Sport psychology

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Last updated: April 14, 2019

Sport psychology studies began in the late 19th century in 1898 with the observation of cyclists and children reeling fishing line.

Triplett, N. (1898) found that performance was better in the presence of others. Others now began to experiment in the field of sport psychology. It wasn’t until the 1920’s that someone specialized; Coleman R Griffith published 25 papers between 1921 and 1931 about sport psychology.

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He also published two books: Psychology of Coaching (1926) and Psychology of Athletics (1928). Many of his studies were conducted in the sport of American Football with the Chicago Cubs which included filming skills and implementing training programmes. Some of the projects failed (Green, C.) but sport psychology was now a specialized field.In 1938 Franklin Henry established the psychology of physical activity graduation programme at the University of California which inspired many physical educators to study in the field of sports psychology. This was preparation for the future and in 1965 the first World Congress of Sport Psychology was held in RomePsychologists were now studying factors such as anxiety, self esteem and personality and their effects on performance. Bruce Ogilvie began work with athletes and teams and in 1966 with Thomas Tutko wrote Problem Athletes and How to Handle Them.Also in 1966 Spence JT and Spence KW saw a relationship between being psyched up and performance which they called Drive Theory.

Sport psychology began to be an applied field between 1975 and 1999 when much advancement took place. Notably The Journal of Sport Psychology is established in 1979, 1988 U.S Olympic team is accompanied by a recognized sport psychologist and The Journal of Applied Sport Psychology begins in 1989.

Importance in SportIn 1993 Cox et al noted that sport psychology, which is the understanding of how psychological factors affect physical performance, was becoming a separate field from exercise psychology, which is how participation in exercise affects psychological development. They also recognised that both will continue to grow over the coming years. (Cox et al 1993)Research has shown that sport psychology can help with all of the following aspects of training and competition:* Deal with pressured situations”Excessive mental tension will affect our touch and our ability to perceive and to evaluate, so naturally it will be difficult to make the right decisions on the football pitch” Railo, W1 (2000)* Control your emotions”Emotions are the result of cognitive interpretations; they can also impact on your thoughts, giving rise to a vicious circle of negative thoughts and emotions” Crust, L. (2002)* Stay focused”Mental conditioning is more than learning to cope with mental pressure and physical stress: it is also learning to harness the most powerful force we have. Ultimately, successful running is a conquest of the body by the mind” Coe, P.

(1996)* Maintain confidence”Runners can regain lost confidence with reminders that a bad race is just a temporary setback and encouragement to focus on future success.” Greene, L. & Pate, R.

(1997)* Attempt to develop team spirit”In the football world, it is apparent that most coaches think of team building in mental or psychological terms” Michels, R (2001)* Help set clear goals and targets for you to work towards.”Goals must be learnt systematically. They must be shaped in a certain way” Railo, W2 (2000)Where psychology fits into athlete’s requirements could be best drawn:Tactical KnowledgeTechnical Ability Mental (Psychology) PerformancePhysical Strength ; PowerWhat Is Happening?After reading the short report on Ian his performance may be affected by feelings of state anxiety. This is defined as an emotional state “characterised by subjective, consciously perceived feelings of apprehension and tension, accompanied by or associated with activation or arousal of the autonomic nervous system”.

(Spielberger, 1966) This state anxiety has two components which are cognitive anxiety and somatic anxiety.Cognitive anxiety is the thought component. This may be worrying and apprehensive thoughts.Somatic anxiety is the moment to moment changes in physiological arousal and the perception of these changes. Increases in heart rate, shortening of breath and dry mouth are some responses.Why he may be suffering from anxieties is outlined below.Somatic AnxietyIan is feeling tense and slightly “twitchy” before races. Weinberg ; Gould (1995) state that one of the ways excess anxiety can affect performers is through increased muscle tension and/or inappropriate muscle tension which can diminish performance.

His body may be responding to a perceived threat. This could be the other competitors now he is a senior. He may be physiologically over aroused.

When he was a junior he used the techniques of Morris Green to achieve a high level of physiological arousal. He may need to re-evaluate this.Cognitive AnxietyIan is now worrying about his opponents and their performances this could be affecting his focus. He may be anxious about the level of performance that others expect of him. He has been achieving good times in training and his coach and peers know these times are good enough to perform at senior level but his perceived failure in competitions may be increasing his cognitive anxiety. He has also began to observe the established athletes when at competitions and thoughts of their speed, power and performance is giving rise to negatives thoughts about his own performance.

This could be affecting his performance. Studies of elite Greek junior tennis players found that performance and aspects of their game were affected by cognitive anxiety (Mamassis, G. 28/11/2005)Why Is Performance Affected?There have been many studies to examine why anxiety affects performance. The theories are a best estimate of what may be happening and not all can be applied to all scenarios. Some may explain Ian’s scenario and his performances.Inverted U TheoryAt low levels of physiological arousal performance is low. At high levels we may become over aroused and performance will also be low.

There is an optimum arousal required for peak performance. Ian is using the same “psyching up” before competition which may not be the optimum arousal now required at senior level so his performance is affected.Fig 1 Performance/Arousal graphFig 1 shows the point of maximum performance with relation to arousal.Although this theory explains partly why performance is affected it has come under criticism (Gould & Udry 1994) about the shape of the curve and whether optimal arousal occurs around a mid point. It may be the case that some athletes require lower or higher levels of arousal to achieve peak performance.

Individualised Zones of Optimal Functioning (IZOF)If Ian’s arousal is still high it may mean he is out of his zone of performance. The Individualised Zones of Optimal Function (IZOF) (Hanin 1997) found that athletes differ in their levels of arousal and other emotions in relation to their best performance. Ian’s required level of arousal may need to be different to Morris’ to achieve best performance.Fig 2 Individualised Zone of Optimum Functioning diagram.Fig 2 shows three athletes performance to arousal needs. Athlete A needs to have a high arousal to achieve best performance but athlete C needs to have a lower arousal to achieve best performance.During a study of performance in high level karate athletes (Robazza et al 2004) evidence was found over a season of fights that bodily and emotional functions changed with relation to performances.

This supported the IZOF theory.It may support the effect on performance that Ian is experiencing.Catastrophe ModelHardy ; Jones (1990) found that physiological arousal follows the Inverted-U theory in relation to performance. Although this will only occur when the individual has low cognitive anxiety.

This may happen when they are not worried about their performance. Alternatively, if the individual is concerned about their performance and has high cognitive anxiety a catastrophe will occur. This is happens when an increase in arousal reaches a threshold point just beyond optimal arousal. This causes a steep deterioration in the individual’s performance, i.e.

a catastrophe.Fig 3 Catastrophe ModelHardy & Jones (1990) further proposed that cognitive anxiety can have differing effects on arousal and performance. It can have gradual effect, a sudden and catastrophic effect, or any point between the two extremes. The model also predicts that if there is low arousal leading up to an important event, cognitive anxiety will enhance the athlete’s performance.In the past Ian has possibly had a low cognitive level and has raised his arousal to achieve peak performance (see rear of fig 3).

Now he is arousing himself to the same level but has a higher level of cognitive anxiety (see front of fig 3). He is possibly reaching catastrophe.A study of swimmers (Graham 2004) found that previous poor performances had a perceived negative effect on competition anxiety level. This was disproportionate to their training anxiety levels. “Many of these athletes reported as they approached a competitive event the negative self-statements and recollections from the prior upsetting sport event would creep into their thoughts and result in self-doubt and anxiety.

This would even occur as they stood on the blocks at a competition.”

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