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Essay/Term paper: Sport psychology

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Sport Psychology


To fully understand sport psychology, we must ask ourselves two very
important questions, first, what is sport psychology and second, who is it for?
Put in the most sim-ple way, sport psychology can be an example of
psychological knowledge, principles, or methods applied to the world of sport.
"Two psychologists, Bunker and Maguire, say sport psychology is not for
psychologists, but is for sport and its participants." (Murphy & White, 1978:2)
However, it can be argued that sport psychology, can be for psycho-logy, just
as it can be for sports scientists, managers, teachers, administrators, coaches
and last but by no means least, the athletes themselves.
It is sport psychology that has stood apart from the discipline of
psychology as a whole. "Its history is different, its concerns are often
different, its centres of learning and teaching are often different, and its
professional training is different." (Garfield, 1984:34) Yet despite this, sport
psychology remains permanently bonded to psychology through its common interest
in the fundamental principles of psychology, human behavior, and experience.
No one can deny the significant role which sport and recreation plays in
every cul-ture and society across the globe. In the western and eastern worlds
alike, sport and lei-sure continue to support huge industries and take up
massive amounts of individual time, effort, money, energy, and emotion. Within
the media, competitive sport has gotten enor-mous attention and despite this,
the public's appetite for more sport never is stated. "It has been estimated
that around two thirds of all newspaper readers in Great Britain first turn to
the sports pages when they pick up their daily paper." (Butt, 1987:65) When one
con-siders the number of people who actually engage in sport or even take
regular exercise, then the significance of sport to all our lives cannot be
denied.
A common problem with sport psychology research lies in its somewhat
myopic or short-sighted appreciation of present day accumulated psychological
knowledge. As we look into sport psychology, we are confronted by a landscape
of knowledge which rises and falls often suddenly and dramatically. "At certain
times, massive peaks of understand-ing rise up before out eyes yet at other
times, huge tracts of psychology remain untouched to the horizon." (Garfield,
1984:6)
Around the 1960's, scientific traditions, institutions, and publications
which pros-per to this day first came into being, and it was this era which
truly marked the structural genesis of modern day sport psychology. However,
there are many untouched aspects of sport psychology today. In order for us to
determine whether psychology plays a signi-ficant role in the mind of a young
athlete, we must look at the uses and techniques of sport psychology.
Sport psychologists over the years have maintained a keen interest in
psychological profiling and have been naturally drawn to the quantification of
personality variables. As sport itself revolves aroung the measurement and
reward of individual differences in per-formances, it is no surprise that
scientists quantify psychological differences rather than sporting differences.
"The research is often looked at in terms of three primary areas, the search for
the winning profile, a comparison between athletes and non-athletes, and diffe
-ences in the personalities of athletes either competing in different sports or
playing in different positions." (Butt, 1987:97)
Any discussion of personality traits in sports could not ignore one
particular trait which has occupied more time than any other, competitive
anxiety. Helping athletes deal with pressure has become the bread and butter of
many sport psychologists. "The prob-lem of anxiety is dealt with with two
areas of research: test anxiety and achievement moti-vation." (Hackfort &
Spielberger, 1989:247) Presently, the test scale which enjoys the greatest
popularity is the second version of the Competitive State Anxiety Inventory or
CSAI-2. It is this test that psychologists measure the level of anxiety of an
athlete. It consists of questions in which each have four levels of severity
with four being the highest level. The CSAI-2 has been the basis for many other
modern day anxiety questionaires. "There remain so many fundamental questions
which have yet to be resolved that attempts to quantify concepts such as anxiety,
when we are still not sure just what this term actually means, can seem rather
premature at times, but the development of research instruments has nevertheless
proceeded rapidly." (Wolff, 1993:22)
Achievement motivation, competitiveness, and self-confidence together
with competition anxiety seem to form the cluster of core psychological
constructs which would seem to be most relevent to our understanding of sport
performance. With regard to achievement motivation and competitiveness, recent
advances have been predicated upon the interest originally stimulated by the
Atkinson model of achievement motivation. "Atkinson's nAch or the need to
achieve was taken to be a composite of two independent factors, the motive to
achieve success (M ) and the motive to avoid failure (M ), mediated by the
probability of success (P ) and the incentive value of success (1-P )."
