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Sports Psychology - The Will To Win

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Use the power of psychology to boost your confidence and your performance in every game.

How important is psychological training to your performance? If you have any doubts at all, please read on to see why psychological preparation is as crucial to success as training, recovery, kit, hydration and nutrition. Or order Sports Psychology - The Will To Win now and get 42% off the official price of $59.99. You pay only $34.99 (£21.69)!

Do you put up psychological barriers to success?

Whether you like the idea or not, most of us put up psychological barriers that interfere with our performance and enjoyment of our sport or event.

The four-minute mile was the classic example of a psychological barrier. Runners were consistently achieving times of 4:03, 4:02 and 4:01, but no one could apparently run under four minutes. This led to a common perception that running a mile in less than four minutes was physically impossible. Almost everyone believed it.

Remarkably, though, within 18 months of Roger Bannister’s famous breakthrough 16 other athletes had managed the feat.

Did these athletes suddenly get faster and train harder? No: the floodgates opened because Bannister had breached the psychological barrier and demonstrated what was possible. Athletes were no longer limited by their beliefs.

What does science say?
Psychology – the Will to Win is a new book from the Peak Performance collection of training manuals. It explains why top athletes and coaches believe there is more to peak performance than a well-honed body.

As soon as you start using the intensive exercises contained within the book, you’ll experience such benefits that you won’t look back. Contents include:

Imagery: mental drills for physical people: how recreating all-sensory experience can profoundly affect your performance
Goal setting: one step at a time – how to raise your game by setting smarter goals
Confidence: the majestic self-belief of Jonny Wilkinson – or how expectations can make or break your performance
Performance profiling: a coaching tool for pinpointing strengths and weaknesses, designing training strategies and building better communication with athletes
Flow:for peak experiences in sport, you need to go with the flow
Emotional control: these pre-performance strategies will get a grip on your emotions before they get a grip on you
Team sports: team cohesion and success: is there really a link?
Thought control: when it comes to doing your best, it’s the thoughts that count
Injury: how much do psychological factors contribute to the risk of injury in sport?
What the scientists say: Choking under pressure Bodybuilding dependence – not just a problem for men Thought suppression – a paradoxical effect How encouragement boosts performance

Whatever your sport, you need to discover why top athletes and coaches consider psychological training so important. This is your chance to try out the mental training techniques that lift performances to extraordinary levels.

Below are summarised extracts from Psychology – the Will to Win.

But can we really be saying it’s all your fault? That you could put in far superior performances with just a little mental adjustment?

The answer is yes – in many cases it’s the only thing holding you back.

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Developing imagery skills - a three-stage development plan

On top of the time spent honing skills and developing physical readiness, elite performers from all kinds of sports complete many laps of the track, lengths of the pool or throws of the javelin in their minds before major competitions.

It doesn’t matter whether you understand why. Training your psyche can actually make a better athlete of you.

The aims of this section of Psychology – the Will to Win is to encourage more athletes to use and develop their imagery skills and (for those who are already converts) to advise on how to use these skills to maximum effect.

It is clear that creating, or recreating, an all-sensory experience can have profound effects on physical performance and psychological functioning. However, recent research evidence suggests that to achieve maximum benefits athletes and coaches should select the content of their images very carefully.

You’ll find that once learned, imagery can be applied in many different ways to aid sports performers, and is one of the most regularly used tools of the sport psychologist.

What science has to say about imagery
Scientific research strongly supports the use of imagery in sport as an adjunct to physical practice. However, sceptics who need convincing may wish to consider the following three pieces of evidence:

1) Elite athletes and coaches use imagery regularly. Do you really think world-class performers would devote time to a technique that didn’t aid their performances?
2) Case studies of the use of imagery programs tailored to individual needs have demonstrated some dramatic performance improvements. We list relevant case studies.
3) Most importantly, a wealth of controlled scientific studies have shown that imagery can significantly benefit the learning and performance of a variety of sports skills

One recent innovative study is particularly worthy of note, since very large treatment effects were noted. Figure skaters who walked through their routines or drew their routines on paper, while imagining the moves with their chosen music playing, showed dramatic performance improvements by comparison with control skaters who didn’t use imagery.

