Sport Psychologists – Applied and International Since 2005
Category: Mental Toughness Digest
The Mental Toughness Digest is a weekly email sent by the sport and performance psychologists from Condor Performance. It’s our way of staying in touch with the thousands of people who have contacted us since it all started in 2005.
The Digest doesn’t pretend to be a source of scientific facts that might be found in a peer-reviewed journal. Instead, it aims to promote thoughts and discussions about the important role that psychology plays in sport and performance.
Chris Pomfret explores the common misconception regarding elite sport is that there is an inverse relationship between enjoyment and success.
Enjoyment And High Performance
A common misconception regarding elite sport is that there is an inverse relationship between enjoyment and success. In other words, the higher up the ranks an athlete climbs, the more ‘serious’ things need to become in order to reach the pinnacle. Or to put it another way, pure joy gets lost as their passion becomes just a job. And this does happen.
Elite athletes are often instructed to “just have some fun”. Or “relax and enjoy yourself” during times of hardship or pressure or form slumps. You can imagine how confusing this must be for many athletes. One minute they are meant to be all business and the next it’s ‘party time’. The implication here is that it is easy to simply tap into the pleasure pot. Like turning on a switch. But how many top-level athletes actually practice the ‘fun factor’? Is learning how to approach ‘game day’ with a smile part of the overall process?
Some Applied Exercises You Can Do Now
Try to describe why you do what you do. What drew you into it in the first place? What is keeping you there? Why do you want to continue? Why is it important for you to perform well?
Enjoyment involves some form of fun. Typically, tasks that feel good and put a smile on your face. Enjoyment is also driven by some deeper concepts. For example, achievement, pride, satisfaction, growth, and progress.
Usain Bolt was a great example of someone who enjoyed what he did. He worked incredibly hard so that when a competition came around he could just chill. Take a look at the below video UB had a very relaxed competition mindset. Enjoyment doesn’t mean we are always smiling and laughing. But we need to stay in touch with the things we love about our sport or art or music or business or another performance area.
Quantification Is Essential
As with any concept in performance, quantification is essential. When we quantify something we can put structures, values, and measurements into play. If you can describe something you can start to understand it. This then means you can start to improve it. Enjoyment is typically a vague concept so we have to work harder to define it.
You might use the term ‘fun’ in conversation with your coach without actually talking about the same thing. Fun to one person could be fitness-related. While for someone else it’s beating people. Yet for another, there might be a certain social connection that needs to be really fun.
Regardless of your age or skill level, one relatively simple means of quantifying your experiences is to break things down into the following domains.
Mind, which includes thoughts (the words and pictures in my head), attitudes (the general ways I am looking at things), and beliefs (how I view myself, others, the future, and the world).
Feelings (your emotional energy and how intense it is).
Body (the messages you are receiving physically from head to toe).
Five senses (what your attention is drawn towards in the areas of sight, touch, hearing, smell as well as taste).
Actions (what you are doing, what you’ve stopped doing, things you are speeding up or slowing down, doing more of or less of, etc.).
Because enjoyment is a personal experience there are no universal rules to reignite your passion for the game. In a practical sense, however, you might benefit from any of the following.
Reward yourself with fun non-sporting activities before and after training/practice.
Separate performance into preparation and competition. Now take all your seriousness and push it into the preparation side. Blood, sweat, and tears want to be more related to practice than game day. As the great Jonty Rhodes once said “I got more bruises, grass burns, and cuts in practice than in match play”.
Create small windows of pleasure and light-heartedness during practices. This might be arriving early to mess around with teammates. Or getting pumped up during certain segments of training such as racing people in fitness drills.
Indulge yourself in relaxing or fun or special non-sporting activities on the morning of competitions. It’s too late to improve anything. You are better off just chilling and trusting the work you have done.
Emphasise interactions and activities with your teammates or peers after competitions to enhance a sense of community. Do you see your teammates as people or just athletes?
Four More Ideas …
Become more invested in the process (journey) and less in the results (destinations). Although having a ‘win at all cost’ mindset sounds useful. It’s not, trust us. Just ask Lance!
Look over your season schedule and break it into smaller chunks. Any tangible evidence of improvement can be celebrated as a reward for your dedication and passion. Months lend themselves very well to reviewing and planning. This then frees you up to focus on the processes in between monthly reviews.
