#ExcitingNews:Teaming up with British Weightlifting

British-Weight-LiftingWe have been working on a collaboration with British Weightlifting to deliver a course tailored to meeting the needs of weightlifters and coaches in the area of Performance Psychology.

Click the link below to find out more.

Psychology for Coaches and Athletes: Developing Inner steel and Mental toughness.

I get by with a little help from my (work) friends

friends

If you love your job you can’t get burnout out right?  Feeling engaged in your work, will protect you from feelings of burnout, right? Not quite.

Work engagement is the positive feeling associated with work and occurs when you feel you are being challenged yet you have the capabilities to meet that challenge. You may feel on top of things, completely competent and in control of a situation. You may even take a lot of meaning from your work. However, you can still become burnt out. Burnout is work-related stress the kind of feeling of having given your all, and not having any more to give.  Burnout can present as extreme fatigue, an exhaustion that can be either physical or emotional or even both. People who are burnt out may also become cynical, losing interest in what they do and becoming detached from their work. Finally burnout can also present as feelings of incompetence, that you are not able to do enough, feelings of reduced efficacy in your performance.

Despite consistently feeling engaged in their work, it was found that applied sport psychologists were not able to escape the trap of burnout– burnout appears to be a condition  that all if not most applied sport psychologists will experience at least once in their professional careers, and if they are not careful can coincide with annual stressful events – think qualifying for major championships, or the finals of major championships and from a research perspective, during finals time or through grant application.

Firstly it is important to recognise that burnout can be experienced at different intensities. Burnout can be short lived or sporadic, on the other hand burnout can build slowly over time and be overwhelming. So how do those in the “know” fight the effects of burnout or prevent them from happening in the first place?

McCormack and colleagues recently found that social support can be one of the most effective resources in a professional’s arsenal in keeping burnout away. It can also be one of the most effective tools in recovering from the negative experience of burnout.

Burnout is often experienced when there is a feeling of not getting recognition for your work or if there is a lack of feedback. These conditions are also counterintuitive to experiencing work engagement as it will detract from the meaning an individual will be able to get from their work.

The great thing about social support is that even the feeling of having support can be enough to help someone through a stressful time. However, in all reality if you believe you have the support from others, in really stressful times you will more than likely use that support. Support can also come in many different forms, from formal to informal and from counsellors giving professional advice to friends and family who often act as a sounding board.

So does where you get your support from matter? One of the interesting findings from the study McCormack et al. conducted, which interviewed 30 international applied sport psychologists (Male = 18, Female = 13) was that there is a relationship between the type of support utilized and the level of burnout experienced. The sport psychologists were from the UK, the USA, Australia/New Zealand and Ireland, and all recognized that social support was beneficial if not integral to their own well-being. What was found was that those who had experienced lower levels of burnout were more able to refer to social support that was work related. Turning to supervisors and/ mentors, or to one’s peers in times of stress appear to be the most effective way to stave off high levels of burnout. Friends and family were, across the field, the most common source of social support. However, interestingly the sport psychologists who had experienced lower levels of burnout quoted using their family and friends for support less often than those who had experienced high levels of burnout. This means that while it is important to have friends and family understand your work based stresses, indeed having an understanding partner to pick up the slack at home when you are snowed under in work can be instrumental to getting through a stressful period, it might be more important to have people in your work place or who understand your work demands and expectations. Having someone who has the expertise in your area to be able to look at the situation from a different perspective, share advice with and brainstorm ideas could be more beneficial to your well-being.

So what is the secret to avoiding burnout? Create a strong support network around yourself. Make sure there are people who you work with or who understand the nature and demands of your work that you can turn to in times of stress. Family and friends are great resources for helping you detach from work, but during those inevitable busy and stressful periods it will be those you work with, whether formally or informally, that will have the biggest impact on your well-being.

The full version of this paper by Hannah McCormack  and colleagues is open access and can be read here.

Practicing What We Preach: Investigating the Role of Social Support in Sport Psychologists’ Well-Being

My understanding of taking Steroids

This post will culminate my standpoint on steroid use and include what I learned from my MSc research.

