Law of Reverse Effect: Are You Trying Too Hard?

Does this cyclist actually need to try to cycle fast or should this process be automatic?

Theories Galore

One of the very best and worst aspects of modern-day sport psychology is the sheer number of theories we have. Boy, are there a lot to choose from. The upside of having so many concepts to draw from is it’s rare we encounter a challenge with no empirical guidance. Struggling with your confidence? No worries, we’ve got you covered. Finding yourself in the middle of a motivation rut during the middle of the season? Easy Peasy, we’ve got about a dozen processes that are specifically designed to help with exactly that. 

But of course, there is a downside as well. Information overdue! Due in part to the fact that we employ quite a number of sport psychologists and performance psychologists and therefore are ethically obliged to agree with one another to a certain degree, we have always been interested in organising these theories in some way.

A Theory For All The Theories

By organising, I mean sorting them into different types so to speak. For example, which of them actually contain useful and useable processes. When you examine many of these models properly you’ll be surprised how many don’t actually contain applied advice.

Let’s take the Theory of Internal And External Motivation as an example. It is a great concept but somewhat lacking when it comes to tried and tested ideas on how to actually be more internally motivated for example. So, giving a workshop on types of motivation to a group of athletes rarely has any impact on their actual motivation. And then there are some theories that virtually nobody has come across. And yet without too much creativity, they have so much potential benefit it’s not funny.

Have You Heard About The Law of Reverse Effect?

One of these is The Law of Reverse Effect or sometimes called The Law of Reversed Effect (with a ‘d’ at the end of reverse) or The Law of Reverse Effort or The Backwards Law. Classic psychology, we can’t even agree on the name of the thing! Speaking of which have you voted yet for what you believe ought to be the correct spelling of sport(s) psychology from now? If not you can vote here to have your say.

Anyway, The Law of Reverse Effect suggests that “the greater the conscious effort, the less the subconscious response” or “whenever the will (conscious mind) and imagination (subconscious) are in conflict, the imagination (subconscious) always wins.”

Non-psychobabble takeaway? At some point, when your motor skills are automated enough (muscle memory has been established) then trying really hard to hit the ball, stick the dismount or make the right incision (surgeon) will actually have the reserved effect and make you worse. It would be like trying to sneeze or laugh better.

Neuroscience Time

How is this possible? Surely putting in the maximum effort is universally beneficial, right? Wrong.

In order to explain we need to tap into a little bit of neuroscience. When you complete a body movement your basal ganglia and cerebellum attempt to learn how it was done. The more you repeat the same movement the stronger this memory of the muscles becomes. After a while, the movement becomes automatic. In others words, it can be done and prefers to be done without conscious effort.

Thinking about how to complete this body movement acts as a circuit breaker for this automatic process. The muscle memory is blocked and your body goes back into a kind of novice/learning mode. The prefrontal cortex overrides the basal ganglia and cerebellum. As you can imagine in the work that we do this is very useful information. It informs us that it is not that trying too hard is the problem but rather what type of effort is best avoided. 

Have You Worked It Out Yet?

That’s right, it is the mental effort related to the technical aspects of what you do. The biomechanics of the putt, punt, pass or pivot for example. In essence, the very last thing that we want to be thinking about when you are lining up to take the crucial penalty is how to kick the soccer ball.

So if we spare ourselves from the technical or biomechanical elements of effort when we are under pressure to perform then what does that leave us with? It leaves us with mental effort about something other than technique. Basically, mental effort about something mental or something tactical.

For example, saying to yourself “trust your processes or stick to your processes” doesn’t interfere with the neurones involved in automatic muscle memory. So these cognitions can coexist quite happily with allowing your body just to do what it’s learnt how to do.

The same applies to reminding oneself about tactical aspects. Let’s use the previous example about taking a penalty in soccer/football. The decision about where to aim the shot is both necessary and non-interfering of muscle memory. These mental and tactical endeavours are already occurring in the conscious front part of the brain. Therefore they are by their very nature completely out of the way of the basal ganglia and cerebellum. No short-circuiting is taking place, not even remotely. Have a look at the below slice of the brain and note where they are located.

Thoughts Are Not Essential

Of course, it would be remiss of me not to mention in an article of this type that there is absolutely no need to have any kind of pre-meditated thoughts before or during one of these memorised body movements. The basal ganglia and cerebellum will do their job whilst you are thinking about almost anything other than how to do that skill. Please note that this is only for expert performance whereby the skills are automated already. This does not apply to novices who are learning the skills for the very first time.

