Photograph by Thao Le Hoang on Unsplash
Amateur: from the Latin amator to love. It is someone who practices an activity (e.g., sports, music) without being paid, for pleasure, because they are intrinsically motivated. Amateurs are often compared to professionals who are salaried and can dedicate their time exclusively to the activity.
The term amateur can have negative connotations, for example when it is used to communicate that the quality of work is suboptimal. However, being an amateur also implies that the person does what they are passionate about, and not out of obligation or for prizes, and they are committed, sometimes even sacrificing their little spare time.
ANT’s: stands for Automatic Negative Thoughts. These automatic thoughts come from people’s beliefs about themselves and the world. Although everyone can experience negative self-talk from time to time, during stressful situations like competitions negative thinking can get more intense. A constant negative thinking pattern by ANT’s can impact negatively on confidence and performance. Athletes can manage ANT’s by first recognising the negative self-talk and then replacing it with constructive thoughts. Other techniques for negative self-talk could be cognitive restructuring, reframing, and challenging the beliefs leading to the negative automatic thoughts.
Arousal: is the level of intensity of our behaviour. By being aroused we prepare ourselves both physiologically (e.g., increasing our heart rate) and psychologically (e.g., increasing our attention) to perform. Certain tasks are facilitated by specific arousal levels. For instance an archer needs to have a low level of activation in order to see the target properly and release the arrow accurately. On the other hand, it will be more helpful for a martial artist during a combat to be activated when facing the rival. If we think of a continuum, on one side we could be sleeping deeply, in the middle we would be awake and on the other extreme very excited. Nevertheless, arousal is neither positive nor negative but neutral. Arousal can be measured physiologically, biochemically, and through questionnaires. Relevant theories on arousal and performance are: Drive Theory, Inverted U hypothesis, Catastrophe theory, and Individual zones of optimal functioning (IZOF).
Attention: from the Latin word attendere: to direct the mind toward something. It is the cognitive process allowing us to observe an activity, or a stimuli, whether internal (e.g., a sensation, or a thought), or external (e.g., visual or auditory information), at any given moment. Through attention we can sustain our concentration for a particular length of time, focus on something specific, and select relevant from irrelevant information. Attention, focus and concentration are terms often used interchangeably. However attention is actually what we are observing at any given time; focus is the central point of our attention; and concentration is our ability to direct our focus and perform without getting distracted.
Attitude: Attitude is our set of thoughts, feelings and actions that we have about something. Examples of a positive attitudecan be being kind to the opponent, arriving on time, and showing initiative.A negative attitude is shown by complaining and blaming, whether is the coach or referee’s decisions which seem unfair, the media, your team, in the end this circle of negativity affects performance and it is a waste of effort. Often, we do not realise that we can choose our attitude regardless of the circumstances.
Biases in research: are systematic errors (whether intentional or not), distorting the magnitude of the results of the investigation. Biases could happen at any stage of the research process, (e.g., in the recruitment of participants, data collection, analysis and interpretation of results, and even at the dissemination stage). Relevant source: https://catalogofbias.org
Burnout: Although there is not a universal definition for burnout, it is usually referred to as the exhaustion experienced from a committed athlete after being unable to meet the sport demands. The range of symptoms can span several dimensions, including: -Affective: e.g., feeling emotionally exhausted, not enjoying the sport anymore. –Cognitive: e.g., experiencing difficulty concentrating, having powerless thoughts. -Physical: e.g., experiencing fatigue, being lethargic. –Behavioural: e.g., being often absent from training. Not everyone with burnout suffers all the symptoms, and sometimes it is difficult to distinguish between a symptom and a consequence of burnout. Causes of burnout include: excessive workload, lack of support and lack of recognition. As well as impaired performance, the consequences of burnout can negatively impact the athlete’s wellbeing, and the team. Related key words are overtraining, drop out, staleness and stress.
Commitment: is a motivational state influencing the athlete’s effort and persistence they put in their sport, especially when facing obstacles. The athletes’ level of commitment varies through their career. The commitment to train, rest and recover is considered one of the first steps to excellence.
Deliberate practice: is purposeful and systematic practice trained at the right level of skills for the athlete. It provides the athlete with feedback so s/he can understand what the mistake is and why it has happened. This type of practice needs to have enough sessions to correct errors. For deliberate practice to work, athletes also need the motivation to improve. A relevant author in this area of expert performance is K. Anders Ericsson: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/K._Anders_Ericsson
Equanimity: from the Latin: ‘aequus’ (equal) + ‘animus’ (mind), it means being with an even mind when we encounter a stressful, neutral or pleasant experience. It is not the same as indifference; instead, it is the ability to have a healthy emotional reaction without repressing emotions or being over-excited. When experiencing equanimity, we perceive experiences in an impartial way and with psychological distance. Equanimity could be gradually developed through mindfulness practice.