Glance at your weekly schedule. Do you have enough balance between sporting and non-sporting activities? This a reminder quality and quantity are not the same. We want quality to be as high as possible. But quantity wants to be “somewhere in the middle”. Too much and too little are dangerous.
Enjoyment – and in particular a sense of fun – may not be as easily defined as other core components of performance such as physical capabilities, technical consistency, or tactical wisdom. However, if you are able to conceptualise what you love about your chosen sport and take steps to improve upon this you will give yourself every chance of climbing toward the top and staying there.
What is the key to being a good fielder? First and foremost you have to enjoy being out there. If you’re enjoying it, and you’re loving what you’re doing, even if it is 90 overs in a Test match, it never really seems like hard work. That allows you to stay sharp and focused. Commentators often complimented me on my anticipation, but I was expecting every single ball to come to me. In fact, I wanted every ball to come to me. Fielding can become hard work, but if you’re enjoying it then it doesn’t feel like work.
Another article – called The Fun Factor – by the same author and on the same general topic can be viewed here. Due to the very different way in which Chris addresses this sport psychology concept in the two articles we highly recommend that you read both.
‘Breathing Psychology’ is a 2023 article by Condor Performance’s James Kneller on the psychological benefits of better breathing.
Breathing Psychology Basics
We often hear that the best moments in life are the ones that take our breath away. And of course, that’s meant to be a good thing. Unless you are an athlete competing in an important moment. Then we need our breath as a crucial performance optimisation skill.
As one of the sport psychologists at Condor Performance one of the more common issues we deal with is performance anxiety. Basically, competitors who often struggle to focus when it matters most. Many of us have heard of the fight-or-flight response. I like to remind people there is a third “F” – a freeze that can occur.
These stressful moments can trigger responses and our body is pre-conditioned due to millions of years of evolution to deal with this in a physical way. It prepares us to run or avoid the situation (flight). Or it helps us get overly aggressive (fight). But it can also shut down and pretend we’re not there (freeze). So part of the work we do as psychologists is to help athletes to recognise, manage and work through these moments.
Easier Said Than Done?
Research has shown that deep breathing can have many positive benefits for overall health along with the management of moments of high stress or anxiety. Deep breathing impacts the Vagus nerve which runs from the brain to the gut and is a key player in the FFF response. When we breathe in, this excites the nerve and the response. When we exhale, we relax the nerve and calm the response. If you’ve ever calmed a young crying child by getting them to breathe more slowly and deeply you’ve seen this process in action.
Take a moment now as you read this to try it out. First, focus on your breath in. Now hold it for a moment longer than normal and then exhale in a slow, controlled, and calm manner. You’re likely to feel a sense of calm within your body.
That’s the immediate benefit. But long term when we learn to breathe more effectively and deeper there are a string of other gains that have been reported. Below I list the most important from a ‘breathing psychology’ point of view.
Reduced blood pressure
Improvements in chronic pain
Improved mental processing particularly around cognitive and emotional recognition tasks
Better sleep outcomes
Faster physical recovery from injury and/or delayed onset muscle soreness
Shorter recovery times between high-intensity workouts
Optimal Breathing For Performance
Some researchers have suggested that there is such a thing as optimal breathing for performance. More importantly that it can be trained and achieved by most (if not all) when practiced regularly. So what exactly is optimal breathing? Like most areas of sport psychology, we are not 100% sure however the early evidence suggests the following:
It is built around a nose-to-diaphragm way of breathing. In other words when at rest there wants to be little or no mouth breathing and/or upper chest breathing.
Depending on age and fitness levels these nose-to-diaphragm breaths ideally take place between 6 and 10 times a minute. This part is crucial as it sends the strongest possible single to our body and mind we are safe and just ‘do your thing’. This is the very essence of this new concept of Breathing Psychology.
So better breathing definitely has the potential to be one of those 1%’ers that we hear coaches and athletes talk about all the time. Plus, optimal effective breathing will never be placed on the World Anti-Doping Association banned substances list 😀. But don’t take my word for it, take it from the bloke on the left and see how he is preparing to take a free kick in a high-pressure situation.
You might wonder why many sport and performance psychologists are trumpeting actions like breathing more than thought-based interventions. The answer lies in the amount of influence our clients have on each. Trying to change your thoughts ‘in the moment’ is very hard and even if you do not always beneficial. There are heaps of quotes on our sport psychology quotes pages that explain this in more detail. But breathing, as it’s an action, is something we have a lot more influence over. This influence is maximised when we take it seriously as part of our practice.