To cut through all of this psychobabble the advice that I often give to my sporting clients is as follows. Put all your effort eggs into the preparation basket and then come competition time, just relax and have fun. And yes, this also applies at the very highest levels of competition such as world championships and Olympics etc. In fact, it’s even more important in these kinds of high-pressure situations.

For non-sporting performers such as those involved in the military, the medical professions and/or the performing arts this needs to be adapted. Why? Their performance areas are not organically fun in the same way that a cricket match, for example, is supposed to be. To these types of performers, I typically adapt the advice to the following. Put all your effort eggs into the preparation basket and then come performance time, trust your processes and try to relax. The outcomes will take care of themselves. This final concept will be the topic of one of my future blogs so if you don’t already get reminders when each article is added to the website then add your details here.

Interested But Need A Hand?

Has this article piqued your interest in improving either your mental health or mental aspects of your sport/performance? Then Get In Touch via one of these methods: ⏩ Email us directly at info@condorperformce.com and let us know more about you and how we can help. ⏩ Fill in one of our four Mental Toughness Questionnaires and tick the box at the end when it asks if you’d like to receive info about our services.

Sport Psychology for Soccer

Sport Psychology for Soccer (Association Football) is an insightful blog post by sport psychologist Gareth J. Mole from Condor Performance

Sport Psychology for Soccer
Sport Psychology for Soccer – The Mental Side of The World Game Is Still Hugely Underdone.

Soccer or Football or Both?

Before jumping into some of the many aspects that could come under the banner ‘Sport Psychology for Soccer‘ let’s establish facts.

Firstly, soccer is also known as football, the preferred term outside of the USA. This paragraph from Quora explains it best:

The correct full name of the sport still is Association FootballSoccer is a nickname and is seldom used outside of the US. Neither is wrong, but Football (or Fútbol, or Futebol, or all the other forms of the word) is the worldwide popular name of the sport.

The term soccer, however, might actually make more sense. Here in Australia, for example, the term football can refer to one of four totally different team sports. But if you tell someone you’re a, say, soccer referee, there is no chance they’ll think you officiate rugby league games.

The Most Popular Sport On The Planet

Soccer is by far and away the most played team sport in the world. At last count, there were 265 million registered players worldwide. No other sport comes close to this, see this PDF by Fifa with all the stats. Why is it so popular? And does this popularity give us our first insight into the psychology of the game?

The primary reason for the popularity of soccer is its simplicity. If you forget about official rules and regulations it’s unbelievably easy to organise a game of soccer. Ten or so people with a ball (actual or made) and something to aim at and away we go.

The other reason for the international appeal of soccer is of course unparalleled funding by FIFA. The governing body of the sport invests huge amounts of money in making soccer as accessible to many people around the world as possible. Of course, much of this funding comes from the success of flagship leagues and competitions around the world. Events like The FIFA World Cup and the English Premier League are money-making machines. This creates a huge unstoppable cycle whereby the success of these competitions increases funding and the funding is then partially used to further develop the game. This all increases the likelihood that young athletes across the world will pick soccer over another sport.

How is this linked to the first part of sport psychology of soccer? Simple, the more popular a sport the easier it is to motivate yourself for it. Whether it be external motivators such as a salary of a professional footballer or intrinsic motivators such as wanting to play well at the sport all your mates play – the popularity of an activity will always assist with the key sport psychology concept of motivation.

Sport Psychology is Not Just Mental Health For Sport

Sport psychology is currently going through a growth spurt. And just like a teenager, this can come with some growing pains. Mental health is now widely seen as an essential part of the performance puzzle. ‘Better People Make Better All Blacks’ so to speak. But there is still another mental side to sport that is unrelated to mental health. We call it Mental Toughness for performance. In other words, the mental aspects of both training for that sport as well as competing in it are separate from the mental aspects of being a human being.

This is not to imply that mental health is not linked with optimal performance in soccer or any other sport for that matter. Quite the opposite in fact. As sport psychologists and performance psychologists we do a lot of work assisting our sporting clients with their mental health. We do this because a) we can as registered psychologists and b) we know that it assists with both off-field and field areas.

However on many occasions when we work with soccer players what we are essentially doing is embedding mental skills training into their daily training environment. Below I have shared a couple of tips and would love to get your feedback via the comments section below.