Focus of attention: is the central point of your attention. The focus of attention is different depending on the stimuli athletes pay attention to. Focus’ direction and width:
–Direction – Internal: Emotions, thoughts and bodily sensations.
-Direction – External: Environmental aspects, ej., ball, fans, weather.
-Width – Narrow: Something specific, ej., landing spot.
-Width – Broad: Several things widely, ej., the player’s position of the opponent team.
Flow: is a pleasant state occurring when people are immersed in a challenging and achievable activity. While in flow the whole focus of attention is on the activity, the person feels in control of the situation, the notion of time is distorted and there is a loss of self-awareness. For this experience to occur, the activity must have a specific structure and a target, and it cannot be too easy or too difficult. The activity also has to provide feedback on whether the target is being met. This experience was first researched by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi. Flow is relevant for sport since optimal performance usually occurs when athletes enter this state.
Gratitude: is feeling appreciation, being thankful and having a sense of abundance. This emotion is relevant to sport psychology for two reasons:
1) When expressing gratitude athletes and coaches strengthen their relationships.
2) When feeling grateful (as opposed to feeling entitled) it is possible to see opportunities instead of despair.
Goal setting: is an essential tool for training and competition; it keeps us motivated, it makes us work harder and it helps us identifying areas for improvement. Having goals increase our satisfaction and confidence and it help us to get the most of our training. To be effective, we need to have a vision about the result we want to achieve, which at the same time needs to be challenging and achievable. Another aspect to consider is identifying the objectives to reach the goal and the necessary actions to do to meet these objectives.
When setting up the objectives, we need to be very specific, adding the deadline to meet them, bearing in mind the resources, time available, and our capabilities. Finally, we cannot forget to set up a way to measure our progress, to check whether the objectives or the goal needs modifying. Expect also times where you do not see progress, where goals are unmet, and where you reach a plateau. The more and clear we specify the objectives the easier it is going to be to meet them.
The acronym SMARTER is useful for setting objectives:
Specific, Measurable, adding related Actions, Realistic, Time bounded, Evaluating the objectives to see if they are being met, and Readjusting them if necessary.
Gratitude: is feeling appreciation, being thankful and having a sense of abundance. This emotion is relevant to sport psychology for two reasons: 1) When expressing gratitude athletes and coaches strengthen their relationships. 2) When feeling grateful (as opposed to feeling entitled) it is possible to see opportunities instead of despair.
Kaizen: Word of Japanese origin referring to the commitment to continuously improve, (e.g., setting new goal each time we reach one) and understanding mistakes as opportunities to learn.
Locus of control: Through our set of beliefs and life experiences we develop our locus of control, which is the place where we think the control of what happens to us, our successes, and failures is. This interpretation – irrespective of whatever happens is within someone’s control or not – is important when coping with stress. When faced with scenarios like: “whether an athlete did not get a good score due to not training efficiently, or due to the judges not scoring fairly”; answers about the perception of the locus of control could range in a continuum. On the one extreme it could be internal (e.g., attributing success or failure to ourselves), and on the other externally (i.e., due to luck, fate, chance or powerful others). Those with an internal locus of control hold themselves accountable for what happens to them and try to exercise that control; whereas those with an external locus of control do not usually exercise control about what happens to them. Having an internal locus of control is empowering because it leads individuals to think they can influence events in their lives and motivates them to be responsible for their actions. Nobody can control everything happening to us, however what everyone can do is controlling the reactions to what happens, i.e., what we think and do about it. Some of the relevant theories to the locus of control are: Locus of control theory, Social learning theory. The locus of control has been researched and measured on a wide variety of contexts such as health, academic achievement, parenthood, economic behaviour, prison environment, and driving behaviour.
Mindfulness: is the practice of being aware and calm, in the present moment, without letting worries of the past or the future interfere. There are different mindfulness-based meditation techniques that use breathing exercises, body scans, or incorporate mindfulness into everyday tasks like walking or eating. With these techniques, observation of the present moment is practiced, creating a distance between us and our behaviour, accepting what is happening in our environment or within us (e.g., thoughts, bodily sensations), with equanimity. Mindfulness has its origins in Zen Buddhism, although practicing it does not imply a link to any religion. The monk Thich Nhat Hanh and the doctor Jon Kabat-Zinn introduced the concept of mindfulness to Western countries.
