magnitude of the drop (Savage et al., 2017).

Competition is not easy—physically or mentally. When things get tough, you need to be tough, too. Being faced with a major obstacle can at times, though, be tremendously upsetting; it can be scary, or stressful, or simply exhausting. But here’s the beautiful thing about pain: it can help you learn, it can help you grow, and it can be the catalyst for accomplishments that you had once never imagined possible.

 

Savage, J., Collins, D., & Cruickshank, A. (2017). Exploring traumas in the development of talent: what are they, what do they do, and what do they require? Journal of Applied Sport Psychology, 29(1), 101-117. http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/10413200.2016.1194910

 

Growth Mindset

By: Premier Intern Staff

“You can do anything that you set your mind to.” Not quite, but whatever you set your mind to, you can absolutely make better.  There is a mentality called the growth mindset that can be adopted by all people which leads to greater success and overall performance. Having a growth mindset is associated with having the fundamental belief that your abilities and outcomes are influenced by hard work (as opposed to mere natural talent). It is a way of thinking that not only increases your motivation levels, giving you the drive to work towards your goals, but one that also allows for greater bounce-back from challenges faced along the way (otherwise known as resiliency). The athletes who adopt this way of thinking are the ones that tend to stand out from the rest. They are the ones that persistently look for ways in which they can improve their game and work hard to correct mistakes or bad habits. “Athletes with the growth mindset find success in doing their best, in learning and improving” (Dweck, 2006). They don’t need a prize to feel confident, and instead attain it through adopting a growth mindset and focusing on self-improvement.  Not everyone has this same way of thinking, though, for there is another mindset called the “fixed mindset” that people often adopt.

The fixed mindset is associated with the fundamental belief that your ability level is limited by natural talent. Which, in essence, is what makes success and outcomes set at a fixed level determined by said ability.  Athletes that have a fixed mindset have a fear of trying and failing. Instead of working hard to engage in their own improvement (as someone with the growth mindset would), they often get caught up in their failures/shortcomings, comparing their ability levels to other athletes around them. Someone with a fixed mindset may have all kinds of natural talent, but that talent means very little if they lack the motivation to develop it into something better.

They undermine their chances of success by assuming that their talent alone will take them where they want to go. Because talent has allowed things to come easier to them throughout their career, their confidence is quickly put to the test and often diminishes when they run into a set-back of any kind. The truth is, the athlete isn’t always to blame for having this kind of mindset. Coaches and parents have an influence on their athlete’s mindset based on the way that they communicate with them. When their athlete does something well, parents and coaches often fall into the habit of praising their talent and accomplishments, rather than praising the hard work that the athlete put forth to get there. Although praise is what many athletes like to hear, “children need honest and constructive feedback that pushes them towards growth as well” (Dweck, 2006).

That doesn’t necessarily mean that a coach or parent should negate praise altogether, but they should be cautious as to what message they are sending the athlete through the way that they deliver that praise. At the end of the day, “the athlete should recognize the value of challenging themselves and the importance of effort over anything else” (Dweck, 2006).

One athlete who used the growth mindset to overcome failure throughout his athletic career was Michael Jordan. Believe it or not, he wasn’t always the star athlete that people view him as today. Not only was Jordan cut from his high school’s varsity team, he never got recruited to play for his top college team, and was passed up during the first two draft picks in the NBA. BUT instead of viewing these so-called “failures” as reasons to give up (as many people would), he used them as motivators. In fact, Michael Jordan was featured in a Nike ad where he says, “I’ve missed more than nine thousand shots. I’ve lost almost three hundred games. Twenty-six times, I’ve been trusted to take the game-winning shot, and missed, and that is why I succeed” (Dweck, 2006). He succeeds because he has trained his mind to see failure and defeat as a challenge and an opportunity for growth. This should be the mindset of every athlete, for “success is the result of preparation, hard work, and learning from failure.” (Quote by Colin Powell)

 

Dweck, Carol S. Mindset: The New Psychology of Success. 1st ed. New York: Ballantine Books, 2006. Print.

 

 

Just Imagine: You Can Improve Your Mental Toughness

By: Premier Intern Staff

 

You’re in the lead, heart pounding, racing forward through the pain toward the finish. In the last moments, you see your competition come up next to you. Do you have what it takes to win?

