Positive Psychology in Sport and Performance

Are sporting coaches and competitive athletes amongst the more likely to benefit from the principles of positive psychology?

The Positive Psychology Movement is about building on existing strengths

Recently I was cleaning out my filing cabinet and I came across an email from a previous coach of mine. The message contained some feedback on what he felt I needed to improve on after a recent tournament. I scanned through the email and felt a heaviness settle in my stomach.  The emotions came back from the time I first received the email many years ago. The feedback was all negative but phrased as ‘the areas I needed to improve on’.  Comments like ‘you need to do this more’, and ‘in this situation, you need to be doing this’. No traces of Positive Psychology anywhere.

None of the feedback was given to me during the tournament itself. It was all put in an email and sent when we got back and with no follow-up. What I noticed most was that there was no positive feedback at all. After reading his email, I felt unmotivated and deflated. I’m sure this is not what he intended but it’s what happened. Is this type of feedback going to make for better athletes and competitors?

Performance Psychology meets Positive Psychology

A few years ago I had the opportunity to attend the Happiness and Its Causes conference in Perth. I was curious, engaged, and fascinated by the content and the vibe of the conference. During the even I was introduced to Positive Psychology, the science of flourishing. Dr Martin Seligman, one of the main researchers in this branch of psychology, believes that psychological practise should be as concerned with people’s strengths as their weaknesses. Positive psychology asks ‘what’s good in our lives’ compared to the traditional psychology approach which can focus more on ‘what’s wrong with us and how can we fix it’. 

As a performance psychologist, I have always had a passion for helping people thrive in their work and life. So this theory sat well with me and aligned with my values. I started introducing positive psychology initiatives into my work in organisations. Later as my sporting clients grew I felt that they too would gain a lot from some simple positive psychology principles.

Too Much Deficit-Based Coaching

Sport is also often focused on ‘fixing weaknesses and problems’, called deficit-based coaching. How often do you come off the field at half time and a coach says “this is what we need to change because we’re not doing it right.” Strengths-based coaching, on the other hand, is about identifying, enhancing and exploiting athletes’ and teams’ strengths and focusing on what we do well.

Athletes, coaches and sporting organisations generally have the goal of excellence, both on and off the field. By using positive psychology strategies, performance psychologists are able to support athletes, staff and families develop resilience and coping skills in order to deal with setbacks, focus on strengths to achieve their goals. These mental skills are just as vital to success as being able to hit a hockey ball or shoot a basket.  Talent and technical ability is not enough. Whilst important we all can name truly gifted athletes that never make it. 

What sets most athletes apart is their mental toughness. It’s their character, their grit, their positive mindset and the belief that their ability can be developed through dedication and hard work. So what are the key factors of positive psychology that can be applied to sport?

Strengths Focus

Research has demonstrated that it is easier to promote a strength than it is to improve weaknesses and that our areas of greatest potential are our greatest strengths. This is not to say don’t focus on your weaknesses, but the best results will come when you are also working on your strengths.  Research shows that those who use their strengths are more likely to have higher levels of confidence, vitality and energy, are likely to be more resilient, have higher self-esteem, and to perform better. Coaches and athletes are encouraged to know their strengths and the focus of development should be around their strengths. Many coaches have a negativity bias and need to train their brains to focus on the good things their athletes are doing.

The two key elements of a strength-approach are “delivering a high level of performance and experiencing a sense of energy when you are doing it” (Linley, Willars, et al., 2010). Spotting the energy is crucial to distinguish the real strengths from learned behaviours.  So how do you know what your strengths are?  Ask yourself these questions:

  • What do you love about your sport?
  • What’s your favourite role?
  • Which aspects do you get complimented on?
  • What are you most proud of?
  • What do you do in your spare time?
  • How can I harness my strengths?

Growth Mindset and Positive Psychology

In 2006, Carol Dweck introduced us to the notion of growth and fixed mindset. Those with a growth mindset are more comfortable with failure as they see it as a learning opportunity in comparison to those with a fixed mindset who believe their success is based on innate ability and talent. Athletes with a growth mindset are more likely to see challenges as opportunities rather than barriers and believe that they can improve, learn and get better with practice and effort. 

The good news is, we can choose which mindset we want – we can choose to view our mistakes and setbacks as learning opportunities, or we can view them as limiting obstacles. Those choosing a growth mindset are more likely to persist in difficult times than those with fixed mindsets. And athletes know better than anyone, that if you want to achieve success, there are always barriers and obstacles in the way, including poor form, injury and confidence issues.

Positive Emotions

Sport is emotional – for athletes, coaches, and spectators.  Many emotions are felt from elation, excitement and nervousness to fear, sadness, anger and disappointment. Emotions drive behaviour and often dictate how you perform as an athlete in competition. To become a high performing athlete, you need to understand and manage your emotions so they help rather than hinder your performances.

Many people falsely believe that positive psychology only recognises positive aspects of people and their performances, and ignores the negative.  When viewing emotions, both positive and negative are considered, and the impact both these have on an athlete’s performances. Negative emotions like anxiety and anger can trigger our body’s “Fight or Flight” response to threat and these emotions affect our bodies physically. These physical effects can include increased heart rate, nausea, muscle tension, stomach aches, weakened focus, and physically drained. Positive emotions, on the other hand, can have the opposite effect. Happiness can relieve tension, lower your heart and blood pressure, strengthen your immune system and help to combat stress. Staying calm, focused and positive can help you attend to what you need to minimise distractions, keeping you relaxed, and increasing your confidence. It also has the added benefit of being a pleasant person to be around!

Grit Theory

Recent research has shown that one of the key factors in success is what is termed as ‘Grit’, defined as passion and perseverance in working toward significant long-term goals. Elite athletes across many sports are grittier compared with non-elite athletes. They also commit to their sports for a longer period of time. This concept pioneered by Dr Angela Duckworth (2007), explains why some people achieve success without being gifted with unique intelligence or talent. So, if you are an athlete or coach who feels like you missed the talent boat, then there is hope for you. How many of you can credit your successes to your passion, commitment, resilience and perseverance? The good news is that you can develop your grit to become grittier. 

Ways To Do This Include:

  • Develop your passion – find what you love doing, and it will be easier to stick to it.  Not many people stick to things they are not passionate about.  Ask yourself, what do I like to think about?  Where does my attention wander?  What do I really care about?
  • Practice deliberately – don’t waste your time at training, practice deliberately.  Set stretch goals, practice with full concentration and effort, seek feedback and reflect on what went well and what didn’t to refine for next time.
  • Consider your purpose – why are you doing what you do?  In life and sport, there are bound to be setbacks and challenges along the way.  If you have a purpose for what you are doing, then you are more likely to persevere and stay committed.  When times are tough, always go back to your ‘why’.
  • Adopt a ‘growth’ mindset – athletes with a growth mindset know their abilities develop through hard work and effort rather than natural talent.  Those with growth mindsets are much better at dealing with setbacks as they view them as learning experiences, rather than being directly related to their ability. 

Grit in Practice

Is it not possible to developed Grit overnight; it is an ongoing process. What we do know is that it’s worth developing – the gritty athlete is not only successful, s/he is also more likely to be happier and more satisfied with his/her ability than other athletes.

The adoption and implementation of positive psychology hs a significant impact on sports performances by shifting the focus from negative (what’s wrong with you) to positive (what’s right with you). 

