Sport Psychology Basics

Sport Psychology Is Vulnerable to Over Complication. Let’s Get Back To Basics

Sport Psychology Basics

I am a big fan of keeping things as simple as possible at any time, but especially at the start of a new year. With this in mind, this first blog post of 2023 is a shorter one and is designed to remind all of us – practitioners as well as clients – of some of the fundamentals that can be forgotten.

There are three fundamental questions that arguably once answered can summarise any profession. Why do you choose to do what you do? Who do you work with? What do you actually do with them?

Below, I will endeavor to address each of these questions and finish up with some very simple sport psychology tips. As always comments and questions are welcomed via the section at the bottom of this article.

Sport Psychology Basics; Why Do You Choose To Do What You Do?

Firstly I appreciate that many people don’t actually choose to do the work that they do. I’m thinking about the single parent who takes on a second job packing shelves to make ends meet. But certainly, I choose to do the work that I do. My experience and training would now allow me to pick from a considerable number of jobs. And it is not uncommon for me to be contacted by recruitment agencies asking if I would be interested in work related to psychology.

So what is it about my role at Condor Performance that means that I don’t even take a look at the details of these kinds of offers? One of the biggest reasons is that it feels like we are really making a difference now. Not only in terms of the quality of our consulting but also the sheer amount we are doing now. The current size of our team allows us to get a lot more work done compared with most of our competitors.

With our friend and colleague David Barracosa in charge of the smooth running of the day-to-day operations, it allows me much greater flexibility. I can now focus on building new relationships and content clarification in a way that would have been impossible a few years ago.

The Second Reason …

The second reason why I continue to choose my work at Condor Performance over other jobs is that I still love the vast majority of my working time. Maybe it’s because of how important I know the fun factor to be. I always ensure that the work that I am doing a Condor Performance is highly motivating. Writing this blog post and the vast majority that are published through the Mental Toughness Digest might not be many sport psychologists’ cup of tea. But I love it. Writing really lends itself to my strengths. I have unlimited ideas and passion when it comes to sport psychology. From sport psychology basics to the most complicated aspects of the profession.

Work-Life Balance

It also helps me tremendously with the all-important work-life balance. I can tap away – as I’m doing now – at any time of day or night. This flexibility is key when you have bitten off more than you can chew. Furthermore, it acts as practice for one of our most exciting future projects. A number of sport-specific mental toughness training guides are in the pipeline, most of which will have a written version initially. Watch this space.

Sport Psychology Basics; Who Do You Work With?

When answering this question it might be better for me to answer on behalf of the entire Condor Performance team. For I myself now work with only a very small percentage of our overall clients. Still to this day, the majority of our one-on-one clients are athletes. This should come as no surprise when the first word of the profession is the word ‘sport’. Non-sporting performers, sporting coaches, and sporting officials make up the rest. By non-sporting performers, I’m referring to students, medical personnel as well as those in the military for example. These non-sporting performers have correctly worked out that the mental skills required by an elite athlete to perform consistently at the top are very much the same as would help them in their profession.

Probably the most exciting group of individuals who have shown real interest in what we do over the last few years are sporting coaches. These are often highly qualified and highly motivated individuals who have identified that their training was potentially lacking in evidence-based applied psychology. Much of the work we do with sporting coaches is as a mentor with little or no direct involvement with their athletes. If you are a sporting coach, and you’d like to learn more about having a qualified sport psychologist or performance psychologist in your corner then start by completing our MTQ-C here.

In terms of the athletes that we work with individual sports still dominate over team sports. In other words, we are more likely to be contacted by a golfer than a water polo player. The range in ages and professional levels is truly vast. We work with 8-year-olds through to 80-year-olds. We work with athletes ranked inside of the Top 10 of their sport right through to the amateurs who just want to win their club championship.

Sport Psychology Basics – What Do You Do With Them?

Again I am answering this question on behalf of the team rather than just myself. Despite the fact that our methodology has evolved over the past 20 years there are still some very common core ingredients. I have listed these below in bullet point form and I invite you to consider the benefits if you were guided by a professional in adopting all or some of them. If you think you would be then get in touch and request info about our 1-on-1 sport psychology services.

1. Focus mainly on the process (effort) and let the results (outcomes) take care of themselves.

2. Try to concern yourself much more with anything you have a lot of influence over – such as your actions – rather than factors you have little or no influence over – such as thoughts.

3. Avoid only working on your weaknesses. Improve your strengths as well.

4. Don’t underestimate the impact that overall mental health can have on performance. But also don’t confuse mental health with the mental aspects of your sport or performance area.

5. The number of ways to improve is unlimited, but the time you have to improve is very limited. So learn to prioritise.

6. Fake It Til You Feel It. Basically, work on your body language regardless of how you’re feeling. Try and look confident more so than trying to feel confident.

7. “Be careful whose advice you buy but be patient with those who supply it”. Quote borrowed from Baz Luhrmann.

8. Learn to visualise and then do it regularly.

9. If you don’t already, start a training diary/journal.

10. Learn to breathe properly. An entire blog post is currently being written on this topic. If you don’t already get notifications when new articles are added to our website then add your details here.

Performing Under Pressure

“I’m fantastic in training but I fall apart during matches. Can you coach me on how to perform better under pressure?” These are amongst the most common reasons that performers first reach out to us as sport psychologists and performance psychologists. This article provides a few tips on how we help these athletes and non-sporting performers.

