Sport Psychology Books


I am guessing that when you think of sport psychology books, you imagine publications by academics that have sold a few thousand copies. The issue is that most of these books are designed to be for practitioners and not the performers. There are books written with athletes and performers in mind, but typically, they are limited in their scope. So we asked our growing team of sport and performance psychologists about what books they suggest to their clients.

Below, in no particular order, are these publications. As you can see many of them are not sport psychology books per se, but together they form a handy toolkit for anyone interested in the mental aspects of human performance. If you think we are missing one (or more), please add the details to the comments section at the very bottle of the list.

The Third Space by Dr Adam Fraser

Brian says…

This 300-page book highlights that we tend to carry our mindset from one task to the next, which impacts our capacity to focus on the ensuing task. This book focuses on The Third Space, the transition between the first activity and the second, to enable us to “show up” for whatever comes next.

Using the example of tennis players and discussing the 3 Rs, Reflect Rest Reset – talks about how very little separates the top tennis players in terms of skill, ability and fitness. However, research has found that what separates the greats from the rest is, regardless of a good shot or bad shot or a good match, bad match, the ability to reflect (and learn) on what just happened, Rest (be it through breathing, mindfulness, etc) and then Reset for the next point, match or game. 


The Brain That Changes Itself by Norman Doig 

Brian says…

This work uses neuroscience and research to explain that our brain is plastic, malleable and changeable. And the massive benefit to us as humans of it being that way.

We are never too old to learn new tricks. We can build our resilience and develop new skills and ways of looking at the world throughout our lives and for as long as we are alive. 


Breath by James Nestor

Brian says…

If you watch the Olympics or any high-profile sport, you notice that most athletes breathe more purposefully.

There is possibly no more important action to prepare the body and mind for performance than breathing. This book highlights that even minor adjustments to breathing practices can positively impact performance and have a myriad of impacts on overall health and immunity, sleep and general well-being. 


Atomic Habits by James Clear

Darren says …

This fantastic read contains incredible insights into creating long-lasting changes to human habits. James Clear has presented both his personal experiences and scientific research in a way that’s very practical to accomplish.

We often believe that habitual changes must be drastic; however, the book highlights that this does not need to be the case. There is a focus on making tiny and very doable actions on an ongoing basis that, if maintained, can make fabulous improvements to our lives.

The book summarises one of our favourite mantras at Condor Performance: “Trust the process and let the results take care of themselves.”


A Liberated Mind by Dr Steven C. Hayes

Darren says …

Without a doubt, Dr Steven C. Hayes has made a considerable contribution to psychology with his research on Acceptance and Commitment Therapy and the development of Psychological Flexibility.

Dr Hayes takes you through the six core processes that help build psychological flexibility and is packed with diverse examples of their application. It is well supported by research, but you do not have to be an academic to understand it. It is very digestible to all audiences, and very importantly, it contains practical exercises that you can take away and use immediately. This book supports many life and performance-enhancement strategies. It’s a game-changer.

Madalyn says …

This powerful book is centred around ‘Psychological Flexibility’, a term referring to being open and willing to engage with uncomfortable internal experiences (thoughts, feelings, memories) so that they no longer stop us from committing to the actions that are important to us.

This book contains excellent insight into the evidence-based practice of Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT), a framework the Condor Performance team use to help their sporting and non-sporting clients lean into discomfort and not struggle with it. ACT is based on the premise that our problem-solving mind is hardwired to avoid, suppress and fight off uncomfortable internal experiences. To live a full and meaningful life, we need to have a more ‘flexible’ relationship with our mind where we notice, observe and accept these experiences, reflect on our values and focus on committed action towards our long-term goals. Much of our work at Condor Performance is about our clients’ relationships with internal experiences. Therefore, I highly recommend this book to anyone who wants to learn more about our work or is looking to improve their performance.


The First Rule of Mastery: Stop Worrying About What People Think of You by Dr Michael Gervais

Harley says …

Fear of judgment and what people think of us (recently defined as “FOPO” – fear of people’s opinions) is a common theme that many of our clients struggle with, and often, FOPO can constrain or limit our capacity to realise our full potential. In The First Rule of Mastery, Michael Gervais outlines exactly what FOPO is, what causes FOPO, and, most importantly, what we can do to overcome FOPO.

This is helpful reading for all performers but especially valuable for those involved in team sports.


The Resilience Project by Hugh van Cuylenburg

Harley says …

Based on his experience teaching in India, The Resilience Project details a framework for developing skills and behaviours to help us live more fulfilling lives. Gratitude, empathy, and mindfulness are desirable behaviours and traits we can all benefit from incorporating into our daily lives.

They can help us with our mental health, mental aspects of performance, and associated performance outcomes. Being resilient is a crucial attribute of high performers, and The Resilience Project is an excellent introduction to those looking to learn more about it.


Legacy: What The All Blacks Can Teach Us About The Business of Life by James Kerr

Harley says …

One of my all-time favourite books and the book I recommend the most to my clients. Based on the esteemed culture of one of the most successful sporting teams in history, Legacy provides outstanding lessons in culture and leadership that can benefit individuals, teams, athletes, coaches, and other leaders. If you want to be a high performer and/or succeed in your chosen endeavour, the insights from this book will benefit you enormously.


Do Hard Things by Steve Magness

Harley says …

It is a terrific book that redefines what toughness is.

Combining a great blend of the latest scientific knowledge about psychology and human performance with real-world experience from athletes and coaches, Do Hard Things is a roadmap for overcoming hardships, facing challenges, and striving to succeed. Informative, practical, and accessible, this book will help you build real toughness.


The Practice of Groundness by Brad Stulberg

Harley says …

This excellent book explores many of the themes I would use regularly with my clients and encourages all high performers to practice.

These key themes include being present, focusing on processes over outcomes, being patient, connecting with your values, and cultivating a sustainable approach to high performance. Combining the latest scientific knowledge with ancient wisdom, The Practice of Groundness will provide you with critical techniques and practical skills to help you on your journey towards success.


Man’s Search For Meaning by Viktor Frankl

Harley says …

It is one of the most powerful and influential books I have read. Viktor Frankl’s lessons about his experience in concentration camps in WWII are incredibly insightful. Whether we are chasing big or little wins, all of us will benefit from these observations.

While suffering may be inevitable, we can choose how we respond and find meaning in the suffering that allows us to find and pursue purpose. Ultimately, pursuing what matters to us (i.e., our purpose) is our most important human driver.


A Still Quiet Place For Athletes by Amy Saltzman

Charlotte says …

It is an excellent book for athletes committed to training their minds. So often, it is the internal chatter that prevents athletes from being present in the moment.

This book guides the reader through many psychological skills that encourage them to let go of their internal chatter and focus on the moment. I appreciate the book’s clear descriptions of each skill and opportunities for practice and reflection. This ensures the skills are correctly learnt and can be accessed quicker in heightened emotions.   


