Sport Psychologists – Applied and International Since 2005
Author: Condor Performance
Condor Performance is a team of Sport Psychologists and Performance Psychologists who have been providing Sport Psychology Services and tailored Mental Toughness Training since 2005. We work right across the English speaking world.
This blog has some of the best sport psychology quotes. It’s a smörgåsbord of quotes from coaches, athletes and psychologists.
40 of The Best Sport Psychology Quotes
The right kinds of quotes punch well above their weight. For such short sentences, they can really make us think. The challenge is picking through them all to separate the good ones from the well-intended garbage (trash). So we have decided to put on the plastic gloves and do this for you. Below are some of our favourite sport psychology quotes. As you’ll see it’s a smörgåsbord of quotes from coaches, athletes and psychologists. Furthermore, we have unpacked each quote a little. Essentially, providing a quick explanation about why it has been included in this ‘best sport psychology quotes’ blog. A number of these quotes are from our very own team of psychologists. This might seem a little self-indulgent but if you’ve got it, flaunt it.
If you would like us to add your favourite sport psychology quotes paste them into the comments section below. Enjoy and please share with your networks. You have our full permission to copy and paste any of these to inspire or motivate or whatever.
Sport Psychology Quotes By Athletes
“There’s no way around hard work. Embrace it. You have to put in the hours because there is always something you can improve on”
Comment: If you want to go after it in life and explore your full potential as an athlete or performer, you are going to need to put in the work. Accepting the difficulty that comes from doing hard work is essential. As one of the greatest tennis players ever highlighted here, we can all learn from Roger Federer by believing that we can always improve in some capacity. A concept is known in Japanese as “kaizen”.
“Gold medals aren’t really made of gold. They’re made of sweat, determination, and a hard-to-find alloy called guts.”
Comment: This is such a great sport psychology quote. Maybe one of the best of all time hence why it’s at the top. So true. The medal, the trophy, and the prize money are just symbols. The real reward is the actual hard work. To this end, I am aware of many medal winners who don’t even bother to display them. They are in boxes collecting dust somewhere.
“It’s not who’s put up the fastest time in the world that year, or who’s put up the fastest time in the previous four years, but who can get their hand on the wall first today.”
Comment: This quote perfectly sums up a lot of the early conversations we have with athletes. We have this idea that on game day we need to be feeling great and thinking positively, and that we won’t perform well if we aren’t. The reality is that no one feels great on game day. The athletes that come out on top are those that can put together the best performance despite how nervous they feel and how unhelpful their thoughts are.
“You miss 100% of the shots you don’t take” and “A good hockey player plays where the puck is. A great hockey player plays where the puck is going to be.”
Comment: This could be the most famous sport psychology quote of all time. Why? Because it’s one of the best from one of the best.
“People say to me all the time, ‘You have no fear.’ I tell them, ‘No, that’s not true. I’m scared all the time. You have to have fear in order to have courage. I’m a courageous person because I’m a scared person.”
Comment: We have this idea that athletes are superhuman – they don’t feel nerves or fear, and never doubt their ability. This just isn’t the case – the top athletes in the world feel all the same things we feel before an important moment, but through years of experience have just become really good at performing with all of those unhelpful thoughts and feelings present.
“Champions aren’t made in gyms. Champions are made from something they have deep inside of them; a desire, a dream, a vision.”
Comment: Not sure ‘the greatest’ meant to infer the following but anyway. Far too many of the sporting pathways overemphasise physical and technical. There is far too little on mental, tactical and personal.
Even More Quotes From Athletes …
“It’s fun to be in a race with Ledecki. We love racing each other. We don’t get to do it often”.
Comment: Despite the pressure, hype and expectation, the main emotions Titmus felt in racing the legendary American swimmer Katie Ledecki at the 2021 Olympics in epic battles in the 200, 400 and 800-metre freestyle finals, were joy and excitement for the opportunity to do so.
“Dreams are free. Goals have a cost. While you can daydream for free, goals don’t come without a price. Time, Effort, Sacrifice, and Sweat. How will you pay for your goals?“
Comment: This great quote gives us a possible sneak peek into why UB was one of the greatest of all time. He worked very hard in practice. He then relaxed (or tried to at least) on race day allowing that Time, Effort, Sacrifice, and Sweat to just bubble to the surface.
“I can only control my performance. If I do my best, then I can feel good at the end of the day”
Comment: One of the greatest Olympians of all time on the importance of focusing on your own performance and effort. At Condor Performance, we believe in the importance of focusing on process over outcome. A sentiment echoed by Michael Phelps.
“I think that everything is possible as long as you put your mind to it and you put the work and time into it. I think your mind really controls everything.”
Comment: Michael Phelps on understanding the mind and how we can train it to help ourselves perform better. Phelps has always given significant credit to his mental conditioning as an overall factor for his success in competitive swimming.
“I was forced to learn a lot about psychology as a player, and as a captain to get the best out of others. There’s still a lot of scepticism about it in sport and the workplace, but dealing with fluctuations of form, and pressure, and being away from home is more important than your cover drive.”
Comment: This quote is not one that we had not come across before researching for this blog. Coming from one of the great thinkers of English cricket. It accurately explains that technical abilities (such as hitting a cover drive) don’t mean much without the mental side. Our coaching model Metuf explains this via the use of an analogy of an aeroplane.
“Preparation is everything and focus is the key. It’s easy to say you gave it your all out on the pitch. But the point is if you’d prepared you’d have had more to give and you’ve played better”.
Comment: This is such a great point from the Manchester United legend. What it sounds like he’s saying is there is only so much you can do on match day. Performers who take shortcuts in training hoping to “bring it” on match day are likely to be found wanting.
Comment: This quote was originally linked with Samuel Goldwyn but later popularised by Gary Player. What he/they are saying is actually 100% accurate. If luck is the random stuff in sports we have no influence over then we can reduce the role this plays in terms of results by ensuring high-quality effort. You can read more on the psychology of luck in sports here.
“I got more bruises, grass-burns and cuts in practice than in match play.”
Comment: There is an argument that the whole concept of talent is a bit of a myth. Essentially, when people refer to the talent they are basically meaning genetics. In other words one of the few factors of performance that we have no influence on at all.
The Michael Jordan Section:
“I’ve missed more than 9000 shots in my career. I’ve lost almost 300 games. 26 times, I’ve been trusted to take the game-winning shot and missed. I’ve failed over and over and over again in my life. And that is why I succeed.”
Comment: This is arguably one of the best sport psychology quotes of all time. It helps us to understand that performances at all levels and all types are full of errors. Knowing that processes (effort) and outcomes (results such as winning) are separate is key here. And as performers knowing we have a lot more influence over the former also helps.
“I can accept failure, everyone fails at something. But I can’t accept not trying.”
Comment: Again Jordan is showing us that it was his mindset that made him so special. Being able to distinguish between effort (“trying”) and results (“failure”) is so very important. One way to do this is to forget about being able to control anything. Instead, consider the amount of influence you have. The more influence the more mental value you might put on those areas.
“Obstacles don’t have to stop you. If you run into a wall, don’t turn around and give up. Figure out how to climb it, go through it, or work around it.”
Comment: Actions and desires are not as linked as you might think. In the work we do as sport psychologists and performance psychologists we don’t do as much work on thoughts and emotions as you might imagine. Why? At the end of the day, especially in sport, it all comes back to actions. Would you rather kick the ball in the right way whilst thinking negatively or kick it incorrectly whilst thinking positively?
“The minute you get away from fundamentals – whether its proper technique, work ethic or mental preparation – the bottom can fall out of your game, your schoolwork, your job, whatever you’re doing.”
Comment: As knowledge of sport psychology and sport science explodes we are at great risk of getting away from the fundamentals. In other words, it is becoming harder and harder for athletes to stick to the basics. The great coaches can have it both ways. Their sport psychology knowledge can grow without letting this overcomplicate their coaching. Do you know what your fundamentals are?
Sport Psychology Quotes By Coaches
“It’s what you learn after you think you know it all that really counts.”
Comment: John Wooden is considered by many as the first real mental coach in sports. He was either the first or one of the first to really take the mental side of performance seriously. In this sport psychology quote, he highlights the importance of never-ending learning.
“Good teams become great ones when the members trust each other enough to surrender the Me for the We.”
Comment: This quote is more or less about the concept of flow. Flow is basically trying to find the sweet spot between too easy and too hard. As coaches or psychologists, we’re trying to help those we work with to not only find this middle ground. But we also want them to have the skills to thrive once they find them.
Comment: I’m not sure whether Gary considers himself a coach but this feels like the most appropriate section for his two quotes. The above and the below. I came across these two quotes whilst doing one of his online hot yoga sessions and I instantly loved them.
Sport Psychology Quotes By Other Famous People
“Don’t wait until everything is just right. It will never be perfect. There will always be challenges, obstacles, and less-than-perfect conditions. So what? Get started now. With each step you take, you will grow stronger and stronger, more and more skilled, more and more self-confident, and more and more successful.”
Comment: Perfectionism is a common mental block in sport and performance. You can have some of the motivational qualities of it without the ugly side with a simple reframe. Instead of striving to be perfect aim to just be better. And do this through the right quantity of high-quality preparation. This quote is similar to a bunch that are related to ‘great being the enemy of good.
“If you hear a voice within you say ‘you cannot paint,’ then by all means paint, and that voice will be silenced.”
Comment: You might be starting to sense a theme from some of these great quotes now. Doing and thinking are not the same. Focus more on doing and less on thinking. Would you rather be the best thinker of the doer in your sport or performance area?
Some Less Famous Ones …
“Confidence is a habit that can be developed by acting as if you already had the confidence you desire to have.”
Comment: Have you ever heard ‘fake it til you make it? Maybe a better version for sport psychology consulting is ‘fake it til you feel it’. This is so powerful. Waiting until you feel a certain way before you act that way is so very limiting. If you don’t know how then hire an acting coach and ask for them to help you. Or get in touch with us and we can include this as part of a larger mental training plan.
“Adversity causes some men to break; others to break records.”
Comment: It’s hard to be sure about this one. Does it mean that challenges in life are invaluable mental training? What is certainly clear is the proposition that there is a choice about how we respond to adversity.
“Successful people have fear, successful people have doubts, and successful people have worries. They just don’t let these feelings stop them.”
Comment: In others separate feelings from the action. Accept the feelings but commit the actions. Then remember you did this so you can repeat the process later. For a lot more on confidence read this blog post by Harley de Vos.
Still More Quotes …
“Twenty years from now, you will be more disappointed by the things you didn’t do than by the ones you did do. So throw off the bowlines. Sail away from the safe harbour. Catch the trade winds in your sail. Explore. Dream. Discover.”
Comment: This is such a great quote. In sport, worrying about what others (teammates, coaches) think of you is so common. Yet, it happens so much less than we realise. Furthermore, this has been confirmed via a number of lab experiments.
Sport Psychology Quotes By Psychologists
“Multitasking is seriously overrated. Try to do one task at a time and learn to do it with more purpose. “
Comment: I could write a whole book on this subject. Maybe I will one day! By multitasking, I am not referring to doing more than one thing at a time. After all, breathing is doing. It’s about trying to complete more than one non-automatic task at a time. For example, eating your lunch and typing an email. In my view, these kinds of tasks are always best of being done separately. There are many reasons but the main one is this kind of multitasking means the quality of both tasks is compromised.
“They don’t hand out winner’s medals to those who were feeling the best on the day, nor to those who were thinking clearly and positively. The medals only go to those who did the best.”
Comment: I am not sure if I can claim this or not. If it’s not something that popped into my head then I am not sure where it comes from. Regardless this is my favourite sport psychology of all time. If you are reading this and you believe you know the origin of this quote please email me and I will be happy to change the credit above.
“We have this thing in our mind of I gotta feel perfect, calm and confident and THEN I’ll perform well. Mate, if that’s the case you’re going to perform well a very, very small portion of the time.”
Comment: This quote is taken from the first few seconds of Peter Clarke’s interview on the podcast Under The Lid with Scolls, Buck & Burkey. Once again it points out that we don’t need to be feeling a certain way in order to execute our motor skills under pressure. And in fact waiting to feel that way will limit the number of chances you give ourselves.