When you breathe better you deal with pressure better and think better. When you deal with pressure better and think better you perform better! And if you need a helping hand to get started then take a deep breath and get in touch.
Esports Psychology is a 2023 article by Condor Performance’s Darren Godwin on the mental side of electronic sports.
The Mental Side of Electronic Sports
Not an esports fan or competitor? Fear not as this article contains psychologically oriented tips and suggestions applicable across many performance domains. You may be surprised at just how much you can learn despite a lack of familiarity with esports.
What Are Esports?
Esports stands for electronic sports. They are essentially competitions between people playing video games. The most common electronic mediums are the personal computer (PC), a game console (Playstation, Xbox, and Nintendo), as well as mobile devices. There are a wide variety of communities across each of these platforms that passionately dedicate themselves to their preferred game or games. Just like in actual sports, most competitors have one video game that they focus their attention on mastering.
Most esports competitions follow traditional sporting tournament formats. A lot of the most popular tournaments have open qualifications. This is very appealing to aspiring players as it means very low barriers to entry. On top of this are some massive money prize pools. The PC game, Defense of the Ancients 2 (DotA2), had a total prize pool of just over $40 million US dollars in 2021. It is one of the largest prize pools in eSports and was achieved through the fans and community funding it. For additional context, the next closest in terms of the prize pool was the 2019 Fortnite World Cup which was $30.4 million USD. Other globally competitive video games have ranged between $2-$7 million USD. With these prize pools, competitors are trying to find more ways to improve their abilities. Hence a greater interest in eSports psychology over the last few years.
Why Are Esports So Appealing?
For starters, video games are inherently enjoyable. They are designed with elements that combine challenge and reward which create positive reinforcement and provoke emotions. Video games are intelligently designed to give players feedback for achieving success. Such as animated celebrations for completing a task and uplifting sound clips paired with each successful event. You work your way through a problem and stumble a few times but then work out your own solution which results in a feeling of triumph. This is an experience that our brains enjoy a lot and so we tend to want to sensation that again.
From a competitive point of view, the two main elements these games provide are skill and a score. One of the earliest video game tournaments was held in 1980 by video game company Atari for the game Space Invaders. This was an individual-based competition where the winner was the person with the highest score.
Since the implementation of the internet, video games have been designed to be played only with other real people in the game. Now that creates an enjoyable experience that we are able to engage in socially with our friends. Esports are designed purely with competitive elements in mind and are very rarely played on your own. Think of it like trying to play tennis with just one person. Hence the new classification of esports for competitive video game titles. It is a seemingly simple recipe, put forward a challenge between two or more people and offer a prize.
Let’s start by addressing the elephant in the room. Esports do not require any athletic or cardiovascular demands. The physical requirements are more related to fine motor skills with competitors needing to move a device (mouse or joystick) with millimeter precision by the hand and fingertips. This is an extremely similar set of skills to what we have across musicians, snooker, golf putting, and archery to name a few. There’s a lot to be learned from the training methods that have been developed in these sports and performance areas.
Most of the mental challenges in esports come from higher demands on planning and decision-making. Top competitors tend to develop their visual-spatial and information-processing skills well. This is because they are required to scan through an image on a screen that contains a lot of information which then needs to be translated quickly into a decision. These processing skills are similar to ones required for soccer players, for example, to scan the field for a pass while an opponent is running at them.
There are a lot of similarities between chess and esports with regard to decision-making. Esports can differ by having a much larger amount of data as well as the decision-making taking place at the same time as opposed to turn-taking. To try to illustrate, in DotA 2, there are 5 players on each team. Each player can choose from 123 unique characters to control in one match. These characters then have 4 skills each and can purchase up to 6 items out of a total of 208. The players then actively control their character for an average game length of 40 minutes. You don’t need to make a decision for every combination at any given moment. However, I think it paints a picture of just how much data and situational combinations there are to process.
Given the amount of processing, it makes sense that esports competitors require a lot of focus and attention. Of all the information that’s presented which is the most important to focus on and respond to? Just like for physical sports, competitors can have difficulty on either side of the scale. Some may find it hard to maintain focus and others over-focus. It can be helpful to think of focus as being like the fuel of a vehicle. Step on the accelerator more (higher focus), the more fuel (focus) that’s used.