Understanding your strengths and how to use them, adopting a growth mindset, using your emotions strategically and developing grit all contribute to building mental toughness, optimism, motivation and resilience. I know from firsthand experience how focusing on the positive can have a much greater impact on an athlete and bring out the best in us. 

If you’d like more information about working with me on some of these ideas then get in touch by completing our Contact Us Form here and mention my name (“Mindy”) somewhere in the comments sections and I will call you back.

Positive Psychology Is Not Positive Thinking

The below is an old post from 2014 written by one of the interns at the time (sorry, can’t call which one). It was called The Pitfalls of Positive Thinking. Note, the below was not written by Mindy but it feels like this is the best place to add it.

The Pitfalls of Positive Thinking

It goes without saying that negative thinking can be unhelpful, particularly from a performance perspective. But have you ever considered that the opposite of negative thinking may also be unhelpful? Or even that trying to change how we think in the first place is where the problems lie?

How often do we hear people say that to overcome difficult situations we just need to think positively? Let’s start with a story about how our thoughts influence the way we feel and act.

Three Soccer Players

Imagine three soccer players each taking a penalty kick in a shoot out. They all miss the goal. The first player thinks: “I’ve let the whole team down. I’ll never get selected again.” She gets upset and feels really sad about missing the goal. The second player thinks: “It’s not fair that we had to go to a penalty shoot out! This is all because the referee disallowed our goal in the 88th minute!” This player kicks the ground on their way back to the team and feels angry about missing the goal. The third player thinks: “Well, that didn’t work out the way I had hoped, but overall I had a pretty good game today. I’ll have to practice those spot kicks a bit more in training.” She remains calm on her way back to the team, and even though they feel a bit disappointed about missing the goal.

So why did three people who were in the same situation experience such different cognitive reactions? They all missed the goal, but only the third player coped effectively with this stressful situation. As you may have noticed, these three players all had different thoughts going through their minds after they missed the goal. Their thoughts influenced their emotions (i.e. how they felt) and their behaviour (i.e. how they acted). This story highlights two important points for athletes and coaches to understand:

  1. Our thoughts influence how we feel and act; and
  2. We can’t change the outcome of our performance once it’s in the past, but we can certainly control how we react to this outcome.

Thoughts Influence How We Feel and Act

Over time our thoughts become more consistent and habitual. We develop our own unique way of making sense of situations. This is called our thinking style. There are three distinct styles of thinking. Negative and positive thinking sit at either end of a continuum. They are both extremes, like the colours black and white. Both of these extreme thinking styles have the potential to be unhelpful when it comes to coping with stressful situations. Negative thinking can lead to self-doubt, being hyper critical, blaming others and feeling guilty. Likewise, positive thinking (not grounded in reality) can be equally unhelpful and lead to over-confidence and under-preparation in some athletes and coaches.

This leaves us with the third (and most helpful) thinking style. Realistic Thinking is characterised by the shades of grey that fall between the extremes of negative and positive thinking. As the name suggests, realistic thinking is based on real life – and for most people, life consists of ups and downs rather than “all good” or “all bad” situations. Realistic thinking is a balanced way of thinking that acknowledges limitations or setbacks whilst developing and maximising strengths. Here are a few tips to help you develop a more realistic thinking style:

7 Quick Wins

  1. Evaluate the validity of your thoughts. Don’t just treat them as facts. Try to find supporting evidence for thoughts that enhance your confidence and motivation and refuting evidence for thoughts that undermine your confidence and motivation.
  2. Be careful not to over-generalise after a setback. Just because one shot, tackle, or game wasn’t your best, doesn’t mean that every performance in the future will be the same.
  3. Focus on the controllables – What you are thinking and doing in the present moment. You can’t change the past, and the only way you can influence your future is by how you manage the present.
  4. If your mind starts focusing on a worst case scenario, ask yourself “How likely is it that this scenario will actually come true?” and “Will the consequences be as bad as I’m predicting?”
  5. Try not to use extreme words in your thinking, such as “should,” “must,” “always,” and “never.” These words lead to athletes and coaches putting unnecessary pressure on themselves. Think about what is reasonable rather than ideal.
  6. Work with supportive people around you (i.e. coach, family, team mates, psychologist) to develop realistic performance goals. Expectations need to be in line with capabilities and logistics in order for goals to be achievable.
  7. Accept that things sometimes don’t go according to plan and sport can be unpredictable and unfair. Use these stressful experiences as an opportunity to learn and build resilience for the future.

Sport Psychology Tips

Some Free Sport Psychology Tips to help you perform better by leading performance psychologist David Barracosa of Condor Performance

26 Free Sport Psychology Ideas

An A to Z Guide To SportsPsychology

Although sport psychology can be a complex and quickly evolving field it can still allow for some “quick wins”. With this in mind please enjoy these Sport Psychology Tips and don’t forget to add your comments below!

A is for Attitude

It may be surprising but in our work, as sport and performance psychologists we actually don’t refer to attitude much. Attitude is just one of many type of human cognition. When a coach refers to an athlete as having ‘the right attitude’ he or she is probably suggesting that this athlete’s values and beliefs are in line with their own.

For example, both might regard sporting results as important but not as important as hard work and effort. The most interesting aspect of attitude is it is often assessed via observations (a coach watching an athlete in training). Due to this it is probably body language that is actually being appraised. Attitude, if we take the term literally, is not directly observable as it’s occurring inside the mind.

B is for Body Language

Body language is a fascinating area of performance psychology. Research suggests that it dominates how we communicate compared with the actual words we use. In sporting contexts, this makes even more sense as it is quite normal for there to be little or no verbal communication. With maybe the exception of the captains or leaders of sporting teams, most athletes of most sports don’t say very much during both training and whilst competing.

For this majority, communicating with either teammates or opponents is taking place via the body. By the body, we mean entire body from facial expressions to posture to hand gestures and everything in between. How do you improve body language? I would suggest starting out by filming yourself in a variety of situations and then watch it back with the sound off.

C is for Consistency

Sometimes we refer to consistency as ‘the holy grail’ of competitive sport. As can be read in this extensive blog by our colleague Chris Pomfret improved consistency is really just the consequence of taking the mental side of your sport seriously.

D is for Determination

Determination is very similar to the mental concept as motivation without being a synonym. Motivation, at least as defined by our coaching philosophy Metuf, is more about enthusiasm, enjoyment, desire and dreams. Determination might be a good word to refer to the actions we continue with during times in which the enthusiasm for our sport is not there. One of the most common examples of this is when the scoreboard is not in your favour (no way to win with time remaining). Yet, despite this you decide to preservative anyway. This is a great example of sporting determination.

E is for Enjoyment

The enjoyment we’re referring to in this instance is the kind that most kids tend to have towards their sport before it becomes ‘serious’. The fun of chasing the ball more than getting to it first. The issue is, this enjoyment tends to dissipate once the stakes increase. Far too many sporting coaches become far too intense during competitions due to a lack of sport psychology training during their accreditation. This is one of the many reasons why we have always wanted to work 1-on-1 with sporting coaches.

F is for Focus 

Learning to improve focus is actually one of the easier mental skills. It really boils down to knowing when and how to switch on – and then practising this like any other skill. There are many great examples of how to do this but amongst the most effective are the short performance routines that I wrote about in our last blog article. I say easier in comparison to various other mental skills which although very effective can be somewhat critic in nature.

