Latest research: Sports Psychology

The Sports Psychology conference which took place just before Christmas had masses of research to listen to and digest. The previous blog posts consider specific areas but here are the quick take-aways on six areas: behaviour change, learning and using mental skills, working in extreme environments, supporting youth athletes, improving endurance performance and personality traits.

On behaviour change

  • Working memory can only remember a few points at a time. Never try to sell more than four.
  • Attention span has gone from 12 seconds in 2000 to 8 seconds now.
  • When information is cheap then it becomes expensive to get attention. So you must think what are you prepared to pay to get attention. Attention is at the heart of all behavior change issues
  • Strangers and new places are threats – so when trying to get people’s attention we need to do it in places which feel safe to them.
  • Studying motivation in sport is important as it helps us increase our theoretical and practical knowledge so we can change behaviour.

On learning and using mental skills

  • Interventions which have been found to enhance endurance performance are: Goal setting, Imagery, Pre-performance routines, Relaxation and Biofeedback and Self-talk.
  • Goal setting, Self-talk and Imagery have all been found to increase motivation.
  • A Parachute Regiment platoon who had mental skills training improved their mental toughness scores significantly more than those without the training.
  • Self-talk can significantly improve the performance of ultra runners and soldiers.
  • Your ability to do imagery influences how effective you can be at it.
  • Building your confidence before going into a competitive environment and having intrinsic motivation will help you succeed.

On working in extreme environments

  • Before going onto any type of expedition fully prepare for the physical and social environment by identifying and discussing potential expedition scenarios (including personal differences) and agree on a plan as to how to respond and support one another if required.
  • Key areas of growth for someone taking on a polar exploration can be in problem and emotional, solving, coping, positive interpretive processes, hardiness, optimism, conscientiousness, reflection and resilience.

On supporting youth athletes

  • Teach youth athletes coping skills to help them manage the tension between school and sport.
  • Help your youth athlete communicate how they are feeling around their dual role.

On improving endurance performance

  • Avoid mentally draining activities before endurance performance.
  • To improve endurance performance we either need to increase motivation or reduce the perception of effort. To reduce your perception of effort think about your cadence, about relaxing and finding ways to distract yourself.
  • Follow a pace or a pacer when you run to lower heart rate and potentially improve your performance.

On personality traits

  • Athletes with a long term injury who were optimistic reported fewer negative emotions, felt more in control, used more appropriate coping strategies, had higher levels of intrinsic motivation and stuck better to their rehab programmes.
  • Those who are high in mental toughness have an enhanced capacity to experience flow.

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