Tip: for your given title try to understand where the downtime or breaks are between moments that require high focus. Check-in with yourself and see if you have your foot down on the accelerator, you might be using up your focus when you don’t need to.
Just like any other competitor most esports players want to win. And when we care about something along comes our emotions for the ride. Low confidence in our performance, and nervousness playing in front of a crowd for the first time. And maybe most commonly the worry of making a mistake. For esports psychology, the fundamentals are the same but the application might look different. Players will need to develop the capacity to accept those emotions while not having them impact their actions. A great place to start is to develop a reset routine. It can be as small as readjusting a piece of equipment. No matter how nervous or frustrated you might be you will always have the ability to adjust or move the equipment. You can read more about the concept of accepting emotions rather than fighting them here.
The average age of an esports professional in 2023 is between 20 and 26 years of age. More than half of the current titles are team-based and for a lot of competitors, this would be their first experience having to perform within a team. Unlike traditional sports, which have had the better part of the last century to organise themselves into communities and pass along their learnings, esports has yet to establish this structure.
If you are a younger competitor trying to plan your way to professionalism, or you are a parent trying to figure it out, there really aren’t any obvious clubs, teams, communities, or clinics that have an established system to guide these young competitors on what teamwork can look like. If you have any team sport experience, try to imagine what it would be like to only have your own play experience as a form of guidance.
Tip: Due to the demands of esports in terms of focus and decision making these games can make for ideal “cross-training” for competitors of traditional sports looking to target these crucial areas of mental toughness.
Esports and Health
Some of the best esports competitors in the world might be more relatable than you think. Many have enjoyed traditional sports from a young age and due to injury have repurposed their competitive drive into esports. Many of the top competitors understand the importance of taking care of their health and have wonderful physical routines at the foundation of their training. The top esports players look after their mental and physical health by lifting weights at the gym, running, and cycling. They are highly motivated individuals willing to invest their time to improve their performance.
The lack of physical exertion in esports makes it more complicated to have a clearer endpoint for practice. Taking care of your physical health plays a big role in mental performance and if you are looking to improve your mental game, this is a great place to start. Keep in mind that esports titles provide a lot of fun and when we combine that with motivated individuals it can be easy to over-practice. It’s important, therefore, from an esports psychology point of view to take these factors into consideration. From a neuroscience perspective, playing competitive video games with your friends is a very fun and rewarding experience. For a young mind, why wouldn’t you want to keep having fun?
Moderation Is Important
Moderation is important, too much of anything can be harmful. This is definitely a situation where we want to consider quality over quantity. If you are aspiring to improve your ability, start by looking at your health routines and try to understand what 1 – 2 hours of extremely high-quality practice might look like.
At Condor Performance we are really fortunate to have two psychologists who specialise in working with esports competitors and teams. Darren Godwin (author) is a Melbourne-based provisional psychologist whilst fellow Victorian Dr. Michelle Pain is hugely experienced in this domain as well. If you would like further information about working with either of these exceptional mental coaches please get in touch via our contact us page.
This blog has some of the best sport psychology quotes. It’s a smörgåsbord of quotes from coaches, athletes and psychologists.
44 of The Best Sport Psychology Quotes
The right kinds of quotes punch well above their weight. For such short sentences, they can really change our perspective. The challenge is picking through them all to find the best one. So we have decided to put on plastic gloves and sort through the trash (rubbish). 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.
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 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 nervous or fearful 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.
“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. This comes 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 airplane.
“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 was 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 talent they are basically meaning genetics. In other words one of the few factors of performance that we have no influence on at all.
Some Sport Psychology Quotes By The G.O.A.T:
These seven quotes by legendary sport psychologist Jonah Oliver are all taken from his Podcast Interview with John O’Sullivan. Listen to the full interview here: Episode 272 of Way of Champions.
“Our brain craves reducing uncertainty. Uncertainty is the hardest human emotion.”
Note: This is one of the top three sport psychology quotes of all time in my view.
“One of the biggest errors we have made in elite sport is we use the word confident when we actually mean competent. I can’t sing. I am not competent at singing. Put six beers in me in a karaoke bar and now I’m confident … but I am still terrible at singing.”
Comment: In other words, stop trying to boost your motivation. Instead, consider your values and connect to what matters to you.
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. 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 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 sports. You can have some of its 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.
“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 or 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: 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 yourself.
“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.
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.
“Wise men speak because they have something to say; Fools because they have to say something.”