Performing Under Pressure: Hugo Lloris of France dives as Harry Kane of England misses a penalty during the FIFA World Cup Qatar 2022, Qatar. Photo by David Niviere/ABACAPRESS.COM

Note this article was originally published in June 2021 but has recently been updated in Dec 2022 – days after France beat England in the quarter-final of the FIFA World Cup. I wanted to take the opportunity to make a quick comment on the penalty miss pictured above. I do not believe that the main reason Mr. Kane missed was due to pressure. His body language, unlike the Spaniards who missed in the shootout a week before, seemed to be calm and composed. Also, I am aware that Gareth Southgate (coach) is a huge fan of sport psychologists and I am sure the players would have been mentally prepared. A much better explanation for the miss is technical and tactical. I assume he picked the wrong spot (high and middle) and then didn’t use the correct technique to execute this.

Introduction

It’s important to start an article entitled ‘Performing under Pressure’ by clarifying the key terms. What do we mean by both performing and pressure?

In some circles, performing is regarded as almost any action. This can range from really obvious actions, like playing a sport, to less obvious ones such as running a business. For others, the word performance is and should be much more limiting. It only applies to competitive sports and a few other areas such as the performing arts.

At Condor Performance we sit somewhere between these two extremes. For us performing is essentially just the execution of skills. With the majority of these skills being motor skills. So of course this covers all traditional sports. But our definition also includes the performing arts, military activity, and most medical and emergency procedures. And even competitive games such as chess and eSports despite the fact that there is less human movement involved in these.

Practice vs Competition

Performing really includes both the preparation and competitive sides of the equation. This is important because in many sports the word performing gets mostly used as a synonym for competing. For example, in a post-match press conference, a coach may say that she was happy with the performance. Or that the performance wasn’t quite what they were looking for. The issue with using the term performance as a synonym for on-the-day competitive outcomes is that it forgets about the performance element of preparation. As you’ll see below it is actually what you do in preparation that ultimately allows us to perform better under pressure.

In the interest of accuracy and objectivity here is the Cambridge Dictionary definition of the word performance. In summary, “how well a person, machine, etc. does a piece of work or an activity”.

So What About This Thing Called Pressure?

In my work as a sport psychologist, I often simplify and separate everything into thoughts feelings, and actions. Those who are familiar with my particular style will know that I am a big believer in predominantly learning to accept thoughts and feelings whilst still committing to our actions. When breaking down the human experience like this it can be useful to try and consider if pressure is more of an emotion or a thought or a combination.

For most performers, it will be a combination of thoughts and feelings. Consider the typical signs of experiencing extreme pressure. In terms of emotions tensing up, tightening of the muscles and nerves might be common. The thoughts that often present themselves when pressure is experienced are often predictive and negative. For example, cognitions such as “what if I mess up today” or “I just know I am going to play badly”.

Arguably the most important starting point when it comes to helping performers to be more consistent under pressure is for them to learn unequivocally that pressure is neither good nor bad. All too often athletes and non-sporting performers will regard pressure as negative. They frame it as something that will get in the way of them performing at their best. Interestingly there’s actually a small percentage who believe the exact opposite! This minority holds the view that they need some pressure to produce the goods! Do any of you want to guess why neither is true? If you do, add a comment below.

The Pressure Is Real, Just Accept It

The mindset that we are looking to help our clients develop is one whereby pressure is just pressure. It’s neither good nor bad. It can be useful for you to consider the variations in pressure as similar to other variables. Such as the weather or the colour of the opposition’s kit (shirts). These are just natural variations common in sport. It’s unhelpful to think of warmer days as being good and cooler days as being bad for example. The same applies to pressure vs. no pressure.

The most effective way of learning to perform better under pressure is by learning to accept your thoughts and feelings rather than getting into a fight with them. There are multiple ways of doing this but some of the most useful would be via these five mindfulness apps which have been approved by psychologists. 

Once the process of learning to observe thoughts and emotions is underway we can move on to the next stage. That is, learning they needn’t have any impact on your desired actions. In other words, the goal is to learn to execute your skills irrespective of the thoughts and emotions you may be experiencing at the time.

This is easier said than done of course. Often experiences of pressure are much less common in training. This reduces the opportunities whereby we can prove to ourselves that we can take a penalty under the most intense pressure imaginable (below).

Mentally Harder Practice

The concept of mentally harder practice addresses this issue some of the time. MHP attempts to replicate pressure-related feelings and thoughts in training situations. The logic behind this is sound. Doing MHP in training will make it much easier to ride the pressure wave when it happens organically in competitive situations. 

A nice analogy for mentally harder practice is lifting weights. If you want to be able to flip a truck tire over a dozen times then you’re gonna need to slowly increase your muscle strength in practice. The same logic applies to performing under pressure using mentally harder practice. You need to be able to slowly increase the mental demands of certain aspects of your training so when they occur in competitive situations that they are not so different from the training challenges you set up. 

The weight training analogy is so useful because it quickly allows you to see the risks of overdoing it. So if you make your training psychologically too difficult, it will have the opposite effect and potentially cause some kind of psychological injury. By psychological injuries, we could be referring to genuine mental health impacts such as a trigger for depression or anxiety.