There is no getting away from the fact that training the mind is always going to be a trickier mountain to climb due to the investable nature of what we’re targeting for improvement. For example, areas such as focus.

G is for Grit 

Grit is a term which has gained a lot of momentum recently due mainly to the works of Angela Duckworth (see YouTube video below). Grit is defined via it’s Wikipedia page as a “…non-cognitive trait based on an individual’s perseverance of effort combined with the passion for a particular long-term goal or end state (a powerful motivation to achieve an objective). This perseverance of effort promotes the overcoming of obstacles or challenges that lie on the path to accomplishment and serves as a driving force in achievement realisation. Distinct but commonly associated concepts within the field of psychology include “perseverance”, “hardiness“, “resilience“, “ambition”, “need for achievement” and “conscientiousness“.

Our monthly clients, as well as long-time readers of the Mental Toughness Digest, will rightly feel that many of these words – perseverance, effort, ambition are very familiar to them as they are cornerstone concepts of Metuf.

H is for Hard Work

There is simply no substitute for hard work. 

I is for Influence

Knowing the amount of influence you have on some of the more common aspects of your sport (or performance areas) is mighty useful. A great little exercise you can do is to start a simple three-column table. The heading of the first column is ‘Lots of Influence’, for the second write “Some Influence” and for the final one label it “Little Influence”.

Now start to fill in the table with whatever comes to mind. For example, you might be spending a lot of time thinking about an upcoming competition combined with memories of how you did at the same venue last year. So you might decide to put the Future in the middle column and the Past in the right-hand column – for instance.

J is for Junior Sport

If I were in charge of sport in a particular state or country I would flip funding so that the vast majority of recourses went into the junior or developmental side of sports. In other words, the best coaches, equipment and facilities normally only accessible to the top 0.1% of athletes would be diverted to athletes under the age of 16.

For example, those regarded as the very best coaches – like Wayne Bennett in rugby league – would be invited to coach junior rugby league players instead. I would make sure that whatever position was created for this had the same or greater salary as top-flight professional coaches.

K is for Keeping Going

Maybe the most powerful cue words in sport. Your mind will virtually always quit on you before your body does. Tell it to Keep Going and see what happens.

L is for Learning

There is a reason why some of the very best sporting coaches of all time – for example, Jake White – are formers teachers. They treat the process of performance enhancement as one long learning experience for both themselves and their players. The most appealing aspect of this angle is that poor performances are used as learning opportunities. Errors, for example, are considered as invaluable elements of feedback – data that can be used to inform better choices moving forward. 

M is for Monitoring

If you are not monitoring at least one aspect of your endeavours you’re missing out. At Condor Performance we encourage our sporting and non-sporting clients to record one or more “monthly checks”. As can be read in detail from this recent blog post these monthly checks are like our key performance indicators. As long as you know the right number of monthly checks to monitor (not too many) and the amount of influence you have on each of these results (not as much as you think) there is zero downsides to this kind of self-monitoring and plenty of upsides.


N is for Numbers

Whether you like it or not competitive sport – especially at the elite level – is full of numbers. In fact certain sports, like cricket and baseball are so mathematical in nature that the coaches of these sports would be forgiven for thinking of themselves more like statisticians from time to time. This is one of the reasons why we encourage our monthly clients to monitor their own progress – to allow them to function, even thrive in a results-oriented world. The other reasons have already been mentioned above in the M for monitoring.

O is for Objectivity

Both the M and the N above help with objectively but alone might not be enough. Objectively is roughly the opposite of subjectively with the latter being heavy on opinions with the former much more based on facts. For example, it’s quite normal for athletes and coaches to assess past performances based mostly (or only) on memory or even worse, based on the final result. This is highly subjective and a bit like any human pursuit we’d want to be careful about how much of our analysis is subjective. Objective analysis – for example, the number of missed tackles –  will be more valuable as the numbers don’t lie.

Actually, this is not true – numbers can lie but are less likely to do so than opinions.

P is for Pressure

‘Pressure’ is one of the most fascinating aspects of sports psychology. For a start, it’s 100% internal – it’s a feeling with very real physiological sensations – a little bit like hunger. Because it’s going on inside it’s less tangible and therefore harder to manage. To start with, it’s really important not to consider pressure as being good or bad. Let me use hunger to explain. Hunger, for most of us, is simply a signal for us to go an eat something. Once we do, the hunger goes away. The food that alleviates the hunger that is pressure is practice. That’s right, high-quality practice is like a pile of organic veggies.

Of course, there is also a benefit to learning to deal with hunger/pressure in case there is no food/practice available. By far the best way to do this – in my opinion – is to work with a qualified sport/performance psychologist like one of the members of our team.

Q is for Quantity and Quality

This is how we break down practice or effort. Quantity is ‘how much’ and wants to be in the right amount. Quality is how good and wants to be as high as possible. We often find it useful to multiply these together. For example, if the highest score for each is 10 then combined the highest score is 100.

What number did your last training session get?

R is for Routines

See my recent blog post for a full break down on routines.

S is for Stigma

There are still a huge number of people out there whose beliefs about what sports psychologists or performance psychologists do get in the way of us being able to help them. The stigma comes from the word ‘psychologist’ which too many people still associate with having some kind of mental problem. The general premise of working with a psychologist being a sign of weakness needs to be broken. A band-aid solution to this is to refer to ourselves as a coach or performance coaches or mental skills trainers instead. The issue with this is it doesn’t help to remove the stigma. Also, it seems a pity not to be able to use the title psychologist that took us seven or so years to earn.

T is for Time Management

Being able to manage your own time, your needs and your wants is one of the most underrated of all mental skills. I work with a LOT of young elite athletes (teenagers on track to be the world’s best in their chosen sport) and on the whole, they come to me with either poor or non-existent time management skills. Sometimes, a simple suggestion like buying a $5 diary to start recording upcoming commitments can do wonders in terms of accountability, planning, knowing when to say ‘no’ or ‘yes’ to invitations and moving their mindset more towards effort and further from results. For more on Time Managment see this separate post.

U is for Unity

If you’d like to learn more about how to improve the team unity of your team then watch the Unity video from the Metuf online program by clicking here.

V is for Values and W is for Why

Our values and beliefs guide our thoughts so if you’d like to update your daily thought processes then it can be a good idea to think about your values. By values, we really mean what you consider to be valuable or important. A nice little exercise to get the ball rolling is to simply list everything you consider to be important in your life and why. For example, you might write ‘8 hours of sleep a night’ and follow that with ‘because it helps me get the most of various training sessions the following day’. The ‘why’ part is very important as this links our endeavours to our internal motivation.

X is for eXcellence

Are you striving for excellence? Do you want to become excellent at what you do? How would you define and measure excellence? Is your training excellence? Do you know how to increase your chances of becoming the best possible athlete or coach you can be? If not get in touch and we’ll lend you a hand.

Y is for Yourself

One of the best ways of helping others is to look after yourself first.

Z is for Zest

Zest is one of the traits that we look for when we are interviewing psychologists looking to join our team of sport and performance psychologists. Do they have a passion for sports and helping athletes and coaches become better versions of themselves? If not, getting up at 5 am to deliver a Skype session to a monthly client from another country might just prove to be too hard.

Decision Making In Sport

Sport psychologist Gareth J. Mole looks at the often overlooked role that decision making plays in the outcome of sporting contests.