“Listen to everyone because even an idiot will have a good idea once or twice in their life. Then evaluate and pick out what works for you and commit to it.”
Comment: Our own James Kneller reminds us about the importance of listening. In sport we so often talk about the importance of experience. Well, that experience is comprised if you’re always listening to the same people over and over again.
“A competition is a normal performance on a special day.”
Comment: This is the first of a new set of great sport psychology quotes from Performance psychologist Jonah Oliver. This quote typically gets mentioned at least once in each one of his Podcast interviews. Far too many athletes try and do something special on the big stage. They forget that just doing what they do best is normally the best approach.
Comment: If you search online for “Jonah Oliver podcast interviews” you should stumble across a few where he mentions this great concept. I’ll leave it to the GOAT to explain the psychological benefits of going out there and being boring.
Sport Psychology Quotes By Unknowns
“You are NOT your thoughts.”
Comment: This quote might not even qualify as a quote. Maybe it’s just a fact. And certainly, in the work that we do as sport and performance psychologists, it’s a fact worth remembering. These five words are so powerful that they are the ideal final sentiment of this extensive list of sport psychology quotes.
If you know of a quote that does appear above but feel it should then please add it to the comments section below and we’ll add it next time we update this page.
An Introduction To The Psychology For / Of Endurance Sports
There is something incredibly inspiring about watching runners finish a marathon. The mental toughness required to sustain such a performance despite fatigue over long distances and durations is undeniable. It can be the difference in seconds between elite athletes, or the defining factor in finishing your first ultra. In my eyes, it’s one of the most enchanting things about endurance sports and one of the main factors that motivated me to pursue a career in performance psychology.
Whether your goal is to run 100 miles, chase a sub 3-hour marathon, or finish your first Ironman triathlon, you know you’re going to suffer for a long time. You can expect discomfort and fatigue from pushing yourself, regardless of how physically well-prepared you are. In the context of endurance sports, that’s the point. This is what athletes sign up for, especially if they want to be able the sense of achievement that comes from realising their capability. Relative suffering from maximum effort is the same lived experience for both elite and recreational endurance athletes. One of the unique challenges for all athletes in endurance sports is developing the mindset to be able to suffer ‘better’, and for longer.
Suffer ‘Better’, And For Longer
Extended feelings of physical exertion and associated discomfort are accompanied by a constant stream of helpful and unhelpful thoughts. Some might make us feel strong and capable in our efforts, others tell us to cut corners or simply give up. Becoming aware of the relationship between your thoughts and feelings and actions is the key to being able to get the most from our training processes and push ourselves on race day.
One of the core frameworks we like to borrow from in our approach to thoughts and feelings is called Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT). This framework has recently gained a lot of traction in sport psychology and performance psychology. Unlike many traditional approaches, it is founded upon the idea that our thoughts and feelings do not need to impact our behaviour and therefore do not need to be changed or ‘fixed’. This does not mean that we simply ignore our unhelpful thoughts and discomfort. It’s actually quite the opposite. Observing thoughts for what they are, ‘just thoughts’, can help us to accept them and focus instead on the way we choose to engage with them.
Be Present And Aware
Before we can accept unhelpful thoughts and feelings of discomfort to our performance advantage, we need to become fully aware and familiar with them and the context. It is very difficult to be open to accepting something you are not noticing. Learning to openly observe our thoughts, bodily sensations and surroundings is a great way to stay focussed on the present moment. It also provides a strong foundation for developing effective mental strategies to engage with thoughts and feelings in helpful ways. Here are some strategies for increasing openness to our internal experiences and awareness for external factors in the context and environment.
Practice noticing sensations in different parts of your body as a type of routine. Check in with the pressure you feel under each foot, engagement of specific muscles with each movement, the feeling of breeze on your skin, and your breathing rhythm. It’s important that you simply notice these sensations and do not overlay any interpretation like ‘I must be tired’.
Work through your senses one at a time to focus on the present environment and how you’re interacting with it. Note things you can see, hear, feel, smell and taste, focussing on smaller things you might normally miss. If you listen to music, this can be a great way to engage with it differently.
Leave your watch at home and experience your own levels of ‘perceived effort’. That is, what you can better observe about your bodily sensations and fatigue when you can not use your pace or heart rate as a cue to expectations like ‘this is an easy pace for me’.
Once Step At A Time
One of the most confronting things in a long run or ride is the realisation early on of how far you still have to go. A common strategy used by many athletes is breaking the distance up into smaller sections by what you see around you – trees, traffic lights, lamp posts etc. Notice what these are, their characteristics, their physical relationship to you as you travel toward them.
Train of Thought
Just as you notice your physical sensations, observe any thoughts that pop into your mind as occurrences. Note them for interest’s sake as ‘I’m having a thought that…’. There is no need to label them as ‘good’ or ‘bad’. Notice what you are physically experiencing when they occurred, and when they come and go.
Obviously these experiences will be highly personalised for every athlete. The most important part is not the content, but creating openness and awareness to the experience for exactly what it is in the present moment. Practicing mindfulness in this way can be challenging at first, and these types of strategies are best served alongside clarity for why you’re out on that long run in the first place.
Embrace Your ‘Why’
Consider this apparently paradoxical scenario. Ask anyone who identifies as an elite or recreational runner, if they enjoy running. Almost all will say something like ‘Absolutely, I love running!’. They might even try to recruit you if you’re not already a runner. Follow up with ‘doesn’t it hurt though?’. And almost all will agree. At face value, why would anyone love to participate in an activity that they expect will cause them to suffer?
Anyone who has ever been for a run can probably relate to realising the above ridiculousness at some point while running – ‘Why on earth do I do this?’. Training for endurance events also requires a tremendous amount of self-discipline. The reason we persist is likely because it represents a core set of values – our ‘Why’.
For some, the ‘Why’ might be the feeling of challenging yourself, feeling of connectedness to the running community or as way to practice gratitude for mental health. There are no correct answers. Values are far more vague than goals – they can never be fully achieved. This is the beauty of them – values persist where goals might expire, and living your values is independent of your performances or race outcomes.
If you are in touch with your values and how you found yourself here, they become easier to draw on when required. When training is tedious, and it feels easier to just hit the snooze button. Acting consistently with our values may not always be enjoyable, but we recognise that it is important, so we follow through. It’s that 4am training session in the rain when ‘no-one is watching’. Being intentional about noticing, documenting and monitoring your values-driven processes can bring a greater sense of enjoyment and commitment to your training.
You Don’t Have To Stop
From the ACT perspective in endurance sports, why fight unhelpful thoughts and feelings of discomfort if we can expect them and know they are a core component of the sport we love? The personal strength that is associated with conquering discomfort in endurance sports even forms part of the ‘Why’ for many athletes. It’s important to note here, I am referring to discomfort from maximum physical effort and fatigue – like running an interval at threshold, pushing your bike up a steep incline, or those last couple of miles. The approach I recommend for managing these experiences is to be open and accepting when we inevitably meet them, rather than trying to ‘fix’ them.
Putting cognitive effort into trying to change or suppress unhelpful thoughts such as ‘I’ve had enough’, or ‘I don’t think I can do this’ might cause more distress in the situation. It can also distract from putting effort into the essential physical processes that are simply turning the legs over. This can be illustrated in a silly way as, ‘Whatever you do, DO NOT think about an elephant, it will harm your performance’.
Of course, an elephant immediately pops into your mind, and trying to remove it dominates our attention. Shifting the focus away from trying to control or change thoughts and feelings creates room for more productive engagement with the situation and growth from living these experiences fully, and in line with our values above.
There are plenty of thoughts we have in a day that we do not act upon. These thoughts occur, and we simply do not do anything about them. Similarly, just because you may think you need to stop running, does not mean you have to if you recognise it as avoiding the discomfort that comes from effort.
In the familiar example above, a feeling of fatigue generates a thought – ‘I need to stop’. If you’re a new runner, this might hit close to home. When these enter our awareness, we make a choice to act or not. In fact, if you did choose to stop, you have reinforced the very thought-behaviour pattern in question. We want to de-couple this relationship if we are to manage fatigue and continue to perform as close as we can to our physical capability.
For example, there is a subtle but very important difference between ‘I need to stop’ and ‘I’m having a thought that I need to stop’, as per our earlier example. The first is a command to action, the second is just noticing that a thought popped into your mind. This simple exercise in reframing unhelpful thoughts can help us to accept them for what they are – thoughts. When conceptualised this way, it is easier to adopt strategies for dropping them or letting them go along your way – like taking a weight out of a backpack every so often. By practicing accepting thoughts, we leave more room in our mind to trust our training and past commitment to our physical processes.
From a different point of view, this approach might also bring new meaning to infuriating statements from supporters and coaches such as ‘Just keep putting one foot in front of the other’, ‘You’re really holding your form’ or ‘You look great!’. These comments are about actions – behaviours they can see. You’re acting as if you were an athlete with no feelings of fatigue in that moment. At the end of the day, only actions get us to the finish line. Regardless of feelings of fatigue, discomfort, or any unhelpful thoughts, these comments celebrate the evidence of your ability to persist despite them.
Plan To Show Up
Athletes in any sport are quick to recognise the importance of a physical training plan to prepare for this. In a typical endurance training program, there are a mixture of session types targeting different physical performance aspects – long runs, interval sessions, targeted strength training etc. to build aerobic and anaerobic capacity, improve lactate clearance and Vo2 Max.
The different challenges that a diversity of physical training sessions present is the ideal opportunity to create a foundation for mental training plan to match. Like any training, mental training comes from the deliberate repetition of our actions, processes and routines. Failing to plan our mental training processes is leaving this essential component of endurance to chance. This may be as simple as going for a run with the commitment to practicing a specific mindfulness strategy (like the examples above). Here are some recommendations for both athletes and coaches.
Creating a routine to document your observed experiences against the function or purpose of the session. Use this to reflect on what you might have noticed about the thoughts and sensations that occurred to you under different efforts and conditions. You might use these insights to build visualisations to prepare for difficult periods in a race with sessions of comparable challenge. For example, those designed to simulate the physical experience of fatigue in the latter stages of a race.
If you typically complete your long run or ride socially, create opportunities to practice becoming more open and aware of your experience alone. This is especially important if you will be racing alone.
If you are naturally drawn to either monitoring internal states or external awareness, plan sessions to engage deliberately in one or the other throughout. Mental flexibility from engaging with both approaches can be useful at different points in a race, or for different types of endurance events.
To summarise, endurance sport creates special opportunities for us to realise the great sense of personal strength that comes from conquering discomfort and suffering over an extended period. For many, this experience forms part of our ‘Why’ for engaging in these sports from the start. If we want to be prepared to ‘show up’ fully for this experience – including the discomfort, fatigue – it’s essential we take advantage of training opportunities to rehearse mentally. Thoughts and sensations do not need to interact with the repetitive sequence of actions that’s been the focus of our physical training. Embracing this perspective can bring more enjoyment to the process and the inspiring challenge of endurance.
If you are an endurance sports competitor or coach and would like to expand on these ideas then Morgan is available for private performance psychology coaching either in person in Brisbane (QLD, Australia) or via Webcam for those physically located elsewhere. The best way to start the process is by filling in this short enquiry form and mentioning your preference to work with “Morgan Spence”.
One of the peculiarities of our profession is that there is no consensus on the correct spelling of sport psychology / sports psychology. Although there may be some trends whereby some countries tend to use a particular spelling more frequently than another when you look at an international level the two spellings appear to be used roughly the same amount. The opinion of those working for Condor Performance is that this discrepancy is a “bad look” and therefore we’re looking to help resolve it.
The initial phase of the process is to collect votes via the below pole from as many people as possible from around the world. The idea behind the vote is to see if in fact one of the spellings is used and preferred by the majority. Once we have enough votes for the results to be statistically significant we will then publish them and invite the custodians of the profession to stick to that spelling only moving forward.
Below is a 16 minute video on what has become known as The Aeroplane Analogy. It basically explains how mental toughness and mental health fit into the overall performance picture. And below that a full transcription of the video in case you’d rather read than watch (or do both). Enjoy and as always please share and comment.