The Happiness Trap by Dr Russ Harris

Chris says …

An excellent book for sporting and non-sporting performers, The Happiness Trap provides a user-friendly introduction to Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT). Some of the critical components of ACT that are covered in depth and apply to performance enhancement include:

(1) Mindfulness. Being aware of the present moment without judgment helps us recognise how we respond to situations and redirect ourselves to practical actions. 

(2) Acceptance. Acknowledging unwanted thoughts and emotions helps reduce our natural internal struggle with them.

(3) Commitment. By identifying our values (things that give us a sense of meaning), we can become more purposeful in our behaviours. In other words, deliberately acting aligns with what is important to us. 

Happy reading (no pun intended)! 


Search Inside Yourself by Chade-Meng Tan

James says …

Written by the mindfulness expert trainer for Google executives. I recommend this book as it’s a great guide on “how to” learn to practise mindfulness for those interested.

Many books and authors will tell you that mindfulness is terrific and benefits life, business, health and performance. But this book gives practical processes on how to start and exercises to try and practice to become more adept at mindfulness. On top of that, it’s written in a simple and conversational style that I find more casual than many books. 


The Coaches by David Becker and Scott Hill

James says …

‘The Coaches’ is a collection of interviews with twelve high-profile sporting coaches across various sports in Australia. It skillfully brings together hundreds of little pieces of advice and wisdom through many years of coaching at the elite level.

If you’re an aspiring athlete or coach, it’s always worth knowing what the top coaches look for in their athletes, what they feel brings success and what they see as pathways to failure through their time at the top.


The Score Takes Care Of Itself by Bill Walsh

Gareth says …

This semi-autobiographical account of Bill Walsh’s work with the San Francisco 49ers is arguably one of the most beneficial when learning why a process focus is far more effective than an outcome orientation.

As the book suggests, Bill and his coaching staff did not do a lot of goal-setting for the outcomes. Instead, they went through every single aspect of the organisation and tried to improve it. In doing this, there was a reduced need to obsess about sporting results. These took care of themselves. And the consequence is that they became one of the most successful teams in the history of the NFL.


Stolen Focus by Johann Hari

Gareth says …

‘Stolen Focus’ is a slightly different book to be included in this select list of sport psychology books. Given the importance of focus in modern-day performance psychology, it would be remiss not to include at least one book that explains why focusing is so hard for so many people nowadays.

This book, by one of my favourite authors, is a must-read for anyone who assumes that time spent stuck to their smartphone is normal and healthy. Yes, that’s right, performance enhancement is sometimes just doing the simple things. Like turning off your phone at meal times!


If you feel like this list of sports psychology books is missing any that you have read and would recommend, please add the details to the comments section below. Ideally, include the title, author, and WHY you would suggest to anyone looking to further their performance psychology knowledge. After more than one individual has mentioned the same publication, we will consider moving it up to the official list above.

Sport Psychology – A Brief History

Sport Psychologist Gareth J. Mole looks at the history of sport psychology and points out a few missed opportunities from the 100 year story so far.

Coleman Griffith

Coleman Griffith (right) put sport psychology on the map. His two classic publications in the 1920s are ‘must reads’ for anyone interested in History of Sport Psychology.

I like my history; I always have. One of the most exciting modules I did during my psychology undergraduate degree at The University of Leeds in the late 90s was ‘The History of Psychotherapy’. From memory, this course didn’t look back at different types of psychology. Instead, it just covered general trends from the past. This led me to research the history of sport psychology as we know it today.

The Pioneers of Sport Psychology

The actual origins of sport psychology had little to do with traditional psychotherapy. In the early days, sport psychology was almost entirely about performance enhancement and building on existing strengths.

The actual start of sport psychology as a specialisation was over a hundred years ago. In 1921, baseballer Babe Ruth was tested at Columbia University to discover what made him so good. Many of the findings proved that his excellence boiled down to mental superiorities more than technical or physical ones. Sport psychology as a field, a specialty was born, when the below article was published.


A few years later, psychologist Walter Miles conducted several studies that focused on optimising American footballers’ performance during training.

The Psychology of Coaching

In 1928 the Psychology of Athletics was published and two years later Griffith wrote The Psychology of Coaching. For good reason he’s regarded as the father of modern sport psychology. I own a first-edition copy of the ‘Psychology of Coaching: a Study of Coaching Methods From the Point of Psychology’. I stumbled across a copy in an antique store about 25 years ago. This book is one of the reasons why I am so passionate about working one-on-one with sporting coaches.

There is still a lot of hesitation amongst sporting coaches about working directly with a psychologist. Yet those who ‘give it a crack’ tend to be richly rewarded. If you are a sporting coach, an excellent way to ‘dip your toes in the water’ is to complete our MTQ-C online.

‘Exercise’ Psychology Wants In

It should be noted that a close look at the History of Sport Psychology shows very little interest in exercise psychology.

Pioneers of sport psychology were mainly focused on performance. From their point of view, their population of interest was already very physically active. Any ‘advice’ about physical training should come from experts in exercise physiology and related fields.

All this changed between 1930 and 1960 when exercise and physical activity were formally added to the definition of sport psychology. Hence, the standard modern description of ‘sport and exercise psychology’.

With the benefit of hindsight, I believe this was the profession’s first collective error. I will explain by way of some examples.

Exercise psychology is essentially (should be) a branch of health psychology. It’s all about using psychological methods to increase physical activity. The typical client of an exercise psychologist might be a sedentary adult. Someone who has failed to become active after seeing an exercise physiologist.

Sport psychology has little to do with this kind of mental challenge. Our clients are already physical very active, they are anything but sedentary.

The Importance of The Right Labels

For a long time, I have argued that performance psychology is the ideal label for the profession. Sport psychology would then become a subdiscipline of performance psychology. Subcategories of sport psychology would then be Sport-Specific Sport Psychology (SSSP). Listen to my conversation with English sport psychologist Dan Abrahams on his Podcast The Sport Psych Show for a more extensive deep dive into this argument.

Remember that “performance” and “performing” semantically extend well beyond elite sport. Unsurprisingly, a healthy chunk of our clients are non sporting performers from sectors such as the performing art, medicine and the military.

Sport and performance psychology/psychologists are terms getting more use nowadays. But for me, this is just repeating. Sport is a type of performance, so the word performance alone should be enough.

One of the most awkward facts about the profession from a historical perspective is that we have never attempted to agree on the correct spelling of the first word. We are trying to do something about this via the below open poll. If you have yet to vote, please do so now.

Q1: What do YOU believe should be the correct spelling if we all had to agree on JUST one and then stick with that moving forward?
Q2: Which of the below best describes your role? I am a ...
236 votes

More Recent History

From 1970 to the early 2000s, the professional enjoyed increasing recognition and growth across most of the developed world. Australia saw an all-time high of four Master Programs in ‘Sport and Exercise Psychology’. Boosted by the Sydney Olympics 2000, Australia was an excellent place to study sport psychology 20 years ago.

The Decline

Nowadays there are only two Sport and Exercise Psychology masters program remaining in Australia. So it begs the question, what happened? More importantly, what can we learn from the decline?