Conclusion

As we have very little influence over who stumbles across our blog posts then we would urge anybody who feels they might want to lower the risk of overdoing mentally harder practice to get in touch and be guided by one of our highly qualified and experienced sport psychologists or performance psychologists. The best way to get in touch is by completing one of the free, online Mental Toughness Questionnaires via this link here and one of the crew will get back to you in less than 48 hours.

KISS Principle

The KISS Principle is a reminder of the benefits of keeping things as simple as possible. In this brand new blog post our founding Sport Psych explains why this has never been so important. And four tips on getting started.

The KISS Principle: Keep It Simple, Stupid!

Keep It Simple, Stupid!

Never heard of The KISS Principle before? I’ll bring you up to speed via this Wikipedia entry:

KISS, an acronym for “Keep it simple, stupid!”, is a design principle noted by the U.S. Navy in 1960. First seen partly in American English by at least 1938, the KISS principle states that most systems work best if they are kept simple rather than made complicated. Therefore, simplicity should be a key goal in design, and unnecessary complexity should be avoided. The phrase has been associated with aircraft engineer Kelly Johnson. The term “KISS principle” was in popular use by 1970. Variations on the phrase (usually as some euphemism for the more churlish “stupid”) include “keep it super simple”, “keep it simple, silly”, “keep it short and simple”, “keep it short and sweet”, “keep it simple and straightforward”, “keep it small and simple”, “keep it simple, soldier”, “keep it simple, sailor”, “keep it simple, sweetie”, or “keep it sweet and simple”.

Maybe for the work we do it wants to be “Keep it simple, sportspeople!” 😊

The KISS Principle For Sports

Competitive sport has one inherent issue. And this issue is becoming more problematic every single year. It is this. As athletes become better they attract more advice. Sometimes this advice is part of a sporting team. Other times it might just be well-intended tips from Uncle Joe. But what you end up with is a scenario where at the pointy end of sport it often feels anything but simple. Team meetings all of a sudden resemble something you might associate more with NASA than netball.

The consequence is something we as psychologists refer to as mental load. Someone’s mental load is the quantity of information they are trying to keep in mind at any point in time.

Imagine This Scenario

A professional athlete has a series of compulsory consultations and meetings every week. 

First up, a chat with the Technical Coach. An hour-long video analysis session of biomechanical discrepancies. “Your left arm is too bent”. “You should be closer to the ground”. “Could your hands be in a better position for those ones”? Oh and the sports scientist at the back of the room also chirps in with some data as well.

After this, it’s a quick break then straight into a similar-length session with the physical team made up of two physiotherapists and an exercise physiologist. This session is more practical but there is still plenty of information flying around.

Finally, it’s back-to-back sessions with the Manager and sport psychologist. Oh, but only after lunch with the sports dietician. That’s right. A potentially restful lunch becomes a double-tasking endeavor of actually eating whilst trying to understand the impact that carbohydrates can make at different points during the training cycle.

I think you get the picture.

Although the advice at the more competitive end of sport is generally speaking well intended and mostly useful there is no denying that there is a lot of it. And in the opinion of this specialist – generally too much.

Individual Differences

As we have mentioned many times over the years during editions of the Mental Toughness Digest individual differences are a big deal. In the context of mental load and the KISS Principle, it means that some people are just more able to take on lots of advice compared to others. It is tempting to say that intelligence plays a role in this but there is no evidence for that. Probably the biggest predictor is the ability (mental skill) to filter or sort advice. In other words not necessarily treat all information equally.

One of the quotes on our ever-increasingly popular quotes page by fellow sport psychologist and Condor Performance colleague James Kneller gets straight to this very point.

“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.”

James Kneller, Sport Psychologist

The KISS Principle Provides An Answer

It is your job, as the performer, to work out a system whereby you can keep things as simple as possible. There are many ways to use the KISS principle for Sports but here are four that I would highly suggest.

  1. Be as process-focused as possible. Work out what actions or activities are most valuable in training and when you’re competing. Try and become consistent in these. Let these dominate your mindset, rather than results. Ask yourself a question what’s the smallest list of fundamental skills required for your sport. Then try and become world-class in just those. Yes, even at the pointy end. Yes, even if you’re getting paid and it feels like you need to be doing more.
  2. Consider yourself to be your own Head Coach. Remember you are the one out there having to execute the skills under pressure. So even though you might actually have a head coach ultimately they are just another advice giver. The recently retired legend Roger Federer was an athlete who essentially considered himself to be his own coach. And it seemed to work out pretty well for him, don’t you think?
  3. Keep a Thought Diary. This is most easily done as part of a training diary. Worrying is normal. But worrying about being worried is not. List your worries at the end of each day or week and let that lighten the mental load.
  4. Learn to prioritise. Currently, the research department at Condor Performance (me 😊) is working on a framework that will incorporate prioritisation as a key aspect of progress. But in the meantime just follow the advice of this Russian proverb. “If you chase two rabbits, you will lose them both”. Maybe limiting our focus to just a single area is a bit extreme. But the premise is sound. Prioritisation is highly effective in reducing mental load.

The Men’s English Cricket Team

I do not have as much information on this as I would like but I have been made aware through contacts that the Men’s English Cricket Team is currently undergoing a simplification process. Rob Key (the new director of England men’s cricket), Brendon McCullum (the new head coach), and Ben Stokes (the new captain) all appear to be fans of The Kiss Principle.

If fact, so simple are they keeping things that Brendon McCullum, in this interview with The Guardian, signed off from a transformative first summer as England’s Test head coach with a shrug about “not doing a lot”.

