Thursday, April 10, 2014

Sport Psychology, A Practical Guide - Dr. Arnold LeUnes

Shobhs picked this book for me and I flipped it over and said let's take it. Small and compact, it looked like an easy read. It gives certain ideas of this important branch of sports as it developed worldwide and where it has reached today. I am interested in this aspect.

The author deals with the following concepts in the book - Reinforcement and punishment, Arousal, anxiety and their assessment, Treatment of sports anxiety, Optimism in sports and exercise, Mental toughness in sports, Attribution theory and locus of control, Leadership, group cohesion and audience effects, Team building and goal setting Aggression and violence in sports, Psychological assessment, Risk-sport athletes, injured athletes and black athletes, Youth sport, Women in sport and Exercise and Fitness. Some of the topics interest me more than the others.

On reinforcement he talks of how reinforcement can be both primary (attached to a basic need like food, thirst, air) and secondary (a spin off such as money etc), positive (reward for desirable behavior) and negative (terminating a negative consequence of some behavior). Keys about reinforcement - make sure it is working, make it immediate, make it consistent, use as many reinforcers as you can, use Premack principle and encourage self-reinforcement and self-control. While punishing make it mild, prompt and consistent to have some positive effect.

Arousal is a state in which a person reacts to stress physically and psychologically. Arousal can be done in many ways. Pre-psych up strategies are many (music, imagination of arousal with each breath, stretching, imagery, verbal cues, pep talks, bulletin boards). Anxiety, a subset of arousal, and arousal, can both be measured physiologically and psychologically.

Sports anxiety can be treated. The extinction model (individual exposed to fears and flooded with fears so they confront them) counter-conditioning model (systematically desensitizing athlete to anxieties), Cognitive mediational model and Coping skills model are some of them.

One cannot discount the value of being an optimist. To change from a pessimistic to optimistic style one can follow the ABCDE model (adversity, belief, consequences, disputation, energised). Thought stoppage is another technique i.e. say STOP when negative thoughts are recognised, Countering (countering negative thoughts with realistic possibilities) and Reframing (reframing situations to advantage) are other techniques. The key is that optimism, positive self talk and cognitive control can be achieved through thought stoppage, countering and reframing.

Mental Toughness, accepted as a core component of elite performers, is made up of four major sub components - attitude/ mindset (high self-belief, desire, hunger), training (discipline, patience, pushing limits), competition (pressure, controlling the environment) and post-competition (celebrating and handling success, suing failure to drive oneself). Mental toughness is a conscious decision to be successful.

Attributions are what helps us achieve a certain level of closure and make sense of events around us. Attributions have four components - ability, effort, task difficulty and luck.  I don't believe in luck nor task difficulty. Better to focus on ability and effort.

In Leadership and Group Cohesion one ca measure oneself against Training and instruction behavior, Democratic behavior, Autocratic behavior, Social support behavior and Rewarding behavior.  In group cohesion there are three major conceptual models - Linear model (forming, storming, norming and performing), Pendular model and Life cycle model (encounter, testing of boundaries and creation of roles, creation of a normative system, production stage, separation).

In Team Building and Goal Setting, 13 strategies have been suggested. 1) Acquainting players with responsibilities of others 2) learning something personal about each athlete 3) developing pride within sub units of team 4) developing a feeling of ownership among players 5) setting team goals and taking pride in accomplishment 6) making sure each player learns his role and implements it 7) not expecting tranquility 8) avoid formation of cliques 9) developing team drills that encourage member cooperation 10) highlighting team success areas even when they lose 11) developing self-efficacy (belief that they will win) 12) developing a mastery of skills climate 13) educating the team on destructive effects of jealousy and how to avoid it.

In Goal Setting we look at Specific, Measurable, Actionable, realistic and Timely goals. Goals can be Outcome goals, Performance goals and Process goals. The ASCI (Athletic Coping Skills Inventory) and its sub scales are interesting - Coping with adversity, Peaking under pressure, Goals setting and mental preparation, Concentration, Freedom from worry, Confidence and achievement motivation and Coach ability. This one is worth taking. These psychological tests can measure enduring traits, temporary states and sport-specific characteristics.

The concept of helicopter parents and their deleterious effects on their children and their enjoyment of sports is a point that cannot be emphasised enough. These controlling parents are out of control, kill the joy of playing the sport and compromise their children's path.In the chapter on exercise and fitness there is a discussion on how regular exercise exerted a positive effect on thinking, mood, anxiety and depression.

Overall the slim and well-written book is a practical guide to sport psychology and one that most coaches must read. There are several links that he has suggested and I will try and get some in below which you can use to test yourself online. Good investment surely. Thanks Shobhs.

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