Motivation: is the intensity, or the amount of effort that is put into doing an activity. If the activity is important to the person then her/his intensity will be greater than if the activity is not so important. Motivation has also a direction leading a person to pursue one activity and not others. Being motivated is essential to be able to train day after day, and week after week, and get closer to success. Without motivation, no matter how talented the players are, they will not be able to reach their full potential.
Individuals are motivated when:
- The objectives to reach the main goal are clearly defined
- They perceive that they have the skills to accomplish the objectives
- They commit to leave their ‘comfort zone’
- They have a degree of control over the activity, (e.g., they have they can choose between options, and can make decisions)
Even if all these motivational conditions are met, success is not guaranteed, but individuals will be the better equipped to achieve their main goal.
There are several theories relevant to motivation, one of them is the theory of self-efficacy by Bandura (explaining the sources that make the person perceive if they are capable to do a task), and the theory of self-determination by Deci and Ryan (explaining different types of motivation, e.g., intrinsic and extrinsic).
Optimism: three important aspects of optimism are:
- Believing that an outcome is going to be successful.
- Seeing opportunities instead of setbacks.
- Having certain explanatory styles about what happens to us.
Optimistic thought= believing a setback is temporary vs. Pessimistic thought= believing setbacks last longer.
Optimistic thought= believing a setback is just about a specific part of our lives vs. Pessimistic thought= pervading a large part of our lives.
Optimistic thought= share the blame vs. Pessimistic thought= blaming ourselves.
Being optimistic when facing difficulties has the advantage of making us persevere, as opposed to being pessimistic which make us loose our confidence and motivation. However, there are limits about being optimistic if for instance we are not realistic about our situation. A main author on optimism is Martin Seligman https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Martin_Seligman
Performance profiling: was created by Butler and Hardy in 1992. It is a method to monitor certain areas in sport, and it is useful for goal setting, motivation and self-awareness. It can be completed in several ways. Firstly, the categories to be included and the times when the values are going to be noted down (for instance, before and after the season) are selected. Then those categories get rated on a scale from 1 to 10. The first profile completed (e.g., before the season) could be compared to a second one (e.g., after the season) to see progress over time.
PICOS and SPIDER summaries: are very useful for searching studies in scientific literature databases, creating protocols for research, and helping us to study. The PICOS summary is used for quantitative research and stands for:
P – Participants: specify the participants and its characteristics and their context if it is relevant. Enter the total number of participants.
I – Intervention: state the intervention or treatment and include how long the intervention took, if relevant.
C – Comparison: what did the intervention or treatment was compared with? Add the comparison treatment, for instance placebo.
O – Outcome: is the result of the study.
S – Study: specify the type of study, for example whether it was a randomised controlled trial, a longitudinal study, etc.
The SPIDER summary: can be more helpful for qualitative research, and stands for:
S – Sample: who were the people studied? Add the sample size.
PI – Phenomenon of Interest: this is the phenomenon of interest researched such as the ‘how’ or ‘why’ of behaviour and experiences.
D – Design: that is, the techniques employed to get data, like interviews.
E – Evaluation: this is what was learned from the evaluation or exploration of the data. Specify first the data collected, for instance: attitudes, views, experiences.
R – Research type: state whether the study was qualitative, quantitative or mixed.
Pre-performance routines: are sequences of behaviors designed to optimally prepare athletes by helping them concentrate, making them feel in control and preparing their neuromuscular system. Without practicing a pre-execution routine, the athlete may not pay attention to relevant stimuli and may not be able to keep thoughts or emotions under control. These pre-performance routines are not to be confused with superstitious rituals. Some of the situations in which athletes can benefit from this strategy are those in which they have time to prepare, eg.:
• Shots (basketball free kicks, soccer penalties, archery, golf)
• Serves (tennis, badminton)
• Race starts (BMX races, sprints, swimming)
• Unexpected events! (false starts).
The steps to include could be:
-Preparation: of the specific previous movements of the action.
-Creating a calm mind: by breathing at a certain pace, or using positive keywords to encourage confidence.
-Visualization: with as much detail as possible of the successful result.
Pressure: although sports commentators often talk about pressure as something coming from the competition environment (e.g., having an important rival, being in the last stage of a competition); actually pressure are the feelings created by the athlete about her/his performance. Pressure is not necessarily something negative since feeling under pressure can make us motivate ourselves more and concentrate better. We ourselves create our pressure – usually in situations where the result has an important meaning for us -. Knowing this is important because if we realize that we can manage how we feel this gives us control to choose how we perceive aspects of the environment.