Do You Need A Hand?

If reading this article has piqued your interest in working on the mental aspects of your performance but you don’t feel equipped to go it alone then get in touch and ask about our one-on-one psychology services. Well before the Pandemic our team of psychologists had been delivering most of their work via WebCam. So irrespective of where you are located we can help you to help yourself. Reach out today.

Psychological Flexibility

You’ve heard of physical flexibility right? But what about Psychological flexibility? In this article sport psychologist Gareth J. Mole takes a close look at this ‘game changing’ mental skill.

Psychological flexibility has never been so important.

What Is Psychological Flexibility?

Psychological flexibility – heard of it? Don’t worry if you haven’t. Many qualified psychologists would struggle if you asked them what psychological flexibility is. And maybe just as important, what it is not.

Let’s start by taking a quick look at the origins of the word flexible from which flexibility derives. The Online Etymology Dictionary Etymonline shows the below.

Flexible (adjective):

early 15c., “capable of being bent; mentally or spiritually pliant,” from Old French flexible or directly from Latin flexibilis “that may be bent, pliant, flexible, yielding;” figuratively “tractable, inconstant,” from flex-, past participle stem of flectere “to bend,”

The two words that jump out from this are yielding and bend. We’ll come back to these.

Of course, the word flexibility from a human point of view is much more commonly associated with physical flexibility. So much so that if you booked in to see an exercise physiologist and asked him or her to help you design a program to boost flexibility they’re very unlikely to say do you mean mental or physical.

The flexibility of the body means that there is a far greater range of possible movements. Sometimes this is most beneficial in an injury prevention scenario. Two similar athletes who endure the same legal but brutal rugby league tackle are most likely impacted not by how strong they are, but by how flexible.

Of course, there are sports whereby physical flexibility is arguably the number one priority. Gymnastics and many dancing pursuits emphasise the importance of suppleness.

Outcomes vs Processes

It’s impossible to overemphasize the usefulness of being able to separate processes versus outcomes. And to realise how much more influence you have on processes. In fact, I think each of the last five articles has mentioned this at least once. If you’ve missed any of these the easiest way is to go to our blog homepage here and scroll down.

So, what are physical and psychological flexibility then? Are they outcomes or processes? Feel free to stop reading for a while if you want to try and figure that out on your own.

Both types of flexibility are outcomes. They are the consequence of the processes. If these processes are good (sufficiently scientific) then the consequence may result in some improvement. If the processes are not-so-good … you get the picture.

There is absolutely nothing wrong with outcomes as long as you know that they are outcomes. In fact, they often make for an invaluable starting point. It’s far more useful to want to improve your physical flexibility than your physical health for example. In the same way, it is better to want to improve your psychological flexibility than your “mindset”.

But after we have chosen this as one of our priorities it’s then time to start working out what processes are required. From a physical flexibility point of view, the majority of these are going to be some form of stretching. But not just stretching. I’m happy to be corrected by genuine experts in this field but I’m guessing sleep, nutrition, and recovery methods also aid in better physical flexibility.

Dr. Steven Hayes

The concept of psychological flexibility is mainly credited to Steven C. Hayes and his related work on Acceptance and Commitment Therapy. As he himself better explains in the below TEDTalk video Dr. Hayes stumbled across the concept partially to help with his own spiraling panic disorder.

In the ensuing years, as is the case with many academics, he produced an avalanche of scientific studies and books on the subject. Maybe too many?

Potentially due to the nature of our work at Condor Performance whereby overcomplicating concepts would see us swiftly thrown out of the locker room I have always tried to simplify where possible. In the below short 6-minute video I really try and explain just the fundamentals.

If you have any comments or questions about the contents of this video please add them to the bottom of this page and I will reply so other readers can benefit.

Psychological Rigidity

Sometimes when we’re trying to wrap our minds around a concept it can be useful to know what the opposite is. When learning about good manners it can be helpful to know what poor manners look like.

The opposite of psychological flexibility is psychological rigidity. It is interesting how obvious it is that physical rigidity is clearly not desirable. But in some circles, psychological rigidity can be regarded as beneficial. For example, certain aspects of the military might believe this.

On a scale of one to ten between rigidity and flexibility where zero represents maximum rigidity, I am about a four. But I used to be a one, maybe even a zero. Certain traits of psychological rigidity are extreme rule-following and stubbornness. My way or the highway. This is fine if you live by yourself on a desert island but in the real world, it causes issues.

My journey from one to four is mostly thanks to my wife and kids. Children, especially the youngest ones, just don’t play by the rules. It’s literally how they’re designed. So a psychologically rigid parent is always going to really struggle. I had to learn to be more flexible through absolute necessity.

But I am still only a four. Why not higher?

My excuse is that I am time-poor. Hence many of the mindfulness strategies that I insist my clients do I only manage to do myself fleetingly. But I am highly motivated to become more psychologically flexible. Watch this space.

To Bend, To Yield

Maybe more than ever before life in 2022 is requiring us to bend, adapt, to yield. Whether it be learning to train in a hotel room during quarantine. Or work around canceled events. Or just turn up to practice when your thoughts and feelings are both screaming “what’s the point” or “stay in bed mate”.

In a 2019 book by Dr. Hayes that I would highly recommend called A Liberated Mind, he goes into a lot more detail about six core practices that when combined improve Psychological flexibility. They are defusion, acceptance, present moment, self-as-a-context, values, and committed action. Here is a quick summary of each from my understanding.