Taking any illegal or black market drug comes with certain risks. Research shows that what you buy is not what you get.  Numerous studies evidence this risk (Kohler et al, 2010; Thevis, et al, 2008; Ritsch & Musshoff,2000) Alarmingly one study identified that when purchasing black market steroids the dosage labelled may vary between 0 and up to 176% of the dosage. When a person deals with someone who is essentially acting outside the rule of law there are no safety checks for the quality of what you buy. This has severe implications. This is exactly what can and does happen to people who buy steroids illegally.  In the recent case of a Monaghan footballer who was caught using stanozol, the interesting thing is he said his dealer said it was Anavar. Anavar is an expensive black market steroid so by the dealer replacing it with a stronger but cheaper steroid and having it labelled as Anavar can make the dealer more money. The severe consequence is that he is then thinking that he is taking a milder steroid and dosing in such a way that may be harmful when using a stronger steroid.

During my time spent interviewing steroid users who have experienced side effects I learned of one dealer who was arrested with thousands of pounds worth of steroids, when they were tested by the police they were all found to be fake. The awkward thought for his customers is what exactly had they been injecting into themselves.

Of particular interest is the method by which users facilitate the perceived reduction of risk, note that that is perceived and not actual risk.

Risk is mediated psychologically though self-education. In all of the people I met they attempted to educate themselves prior to taking steroids. They did this by reading the internet, talking to other people who take steroids and asking questions. Most people said they did this for between 3 to 12 months before hand.  In addition to this it became evident that they also thought that they knew more than doctors or endocrinologists.  Nordgren, Van Der Pligt & Van Harreveld, (2007). Discuss how risk taking (which taking steroids most certainly are for your health) is affected by volition and control. Volition is the extent of the voluntary nature of the action e.g. voluntarily running across a firing range versus voluntary running across a battle field to get to a safer place. One is freely chosen and the other is imposed. Where we freely choose to take a risk there is a greater perceived risk and also a greater threat of regret.  The other factor is perceived control.  When running across a firing range or a battle field we can enhance our feeling of control over the situation by gaining knowledge and preparation such as planning a safe route or wearing body armour.  The more control we think we have the less the risk appears to be. The exact same situation occurs with steroid use. Self-education formed a means of increasing perceived control and therefore played a part in allowing people to take more risks such as “stacking”. This is the practice of combining a multitude of steroids in attempt to make a bigger effect.

The human mind is capable of incredible gymnastic feats of rationalisation. During one of my interviews this became very apparent when one of the steroid users stated that Steroids where probably one of the reasons he was so fit and healthy as they had kept him in the gym making steady gains (gainz) for the past decade. Later in the interview I asked him about any side effects he had experienced. He proudly stated that he had experienced over 16 different side effects, and began to list them off. One of these side effects was polycythaemia (the excess production of blood cells).  This lead the interviewee to buy a Peristaltic pump. (A medical device used to pump blood in surgery) so that he could on a regular basis go into his garage and pump out the blood. He said he got so good at this procedure he started doing it for friends who also were using steroids.

I suppose the bottom line for me when it comes to the thought processes is a single human including me (and you) is susceptible to all manner of flawed rationalisation. I personally don’t like smoking, I think it’s horrible and I know it causes cancer. Many times in my life people who smoke have told me how bad it is and how they regret it and want to quit. Despite me holding all this knowledge next time I will occasionally enjoy a cigar. Every human being is capable of rationalising the absurd; this is facilitated by over 30 inbuilt cognitive biases. Because of this humans really shouldn’t blindly accept their own understanding of the world.

Therefore when it comes to opinions on steroids, steroid users literally cannot trust their own opinions, as they generally have lack correct knowledge and expertise.