Greetings, everybody. I hope you’re well. My name is Gareth Mole. I’m one of the senior sport and performance psychologists that has the great pleasure to work for Condor Performance. We’re an Australian-based group of sport and performance psychologists that have been providing mental toughness training services since 2005. My colleagues and I at Condor Performance are the creators and the custodians of Metuf. Metuf has been designed to solve one of the most common problems in competitive sport, and that is that everybody seems to be aware of the importance of the mental side. Yet, at the same time, there is a tremendous lack of understanding in terms of how to improve it. So Metuf is the answer to that dilemma.
In order for me to explain how mental toughness fits into the bigger picture as part of this very brief introductory video, I’m going to use an analogy that the competitive athlete is a little bit like a four-engined airplane, similar to the one that has just flown onto your screen. So there’s a couple of things to mention before I actually take you through what each part of the airplane represents. So the first thing to mention is that the mindset of those that actually work on airplanes, so for example, aeronautical engineers, is a mindset that we believe would be incredibly valuable if adopted by competitive athletes and coaches.
The mindset that they have is one whereby they do not wait for something to go wrong before they attend to it. They are constantly checking in on the state of all different aspects of their aircraft. The likelihood that something goes wrong is a lot, lot lower because they are constantly doing checks and maintenance. This is a mindset that would be incredibly valuable if you are a competitive athlete or a competitive sporting coach. Unfortunately, the default is for something to only get a significant amount of attention when something goes wrong.
The second reason why this analogy is so helpful is because as you can imagine, there is no point in having four engines that are in fantastic condition if they’re attached to an aircraft that is falling into disrepair. I’m going to come back to that second part of the analogy after I’ve taken you through all the different aspects of the airplane. Okay. So let’s start by giving you some clues. So engine one is PC. Engine two is TC. The main body of the aircraft is MB and WB. The third engine is MT, and the fourth engine is TW. If you like, pause the video and have a little bit of a go at trying to work out what each of these five different aspects of the airplane is referring to.
Okay, so let’s go through the answers. Let’s see how you end. So PC refers to physical capabilities, and one way you could break down the physical aspects of your sport is to think about it in terms of speed, fitness, strength, flexibility, and balance. TC refers to technical consistency, and technical consistency is basically where we would consider all the different skills that are applicable for your sport. Of course, because this Metuf program is designed for all coaches and all athletes of all sports, then I’m simply going to refer to them here as skill A, skill B, skill C, and skill D, for example.
But to give you a bit of a clue as to what these are for you in your particular sport, it’s probably the area that you’ve spent the most amount of time on. So for example, if you’re a golfer, then I suspect that you have spent the most amount of time on areas such as practicing your putting, practicing your short game, practicing your long game. If you are a rugby player, then I suspect you spent the most amount of time practicing your passing, practicing your catching, practicing your kicking, et cetera, et cetera, et cetera.
Okay. Next, we have mental toughness, and all I’m going to do for mental toughness at this stage is give you the first letter of each of the five different aspects of mental toughness. So M, E, T, U, and F. I’ll let you think about that for a little bit. Moving on to TW. TW refers to tactical wisdom, and tactical wisdom is basically all about on-field decision-making. I’m not going to go into any detail in terms of tactical wisdom, except to mention a couple of things.
One is we are referring to the decisions that get made in sporting contests. So we are not referring to life decisions, for example. That is going to be better contained in the MB WB section. Of course, the second thing to acknowledge, as is the case with all of these engines, is that sports, of course, do vary significantly in terms of the amount that is going on. So for example, a tennis player and a squash player, of course, have to make hundreds and hundreds of decisions almost instantly as part of a tennis match or a squash match. Whereas, for example, a 100-meter sprinter does not have nearly the same amount of decisions to make in their competitive environment.
Okay. So those are the four engines, and we won’t be finished until we have worked out what the MB and the WB is referring to. So I’d be interested to know how many of you worked out, but that stands for mental health and wellbeing. That’s right. The main part of the aircraft is mental health and wellbeing, and I’m going to go back to why this analogy, that the competitive athlete is like a four-engined airplane is so useful. So I want to emphasise that there is not a lot of point in having amazing physical capabilities, amazing technical abilities, really good sporting mental toughness, and amazing on-field decision-making if your overall mental health and wellbeing is suffering.
In other words, there’s no point in having four amazing engines attached to an airplane that is falling into disrepair. So you can imagine if there was an airplane where the main fuselage is all rusty and full of holes, and yet attached to that airplane were four engines that were straight out of the factory floor, brand new, ready to go. That aircraft is going to struggle because although the engines are doing their best to basically propel the aircraft towards its destination, the fact that they’re attached to an aircraft that’s falling into disrepair is a potential disaster waiting to happen.
So logic would suggest that in those circumstances, it would be a more logical, more sensible to improve the actual main part of the aircraft first or at least at the same time as looking at the engines. If it is an area of concern to you, then it’s probably worth you prioritising your energy into improving that area either first or alongside areas such as physical, technical, mental, and tactical. What we are trying to avoid is for you to ignore your mental health and wellbeing completely, and just focus on those four sporting engines. If you would like some assistance on mental health and wellbeing, then the best way of going about that is for you to speak to someone, a family member, your family doctor. For example, just say that you are concerned about your mental health and that you would like to do some kind of assessment. That is always the best way to start.
This Metuf program will not directly help you with your mental health and wellbeing as you can appreciate. The program has been created in order to improve sporting mental toughness. So that M, E, T, U, and F that you’ll find out about in a minute. So we are not going to talk specifically about mental health and wellbeing as part of this program, but that’s not to say that we are diminishing its importance. In many ways, we’re doing the exact opposite.
Okay. To finish up this very brief introductory video, what I want to do is set up the rest of the video presentations that are about to follow. So you may recall that we broke down physical capabilities into five different sub-areas. So speed, fitness, strength, flexibility, and balance, for example. So now, we want to do the same for mental toughness, and let’s see how many you managed to work out. So basically, the M stands for motivation. The E stands for emotions. The T stands for thoughts, U for unity, and F for focus.
So when we talk about mental toughness, we’re actually talking about a combination of these five different areas, and it is important to emphasise that it is much more useful to talk about it at the subcategory level. As you can appreciate, it’s quite possible for an athlete to be highly motivated, but to really struggle with their focus, for example. You can have those two things happening at the same time, and so it would be counterproductive for us to describe either ourselves, an athlete, or even a sporting team as mentally tough because in doing so, we lose out on the ability for us to hone in on these five separate aspects of mental toughness.
So the second thing to mention is that if I was to ask you to come up with ideas on how to improve the five aspects of physical capabilities, I’m guessing that you’re going to have a whole bunch of ideas that will come to mind pretty quickly. So for example, for speed, we might do some sprint training. To improve fitness, we might do some endurance training, resistance for strength, stretching for flexibility, and then of course, balancing if we want to improve our balance or our proprioception.
If I was to put you on the spot, however, and ask you to do the same for mental toughness, can you list five different ideas, activities, tasks, processes that are designed to improve motivation, emotions, thoughts, unity, and focus, what would you come up with? What would come to mind? If you’re like most people, not a lot comes to mind. You might basically think about maybe a little bit of goal setting for motivation, and that’s often when you might run out of suggestions. So we are here to address that issue, and we’re going to do it in a very simple way, a very intentionally simple way. That’s through the introduction of mental methods.
So as you can see there, what we are basically going to do in the upcoming video presentations is introduce you to five mental methods. At the moment, we can call them mental methods A, B, C, D, and E. Each one of them designed to address the five different aspects of mental toughness in the same way that sprint training, endurance, resistance, stretching, and balancing address speed, fitness, strength, flexibility, and balance respectively. So I look forward to seeing you at the beginning of the video presentation, which is all about motivation and how to either improve or maintain it. See you then.
Recently I had the pleasure to join Dan Abrahams on his podcast The Sport Psych Show; the best sport psychology podcast out there by far. The main focus of the ‘elite banter’ was the future of sport psychology. More specifically, we predict what the sport psychology / performance psychology landscape will look like in 2050.
If you’d like to listen to the full episode below is the embedded audio file. If you’d prefer to read then further down the page is the full transcription of this Sport Psychology Podcast. As always we’d love to hear your comments using the comments section at the very bottom. Enjoy and share!
Sport Psychology Podcast – Transcription
Published on Thursday 20th August 2020
Hey everyone. Welcome back to the Sport Psych Show. Thanks so much for joining me. Today I’m delighted to be speaking with sport psychologist, Gareth Mole. Gareth, welcome to the Sport Psych Show.
Gareth J. Mole:
It’s great to have you here. Why don’t we start by getting you to introduce yourself to the Sport Psych Show audience?
Gareth J. Mole:
Sure, Dan. So my name is Gareth Mole. A little fun fact, I was named off to Gareth Edwards, obviously the legendary Welsh rugby union player. One of the greats, and I suppose sometimes I do reflect if you name a child after one of the greatest athletes, maybe he or she is determined to potentially end up working in the sports industry. So I was born in South Africa, lived in South Africa until I was 10, and I suppose growing up in South Africa really shaped my passion for sport and you could probably guess the kinds of sports which I’m particularly fond of and particularly passionate about, obviously crickets, rugby union.
So my childhood sporting heroes are people like Jonty Rhodes and Joost van der Westhuizen. I think I was living in South Africa when Gary Player passed on the baton to Ernie Els. So I definitely give credit to South Africa for my love of sport. And I suppose, and we may talk about this later, growing up in apartheid there’s a part of me that feels like my sort of sense of wanting things to be fair might be from those days.
When I was 10 moved to the UK, I went to boarding school in the UK at a place called Oundle in Northamptonshire near Peterborough, and I’m worth mentioning that because I have been appropriately accused of being fairly opinionated and I put that down to a lot of debating whilst the at Oundle. At Oundle certainly when I was there, debating was sort of regarded as a sport. And so we did a lot of it and we got fairly good at it, and once you have gotten into the routine of giving your opinions on an almost daily basis, it is quite hard to turn it off.
Then I did my undergraduate psychology at the University of Leeds, which was fantastic. And then after a little bit of backpacking and so on, I moved to Australia in 2003 to complete my master’s in Sports Psychology, which turned into or turned out to be, I should say, the last running of that particular master’s program. So I sort of got fairly lucky in that I applied from the UK, got accepted, moved over here, and then shortly after moving over here found out that they weren’t going to be taking any sports psych master’s students because the program was wrapping up.
And then like a lot of us graduated as a newly qualified sport psychologist. So I was waiting for the phone to start ringing because I’d spent seven years studying and it was tumbleweed. And so I sort of thought to myself, “Hang on, I’ve just relocated to the other side of the world. I’ve spent seven years studying, and there’s a sort of a dearth of jobs. What do I do about it?”
And so I just decided that the only sort of proactive option was to create work for myself. So in 2005 I started Condor Performance. And so we sort of slowly grown in the last 15 years, and without having this as a goal or an intention, someone who’s incredibly processed-focused, I’ve ended up with a team of nine other psychologists. We call them sports psychologists and performance psychologists because as some of your listeners may be aware in Australia, you cannot use the term sports psychology if you don’t have the endorsement in sport and exercise psychology.
So myself and Michelle Pain, who’s a bit of a pioneer in sports psych here in Australia are able to and choose to use the term sport psychologists, and the other eight are all performance psychologists, which here in Australia means they’re all registered psychologists with AHPRA, the Australian Health Practitioner Regulatory Authority. So basically we are a team of sports psychologists and performance psychologists that works predominantly in sport, but also in non-sporting settings such as the performing arts and so on.
And then just to wrap up the intro to give you and the listeners an idea of my sort of day-to-day work. So I suppose I spend the majority of my time on the business and not in the business. So the kind of things I would do on a Thursday morning, be supervising the other psychologists, sales and marketing, which I’ve always been surprised is regarded as a bit of a dirty word for highly qualified people, whereas I see it as absolutely essential risk management, bookkeeping, et cetera. I only work with a small percentage of our overall clients and quite interestingly, a growing percentage of those are sporting coaches, about a third of my personal clients and our sporting coaches.
So I have no interaction with their players. In fact, I think their players wouldn’t even know I existed. I work exclusively with the coach in order to help him or her become a better mental skills coach, a better mental coach, as well as just coaching people and not just players, if that makes sense. And just finally, as a sports psychologist, I would describe myself as very behavioral. And so I know you’ve had guests on who are big fans of act acceptance and commitment therapy. I draw heavily on that.