  • Defusion is best summed up by “you are NOT your thoughts”.
  • Acceptance is mainly about the benefits of learning to radically experience and observe (not change) all thoughts and feelings – even the yucky ones.
  • The Present Moment is about trying to focus on the here and now.
  • Self-As-Context is the concept that people are not the content of their thoughts or feelings, but rather the consciousness experiencing said thoughts and feelings.
  • Values are chosen qualities of purposive action that can never be obtained as an object but can be instantiated moment by moment.
  • Committed Actions are intentional, purposeful behaviours towards one / some of your values.

Processes Need Repetition

I find that one common stumbling block with the above six skills is that they are often confused with processes. But they are not, they too are outcomes. Think of it like this. The big outcome is psychological flexibility. The little outcomes, that lead to the big one, are these six skills. So each of them requires a set of methods in order to become skillful. Some of these methods can help with more than one. For example, regular mindfulness ought to help the first three.

For values, the process is essential to sit down and come up with some. Typically about three or four core values are enough. And finally, for committed actions, some good old-fashioned planning and habit forming is a good place to start.

Quite understandably many people feel like they would benefit from having a guide or a coach when trying to get started. If this is you, then please don’t hesitate to get in touch and ask about our one-on-one psychology services. Although the majority of the work we do is in the context of competitive sport and other performance domains we can, and do, work with anyone.

Sporting Superstitions

Sporting Superstitions Versus Performance Routines. In this article Sport Psychologist Gareth J. Mole from Condor Performance looks at both.

And How They Differ From Routines 

Sporting superstitions are surprisingly common. But do they cause more harm than good?

One of the lawn bowlers I work with recently asked me this question during a session. “What is the difference between a pre-performance routine and having some superstitions?” So good was the question that I decided to expand the answer that I gave her into this feature article on Sporting Superstitions.

Sporting Superstitions Versus Routines

In the work we do as sport psychologists and performance psychologists, we use routines frequently. I suspect I use them more often than my colleagues at Condor Performance due to my extreme “you can’t control your feelings/thoughts” approach to consulting.

For a much deeper dive into routines it’s probably better if you read these articles here and here but here is a quick summary. Routines are basically just premeditated series of actions. I tend to leave thoughts out of the equation. These action sequences vary mostly in terms of duration and timing. Some routines are very short (a few seconds) whilst others can take hours. 

And we try to name them accordingly. For example, the routine that tennis players might use to get themselves mentally ready to receive the ball might be labelled a Pre-Point Routine or Pre-Receiving Routine. However, the longer routine before the start of the competition might be called a Pre-Match Routine. The middle part of this can be changed depending on the sport. For example combat sports athletes might have a Pre-Fight Routine.

Guaranteeableness (Made Up Word)

But despite these differences, good routines have one thing in common. They are built around actions that are intended to be guaranteeable. I typically prefer the word guaranteeable to controllable. Because the actions are guaranteeable then they can be entirely relied upon in any and all situations.

This is especially true when they are practised frequently and become automatic. And it is here that the majority of the benefit is found for this particular mental skill. In highly pressurised situations knowing that you can execute these predetermined actions amidst the chaos is the biggest contributor to composure. And composure is the biggest contributor to consistency. And consistency is the biggest contributor to sustained excellence.

Whether or not to include premeditated thoughts such as cue words in these routines is a contentious issue at the moment in international sport psychology circles. My issue with including any cognitive steps in these routines is that they simply are not guaranteeable. It’s all good and well in the calmness of practice to say to yourself “watch the ball”. But can you guarantee to remember to think this when you are feeling nauseous from nerves?

Actions Are Far More Reliable Than Thoughts

Instead, I’d rather my clients include the more reliable step of “widening their eyelids” (not saying to themselves ‘widen eyelids’, actually completing this micro action) in this example.

This way the cue word “watch the ball” becomes a bonus and not a requirement. If it’s used then great. If it’s not used then no biggie.

In doing this, we avoid what is known as metacognition. Metacognition is the process whereby you start thinking about your thoughts. Basically worrying about being worried. And it can snowball. Worrying about worrying about being worried etc.

So for the above example metacognitive worry might look like this. “Oh bugger I forgot to think to myself watch the ball”. And suddenly attention for simply completing the actions is diverted to a cognitive process that is completely unnecessary in order to complete the motor skill. You don’t need to have any dental-related thoughts before, during or after brushing your teeth. You just need to complete the action. 

A Difference In Flexibility

One of the major differences between sporting routines and sporting superstitions is flexibility.

Most sporting superstitions are concerningly inflexible. Because good routines are designed (not accidental) flexibility can be embedded from the very start. For example in the longer Pre-Performance Routines there will not be a set order for the actions. So they may have a checklist of several activities they want (not need to, want to) to complete. For example, listening to some music, or maybe doing mindfulness. But the duration and order of these can change if required.

For sporting superstitions, not so much. If an athlete feels like they need to put the left sock on before the right sock to play well then there’s not a lot of wiggle room in that. In this example lies another clue about the difference between sporting superstitions and routines. Although routines are certainly designed as a performance optimiser we are quick to point out that they’re not magic. In other words, the routine doesn’t cause a good performance – there is simple a correlation. The difference between correlation and causation is brilliantly explained in this four minute video. Most athletes who use sporting superstitions do so because they actually believe it will result in a better performance. This is mentally damaging on all sorts of levels. If you are one of these performers then it might worth getting in touch with us.