When we consider that steroids grow muscle it is important to remember that there are more uses of muscle in the body than skeletal muscle. The heart is a muscle, and the consumption of steroids causes the abnormal growth of heart. This coincidently is also related to heart failure. When you hear of relatively young strength athletes dying of heart attacks it is likely the side effect of steroid use.   It is perfectly acceptable for the heart to grow larger as one becomes fitter, it is a normal adaptation.  However the growth of the heart from steroid use differs in function and is pathological.

“The side effects of anabolic steroids have been underestimated in order to legitimize their use in sport, … This paper presents four subjects with serious clinical problems, all of whom took anabolic steroids in massive doses for many years while weight training. All four patients exhibited abnormal cardiac hypertrophy”

Niemine et al (1996)

 Steroids and Society

Given the research I conducted for my masters I have formed a number of opinions about steroid use and sport.

The punishment of dopers is irrelevant whether it is 2 years, 4 years, or a lifetime ban. Research on criminal behaviour indicates that it is certainty of being caught that is a deterrent and not severity of punishment. There is a vast array of scientific research to support this. (Nagin & Pogarsky, 2001; Drago, Galbiati, & Vertova, 2009)

We know that Lance Armstrong was one of the most tested men on the planet and never failed a test. Similarly the recent doping scandal in athletics sheds much doubt on the sport. I watched first hand as Chika Amalaha became the youngest girl ever to win a commonwealth gold medal (2014). She was just 16. It was shocking in the following days that it emerged that she had been doping. I honestly don’t think a 16 year old girl from Nigeria would have the ability to dope without the help of a coach or support staff. This then becomes a question of how long for? Was she a child when she doped, are other nations harking back to the East German days of doping children? In all of these instances doping ruins the event, and discredited the sport, the athletes and their country.  No one wants to watch a sporting spectacle and then say to themselves, I wonder were they on drugs.

I was happy to hear that Bolt was not indicated as having doped, in the recently leaked IAAF files. His victory in 2012 Olympics was astounding as he was the only one in the top 4 not to have ever been caught doping. This type of superior performance is a spectacle in its own right but even though the 4th, 3rd, and 2nd place dopers are not him, their ill-repute effects his credibility as emphasised in this video from The Irish Sports Council

Throughout my time in sport one sentence will always resonate with me. A person whom I respect and has represented Ireland in weightlifting said; when referring to someone who had been brought over for a display of strength but competes is a doped sport,

“I don’t care what he can do; I want to get weightlifting to a point where nobody cares what someone can do on drugs”

It’s a great sentiment  is also where modern sports organisations are going  in terms of drug abuse, educate the people and create a value of intolerance to this sort of behaviour.

The bottom line is we can blame the cheaters, but it is (y)our responsibility to ensure that attitudes to doping are challenged. There can be no room for tolerating those who poison sport. It is Ironic that one of the most famous drug abusers Arnold Schwarzenegger now is calling out the current crop of body builders for too much drug use.  Looking comparably at both these drugged people it is clear to see that the abuse of steroid use and growth hormone in Arnold’s day is now significantly increased. (The bloated midsection is a consequence of human growth hormone abuse)

Some drugs V Lots of Drugs

The reality is Pro Bodybuilding is a poisoned sport. There are NO worthy role models.  When I see bodybuilder I am immediately reminded that larger proportions of them are people who have suffered as children. There is a strong link between those who have felt vulnerable as adults and obsession with size and strength or enhanced dominance. They are not a by-product of a healthy or admirable life they are a population so skewed in their understanding it can only deserve our empathy.  (Boyda & Shevlin 2011;Wolke & Sapouna 2008).

The UKAD Doping advisor course. Can be found on http://www.ukad.org.uk/, in their “learning Zone”.

This course is free to do and is a valuable resource for people involved in sport. It educated me and I thought I knew a significantly larger amount of knowledge than required given my research. I would encourage everyone to do it.  The underlying feature of it is about empowering people to challenge views that are flawed. We don’t need to catch more dopers we need to create a culture where doping is unacceptable.