One big ‘dropped ball’ was spreading ourselves too thinly to bring exercise and physical activity into the fold.

In 2006, Medicare introduced a two-tier system for psychologists. The policy implies that clinical psychologists were better a psychology work. The out-of-pocket costs to see a clinical psychologist became significantly less than all other psychologists.

This legislation resulted in an explosion of applicants for clinical psychology masters to the detriment of all the other programs. A shout-out to our colleagues at AAPI who are trying to fix this.

The Recent Wellbeing Movement

In recent years sport psychology has embraced the importance of mental health and wellbeing. I am glad about this, but we must be cautious.

The risk of the recent wellbeing movement is that sport psychology might lose its performance enhancement origins. These include mental skills training and coaching psychology.

In 50 years from now, what will the answers to these questions be? What do sport psychologists do? And what are sport psychologists best known for?

Will the answers be …

  • They help athletes with mental health and well-being challenges and the odd bit of mental skills training, or will it be
  • They mainly help sporting and non-sporting performers improve in their chosen sport or performance area and introduce mental health interventions for non-critical issues if required.

This particular sport psychologist hopes it’s the latter.

Is It Possible For Us To Bounce Back?

Will we learn from our mistakes and bounce back? Can we learn from the History of Sport Psychology to improve the future of the profession? I think we can, but only with some major structural changes.

Natural Talent … Or Is It?

Natural talent is a vastly overrated part of human excellence, as argued by sport psychologist Gareth J. Mole from Condor Performance.

What Exactly Is Natural Talent?

I recently wrote the below feature on the topic of Natural Talent, and when I went to add it to the website, I realised that I’d written an article on the same subject many years ago. So, instead of deleting the old one, I have added the new one above it. So, below, enjoy not one but two different essays on this fascinating concept of sports psychology.

What Exactly Is Natural Talent?

For as long as I can remember, I have been interested in concepts related to natural talent. How significant is nature (genetics) regarding human excellence versus nurture (lived experience)? While researching this article, I thought I would try to see if there is an agreed definition of natural talent and what it’s not. Surprise, surprise, I could not find a standard clarification, but this was my favourite:

Full credit to Blue Print Tennis for this definition contained within this fascinating article on the same topic.

Natural Talent Vs. Natural Ability

It’s important to emphasise the context in which we tend to come across the concept of natural talent in our work here at Condor Performance. Virtually everybody that we work with has one thing in common. They want to get better at something … or a bunch of things.

Sometimes, this performance area is evident and tangible. They want to improve their golfing consistency because they won’t be able to secure their tour card for next year without it. A surgeon gets nervous before surgery and needs to improve her composure to be the best possible surgeon she can be.

Other times, this performance area is far less obvious but still a performance area. The athlete who wants to be a better husband struggles due to the sheer amount of time they spend training. A soldier desires to be a better father by not allowing traumatic and recurring memories of the battlefield to impact his time with his young children. 

Each of these examples, along with many others, has an element of talent or ability. The last example is probably the best to emphasise this. We know from the research that, for some reason, specific soldiers who return from the battlefield seem to cope very well with adapting to everyday life. On the other hand, some military personnel who experience precisely the same situations return home and have their functioning compromised by their experiences. What is going on here? 

Earned and Unearned Competence

Sometimes, I think it might be better to think of the Natural Talent debate in terms of earned and unearned competence at something. 

Earned competence is essentially the most common type of competence whereby you are good at something because you have spent a lot of time becoming good at it. However, not all competence is a direct result of hard work.

Unearned competence is when you are good at something without having spent hours and hours honing that skill. Why? How? We are not sure. Genetics undoubtedly plays a part. But maybe there are also many environmental factors that we are entirely unaware of. Perhaps the soil in the country in which you live is much richer in nutrients than in other countries. So without you having to do anything, the quality of the vegetables you’re putting into your body is slightly better. 

Undoubtedly, at the end of the day, how good you are is a combination of the two types of talent/ability/competency. It’s also worth pointing out that some performance areas are arguably more susceptible to one than the other. In other words, it’s incorrect to say that ability is 50% natural and 50% nurture. 

Let’s Look At A Few Examples 

First and foremost, the more complex and challenging the performance area, the less likely experts will be as such because of inherited advantages. Let’s look at a sport like the decathlon.

The vast amount of different motor skills, physical, psychological and technical requirements needed to be an excellent decathlete means that it would need to be more influenced by hard work and less by Mum and Dad’s genetic offerings.

Maybe the opposite example also comes from track and field. If we look at sprinting, it is easy to see that there appears to be a more significant genetic predisposition to running incredibly fast.

I am not taking anything away from the hard work of the world’s fastest men, women, boys and girls. But here is a fact: if you were born into a family of Caucasian shorties, good luck trying to win a 100m or 200 m Olympic medal.

Fortunately, due to advances in sports science, we don’t need to guess these things any more. There now appears to be universal agreement amongst the academic community that in the case of sprinting, fast-twitch fibres (which are entirely genetic and cannot be increased post-birth) play a significant role in how quick you will be. Of course, you still need to put in the training, BUT the training seems to pay much more dividends to those with more fast-twitch fibres. 

How Much Influence?

As is often the case, it can be beneficial to consider how much influence we have on all of this. For virtually every performance area, a certain percentage of how good you can get will result from inherited elements. A better question should be, “How much influence do we have on our natural abilities or lack thereof?”.

The answer is simple. None, nada, zilch!

So because we have no influence on these, I suggest you accept and ignore them equally. Instead, focus on aspects of improving that you have the most influence over.

What’s that? I hear you shouting.

The answer is simple. The quality and quantity of improvement endeavours. This might be called training, practice, preparation, or something else depending on your performance area.

A Personal Example

I have two children. One finds most sports far more straightforward than the other. During Covid, when they were homeschooled, we spent a lot of time just working on basic physical literacy. Throwing, catching and kicking basics. One of our favourite activities was throwing tennis balls between one another and trying to catch them with a baseball glove.

Because of natural gifts, one of my children spent no extra time trying to learn how to catch the ball better. The time the three of us spent outside was all the practice they got.

But my other child, who, for some reason, even though they have the same mother and father, found catching a much trickier proposition. So this child, without being prompted, spent far longer in the backyard trying to improve by themselves. What was the result? Two children who are exceptionally good at catching a baseball.

But What If …

I sometimes ponder how good the first child would be if they had/have the same work ethic as the second child. In most cases, this never happens. The natural talents work less because they can get away with it. The less naturally gifted try harder because they have to.

And every once in a blue moon, you get someone who combines extraordinary natural liabilities with exceptional quality and quantity of practice. These rare individuals are already mentally very healthy yet go out of their way to further improve the mental aspects of what they do. They choose to work with sports psychologists (like the ones at Condor Performance) not for a couple of months but for a couple of decades in the knowledge that there is never an end to improving.

We have names for these unique creatures. They are the top 0.1%. Some are called GOATS. They are the Hall of Famers, world champions.