Decision Making in Sport
Decision Making in Sport

One of the core concepts of our Metuf model is that we break “performance preparation” down into five parts. There is some debate about the pros and cons of separating performance like this. After all, they’re all related to one another. For example it takes a certain level of motivation – a mental state – to improve muscle strength – a physical component. Our argument is that if you focus on each part as a separate entity then any “crossover” benefit that rubs off onto another area is a bonus to your improvement. Whereas lumping them all together can result in incorrectly assuming you’re doing more than you are. Decision making in sport is a great example of this. In my experience ‘in the trenches’ as a sport psychologist for the last 15 years decision making is rarely targeted by itself.

Specificity is Special

I often tell the anecdote of the coach who once told me he used to get his players to run up sand dunes in extreme temperatures in order (in his mind) to improve their mental toughness. Risky, risky, risky. Don’t get me wrong, I’m sure there are some nice mental benefits of doing this (the most obvious to come to mind is an improvement in the confidence of being able to ensure extreme conditions while exhausted) but that’s a very, very small part of good mental performance.

Those familiar with our Metuf model will know that we use an analogy of the competitive athlete being like a 4 engines aeroplane. In this analogy, the actual main body of the plane is like health and wellbeing. Attached to this are the four engines. Each of which is a key aspects of sports performance. The two on the left wing are ‘below the neck’ in Technical Wisdom and Physical Capabilities. To two on the right wing are ‘above the neck’. They are Mental Toughness and Tactical Wisdom.

Tactical Wisdom is Decision Making in Sport Contexts

Recently a number of our 1-on-1 clients have been asking us for more and more input into their Tactical Wisdom. ‘TW’ is very tricky as in theory it’s entirely mental yet the coaching of these “in the moment” decisions is, and always wants to be, the domain of sporting coaches not a sport psychologists. This is one of the many reasons why it makes so much sense for us to work more directly with coaches.

I’m going to use two examples from different sports here to emphasise my point. First, the decision faced by a golfer whether to “lay up” short of a creek located just before the green or “go for it” by attempting to hit the ball directly over the creek onto the green. Second, the decision by a striker in football (soccer) when near the penalty area to “have a shot” or pass the ball to a teammate.

Risk Versus Reward

Both of these scenarios have what we call a “risk and reward” assessment to them. None of the four options mentioned are obviously terrible and therefore the goal is to train your mind to “make the best decision according to the specifics competitive situation”. Most decision making errors take place when the emotion of the moment trumps the competition situation. Here’s a clue about how to not let that happen (and yes, it requires a bit of hard work).

First, you’re much more likely to make an unemotional decision if it’s a scenario that’s been “mapped out” already. The more often it’s been mentally rehearsed beforehand, the better. This is best done by what we call the “If Blank Then Blank” exercise. Let’s go back to our two examples above.

Although there might seem like an overwhelming number of scenarios, if you really think about it there are probably only half a dozen or so. For example:

“If stroke play then lay up”.

“If match play then go for green”.

But maybe that’s too simple so these might be better:

If stroke play and a par 5 then lay up”.

If stroke play and windy then lay up”.

If stroke play and leading then lay up”.

If stroke play and less than 3 shots within the lead then lay up”.

If any another situation then go for the green”.

And for the other example, the footballer:

“If ball is on / near my right foot with no defender near then shoot”.

“If any other scenario then pass”

If Blank Then Blank”

Human brains are remarkable at learning these “If Blank Then Blank” right from when we’re newborns. Think about it; “If hungry then cry”. And it carries on all the way to adulthood. “If red or amber light then slow down and stop”. Certain commentators have and continue to object to the fact that this exercise appears to bring “thinking” into what really want to be instinctive actions.

Our answer to this is simple. There’s no escaping the fact that certain moments in certain sports require a lot of decision making. The “If Blank Then Blank” exercise simply decreases the chances of a brain explosion while under pressure. In our experience, the greatest benefit of this is the reduction of one of performance excellence’s biggest threats – indecision.

I’m not sure if I’m taking the word too literally but indecision means a slowing of a decision due to being “in the decision”. Basically the decision making process (risk versus reward) is taking longer as it’s new.

In fact, indecision is so damaging to performance it would be fair to say that you’re better off making the wrong decision quickly and with confidence rather than the right one slowly and full of self-doubt.

Gareth J. Mole (sport psychologist)

If you’d some help to improve the decision making aspects of what you do please contact us by filling in this form. We typically reply in less than 24 hours.

Getting Into The Zone

Getting Into The Zone is something that sport psychologists have been helping athletes with for more than 50 years now

What, Or Where, Is The Zone?

Competing in sport, or even coaching it, brings with it a variety of emotions and mental experiences. Rightly or wrongly the positive ones have often been referred to as ‘the zone’. It’s not uncommon for athletes to say “I was in the zone today”. One of the more common requests we get is “can you help me get into the zone”?

The Zone and its cousin Flow are both describing a kind of effortless optimal performance. For both our internal process are not getting in the way of us being able to execute our skills to the best of our abilities.

These same internal experiences more commonly create barriers to effective performance. They can test an individual’s mental toughness by challenging their ability to self-regulate and manage these experiences constructively. Note the idea of “self-regulation” because we want our clients to develop the skills to do this on their own. Relying on others (which includes us as their performance psychologist) for this is a short term solution only.

Self Regulation is Psychbabble for Managing Your Emotions Yourself

The widely used Yerkes-Dodson Inverted U Stress Curve used to suggest that we should try and always be somewhat aroused. In other words, some nerves are better than no nerves before or during pressure situations.

This theory has two major flaws. Firstly, it overplays the role that emotions play in optimal performance. It incorrectly implies that athletes need to be feeling a certain way to perform at their best. We know this not to be true now. Both scientific and anecdotal evidence confirms that humans are quite capable of being excellent across a huge range of emotions. Secondly, the Yerkes-Dodson model suggests it’s bad to be too relaxed before you compete. This is BS. Unless you’re asleep and miss the opening whistle there is no downside to being very relaxed. In fact, if you decide to work 1-on-1 with one of our sport psychologists or performance psychologists then it’s likely they’ll introduce you to what we called the Relaxed Competition Mindset.

The Relaxed Competition Mindset

One way to begin to develop a Relaxed Competition Mindset is to understand the Zones of Awareness. These zones suggest that we can attend to information through three different zones. Zone One is an inner zone (physiological sensations). Zone Two is the middle zone (thoughts) and Zone Three is the outer zone (the five senses). When we are functioning well and coping with our situation, our awareness across these zones is balanced. This allows us to respond very effectively and efficiently. This is mighty useful in high-pressure situations because maintaining a balanced awareness means we can respond quickly to stimuli. In other words, we can maintain good levels of focus during perceived chaos.

When we find ourselves getting too caught up in one of the zones we can lose this balance. With this, our abilities can be impaired and we can experience distress, reducing the opportunity for optimal performance.

Being Outside Of The Zone

While each person is different, the way we respond to adversity can actually be quite universal. In such situations, people tend to become much more aware of their self-talk as well as their physiological state. “Oh my, I can actually feel my heart racing” for example.

When we first notice our thinking or physiology shifting in an unhelpful manner, using strategies such as mindfulness can prove effective.

When these experiences become too intense, trying to challenge our thoughts or become more aware of our body can be like we are putting fuel on an already burning fire. This is where the third zone (the outer zone) can become useful in helping us to manage.