 “Anti-doping is a people problem not a system problem”

 Dick Pound former WADA President

People who have soft opinions are the problem. Using statements like, “It’s their own private business” or “they are entitled to their opinions”

These are great rhetorical statements; it creates an idea that a person’s opinion is legitimate and creates a false air that they should not be spoken out against. It also makes it sound that the person being the critical thinker is committing an act against the doper’s freedoms. If the two above statements where used to justify racism it would be unacceptable similarly such views are unacceptable with regards doping.

The reality is that people’s opinions are not “protected”. No person has any right to utter words and assume that their logic can go unchallenged by another person. And statements without any reminisce of logic and reason deserves to be given no credence.

What I believe is Anti-Doping is a people problem.  It’s not the dopers who are the problem it’s not the people who are anti-doping who are the problem. It’s every coward who sits on the fence and refuses to pick a side. It would be great if Usain Bolt would speak out about the shame that his fellow doping Jamaican teammates have brought.

I think there is a brighter future ahead when it comes to Anti-doping when we start to see a change in the attitudes of those who are at the root of sport, the people at the ground level.

It’s time for athletes and coaches at all levels to be part of the solution and have no forgiveness for those who cheat.

My hope in writing this is that after reading it is you will appreciate that Pro-doping sports/federations where there is no testing like some federations of Bodybuilding, Powerlifting and strongman will hopefully become less appealing, and sports where there are good people who want clean sport even if at the highest levels the athletes disgrace themselves become more appealing. I look forward to a point where no one cares what the dopers can do.

Finally this post needs perspective, doping is unneeded risk to your health, athletes cheating is annoying.  But there are many bigger and more important problems in the world. But that doesn’t mean we cannot speak freely and harshly and hold strong opinions about those who disgrace themselves and sport by cheating chemically or otherwise in sport. Many people will question some of my standpoint, and say but they did this and he or she did that and we can’t control other countries. That’s true the past is in the past, but we can make a difference by choosing to shape the attitudes of the future.

“I would prefer even to fail with honor, than win by cheating.” (Sophocles, 496-406 BC)

References

Boyda, D., & Shevlin, M. (2011). Childhood victimisation as a predictor of muscle dysmorphia in adult male bodybuilders. The Irish Journal of Psychology32(3-4), 105-115.

Nagin, D. S., & Pogarsky, G. (2001). Integrating Celerity, Impulsivity, and Extralegal Sanction Threats into a Model of General Deterrence: Theory and Evidence Criminology,39(4), 865-892.

Drago, F., Galbiati, R., & Vertova, P. (2009). The deterrent effects of prison: Evidence from a natural experiment. Journal of political Economy117(2), 257-280.

Kohler, M., Thomas, A., Geyer, H., Petrou, M., Schaenzer, W., & Thevis, M. (2010). Confiscated black market products and nutritional supplements with non‐approved ingredients analyzed in the cologne doping control laboratory 2009. Drug testing and analysis2(11‐12), 533-537.

Nieminen, M. S., Rämö, M. P., Viitasalo, M., Heikkilä, P., Karjalainen, J., Mäntysaari, M., & Heikkila, J. (1996). Serious cardiovascular side effects of large doses of anabolic steroids in weight lifters. European Heart Journal,17(10), 1576-1583.

Nordgren, L. F., Van Der Pligt, J., & Van Harreveld, F. (2007). Unpacking perceived control in risk perception: The mediating role of anticipated regret.Journal of Behavioral Decision Making20(5), 533-544.

Thevis, M., Schrader, Y., Thomas, A., Sigmund, G., Geyer, H., & Schänzer, W. (2008). Analysis of confiscated black market drugs using chromatographic and mass spectrometric approaches. Journal of analytical toxicology32(3), 232-240.

Ritsch, M., & Musshoff, F. (2000). [Dangers and risks of black market anabolic steroid abuse in sports–gas chromatography-mass spectrometry analyses].Sportverletzung Sportschaden: Organ der Gesellschaft fur Orthopadisch-Traumatologische Sportmedizin14(1), 1-11.

Wolke, D., & Sapouna, M. (2008). Big men feeling small: Childhood bullying experience, muscle dysmorphia and other mental health problems in bodybuilders. Psychology of Sport and Exercise9(5), 595-604.