Sport Psychology for Soccer – Training Tips

This is the typical image of soccer practice. But it can and should be, so much more than that.

For training, we want our minds to be on the concept of constant improvement through high-quality effort. Actually, through the right amount of high-quality effort to be more precise. Furthermore, we want our training to be spread across four different areas. Physical, Technical, Mental and Tactical. Far too much training and practice are put into physical and technical compared with mental and tactical. The balance is better for the best teams in the world. If you want to join them then you’ll need to copy them.

There are many frameworks for Sporting Mental Toughness. Over the years we have developed our own due to the inadequacies of any coming out of the scientific and academic communities. We call our framework Metuf which is a word that we created from the original five subcomponents of performance-oriented mental toughness. Motivation, emotions, thoughts, team unity and focus. Although we’ll be keeping the name Metuf, this year (2022) we are in process of expanding these subcomponents as well as delving into one of two. For example, there are many emotions so treating all of them as similar is not especially future proof.

Sport Psychology for Soccer – Match Day Tips

Unlike in training when it’s normal to be trying our hardest, for matches we are better off just being as relaxed as possible. Having a Relaxed Competition Mindset is one of the key aspects of match day mental toughness. One of the best ways to actually develop a Relaxed Competition Mindset is by targeting the hour or three before you start the whistle. This blog post from 2019 goes into a lot more detail about how you can develop a Pre Game Routine.

Another mental skill that can be incredibly effective is to make sure you know the difference between your processes and outcomes as an individual soccer player. Of course, ideally, these are established as part of your mental training as per the above but the best mindset for most sports during competition is one that is either 100% process-orientated or mostly process orientated. Processes are actions you have a lot of influence on such as “running hard” or “communicating consistently”.

Outcomes are results and in a sport with 24 other people directly involved our influence on these results is not that high. Common outcomes for soccer are goals scored, goals conceded as well as games won and lost. And not to mention all the stats that can be created such as passes completed etc. Outcomes can be, and often are, very distracting. If you try your hardest after your team concedes a goal, I would ask why it took for your team to let in a goal for you to start to do something that you could’ve and should’ve done from the very beginning of the match.

Don’t Take My Word For It …

As the great Spanish player and now Barcelona manager Xavi so eloquently once said:

In football, the result is an impostor. You can do things really, really well but not win. There’s something greater than the result, more lasting – a legacy.

Xavi

Keen But Need A Hand?

If this article has motivated you to improve either your mental health or mental aspects of your sport/performance but you feel like you’d benefit from an expert helping hand then Get In Touch via one of these methods: ⏩ Email us directly at info@condorperformce.com and let us know more about you and how we can help. ⏩ Fill in one of our four Mental Toughness Questionnaires and tick the box at the end when it asks if you’d like to receive info about our services.


Impulsivity Explored

Impulsivity Explored is a blog by leading sport psychologist Gareth J. Mole on the impact that impulsivity can have in performance situations.

Impulsivity
Impulsivity Explored is all about brain explosions that take place in the heat of the sporting contest. This is potentially one of the least investigated areas of modern-day sport psychology. 

Meaning of impulsive in English (Cambridge Dictionary)

Showing behaviour in which you do things suddenly without any planning and without considering the effects they may have.

Impulsivity and Reacting Versus Responding

How impulsive are you? Is impulsivity something that if you were to work on, would have a direct benefit on your life or performance? When something happens to you, especially if it’s something that produces a lot of emotion, do you tend to react or respond?

Reacting and responding are slightly different from one another. One is impulsive the other isn’t. Can you guess which is which?

Reacting basically implies the resulting action was more automatic, less considered. In a nutshell, the brain was less involved. Responding on the other hand is suggestive of a much more considered action. One which was selected from a series of options. Due to this a response almost always takes longer than a reaction. In some cases much longer. Reactions are more impulsive, responses are less impulsive.

Impulsivity Can Be Useful … Sometimes!

It would be tempting to say that due to the above that responses are better than reactions. But this is not the case. Reactions serve a really important purpose in threatening or dangerous situations. Think about the benefit of your hand pulling away from a scolding hot object without you having to think about it. The speed of this reaction will, in many situations, reduce the amount of burning that occurs. This same reflex action allows a motorsport driver to react so fast that they appear to pull off the grid at the same time the lights go green.

But what if you are so good at reacting that you always react? And what if some of these situations would benefit more from a response. 