I suppose a good way to describe my personal philosophy as an applied sports psychologist is really, I try and almost direct everything back to the action side of things, the behavioral side of things. So I like CBT, but I will very much lean towards the B of CBT. If I’m to describe how I’m operating, it would be a tiny little C and a huge B. That’s kind of how I would describe myself. So for example, when helping golfers to develop pre-shot routines, it’s the routines of the golfers that I work with very, very action-based, and I’m almost intentionally trying to minimize the cognitive demands that are included in those pre-shot routines.
Interesting. Thorough introduction there, Gareth. I love it. Now we’ve spoken off-air about what we can talk about and, well, you threw me a bit of a curve ball, which was this idea of perhaps talking about what psychology might look like in 2050, which I thought was a really, really fun topic to talk about. But I think we can have a broad conversation, because I think there’re several things you’ve said already, which are really interesting and we can bring in the behavioural stuff into that, and you’ve talked about marketing and selling and what we do as a profession, helping people understand. And I think all of that really comes under the header of psychology in 2050.
So it’s going to be an interesting conversation. I mean, if I may ask you, when we were talking off-air you mentioned, let’s talk about what psychology can look like in 2050. What drew you to that? Why that conversation?
Gareth J. Mole:
Two things happened a couple of weeks ago. So one is, I listen to most of your interviews and I’m a bit of a fanboy, in that basically I almost insist that all of my colleagues listen to most of the conversations that you’ve had. And one of the things that I picked up on is that you often ask your guests, if you had a time machine and you went back five or 10 years, and I thought to myself, if Dan’s got this time machine, then I think we might want to do a couple of trips in the other direction. So that was the first thing.
And then what happened, almost as if it was telling me to respond, is that Back to the Future II was on Australian television. In the movie, for anyone who hasn’t watched it, the film is set in I think 1985 and Back to the Future part two is 30 years into the future. And I thought it would be a really fun little conversation for us to have about, not five years from now, not 10 years from now, which in many ways sort of seems so close, but what about 30 years, which I’m guessing is probably around about the time where the two of us will be sort of either about to retire or retired, but hopefully still alive.
So that’s why I picked 2050 for us to sort of, I suppose, in many ways, just hypothesise about some of the directions that the profession might be heading. And I suppose just the final bit, there is a part of me that can’t help but think from a goal setting perspective. If you can crystallise what the future might look like, maybe what we able to do or appealing to the greater sports psych community is maybe we can work together to actually increase the chances that some of them happen.
Well, let’s get in our DeLorean car, back to the future car, [inaudible 00:11:10] 2050. I’m sure there’s many people who would think of better things to do if they did have a car to go to 2050, but hey, we’re passionate sports psychology, so we can go and seek what sports psychology looks like in 2050. So talk to me, give me a number one prediction, or thought or feeling.
Gareth J. Mole:
Yeah. And I just want to clarify that I’m calling these, they’re not really hypotheses, I’m calling them “hopotheses”. Hopothesis is kind of a bit like a hypothesis, but with slightly less evidence to make the educated guests. And so, the first two, Dan, are linked and I’m super keen to get your thoughts on these. The first one is an official change of name to performance psychology as the overarching name of the discipline in 2050.
And funny enough, just to really sort of emphasise my point, last week I listened to your conversation with Paula Reid, the adventure psychologist, and it was really obvious to me that someone like Paula and her passion would fit very nicely under performance psychology semantically, but that she was articulating very well that it’s not really the same as sports psychology. There was a fantastic conversation between the two of you how in many ways she thought sport was a lot more predictable and so on. So my first prediction is the overarching name of the discipline will be performance psychology and we’ll have the option of calling ourselves performance psychologists.
And part two will be specialisation within performance psychology. So what we’re basically saying is that someone could be a golf psychologist as a subdiscipline of performance psychology, or they could be an adventure psychologist like Paula mentioned, or maybe they aren’t that interested in sport but they love the performing arts. And so maybe they would be a dance psychologist and all these different performance pursuits would fit semantically logically under the broad term performance psychology. And for those who might be listening, you think, “Oh, no.” Because that’s moving away from specialisation, we can then specialise within performance psychology.
Sport Psychology Podcast continued …
So just to try and draw a picture here. At the top of our sheet of paper we’ve got performance psychologist.
And down from that, I’m picturing sports psychologist, maybe a performing arts psychologist, maybe-
I can’t really use the term … Well, maybe business psychologist, although that has its own sort of credentials.
But underneath sports psychologist would be all the sports that you can think of. And what you’re saying is you’ve got to work in say four or five or six that could actually render you a sports psychologist. Would that be a picture I’ve created that would be accurate to your vision?
Gareth J. Mole:
A very accurate picture, Dan. Yeah. So I suppose there’s a couple of obvious ones missing. I think military, I think would be one, which would be another type of performance psychology. I don’t know the name of it, but we work with a lot of people in the medical profession. People like ambulance drivers and surgeons, often in their training. So we’re basically using the same kind of principles that we would work that we would use to help a golfer or a cricketer perform under pressure. We would use those exact same or very similar, I should say, mental strategies to help someone become better at performing a complicated surgical procedure. So I suppose you could call it medical psychology, maybe something along those lines.
That debate could … Yeah, healthcare psychology. Exactly very sort of poignant at the moment. And all of these would be the layer under performance psychology, where you’ve got practitioners who are both good at the, you call it the below the line, above the line. I suppose I call it the mental health and the mental toughness side of things, or the mental side of the actual performance area and then the mental aspects of the rest of their life.
I think it’s interesting because I think if we draw it back to today, listening to you speak, it makes me consider the confusion that people have around sports psychology. What is sports psychology? Is it about performance? Is it about welfare or well-being? There’s a big drive around mental health at the moment. And I’ve spoken quite a bit about this on the Sport Psych Show with various people. That conflation between welfare, well-being and mental health. What is it that we do? How do we describe it? What qualifications do we need? What registrations do we need? It almost feels like what you want in 2050 is a much more streamlined picture, some clarity here whereby everything falls under this term of performance psychology.
Gareth J. Mole:
Yeah. And I think that’s spot on. I think a label is a really important aspect of clarity. Picking the right label.
And for me, semantically performance psychology is the best label. I mean, I’m sure it’s the case there in the UK, but here in Australia there’s, I can think of a couple of very prominent, qualified sports psychologists who refer to themselves as sports psychologists who don’t do much work in sport. And in fact, the official title, the full title here in Australia at the moment is sport and exercise psychologist. And having done this work for 15 years, I can tell you, I don’t give any advice to anyone on the exercise side of things. So I think that there has to be a realization that at some point if we want to collectively inform the public about what we do, we might want to start by picking the label that is most closely related to what we all actually do.
Interesting. Interesting. So performance psychology at the top, underneath that strands, including sports psychology, exercise psychology, military psychology, public sector psychology, private sector psychology such as corporate psychology. Yeah, interesting. And building on that idea, run a sports psychology piece. This idea of working in multiple sports, or specialising in a sport. I mean, is that something that you come across?
Do you think it is a challenge is for a sport psychologist to work across multiple sports? Should sport psychologists specialise? Do you think in 2050 you will see a lot more? Well, I’m a performance psychologist and I specialise in golf. I’m a performance psychologist and I specialise in soccer. I’m a performance psychologist and I specialise in baseball. Do you think specialism is the future?
Gareth J. Mole:
I think that’s where we will end up, it’s inevitable. I mean, if you look at other professions, things like the medical profession, for example, that’s basically what’s happened. You got people who work in the medical profession now who … You got knee surgeons who only operate on a particular type of knee injury. Like that’s all they do. Whereas, 20 years ago or 30 years ago, all knee surgeons had to be able to do everything.
I do like your question though, Dan, because you’re almost implying, I think that, is that too much? In other words, are our skillsets actually better off if you have to work in rugby and then golf and you have to then sort of be flexible. I think that ultimately what we would probably want to see is the psychologist having the choice. I think that’s what we would probably want to see. It might be that I have a colleague for example who absolutely loves baseball, and as soon as a baseball contacts us, it goes straight to my colleague, David, and that it might be reasonable to say to someone like him, “Look, do you just want to fill your boots with baseball, because you love the sports so much?”
Whereas to someone else, that might lead to monotony, it might lead to boredom. Who are we to say? Individual differences is a common theme that keeps coming up in the show, which I think is such an important reminder. I think it would be about creating a mechanism that would allow the psychologists to choose. Personally I would definitely not choose to specialise in one sport. I would probably pick the ones that I’m most fond of. Sports like squash, cricket, rugby union, golf, football, et cetera. So I would probably naturally end up with about five or six, and therefore it’s likely I would then continue to use the term sports psychologist who works or specialises across those sports.
It’s an interesting landscape. I think obviously right now, when you qualify as a sports psychologist, you qualify to work in all sports. And I think the vast majority of sports psychs would say, “Well, that’s what I do. I’m a sports psychologist. I work across all sports.” I had a conversation with Professor Brendan Cropley on episode 90 about this. And I think it’s one of those, like every landscape, it has its advantages and disadvantages, its strengths and its weaknesses.
As a former professional golfer, I feel fairly confident walking into a golfing environment and having a great deal of knowledge, that’s going to set the scene, that’s going to help me to build the relationship with the golfer. I’ve been there, I’ve been in his or her shoes. I know what it feels like. So, I feel I’m at an advantage there. At the same time, and not that I’ve actually ever come across a golfer who said this, at the same time I can also fully appreciate that, that golfer has a lot of people around them who know about golf.
He will have one, maybe a couple of coaches, maybe a couple of parting coach, a short game coach, as well as a full swing coach. He or she has got a lot of people around them who know a lot about golf, who can advise on that side of things. And sometimes I think that sports people like to have people around them who don’t necessarily have an expertise of their particular sport and knowledge of their sports, who they can talk with more generally about performance psychology or welfare and well-being.
So I think there’s that interesting landscape there. So, yeah. I don’t know what your thoughts are on that. I think it brings its own advantages and its own limitations when one specialises, but I can, when you were speaking there, I was thinking of multidisciplinary. For example, I was thinking of a psych who comes in and says, “That’s my strength here, is I work across multiple sports.”
Gareth J. Mole:
“And actually because of that, I bring in a range of experiences to the table.” And I think of, okay, your comment here in a second. I think of the sports psychs who may be spend 20, 25 weeks out on the golf tour, and I’m sure there’s some who do it on the tennis tour as well, which is great. But why they’re missing out is they’re missing out on working in other sports and experiencing those other sports can feel what they do in golf or in tennis or in any sport that they spend the most amount of time in.
Yeah. I mean, I think if I was having a vote, the way I would do it is in training in the journey to becoming a qualified performance psychologist. Let’s say it in 2015, that’s a regulated and registered profession. I would insist that the trainees have exposure right across that spectrum that you mentioned earlier. So you have to work with some people in the public sector, for example, because that’s part of your criteria, but that once you have earned the right to call yourself a performance psychologist, then ultimately you can then decide.
And I suppose one little comment, and I forget which episode it was, but there was a great conversation between you and someone about how important it is to know the sport. And I think you kind of both agreed that it’s better to have the knowledge and not need it than need it and not have it. Anyway, if those weren’t the words you used, those were the words which I remembered from listening into that conversation. Better to have the understanding of what a leg before wicket is and not need it than be in an awkward conversation where they’re talking about how leg before wicket is, kind of his or her awkward way of getting out and having to put your hand up and saying, “Sorry, can you guys just tell me what LBW stands for.”
So I don’t think we are necessarily in a situation whereby just because someone knows a huge amount about bobsled that, that means that they’re going to blurt out a whole bunch of sort of technical and tactical advice on bobsled. You would hope that as part of the training. What they’re saying is you are not the technical and the tactical coach, but a knowledge of this sport is going to allow you to build rapport and reduce the chances that people are going to be talking a language that you have no idea what they’re talking about.
Yeah. And as you’re speaking there, I’m actually thinking of the advantages of knowing quite a lot about a specific sport. For me, I think it can help you set up better questions. I think it can increase your range of ideas around performance psychology. I personally think I can have more ideas in golf psychology than somebody who more solutions than somebody who hasn’t been in a golfing environment before, in my humble opinion. So I can see an advantage in that respect. Is it critical? Absolutely not.