Given the strong evidence, scientists have now turned their attention to the question of how imagery works. On this issue opinion remains divided and a healthy debate continues. Some experts believe that small neuromuscular ‘firings’ that have been demonstrated in some research studies provide sufficient feedback from imagined stimuli to allow for changes in performance.

Others argue that imagery can help to develop a mental blueprint for performance, much like planning what you are going to say before making an important telephone call.

Another line of evidence suggests that imagery may work more indirectly – facilitating changes in someone’s psychological state by building confidence, promoting motivation and reducing performance anxiety.

The fact is that without constant practice the brain’s imagery centre reacts in much the same way as your muscles do if you stop training – i.e. it atrophies.

As with physical exercise, you’ll find the more you train using our techniques, the faster you adapt and the better your performance.

Goal setting

Anyone interested in athletics will be aware of the achievements of the US 200m and 400m sprinter, Michael Johnson. In the course of a spectacular career, Johnson rewrote the record books when he became the only man ever to win both 200m and 400m Olympic gold medals, at the 1996 Olympics. At times he was, quite literally, ‘in a class of his own’.

However, according to the man himself, his achievements were based not purely on talent and hard physical conditioning, but on mental strength and a clear vision of where he wanted to go.

Michael Johnson developed a plan of how to get there and mobilised his extraordinary talent through effective goal setting.

How goal-setting enhances performance by 78%
You may not have used goal setting before. Or if you have tried and discarded it, there’s a good chance you misunderstood how it works.

One of the main problems is that not all coaches or athletes are aware of the principles of goal setting and how to apply them effectively. So a key purpose of this section of Psychology – the Will to Win is to give a better understanding of how to use goal-setting to enhance performance and avoid disappointments.

Not everyone has the talent to be a Michael Johnson, but anyone can achieve significant improvements in performance by the same means.

Many people associate goal setting with New Year resolutions, and are quick to dismiss the process as ineffective, since most well intentioned, if vague, resolutions have failed before the end of January. Let’s get one thing clear straight away:

Such resolutions are perfect examples of how not to set goals!

Research on goal setting in the world of business as well as sport and exercise has consistently shown that it can lead to enhanced performance. In fact, a recent meta-analysis (evaluation of pooled data from a whole series of studies) showed that goal setting led to performance enhancement in 78% of sport and exercise research studies, with moderate-to strong effects.

So, how is it done?

Short-term goals – the key to success
Top athletes like Michael Johnson have understood that, although dream goals such as Olympic gold medals are important in helping to direct our efforts, it is the day- to-day ‘short-term’ goals that provide the key to success. Psychology – the Will to Win classifies goals into three types:

1) Dream goals are the ones that seem a long way off and difficult to achieve. In time terms, they may be anything from six months to several years away
2) Intermediate goals are markers of where you want to be at a specific time. For example, if your dream goal is to reduce your 400m PB by one second over 10 months, an intermediate goal could be a half second improvement after five months PEAK PERFORMANCE PSYCHOLOGY SPECIAL REPORT
3) Short-term or daily goals are the most important because they provide a focus for our training in each and every session. Past research on Olympic athletes found that setting daily training goals was one factor that distinguished successful performers from their less successful counterparts.

We explain what you need to do in order to take the necessary steps towards your ultimate dream goal and why you need to set goals not just for competition, but for practice and training periods too. You’ll discover the four prerequisites for successful goal setting.

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Why goal setting so often fails
The dangers of ‘outcome goals’ that tend to focus on an objective competitive result, such as winning a medal or beating an opponent, can never be completely under your control since the ability and form of your opponents on the day can influence the result.

You might even run a PB but still fail to achieve your specific goal and so damage your confidence. Outcome goals can provide motivation, but focusing purely on the result can lead to increased anxiety.

That’s why it’s important to include ‘performance’ and ‘process’ goals in your training plan.

Performance and process goals
Performance goals can be easily readjusted to provide meaningful and realistic targets. ‘Process goals’ are to do with the actions or techniques that are required to achieve success.

Coaches have a preference for performance and process goals, since these can be more easily and precisely adjusted than outcome goals, although all three types of goal should be used as appropriate to the athlete and situation.

One recent study found better results when using a combination of goal strategies (outcome, performance and process goals) than either one alone.