More often than we might think, the difference between first and second, between winning and losing, between making the cutoff time or just barely missing it, is in our minds. In those last few seconds, did you truly give all that you had? Did you use every single ounce of energy that your body could produce, or were you unable to tap into that last tiny bit? Could you have pushed just the slightest bit harder to edge out your opponent? My guess is that physically, you were capable of more…but mentally, you were not. And if you did not win, this is likely the reason why.

The ability to persevere in the face of pressures, challenges, and adversities is a highly sought-after trait in athletes and coaches alike (Mattie & Munroe-Chandler, 2011). Mental toughness is the key to success and the linchpin of a good performance, so improving it is just as important as improving your physical strength, speed, and stamina. Yet while many know and accept this, few realize the extent to which they can augment their mental fortitude, and further, how much of this improvement can come from within.

To learn how to be mentally strong, we must practice. You want to be ready to grind out those last 100 yards in a race? You practice them over and over, you practice pushing through the pain, and while you are bettering yourself physically, you are also bettering yourself mentally and preparing for the time that it counts. But there is another way to practice, and when done correctly, it significantly predicts higher levels of mental toughness (Mattie & Munroe-Chandler, 2011). This technique is what sport psychologists refer to as imagery.

Imagery can generally be employed by athletes and performers in one of five ways. You can mentally perform specific skills (known as cognitive specific, or CS, imagery), and you can also mentally rehearse routines, plans, or strategies (known as cognitive general, or CG, imagery). Additionally, you can perform motivational specific (MS) imagery, during which you bring to mind images of goal-oriented responses or achievements. Lastly, there is motivational general (MG) imagery, which can be broken into motivational general–arousal (MG-A) and motivational general–mastery (MG-M). MG-A imagery involves bringing to mind images related to the emotional or physiological arousal and the regulation of anxiety associated with competition. MG-M imagery, on the other hand, refers to the act of imagining feelings of confidence, control, and perseverance (Mattie & Munroe-Chandler, 2011).

This level of categorization may all seem like a waste of time, and you might be thinking, “Why should I care? Can’t I just imagine my race and visualize myself winning?” If mental toughness is what you lack and this is how you are attempting to increase it, then you are, in fact, wasting your time. However, if you correctly employ the type of imagery found to be a strong and significant predictor of mental toughness––MG-M imagery, that is––then you are greatly improving your odds at having superlative mental grit when it matters most (Mattie & Munroe-Chandler, 2011).

To be clear, the other four types of imagery are not useless. Various studies have found that each type serves its own purpose (Mattie & Munroe-Chandler, 2011). Yet as you progress in your sport and the competition intensifies, mental toughness becomes clutch as the difference between first and second is often small. Therefore, the use of MG-M imagery can provide that final element of preparation needed to outperform your opponent. The importance of exercising mental strength and resilience during practice should never be underestimated. But we now know that visualizing yourself as self-confident, in control, and mentally tough during competition is also a valuable weapon in its own right (Mattie & Munroe-Chandler, 2011).

The mind is a powerful force. If you let it hold you back, it will not fail in doing so. But if you train it to push through the pain without letting up, if you teach it to work for you rather than against you, then you are enabling yourself to unlock your greatest physical potential. In those final moments, when that head-to-head race comes down to mental fortitude; to whose mind has the power to push on and who gives in to the fight…do you have what it takes to win?

The answer should be an undeniable “yes.”

 

Mattie, P., & Munroe-Chandler, K. (2012). Examining the Relationship Between Mental Toughness and Imagery Use. Journal of Applied Sport Psychology, 24(2), 144-156. http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/10413200.2011.605422

Super Bowl 51 and the Psychology of Losing

By: Premier Intern Staff

 

Super Bowl season is upon us.  This Sunday, at NRG Stadium in Houston, TX, the New England Patriots will meet the Atlanta Falcons to determine the 2017 NFL championship.  To the winner will go the spoils: the Lombardi trophy, homecoming parades, changes in team culture, fortifications of team and individual legacies.  To the loser?  Well, that’s complicated, and something that’s often overlooked.

The virtues of winning are well-established.  We’re conditioned to compete, and culturally, financially and biologically rewarded for winning.  Several scientific studies have shown a direct correlation between winning outcomes and testosterone and dopamine levels in the brain, which enhance both mental functioning and feelings of pleasure and well-being (Huettel, 2014). Researchers state that success and winning shape our brains more than genetics and drugs (Hardman, 2013). Success changes the chemistry of the brain, making you more focused, smarter, more confident and more aggressive.