So I think that’s an interesting landscape. I think, related to that, I mean, you mentioned you started to talk about the qualifications that a sports psychologist has, and I do wonder if there can be some professional governing bodies who could hand out certain credit or qualifications related to a specific sport related to psychology.
So in golf, may be the Professional Golfers’ Association could have psychology courses for psychologists within golf so that you can as a psychologist go on these courses and learn the specifics of golf psychology. Maybe the IRFU in England could offer psychology courses related to rugby for psychologists to go on. And maybe coaches might go on them as well. I mean, I know the English FA have done this or did do this for a number of years, five levels, but for psychologists to go on as well to be able to really learn the language and the specific challenges that people face, because golf psychology is different to tennis psychology, is different to football psychology, is different to rugby psychology and so on and so forth. Of course, they have similarities, but there are differences. So I wonder. Getting your comment here, I wonder from a professional perspective, can we have accreditation that enables practitioners to advance their knowledge of specific sports?
Gareth J. Mole:
I think that’s an absolutely crackerjack idea. One of the reasons I love the format that you’ve created here with a Sport Psych Show is that I didn’t think of that when I was sort of brainstorming to myself earlier. That’s not something that popped into my mind, but through the process of dialogue, that idea just popped out and it’s only 2020 we got 30 years where we can potentially make some of these things happen.
And of course, one of the really important things there is you’ve got the football experts or the rugby experts being involved. We’re not excluding them and saying, “Hang on, guys. We don’t need you. We can learn plenty about your sport. And we’re the ones with the fancy psychology credentials.” It’s bringing them into the conversation and then saying, “Look, you guys know a lot about football. We know a lot about human behavior. You teach us a bit, we’ll teach you a bit and then we’ll come up with some kind of clear sort of set of qualifications and we’ll then work together to inform the public.”
So they’re not sort of having to second guess what that person does and what that person does. And just a final comment on of course on knowledge, we need to remember that knowledge forms along … Sorry, falls along a continuum. And so we’re not saying that everybody who wanted to work in golf as a psychologist would need your knowledge of golf. I think it’s going to be very difficult to compete with someone who has played like you have and as coach like you had.
So maybe if your knowledge of golf is a 10 out of 10 and someone who’s never heard of the game or the sport is a zero out of 10, and I’ve met a few of those by the way. Maybe what we’re saying is that in order for you to work in golf as a psychologist you need to approve a seven out of 10 knowledge of golf. We’re not saying that you need to become an equivalent expert of someone who has played the sport at a high level, coached it at a high level. It’s simply saying, if you want to work in golf, we can’t allow you to do that if your knowledge of golf is a three out of 10.
Your next prediction-
Gareth J. Mole:
… of 2050.
Gareth J. Mole:
Yeah. What were we calling them? Hopotheses, I think.
Hopotheses, thank you.
Gareth J. Mole:
Yes, we may have just invented a new word, which is totally appropriate I think when you’re thinking about the future. So my next is the slightly controversial one. This is where we start. In 2050, I think there’ll be much more emphasis on formal qualifications. And what I mean by that is, I think that there’ll be a much reduced likelihood that someone will be allowed to work in any performance sector who hasn’t met certain, I suppose formal qualifications. So, I’m predicting it’s, and it’s just a prediction, that there will be a lot less people involved in sport and performance who simply finished high school and then decided they were going to start a business and make up a title. That’s my prediction.
Why do you think that’s important?
Gareth J. Mole:
Look, I suppose the reason why I wanted to include that, and this is maybe where the bit of the hopothesis is really emphasized, because I run a business which I suppose is, in many ways I’m looking after the best interest of a total of 10 psychologists. I suppose I have a lot of conversations with sporting organizations and individuals as well. And one thing is very clear and that is that, in particular in sport, there is still a huge lack of understanding about what various professional titles actually mean from a kind of a risk point of view.
And so, one of the things that we’re doing on a fairly regular basis is sort of trying to educate and make aware the fact that for example, as a psychologist, we all have a professional indemnity insurance. That’s a very boring sort of fact, but it’s a fact nonetheless. And therefore, if you do decide to employ, let’s say a mind coach or mindset coach, then I would like the sporting entity to know that they’re doing that and they can tolerate the risk that comes with that person having no professional insurance for example, and other things besides.
So I think that what will eventually happen is that, we will invite into the conversation people who potentially don’t have any recognized qualifications but who do a very good job of the work. People like Gilbert Enoka is incredibly well-regarded and has done an amazing job in New Zealand rugby, but he’s not a registered psychologist. So bringing people like Gilbert into the conversation and saying, okay, how do we communicate all these different titles to the sporting community out there, I think is a really important step.
And it may involve the difficult decision of certain people who don’t have recognized qualifications who might not be doing a good job. It may involve us saying to them, “So you can no longer work with such and such a team or such and such an individual.” Dan, what’s your thoughts on this, and how’s things panning out in the UK with regards to that? Is that the hopothesis with the longest bow?
Yeah. I mean, I think I’ll start by saying, I think clarity. Again, I’m going to come back to this word clarity. I just think the sports industry needs greater clarity as to what … Let’s come back to your title of performance psychology. What do performance psychologists, or we could use sports psychologists. What do sports psychologists do? Let’s come back to 2020 and call it sports psychology, and just say, look, what do sports psychologists do? What are your qualifications? Who are you registered with? What do you do? And how are we protected? What are we getting when we get a sports psychologist?
And I think we as an industry need to be better. So if we talk about 2020 to 2050, 30 years, I think we got 30 years to become better, helping the sport industry, gain clarity as to what sports psychology is and what sports psychologists do. I personally don’t have a problem with anybody going away and doing whatever they want in terms of a … They can do a two-week course. They can do a two-day course or a two-year course. Whatever they want to do, they do. But I think what national governing bodies, organisations, clubs, teams require is clarity.
I think there needs to be as much exposure as possible with regard sports psychology and sports psychologists so that these national governing bodies, clubs, teams, organizations know exactly what they get. And if they choose to say, “Okay, we know you’ve got the qualifications, you’ve got the registration, you’ve got the insurances. We know our people are safe. However, we’re going to go with Johnny or Mary over there Who’s got their two week NLP qualification, because you know what? We think they’re brilliant at what they do.” Fine. No problem at all.
But I think we in the next 30 years, if we want to talk about this span of time, we have to be better at every single national governing body, every single organization, every single club globally in every single sport, knowing exactly what they get with us. Now that is complex and complicated because every single country has different rules. In UK, I should say, there’s an interesting dynamic whereby a practitioner psychologist, the term practitioner psychologist is legally protected but the term performance psychologist isn’t.
Again, I could do a two-week course and then call myself a performance psychologist. So there’s an interesting dynamic there. So I think we do have to try to come together. That’s a very bland statement I know, but some people within psychology who are registered psychologists within their country have to come together and find a way to help our global sports organisations understand what they get when they employ us as psychologists. When we do that, I think then there’s very real choice through that very real clarity.
Sport Psychology Podcast continued …
Gareth J. Mole:
Yeah. Look, I totally agree. There’s probably just a couple of additions there. I think that one is, what I really like about what you said there is we’re ensuring that the consumer is the one that knows what we do. So I think it was in episode two with Chris Shambrook where I think he was alluding to this fact, if memory serves me correctly, but he said something along the lines of, we know a lot about what we do, like you and me because we work within the profession.
But what about build the rugby coach from down the road? Like, does he know? A few months ago I went to stay with some friends in Sydney and they were like, “Oh, one of your sports psychologists guys is all over the news at moment.” And I was like, “Oh, show me the article.” And sure enough, it was not somebody who was a qualified psychologist. It was a mindset coach. And so these friends of mine just naturally assumed that because that person was working in the mental side of sport, that they were a sports psychologist. I think that is an absolute key to it.
We have to start including various different programs, which means that the consumer, the people who are potentially interested in our services, they are the ones that know what it means to be a qualified performance psychologist and what it means to not be a qualified performance psychologist. That’s the real key with regards to that, that third prediction of more emphasis on formal qualifications.
Well, I think you’ve eloquently put it in that sentence. The consumer needs to know what we do. I think that’s a really eloquent way of putting it. The challenge is it’s on a global scale. The challenge is that we could go down to the lay person, the person who’s just a sports fan and most people don’t have a clue, no idea.
And if they’re going to make an assumption, they’re going to assume it’s predominantly around mental health. I think there are a lot of coaches through no fault of their own who would see it in a similar vein mental health towards welfare and well-being. And then I think there’s the more informed coaches, players, key stakeholders in our organization, sporting organizations who understand that there’s a performance psychology piece to this as well. And actually ironically, I think most sports psychology see themselves as purveyors of performance psychology.
So there really needs to be an education process. We need to become proper profession. And for me, we are a proper profession. I mean, there are papers, research articles out there, commentaries that say, “Well, we’re not a profession because we don’t have a standard practice, strengthened by and large, and I might get vilified for this on social media.” But my understanding of say a sports science or, especially strength and conditioning is that there are standard methodologies of practice that run through those industries.
And therefore, it becomes much easier for them to be recognized professions. But anyway, I think what we need to do is, we need to avoid the rant because I think it is getting better. But I think as we’re talking about 30 years, 2050, I think we need to be less scared of marketing, you coming back to your marketing point at the beginning. We need to be less scared of marketing, of sales. We need to be less scared of helping people understand what it is that we do on those multiple levels, performance psychology, welfare and well-being, and mental health. Let’s move along. Give me another hopothesis.
Gareth J. Mole:
Yes. Number four. Yes. So, number four was a much greater collaboration between coaches and performance psychologists. And I hope everyone’s sitting down for this. The kicker to this is in 30 years time. This collaboration between coaches and performance psychologists will eventuate in the first few head coaches who are qualified performance psychologists. In other words, people who potentially have no experience playing a particular sport will be given the top job.
So obviously in English football we’re talking about the manager here. In most other sports we’re talking about the head coach. And I suppose for me this is … Again, referring back to a lot of the conversations that you’ve had with your guests, a lot of the really interesting conversations were from coaches who were basically saying, “Look, what we do as a coach is psychology.” And I’ve heard you say many, many times, you just can’t remove the psychology from the equation.
Depending on when you put this episode out, obviously, you and I both know that Liverpool have just won their first Premier League title for 30 years. And if you listen to Jürgen Klopp, it would be easy to assume guy had some pretty impressive psychology qualifications. So I think that the fourth hopothesis is going to be much, much more collaboration between coaches and performance psychologists.
So an expansion of what I do at the moment with a third of my clients who are sporting coaches, but that becoming much more common place. And then the eventual end point of that will be, if I’m working with a coach and assisting him or her so much with all aspects of their coaching, because ultimately you cannot remove the psych-social part of human improvement. You just can’t. You may not think it’s there, but it’s there.
Then what will eventually happen is that some people will be then said, “Well, why don’t you just come in and be the head coach.” And if that happens, if that prediction happens, then obviously one thing that we really want to make happen is for those first few qualified psychologists to do the best possible job. I refer back to Annika Sörenstam, who I think in 2003 was invited to play on one of the men’s tour events-
… and under obscene … Yeah. Under obscene. So. Yes. Female golfer invited to play on one of the men’s tour events, but she didn’t do that well. I did a bit of research before she came 96 out of 111. So what we would want to ensure if my prediction is correct, Dan, and that’s in 30 years time, you will see qualified performance psychologists are in the role of head coach or manager. What we’ve got to make sure happens is those first few do an excellent job, both from a results point of view, from an impact point of view, because otherwise it could set us back another 20 years.
If the first few that are given that opportunity don’t do a great job, then as you can imagine, the sports industry might misjudge us unfairly. And so we would have to work very hard to making sure that those first few who were given the opportunity did the best possible job possible. And we see it already. There’s head coaches who come from biomechanics, there’s head coaches who come from strength and conditioning. Isn’t it a bit bizarre that on paper the area which is most aligned with coaching, which is surely is, is human improvement?
Psychology is the one that’s least likely to generate a head coach from my point of view. It’s the most likely, and I think all we’ve got at the moment in 2020 is a situation where, to be honest, and this refers back to some of your comments earlier. I don’t think the sports industry is ready for that. I don’t think that if there was a qualified sport or performance psychologist who was actually the head coach of a Premier League team of a major league baseball team, I think the first thing that do is say, “Don’t use the term sports psychologist or performance psychologist. People are going to get the wrong idea.” And I think that’s very indicative.