Famous Sporting Superstitions

I thought it might be nice to wrap up this article with some of the most famous sporting superstitions of all time. These two Bleacher Reports articles go through 25 famous and 50 famous Sporting Superstitions. My favourites from these lists are:

Richie Ashburn Slept with Baseball Bats

Hall of Fame slugger Richie Ashburn had his own way of keeping a hot streak hot. Anytime he had a particularly good day at the plate, he would be sure to use the same bat for as long as the success would last. And Ashburn went to extraordinary lengths to remain in possession of his lucky bats. Concerned that equipment managers couldn’t be trusted to keep his bat separate from all the other bats, Ashburn would take his bat of the moment with him each night. He even made room in his own bed for his lucky bats.

Wade Boggs Pre-Game Chicken.

If you want to know the secret to making it into the Baseball Hall of Fame, 2005 inductee Wade Boggs might tell you it has something to do with poultry. In 1999 he revealed his entire career had been fuelled not by steroids, but by chicken! Legend has it that during his rookie season Boggs recognised some kind of correlation between his chowing down on chicken and games with multiple hits. He stuck to his superstitious diet religiously and his wife accumulated more than 40 chicken recipes for the 3,000 chicken meals she was tasked with producing each season. 

Are You Curious About Our 1-on-1 Psychology Services?

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

“Fake It Till You Make It”

One of our Senior Sport Psychologists, Gareth J. Mole, takes a look at the concept of “Fake It Till You Make It” in this brand new feature article.

Elite poker players are particularly good at the skill of “Fake It Till You Make It”.

Fake It Till You Make It … or Till You Feel It!

As many of my clients and colleagues will know I’m a big fan of the concept of ‘fake it till you make it’. However, potentially due to the word fake, and what it implies, this catchphrase is often misunderstood. So am I glad that I have finally had the time to write something on the subject. As always I welcome your questions and comments at the bottom of this page.

It is worth mentioning that in my consulting as a sport psychologist I typically use the term ‘fake it till you feel it’ rather than ‘fake it till you make it’. I do this intentionally. Making it implies the reaching of a goal and in much of the work that I do continual improvement is the main aim. You may be surprised to read that often I am unaware of the goals of my clients.

Fake it till you feel it gets to the very heart of the main model that my colleagues and I at Condor Performance use to assist our clients to improve. Namely, an adaptation of Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT) developed by Steven C. Hayes. The reason for the adaptation part is down to us wanting an even simpler framework. Below, is a Post It note drawing of what I would consider the bare bones of ACT.

“Fake It Till You Make It” when looking at just Actions, Thoughts and Feelings.

Human Thoughts, Feelings, and Actions

As you can see in the diagram our thoughts, feelings and actions are all separate from one another. The dotted line around actions is the key. Some of my clients will know this as a moat or a wall. We are trying to protect our actions from being railroaded by our very natural thoughts and feelings.

Note the varying amount of influence we have on each one. I’ve intentionally used the word influence rather than the word control as I find the word control can be very black or white. “I can control this but I can’t control that”, for example. In reality, we can’t really control much at all (maybe our effort but even then it depends on how you define effort) if the word control is used as a synonym for guarantee. We just have varying amounts of influence on stuff.

  • Quite simply, we have more influence on our actions than our thoughts.
  • In turn, we have more influence on our thoughts and our feelings.
  • Therefore logically we have much more influence over our actions compared to our feelings.

In other words, we have the least amount of influence over our feelings by far and by far the most amount of influence on our actions. And this is especially true when these same actions (e.g. a left jab in boxing) have been repeated a lot so that muscle memory takes care of the biomechanics. Basically, you don’t need to think about how to do it you just do it. Most adults who have been driving for a long time will be familiar with this feeling.

The Spectrum of Influence

Just to ram the point home, if we were to arrange thoughts, feelings, and actions into an influence ranking system actions would be at the top and feelings would be at the bottom. Thoughts would be in the middle, following?

So if we return to the fake it till you make it or fake it till you feel it concept this premise starts to become clearer as a form of psychological advice. The faking it part is actually all about body language. It is about portraying a certain emotion (or lack of) from the outside irrespective of what you’re actually feeling on the inside. Faking it, certainly by my interpretation, is not about pretending to feel something that you’re not.

So as explained in this previous article by my colleague Harley De Vos competence is far more valuable than confidence. Now in the work that we do this is most often in the context of the skill execution itself. But it can and should be extended to some of the less obvious actions pertaining to performance. One of these is body language. How competent are you at body language? Elite poker players seem to be the only performers who typically include working on this as part of their normal training. Maybe we all should?

Body Language Basics

One of the hidden bonuses about working on your body language is that you are effectively practicing one of the fundamental aspects of psychological flexibility. Because in working on your body language you will need to choose a way of looking – for example confident –and work out a way where your actual feeling – let’s say embarrassment – does not override your facial expressions, head position, posture, etc.

Often the most effective type of body language from a performance perspective is actually very neutral. I am not one for histrionics. Great body language should keep your opponents guessing. Hence the term ‘poker face’.