The 5 Basics of being a GREAT #Coach or #Athlete

There are basic requirements for developing successful performances that every Coach Manager or Athlete needs to get right. Here are the basics we help develop.

“Nobody cares what you know until, they know you care.”

If you want your athlete or coach to change something, nothing helps better than when they know you care about them as a person, and also share their vision of what they are trying to achieve. This is why we routinely conduct specialized group goal setting sessions which are influenced by individuals values.

“Know peoples Values”

I don’t mean what they are worth, but what they believe in. If you understand an athletes beliefs then you can work with them. if you don’t, then you can end up making big mistakes which can damage relationships and hurt feelings.

“No body remembers what you said they only remember how you made them feel”

The message is not the feeling!

This picture says it all. While the message is one thing and is something you may one day forget, you will always remember the feeling. Increasingly, researchers are understanding how unreliable memory is, and can even implant false memories into people. How do your messages really come across to your athletes or team mates?

“Communication is the message you get back not the one you send”

Have you ever had the experience that you have been misinterpreted by someone, and its their misunderstanding? When you hold your self responsible for peoples interpretations of your messages, you become a better communicator. Too often people are happy to blame other people for miss communications. Blame is a performance crippler, it allows you to shirk your responsibilities and enables you to be content with not doing better.

“Blame is failure. Responsibility is success.”

The big difference between winning coaches is that they take responsibility for their weaknesses and they look for expert advice. I got a phone call from a manager recently. “Well Hugh, we beat them for the first time ever, a lot of that is due to you.” Its funny because I had never worked with this team or even met the players, but I have worked with the manager and helped him achieve all of the above by regular phone consults. He attributed some of the team’s success to me, but in actual fact without him taking responsibility for his communication and seeking help, those consults wouldn’t have happened.

As always thanks for sharing and liking this and our other blog posts.

And put your email in on the top right if you want to be updated when either myself or Hannah write a new blog.

Thanks

Hugh

Fools Gold is the GAA’s worst qualification. Paul “Bear” Bryant Vs Davy Fitz

Paul Bear Bryant
Is this a coach who went too far?

This brief article will give a critical insight into a major flaw in Irish sport, with specific reference to the player welfare storm that is currently brewing in the GAA.

The GAA as a cultural organisation values its history. Though the truth is our memoires are faint and only the bright shines through. Like that of the medals earned by legends of the past.

As in all sport there is a culture of respect for people who have won medals. Players with All Ireland success are often recruited back into the sport as managers.  Though if having an All Ireland medal was a prerequisite to winning then Micky Harte wouldn’t have been a success with Tyrone.

The current debate of over-training rages within the GAA, and Joe Brolly states that every last drop is being wrung out of players with S and C, testing and “psychological work”. I have read his views on psychology before, and it appears that he may have no understanding of how a qualified  sport psychologist facilitates both performance improvements and player welfare at the same time. Indeed it is standard practice for any qualified sport psych to consider the impact of player welfare as a healthy player performs better than a unhealthy player.

Recently in the news two players with in the current (2015) Clare Hurling team  have been told they would be punished with a 3 week tough physical training program for a breach of discipline their decision was to retire from the panel than be physically punished. If  the media reports are true the ridiculousness of this is absurd. Yet because  the manager Davy Fitz won an All-Ireland it means he is unlikely to be challenged. On the flip side this would unfortunately tarnish the current S & C coach for Clare Hurlers (if they have one) as he is letting his domain of expertise be used as punishment. If Davy Fitz decided to force feed them food as punishment i cant imagine the team nutritionist would stand for it, or the public.

Within the psychological realm it was reported on the 11/11/2013 by the independent.ie that  Kieran McGeeny was employed with Tipperary for the 2014 season to work as a mental skills coach. In essence a defacto sport psychologist. Here in lies the problem, Kieran McGeeny is not a sport psychologist.  He is a respected manager yes, but completely unqualified as sport psych, indeed he is a qualified civil engineer. By Tipp county board employing him they have put at risk the player welfare of the entire team, and additionally Kieran McGeeny crossed a professional boundary.