I think it’s interesting. It’s just speaking there. I’m thinking of the question, how much domain specific expertise do you need to have as a coach? So if I was to join José Mourinho’s coaching team, if I was to join Jurgen Klopp’s coaching team, how much domain specific knowledge do I need for that to happen? And I think it’s intriguing. I really do. That kind of thing has happened already in British soccer. So Steve McClaren invited Bill Beswick to be his assistant manager at Middlesborough actually a couple of decades ago.
I know that Bruno Demichelis, an Italian sport psychologist was brought over by Carlo Ancelotti around 2008, 2009, to be his assistant manager at Chelsea after being his assistant manager at AC Milan, or at least being very influential at AC Milan. So that kind of thing has happened, but it’s very, very rare. I’m sure there are other instances in other sports globally, and maybe listeners can tweet in if they know of that happening. But I think it’s very possible, and I would like to see it because I think that, that can be such a crucial role that somebody can play.
I think you can coach because you don’t necessarily need much domain specific knowledge to be a coach, especially if, what normally happen is you’d have a couple of other coaches who have a vast amount of domain specific knowledge, they have a vast amount of knowledge on the strategical, tactical, physical technical side of the specific sport you’re talking about. So I think you could still coach. I certainly think that coach could take on the role of a head of psychosocial methodology within that coaching unit, which I think is sorely lacking.
And again, in my mind when I’m thinking of this, I’m always thinking of say Premier League soccer in England, because I know that the coaching teams there are quite big, but you could say about baseball, the American version of football, NFL, basketball, that there are substantial coaching staff. The size of the coaching staff is quite big. I think it always lacks what I would describe as a head of psychosocial methodology.
So I think that, that person could do that and just, let’s come back to on-pitch involvement. On-pitch involvement. Again, let’s come back to your notion of, this is about working towards 2050. If on the picture, on the court or on the field is where it happens, why or why, or why would you not have the psych there in amongst it doing it? I just don’t get that, unless the psych is a clinical psych and it’s about the mental health piece, and the welfare and well-being is not about performance.
If it’s performance psych, why is the psych not involved in the performance environment? That doesn’t make sense, if you really strip it back and you really think about it. Now, that might involve some communication. It might involve some general fitness levels from the sports psych him or herself, but why not? Why not? Why can’t … Trust me until you can’t trust me. And if I make a mistake, that’s fine. Have a conversation with me, admonished me, if you have to.
Now I’m not going to go and talk. I’m not going to stand on the pitch and direct people tactically, but I can certainly engage in conversation around a psych social piece. These are the things that mediate wins and losses. These are the things that mediate jobs, whether somebody keeps their job who doesn’t. The things that mediate players’ careers. Why oh why, or why am I not invited onto the pitch? Why?
Gareth J. Mole:
Well, I think the biggest reason is just still the stigma that comes with the word psychologist, I think is such a heavy burden. I remember at the very infancy of my career in the year 2005, I just moved to Australia, and I remember there was a huge international conference in Sydney. Pure luck, I just moved to Australia and there was the biggest international [sport psychology] conference, and there was a very well-regarded sports psychologist who just given a keynote and I was a bit cheeky in those days and I sort of went up and tapped him on the shoulder and I said, I won’t mention his name, but I said, “Sir, can you give me one bit of advice for someone who really wants to make it as a sports psychologist.”
And he turned around, he said, “Don’t use the term psychologist.” And I was like, “Oh, you are kidding me. You’re joking. I’m just moved right across the world in order to do a program that basically allows me to use this title and you’re telling me that if I want to make it I should use another term.” So, look, I think it’s inevitable. Just going back to your comment about the two assistant coaches that you mentioned, who were psychologists, all that really needs to happen is that I think we would agree that one of the best ways to become a head coach is for you to first be an assistant coach.
So if people, if qualified psychologists are being given the opportunity to be assistant coaches, then the only thing missing from that anecdote, Dan, was then taking over the head coaching role when the person who brought them in moved aside or when somewhere else. And then the only bit missing from that is for as many people to know that, that person is a qualified psychologist. So it might not necessarily be as extreme as not using the term head coach and using the term performance psychologist, although there’s a part of me thinks that’s a totally appropriate name for someone involved in helping a bunch of human beings improve, given what we know about psych social.
But if that’s too much, then it would be just a case of such and such is our new head coach. Tom Smith is our new head coach who is a qualified performance psychologist with 30 years experience helping people improve. That may be enough to then get a little bit of momentum going. And again, hence why there are hopotheses because there’s a part of me that’s saying this because I desperately want it to happen, but I’m not sure if it will.
Yeah. And just for me and a word about players here, because I think maybe a lot of head coaches would say, “Oh, well, the players won’t have that. Rubbish, rubbish.” I think this is something that coaches get wrong very respectfully. I think players are much more open-minded. Players want to improve. They want to get better. Now, players demand competence, and there’s always going to be some players who are a little bit more closed-minded, and they might always have something to say, and that’s okay, that’s fine. That’s fair enough. Everybody’s individual differences. Again, everybody’s individual, and that’s fine. And you might never please some people within a squad of players, but I think firstly, I think players would be much more open to it than coaches think or believe.
Sport Psychology Podcast continued …
… I think it comes back to negotiation. I think that you’ll trust me to negotiate with your players. I’d like to sit down with players, to sit down with the captain, the leadership group and say, “This is what I propose happen, because as an example, we know that you have to focus your attention as you’re competing and deal with distractions quickly. We know that you have to compete at a certain intensity level. We know that you have to compete with a positive intent. You have to execute your actions positively.
These are the kinds of things, the game winning and losing mediators that I want to really help you with, that I want to work with you on. This is what I’m proposing. What are your thoughts? Where are your pushbacks here? What would work for you? What wouldn’t work for you? How can we give this a go?” It kind of it comes back to negotiation. We got to be better at the art side of negotiation when it comes to things like that, but give us a chance to do it. Because I think that coaches would see a great deal of benefit if they open their minds and allowed it to happen.
Gareth J. Mole:
Totally agree with that. And I love what you said. Was it trust me until I stuff up? What was the word that you said there?
Well, trust me until you can’t trust me.
Gareth J. Mole:
Yeah. Trust me until you can’t trust me. I’ve written that down. That’s a keeper.
Yeah. Trust me-
Gareth J. Mole:
That’s a keeper. Trust me till you can’t trust me. And what you just emphasise there is that, if you remove the label in the stigma with psychologist and you just describe to that group of players what we do, you get complete buy-in, don’t you? Think about it. It’s like I can help you stay motivated when you’re not particularly motivated. We can help you perform under pressure. We can help you concentrate on the things that are most important. If you were just to describe the processes that we do on a daily or a weekly basis, you get complete buy-in. Everyone’s like, “Yep. I want some of that. Thank you very much. Good appointment.”
As soon as you say, “Oh, by the way, he’s a qualified psychologist.” you start getting a little bit of concerns. But I do agree with you wholeheartedly, those pushbacks are probably likely to come much more from administrators, owners, people maybe concerned with the image of the club. I think if you were to say to the players, we think that a qualified psychologist is going to be best placed to be your main coach and these are the reasons, I think you’re right. I think that even in 2020, I think there wouldn’t be any issues there whatsoever.
Yeah. Yes, yes. I mean, it’s certainly an extreme point of view or extreme approach to say this psych is going to be your main coach. I think maybe at the beginning this psychologist is going to be on the pitch with us.
These are the reasons why, and again, then we fall into that negotiation. But across all of this conversation, I want to emphasize, and I’m sure you would as well that nobody’s saying, “Hey, coaches, you have this opinion and it’s the wrong opinion or this is a terrible opinion.” This opinion or the approaches we’ve got right now are limited because we as psychologists, in my opinion, sports psychologists, haven’t been good enough to get our message across to help you understand what we can do. I think we need to be better at that. I think that we need to be a little bit bolder with our messages at times, and a bit braver and we’re going to get lots of pushbacks and that’s okay.
And that last thing to say, so in 2050, there will be some psychs, sports psychs who won’t … Performance psychs, if we’re going to call them performance psychologists, who won’t want to go on to pitch, who won’t want to go get their [crosstalk 01:00:32] body essentially. That’s okay. But what I would say there is possibly my hope is that actually that’s where coaches will say, “Well, do we want that person? Do we want that psychologist?” Because actually we want to have the performance psych who’s willing to get out there.
Now, we’re going to be at our early 70s then. So maybe I shouldn’t be saying this because hopefully it will be fit 70-year-olds who can still get out there. But as hopefully we won’t be putting ourselves at a disadvantage. But look, I’m conscious of time. And I’d like to get on to … I think this is a great conversation. Let’s get onto our fifth and final.
Gareth J. Mole:
Yeah. So I suppose, and as a natural conclusion to all of the other four, what I’ve written down here, Dan is much greater unity and collaboration within the profession. And literally, I’ve written down proper international trade union for performance psychology. So, if we’re talking about what … One of the things you mentioned previously about SMC, for example, and having a lot more clarity, one of the things we haven’t done yet is how to look at some of the other professions in sport and said, “What have you done to clarify your position?”
I don’t think we’ve done that yet. I don’t think we’ve looked at some of the success stories. So one of the most obvious things to do would be to form some kind of international trade union for performance psychology. So you start with the correct label, as we mentioned earlier. Let’s try not to confuse people unnecessarily because we pick the wrong term. And then what we do is we look at other international trade unions, other professions that have worked well, even if some of the people are in Australia, some of them are in the UK, some of them are in the USA, and it’s a classic case of the … Some of the parts make up much more than the individuals involved.
And I’ll be honest, and maybe I can sort of segue into just a massive thank you to you and a wrap for putting together the Sport Psych Show. But over here in Australia, there’s a part of me, I’ll be honest. It’s sort of started to lose a little bit of hope in terms of whether or not the profession was actually going in the right direction. Here in Australia, we used to have four master’s programs. We have one.
Now, it would be very easy if you were stuck in Australia only to think that sports psychology is going backwards and hanging by a thread. I think that would be an appropriate way for me to describe it. And it was only really when I stumbled across your podcast and started listening to some of the high quality banter, I call it, that I was reinvigorated for the first time in many, many years, that there are some incredibly smart, passionate, and skillful people who happen to have the same professional title as me.
The only thing is, some of them are in the US. Your conversations with Scott Goldman were just mind-blowing, just like, are you kidding me? Didn’t even knew exist. I had no idea he existed. The one with Chris Shambrook as well, it was just unbelievable. [inaudible 01:04:05], just immediately sort of gave me something that I could start using with my clients and my team. So I think the individual superstars, if we can call on that exists, they just don’t operate as a team. That’s the only thing that is potentially missing.
So my final hopothesis, and maybe this is partially a prediction, and maybe it’s partially a call of expressions of interest, would be international group of performance psychologist who collaborate well together for the advancement of the profession. And all of the previous things that we’ve discussed during the interview would all be very common, regular discussion points for that particular group. Your thoughts on that one?
Well, at the moment my mind is envisioning a whole bunch of sports psychologists on the picket line with banners and placards saying right for sports psychs. So I’ve got that in my mind. Now, I love it. It’s an interesting landscape, every country has its different landscape. I think it’s different scene in terms of sports psych. it’s fascinating listening to you in terms of what’s happening in Australia. I can’t believe there’s only one master’s program. That just amazes me, because certainly here in the UK, I honestly believe that our sports science and sports psychology is what it is today, which is extraordinarily strong because of Australia, because Australia beat us at everything in the ’80s and through the ’90s.
And then we had to do something and for various reasons the investment went through and the English Institute of Sport emerged and various things, and now we have very, very strong academic departments research, very strong in terms of practitioners. There is, I mean, certainly at English Institute of Sport a lot of psychs who work together. So there is that sense of collaboration there. So I think it does exist, but I think every country has its challenges. I mean, I look over as a Brit to the state and I grew up on a diet of American psychology in many respects. And yeah-
… I have interesting conversations with people over there who are very … There’s a lot of divided opinion as to the landscape over there when it comes to sports psych. There’s a lot of unregulated stuff, and at same time there’s a lot of great stuff that goes on. So I would love to see more global unity. I think that global unity is enormously challenging, but hopefully things like the Sport Psych Show can help. That would be awesome if people feel that it does. So yeah. 2050, the year of collaboration, perhaps. I think hopefully the year of greater clarity, the year of greater, maybe greater cohesion between coaches and psychs. I think those are the three … They just happened to be three Cs, but maybe the three Cs I take out of this hopothesis is clarity, collaboration and cohesion.