Conclusion

As I have become known for saying in recent years “they don’t hand out gold medals for who was thinking or feeling the best”. Very importantly thoughts and feelings needn’t have any impact on our actions. Especially if these actions are well rehearsed. However, it is quite acceptable and normal for our actions to have a one-way impact on our thoughts and feelings. And it is with this that the rest of that concept of fake it till you make it / feel it is complete. Basically, we fake it – we act confidently from the body language perspective without necessarily being confident and this often leads to increased feelings of confidence as a result.

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

Coachability

How Coachable are you? Sport Psychologist Gareth J. Mole looks at the mental concept of coachability in this brand-new feature article.

Coachability might just be one of the most important mental components of team sports.

Preamble

I recently volunteered to assist with the training and game management of my son’s Under 9 soccer/football team. I will likely write a whole feature article on the entire experience later (a must-read for those involved in developmental or junior competitive sports). But for now, I’m only mentioning it to provide some context for this blog on coachability.

During the first game of the season, one of the other fathers and I were chatting on the sideline. By the end of the match, we basically agreed that the team could do better. Rather than grumble from the stands we felt it appropriate for us to lend a hand. Fortunately, this offer was accepted and Coach J and Coach G (me) got to work.

As I write this we are midway through the season. So far, two of the most common words during pre and post-training sessions have been coachable and coachability. As these young seven, eight and nine-year-old boys and girls learn to deal with competitive sports for the very first time some of them are highly coachable whilst others are less so. As you would expect.

So What Exactly Is Coachability?

While researching for this article the first thing that I realised is that coachable and coachability are not actually official words yet. The Cambridge Dictionary shows up nothing when you punch them into their online search. However, it does show up in The Britannica Dictionary suggesting they are trying to officially make it into the English language.

Their definition of coachable is “capable of being easily taught and trained to do something better.”

Focus And Motivation Come First

One concept that is obvious when it comes to the range of coachability is that some of them struggle to be coachable because they lack focus. Whilst others struggle because they don’t really, really want to be there. It is mid-winter here in Australia and La Niña has made for some pretty challenging training conditions. Which of course I love.

As a practising sport psychologist, this is a timely reminder that in psychology things aren’t always as they appear. Although on the surface it appears as if we have inherited a group of soccer players whose overall coachability is not great I am confident that this is most effectively addressed by helping them with their focus or motivation or both. 

And of course, this is my bread and butter. This is literally what my colleagues and I do five days a week, most weeks of the year.

Low Levels Of Coachability Are A Symptom

It is tempting to try and work out which players are struggling due to an inability to focus and which ones lack motivation but this is actually an unnecessary step. Regardless of how motivated and focused they are they can always improve. Improvement is a never-ending process. You never reach the finish line where it is no longer possible to improve.

Do I Know Too Much?

One of the challenges of being so qualified and experienced in sport psychology when assisting with your own child’s sporting team is not getting carried away. This is one of the main reasons why I insisted on doing it with somebody else. Coach J, a Scotsman, is a vital cog because not only does he have a great understanding of the sport but he also helps me to remember that these are youngsters at the very, very start of their sporting journey. They are not Premier League players. Not yet, anyway.

So the two of us have regular meetings whereby his knowledge of the technical and tactical gets mixed with my knowledge of the mental. And then we come up with a unified approach to training and games. What is apparent is how effective this is compared to the way that sport psychology is so often done.

Often the sport psychologist will come in and run a series of workshops without any involvement with the coach(es). Some professionals call this Working In Silos. Even more common is when the sport psychologist only helps with mental health issues. He or she is basically a therapist who happens to work with sporting individuals. For anyone who has watched the Ted Lasso TV series the way the work of Dr. Sharon Fieldstone is portrayed is more or less what I am referring to here.

But Back To Coachability

We need to acknowledge when coachability is an issue that it could be caused by poor coaching. Let’s be honest here. Not all coaches are equal and not all coaches are at the top of their game. 

If you are reading this and you are heavily involved in the running of a sporting team where you feel like coachability is an issue then I would suggest you start with an examination of your coaching staff. Here are some questions for you to consider:

  • What are the qualifications of our coaches? Do they have some kind of formal training or are they just former players or mates of one of the decision-makers?

and/or

  • Are any processes in place that allow them to develop professionally? Or are they doing exactly the same this year as they were four years ago? 

and/or

  • Are the players given an opportunity to provide feedback about the coaches? It seems so one-sided that the coaches provide feedback to the players but rarely the other way around?

Coaching The Coaches

Once you’re happy that the coaching staff are not the primary cause of poor coachability then of course it’s time to help the players. Obviously, I am heavily biased but dispatching your coaches off to retrain as qualified sport psychologist (a six to eight-year process in most countries) is impractical and ridiculous. But what if sporting organisations give their coaches the opportunity of working alongside a sport psychologist or performance psychologist? Not because they too need therapy like Ted does in the Ted Lasso series. But because one of the most effective ways of improving the mental toughness of a sporting team is for it to come directly from the coaches who have the right mentors.

More and more of the work we do at Condor Performance is to mentor sporting coaches. Below, to finish off, I have listed of few recurring suggestions that come up over and over again in the 1-on-1 work I do with sporting coaches. If you want more, you know how to find us.

  1. Processes are more important than outcomes.
  2. Treat athletes as people first, performers second.
  3. It’s very difficult to help others if you are not looking after yourself first.

How To Measure Mental Toughness

Mental aspects of training, mental aspects of competing, general functioning / mental health and wellbeing can all be measured.