Suppose you are following the logic of this theory. In that case, you might realise that, unfortunately, for some people, their genetics will mean they will not be able to reach the summit, irrespective of the quality and quantity of practice. Maybe you are one of these people. If you are, then I would suggest this mindset. Let’s see how far we can get without the biological head start.

If you need a hand, please don’t hesitate to get in touch.

Natural Talent – Previous Article

Words or combinations of words, primarily when spoken, are powerful and need to be treated delicately. As a general rule, I try hard not to dislike certain words. Instead, I choose not to use specific combinations myself. For example, the word control is used prolifically in performance psychology circles. As my colleagues and clients know, I prefer to use the word influence. In my opinion, it’s just a much better word for exerting an impact on something.

As a sport psychologist who doesn’t use direct cognitive therapy techniques, I try not to correct my sporting clients when they use the word control. Instead, I just choose not to use it myself. I refer to our varying degrees of influence on different aspects of our life and performance.

Two Words Not One: Natural + Talent

But I am particularly offended by one pair of words: natural talent. Before pulling it apart and explaining why I feel these words should be banned, let’s look at each word by itself.

The ‘natural’ part refers to genetics, what we’re born with, and our DNA. In other words, it is the former in the Nature Versus Nurture concept/debate. Like most scientists, I believe most of our abilities are made up of a combination of nature and nurture.

Most experts now believe it’s a fairly even contest between genetics and environment. And this may well be the case in many areas I know little about. However, in sports, I firmly believe that genetics is vastly overplayed as a determinant of success. Let me be 100% clear here. I am not dismissing the role of genetics. I am simply saying that factors such as height and hand size play a much smaller part than many people believe they do.

Not All Performance Areas Are The Same

As performance psychologists, we work right across a multitude of performance domains. Some of the most exciting work I have done is with male and female professional models. By models, I’m referring to men, women, boys, and girls who make a living by doing catwalks and photoshoots. Imagining a performance domain with a more significant genetic component to professional modelling is hard. After all, height is considered critical for most adult models.

And the last time I checked, it didn’t matter how hard you tried, but you couldn’t make yourself taller. Yet even in this cutthroat industry, I still assert that success is more than 50% about non-genetic factors. Chief amongst these uninherited factors is effort, or how you apply yourself. Suddenly, natural talent doesn’t feel that natural.

What About Sports?

Not too far behind professional modelling are sports that benefit from particular physical attributes. Height is useful for basketballers, netballers, and high jumpers.

But what about sports which are much less physical? Sports such as golf, lawn bowls and figure skating. Are there some genetically predetermined characteristics that allow some people to have an advantage in these psychologically brutal sports? Instead of sharing my views, I invite you to add your thoughts to the comments section below.

Get Out Of Your Comfort Zone

“Get Out The Comfort Zone” is a fascinating 12-minute read by sport psychologist and Founder of Condor Performance Gareth J. Mole on the rewards of taking calculated risks.

Getting out of your Comfort Zone is not easy, but it’s worth it.

Why Should I Get Out Of My Comfort Zone?

Getting out of your Comfort Zone probably requires three elements. First, you need to know what your Comfort Zone looks like. Next, you might want to understand why it’s necessary to improve yourself mentally. Finally, knowing just how far outside of your Comfort Zone to go would be handy. I will attempt to address all of these in this article. As always, after you have read it, please share it with your networks and add a comment or question at the bottom. I’m good, but I’m not a mind reader.

What Or Where Is This Comfort Zone?

Like so many psychological constructs, one of the challenges is that it’s very relative and based on the individual. One person’s Comfort Zone might be another person’s Danger Zone. But this much is true. Everybody on earth will have experiences and situations that are more psychologically cozy than others. Typically, these situations fall along a spectrum or a sliding scale.

By this, I mean that the situation can range from highly comfortable all the way through to extremely uncomfortable. And, of course, there is a lot of grey area in between. It is reasonable to ponder why one person might find standing up and talking in public so easy whilst her twin sister might feel sick just by the idea. But as a general rule, I accept that people have developed these preferences and aversions for good reason. Spending too long trying to work out why can take away from time better spent accepting reality and using it as a mental training tool.

So, staying inside one’s Comfort Zone means trying very hard to manipulate our world so that we can spend most of our time avoiding many situations.

Who Is Guilty Of This? I Am For One.

This can often be very innocent, such as deciding not to go training because it’s too cold and wet. Or faking an injury on the day that you know the coach will be making some assessments. So, the Comfort Zone is more of a what than a where. Although it often feels more like a place, it’s normal for most people to ensure that where they live and work is packed full of what they like. Even the experts are guilty. It is not unusual for me to take a pillow with me when I travel. I have also been known to email the host of an Airbnb before leaving home to check the quality of their coffee-making facilities 🤫.

Can You Work Out The Issue With This?

For most people, whose values include challenging themselves, improving themselves and achieving hard things, these come with a certain amount of organic discomfort. Let’s use some common examples we come across as a group of practitioners working at the coal face of sports psychology and mental performance:

  • Results are shoved in your face all the time. Many of which the performer only has some influence over. This tends to be very uncomfortable for most people.
  • The better you get, the more people scrutinise your performance. This exponentially increases the discomfort levels for most people.
  • An injury can instantly undo years of hard work if your performance area is sporting. Talk about severe discomfort all the time!

As these stressors are all possible, avoiding them at all costs is a terrible idea. As fellow sport psychologist Jonah Oliver often says, “It’s not about reducing the stress but about being able to tolerate more”.

Show Me How To Do That

Below is one of many ways of doing this. Warning: It would be far better if you tried to work through these with the help of a qualified psychologist like the one who consults for Condor Performance. Why? Getting it wrong can backfire big time. It’s the same as trying to improve your body. Ideally, your physical training plan is designed and overseen by someone qualified to the eyeballs in that area, like our friends at BaiMed. Same with training the mind. Please be careful of the growing number of pseudo-professionals working in sport psychology spaces.

Take a look at the below drawing. I have adapted it from the circle’s concept at PositivePsychology.com – a great online resource. As you can see, the Comfort Zone (green) is surrounded by two other zones. Outside the Comfort Zone is the aptly named Growth Zone (blue). And beyond that is The Danger Zone (Red). I find it helpful to split the zones into four quadrants to help my clients develop more specific situations to place into the twelve areas. 

Social, Safety, Scrutiny and Stuff

  • Social refers to social situations like dinner parties, going on a date or hanging out with a buddy at the mall (shopping centre). Social anxiety is widespread in 2024, yet it’s very solvable for many.
  • Scrutiny is related to being assessed. Not the same as social even if the scrutiny is coming from others. This is a big deal in our work. A common thread that links all our clients is the high degree of scrutiny they get compared to the general population.
  • Stuff refers to the unavoidable fact that many people use purchasables to make themselves feel much more comfortable in today’s society. In extreme situations, this can result in hoarding, but for most people, it’s relatively innocent – until your lucky pair of socks gets chewed up by the neighbour’s dog the night before the grand final!
  • Safety is related to psychological safety. For this category, we must be incredibly delicate to ensure that the ideas we come up with are in the right place. For some people, rock climbing is what they do every weekend (Comfort Zone, green, too easy). For others – myself included – it feels too dangerous, too risky. Red Zone, Danger Zone, avoid, avoid, avoid. But for many, this kind of activity (supervised by the right professionals) is excellent for growth and getting them out of their comfort zone.

