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Too little time? Give it a try!

I'm not sure if this qualifies as a proper blog, but I just wanted to share a couple pieces of anecdotal evidence regarding psychological training. As Vealey indicates, most coaches feel that they don't have the time to build mental training into their practice schedule (2005). I felt much the same way, as we constantly battle with time use and prioritization of practice activities. After reading the chapters assigned for this week, I committed to taking 15 minutes of practice to focus on mental skills. We have discussed some mental skills before, but never spent time refining and practicing those skills during our scheduled time with the athletes. For 2 days before our first meet, we worked on practicing a visualization and focus routine that the swimmers could apply in the meet to ready them for their performances. To begin with, I picked out just a couple items from Vealey with the overall goal being to "stretch their comfort zones" and "effectively cope with the natural discomfort" of the competitive situation (2005).
The first item we focused on was to identify when and where purposeful and deliberate thinking was necessary. I suggested that swimmers reserve the time starting 10 swimmers before them for focusing and visualizing. We also discussed some tools for dealing with the distractions that would surround them during the meet, including their neighbors in line. The second focus item was using positive trigger words to help them remain focused. They were instructed to identify 3 words or phrases that they could use to focus and/or help them re-focus before and during their performance. The last focus item that we started with was the ability to "release" a performance and prepare for the next.
The coaches worked with the swimmers to help them develop this focusing routine and then the swimmers had time to practice for 2 days before the meet. They were also reminded before the beginning of the meet. During the actual meet, the swimmers were left to use the routine on their own.
On the day after the meet, I asked the swimmers to reflect on how they felt about the focusing/visualization routine. They were allowed to comment anonymously and the responses all seemed very honest. I realize that we have a lot of room for improvement, but was shocked by how little time we spent and how much the swimmers felt it helped. I have included some of the quotes below:

"I usually get super nervous and over-breathe. Not as bad as hyperventilate, but it speeds up my heart-rate so I need more oxygen making me panic during my figures. This helped me calm down and regulate breathing so I can focus more. I felt great about using it!"

"It helped my performance because I knew what to focus on while doing my figure. I thought it was a good idea."

"The mental training definitely helped me and improved my scores. I was pleased yesterday. It helped me calm down."

"It helped me stay focused! I was less nervous. I think it really helped me think while I was in the water. But, I would like to learn how to think upside-down!"

"It calmed me down, focused me. It helped me realize what I needed to do. My performance was better. I had more confidence."

So, take a couple minutes and give it a try!
Jessica Gust

Sources:

Vealey, Robin S. Coaching for the Inner Edge, 2005.

Introduction To Psychological Skills

In most cases we would hope that being involved in athletics is supposed to be fun. Sure winning is important, but not loosing the focus on enjoying yourself is just as important, and that goes for coaches and athletes. Anderson and Aberman (2006) said it best when they stated "coaching is about using sports to help kids grow as individuals, athletes will perform better over the long haul if they're actively choosing to play" (p. 158). They also pointed out that when kids are playing sports because they feel like they have to and it's not because they want to then it becomes more like work. Playing for those reasons will result in athletes defining themselves as good or bad based on how they are performing in sports. Playing because they feel like they have to can also result in stress on the athlete which can lead to premature burnout and causing problems for their coach. For both coaches and athletes to reach his or her full potential they must have the freedom to say 'I can quit' (Anderson & Aberman, 2006).

Anderson and Aberman have mentioned quite a bit about "the other stuff" in their book and no matter where you go as a coach "the other stuff" is going to be there. Some coaches are happy with staying at the same institution for most of their career while others will continue to move around every few years trying to avoid the problems that are everywhere. The coaches who are keeping up and staying in the game are the ones that are focusing on the things they can change, themselves, versus spending wasted time on trying to change things that they have no control over. This type of focus is on self-examination and becoming a good leader is being able to recognize that you can't do it all, you have to learn to delegate responsibilities. Self-examination is not easy but there are resources available to help you through the process. "A trained psychologist who also is an integral part of an athletic program can offer informed, unbiased, straightforward, and nonjudgmental advice to a head coach" (Anderson & Aberman, p. 166, 2006). If you don't have access to that kind of professional resource you can always consider joining an association of peers throughout the league or even within your own institution. Ultimately, when you are performing at your best is when your players will as well (Anderson & Aberman, 2006).