(Hackfort & Spielberger, 1989:251) This relationship is represented by the
following formula. nAch = (M - M ) x (P x [ 1- P ] )
Without exploring the subtleties of this model in any depth, the single
most impor-tant message to come through is that high achievers will be drawn
towards competition and difficult yet realizable challenges. Low achievers will
try to avoid personal challenges or set unattainable goals where failure is a
high probability. "In terms of applied sport psy-chology, this motivational
model can often be very revealing of problems, particularly those afflicting
young athletes." (Hackfort & Spielberger, 1989:252)
There are some methods of sport psychology that deal with cognitive
psychology. Traditional behavior modification techniques seek to change behavior
by amending the en-vironment in systematic ways. However, there have been
claims that it is not the environ-mental events themselves which are of primary
importance in behavior change but the individual's perception of those events.
"Cognitive coping strategies may be amended by conventional behaviour
modification but involvement of the individual in expressing his or her own
thoughts and feelings has been held to increase the efficacy of treatment."
(Mar-tens, 1981:57) Meichenbaum's Stress-Inoculation Training (SIT) is one of
a range of stress management packages advocated as useful to coaches and
athletes for reducing stress and enhancing performance. Other popular programs
include Smith's Cognitive-Affective Stress Management or SMT and Suinn's
program of Anxiety Management Training or AMT. "SIT and SMT have been adapted
or developed specifically for use in sport and both outline essentially the same
four stage process." (Smith, 1983:139)
The first stage of the SIT or SMT is the educational phase during which
athletes explore the stress reaction itself, including antecedents of stress,
nature of stressors, and own reactions and consequences of action. The next
stage is an introduction to coping skills for handling stress which include
relaxation training and the use of cognitive skills to prepare for stress. The
next phase is the practice phase. "SIT encourages supervised practice in coping
in increasingly stressful situations, e.g., practice, game-like practice, and
games and SMT introduces an induced affect as a major factor: the athlete
imagines dis-tressing situations which generate high levels of emotional
arousal and use coping skills." (Smith, 1983:141) The final stage is an
evaluation component which is included to assess the effectiveness of the
program in meeting individual needs.
Another method of cognitive sport psychology is imagery and
visualization. Many self-help manuals for coaches and athletes currently
advocate the use of imagery for a wide variety of purposes including skill
acquisition, skill maintenance, competition prepar-ation, and arousal control.
"Empirical investigations of imagery have tended to focus on the role of mental
practice in skill acquisition, the role of imagery as a pre-competition
cognitive psyching-up strategy and comparisons in the use of imagery by
successful and unsuccessful athletes." (Murphy & White, 1978:14) A number of
these studies also ex-plore the various variables thought to mediate imagery
effects. Studies have shown that more successful athletes have used imagery
than unsuccessful athletes. However, despite these apparently supportive
findings, the recent research has not been without criticism. In particular much
of the work conducted within sport psychology as been accused of be-ing
methodologically flawed and lacking a coherent theoretical framework to explain
imagery effects. Although suggestions for improvement in both these areas have
been made, research efforts ironically have tended to lag behind actual
practice of interventions and practical guidelines for imagery use in sport.
Another popular approach to improving sporting performance which appears
to be above all else psychological is that of the Inner Game. "Inner Game was
an expression coined by Gallwey in the 1970's, and has been the basis for a
considerable number of pop-ular sport psychology books by Gallwey focusing on
games including golf, skiing, and ten-nis." (Butt, 1987:78) Gallwey claimed
that the most formidable opponent a performer in sports must face is inside his
or her own head. Inner Game is essentially a conflict be-tween two selves,
self 1 and self 2. They are said to have quite different characteristics. Self
1 is conscious, self-conscious, and linguistic. It is the thinking self which
evaluates, analyzes and criticizes performance and it may be responsible for
inappropriate responses or it may motivate the athlete towards counterproductive
actions. Self 2, on the other hand, is described as unconscious and computer
like, and deals most effectively with visual and spatial information. "The self
analysis and self-criticism of an athlete during perfor-mance is a function of
self 1 and is symptomatic of the conflict between the two selves." (Butt,
1987:79) Self 1 can express itself linguistically and, therefore, usually gains
this control inappropriately. According to Gallwey, it is not necessary to
analyze why doubts and fears are away from the more relevant visual and spatial
elements of the task. The Inner Game is directed toward allocating the
resources of the two selves to the functions in which each is more competent so
that they can operate in harmony and therefore pro-duce optimal performance.