Psychological safety: the definition of psychological safety was developed by Kahn in 1990, as the ability to ‘employ or express themselves physically, cognitively, and emotionally’. Later, in 1999, after researching performance in clinical teams, Edmonson came up with the following definition: ‘a shared belief held by members of a team that the team is safe for interpersonal risk taking’. More recently, in 2019, Clark suggested a model with four stages for progression to psychological safety:
- Inclusion safety: feeling included and accepted for who we are.
- Learner safety: feeling safe to learn, ask questions, give and receive feedback, and make mistakes.
- Contributor safety: being encouraged by the team to contribute.
- Challenger safety: feeling safe to challenge the status quo.
Relaxation: helps us to remove muscle tension, to concentrate, and to control arousal levels. There are two categories of relaxation, one works from muscle-to-mind (e.g., breathing exercises, progressive muscle relaxation) and the other one is from mind-to-muscle (e.g., certain visualization and meditation exercises). The best time to learn relaxation exercises is when the muscles are tired after exercise.
Resilience: early use of this word comes from the field of physics to describe those materials like rubber that were able to bounce back into shape after applying a force. Similarly, the most basic meaning of psychological resilience is our ability to bounce back when faced with stress. However, to understand psychological resilience we also need to consider the following:
- Our ability to build our intrapersonal skills, especially when times are going well (e.g., self-reflection, constructive self-talk, self-compassion, our ability to focus on the here and now).
- Our social skills, for instance, our ability to connect with compassionate others, and our ability to accept support from those who care about us.
- Our capacity to adapt, grow and thrive, not just when faced with adversity, but also when presented with positive but challenging opportunities.
Related concepts: mental toughness, stress.
Self-esteem: Is the positive, negative or neutral evaluation about ourselves, and it is developed from our life experience, culture and values. This concept is not fixed, and cannot be directly measured or observed. Individuals with high self-esteem are more likely to have better physical and mental health. It has been argued that self-esteem could be both a determinant (i.e., those who have positive views about themselves are more likely to engage in physical activity) and an outcome of physical activity (i.e., through practicing physical activity one can shift positively or negatively the views about themselves). Relevant terms and theories on self-esteem are: self-image, self-concept, self-confidence, self-efficacy, self-compassion, positivity bias and Johari’s window.
Self-Determination theory: is a theoretical framework developed in the 80’s by Decy and Ryan to study the interaction between intrinsic (coming from within the person), and extrinsic (coming from the environment) motivation, and the basic psychological needs of competence, autonomy and relatedness. The psychological need of competence is the need to attain outcomes that are in line with one’s values. Autonomy is the need to have control over one’s behaviour and the ability to choose activities in line with one’s sense of self. Relatedness refers to the psychological need of developing relationships and feeling part of a community.
Self-image: is the mental representation of ourselves made from past and present opinions and facts. We actually do not have just one image of ourselves but multiple self-images. For our sport, we develop several self-images according to our skills, so for instance we can have self-images about our ability to serve the ball, to handle pressure during difficult moments, or about our capacity to concentrate. The way we play reflects our self-image so that is why it is important to develop a positive one. Related concept are: self-perception, individual’s identity, self-confidence and self-esteem.
Self-regulation: is the conscious regulation of thoughts, feelings and behavior in line with one’s standards. This is relevant to sport psychology in many situations, for instance managing the thoughts about stopping during a long distance run, or regulating feelings when loosing, or resisting not swearing at the referee when perceiving that s/he has been unfair. The capacity to self-regulate decreases over time when faced with tasks requiring to self-regulate. Glucose and sleep play important roles for self-regulation. Relevant theory: The strength model of self-regulation by Roy Baumeister et al.
Self-talk: is the inner dialogue we have with ourselves either internally or out loud. Self-talk is our voice motivating us, giving us instructions, interpreting our actions and emotions and help us making sense of our environment. Self-talk can be positive and helpful for our performance (e.g., ‘is just a game’, ‘fast and light’, ‘eye on the ball’), or it could be negative, for instance if it is unrealistic and self-defeating (e.g., ‘I am not good at this’, ‘everyone is better’, ‘I am in the worst team’). Both conscious thoughts and unconscious beliefs make up the content of our internal dialogue. It is also one of the most used sport psychology strategies to enhance performance, by for instance influencing confidence, emotional and cognitive control. Some athletes refer themselves as ‘I’ and others as ‘you’ or ‘we’ while self-talking.
Systematic reviews: Systematic reviews are a type of meta-research (research on research) in which primary research studies (e.g., randomised controlled trials) are included to answer a specific research question by synthesising the available evidence. They differ from narrative reviews as they are conducted in a standardised way, and the results and procedures could be replicated. Early systematic reviews were employed to study the efficacy of clinical treatments, and then they started to be used to address different questions about experiences, diagnostics, and prognostics. These days systematic reviews synthesise qualitative evidence too and some even include both quantitative and qualitative methods.