I know of other Inter-county managers who have had players do a maximum strength test with dumbbell flyes (entirely pointless test) which resulted in a young player having his pectoral muscle needing surgical reattachment. In this case the manager overstepped the professional boundary and thought he was an S & C coach.

The point I make is the cultural respect for success and gold medals shines too brightly.  So brightly it leaves our players at risk, having a civil engineer be the sport psychologist is reckless. The mental health foundation estimates that over the course of the year 1 in 4 people will experience a mental health problem. How many times over a season might an unqualified person  say the wrong thing to a person at the wrong time on a panel of 30?  Sadly I know of cases of clinically depressed sports people being told to “just man up” by people with medals and not qualifications.

Lets be clear a sport psychologist does not deal with clinical psychology issues, but they are often the first to spot them and the person who initiates clinical referral process. They are trained and experienced in how to deal with performance enhancement psychology and know when they need to refer.  The exact same way a S&C coach refers injured athletes to a Physiotherapist. Similarly a unqualified S&C coach may injure a player and an unqualified mental skills coach risks causing mental health issues.

I have even learned in recent weeks of a charlatan who runs about on his reputation who has worked with Irish athletes at the highest level and who has nothing more than a degree (To be a sport psych you must have as a minimum; A relevant undergrad; a MSc in Sport Psych & in addition completed an accreditation process (2 years minimum supervision)

This issue of proper professional qualification stems across all support providers. Do you know the difference between; a dietician and a nutritionist; a massage therapist and a physiotherapist; a strength and conditioning coach and a fitness professional; a mental skills coach and sport psychologist; or doctor and a witch doctor?

In my younger years I published notational analysis of the skills that occur in hurling, this research essentially states which skills are the most important in hurling. I had the opportunity to present to some very influential coaches, and after this we attended a talk by one of, if not the most respected players in the history of the game. Some of his opinions were opposite to the facts that I had proven in my research. Turns out all his silverware, gold medals and all stars didn’t give him as much understanding as as people think. This was a key learning point for me and those coaches that I showed the research too.

A common metaphor used in the elite sport world to understand this is that if you survive a heart attack it does not qualify you to give advice on cardiac health, or make you the equivalent of a heart surgeon.

Many people will highlight that Davy Fitz has won an all Ireland as a manager, but the question is at what cost and at what future cost to his county.

Does winning all Irelands mean you are a good manager?
Does winning all Ireland medals mean you are a good manager?

One cold winters night in Antrim in 2007 when I was delivering a coaching workshop  on hurling, and giving advice on coaching I discussed how players should not be abused, sadly the retort that came from an underage club coach was … “It worked for Ger Loughnane, he won an All Ireland with Clare”  His methods according to various published books were less than desirable.

What is evidently clear is that people value and trust the opinion of those who have a gold medal. This is true in all sport, the pedestal we put winners on has a narrow base of support yet we find many with medals lean over into other areas, even floating around entirely off their pedestal being given opportunity they are not qualified for at the expense of athletes health.

Going back to Joe Brollys point about every last drop being wrung out by support staff,  that may well be the case in the GAA. However in my experience of elite sport properly qualified service providers don’t do this. The issue is the GAA teams rarely hire either properly qualified people, or are led by managers with fools gold being held up as a qualification. It is not the new era of professionalism that is hurting players it is the lack of qualified professionals involved.

To those of you who don’t know Paul “Bear” Bryant, during his “25-year tenure as Alabama’s head coach, he amassed six national championships and thirteen conference championships. Upon his retirement in 1982, he held the record for most wins as head coach in collegiate football history with 323 wins.” If you have read the story of the Junction Boys you will know that he headbutted players, literally kicked them when they collapsed with heatstroke, and in one instance kicked a player who had collapsed on the ground with heatstroke and a spinal fracture.   He is revered as a great coach and a legend, when in fact he was abusive and draconian to the people who chose to play a sport for him and yet he made it on the cover of Time magazine. Maybe Davy Fitz read “The Junction Boys”.