Communication As A Mental Skill
NOTE: If you’re not part of a traditional team sport and therefore think that an article about communication doesn’t apply to you then think again. “Team” by our definition basically just means a group of people working together. So if you’re an individual sport athlete then “your team” is probably your family, your coach(es) basically anyone in your life with whom you have a relationship. Ideally, one of these helpers is a qualified performance or sport psychologist (hopefully one of us 😊). Of course, for athletes of traditional team sports all these “support” people also apply. But the overall number of personnel in your “team” is probably larger.
Let’s Start With A Question
Is communication really a mental skill or is it more of a life skill? Well, to be honest, most psychological skills are life skills. Some are obvious whilst others are in disguise with a fake mustache and a wig! Let’s take motivation as an example. Yes, motivation is hugely valuable in sport and performance but really it’s useful for everyone in every situation. The kind of commitment that high-performing athletes have to get up at 5 am and train is not that different from plumbers who get up at a similar time in order to earn an honest income.
Simply put, as human beings our mental strengths and weaknesses spill into everything we do. Although at Condor Performance we tend to assist athletes, coaches and performers improve mental areas such as communication mainly for performance enhancement in most cases it benefits them well beyond their chosen domain. This is a nice side effect of working with someone trained in both general psychology as well as performance psychology.
What Is Communication? What Is It Not?
The Cambridge Dictionary defines communication as “the activity of expressing or exchanging information, feelings, etc.”
Some psychologists like to include, in the definition of communication, “communicating” with oneself. We disagree with this. “Communicating” with oneself should fall under thinking and self-talk. The word itself in English derives from the Latin communicare meaning “to share”. So for us, communication as a mental skill needs to involve at least two people.
So how do we share with others then?
Basically, in either a non-verbal or verbal way. Non-verbal includes body language, facial expressions, and tone of voice. Verbal includes the actual words.
Then, of course, there is both the production of these and the receiving of them too. By production I mean you are producing the stimulus. By receiving, someone else is.
How Well Do You Communicate Now?
One way to answer this is by asking others. Or you could complete one of our MTQs all of which attempt to measure communication. However, arguably the most objective way of measuring this critical mental skill is by recording yourself. When watching yourself back turn the volume down to analyse your body language, for example. How focused are you in the footage when someone else is doing the communicating? For example, when a coach or captain is going over tactics? And one of the very best questions you could ever ask yourself.
How could I have done that better?
Use A 2 x 2 Matrix
A 2 x 2 matrix is just a small table with two rows and two columns. To improve your communication as a mental skill create one like the one below somewhere.
As you can see the four main types of communication each have their own cell. 1) Non-verbal production, 2) Verbal production, 3) Non-verbal reception and 4) Verbal reception.
Try to spend 5 minutes a week trying to improve each cell of the Matrix. For example, for non-verbal production, you might practice looking confident in front of a mirror. Remember, you don’t have to be confident to portray confidence to others. Read much more on this concept here.
For the Verbal Productive cell, it might be worth seeing if you can navigate the content of what you’re saying toward stuff that is more influenceable. And avoid crapping on about less influenceable subjects.
And as always, if you need a hand, just fill out our Contact Us form and one of the crew will get back to you with detailed info on our 1-on-1 services.
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.
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.
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.
“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.
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.
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 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.
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.
This 10 minute read is the debut article by Condor Performance’s brand new Intake Officer Sudhi. Comments and questions are welcome via the form at the bottom of the article.
Introduction To Visualisation
Visualisation, often used synonymously with mental rehearsal or imagery, is a mental training strategy that is implemented to achieve a range of positive performance outcomes. These outcomes include (but are not limited to) improved concentration, decreased anxiety, heightened self-confidence, and increased motivation. All of which ultimately endeavor to enhance performance in some way.
This technique started to attract widespread attention in the 1980s with its benefits being increasingly recognised amongst sport psychologists, coaches, athletes, as well as those from a non-athletic background.
Visualisation is better thought of as a process, rather than merely a concept. Embodying the mental practice of applying the senses to stimulate an image of something sums up this process rather well. This recreation can be done by either picturing specific skills or can also involve rehearsing a performance from the beginning to the end.
Examples Of Visualisation
Most competitive skiers make use of visualisation to run through their performance on the piste and acquaint themselves with its various elements such as the presence of slopes or slants in the trail, and the placement of turns. Skiers can also visualise their execution of particular skills such as their turns, jumps, or specific sections they need to control their speed.