Here’s the technique coaches use to help remember the key principles of goal setting: think SMARTER. That is, your goals should be:

Specific – Indicate precisely what is to be done. Avoid vague alternatives

Measurable – You should be able to quantify your goal

Accepted – Goals must be accepted as worthwhile, realistic and attainable

Recorded – Write your goals down. This is the basis of a contract with yourself

Time-constrained – Set specific time limits

Evaluated – Monitor your progress regularly

Reversible – In the event of injury, or failure to achieve overdifficult goals, reset your goals accordingly

The pursuit of confidence

All, I think, will agree that a lack of confidence effects capability and reduces all-round ability. When confidence is high, real breakthroughs are possible.

As we will demonstrate, it’s possible to ‘manufacture’ confidence. Indeed it is a vital process to avoid the kind of ‘expectation trap’ described below.

According to psychologist Albert Bandura, performers’ situational-specific confidence, or ‘self-efficacy’, is based on four primary sources of information. This evidence is represented graphically in Psychology – the Will to Win.

The first and most important factor is past performance accomplishments. What we have achieved in training and competition forms the basis of future expectations of success or failure. Repeated success naturally leads to positive expectations of further success, higher motivation and enhanced self-belief.

Unfortunately, the drawback of this principle is that failure can give rise to a downward performance spiral and a ‘snowball effect’ whereby a performer starts to believe that success is unattainable.

Of course, such an athlete does not mysteriously lose his or her physical skills and talents, but without confidence in these abilities high-level performance is rarely achieved. This is the ‘expectation trap’, which has put many a gifted athlete into permanent decline.

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Breaking out of the ‘expectation trap’
In research, confidence has been shown to consistently distinguish between highly successful and less successful athletes. Although many people mistakenly assume that confidence reflects performance – i.e. we become confident once we have performed consistently well – it is becoming increasingly evident that confidence can be established, or ‘manufactured’ beforehand.

As the story of Roger Bannister braking the four-minute mile demonstrates, we are often capable of far more than we do, but we restrict ourselves by our beliefs.

Psychology – the Will to Win helps you identify and treat the thoughts that are holding you back. We discuss various techniques that enable you to plant beliefs in your mind that your bodies will automatically follow.

That this works has been demonstrated in one study, for example, where hypnotism was used to convince participants that they were unable to lift a pen after being told it was too heavy to be lifted. Clearly they were physically capable of lifting the pen but for some reason were unable to perform the task.

This kind of ‘deception’ has been used in similar ways in sporting studies.

In one, 24 participants had their arms strength-tested and were then asked to arm-wrestle an opponent.

Before each match, the researchers deceived both participants into believing that the objectively weaker participant was actually the stronger and in 10 out of 12 contests, the weaker person actually won!

As these case studies showed, the outcomes were not predicted by physical strength but by belief.

Similar results were obtained from three experiments that manipulated the beliefs of weight lifters. In each study, researchers first ascertained participants’ one repetition maximum (1RM) for the bench press. After a rest period, the participants performed further lifts when they were deceived into thinking the weights were either heavier or lighter than they actually were.

Remarkably, in all three studies participants lifted more weight when they thought they were lifting less.

Psychology – the Will to Win explains how coaches and athletes can use this information to expect success and build confidence.

We are not suggesting that coaches should deceive their athletes in pursuit of their goals, as this can backfire and damage trust, but you’ll find our techniques provide many other answers to this question.

How to work on perceived weaknesses during training.

To ensure success and build confidence, as the athlete gains confidence, the instructor can work towards introducing a series of goals. As these are steadily accomplished, performance and confidence are built.

Confidence does not always mean you will perform at your best, but it certainly increases the likelihood of reaching your potential. Remember that confidence can be nurtured.

Outstanding performers are not simply born with confidence; they develop it through effective training. As you’ll discover, the start point is challenging yourself to think confidently. As you progress, step by step, you increase your belief that you can win. The result is that you become a very difficult person to beat.

Pinpointing strengths and weaknesses – designing training strategies
The use of certain mental skills can help you towards some great achievements – and they can be learned in much the same way as physical ones can, through systematic training. To prove my point, here’s a strange conundrum:

Think about how often you have heard players attributing their success or failure to confidence, motivation or concentration. That’s almost all you hear about!