How To Measure Mental Toughness. It’s easier than it sounds. Basically, all you need is a device, an Internet connection and some honesty.

“I have been struck again and again by how important measurement is to improving the human condition”

Bill Gates, Co Founder of Microsoft

Intro: How To Measure Mental Toughness

Okay, I’ll admit it. We’re a little jealous of professionals who assist athletes, coaches and teams with the physical side of performance. Tests like the VO2 max for cardiovascular endurance, and stretch and reach tests to measure flexibility simply don’t have objective mental equivalents.

In fact, assessing Mental Toughness is so tricky that when Condor Performance first started offering sport and performance psychology services back in 2005 we didn’t even attempt it. Instead, we simply asked a series of meaningful questions during the Kick Start Session.

But if not bothering with something because it was hard was something we did frequently then we’d be in the wrong business. So over the years, we have tried on an ongoing basis to improve how we assess the very areas we help our clients with. Namely their mental health and mental toughness. I will not go into any detail about why we measure mental aspects of performance (mental toughness) and mental health separately as you can read a full explanation of this in my recent blog post on this very subject here.

Measuring Mental Toughness Will Always Be An Estimation

Fact: There is no direct way to measure anything psychological. We can try to assess a number of areas via questions and/or observations but at best the results to these will act as a “guide”. Measuring Mental Toughness will always be an estimation, an approximation.

The exception to this would be a formal intelligence test (such as the Wechsler Adult Intelligence Scale). Although it would be easy to fake a poor score on the WAIS (by giving incorrect answers on purpose) it would not be possible to get a high score without actually possessing those abilities. This makes tests such as the WAIS more objective than most other psychometrics which rely 100% on opinions and/or observation.

With The Luxury Of Time …

With the luxury of time, the reliability of the information collected can be improved. For example, by asking the opinions of those close to the client as well. This is often called 360 Degree feedback. Observing athletes or performers in real-life situations can be a very valuable extra when attempting to measure mental toughness and mental health.

Imagine how useful it is to watch a tennis player smash her racket during a match compared with just a couple of questions about her emotions. Then imagine having this video footage of the outburst to use in a session. In our work, we typically only get this kind of data when working with highly paid professionals who are already being televised.

Relative Subjectivity

But just because the answers are opinions it doesn’t render these tools useless by any means. It just means we need to be mindful of their relative subjectivity when interpreting the results.

“What exactly are we trying to measure here?”. This is a great question when either choosing, designing or reviewing any psychological assessment. Our psychologists consider the main purpose of the questionnaires to be time savers. Instead of spending that first 30 minutes with the client to find out what makes them tick we already have some idea. This then allows us to move on to ‘solutions’ much earlier in the process. We’re mainly interested in these four general areas:

  • Mental aspects of training
  • Mental aspects of competing (if competing)
  • General functioning / mental health and wellbeing
  • Other important stuff like age, sport and long-term goals

Five Major Subcomponents of Mental Toughness

The open and closed questions then generate scores for various aspects of mental toughness and mental health. It looks something like this when we get the email from Qualtrics.


Summary Scores

Overall Training Mental Toughness = 72 %

Overall Mental Health = 63 %

Breakdown of Your Current Mental Toughness:

DURING TRAININGYOUR SCORE OUT OF 20PRIORITY
Motivation18 
Emotions9 **
Thoughts13 
Unity15 
Focus18 
MENTAL HEALTHYOUR SCORE OUT OF 21CATEGORY
Depression2 Normal
Anxiety12 E. Severe
Stress9 Mild

This provides the sport psychologist or performance psychologist with incredible insight into how to assist this performer. For example, using the above made-up example. This athlete or performer clearly needs to prioritise how they manage their emotions during training as well as their everyday anxiety.

Mental Health is screened for due to the inclusion of The Depression, Anxiety and Stress Scale (DASS-21) at the end of all our Mental Toughness Questionnaires. Due to the fact that 99% of our work is done 1-on-1 then we can work on both mental toughness and mental health at the same time without pretending they are the same thing!

I have to admit the name of our four questionnaires has become misleading. Why? Well, they measure more than just mental toughness now (they didn’t at the start – hence a bit like a nickname – it has stuck).

Four Free Mental Toughness Questionnaires

The four questionnaires are listed below. They can be completed by anyone for free looking to gain insight into the areas already mentioned. The questionnaires are all similar but use language relevant to that role (for example, officiating instead of performing). The coaches’ questionnaire is the most different as this also includes a section asking about the coaches’ perceived mental coaching abilities. Let’s not pretend or assume that being mentally tough and mentally well automatically makes you a good mental coach.

Law of Reverse Effect: Are You Trying Too Hard?

Theories Galore

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

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

A Theory For All The Theories

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

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

Have You Heard About The Law of Reverse Effect?

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

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

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

Neuroscience Time

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

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

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

Have You Worked It Out Yet?

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

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

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

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

Thoughts Are Not Essential

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

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

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

Interested But Need A Hand?

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

Sport Psychology for Soccer

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

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

Soccer or Football or Both?

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

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

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

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

The Most Popular Sport On The Planet

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

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

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

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

Sport Psychology is Not Just Mental Health For Sport

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

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

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

Sport Psychology for Soccer – Training Tips

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

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

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

Sport Psychology for Soccer – Match Day Tips

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

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

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

Don’t Take My Word For It …

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

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

Xavi

Keen But Need A Hand?

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