But, as either the Falcons or Patriots will know only too well Sunday evening, losing just as much a part of competition as winning. The cost of winning, and the many rewards it provides, requires that every competition have a loser—or, in the case of the NFL, 31 of them.  Perhaps no one understands this reality more intimately than Jim Kelly, Hall of Fame quarterback for the Buffalo Bills, who lost four straight Super Bowls from 1991-1994.  “There’s always going to be a major emphasis on winning, because that’s just the way society is. That’s just the way our culture is: That you want to be number one at the end. And if you’re number two, at times, there’s no doubt that number two is looked upon as mediocre, as a person that didn’t achieve it, sometimes as losers” (CBS News, 2013).  Perhaps no one better understands victories, either.  Kelly has twice beaten cancer since retiring from the NFL.

The Super Bowl could be decided by a single kick, catch, coaching mistake, or even the 50/50 shot of a flip of a coin at the beginning (CBS News, 2013). Those seemingly insignificant actions are the fine line that ultimately will separate those who win from those who lose. Duke Neuroscientist Scott Huettel, who’s done much work with professional athletes, states that winning is overrated (Huettel, 2014).

So going into this Super Bowl Sunday, and let’s face it the rest of life, keep this in mind. Some of your biggest victories may stem from being able to stomach your worst losses. Winning is both a great feeling and beneficial to our health, but the work you put in to get there is what builds you as a person. Everyone needs to take a few losses here and there to give us a drive and a purpose to better ourselves and really evaluate our lives; something we might happen to overlook if we always won. Without that, where would we be in life? Afterall, majority of the reasons you continue on is because you’re doing something you love. The way you view any competition is what will define the way you see the reward. Whether you’re an NFL player, a high school athlete, or someone just trying to get through your daily life, you know you can’t win every challenge. It’s what you take from each loss, and even win, is what will shape your motivation for the next challenge.

 

References:

Chase, C. (2017, January 23). Super Bowl LI: The 10 most important things to know about Falcons vs. Patriots | FOX Sports. Retrieved from http://www.foxsports.com/nfl/gallery/super-bowl-falcons-patriots-most-important-things-stats-tom-brady-matt-ryan-mvp-012317

CBS News. (2013, February 3). The psychology of winning – and losing – CBS News. Retrieved from http://www.cbsnews.com/news/the-psychology-of-winning-and-losing/

Robertson, I. H. (2012). The winner effect: The neuroscience of success and failure. New York: Thomas Dunne Books.

Huettel, S. (2014). An overall probability of winning heuristic for complex risky decisions: Choice and eye fixation evidence. 125 2: 73-87. Organizational Behavior and Human Decision Processes.

Hardiman, A. (2013, June 20). Your Brain on Winning | Runner’s World. Retrieved from http://www.runnersworld.com/race-training/your-brain-on-winning

 

 

 

Sticking with it: Motivation to Follow Through on Goals

By: Premier Intern Staff

 

I’m sure that we have all experienced a time when we didn’t want to follow through with a task at hand. Either we got bored, felt like the task was too difficult to complete, became burnt out, or couldn’t see the benefits that would arise upon completion. Whatever the reason may be, we’ve been there. The good news is that there are various approaches that can be taken to fix this problem, one of them being, “keeping your eyes on the prize.”

Everything that we do is done for a reason. For example, baseball players both young and old are required to go to batting practice. It has become part of their pregame routine to take dozens of extra swings in preparation for competition. The purpose, as told by the Oakland hitting coach Chili Davis, is that “batting practice is a time to create and foster good habits. The guys who do it and do it right are the ones who are more successful.” (Caple, 2014) The same thing goes for volleyball players. “A setter will come close to making one third of all the ball contacts by the team.” (USA volleyball) This means that they better be darn good at what they do, or the team won’t be successful. But how do they achieve this skill? The answer is that they make goals for themselves and lean into them. They practice footwork, hand contact, vision, etc. time and time again so that they can deliver the perfect ball to their hitters. They want success for their team, so they keep their eyes on the prize during all of those days of practice and problem solving.

Another tactic that can be used to stay motivated is to take a different approach. Sometimes the way you are doing something won’t feel right or may seem more difficult than it should. In this case, taking a step back and re-analyzing your methodology towards the task may be a good option for you. Being able to identify a couple tweaks and changes that could be made may change your outlook and experience in ways you didn’t know were possible!