Team building: is the process of increasing the effectiveness of the team by creating cohesion within its members. Some of the benefits of team building interventions are: clarity and acceptance of roles, better communication, higher athlete satisfaction, and enhanced collaboration. Some of the approaches for the interventions can be:
-The Values-Based Approach: to help identify individual and shared values, and how can these assist the team in goal setting and cohesion.
-Goal-Setting: everyone identifies long-term goals, and progress is monitored.
-Personal Disclosure Mutual Sharing: by sharing personal views on values and motivations understanding within the team members is nurtured.
Unconscious biases: are some thoughts we have, and decisions we make based on our personal experiences, background, cultural context, and even if we are under stress or pressure, and for which we are not aware of. Subtle signs of unconscious biases during a conversation for instance could be being less empathetic, not making eye contact, interrupting, or paying less attention to some people. We all have unconscious biases, so it is helpful to be self-aware about them; other actions we can take are using inclusive language and welcoming diversity. Some types of unconscious biases are:
Affinity bias: preferring people who we think are like us.
Availability bias: favouring the information we have more readily available.
Beauty bias: preferring people that we perceived as more physically attractive.
Blind spot bias: our tendency to believe that we are less biased than others.
Confirmation bias: looking for confirmation of our belief.
Conformity bias: is adopting the group thoughts or behaviour even though we do not agree with them.
Decision fatigue: is the decrease in the quality of our decisions after taking too many.
Ingroup bias: provide preferential treatment to people who belong to our group and reject those that do not belong to our group.
Loss aversion: is having a stronger mental reaction from losing than from gaining (e.g., if we lose an x amount of money, we feel more upset than happy if we earn that same amount).
Negativity bias: placing more weight, by for instance dwelling for longer, or paying more attention to negative experiences than positive ones.
Overconfidence bias: is the tendency to believe that our skills are better than they are.
Status quo bias: is preferring to “keep things as they are” because it takes less effort to change. This could be for various reasons like fear of the unknown, resistance to change, or because we need more effort to change.
Temporal discounting: is preferring an immediate short gain over a bigger delayed reward.
The halo effect: when we regard a person in a positive way, and we view everything about that person in a positive manner.
The horn effect: the opposite of the halo effect, so we view everything about that person in a negative way.
Values: just as people’s values guide their priorities, attitude and behaviour, in organizations they also represent the standards that direct them. In a leader, values can make her/his behaviour more oriented towards her/himself (e.g., needs and wants) or towards improving the people h/se leads. In an organization, values inspire its members, guide their behaviour, and differentiate the organization from others.
Visualisation: also referred to as imagery, consists in creating or recreating a mental experience, ideally a clear image that can also be controlled. All senses could be employed, so it is not just the sounds or sights being elicited, but touch, smell, and taste. When we practice visualisation, we are reinforcing the memory of the muscular and nervous systems about the movements required for a specific technique.
Doing visualisation exercises is another way to enhance training. So the more we practice the stronger that circuit about that skill will get between the brain and the relevant parts of the body; that skill will also be perceived as more fluid.
There are two visualization perspectives that can be taken: either ‘us’ being the protagonists, or seeing ourselves like we were a third person. Some athletes have preference for one perspective over another, or they choose a perspective depending on the skill they are training. It is normal to find difficult to do visualization if we are not used to, it can be hard to create, control an image, or make it vivid.
We can use visualization to train the following:
Physical training, to practice:
- A specific skill, like for instance imagining the perfect tennis pass, or to train a game strategy.
- In places where we have never been, to prepare for competitions.
- If we cannot do the exercises physically, if for instance we are injured.
Mental training, to motivate ourselves:
- For a specific outcome, e.g., completing a marathon.
- About a specific challenge, for instance imagining that we have high self-confidence just before starting a race.
Mental training, to relax: After training, visualisation could be used to relax. The best time to do this type is when the muscles are tired.
Winning vs. Succeeding: winning is not the same as succeeding because winning only focuses on the outcome (e.g., scoring more points than the opponent) and involves factors beyond the athlete’s control. An athlete can win without much effort if for instance winning is the result of an opponent being disqualified or injured. Succeeding is about giving your best, having fun and learning. In the end, the winning is a by-product of success. Related theories: outcome vs. process orientation / goals.
‘Success is peace of mind which is a direct result of self-satisfaction in knowing you made the effort to become the best of which you are capable.’ – John Wooden.