The Five Senses

For touch, individuals competing outdoors might consider pulling out some of the grass from the field. Or tightly gripping a towel and noticing the feeling. What about taste? Eating as part of a pre-match routine can help but instead of quickly consuming the food, notice the flavours more. For each mouthful or while chewing gum, try to notice the release of flavour with each bite. With the sense of smell, noticing any smells in our environment such as muscle rub creams. For sight, individuals may ask themselves how many colours can they notice around them. Or how many people can they count wearing hats? For hearing, listening to music as part of a pre-match routine can really help get your head out of the way.

It’s Also A Matter of Timing

It should be noted that we don’t want to be considering these things while trying to execute skills. In other words, the majority of the Relaxed Competition Mindset work is down before we start competing.

Ultimately, that’s the key. We want to be able to shift our attention and focus where necessary to restore balance and composure to your internal state. In doing so, we remove some internal barriers to performance, which puts us in a position to meet our performance potential.


If you’d like our help Getting Into The Zone then below are few ways to contact us:

Golf Psychology

We know more about the psychology of golf than ever before. This article addresses some of the basics of Golf Psychology as we know it in 2020.

The Psychology of Golf
The Psychology of Golf

Golf Psychology Combines Both The Mental and Tactical Aspects of Golf

At Condor Performance we have always worked with a lot of golfers. In fact, since we started providing performance psychology services we’ve worked with more golfers than athletes of any other sport.

One of the many bonuses of this is that we have really come to know the weird and wonderful game of golf well. Our collective familiarity with golf is now so good that we might consider using the term ‘golf psychology‘ to describe what we do with golfers.

In the future, it’s likely the concept of sport psychology will be replaced by performance psychology. When this happens, a psychologist with considerable experience within a performance area (like golf) should be allowed to call themselves a ‘golf psychologist‘. I would happily and confidently refer to the entire Condor Performance team as golf psychologists in golfing contexts.

Why Do We Work With Some Many Golfers?

Golfers are amazing at understanding that their sport is very psychological in nature. Every golfer that has ever played the game has found out the hard way that good swing mechanics will only get them so far. Maybe it was because of a lapse in concentration that resulted in a four-putt. Or just the natural frustration of not knowing why the ball sometimes goes where you want it to and sometimes it doesn’t. Most golfers don’t need to be convinced of the fact that their sport is mostly won and lost between the ears.

Interestingly, many golfers think the famous Yogi Berra quote was about golf when in fact it was about baseball. The actual direct quote from 1925 was “Baseball is 90 per cent mental. The other half is physical.” Somehow this evolved into a version uttered by golfers the world over that “golf is 90% mental”. But is it?

Golfing success, like with any individual competitive sport, is made up of about half non-golfing aspects and half very sporty elements.

Golf Psychology and the Metuf Model

Our Metuf model includes the below analogy of the golfer being like a four-engine plane. The main body of the plane is mental health and wellbeing – and would contribute about half towards golfing success.

Golf Psychology
Golf Psychology starts with mental health and wellbeing.

This half needs to be prioritised first. Why? Because it’s more important to be a happier person than an excellent golfer. The other half consists of the four pillars of modern sports science. Physical, Technical, Tactical and Mental. Tactical is obviously psychological so when I think about golf psychology I am also thinking about on-course decision making.

I recently watched the episode of the Netflix docu-series Loosers featuring Jean van de Velde. During which he reflects on the heartbreak from his famous last hole of the 1999 Open Championship. I was 23 at that time which was the peak of my obsession with all sports but I couldn’t remember most the details. On watching the episode it reminded me that it was a decision making error than actually cost Jean victory that year. On the final hole, with a three-shot buffer, he decided to try and carry the “burn” protecting the green. He didn’t choke, he made one very poor shot selection. The right decision, of course, was to lay up well before the burn.

Golf is 25% Mental To Start With

So golf starts out being 25% mental and then increases from that point due to the fact that it commonly gets ignored – but not by everyone.

A growing ratio of our sporting clients are actually coaches rather than athletes. Many of these coaches are golf coaches or instructors. They come to us when they realise that traditional coaching pathways fall woefully short when it comes to helping them become great mental coaches. We love this approach to golf psychology. The sport psychologist upskilling those in the trenches with the golfers. We literally teach them how to help their golfers master the mental games from the very time that they take up golf in the first place.

Pre Shot Routines Are Essential

A great example of the benefit of this approach is through the use of Pre Shot Routines. PSRs are at the centre of golf psychology because they focused on the 10 to 15 seconds before each short. As my golf clients know after you have established a basic swing I believe that every shot – included those in practice – should follow a PSR. I have seen golf coaches break down into tears when I explain to them that golf shots in practice without a PSR is not actually golf practice at all. Ball bashing, maybe but it certainly doesn’t resemble what will take place out there on the course.

Below is an old video that I dug up to explain how to develop Pre Shot Routines for golf. Note, the video is outdated now so I suggest you watch with curiosity more than trying to copy every single element.

Only 1.5% Of A Round Of Golf Is About The Swing

You need to remember that about the 98.5% of a round of golf – for pros and amateurs alike – does not involve hitting a golf ball. Defined from the start of the backswing to the end of the follow-through. Do the maths if you like:

4 hours = 240 mins to hit, let’s say 80 shots. Each of those shots takes about 2 seconds. 80 multiplied by 2 = 160 seconds or about 3 minutes. So about 3 of the 240 minutes of a round of golf requires “swing mechanics”. Or another way to look at it is 3 hours and 57 minutes of a round of golf has nothing to do with how well you can hit the ball. That’s 98.5% in case you’re still doing the maths.

But don’t take my word for it. Here are some my top favourite golf psychology quotes from golfers you might have heard of.

Great Mental Game Golf Quotes

It’s such a psychological and mental game, golf, that the smallest wrong thing at the wrong time can distract you from what you’re trying to achieve.

Lee Westwood

You could have all the tools in the world, but if you really don’t want to be there, or if there’s something that’s off course that’s playing on your mind. The game of golf is so mental, and if you don’t have everything in the right order, it’s very difficult to win golf tournaments.

Jason Day

Rest is huge because if you’re sleep-deprived, that can definitely run into the mental side of the game and can definitely hurt your game if you’re playing tournament golf.

Jason Day

Staying in the present is the key to any golfer’s game. Once you start thinking about a shot you just messed up or what you have to do on the next nine to catch somebody, you’re lost.

Paul Azinger

If you are a golf coach looking to improve the way you coach the mental side then start is by completing our Mental Toughness Questionnaire for Coaches here.

If you’re a golfer then fill in our Mental Toughness Questionnaire for Athletes and one of our “golf psychologists” will get back to you.

Sport Psychologist Melbourne

Dr Michelle Pain is a sport psychologist based in Melbourne, Australia with more than 30 years of experience helping athletes improve their sporting mindset as well as their overall mental health and wellbeing.

Call Us Anytime On 1300 603 267

Although we now deliver 95% of our sport psychology services via webcam we have always wanted a sport psychologist in Melbourne.

As I was living in Sydney when I started Condor Performance in 2005, we have always had a physical presence in Sydney. This has allowed our client the choice between session in the same room or via webcam. Fast forward 15 years and we now have two fantastic psychologists located Sydney – in Kensington and Dulwich Hill. On top of that we two more who are reasonably near in Newcastle and The Southern Highlands (Moss Vale) of NSW.