Some methods of sport psychology deal with clinical psychology.
Relaxation tech-niques are a good example. "Self directed relaxation aims to
release tension in each of the body's major muscle groups while emphasizing slow,
easy breathing, and encouraging vi-sualization of stress flowing away from the
body." (Murphy & White, 1978:13) While initially it may take ten minutes to
work through instructions, with some practice, greater and greater relaxation
should be achieved in less and less time.
Progressive Relaxation Training (PRT) was originally pioneered by Edmund
Jacobson, an American physician working in the 1920's and 1930's, but has been
modi-fied over the years. "PRT is learning to feel tension in the muscles and
then learning to let go of this tension." (Murphy & White, 1978:14) The PRT
procedure involves three steps. The athlete must be on a mat with subdued
lighting. The athlete is then asked to tense the first 16 muscle groups between
5 and 7 seconds. The tension is then released and the athlete relaxes for 30 to
45 seconds. The same routine is followed for each muscle set for 15 to 20
minutes, twice daily, gradually learning to combine muscle groups until only
four are used. Eventually the athlete will be able to relax just by recalling
the sensa-tion and experience, even during competition itself.
Another method that is similar to PRT is autogenic training. "While PRT
concen-trates on relaxation alone, autogenic training brings in other
sensations associated with the state of relaxation, and calls for some type of
self-hypnosis on the part of the athlete" (Butt, 1987:189) This type of
training was developed in the early 1900's by the German psychiatrist, J.H.
Schultz. Athletes are tutored in self-relaxation, based on self-suggestions
and imagery. This is designed to create feelings of warmth, heaviness and
control in different body parts and finally reach a state of mental equilibrium.
Imagery relaxation, like imagery itself, works well for some people but
is difficult for others. "Imagery relaxation involves imagining yourself in
some environment or place where you have experienced feelings of relaxation and
comfort." (Hackfort & Spielberger, 1989:146) This could be a place at home or
somewhere special that you remember from holidays or childhood such as a warm
beach with a cool sea breeze, a grassy mountainside, or just wherever you feel
good. The better able the individual is to put him/herself in the place through
imagery, the more relaxed she/he is to be. With regular practice in imagi-ning
this place without guidance will allow the athlete to feel relaxed much more
quickly.
Other methods of sport psychology deal with motor behavior. Practice is
an essential element in acquiring any motor skill. However, many individuals
may not be aware of the fact that the distribution of practice conditions may
have varying effects on how much is learned or how well a skill is learned.
"Distribution of practice refers to the spacing between different practice
sessions." (Martens, 1981:103) A coach could advise a young gymnast to spend
one hour of a two hour practice session trying to improve a handspring vault,
whereas another coach might favor having gymnasts practice the vault during
three 15-minute blocks combined with other practice activities. Studies showed
that the hour of the practice session was a better method.
Another issue which is of considerable importance to teachers and
coaches alike concerns the best method of practicing the skills being learned.
"Should skills be present-ed and practiced in their entirety (the whole method)
or should they be broken down into smaller component parts ( the part method)."
(Butt, 1987:165) The general conclusion that was reached was that whole methods
of training were better and even today most coaches use whole methods of
training.
A common problem facing teachers and coaches of motor skills is how to
teach several essential skills within a given practice session. The teacher is
faced with two choices. She/he can require the learner to spend a specified
number of practice trials on one task, correcting it before the next task
(blocked practice). Alternatively, the learner could be required to rotate
around the various tasks, never practicing the same skill on two consecutive
trials (random practice). "This issue of blocked vs random practice has
generated a good deal of research interest since the late 1970's. " (Garfield,
1984:199) Subjects practicing under random conditions tended to perform worse
than subjects prac-ticing under blocked conditions during acquisition trials.
However, when all subjects were given a retention test to evaluate learning 10
days after the experiment, it was the random practice group that proved itself
more effective. These findings suggest that more learning takes place when
random practice is used.
