Enjoyment and Sport

Chris Pomfret explores the common misconception regarding elite sport is that there is an inverse relationship between enjoyment and success.

Enjoyment and fun want to be part of all sports and at all levels.

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.).

Practical Suggestions

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.
  • Consider getting some assistance from a professional who is qualified in this area. For example, our team of sport psychologists and performance psychologists.

Final Thoughts

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.

We will leave the final word to Jonty Rhodes. legendary South African cricketer and fielder. The below is taken from this full article.

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.

Esports Psychology

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

eSports is short for 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.

Both eSports and eSports Psychology are growing at an exponential rate.

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.

Esports Psychology

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.

Processing Speed

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.

Focus

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.

Emotions

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.

Team Unity

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.

Communication As A Mental Skill

“Wise men speak because they have something to say; Fools because they have to say something.”

Plato
Communication As A Mental Skill – how important is it in your sport (or performance area) and are you working on it directly?

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.

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.

Focus For Sport and Performance

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 for Sport and Performance” – A Critical Mental Skill

Focus for Sport – How Important Is It?

Obviously, as a growing group of sport psychologists and performance psychologists, we do a lot of work around focus and attention. But how important is focus compared to all the other mental skills required for consistently high performance?

Focus is arguably the most crucial mental skill of them all. High performance really 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

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.

Meditative 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. 

Flow and Focus are very closely linked

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. 

Focus Goals

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.

References

de Oliveira, M. L. C., de Nogueira Holanda, F. W., Valdez, P., de Almondes, K. M., & de Azevedo, C. V. M. (2020). Impact of electronic device usage before bedtime on sleep and attention in adolescents. Mind, Brain, and Education, 14(4), 376-386.

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.

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.

Motivation In Sport And Performance

“Motivation In Sport And Performance” is a 15 minute read by Condor Performance’s Madalyn Incognito. Please enjoy and share responsibility.

We’re only just starting to understand just how big a role motivation plays in … well …. everything.

Why Is Motivation So Important?

The simple answer is that motivation underpins all the other aspects. Think about it. When you are motivated, everything is easier. And when your motivation drops suddenly these same tasks seem much harder.

It also plays a huge role in longevity. The higher the motivation, the longer (in years) you’ll want to continue in your sport/performance area.

There are a number of reasons an athlete or performer might struggle with motivation at some point in their career. Barriers can be physical, biological, social, environmental, and/or psychological. In terms of psychological barriers, what we know about motivation is that it is fostered by meeting three basic psychological needs (Deci & Ryan, 2000).

  • Competence
  • Autonomy
  • Relatedness

For motivation to flourish, a performer first needs to be able to do the task to the ability they are happy with. Then they have to have the freedom to choose to do the task. In other words, they are not being forced into it. Finally, having a sense of connectedness with others helps a lot. This is the social element of sport that can be so powerful. Winning and losing with your mates basically.

We know that by meeting these three major needs the likelihood of burnout is reduced significantly, keeping performers in their performance domain for longer.

The Role of Performance Psychology in Motivation 

What we also know about motivation is that the type of motivation a performer has is another extremely important factor to consider. One of the first questions we ask our clients during their initial free Kick Start Session is, “why do you do what you do?”. Understanding the reasons why an individual engages in something is vital. Not just for the psychologist, but for the client as well. Why not stop reading for 5 minutes and just list 5 reasons why you do what you do?

Time To Think
Time To Think

The most crucial bit of information we want to extract from this answer is around whether their motivation is intrinsic, extrinsic, or a mix of both.

Intrinsic Motivation

An athlete or performer who is intrinsically motivated does what they do for their own sense of personal satisfaction. If you listed any of the below, then this suggests you are internally or intrinsically motivated.

  • Achievement
  • Purpose
  • Challenge 
  • Personal Reward 
  • Belonging 
  • Enjoyment

Performers who are intrinsically motivated participate in the performance domain because they enjoy learning and improving their skills, and have made a self-determined choice to participate. 

What makes intrinsic motivation so useful is the fact that it’s completely dependent on the individual. That is, the performer’s motivation isn’t based on anything or anyone else. Therefore it isn’t reliant on things the individual doesn’t have a huge amount of influence over. The performance psychology literature claims that intrinsic motivation has the largest and most positive impact on performance quality and is the better of the two for more stable, long-term motivation. 

Not Just In Sport …

In alternative performance settings such as workplaces, intrinsic motivation is also associated with greater worker satisfaction and commitment, self-reported performance, company profitability as well as lower emotional and exhaustion burnout.

If you’re wanting to stick around in your area of performance for the long run, I suggest boosting your intrinsic motivation. One obvious way to go about this is to work with a qualified sport psychologist or performance psychologist. Click here to browse our current team and get in touch if you’d like to learn more about working with one of us.

Extrinsic Motivation

Extrinsically motivated performers put in the work more for some external reason or benefit. An individual who is very extrinsically motivated may feel obligated to do what they do as a result of external pressure (parents, coach, peers), or for financial or social benefit. 

The issue with extrinsic motivation is that it is reliant on things we don’t have a huge amount of influence over. For example;

  • What if one day mum and dad decide they’re not interested in your athletic career anymore? What if something else becomes more important to them than your athletic pursuits? Would you still want to continue?
  • What if I told you that you would never go on to earn lots of money, never land any sponsorships, and no one outside your local sporting community ever learns your name? Would this have an impact on your motivation?

For performers who are extrinsically motivated, it’s happy days when all the external factors we base our motivation on are present. The issue here is when they’re gone, you can expect to experience a real dip in your motivation. How many of the reasons that you listed above are external rewards? If at least one, ask yourself how your motivation would be impacted if it was taken away.

Too Extrinsically Motivated?

A nice analogy to explain the pitfalls of being too extrinsically motivated is like building a house on weak foundations. Think of the internal reasons why you do your sport as being the foundations. Essentially, what everything else is built on.

They are less glamorous and often invisible. But they are absolutely crucial to make sure the house on top is safe and secure. In this analogy, the house itself with its fancy solar panels and double-glazed windows represents the external motivators. It basically works like this:

  • Only internal motivators – fine
  • Both internal and external motivators – great / ideal
  • Just external motivators – potentially problematic

Visualisation for Motivation

Visualisation or Mental Rehearsal has many different purposes, of which technical practice and motivation are the two main uses. 

Visualisation for motivation is particularly important during times of prolonged intense training with limited competition (did someone say pandemic?). Visualizing intentions (the actions or processes we wish to perform) from the first-person perspective can have a positive effect on motivation. Basically, process-based mental rehearsal from the mind’s eye is going to provide the best motivational outcomes. 

Understanding Your Motivation Fluctuations

Motivation tends to fluctuate (and sometimes for no obvious reason). This is particularly likely during a period of intense training or preparation. We often like to remind our clients that they are not robots and that doing the same thing over and over again is very unlikely to always be highly satisfying and enjoyable.

Having an understanding of what factors influence your levels of motivation is important. Knowing why you’re not that keen to go to training is far better than just having that feeling. Keeping note of motivation levels in response to known hormonal changes, level and intensity of training, presence of upcoming competitions, and stressors outside of your performance domain is an important part of managing your mental well-being as an athlete or a performer. This allows us to acknowledge we may need to engage in some self-compassion practices during those particularly challenging times. Try and track your motivation in a diary or similar format in order to link certain events so you can understand your motivators better.

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.

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 [email protected] 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.