On the other hand in team sports such as soccer, visualisation can be implemented to run through various game scenarios and solidify team strategies and tactics. As such this technique is beneficial in reducing the degree of unfamiliarity.
Another strength of this tool is its flexibility in the sense that it does not require any external prompts. It can be executed at any time, at any location, and still produce beneficial outcomes for performance. Can you think of a recent scenario in which this flexibility is especially useful? Clue, cough … cough.
Athletes can also use visualisation during a period of injury or rehabilitation as it allows them to train safely without adversely affecting their condition. In sport psychology, this technique is also used in conjunction with other forms of mental strategies or physical training to enhance positive outcomes.
The Psychological Science Behind Visualisation
Recent research has examined the science behind this technique to understand its popularity and effectiveness amongst athletes of all ages and levels.
Neurons in the motor cortex of the brain that are stimulated when physically executing an action, are also activated when athletes picture this during visualisation. This subconscious process of rehearsing performance fires neural patterns similar to those that are created when the target muscles are physically performing the movements. This becomes crucial in adapting an athlete’s body to key movements specific to their sport, consequently speeding up the learning process and enhancing skill acquisition.
Referring back to the sport of skiing, a ski coach can encourage the practice of visualisation for their athlete when demonstrating a new skill such as jumping. As touched upon previously, pairing visualisation with the physical rehearsal of the skill enhances the effectiveness of the technique and boosts learning.
A study at the University of Chicago by Dr. Blaslotto further demonstrates the positive impact of mental rehearsal. He measured the improvement of free throws amongst three groups of randomly selected individuals. This experiment ran over a period of one month where one group spent half an hour daily visualising successful free throws, one group practiced free throws for half an hour a day, and the other group did not practice at all.
It was found that the group who practiced free throws daily improved by 24%, no improvement was observed amongst the group with no practice, and the group who had simply practiced visualization without touching a basketball had improved by 23%.
The Downside Of Visualisation
As with any sport or performance area, it may not be possible to accurately recreate the entire experience due to the presence of external influences that are out of our control.
Whilst the many benefits of visualisation have been established including its ability to enhance motivation, boost confidence, and sharpen concentration, there is a gap that this technique cannot fill. No matter how well, or how much time an athlete invests in rehearsing mentally, it must be recognised that there remains a range of factors in competitive sport that are determined and controlled by factors external to the athletes themselves. Some of the most obvious are the spectators, the opponent’s behaviour as well as environmental conditions.
With reference to the prior example of a skier, environmental factors such as wind speed, visibility, quality of snow, and temperature are all externally determined. These factors can be influential in defining crucial aspects of the athlete’s performance such as their speed, as well as their ability to manoeuvre and control their movements.
Practice Is Key!
As with most processes practice makes permanent. Visualisation is easier to execute when a goal has been established. A good way for an athlete to establish purpose is to consider their current training and competition schedule and determine aspects that they feel will be challenging. For example:
A cricket bowler who is considering how they might go during their first over of a match.
A golfer who is predicting the challenge of playing the last two holes, whilst protecting a one-shot lead.
A race car driver who is looking for an edge in tomorrow’s race where the forecast is for wet conditions.
Once this step has been cleared, the individual is ready to practice visualisation. Finding a silent space without distractions, and ensuring the eyes are closed will assist with this experience. Then, they may take a few deep breaths to connect with and be aware of the body at that present moment. This technique is most effective when as many of the fundamental senses are engaged. For any athlete rehearsing for an upcoming game or competition, visualisation may look something like this.
Starting with some deep breaths, they can then begin to immerse themselves in the experience of being present at the site of the competition. They may prompt imagery by asking themselves questions. What sounds are audible? Is there a large audience presence? What does the weather look like? Do I feel a breeze across my face? What smells can be sensed? Do I feel nervous? Do I feel my heart rate increasing?
Mindset To Be Included
Imagining the mindset under which an athlete performs can be useful in making the experience more realistic and can help train the mind and body to reduce any negative emotions or sensations.
Following this process of engaging as many of the senses as possible, the athlete can begin to feel the motions of the body as they run through their performance. For a basketball player, this may involve running through any pre-game routines, team strategies, and gameplay from beginning to end. They may also focus on visualising their execution of skills such as passing, or a different technique for three-pointers. This mental rehearsal would then be used as a guide for the athlete to perform and physically engage their body in the movements. In the case of basketball players, they can then practice shooting on the court.