The belief that mental rehearsal will enhance performance has become
popular among most coaches today. However, the effectiveness of mental practice
in relation to motor learning is also given consideration here. "Mental
practice refers to a situation in which the learner thinks about or imagines
performing the task rather than physically prac-ticing it." (Wolff, 1993:193)
After reviewing over 60 studies of mental training, Feltz and Landers concluded
that performance can be improved by mental practice. However, men-tal practice
was better than no practice, but physical practice was found to be better.
"Tasks with a large cognitive component seem to benefit more from mental
practice than tasks requiring large amounts of strength." (Butt, 1987:191) This
would affect gymnas-tics, ice skating, or any team sport where the performer is
attempting to learn a new game play or strategy. Given these findings, it is
unwise to replace physical practice with mental practice.
Other parts of sport psychology deal with social psychology. "It is
generally true that the presence of others leads to enhanced performance on
certain tasks, and specifi-cally tasks which call for well learnt, dominant
responses." (Smith, 1983:4) If you can do something well, the presence of
others will improve performance. On the other hand, if you are incompetent,
learning a skill or attempting something for the first time, then you may
perform worse in company than alone. This deals with social facilitation. We
feel we are being evaluated by spectators and this has led psychologists to
believe evaluation apprehension is the key to social facilitation.
Another factor of social psychology is aggression in sport. "Aggression
can be ex-pressed in socially acceptable or unacceptable ways." (Murphy & White,
1978:125) Ag-gression can be instrumental or rule governed or angry/hostile
aggression. Rule governed aggression is socially acceptable in which an athlete
is just displaying intensity in a sport. Angry/hostile aggression is socially
unacceptable in which an athlete causes physical harm to the opposition.
Psychologists still have much work to do in reducing an athlete's ag-gression.
Aggression is something that cannot be fixed overnight. "Whenever there is
sports, there is going to be aggression, but with some positive reinforcement,
psycholo-gists can maintain positive aggression." (Murphy & White, 1978:126)
Occupational Psychology is a branch of psychology that relates to sport
psycho-logy. One aspect of this is sports coaches. Many applied psychologists
have come to acknowledge that the most effective way to get their message across
is not by working directly with athletes but by working with the coaches. A
psychologist can come and go, but it is the coach that maintains the most
contact with an athlete. "If the coach can learn how to convey messages which
have a sound foundation in psychological knowledge, and thus can act as the
agent or mouthpiece for sport psychology, then the messages are likely to have
that much more impact." (Smith, 1983:166) More and more coaches are begin-ning
to take sport psychology courses and sport psychology guides have become more
available for coaches to buy. This will help athletes tremendously.
Alongside work on coaching, goal setting represents one of two primary
areas where occupational psychologists have made a direct and considerable
impact on the world of sports, in both a theoretical and a practical sense.
"While the use of goal setting within sport is widespread, the adoption of
formal goal setting principles has not been without controversy and it is
interesting that a recent review article actually refers to goal setting not as
the blue-eyed boy of sport psychology but as its Jekyll and Hyde." (Garfield,
1984:63) Within psychology as a whole, the idea of goal setting to guide or
direct our behavior has a well established history. However, the recent use of
goal setting as a per-formance enhancement technique can be traced directly
back to Edwin Locke's goal set-ting theory. His theory is the notion that
behavior is regulated by values and goals, with a goal defined as a conscious
intention or what the person is setting out to accomplish. "According to Locke,
goals affect performance by way of four mechanisms; first, goal setting focuses
attention, second, it mobilizes effort in proportion to the demands of the tasks,
third, it enhances persistence, and finally, they encourage the individual to
develop strategies for achieving their goals." (Wolff, 1993:146)
Another goal setting procedure is the widespread use of the acronym
SCAMP as a way of teaching athletes simple goal setting procedures. Specify
exactly how much you want to improve and how you can measure it. Set goals that
are challenging but have pos-sibility. Set goals that are attainable. Set
multiple goals to increase probability of attain-ment. Set goals that relate
to you, ones that are personal.