But Melbourne, Australia’s second-biggest city and some would say the sporting capital* has always eluded us. It’s worth pointing out why this has always been a dilemma for us. We have always gotten lots and lots of enquiries from Victorians. Many of which are word-of-month due to the different way in we deliver sport psychology services. This created a dilemma for those preferring to work with a psychologist face-to-face. Work with one of us via webcam or see a more traditional sport psychologist in Melbourne. In fact, the search term “Sport Psychologist Melbourne” is one of the most common before landing on our homepage.

Persistence Is A Virtue

Earlier this year I had an in-depth phone conversation with Dr Michelle Pain. Immediately after the phone conversation, I had a strong feeling that we had found our women.

Melbourne sports psychologist Michelle Pain
Melbourne sports psychologist Michelle Pain

Not only was Michelle based in Melbourne but she is one of the pioneers of Australian sport psychology. Of course, this comes with an enviable amount of experience working as an applied sport psychologist.

The only challenge was that she had decided not to renew her psychologist registration a couple of years ago.

Michelle and I had a long conversation about the pros and cons of actually allowing her to work for Condor Performance without renewing her registration as a psychologist. This is the closest I’ve ever come to employing a non-psychologist as a consultant. In the end, we agreed it would be better for her to re-register and I shall quickly explain why. 

Only Psychologists, No “Mind Coaches”

First and foremost all psychologists in Australia require Professional Indemnity Insurance. What this means is that in the unlikely event that something terrible happens the effected psychologist will be primarily assisted by their insurer. This is not to say that we do not want to help our psychologists if they get into trouble, it’s because it would be almost impossible given that most of us operate at the upper limits of capacity in the support we provide to our sporting and performance clients.

The second reason for the insistence that all members of our team being psychologists is this. It guarantees to both us and our clients a minimum amount of tertiary education that would otherwise be unknown.

Michelle’s application for re-registration as a psychologist was recently approved and therefore I am delighted to confirm several news items.

For those of you based in Melbourne who’d prefer to work with a sport psychologist face-to-face then Michelle’s home office is in Mentone. Secondly, due to the fact that Michelle has so much experience working as an applied sport psychologist the internal supervision, meetings and discussions that we have regularly just got a massive shot in the arm.

eSports – The Next Big Thing In Sport

But even more exciting than these two reasons is the fact that Michelle is the first member of our team to both know a lot about eSports and have experience working with these new kinds of performers. For those of you who have never heard of eSports then I will let Wikipedia quickly explain:

Esports (also known as electronic sportse-sports, or eSports) is a form of sport competition using video games.[1] Esports often takes the form of organized, multiplayer video game competitions, particularly between professional players, individually or as teams. Although organized competitions have long been a part of video game culture, these were largely between amateurs until the late 2000s, when participation by professional gamers and spectatorship in these events through live streaming saw a large surge in popularity.[2][3] By the 2010s, esports was a significant factor in the video game industry, with many game developers actively designing and providing funding for tournaments and other events.

We always prided ourselves in is the ability to say an Obama-esque “yes we can” to most requests for psychological assistance. A couple of years ago when we got our first inquiry from an sports athlete I had to be honest and transparent when telling him that we actually didn’t have any experience when it came to electronic sports at that time.

Well, Not Any More

In the same way that Michelle was one of the first sport psychologists to put sport psychology ‘on the map’ in Australia, she is now doing the same thing when it comes to the importance of the mental aspects of eSports.

* Some of the reasons why some people refer to Melbourne as the sporting capital of Australia are as follows. First, two of the largest international sporting events of the year take place in Melbourne. Once being the Australian Open (tennis) and the other the Formula One Grand Prix (motor racing). Second, it has the most prestigious sporting stadium in Australia (some would say the world) in the Melbourne Cricket Ground. Finally, many sporting organisations have their admin offices there. Too many to list but some of the most notable would be Cricket Australia, Tennis Australia and AFL. So, not a bad place for us to have a sport psychologist ‘on the ground’.

Mental Skills Etc.

Mental Skills are often mixed up with the methods aimed to help improve mental toughness. One of our sports psychs clarifies what ‘mental skills’ really are

Mental Skills Training is obvious for game-sports such as chess, but it should be obvious for all sport and performance areas.

The term ‘mental skill’ or ‘mental skills’ are surely the most misused in elite sporting circles. In fact, it’s used incorrectly virtually everywhere in my experience.

You see, skills are the targets or outcomes, not the methods or processes and yet most people accidentally refer to them as the latter.

When we talk about an athlete – say a soccer player – who is skilful we are referring to the amount of technical skill (ability) they already have. For example, they might be able to dribble the ball very well like the great Diego Maradona used to do in the 1980s. Because the most common way to become better at dribbling is by actually dribbling a ball then the skill and the process got mixed up along the way.

But dribbling is not the only way to become better at dribbling. Mental rehearsal of the correct dribbling movements can be just as effective, for example. So what we end up with is a variety of “methods” that can be used to better our skills – technical, tactical, physical and mental.

The main reason that the term mental skill(s) is useful incorrectly is it is often used to describe the methods when it should be describing the outcomes.

Let me use some examples.

At Condor Performance we regard the five most common mental skills of performance as being motivation, emotions, thoughts, unity and focus.

You can liken – therefore – a concept such as emotions as being rather similar to dribbling a soccer ball. You are either very good at handling your emotions or very poor or somewhere in the middle. And of course, regardless of how good you are, you could always get better (yes, Maradona could have been better at dribbling too).

So emotional management (intelligence) becomes the focus of the endeavours. If you Google ‘mental skills’ you’ll find furphies all over the screen suggesting that goal setting, visualisation and mindfulnesses are all common mental skills used in sport and performance.

They are common, but they are not mental skills – they are mental methods (processes).

The area of sports science that does the best job of separating methods from intended outcomes is the physical side (shout out to any physios or exercise physiologists reading this).

Try to finish these sentences off by just using what comes to mind …

  • I could improve my flexibility by …
  • I could improve my cardio fitness by …
  • I could improve my upper body strength by …

In these three examples, the word in bold is the target and therefore the methods or processes need to be added at the end, in place of the three little dots. For example:

I could improve my cardio fitness by running, skipping, rowing, walking, cycling and/or swimming.

One target with many physical methods.

Now let’s see how you go with the mental side of performance (aka mental toughness). 

  • I could improve my motivation by …
  • I could improve my emotions by …
  • I could improve my thoughts by …
  • I could improve my unity by …
  • I could improve my focus by …

Not quite so easy is it?

Remember motivation is the mental skill here so the question is what processes (things you can actually do) might help improve or maintain desirable levels of motivation, passion, commitment and/or performance enthusiasm?

Our old friend goal setting might be one and we recently wrote an entire article on the mental method that some people call goal setting which you can read here.

How about the mental skill of emotional intelligence? Very Simple Mindfulness is a ‘hum-dinger’ here and as explained in a lot more detail via the sister Metuf program is all about ‘increased awareness of the present moment with decreased judgement’.

The mental skill of thinking (bet you never thought of thinking as a skill, did you?) has hundreds of tried and tested methods to try and better it (a lot more than most sporting skills such as dribbling a soccer ball that’s for sure) but the best – in my opinion – is simply knowing the amount of influence you have on stuff like results and other people.

