Mental Toughness Digest for Sport & Performance.
Labels; The Good, The Bad & The Ugly
By Gareth J. Mole (PSY0001372747)
The content (below) of this 16th edition of the MTD (Mental Toughness Digest) was actually written a couple of weeks ago to allow for proof reading and to ensure the message is not too similar to any other recent publication. The downside of this, of course, is that a lot can happen in two weeks and I’m sure at some point we’ll publish our views on topics such as the “stress” of elite sport that is all the rage at the moment due to Johnathan Trott’s brave decision to leave the tour.
On November 7th Andrew Wu wrote an article for the Sydney Morning Herald called “Assassin Cook on mission to kill Australia’s Ashes hopes”. The piece started with “Australia will have to snatch the urn from an England dressing room full of ‘‘assassins’’ and ‘‘warriors’’ if they are to win the Ashes this summer after three consecutive defeats. They are the tags the performance psychologist on England’s Ashes tour, Dr Mark Bawden, has given to Alastair Cook’s men”.
On 13th November Fairfax Media published an article by Phil Lutton called “David Warner in right state of mind for Australia as psychology sessions pay off”. The article mentions how the Australian team sport psychologist has helped David Warner with the mental aspects of his cricket.
What do these two articles have in common? They show that labels, names, titles, tags, words etc. can be a very useful if used correctly, or very disruptive if they not. Even though this is not something that we commonly do as part of our everyday work, assigning labels to sum up the role of someone in an emotional way (article one) can be useful in order to tap into potentially quite complex feelings very fast. The risk, of course, is that you pick a title (“warrior”) that either adds unnecessary pressure or feels like a lie when things don’t go your way (for example a heavy loss in the first test of an Ashes series).
The writer of this article has always believed that at the highest level of sport there is ample organic emotion and that for most athletes / coaches most of the time reducing these emotions will be most effective than adding to them. The removal or changing of labels can be a very effective way of doing just this. For example referring to a performance as a ‘good’ or ‘bad’ performance is just too ‘black and white’ to accurately describe all the ‘grey’ elements of a performance. So, we regularly advise removing such labels thus forcing the thinker to consider the performance in more detail – which is essentially less emotional and more rational.
Changing labels can also be very useful. I recall once working with a swimmer who disliked almost everything about the wait in the “marshalling” area. In a moment of brilliance (by him) when we were talking about ways to “mellow” in this confined space before a swimming race he came up with the idea to rename the area “marsh-mellowing”, and almost instantly you could see how the negative emotion was removed.
But of course there is dark side to labels as well. In the second article the author and editor’s choice of clinical psychology types ‘terms’ such as leather couch, therapy and shrink create a completely distorted mental image of what we, as sport psychologists, actually do. We mentioned this via out Twitter feed (@CPsportspsychs) and were delighted when the Mr. Lutton replied and the full conversation can be seen via our tweets on 13th and 14th November.
I suppose the most interesting (I want to write concerning but occupational habit made me use a more positive word) aspect of this second article is that’s in 2013 it’s still newsworthy when an elite, professional sportsperson uses the services of a sport psychologist.