Last of all, reward yourself! Nothing worth having ever comes easy, right? So instead of just looking at the big picture (which may appear a little daunting), make small goals for yourself along the way. When you reach one of those milestones, reward yourself. One way you could do this is to treat yourself to a nice breakfast the next morning, or to document your success in writing. Reading and reliving your accomplishments may give you the right drive to continue forward on your journey. It is important to be able to recognize your own progress, which will not only allow you to celebrate the successes, but will also let you know how much further you have to go in reaching your primary goals.

“The discipline you learn and character you build from setting and achieving a goal can be more valuable than the achievement of the goal itself.” -Bo Bennett

 

References:

Caple, J. (2014). Batting Practice: Swings and Misses

USA Volleyball (2013). Thoughts for Setters

 

 

The Importance of Deliberate Practice

By: Premier Intern Staff

Practice makes perfect. If you’re an athlete, you’ve probably heard this a few thousand times throughout your life. Practice is necessary to improve health, build confidence, gain a better understanding of rules and regulations, and also try out new techniques. But how can practice really bring out peak performance? When athletes partake in “deliberate practice,” they are more in tune with their bodies and see results.

Deliberate practice relates to the quality of the practice time. It focuses on specific goals of improving performance by participating in highly structured activities relating to that sport (Barr, 2016). It may be easy to just “go through the motions” of practice, but if your goal is to gain skills and become an elite athlete, engaging in deliberate practice should be one of your objectives. Dr. Janet Starkes, a kinesiology professor at McMaster University, and colleagues recently concluded a study dating back almost three decades on deliberate practice, and state: “The core of our work has alluded to the important role that self-focused attention plays in helping skilled athletes to refine inefficient movement during deliberate practice.” This self-focus is one of the main factors in developing elite athletes. Her work also suggests that something called “reflective somatic awareness” plays an important role in this process. By learning to feel and understand the body, you will increase your awareness to consciously and deliberately improve the movements within your sport.

So how can we engage in deliberate practice? There are a few steps to take. First, you must be motivated to improve your performance and continuously exert an effort to be better. Second, use your pre-existing knowledge to help you understand the task at hand so you are performing movements properly. Third, ask your coach to give you immediate and informative feedback after your performance so you know what went well and what needs improvement. Lastly, you should repeatedly perform the same or similar tasks to increase your awareness (Clear, 2016). Following these steps will help you partake in deliberate practice and improve your overall performance!

 

References:
Barr, C. (2016). Deliberate Practice: What It Is and Why You Need It.
Clear, J. (2016). The Beginner’s Guide to Deliberate Practice | James Clear.
Starkes, J. (2016). Toward an explanation of continuous improvement in expert athletes: The role of consciousness in deliberate practice. International Journal of Sport Psychology, 46(6), 666-675. Retrieved November 15, 2016.
 

Rivalry: The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly

By: Premier Intern Staff

 

We’ve all heard our coach say, “We are going up against our biggest rivals tonight. Let’s go out there and beat them!” Our rivals may be our greatest enemy, but they are also our best motivators. Why else would we fight so hard to beat them? If we didn’t have any rivals, there would be no one to play against. Rivalries can actually boost our performance in sport, business, and everyday life because everyone has that drive to be the best. Multiple studies have shown that rivalry increases both effort and performance. “An analysis of competitive runners showed that they shaved more than four seconds per kilometer off their times when a rival was in the same race,” (Hutson, 2014).

Rivalry has also shown to increase motivation, group cohesion, and patriotism. Sounds pretty good, right? There can be a downside to rivalries when they get taken too far. If too much focus is placed on beating our rivals, we can develop something called “tunnel vision”. “When success is measured solely by how one stacks up against a single competitor, it can lead to a preoccupation that turns on the blinders to other competitive threats,” (Entis, 2015). By focusing on only beating our rivals, are we holding ourselves to the highest standard of greatness? If we pay too much attention to the outcome of beating a rival, we may forget about the process of how to get there. This can be discouraging and lead to feelings of hostility, resentment, and envy. Rivalries are important for competition, but if taken too far they can be detrimental. Next time you are going up against your rival, be thankful for them. That may sound silly, but they are the ones who push you to become better. Also, remember to keep your eyes open and be observant. Even if you are focused on your rivals, there may be another team/individual sneaking up in your blind spot. Most importantly, have fun and enjoy the competition. A good rivalry can be fun and hopefully creates a positive atmosphere for your sport. Valentino Rossie once said, “The great fights with your strongest rivals are always the biggest motivation. When you win easily it’s not the same taste.” Keep this in mind the next time you step on the field, court, course, ski hill, rink, or track with your biggest rival!