In the work that we do as sport psychologists and performance psychologists this issue is most common under the general banner of helping our clients with what could be called ‘reducing unhelpful impulsivity’. 

There are hundreds of examples where impulsivity can cause serious issues in competitive sports. Can’t think of any? Then take a look at this Bleacher Report blog of 25 of the most famous brain explosions in recent memory.

Think about the tennis player who can’t help but throw their racquet or abuse the umpire. How about the cricketer who is so upset about a catch being dropped off her bowling that she berates her poor teammate right there and then. ‘I couldn’t help it, my emotions got the better of me’. Really? Is that actually possible? I know it certainly feels like it but to reduce unhelpful impulsivity we first need to believe that our emotions have less power over our actions than they do.

But I Couldn’t Help It!

Blaming our emotions as if they are some invading alien life force that makes us act in a certain way is both inaccurate and very unhelpful. Just because it feels like we have no other option doesn’t make that true. 

One of the best ways to start reducing unhelpful impulsivity is to establish if the person who did the reacting was still happy with their actions well after the fact. Ideally at least one full day later. Was Serena Williams still pleased with how she reacted in the 2018 US Open final? If Will Smith was given the chance to go back in time would he still decide that slapping Chris Rock across the face at this year’s Oscars to be the right call? I can’t be sure as I have not asked them but I suspect both would love a do-over.

The reason why we want to establish this is to try and get an idea if the issue is really about impulsivity rather than morals and values. And you can imagine, someone who 24 hours after the fact still thinks that keying up someone’s car who parked poorly was the best choice of action in that situation would be better off focusing on their morals and values instead of their impulsivity. 

Most of the time, certainly in the work we do, the athletes or performers who reacted poorly realise this soon afterwards. Sometimes just seconds afterwards. Their morals and values are sound, they just need help converting certain reactions into more considered responses.

Fortunately, there are some tried and tested processes that when taken seriously can do just this. Here are three to whet your appetite.

Process A: Mindfulness

Regular Mindfulness, if you have chosen the right kind, is in part designed to help to reduce the overall power of thoughts and feelings. As some readers and many of my clients may know the best definition I have ever come across for Mindfulness is “increased awareness of the present moment with decreased judgement”.

One of the reasons why Mindfulness, if done regularly, is so effective in reducing unhelpful impulsivity is because it helps with both of these at the same time. When your awareness goes up you are basically using the information-gathering part of your brain and this shuts down the reacting part. By decreasing judgment, we are less likely to think that the umpire is doing a bad job and more likely to think he’s just doing his job.

In recent years there has been an explosion of apps designed to help with Mindfulness but at the time of writing, my top suggestion would be Balance available on most smartphones. Feel free to use the comments section at the bottom of this blog to make other suggestions of Mindfulness apps you recommend or don’t and why.

Process B: Increase The Gap Between Stimulus And Response

This is not exactly the same as the above suggestion but is similar. The concept of there being a stimulus (for example, seeing someone take a parking spot you’d be indicating for) and then a gap and then the response was the brainchild of Viktor Frankl; the Austrian neurologist, psychiatrist, philosopher, writer, and Holocaust survivor. This approach, which I have always found is most effective when combined with the below process asks us to come up with methods to a) make sure there is a gap and b) increase the duration of the gap.

Classics examples include counting backwards from 10 to 1 or taking two big belly breaths or, where appropriate writing down the emotions.

Process C: Lists

The final process designed to help improve this particular type of decision making is to work out ahead of time which types of situations are most likely to produce a response versus a reaction. For example, I am typically calm when behind the wheel of the car so I would not include any driving related scenarios in my lists. But to this day, despite what I do for a living, I still struggle to respond ideally when I witness most forms of prejudice (sexism, racism etc) so it makes sense for me to have these kinds of situations/stimuli on my lists.

You can have different lists for different areas where you might be unhelpfully impulsive. Even better, clarify what your best response and most damaging reaction might be for each. Sometimes the mantra RESPOND DON’T REACT is the best way to increase the gap.

Keen But Need A Hand?

If this article has motivated you to improve either your mental health or mental aspects of your sport/performance but you feel like you’d benefit from an expert helping hand then Get In Touch via one of these methods: ⏩ Email us directly at info@condorperformce.com and let us know more about you and how we can help. ⏩ Fill in one of our four Mental Toughness Questionnaires and tick the box at the end when it asks if you’d like to receive info about our services.