Ideas With Action Are A Waste Of Time

The idea is to use the diagram to brainstorm different situations for each segment. It’s often easier to use the table template below. Don’t print it, just redraw it on a bit of paper.


Comfort ZoneGrowth ZoneDanger Zone
Social


Scrutiny


Stuff


Safety


Tip: Be aware of all zones, but try to take action only on the Growth Zone ideas.

Law of Reverse Effect

This 12 minute article is a ‘must read’ for anyone vaguely interested in sport psychology and/or human performance enhancement.

SAMARA RUSSIA – MARCH 10: Nathan Jawai of BC UNICS gets ready to throw from the free throw line in a game against BC Krasnye Krylia on March 10 2012, in Samara, Russia.

Theories Galore

One of the best and worst aspects of modern-day sport psychology is our sheer number of theories. Wow, there is a lot to choose from. The upside of having so many frameworks to draw from is it’s rare we encounter a challenge without at least some empirical guidance. Struggling with your confidence? No worries, we’ve got you covered. Finding yourself in the middle of a motivation rut during the middle of the season? Easy Peasy, we’ve got about a dozen processes specifically designed to help with that. 

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

A Theory For All The Theories

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

Let’s take the Theory of Internal And External Motivation as an example. It is a great concept but falls short regarding practical tips. So, for example, running a workshop on types of motivation for a group of athletes rarely impacts their actual motivation.

Then, there are some theories that virtually nobody has come across. And yet, without too much creativity, they are packed with usable recommendations. The Law of Reverse Effect is just one of these.

Have You Heard About The Law of Reverse Effect?

The Law of Reverse Effect is sometimes called The Law of Reversed Effect (with a ‘d’ at the end of reverse) or The Law of Reverse Effort or The Backwards Law.

Classic psychology, we can’t even agree on the thing’s name!

Speaking of which, have you voted yet for what you believe should be the correct spelling of sport(s) psychology from now on? If not, you can vote here to have your say.

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

Non-psychobabble takeaway?

At some point, when your motor skills are automated enough (muscle memory has been established), then trying hard to hit the ball, stick the dismount, or make the right incision (surgeon) will have the reverse effect and potentially make you worse. It would be like trying hard to walk better.

Neuroscience Time

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

To explain, we need to tap into a little bit of neuroscience. When you complete a body movement, your basal ganglia and cerebellum attempt to learn how it was done. The more you repeat the same movement, the stronger the memory of the muscles becomes. After a while, the movement becomes automatic. In other words, it can be done and prefers to be done without conscious effort. One of the best examples is walking for able-bodied people.

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

Have You Worked It Out Yet?

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

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

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

The same applies to reminding oneself about tactical aspects. Let’s use the previous example about taking a penalty in soccer/football. The decision about where to aim the shot is both necessary and non-interfering of muscle memory.

These mental and tactical endeavours are already occurring in the conscious front part of the brain. Therefore, by their very nature, they are completely out of the way of the basal ganglia and cerebellum. No short-circuiting is taking place.

Thoughts Are Not Essential

Of course, it would be remiss of me not to mention in an article of this type that there is no need to have any pre-meditated thoughts before or during one of these memorised body movements. The basal ganglia and cerebellum will do their job whilst you are thinking about almost anything other than how to do that skill.

Please note that this is only for expert performers whose skills are already automated. This does not apply to novices learning the skills for the first time.

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

Interested But Need A Hand?

Has this article piqued your interest in improving either your mental health or mental aspects of your sport/performance? Then Get In Touch via one of these methods: ⏩ Email us directly at [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.

Good to Great

‘Good to Great’ is an article by one of our sport psychologists and has nothing to do with the book of the same name. Any overlaps in the content are a complete coincidence as the author has not yet read the book ‘Good to Great’ by Jim Collins. Nor is this article associated with the Tennis Academy of the same name in Sweden. Enjoy.

THE HAGUE, NETHERLANDS – The Dutch women’s field hockey team poses for a team photo after winning the world championships hockey at the Rabobank Hockey World Cup 2014.

Good to Great At What?

Yes, this is an excellent place to start. Of course, without too much imagination, we could try to improve our abilities at virtually anything. We could try to become better friends, employees, badminton players, lovers, teammates, husbands/wives … the list goes on. Although it is not entirely far-fetched to be able to extend performance psychology principles to all of these areas and more, doing so can be perilous as we risk “chasing too many rabbits and catching none”. 

So, in the context of this article and the work we do at Condor Performance, we will focus mainly on motor skills. In other words, moving from good to great at a sport or other performance areas that require human movement excellence and consistency (military, medical, performance arts).

The Bell Shaped Curve (aka BSC)

For those of you who have never heard of the BSC, let me quickly introduce it to you – for it truly is a thing of beauty. For virtually everything where performance can be measured, there exists some form of bell-shaped curve of abilities.

As you can see from the picture below, the overwhelming majority of people who participate in a particular domain are neither awful nor awesome. Roughly 50% will fall in the middle of the spectrum of abilities, somewhere around GOOD plus or minus a little. In other words, it’s not hard to become quite good at something, especially if you live in the right location and have the right genetics. Full credit goes to SimplyPsychology for the excellent picture below, which can be viewed in its original location here.

Fun Runs 

Some of the best examples of the normal distribution are Fun Runs. These are 5-km or 10-km organised running races (mainly on the road but some on trails) that anyone can enter, often taking place on weekends. If you look at the finishing times of these events and plot them on a graph, you will see, time and time again, a bell-shaped curve.

Very, very few participants will complete these races in really fast times and really slow times. Regardless of the amount of training done, most participants will finish around a similar time to most competitors. So predictable is this that for massive fun runs like Sydney’s City To Surf, they will put on extra staff at the finishing line for the ‘middle mob’.

I am a classic example of this. I never train seriously for these runs, but with a combination of favourable genetics for running and bloody-minded determination on race day, I always do quite well and slightly better than average. Beating plenty of runners who train more than me is a given. But I never come close to finishing inside the Top 10%. Why?

Because going from Good to Great is exceptionally hard. And for good reason.

One of the main reasons it’s so hard is because natural ability/talent/superior genetics no longer plays a significant role in the same way it does from beginner to good. Of course, these factors still play a role, but beyond reasonable, the quality and quantity of the hard work starts to become a much greater predictor of ongoing improvement. 

The Law of Diminishing Returns 

Although the law of diminishing returns comes from economics, it perfectly describes the other primary reason why moving from ‘good at something’ to ‘great at something’ is so challenging.

Let’s take golf as an example.