Gareth J. Mole:
Yeah, absolutely. And I think, although the international collaboration might be regarded as the biggest challenge, and I can see that, let’s just think about what you’ve managed to achieve in the Sport Psych Show. I’m sitting halfway between Sydney and Canberra. You’re in London. Through the wonders of modern technology, it’s like we’re sitting across from one another. So I think the advantage about the international approach is that what we can do is we can go, “Okay, what have you done in your country, Sweden? What have you guys done? And what can we learn from that?”
And I think ultimately, Dan, that will trump the difficulties that exist between borders, and those difficulties are really things that we could potentially just decide and not something that are going to interfere with what we are potentially trying to work on. So from my point of view, my enthusiasm for something international would be much greater than something only based in Australia, because I believe listening to so many of the interviews that you’ve had on the Sport Psych Show that there’s a really nice flavor of different experiences from different countries, and we could really learn a lot from what have you guys done versus us. And so for me, it would have to be international.
Interesting. Great stuff. And before we round things off, you mentioned that word technology. I mean, we hadn’t really talked about technology, which could be fruitful on another conversation in the future on the Sport Psych Show, but technology I’m sure would play a massive role in sports psychology delivery in 2050. But Gareth, what a rich conversation? I really, really enjoyed that, mate. Thank you so much for coming on.
Brilliant, Gareth. Awesome. Thank you so much for your time, mate. I Really enjoyed that. Thank you.
Gareth J. Mole:
And you too, Dan, and keep up the great work.
Thank you, mate. I really enjoyed that podcast, everyone, and I’d love to hear what you, the listener think. So please do get in touch via Twitter or Facebook or through my website, danabrahams.com to tell me exactly what you think of the Sport Psych Show. And if you do have any suggestions, I’d be delighted to hear them. I’m already looking forward to next week’s episode. Bye for now.
How much does luck play a role in sport? Mentally, how do you deal with good and bad luck? Gareth looks at the psychology of luck in sport.
Luck in sport … I recently rewatched the 2006 Woody Allen movie ‘Match Point’. The film starts with slow-motion footage of a tennis ball hitting the net and then going straight up. The voice-over says ‘there are moments in a match when the ball hits the top of the net, and for a split second, it can either go forward or fall back. With a little luck, it goes forward, and you win.’
“The Harder I Work, The Luckier I Get”
During the days after I watched the film two of my sporting clients mentioned luck during the our Zoom sessions. One spoke about ‘good luck’ and the other about ‘rotten, filthy luck’. One even asked me ‘mentally, how should I deal with luck?’ The question came at the end of the session which luckily allowed me to do a little reading up before replying via email the following day.
First of all I wanted to consider the question of what exactly is luck. More specifically what is it in the context of competitive sport. And is there a healthy way to interpret what luck really is from a mental toughness point of view?
Before we go through some common examples let’s try to define luck in sports as a generic concept. Luck would appear to be the word most commonly used to describe the variances in outcomes most impacted by chance. Lexico define luck (the noun) as ‘success or failure apparently brought by chance rather than through one’s own actions’. For sport I would adapt this to something like the following. Luck (the noun) is ‘success or failure apparently brought more by chance than than through one’s own actions’.
So some sports have a greater luck component than others then? And indeed this is the case. The below video shows the results from Michael Mauboussin’s research on this very question.
Examples of Luck In Sport
There are too many sports and too many examples to choose from to do any justice to the section. So I will simply go through three scenarios that I have found quite common in my work as a sport psychologist.
Let’s go back to the footage that was used at the beginning of the movie Match Point. But let’s make it more specific. You are a tennis player who is serving to stay in match that is of great importance to you. Having lost the first point of the game the second point turns into a slugfest from the baseline. An attempted cross court winner from you results in the ball smashing into the top of the net where it bounces right up. It then drops down millimetres onto your opponents side of the net. You win this point and the game. You then go on to win the set as well as the match.
You are a young baseballer who decided to specialise as a pitcher early on. You live for your fastballs and your curveballs. When you finally make it onto your Division One college squad you realise that this particular team has a much better pool of pitchers than batters and fielders. It feels like rotten luck that your place in the team will probably depend on others either getting injured or under performing in the upcoming season. Dirty, rotten luck.
You are a cricketer who picked up a significant ankle injury just before the coronavirus turned into an official pandemic. In normal years this injury would have resulted in you missing the first ten games of the season. However due to measures introduced to contain the virus you were able to complete a full rehabilitation program during lockdown. This resulted in you missing no games at all. The coronavirus turned out to be a very lucky break for you.
Spectrum of Influence
There are many ways that we can try and see the role that luck plays, not just in sport but in everyday life. But I have a favourite, a preferred way. For those of you who have seen the thought shaping module from any of the recent Metuf programs you will be aware that one of the “mentools” we use is all about influence. Basically, how much influence do you have on various different aspects of your sport? This involves two tricky considerations. First you have to be able to mentally separate things that don’t normally get separated. For example, the rain and putting up an umbrella or someone shouting at you and you walking the other way.
The art of mental separation is a vital pre-requisite in being able to manage Lady Luck in the most effective way. The second skill is knowing what aspects of training and competing you have lots of influence on and which you have little or no influence on.
Try It Now …
Go back and read through the three examples above once again. This time pick out which aspects are contributing to the good and bad luck scenarios. Now try and mentally seperate these from one another. And finally, put them into order from most influenceable to least. In doing this does it change the way you look at the situation in you mind’s eye? Let’s go through them together.
Example 1: The tennis ball hitting the top of the net.
So the main elements involved in this are:
the player (me)
the winner of the point (also me)
For the sake of simplicity let’s assume weather played no part at all. No breeze helped push the ball the right side of the net. In order of most influence to least I would suggest the following:
me ~ most influence
the result of the point
the net ~ least influence
So you could say I have a lot of influence over my shot (intended shot) and none over the net (the height, what it’s made of etc). With this in mind there is a strong argument that your mindset wants to be more orientated towards the yourself. In other words instead of thinking you won that point because of luck of a net consider the amount of power you managed to get on the ball that still allowed it to make it over – albeit by the smallest of margins. Maybe a better mental response in the moment is a change of game plan that would allow you to hit less shots so close to the top of the net.
Example 2: The baseball pitcher who is completing against other excellent pitchers for the first time.
In this vignette, the issue is mentally joining (fusing) the desired outcome (to be one of the starting pitchers) with the abilities of others and the decisions of the coach. Teammates, other baseballers and coaches are just other people. How much influence do you have on them? None, a little, some or lots? I would lean towards some for those you are close to and only a little for the rest. Although I can totally understand why the abilities of teammates can be perceived as a threat (bad luck) the data actually suggests it will have the opposite effect.
In others words, as you will have to work harder (lots of influence) due to the healthy competition it will likely make you even better. So it might easily be said that the above example (#2) is actually a good luck scenario rather than a bad luck one. Regardless, the best mental responses will always be similar. Direct your limited mental energy towards the “stuff” you have a lot of influence on. Elements such as your own effort, your own plans and your own actions. Don’t get too caught up in the abilities of others.
Example 3: The cricketers who got lucky due to Corona Virus.
This is the trickiest vignette as it seems the most innocent. But there is a mental gremlin hiding. Can you find it? Go back and read it and ask yourself what it the danger of this situation?
As a practising sport psychologist I can see the issue from a mile away. The player in the example is potentially giving too much credit to this once in a lifetime (we hope) pandemic. In fact the majority of the credit wants to go to how the player responded to the setback. This is different (mentally seperate) from the setback itself of course.
You can imagine, depending how how luck or chance is perceived two very different statements from this cricketer at the end of the season.
“I got really lucky you know. The virus gave me an extra ten weeks of rehab. In fact, due mainly to the pandemic I didn’t miss a match in the 2020 season.”
“At the start of 2020 I picked up ankle injury. As soon as I had my rehab program I was determined to stick to it no matter what. In the end I managed to actually regain full fitness by the start of the season. Oh, and the season started late that year from what I remember.”
Luck in sport and/or life is probably best thought of like the weather. Yes, it varies. Sometimes it will help and sometimes it will make things harder. Just get on with it.
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Are sporting coaches and competitive athletes amongst the more likely to benefit from the principles of positive psychology?
Recently I was cleaning out my filing cabinet and I came across an email from a previous coach of mine. The message contained some feedback on what he felt I needed to improve on after a recent tournament. I scanned through the email and felt a heaviness settle in my stomach. The emotions came back from the time I first received the email many years ago. The feedback was all negative but phrased as ‘the areas I needed to improve on’. Comments like ‘you need to do this more’, and ‘in this situation, you need to be doing this’. No traces of Positive Psychology anywhere.
None of the feedback was given to me during the tournament itself. It was all put in an email and sent when we got back and with no follow-up. What I noticed most was that there was no positive feedback at all. After reading his email, I felt unmotivated and deflated. I’m sure this is not what he intended but it’s what happened. Is this type of feedback going to make for better athletes and competitors?
Performance Psychology meets Positive Psychology
A few years ago I had the opportunity to attend the Happiness and Its Causes conference in Perth. I was curious, engaged, and fascinated by the content and the vibe of the conference. During the even I was introduced to Positive Psychology, the science of flourishing. Dr Martin Seligman, one of the main researchers in this branch of psychology, believes that psychological practise should be as concerned with people’s strengths as their weaknesses. Positive psychology asks ‘what’s good in our lives’ compared to the traditional psychology approach which can focus more on ‘what’s wrong with us and how can we fix it’.
As a performance psychologist, I have always had a passion for helping people thrive in their work and life. So this theory sat well with me and aligned with my values. I started introducing positive psychology initiatives into my work in organisations. Later as my sporting clients grew I felt that they too would gain a lot from some simple positive psychology principles.
Too Much Deficit-Based Coaching
Sport is also often focused on ‘fixing weaknesses and problems’, called deficit-based coaching. How often do you come off the field at half time and a coach says “this is what we need to change because we’re not doing it right.” Strengths-based coaching, on the other hand, is about identifying, enhancing and exploiting athletes’ and teams’ strengths and focusing on what we do well.
Athletes, coaches and sporting organisations generally have the goal of excellence, both on and off the field. By using positive psychology strategies, performance psychologists are able to support athletes, staff and families develop resilience and coping skills in order to deal with setbacks, focus on strengths to achieve their goals. These mental skills are just as vital to success as being able to hit a hockey ball or shoot a basket. Talent and technical ability is not enough. Whilst important we all can name truly gifted athletes that never make it.
What sets most athletes apart is their mental toughness. It’s their character, their grit, their positive mindset and the belief that their ability can be developed through dedication and hard work. So what are the key factors of positive psychology that can be applied to sport?
Research has demonstrated that it is easier to promote a strength than it is to improve weaknesses and that our areas of greatest potential are our greatest strengths. This is not to say don’t focus on your weaknesses, but the best results will come when you are also working on your strengths. Research shows that those who use their strengths are more likely to have higher levels of confidence, vitality and energy, are likely to be more resilient, have higher self-esteem, and to perform better. Coaches and athletes are encouraged to know their strengths and the focus of development should be around their strengths. Many coaches have a negativity bias and need to train their brains to focus on the good things their athletes are doing.
The two key elements of a strength-approach are “delivering a high level of performance and experiencing a sense of energy when you are doing it” (Linley, Willars, et al., 2010). Spotting the energy is crucial to distinguish the real strengths from learned behaviours. So how do you know what your strengths are? Ask yourself these questions:
What do you love about your sport?
What’s your favourite role?
Which aspects do you get complimented on?
What are you most proud of?
What do you do in your spare time?
How can I harness my strengths?