I don’t know how to make sense of this article, but then again I’m  not sure that any logical person could make sense of how things like this happen in sport.

Thanks as always for sharing with people you know who will like reading this.

Don’t miss out on out next post enter your email in the box on the top right.

References

http://gaeliclife.com/2015/01/joe-brolly-whats-the-point/

http://www.independent.ie/sport/hurling/mcgeeney-doubles-up-to-join-tipp-hurling-staff-29742727.html

http://www.irishtimes.com/sport/rugby/nacewa-aiming-to-ensure-auckland-possess-the-mental-resilience-that-defines-all-winners-1.1613548

http://www.independent.ie/sport/gaelic-games/hurling/clare-hurling-boss-davy-fitzgerald-cuts-rte-interview-short-after-he-was-quizzed-about-treatment-of-players-31066951.html

Hurling: The Revolution years by Dennis Walsh

The Junction Boys: How Ten Days in Hell with Bear Bryant Forged Championship Team by Jim Dent

NB: It’s is not our policy to talk about events that are not already in the public domain via journalists ect. for that reason we will not reveal the identity’s of those anecdotes kept anonymous in this article. Any facts derived from the media for this piece assume that the Journalist is correct. We realise however that media reports are always skewed and reserve the right to retract anything later found to be untrue in any of these journalists articles.

One off Podcast for GAA Q and A

Hi everyone,

We were asked by Seán Ó Cathmhaoil would we like to do a Q & A for his Facebook Group called  GAA Coaching for Clubs and Coaches. 

Here is the result. link to download the Podcast 

The research which I forget to reference about the LTAD model being unsound is below.

References

Dweck, C. S. (2010). Even geniuses work hard. Educational Leadership, 68(1), 16-20

Ericsson, K. A., Krampe, R. T., & Tesch-Römer, C. (1993). The role of deliberate practice in the acquisition of expert performance. Psychological review, 100(3), 363.

Ford, P., De Ste Croix, M., Lloyd, R., Meyers, R., Moosavi, M., Oliver, J., … & Williams, C. (2011). The long-term athlete development model: Physiological evidence and application. Journal of sports sciences, 29(4), 389-402.

Why S.M.A.R.T. goal setting for your new year’s resolutions might be dumb

Goal Setting is one of the commonly tools used in performance psychology.  As such it is frequently bastardized and butchered. funny-new-year-resolutions-rewrittenby every “guru” “motivational speaker” and  unqualified person who wants to take your money and  sell you the “secret to success”. Even people with no training in psychology write books and how to guides on this topic. A quick search of amazon found 94,741 results for “goal setting”

This article will  give you the tools to think critically about Goal setting.

Firstly goal setting  does work. It’s has been shown to increase achievement on average of about 19%. The majority of people set some sort of goal at new years and fail. If goal setting works we must ask ‘why do people not achieve?’

The truth is there is an array of catchy unfounded information about goal setting, most of it coming from “hucksters” who are not qualified a sport or performance psychologist. (by definition this is someone who should have completed 2 degrees, and an extensive accreditation process to understand the finely tuned mechanics of enhancing performance.) An analogy might be that a first aider can save your life but a doctor can cure you. It is plausible that an unqualifed person may provide some help, however  unqualified people should not be authoring books or making a living from this similarly the way you wouldn’t want a first aider teaching doctors how to treat  patients. When it comes to performance remember qualified = quality and unqualified = risk

One of the overused heuristics around goal setting is the S.M.A.R.T. model. Unfortunately there are now so many iterations in the public domain of what the S.M.A.R.T. acronym stands it has diluted the scientific underpinning. More often than not people assume that S.M.A.R.T. is all there is to goal setting, while research shows there is so much more to help you achieve.