For each shot that you reduce your handicap, the next shot is slightly harder as you get closer and closer to your potential. The concept of potential could be seen as your best in the context of your genetics and opportunities. So moving from a golf handicap of 15 to 10 is easier than dropping from 5 to 4, for example.

Unfortunately, the law of diminishing returns explains why so many exceptional young athletes quit. Many of these youngsters see massive, weekly improvements from ages 8 to 13 and then get frustrated when these improvements slow down and seemingly stop. So they quit, unaware that everyone’s improvements slow down once they pass the GOOD phase. 

5 Simple Steps To Help Go From Good To Great

1. Be patient!

Arguably the most important ingredient in the pursuit of excellence. The quality and quantity of your training will need to improve as you improve. This means more sacrifices as you get better. It also means that noticeable improvements will be smaller and less frequent. Do you have the patience to stick with it during this expected and demanding phase? Can you resist the temptation of eating the first marshmallow and wait for the two that will come?

2. Invest in the less common areas of performance.

Around the middle of the BSC most performers start to get pretty good at the obvious stuff. Most reasonable golfers will already have a decent swing, and most semi-pro basketballers will already be able to play a full match without running out of breath.

So, going from good to great via the two most obvious areas of sports science – physical and technical – is flawed. A far more sensible approach is to ramp up improvements in the psychological areas of performance. This, of course, includes sport-specific mental toughness but also the decision-making part of performance.

Typically called tactical, this area is often only done well at the pointy end. Including it in your everyday training will mean you get ahead of the curve. Of course, working out how to improve this less visible area is tricky, so if you need some expert guidance, get in touch with our Intake Team via our contact form and ask about our 1-on-1 sport and performance psychology services.

3. Values Should Come Before Goals

The video below by the one and only Dr Russ Harris does a better job of explaining why values need to come before goals as you go after greatness.

A must-watch 3.5-minute video!
4. Monitor Your Own Numbers

Data can be grouped into three types. Performance/competition stats are typically the most common and least reliable. For most athletes, these stats will depend on many other factors. If you are a cricket batter, the number of runs you score will be heavily influenced by the weather, the bowlers, the fielders, the umpires and the pitch – to name the most obvious.

The other two stats categories are training stats – effort and outcome. As many of my clients will be aware, I believe in the benefit of athletes monitoring their stats and ensuring the majority come from these 2nd and 3rd groups. Why? Due to the superior amount of influence we tend to have on these.

5. Keep An Eye On What The Great Ones Are Doing

This used to be hard to do, but it’s becoming easier. For a start, without breaking the strict confidentiality we, as psychologists, have with our clients, we can provide clues about some of the reasons why the best are, in fact, the best (because we work with a whole lot of them 😃).

The other relatively new resource helping with this step is the boom of sports documentaries. From Wrexham to Drive to Survive, we are getting better access to what happens behind the scenes in elite sports. For example, watching every Break Point episode with a notepad and pen should be compulsory if you are a good tennis player and want to be GREAT.

If you have enjoyed this free article, please take a few minutes to let us know why via the comments section below. Didn’t agree with something? Cool, explain why below. Questions? List them below now. If you wait til later, you’ll forget.

How To Measure Mental Toughness

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

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

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

Bill Gates, Co Founder of Microsoft

Mental Toughness Is Measurable … Just

I am rather jealous of professionals who assist athletes with the physical side of performance. Tests like the VO2 max for cardiovascular endurance, and stretch and reach tests to measure flexibility simply don’t have objective mental equivalents.

Assessing Mental Toughness is so tricky that when Condor Performance first started offering sport and performance psychology services back in 2005, we didn’t even attempt it! Instead, we just asked meaningful questions during the Kick Start Session (our first-ever session with a new client).

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

Measuring Mental Toughness Will Always Be An Estimation

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

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

With The Luxury Of Time …

With the luxury of time, the reliability of the information collected can be improved. Observing athletes or performers in real-life situations can provide very valuable extra data when attempting to measure mental toughness and mental health. In the work we do as qualified sport and performance psychologists, this tends to be slightly easier when working with professional athletes who are televised all the time when they’re competing. For example, for tennis players ranked in the top 50 in the world, every minute of every match will be professionally filmed and therefore easy to get hold of and watch back. It goes without saying that this high-quality footage is a more useful record of the tennis player’s body language than asking him or her about it.

For the performers who are not automatically filmed as part of what they do then some creativity is required. Fortunately, with the invention of smart devices, it is now much easier than it was to ask a family member to record our clients whilst they are competing and/or performing.

Another way to improve the accuracy of the information being collected is to ask multiple sources. Human beings are not always the most reliable reporters of information about themselves. Asking family members, coaches and teammates can really help boost the likelihood that the data we are collecting is solid.

Relative Subjectivity

Mainly due to sheer convenience, the majority of psychometrics are what we call ‘self-report measures’. Basically, these are questionnaires consisting of open or closed questions that the test subject answers themselves. But although these answers are opinions it doesn’t render these tools useless by any means. It just means we have to be mindful of their relative subjectivity when interpreting the results.

“What exactly are we trying to measure here?”. This is a great question when choosing, designing or reviewing any psychological assessment. Our psychologists consider the main purpose of our questionnaires (below) to be time savers. Without the answers to one of our Mental Toughness Questionnaires in front of us from the very beginning, we would have to use the majority of the first session asking about really, really basic stuff.

When these fundamentals have already been asked and answered via one of our online assessments it allows us to jump straight into some of the more meaningful topics within the first 30 minutes with a new client. This allows us to move on to ‘solutions’ much earlier in the process. We’re mainly interested in these four general areas:

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

Five Major Subcomponents of Mental Toughness

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


Summary Scores

Overall Training Mental Toughness = 72 %

Overall Mental Health = 63 %

Breakdown of Your Current Mental Toughness:

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

These tables provide the sport psychologist or performance psychologist with incredible insight into how to assist this performer.

Let me use the above made-up example to explain. This athlete or performer wants to prioritise how they manage their emotions during training as well as their everyday anxiety.

Mental Health is screened for with the inclusion of The Depression, Anxiety and Stress Scale (DASS-21) at the end of all our Mental Toughness Questionnaires.

Due to the fact that 99% of our work is 1-on-1 then we can work on both mental toughness and mental health at the same time without pretending they are the same thing!

Four Free Mental Toughness Questionnaires

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

Why not jump into the one that is most relevant to you and fill it out now? It goes without saying that it is best done in a focused setting and that the more honest you are the more accurate and beneficial the result will be. Depending on the time of year one of our team will email you your results within two or three days. And if you are the kind of person who wants to actually improve on the scores there is an option to ask for information about our individualised performance psychology services.

Mindfulness For Sport

Mindfulness For Sport is a free article by one of our Senior Sport Psychologists on the subtle differences between Mindfulness for Sport and Regular Mindfulness.

Mindfulness and Sport – Like Fish and Chips

Mindfulness For Sport

For most competitors, the ideal outcome is excellence over a long period of time …longevity and consistency.