How about the mental skill of Team Unity? Arguably the hardest of The Big Five areas of sport/performance mental toughness as it involves other people (only somewhat influenceable – see above). In fact, so tricky that I will dedicate the entire of next week’s edition of the Mental Toughness Digest to the topic.

If you’re reading this and don’t get email notifications when articles are added to our site then you can opt-in for email notifications here.  Of course you can opt-out at anytime as well by clicking on the unsubscribe button at the bottom of each email notication.

Finally, the mental skill of focus otherwise knows as attention or concentration. How is it possible to vastly improve your focusing abilities (skills)? The best way that I know is to work on switching on and off so that you are keeping all your focus juice for when it matters. Human concentration is limited, you can increase the amount you have a little but the best way to know when you focus and what not to.

Our team of expert mental skills coaches have helped countless numbers of athletes and performers with all of these mental skills and many more as well over the years so feel free to get in touch via email if you’d like our support. Please include a contact number (plus country) and you’ll get a call from one of us within 48 hours. 

Mental Toughness

Mental Toughness. What is it, can it be measured and most importantly for success-seekers; can it be improved? Sport psychologist Gareth J. Mole muses these questions and more in this edition of the MTD:

Mental toughness is the interplay between motivation, emotions, thoughts, unity and focus.

What Is Mental Toughness?

The term mental toughness is getting used more across many domains but in particular in competitive sporting circles. On one side, this is great as finally, the mental side of performance is getting the attention it deserves. The downside is that it is increasingly used in the wrong way – for example as a synonym for mental health.

At Condor Performance we typically consider mental toughness and mental health as both being important but not the same. For us Mental toughness refers to the ‘extra mental abilities required by those trying to achieve abnormally hard goals’. The key here is the ‘extra’ part. This is the part that if improved would benefit elite athletes much more than everyone else. This is what makes mental toughness difference from mental health. Mental health is something that everyone would benefit from improving. An entire post was written about this and can be read here.

Mental Toughness Is Different From Mental Health

This is not to say that mental toughness and mental health are 100% unrelated nor opposites. The fact that your mind is involved in both correctly suggests there is overlap between these two psychological concepts.

One way that I like to explain it to my sporting clients is by using physical health and physical strength as parallels. Elite athletes need to be much stronger than most people will ever need to be. If you took a normal, healthy woman and asked her to play an international woman’s rugby match she’d be found wanting from a physical point of view. Yet, her actual physical health (blood pressure etc) may well be the same – if not better – than elite female rugby union players.

So mental health is more or less like the mental basics. If you have clinical depression then this will impact on all aspects of your life. However, if you get nervous before certain sporting contests then the rest of your life might well be completely unaffected by this specific mental challenge.

Metuf for Sports

Mental toughness can be thought of a being like one of four engines on an aeroplane. In this analogy the rest of the plane is like health and wellbeing.

Mental toughness is like one of four engines on an aeroplane whereby the rest of the plane is like mental health and wellbeing

These four engines can be broken down into subcomponents that makes it easier for us to improve them. For example

As explained in Metuf for Sports sporting mental toughness might better be considered as an interplay between 5 areas. Motivation, emotions, thoughts, unity and focus combine to form mental toughness. The work we do as sport and performance psychologists is more or less about assisting our clients to improve their mental toughness. In essence we are really helping them improve or maintain these five areas.

When say motivation, emotions, thoughts, unity and focus in this context we are referring to these concepts as they relate mostly to training and competing.

Examples

Here are some examples to help clarify.

It’s quite possible for someone to have no signs of depression at all. This basically means that the ‘motivation towards life’ for this person is fine. However, this same individual might be an athlete and might not want to train or complete as much as before. Logically, interventions designed to improve clinical depression are not going to be much in this case. This athlete some needs mental skills instead. They need ideas designed to help improve motivation in the area they lack motivation for – training and/or competing.

The same applies when referring to sporting emotions, thoughts, unity and focus. The emotions of walking down the 17th hole with a two-shot lead on the final day are different from everyday general anxiety. The thoughts likely to trip up a Formula One driver before the light has turned green are unique and should be shaped accordingly. If you are part of a sporting team that lacks unity you will never be successful. And focus? The kind of focus needed to keep your eye on the ball as it’s coming towards your head at 100 km/h is not the same as the kind of focus that would help you do better at school.

Can We Measure Mental Toughness?

If you’d like to read a full post dedicated to answering this question then click here. But in summary, the answer is ‘yes, but not directly’. When we measure mental toughness we do so by asking about the five areas already mentioned (motivation, emotions, thoughts, unity and focus). The asking is typically done by online questionnaires such as these.

There is no way to assess mental toughness directly in the same way that a physio can measure flexibility – for example. Some aspects of sporting mental toughness can be measured via observation by an astute onlooker but again this is just a best guess.

When I first start working as a sport psychologist with a new sporting team I typically spend the first week or so just watching and taking notes. I make estimates on areas such as team unity. But I am mindful of the fact that what you see is not always what you get and that week might not be a typical week.

How Can Mental Toughness Be Improved?

Of course it can. Like so much in life how you go about it will likely depend on your budget. The expensive way is to work 1-on-1 with a performance psychologist like the ones that are part of the Condor Performance team. The cheap way is to complete the Metuf for Sports online course.

This online course is not the same as working with a psychologist. In the same way that reading a book about driving a car is no substitute to driving lessons with a qualified driving instructor. But reading a book about how to drive a car is better than doing nothing at all!

Sport Psychologist South Africa

Gareth J. Mole is widely regarded as one of the leading sports psychologists in the world and is very proud of his South African heritage

Sport Psychologist South Africa
Gareth J. Mole is a South African born sports psychologist who works with athletes and sports coaches from around the world via webcam technologies such as Skype and FaceTime video.

Meet a South African Sport Psychologist – But Not As You Know It

Gareth John Mole was born in Transvaal (that’s what Gauteng was called then) in 1976 to a South African father and an Australian mother.

Maybe a career in sport was his destiny as he was named after the great Gareth Edwards – the standout rugby union scrumhalf (halfback) for Wales and The Lions during that era.

He attended St Peters Preparatory School in Rivonia whereby his love for all sports was formed. “Most of my memories from St Peters are sports-related” he reminisces. “Of course in those days it was mostly rugby [union], cricket and athletics” he adds.

In the 1980s, unaware that most of the rest of the country were suffering during apartheid, Gareth could be found either watching or playing sport at the family home near Kyalami (yes, the race track) with his older brother Davin and youngest sister Tamara.

“Although there was no Formula One at Kyalami in those days there was still plenty of motorsport taking place all the time. The background soundtrack to my childhood was the roar of racing cars and the screech of tyres” Gareth recalls. “It’s no coincidence that my love of motorsport and motor racing has a lot to do with the fact that I grew up five kilometres from the premier circuit in Africa”.

Although Gareth and his team of sport and performance psychologists assist athletes of all sports from right across the globe he himself has become especially well known in motor racing circles for the work he does helping drivers and riders to improve their mental toughness.

“Competitive motor racing is mentally very, very hard and although the drivers and riders have to be supremely fit it’s really their mindset and tactical abilities that separate the good from the best” he mentions.

Nigel Mansell was far from being one of the fittest Formula One drivers during his time but he mental toughness and outstanding tactical preparation resulted in him being one of the best competitors of the Eighties”.

From South Africa To The World

At the age of ten, Gareth moved from South African to The UK to attend boarding school. It was at Oundle that the breadth of his sporting knowledge grew exponentially.