Growth Mindset and Positive Psychology
In 2006, Carol Dweck introduced us to the notion of growth and fixed mindset. Those with a growth mindset are more comfortable with failure as they see it as a learning opportunity in comparison to those with a fixed mindset who believe their success is based on innate ability and talent. Athletes with a growth mindset are more likely to see challenges as opportunities rather than barriers and believe that they can improve, learn and get better with practice and effort.
The good news is, we can choose which mindset we want – we can choose to view our mistakes and setbacks as learning opportunities, or we can view them as limiting obstacles. Those choosing a growth mindset are more likely to persist in difficult times than those with fixed mindsets. And athletes know better than anyone, that if you want to achieve success, there are always barriers and obstacles in the way, including poor form, injury and confidence issues.
Sport is emotional – for athletes, coaches, and spectators. Many emotions are felt from elation, excitement and nervousness to fear, sadness, anger and disappointment. Emotions drive behaviour and often dictate how you perform as an athlete in competition. To become a high performing athlete, you need to understand and manage your emotions so they help rather than hinder your performances.
Many people falsely believe that positive psychology only recognises positive aspects of people and their performances, and ignores the negative. When viewing emotions, both positive and negative are considered, and the impact both these have on an athlete’s performances. Negative emotions like anxiety and anger can trigger our body’s “Fight or Flight” response to threat and these emotions affect our bodies physically. These physical effects can include increased heart rate, nausea, muscle tension, stomach aches, weakened focus, and physically drained. Positive emotions, on the other hand, can have the opposite effect. Happiness can relieve tension, lower your heart and blood pressure, strengthen your immune system and help to combat stress. Staying calm, focused and positive can help you attend to what you need to minimise distractions, keeping you relaxed, and increasing your confidence. It also has the added benefit of being a pleasant person to be around!
Recent research has shown that one of the key factors in success is what is termed as ‘Grit’, defined as passion and perseverance in working toward significant long-term goals. Elite athletes across many sports are grittier compared with non-elite athletes. They also commit to their sports for a longer period of time. This concept pioneered by Dr Angela Duckworth (2007), explains why some people achieve success without being gifted with unique intelligence or talent. So, if you are an athlete or coach who feels like you missed the talent boat, then there is hope for you. How many of you can credit your successes to your passion, commitment, resilience and perseverance? The good news is that you can develop your grit to become grittier.
Ways To Do This Include:
Develop your passion – find what you love doing, and it will be easier to stick to it. Not many people stick to things they are not passionate about. Ask yourself, what do I like to think about? Where does my attention wander? What do I really care about?
Practice deliberately – don’t waste your time at training, practice deliberately. Set stretch goals, practice with full concentration and effort, seek feedback and reflect on what went well and what didn’t to refine for next time.
Consider your purpose – why are you doing what you do? In life and sport, there are bound to be setbacks and challenges along the way. If you have a purpose for what you are doing, then you are more likely to persevere and stay committed. When times are tough, always go back to your ‘why’.
Adopt a ‘growth’ mindset – athletes with a growth mindset know their abilities develop through hard work and effort rather than natural talent. Those with growth mindsets are much better at dealing with setbacks as they view them as learning experiences, rather than being directly related to their ability.
Grit in Practice
Is it not possible to developed Grit overnight; it is an ongoing process. What we do know is that it’s worth developing – the gritty athlete is not only successful, s/he is also more likely to be happier and more satisfied with his/her ability than other athletes.
The adoption and implementation of positive psychology hs a significant impact on sports performances by shifting the focus from negative (what’s wrong with you) to positive (what’s right with you).
Understanding your strengths and how to use them, adopting a growth mindset, using your emotions strategically and developing grit all contribute to building mental toughness, optimism, motivation and resilience. I know from firsthand experience how focusing on the positive can have a much greater impact on an athlete and bring out the best in us.
If you’d like more information about working with me on some of these ideas then get in touch by completing our Contact Us Form here and mention my name (“Mindy”) somewhere in the comments sections and I will call you back.
Positive Psychology Is Not Positive Thinking
The below is an old post from 2014 written by one of the interns at the time (sorry, can’t call which one). It was called The Pitfalls of Positive Thinking. Note, the below was not written by Mindy but it feels like this is the best place to add it.
The Pitfalls of Positive Thinking
It goes without saying that negative thinking can be unhelpful, particularly from a performance perspective. But have you ever considered that the opposite of negative thinking may also be unhelpful? Or even that trying to change how we think in the first place is where the problems lie?
How often do we hear people say that to overcome difficult situations we just need to think positively? Let’s start with a story about how our thoughts influence the way we feel and act.
Three Soccer Players
Imagine three soccer players each taking a penalty kick in a shoot out. They all miss the goal. The first player thinks: “I’ve let the whole team down. I’ll never get selected again.” She gets upset and feels really sad about missing the goal. The second player thinks: “It’s not fair that we had to go to a penalty shoot out! This is all because the referee disallowed our goal in the 88th minute!” This player kicks the ground on their way back to the team and feels angry about missing the goal. The third player thinks: “Well, that didn’t work out the way I had hoped, but overall I had a pretty good game today. I’ll have to practice those spot kicks a bit more in training.” She remains calm on her way back to the team, and even though they feel a bit disappointed about missing the goal.
So why did three people who were in the same situation experience such different cognitive reactions? They all missed the goal, but only the third player coped effectively with this stressful situation. As you may have noticed, these three players all had different thoughts going through their minds after they missed the goal. Their thoughts influenced their emotions (i.e. how they felt) and their behaviour (i.e. how they acted). This story highlights two important points for athletes and coaches to understand:
Our thoughts influence how we feel and act; and
We can’t change the outcome of our performance once it’s in the past, but we can certainly control how we react to this outcome.
Thoughts Influence How We Feel and Act
Over time our thoughts become more consistent and habitual. We develop our own unique way of making sense of situations. This is called our thinking style. There are three distinct styles of thinking. Negative and positive thinking sit at either end of a continuum. They are both extremes, like the colours black and white. Both of these extreme thinking styles have the potential to be unhelpful when it comes to coping with stressful situations. Negative thinking can lead to self-doubt, being hyper critical, blaming others and feeling guilty. Likewise, positive thinking (not grounded in reality) can be equally unhelpful and lead to over-confidence and under-preparation in some athletes and coaches.
This leaves us with the third (and most helpful) thinking style. Realistic Thinking is characterised by the shades of grey that fall between the extremes of negative and positive thinking. As the name suggests, realistic thinking is based on real life – and for most people, life consists of ups and downs rather than “all good” or “all bad” situations. Realistic thinking is a balanced way of thinking that acknowledges limitations or setbacks whilst developing and maximising strengths. Here are a few tips to help you develop a more realistic thinking style:
7 Quick Wins
Evaluate the validity of your thoughts. Don’t just treat them as facts. Try to find supporting evidence for thoughts that enhance your confidence and motivation and refuting evidence for thoughts that undermine your confidence and motivation.
Be careful not to over-generalise after a setback. Just because one shot, tackle, or game wasn’t your best, doesn’t mean that every performance in the future will be the same.
Focus on the controllables – What you are thinking and doing in the present moment. You can’t change the past, and the only way you can influence your future is by how you manage the present.
If your mind starts focusing on a worst case scenario, ask yourself “How likely is it that this scenario will actually come true?” and “Will the consequences be as bad as I’m predicting?”
Try not to use extreme words in your thinking, such as “should,” “must,” “always,” and “never.” These words lead to athletes and coaches putting unnecessary pressure on themselves. Think about what is reasonable rather than ideal.
Work with supportive people around you (i.e. coach, family, team mates, psychologist) to develop realistic performance goals. Expectations need to be in line with capabilities and logistics in order for goals to be achievable.
Accept that things sometimes don’t go according to plan and sport can be unpredictable and unfair. Use these stressful experiences as an opportunity to learn and build resilience for the future.
Dr Michelle Pain is a sport psychologist based in Melbourne, Australia with more than 30 years of experience helping athletes improve their sporting mindset as well as their overall mental health and wellbeing.
Call Us Anytime On 1300 603 267
Although we now deliver 95% of our sport psychology services via webcam we have always wanted a sport psychologist in Melbourne.
As I was living in Sydney when I started Condor Performance in 2005, we have always had a physical presence in Sydney. This has allowed our clients the choice between session in the same room or via webcam. Fast forward 15 years and we now have two fantastic psychologists located in Sydney in Brian and Madalyn. On top of that, we have two more who are reasonably near in James (Newcastle) and Gareth (The Southern Highlands (Moss Vale) of NSW).
But Melbourne, Australia’s second-biggest city and some would say the sporting capital* has always eluded us. It’s worth pointing out why this has always been a dilemma for us. We get lots of enquiries from Victorian performers. Many of which are word-of-month due to the different way we deliver sport psychology services. This creates a dilemma for those preferring to work with a psychologist face-to-face. Do they work with one of us via webcam or see a more traditional sport psychologist in Melbourne? In fact, the search term “Sport Psychologist Melbourne” is one of the most common before landing on our homepage.
Persistence Is A Virtue
In 2019 I had an in-depth phone conversation with Dr Michelle Pain (left). Immediately after the phone conversation, I had a strong feeling that we had found our women. Not only was Michelle based in Melbourne but she is one of the pioneers of Australian sport psychology. Of course, this comes with an enviable amount of experience working as an applied sport psychologist.
The only challenge was that she had decided not to renew her psychologist registration a couple of years ago.
Michelle and I had a long conversation about the pros and cons of actually allowing her to work for Condor Performance without renewing her registration as a psychologist. This is the closest I’ve ever come to employing a non-psychologist as a consultant. In the end, we agreed it would be better for her to re-register and I shall quickly explain why.
Only Psychologists; No “Mind Coaches”
First and foremost all psychologists in Australia require Professional Indemnity Insurance. What this means is that in the unlikely event that something terrible happens the effected psychologist will be primarily assisted by their insurer. This is not to say that we do not want to help our psychologists if they get into trouble, it’s because it would be almost impossible given that most of us operate at the upper limits of capacity in the support we provide to our sporting and performance clients.
The second reason for the insistence that all members of our team being psychologists is this. It guarantees to both us and our clients a minimum amount of tertiary education that would otherwise be unknown.
Michelle’s application for re-registration as a psychologist was recently approved and therefore I am delighted to confirm several news items.
For those of you based in Melbourne who’d prefer to work with a sport psychologist face-to-face then Michelle’s home office is in Mentone. Secondly, due to the fact that Michelle has so much experience working as an applied sport psychologist the internal supervision, meetings and discussions that we have regularly just got a massive shot in the arm.
eSports – The Next Big Thing In Sport
But even more exciting than these two reasons is the fact that Michelle is the first member of our team to both know a lot about eSports and have experience working with these new kinds of performers. For those of you who have never heard of eSports then I will let Wikipedia quickly explain:
Esports (also known as electronic sports, e-sports, or eSports) is a form of sport competition using video games. Esports often takes the form of organized, multiplayer video game competitions, particularly between professional players, individually or as teams. Although organized competitions have long been a part of video game culture, these were largely between amateurs until the late 2000s, when participation by professional gamers and spectatorship in these events through live streaming saw a large surge in popularity. By the 2010s, esports was a significant factor in the video game industry, with many game developers actively designing and providing funding for tournaments and other events.
We always prided ourselves in is the ability to say an Obama-esque “yes we can” to most requests for psychological assistance. A couple of years ago when we got our first inquiry from an sports athlete I had to be honest and transparent when telling him that we actually didn’t have any experience when it came to electronic sports at that time.
Well, Not Any More
In the same way that Michelle was one of the first sport psychologists to put sport psychology ‘on the map’ in Australia, she is now doing the same thing when it comes to the importance of the mental aspects of eSports.
This very short YouTube video sums up what the sports psychologists from Condor Performance do and how they could help you with your sporting goals.
The final frontier in the pursuit of sporting excellence is how to improve mental toughness; how to improve the mind as well as the body.
But of course, you already know that.
You’re just looking for the right way to go about it.
Well, you’ve come to the right place.
We work with a wide range of people from sporting to non-sporting performance, from amateurs to high performers, and professionals.
And our fastest growing group of clients; coaches themselves looking to improve the way they coach the mental side of their particular sport.
We use Skype and FaceTime for most consultations which enables us to have sessions at much more meaningful times such as before or after training, or in the moments prior to a crucial competition or performance.