It’s worth starting this short article on Mindfulness For Sport by clarifying a few things. The word performance tends to refer to the bit that is required under pressure of competition. Of course, there is a performance element to practice, but I find it easier to separate preparation from performance.

Why?

Because the ideal mindset for each is very different, on the one hand, preparation wants to be all about constant improvement. Going into a gym session, for example, it would be useful to know what physical areas will be targeted for improvement during the next 60 minutes.

This is in stark contrast to the optimal mindset for competition day. Wanting to improve on our previous performance is very rarely something that we have a lot of influence on. So, the ideal mindset for ‘the big dance’ is actually just turning up. Turning up combines trusting the previous preparation with being as present and mentally flexible as possible.  

It is absolutely possible to try too hard when you compete. 

You can read this entire article on The Law Of Reserve Effect for more on this.

How Does Performance Mindfulness Fit Into This?

Performance Mindfulness is not the same as regular mindfulness. Regular mindfulness is typically done for mental health benefits alone. And, of course, we now know that there is a strong association between mental health and performance, so indirectly, there should be a performance boost by doing anything to improve your MH.

But for mindfulness to have the kind of impact on performance that we want it to, it requires a few additional ingredients.

You need to treat ‘becoming better at being mindful/present’ as you would any other improvement area. It requires practice sessions, regular practice sessions. Going to the gym now and then is a waste of time. So, trying to be mindful/present once in a blue moon will also not achieve much.

Furthermore, you really want a combination of Synthetic and Organic mindfulness practice. Synthetic, for example, is the use of one of the many Mindfulness Apps. An alternative to these is using the Really Simple Mindfulness recording I created earlier this year.

Listen Or Download Below

Using one or both of these three times a week for a year ticks a significant box. But we want a clear link between doing that work and what you are required to do on the weekend.

The best way is to make some of your practice mentally harder on purpose. Maybe it’s a case of just moving your skills session to the hottest part of the day to increase the likelihood that your thoughts and feelings will try to distract you. The secret ingredient of synthetic mindfulness training is that it should increase your ability to simply notice uncomfortable thoughts and feelings while sticking to the task at hand.

It’s also possible to come up with mentally harder training sessions that have nothing to do with your actual sport. As most of my clients will know all too well, we often work together to design small exposure exercises that occur as part of everyday life. For example, one of my clients will start a conversation with a random person every time he goes to the supermarket. This can’t be with one of the staff, as this is too comfortable!

Warning!

Most of the time, when we provide sport psychology tips via our blogs, it need not come with a warning. However, as per the above example, the concept of intentional exposure to uncomfortable situations is one of those rare scenarios where it would be far better for you to design this concept in collaboration with a regulated sport or performance psychologist.

If this is something you’d like to explore, then get in touch with our Admin Team via the Contact Form here, and one of the crew will get back to you within a few days to explain everything and anything about what we do at Condor Performance and how we can help you to take that next step (and the one after that and so on). 

For further reading on this topic, please click here to open a 2019 article on the same topic.

The Confidence Myth

The Confidence Myth is the notion that we generally tend to OVERVALUE how important confidence is in sport and performance. Read more here.

The Confidence Myth = You Need To Be Confident To Perform Well

What Is The Confidence Myth?

Let us start with a fact. You do not need to be confident in order to perform well. I know it feels like you do, but you don’t.

A feeling of confidence is not an essential ingredient to performance consistency and excellence. In other words, human beings are more than capable of performing very well with little or no confidence.

So, The Confidence Myth refers to anything that suggests otherwise. And I’m well aware that this will come as a major shock to many and may produce a bit of controversy around this article. If you disagree, then I recommend that you do the following. First of all, read this article twice in detail. Once you have done this, provide a counterargument via the comments section below, and I will do my best to respond as soon as possible. 

This Myth Is Very Entrenched

Many people involved in competitive domains will preach about the importance of being confident. I hope that this article goes someway to correcting this very common furphy.

If you Google quotes containing the word confidence, you will find thousands of statements from the past perpetuating this myth. There are some real stinkers out there. I will list just two of them:

“If you don’t have confidence, you’ll always find a way not to win.”

Carl Lewis

Sorry, Carl, I mean no disrespect, but this is completely incorrect.

“If you do not believe you can do it then you have no chance at all.”

Arsène Wenger

Sorry Arsène, but this is not true. Recent sports psychology research confirms this.

What Is Confidence Really?

Before going through why chasing confidence directly is risky, I thought learning more about the word itself would be worthwhile. The origin of the word confidence comes from Old French. Here is a screenshot from Etymonline:

The word trust appears a few times above, so this appears to be meaningful.

The Cambridge Dictionary defines confidence as “the quality of being certain of your abilities or having trust in people, plans, or the future”.

Hmm, more trust … with a pinch of certainty in there, too.

A Thought, A Feeling Or A Combination?

Putting confidence under the microscope from a psychological perspective is essential here. Some may experience ups and downs of confidence in a very cognitive way. In other words, being full of confidence will essentially be automatic thoughts like “I know I can do this”.

On the other hand, a lack of confidence will be mainly experienced via self-doubting thoughts. The most common might be “I suck, I know I’m going to fail etc”.

Others might experience variations in confidence in a much more emotional manner. This may be as simple as feeling confidence via bodily sensations, commonly associated with being relaxed. And on the other hand, feelings of underconfidence may show up as nervousness and the like.

How Do You Experience It?

In psychological flexibility frameworks such as ACT, thoughts, feelings, and actions are not as linked to one another as initially believed. In other words, you can feel hungry and not eat (an action). Or you can eat (action) whilst not feeling hungry. You can think about the consequences of missing the spare (ten-pin) but still execute your pre-bowling routine and start the ball on the ideal line (action).

Confidence is NOT an action.

PsychFlex is a big deal for us at Condor Performance. We attempt to help the performers develop skills that will allow them to execute their required actions and processes, regardless of how they are feeling and thinking at that time.

One way that it was explained to me many years ago, which I like, is that it removes a lot of unnecessary conditions that we inappropriately put on ourselves to perform well. 

I need A, B, C, D, E, X and Y to perform well! Wrong!!

In reality, it’s more like this:

To perform well, I need just A, B and C. With A getting there on time, B having the best possible pre-game prep, and C having your equipment. Of course, there is a strong argument that a certain amount of quality preparation would be useful, but come competition time, that’s all in the past.

Although I’ve referenced this throughout the years, I think it’s very important to use this article to clarify why “to perform well I need A, B, C, D, E, X and Y” is such a barrier to the Holy Grail of consistently excellent performances.

If D, E, X and Y are specific thoughts and feelings, and we know that our influence on these is tenuous at best, we will always struggle when those thoughts and feelings are not showing up in the way we’d like to. Not through lack of intent but as a natural byproduct of how the human mind works.

Examples Please!

Of course, you can try to think a particular way via some preparation or previous rehearsal. Maybe you are a cricket or baseball batter who likes to think, “Watch the ball” when the bowler or pitcher is about to release it. There is nothing wrong with using these cue words unless your actions of actually fixating on the ball depend on these three little words.