Self-examination is a start to mental training. If you haven't fully examined who you are and where you want to be, your own mind can hold you back. "Mental training techniques can help athletes respond to pressure more effectively and perform better. Yet fear and ignorance remain, largely the result of a lack of education and exposure to the realities of sport psychology" (Vealey, p. 135, 2005). Mental skills can be developed from trial and error, but mental training attempts to help athletes develop these skills without having to wait for the experience (Vealey, 2005). Mental training has the ability to put the athletes in the position to win and it's also meant to empower the coaches. In order for mental training to be successful, coaches need to demonstrate their commitment to the training and the players must believe and commit to practicing and implementing the techniques. Mental skills, like physical skills, are developed as athletes become more proficient in their use. The objective is to improve athletes' optimal performance, which will maximize their chances of being successful. Not only are mental skills important in athletics, but they are also life skills.

Mental training tools are the basic methods to enhance how athletes think, feel and act. P3 Thinking is one of those tools. In order for P3 Thinking to work each of the three P's, Purposeful, Productive and Possibility Thinking are necessary. The first of the three is Purposeful Thinking, which requires athletes to know what they should think and why they should think it. The three reasons that athletes don't think on purpose is that they take thinking for granted and think it's something that will happen on its own, they don't know what to think about and they allow the events around them to dictate how they think. Self-talk is a technique that can be used for purposeful thinking and has been shown to enhance athletes' confidence and motivation (Vealey, 2005). Productive Thinking is the second of the three P's and it helps athletes understand how to productively think on purpose. So instead of reacting which is usually emotionally driven the athlete can choose to respond more calmly and with more consideration instead. Anderson and Aberman talk about coaches focusing on what they can control. The same goes for athletes. They should try to focus on what they can do something about, their "Circle of Influence" versus something they have no control over, their "Circle of Concern". The last of the three P's is Possibility Thinking, which is focusing on the possibilities or the positive side of what you want or hope to happen instead of focusing on the impossibilities. P3 Thinking is a tool used in developing mental training and it takes practice and repetition for it to become habit.

Works Cited
Anderson, J., & Aberman, R. (2006). Why Good Coaches Quit.
Vealey, R. S. (2005). Coaching for the Inner Edge.

Christina Gilbert

Superhumans!