“Had I stayed in South Africa I suspect that my sporting knowledge might have remained somewhat limited. My time in England exposed me to many of the other major sports – in particular, football (soccer), hockey, squash and volleyball” Gareth says.

After finishing up at Oundle and taking a gap year, Gareth moved north in order to do a Psychology Degree at the University of Leeds. It was during the undergraduate years that his preexisting love of sport fused with his new psychology training.

“Sports psychology was only a small inclusion during my degree at Leeds but it was enough for me to think – I like this, I want to be a sports psychologist” he states.

At the time Masters degrees in The UK specialising in Sports Psychology were virtually non-existent. So in 2004, he found himself on a one-way flight to Sydney, Australia.

“Oh, how things have changed. In 2019 England is one of the best countries in the world in order to qualify as a sports psychologist – but in 2004 there were more options in Australia – so that’s where I went” Gareth declares.

After finishing his Masters and therefore becoming a qualified sports psychologist he set up Condor Performance – which had a very international perspective right from the start.

“I didn’t like the idea that I would only be able to assist athletes and coaches from Australia” Gareth recalls, “so from the very beginning we were on the front foot regarding webcam technologies such as Skype”. He goes on to say “As the technology improved word soon caught on that athletes and coaches from anywhere in the world could access our performance psychology services. Interesting, and maybe due to the dearth of sports psychologists physically located in South Africa we got and continue to get many enquiries from Cape Town to Johannesburg and everywhere in between”.

Sticking By The Term Sport Psychologist

As many qualified sports psychologists find it easier to use terms such as ‘mental skills coach’, ‘performance coach’ or just ‘coach’ Gareth has always stuck by the much-maligned title of ‘sport psychologist’.

“I liken sticking with the term ‘sports psychologists’ to those who have stuck by South Africa during the tough times,” he says. “When all the best dentists in the country leave then, of course, they are making the problem worse”. He goes on “the main reason that many choose not to refer to themselves as psychologists – despite having the qualifications to do so – it due to the stigma attached with the word psychologist”.

He concludes “the only way to remove that stigma is for sports psychologists to do excellent work and then keep using the title sport psychologist so that eventually it will not be associated with mental health problems and therapy/counselling”.

Webcam Sport Psychologist

Gareth is one of the pioneers of delivering sport psychology services via webcam. In fact, in the early days, when this kind of technology was brand new he started to become known as the ‘webcam sports psychologist’ in some circles. In fact, he was one of the very first sports psychologists in the world to work through an internet connection and webcam.

Nowadays with huge improvements in the area of videoconferencing due to platforms such as Zoom, Skype, WhatApp video, FaceTime video and Google Hangouts Gareth and his colleagues at Condor Performance do 99% of their performance psychology work this way.

Zoom is currently Gareth’s favourite form of webcam system due to the extra features like screen sharing, virtual whiteboard and the option of recording the sessions.

If you’d like more information about working 1-on-1 with Gareth you can email him directly at gareth@condorperformance.com ~ making sure to include details of your location, sport, goals and current mental challenges. He will typically get back to you within 48 hours.

Sport-Specific Sport Psychology

Sport-Specific Sports Psychology refers to sports psychology methods working best when they are adapted with the client’s particular sport in mind

So many sports ...
So many sports …

Do All ‘Best Practice’ Mental Skills Work For All Sports?

Within our profession, the notion of sport-specific sport psychology is a controversial topic and one that warrants some attention and discussion. To do this, it is worth considering a couple of key questions/ideas:

  • How much do the general strategies used by most psychologists apply to athletes and coaches who are trying to improve the mental aspects of their performance or coaching abilities?
  • How ‘transferable’ are various mental skills from one performance area to another and even from one specific sport to a different sport?

When trying to answer the first question about what percentage of generic strategies used by psychologists who don’t specialise in sport apply in performance situations, one needs to be a little careful not to imply that all psychologists are, or would want to be, the same. But there are some well established therapeutic models which are likely to be more prevalent in clinical and counselling psychology (for example).

But there are some well established therapeutic models which are likely to be more prevalent in clinical and counselling psychology (for example).

So, how easily do these methods apply to sport and performance? The simple answer, in my opinion, is ‘about half’.

For example, if the athlete or coach (yes, we work 1-on-1 with sporting coaches too) is functionally well (without a recognised mental illness) then at Condor Performance we would not focus significant attention on a long and detailed history of the client’s difficulties. This is not to say that some of the mental methods we often use from the get-go don’t have clinical routes – but the final versions which are presented to our clients would largely be unrecognisable to our non-performance focussed colleagues.

A great example of this would be our approach to goal setting. When we help our clients set goals – something we typically do very early on and then continually review and update depending on progress – we often introduce a level of accountability to these targets that some mental health practitioners might find objectionable. But from our standpoint, this level of accountability is a key ingredient in helping them get to the next level and if it is confronting for the client (‘you committed to 5 hours of practice a week, this didn’t occur, what happened?’) then we will use that to further improve their mental toughness by looking at what mental barriers exist between the person’s intentions and their actual effort.

What about the second question; how ‘transferable’ are various mental skills from one performance area to another and even from one specific sport to another? Certainly when you’re assisting mentally well performers who are trying to master ‘motor skills’ – be they surgeons or swimmers – the mental methods we use start to have a lot in common. In particular the ones we often refer to as the foundation methods such as Knowing It (control versus influence).

Furthermore, the psychological techniques become even more universally beneficial when you focus only on competitive sports (in other words, you exclude sport that is done purely for social and/or health reasons) and you consider team sports as a different animal to individual ones. In doing this I’d suggest that around 70% of the work we do with these group would be very, very similar. In other words, the sports psychology services that we’d deliver to a competitive golfer and a competitive shooter both looking for performance gains would likely have about a 70% crossover of methods.

Don’t confuse this 70% with us applying a cookie-cutter approach to our 1-on-1 consulting. I am referring to the fact that the mental skills that we’d likely introduce with a competitive golfer and a competitive shooter are going to very similar due to the fact that these two sports are psychologically very similar (target based, lots of thinking time, stillness required, completely alone). The very fact that our services are individualised makes is nearly impossible for us to treat our sporting clients like clones.

The remaining 30% is made up of ideas that have to be adapted specially for the client sitting across the room or computer screen (most of our sports psychology consulting is now done via webcam) and their particular role/sport.

Probably the best example that comes to mind is the work we do around Short Performance Routines to aid with concentration, execution under pressure and ultimately the Holy Grail of consistency. Although there might be some similarities between a golfer’s Pre Shot Routine and the routines used by a goal kicker in soccer, rugby union, rugby union, AFL, NFL etc there are simply too many micro-elements that only relate to each of these sports to risk working on them with a generic approach.

In helping a golfer create or improve his or her Pre Shot Routines (one for their long game, one for short game and one for putting for example) we want everything to be golf related and everything to be about helping that particular golfer – not all golfers.

One of the reasons why this topic is somewhat controversial boils down to the fact that there are many psychologists out there who like to dabble in performance psychology. I personally don’t have an issue with that as long as they are not treating mentally well athletes in the same (similar) way as they treat mentally ill non-performers.

As the founding psychologist of Condor Performance, I am very proud of the fact that my team of sport and performance psychologists are genuine specialists when it comes to the psychology of human potential. Essentially we’re like performance coaches but with some actual qualifications and credentials.