Whilst performing these skills, it is beneficial for the athlete to pay attention to the senses again, as well as their body. This includes the way the ball feels against their palms, the stimulation of muscles on their legs and hands as they follow through with the shot, and the movement of the ball in the air. This is then repeated for the duration of the training.
It should be acknowledged that the mind is susceptible to distractions and may wander at times, but it is useful to accept this and be able to reset or restart. Thus, visualisation cannot be mastered in the first go and results will take time to show, however maintaining consistency will support this process and contribute to positive outcomes overall. If you need a hand, give us a shout.
How important is focus compared to all the other mental skills required for consistently high performance? Provisional Psychologist Madalyn Incognito addresses this question and more in this great feature article.
Focus is arguably the most crucial mental skill of them all. High performancereally isn’t possible without it. Because of this, it’s one of the areas of mental performance we work on the most. One quick and simple way to measure your current levels of focus is to complete one of our Mental Toughness Questionnaires here.
What Exactly Is Focus?
In psychology, ‘focus’ is defined as mentally attending to something while tuning out from any other irrelevant incoming information. And like every other mental process, it plays an important role in helping keep us alive. Our survival is ultimately aided by our ability to attend to stimuli and extract information from our surroundings. The ability to focus is a mental process that is present from birth. It plays a vital role in virtually every life domain.
Focus In The Performance Domain
There are actually several different types of focus. But the two most relevant in the work we do are Focused Attention and Sustained Attention. During focused attention, we attend to a target stimulus for a given period of time. This allows us to rapidly detect changes and react/respond in an appropriate way. Good examples from major sports would be:
Cricket: The batter watches the ball and has to adjust their shot based on the bounce of the ball off the pitch.
Tennis: The speed that a player can react to a volley whilst focusing on the incoming ball.
Baseball: Too many examples to list.
Sustained attention, or what is commonly known as concentration, is where we focus on a task for an extended period. Complete attention is given to the task until it is over. Any irrelevant sensory information is filtered out. Think long-distance and enduro-sports, musical and theatrical performances, and even surgery. Basically, anything that requires an individual to concentrate for a prolonged period of time. A swimmer requires focused attention whilst on the blocks followed by sustained attention during the race.
Because focus plays such a large role in high performance across the sporting and non-sporting performance domains, it can be valuable to learn about the different ways we can enhance and improve our focus.
The benefits of meditation extend beyond the general health benefits it’s commonly known for. In the performance domain, meditation is commonly used to bring our attention to the present moment. Basically, this practice helps us get better at focusing our minds on the task at hand. Meditation is not about positive thinking nor about changing thoughts. At the end of the day, thoughts are something we have only some influence over.
“As our clients know it’s better to just accept your thoughts and get on with the job.”
Every single moment of the day we’re thinking about something. The purpose of meditation is actually to heighten our awareness of the present moment. This includes any external experiences (sensory stimulus) and internal experiences (such as thoughts) observing them without judgment. Or as little judgment as possible!
Screen Time And Sleep
Aside from the benefits of meditation on our cognition and focus, sleep also plays an important role in these mental processes. We know that sleep deprivation can severely impact our decision-making, alertness, memory, learning, and reaction time.
One of the biggest causes of sleep disruption today is screen time, particularly its proximity to bedtime.
Electronic device usage prior to sleep can have a significant impact on sleep quality. Research has shown that individuals who use their mobile phones right before sleeping experience a decline in both focused and sustained attention. To enhance your sleep quality and reduce the impact of screen time usage on your focus the following day, it is ideal for athletes and performers not to be on their phones right before bed. One way of giving yourself the greatest chance for a good performance is by switching off any electronic devices as early as possible before sleeping.
Flow And Focus for Sport / Performance
The word Flow is also thrown around in the sporting world when we talk about focus. Flow refers to a state where an athlete or performer is fully and completely immersed in what they’re doing. What we know about flow is that in this state physical performance is heightened. This is because the individual is completely present, attending solely to the task and filtering out any irrelevant information.
Based on Flow Theory, individuals who struggle to get focused or stay focused are probably experiencing one of two things. They’re either experiencing anxiety or boredom. The two variables at play here include the individual’s skill level and the difficulty of the task they have been asked to do. If an athlete’s skill level is relatively lower than the difficulty of the task, this often creates anxiety. On the other hand, if an athlete’s skill level is relatively higher than the task difficulty, this tends to lead to boredom. To create an environment where flow can occur, skill level and task difficulty need to be roughly equal.