Then think about how much time athletes who attribute their failures to mental factors spend on mental training and trying to address areas that could be improved. I can assure you that those that admit the problem rarely apply the appropriate remedy!

People who are unfamiliar with psychological skills training often don’t realise the range of options available to help improve performance. Furthermore, the psychological techniques that can lead to performance enhancement are often simple to learn and easy to incorporate into a regular training regime.

But whereas bodily ability – or lack of it – can be directly observed, psychological factors are often hidden. A key problem for coaches seeking to address such issues is how to work out what the problem is when they cannot observe what is going on in their performers’ minds.

A direct question does not always yield useful results since athletes can be reluctant – at least initially – to discuss such things. This is where performance profiling comes in.

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Performance Profiling
Performance profiling has many benefits and is useful for assessing physical and technical prowess as well as psychological factors.

But as with all these techniques, there is a right and wrong way to go about it.

For many years the typical psychological evaluation resembled a medical consultation, with the psychologist making his or her assessment and deciding on techniques for a change and the athlete playing a relatively passive role.

However, science research has identified an inherent weakness in this process since studies had shown that people’s intrinsic motivation could be weakened by the application of external controls. To put it simply, for athletes to remain motivated to adhere to psychological skills training programs, they need to be more involved in the decision-making processes.

With performance profiling the athlete is self-determining and his or her perspective becomes a central rather than peripheral focus. In devising this technique, researchers also provided a mechanism by which athletes could explore aspects of their performance that they may have taken for granted, and coaches and psychologists could gain further insight into their athletes’ cognitive processes.

The point about involving both parties in the profiling process is that such differences are highlighted and can then be dealt with effectively through dialogue.

Performance profiling can help coaches and psychologists develop a better understanding of their athletes by:

1. Highlighting perceived strengths and weaknesses

2. Clarifying the athlete’s and coach’s vision of the key determinants of elite performance, and highlighting any differences

3. Establishing areas where the athlete might resist change (as demonstrated by the perceived low importance of one or more constructs)

4. Providing a means of monitoring progress

5. Highlighting discrepancies between the athlete’s and coach’s assessment of performance

In summary, then, the performance profile is a tool that is particularly useful for aiding the design of specific mental, physical and technical training programs. The central involvement of the athlete in the process is a key strength that can boost motivation and promote adherence to any intervention strategies devised.

It may also facilitate the coach / athlete relationship by promoting dialogue and addressing any perceived discrepancies. Additionally, the profile can be used as a monitoring device to assess the effectiveness of any interventions and highlight areas of good and poor progress.

Pre-Performance Strategies
Competition can bring out the best or the worst in athletes, and the psychological demands are especially high when individuals or teams are striving to achieve the same goals. When physical skills are evenly matched, it is often the competitor with the stronger mental approach, who can control his or her mind before and during events, who wins.

However, many athletes wrongly assume that mental aspects of performance are innate and unchangeable when, in reality, systematic mental training can have a similar impact on performance as physical workouts.

Getting into the correct mind-set prior to competition is one of the most crucial aspects of top performance. In fact, a study of Olympic athletes showed that the combination of mental and physical readiness was a key factor that distinguished more successful athletes from their less successful counterparts in the Olympic Games.

Perhaps even more impressive is the finding that, of the three states of readiness assessed (mental, physical and technical), only mental factors were statistically linked with final Olympic rankings.

Emotional reactions to stressful situations can drain an athlete’s resources and impact negatively on performance if poorly managed. That is why it is important to have in place a strategy to deal with pre-performance stress.

It is important to challenge the belief of some athletes that emotions and mood states are simply reactions to external events; in fact, the athlete has considerable capacity for control in this area.

By developing consistent routines and ways of coping with distractions, uncertainty can be reduced and you are less likely to be negatively affected by external factors.

Psychology – the Will to Win identifies a number of strategies that can be employed by athletes to regulate their moods. These ideas are all designed to be put into practice in the hour before competition, although the principles can be adapted for other times.

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Psychology – the Will to Win is one of a series of special training workbooks from Peak Performance, the sports science newsletter. It is not available elsewhere.

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