Psychology and mental training in athletics is often associated with weakness, shame, and problems that need to be fixed. When my mother recommended that I see a sport psychologist, I automatically become defensive and stated that I didn't have anything wrong with me. As always, my mom was right, seeing a Sport's psychologist doesn't mean something has to be necessarily wrong, but they can serve as an important part of an athlete's training. The reality is that athletes endure abnormal amounts of stress in athletic experiences and therefore athletes are expected to be supernormal. "Mental training attempts to help normal athletes develop supernormal responses to situations that are abnormal in the amount of stress and risk involved" (Vealey, p.137, 2005). Also, Vealey reminds us, physical and mental training cannot be separated. They both function dependently on the other (Vealey, Ch.7). As Vealey informs, research points to the effectiveness of mental training; the most successful Olympians devote more time to mental training than less successful athletes and many studies show that mental training intervention enhanced athletes' performance (Vealey, p.142, 2005). It is a coach's responsibility to provide opportunities and resources for athletes to develop mental skills.
Aberman and Aberman discuss the importance for athletes to believe that they are playing their sport by their own decision. They must feel that they have the freedom to quit, and in turn have the freedom to choose to autonomously have self discipline and train most effectively. Similarly, athletes have to autonomously choose to self reflect and decide that they want to develop their mental ability in their sport. Based on my own experiences, I believe that an athlete has to ultimately decide if they want to commit to the process of becoming "mentally fit." Before a coach can expect an athlete to make such a commitment, an athlete first needs to be informed about its importance and its benefits. Athletes also need to understand that becoming mentally fit requires an intentional commitment and that it is a process. Vealey refers to the hockey player that is frustrated after meeting once with the sport's psychologist and assuming that after a single meeting, he should overcome all of his mental battles. Vealey asks why people assume that mental training provides instantaneous results, but accept that physical training is a gradual developmental process. It seems that people think that psychologists are magical. People are uninformed about a psychologist's role with a coach and athletes. Coaches can remediate this by informing athletes and parents about the research about the effectiveness of mental training and can also discuss the process of developing mental skills.
I read an article this week about Kara Goucher, a professional runner. She ran at the 2008 Olympics in the 5k and 10k on the track. The article talked about Kara's biggest weakness being her mind and confidence. The article states, "Goucher's candid admissions about her psychological struggles are rare for an elite athlete, but they will ring true to any runner who's ever battled doubts, setbacks, or mental demons" (Barcott, p.60, 2010). As silly as it sounds, reading that professional athletes deal with the same issues as any other athlete helps me to believe that developing my own mental strength and confidence is practical and beneficial for my training. This sort of reminds me of the strong impact that Jen Harris had on encouraging other female athletes to be open about their sexuality. I hope that people can be more "candid" about their need to grow psychologically. Also, based on my experience, coaches can use professional and successful athlete's testimonies to point out the reality that constructive thinking doesn't just happen, it is a learned skill.
A coach must also help an athlete know how to develop mentally. Vealey talks about P³ thinking: Purposeful, Productive, and Possibility thinking. Vealey discusses purposeful thinking, the importance to learn how to effectively use self-talk, and how to know when to use purposeful thinking (Vealey, 2005). Contrary to what many presume, thoughts do not just happen! Although there are those few times that an athlete is in "the zone" and is not intentional about his or her thought process, it happens very rarely. Thus, athletes need to train their minds so that they can control when they are in "the zone" and how to perform when they aren't in "the zone." Specific phrases are better than others. Self talk can be used for skill development, strategy, getting psyched up for emotion and effort, relaxation, self evaluation, focusing and building confidence (Vealey, p. 205, 2005). Self talk should be framed positively. They often should be focused on a specific performance trigger. Darren Treasure, Kara Goucher's sport's psychologist encourages athletes to select a word that "is one of stimulus and response," (Barcott, p. 65, 2010). Treasure, Vealey, and Aberman recommend that words be practiced while practicing. Coaches, therefore, must help athletes to develop constructive self talk habits and provide them with opportunities to practice using them so in high pressure and difficult situations they are actually applied. Also coaches should encourage the positive talk rather than telling athletes what not to focus on. As the Panda study revealed, it is nearly impossible to not think about what you are told not to think about. Instead of not thinking about "it," the athlete thinks more about "it." Coaches can help athletes by aiding athletes in the process of selecting specific positive trigger words.
The mental aspect for athletes certainly requires intentional effort. Before expecting athletes to make the commitment to using P³ thinking, coaches must inform athletes of its importance. Coaches must also model their own commitment to P³ thinking and be willing to look in the mirror, despite how scary as it can be (Aberman et al, 2008). Our goal as coaches is to be transformative leaders so that our athletes can be transformed into Superhumans while they face abnormally stressful situations in their sport! One step towards facilitating this transformation is to provide athletes with opportunities to refine their mental skills.

Elizabeth Yetzer

Works Cited Anderson & Aberman (2006). Why Good Coaches Quit. Barcott, Bruce. (2010, March). Mind Gains. Runners World, 60-69,106,109. Vealey, R. (2005). Coaching for the Inner Edge. Morgantown, VW: Fitness Information Technologies.