Over recent years, considerable attention has been paid to the
development of theories and models dealing with participation motivation in
sports. "The work deliberate-ly focuses on young athletes and highlights the
significance of intrinsic motivators in maxi-mizing an individual's long term
commitment to sport." (Butt, 1987:215) At the same time, the dangers associated
with either parents or coaches emphasizing extrinsic rewards are openly
acknowledged. In brief, the history of research on work motivation has shown a
gradual shift from traditional content models of work motivation which strived
to list or classify motivators, and towards an appreciation of the complexities
of the process of mo-tivation. "The complexities of the process of motivation
are exemplified by the various expectancy-value models which describe personal
and environmental variables play their part in determining the relationship
between effort, performance, rewards, and satisfac-tion." (Garfield, 1984:34)
The argument advanced by Porter and Lawler is that motivation is related
to per-formance, to reward and to satisfaction in a definable way. "Three
principle components are taken to determine motivation, namely expectancy,
instrumentality, and valence." (Butt, 1987:86) Our motivation will depend first,
upon our belief that we are capable of influencing our performance through
increasing effort. Second, our knowledge that an increase in performance will
result in more awards. Finally, it will depend on the value which we place on
the reward that we expect to receive. This is represented in the model below.
One important feature of this model is the emphasis it places on
feedback. "Ac-cordingly in the context of coaching the model has considerable
practical utility for identi-fying and dealing with management problems
effectively." (Butt, 1987: 87) The model also has great learning value for
considering the interaction between a number of cognitive and environmental
factors in determining satisfaction and future effort. However, the complexity
of the model also means that it is difficult to develop a research project which
is able to look at each component systematically or to take into account all
other possible intervening factors, for example, attributional style. "Once
more, occupational psychology may present genuine opportunities for
understanding and there is a need to ensure that an awareness of the many faces
of sport, both amateur and professional, voluntary and com-pulsory, are kept
very much to the fore in any further discussion of sport motivation." (Garfield,
1984:38)
Using a very basic expectancy-value model to frame discussion, a
preliminary study by Kremer and Robinson (1992) considered the attitudes and
motivations of professional apprentice soccer players that were from Northern
Ireland who had travelled to join English and Scottish teams, often to return to
Ireland after being rejected there. "Contrary to predictions based on intrinsic
motivation models, these platers did not return disenchanted and lost to the
game, but almost invariably they slotted comfortably into life in the Irish
League, often older and wiser as to their potential but still continuing to take
a very active part in the game which they continued to enjoy." (Butt, 1987:88)
Clearly the reward structure which motivated these young professional athletes
was very different from that which is described in relation to participation
rates and drop-outs amongst young, amateur athletes. Once more, occupational
psychology may present genuine opportunities for understanding and there is a
need to ensure that a knowledge and aware-ness of the many faces of sport, both
amateur and professional, voluntary and compulsory, are kept very much to the
front in any future discussion of sport motivation.
From this research that has been done over some four years, one can
understand that psychology does play a significant part in sport and in the
minds of athletes, especially at a young age. Sport psychology ranges from
judging an athlete's personality all the way to his/her coach. We see the many
methods and techniques used by psychologists to keep an athlete in the right
frame of mind to participate in sports.
We have seen methods dealing with the cognitive side of sport psychology
such as imagery and visualization to handle stress in sports. We have seen
methods of clinical psy-chology such as relaxation techniques to release pre-
game tensions and anxiety. We have seen methods of social psychology dealing
with harmful aggression of athletes. We also have seen methods of occupational
psychology in which the coaches of athletes get in-volved in psychology and
motivation models come into play for coaches to use in order to motivate their
athletes.
We can see that psychologists have not ignored psychology in the world
of sport, something that cannot be ignored with the growing number in athletic
participation by young people. "With each new year comes an increase in new
developments dealing with sport psychology." (Murphy & White, 1978:9) However,
there is still much work to be done in sport psychology. There are still many
unresolved questions and even some new questions and even some new questions
that have arisen over the years dealing with sport psychology. Take anxiety for
instance. Psychologists have found ways to reduce anxiety but not eliminate it.
Maybe there is no way to eliminate it since everyone has it. Another example is
aggression. Wherever there are sports, there is aggression. Psychologists have
stated that sports are a way for people to release their aggression. However,
they still have not been able to fully eliminate the violence in sports.
Psychologists are also working on new methods for motivating athletes because
some athletes are harder to motivate that others. Even though there are these
unresolved issues in sport psychology, the future of psychology in sports,
especially youth sports, looks to be on a very progressive track with many new
discoveries.



 

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