Matching Skill Level and Task Difficulty
Matching skill level and task difficulty can be particularly tricky in a team or group setting where you have individuals of varying skill levels and experience. For athletes in a group training setting where the prescribed sets or drills are too “easy”, creating artificial constraints on performance or setting artificial thresholds for success to increase difficulty can help in keeping them engaged. For example, if a boxer is asked to spar against a less experienced opponent, setting higher point thresholds or introducing artificial rules to make the round more physically and mentally demanding might aid them in entering a state of flow.
Throwing a minimum of three strikes per combo, only leading with a feint or a double jab, or starting a combo with anything but a jab are some artificial rules that can be introduced to increase the difficulty of the round and help the athlete engage in the task where their experience level isn’t matched. For a swimmer hitting well below the times they need to be hitting during an endurance set, introducing a more difficult breathing pattern or a higher dolphin kick benchmark off each wall might introduce some additional physical and psychological constraints to a relatively easy set.
It is important for athletes and performers to shift their thinking from what they can’t get out of a session to what they can get out of a session. By enhancing task difficulty in an artificial sense we can help them to better engage in the session, and this will increase the chance of them leaving the session feeling as though they’ve gotten something out of it.
Narrowing Your Focus
Sometimes we underestimate the value of setting objectives or targets for the session we’re about to do or the week of training we’re about to commence. Narrowing our focus to a small selection of focus areas when we train (and even compete) is an attentional style that promotes concentration and helps us filter out all the irrelevant information around us.
I often find that athletes, particularly those on the younger side, struggle to engage during training and even on game day because they don’t know what to think about. They’re often trying to focus on too many things at once, which can lead to a lot of overthinking. For players who just can’t get their head in the game, this is most likely the reason why. Particularly during the development stage when athletes are trying to learn a whole range of new skills, it can be difficult to see them engaged in what they’re doing because they’re having to think about and remember so many different things. Trying to focus on so many different skill areas isn’t always the most efficient way of working towards progress, and it can often be hard for us to physically see our progress and use this as motivation to keep going.
To see more engagement, narrowing one’s focus can help. Choosing one or more areas of focus or ‘focus goals’ can help athletes know what to attend to. They can then bring their attention back to these if it wanders and stay engaged in what they’re doing. Clarifying these focus goals ahead of the session, week or month also allows them to take ownership.
Focus goals allow athletes to recognise their progress more clearly and take accountability for their efforts during training and on game day. There is no real excuse for not knowing what the objectives of the session or game are. Increased accountability is a large part of the philosophy used by our founding sport psychologist Gareth J. Mole. This style of sport psychology can be confronting at first. But it is vital as part of the performance enhancement aspect of what we do. The coaching side as opposed to the counseling side.
Do You Need Help With Your Focus?
It’s clear that focus is an integral part of any performance arena. If you’re an athlete or performer looking to develop some of these ideas further please get in touch by completing our Contact Form here. Your focus can be improved and qualified psychologists are the ideal teachers.
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Csikszentmihalyi, M., Montijo, M. N., & Mouton, A. R. (2018). Flow theory: Optimizing elite performance in the creative realm.
Lippelt, D. P., Hommel, B., & Colzato, L. S. (2014). Focused attention, open monitoring and loving-kindness meditation: effects on attention, conflict monitoring, and creativity–A review. Frontiers in Psychology, 5, 1083.
Marin, M. M., & Bhattacharya, J. (2013). Getting into the musical zone: trait emotional intelligence and amount of practice predict flow in pianists. Frontiers in Psychology, 4, 853.
Swann, C., Keegan, R. J., Piggott, D., & Crust, L. (2012). A systematic review of the experience, occurrence, and controllability of flow states in elite sport. Psychology of Sport and Exercise, 13(6), 807-819.
Yoshida, K., Takeda, K., Kasai, T., Makinae, S., Murakami, Y., Hasegawa, A., & Sakai, S. (2020). Focused attention meditation training modifies neural activity and attention: longitudinal EEG data in non-meditators. Social cognitive and affective neuroscience, 15(2), 215-224.
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.
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.
As we have mentioned many times over the years during editions of the Mental Toughness Digestindividual 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.”
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.
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.
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?
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.
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.