Unlike actions, such as the trigger movement, which after a certain number of repetitions becomes virtually guaranteeable – this mantra, as simple as it is, may actually abandon you when you need it more. Maybe the crowd is so loud that you cannot hear yourself think. Maybe the pressure is so high that your thoughts become self-protective in nature.

Interestingly, some high-performers have worked this out. In the short YouTube video clip, you get to hear from some outstanding cricket batters on what they are doing in order to watch the ball, but none of them actually reference saying “watch the ball”. 

Summary

It’s important for me to summarise by clarifying that a feeling of confidence is by no means a bad thing. In fact, in our latest definition of what performance mental toughness actually is (coming soon), we actually include confidence as something we regard as beneficial. But it’s crucial that we accept that any feelings of confidence are simply a natural by-product of us being competent. 

Since 2005, we have helped countless individuals and teams to improve their confidence, but we don’t do this talking about confidence directly. We have done this by assisting them in optimising their performance. And surprise surprise, greater confidence normally follows.

And this is exactly the approach we’d use with you if you decided to become one of our clients too! To make a formal enquiry about our 1-0n-1 performance psychology services, please Get In Touch via this form here.

Sport Psychology for Motorsports

‘Sport Psychology for Motorsports’ is a 2023 feature article by Condor Performance’s Darren Godwin. Don’t stop reading if you are not involved in motorsport. It is generally not that hard to work out ways in which these suggestions below might also apply to your sport or performance area.

Sport Psychology for Motorsports: A perspective on the mental aspects of motorsports where fractions of a second make the difference.

Motorsports Are Expensive!

One of the most challenging aspects of motorsports compared to traditional sports is their sheer cost. To give some perspective, an article from Red Bull in 2022 estimated the cost of a single Formula One car to be approximately Fifteen Million Euros. Yep, that’s a lot of cheddar! And we have yet to consider transporting the vehicle, a team of mechanics, tyres, fuel, etc. Of course, this is at the top tier of motorsports, where each piece of the car is custom-made. The components are toiled over by the best engineers. The expense is less drastic for other motorsports, but the principle is still the same.

So, what does this mean for drivers? 

It can create some psychologically challenging dynamics often missing from other sports. For example, concerns about damaging the car, potential severe injury from crashing, not having a spot on a team or even your season coming to an early end. This can lead to mental pressures where drivers go slower than they want in a sport where they must do the opposite.

In this article, we will review some suggestions for how to get ahead of this and be as prepared as possible. As always with our Sport Specific Sport Psychology (SSSP) articles, don’t stop reading if you are not involved in motorsport. It is generally not that hard to work out ways in which these suggestions might also apply, at least in part, to your sport or performance area.

Stress Is Normal, Very Normal

If you are a regular reader of our articles, you should be familiar with Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT). One of the underpinnings of ACT is the research around the function of our biology. Humans have a stress response to potential threats, and our physiological response prepares us for this. Examples include increased heart rate, dilated pupils, sweating, and higher alertness. All of this prepares and helps us to stay alive in the face of danger and might also give you an edge in competition.

The internal combustion engine was invented in 1872, so our biology has existed for much longer than motorsport. This means that even though we might be accustomed to being in a car or on a bike, there is a high likelihood that racers will still have a stress response. This is entirely normal. Stressors can be more extreme in motorsports as the vehicle is designed for speed more than comfort. Loud engine noises, chattering chassis, vibrations, tyre squealing, and a super results-focused industry combine to make motorsports a highly stressful pursuit.

Part of the challenge drivers face is the discomfort of this stress before a race. This is a normal human response, so we are looking to drop the struggle with our own experience and shift our focus towards what is essential to do in this moment. If you’d like to read more about this concept, often called Psychological Flexibility, then a great place to start is with these two articles. This one is by the founder of Condor Performance, Gareth, and/or this one from my colleague Madalyn Incognito.

Limited Seat Time

Another implication of the financial challenges drivers face is that they can not practice on a track as often as they would like. Part of sport psychology for motorsports is helping drivers become as prepared and skilled as possible for the demands of their tasks. Physical practice is the most common process for developing skills and confidence. In traditional sports such as soccer, taking a ball to the park to practice dribbling is easy. This is where we look to enhance practice on and off the track with a heavy dose of creativity.

In this instance, try to see the concept of practice as a combination of quality and quantity. One of these is more important than the other. There is not a lot of benefit to increasing the quantity of practice if the quality is poor.

Lots of track time is limited in motorsport, so evaluating the quality of the time you get is essential. The rule of thumb is to be as specific and intentional as possible. Try to predetermine what the highest quality practice might look like for you. Here are some examples. A concerted effort towards hitting break markers, the timing of getting on the throttle after the corner and progressive throttle shaping. Feel free to share your ideas below in the comments👇.

Simulator (‘Sim’) Practice

Add it to the list of expenses 😬, but getting access to a simulator is one of the best ways to increase practice and does not come with as many ongoing costs such as petrol, tyres and travel. Depending on your simulation software and rig, you can get access to many cars and multiple tracks, which would be incredibly difficult to do physically on a regular basis.

The principles above still apply. Ideally, plan and organise your sim practice to ensure high quality. The sim’s convenience can lead to many factors that decrease practice quality. Simply booting it up and trying to put up fast lap times is not intentional or specific.

Going further into enhancing your practice, you may also want to consider doing a full race rehearsal, in other words, treating a part of your day like you would the actual race. Go through your pre-race routine the way you usually would. Warm up the same way, do qualifying laps and then the race. Rehearsal is a great way to familiarise ourselves with the entire event process and is often overlooked. 

Time in the sim is not identical to the real thing. There are limitations to what you can practice. For example, we can feel the G-Force with other senses when physically driving. If you want to practice handling the car when it breaks traction, the simulator might not be the best tool for that particular practice.

Visualisation

There is a form of practice that is entirely free and beneficial for all motorsports competitors.  Visualisation or mental imagery is recreating the performance or experience as closely as possible in our mind.

Visualisation is an incredibly accessible and scientifically valid form of practice. It can be easily added to a practice schedule, and even better, it can be helpful as backup practice if an uncontrollable circumstance interrupts your initial plans.

At a high level, the idea is to mentally drive a lap as you would in practice or a race. The focus is on your driving from your perspective, such as the steering, brake, and throttle inputs. One way to enhance the quality of your visualisation practice is to try to include some tactile or audio elements. You could try putting on your helmet or gloves while you do this and sit in a spare/backup seat if you have one. Lastly, try to time your visualised lap. With practice, experienced drivers can visualise their lap within a second or three of their actual lap times!

Conclusion

Motorsports competitors have some challenging mental aspects of their performance, so sport psychology for motorsports can offer some very beneficial enhancements. If this article piqued your interest and you’d like to learn more about our range of Sport Psychology Services, please fill out the contact form here, and one of us (it might even be me 😁) will be in touch.