Before we give you our top evidence based approaches to helping you set good goals first a warning. Goal setting can and does go wrong. For example setting the goal to reach the top of Everest is wrong. Many people have died doing that. The goal is to reach Everest and return home safely. Similarly Businesses should not task their employees with the goal to make more money per sale as it has been shown to lead to unethical behaviour creating false sales and over charging. In that case it is  better to set the goal of quality and repeat business.

In sport, the quest for gains in strength is an obvious areas where goal setting goes wrong. For example people attempting to gain strength in the squat to hit a set goal may not squat as deep or as technically well. And while they might achieve the desired load set in the goal they may lack the quality of movement desired for real improvement or risk injury doing so.

In summary, think critically look for evidence, if someone is helping you set goals do they actually know the science or are they regurgitating meaningless acronyms.

Here are our top tips.

  • Know the person/self. Understand the WHY of the goal. E.g. it might be too loose weight but really it could be about self-confidence or an upcoming event wedding, competition etc.
  • Thinking of the why reason enhances self-control in challenging situations e.g. when struggling with getting up early for training, thinking of the next big performance or match will motivate you to make the hard choices for commitment. Similarly when reaching for convenience food thinking of “why you are working on your nutrition strategies” will motivate you to not eat that ice-cream.
  • When faced with new or complex challenging goals it is best to think in “WHAT” terms. The research shows writing out the actions of “what you have to do” produces better results with difficult or complex goals
  • The goal must be self-chosen or agreed, and be achievable. However believing that it is easy to do is not a successful strategy. You should believe you can do it but that it will be hard. You should expect the obvious roadblocks the injuries and setbacks. And you should expect the ways to overcome them. Research shows that if you write down the goal and write down what a positive aspect of achieving it , then write down an obstacle and repeat this process 4 times. This is called mental contrasting. It helps build realism and optimism which are both necessary.
  • It is better to set goals that are framed as “get better” as opposed to “Get good or be the best” get better leaves room for failure and the opportunity to overcome setbacks and facilitates a learning attitude on the quest to your achievement. Get good hinges on level of achievement and brings unnecessary and unhelpful pressure in times of failure.
  • Use or lose Environmental triggers .. leaving the running shoes at the door removing the junk food from the cupboard. All these subtle environmental cues affect our actions and thought patterns throughout the day. We guarantee you if you took the batteries out of the remote and kept them in a drawer and kept the tv unplugged you would reduce the amount of time you would watch TV. And therefore find time of other beneficial habits like socialising with friends. Know the environment and shape it to help you.
  • Is the goal a promotion goal or a prevention goal. People think of quitting smoking as getting healthy or also as not getting unhealthy. Identify the negatives and the positive ways of describing your goal. This may also reveal if you are more of an optimist or a pessimist. Promotion goals are highly motivating prevention goals do not motivate beyond the level of achievement.

There are many other aspects to enhancing performance via goal setting. If you want to know more get in touch with us.

Thanks to those who have signed up to follow our blog (stick your email in on the right).

And a massive thanks to all those who pass along our articles on social media.

Lastly one of the most obvious tells that you have an unqualified huckster  selling you goal setting is they will oversell its effectiveness by telling you silly anecdotes like the “Yale study” where the people who wrote their goals down were worth more money 10 years after graduating than those who didn’t. Unfortunately that’s not true, it won’t make you a millionaire, and that study was never done,  but in actual fact writing your goals down will help.   Just a note the unqualified “self-help gurus/hucksters” who regurgitate that story have been the likes of Brian Tracy, Zig Ziglar, and Tony Robbins.

References

Rubin, R. S. (2002). Will the real SMART goals please stand up. The Industrial-Organizational Psychologist, 39(4), 26-27.

Confidence Workshop at GoLift Weightlifting club

This is the follow-up article to the workshop on confidence that was held at GoLift Weightlifting club on the 3rd of Jan 2015.

Timmy Graham (Urban Weightlifting) Yousef Ziu (BWL) Hugh and Hannah (Podium Psychology) Pete Stewart (GoLift)
Timmy Graham (Urban Weightlifting) Yousef Ziu (BWL) Hugh and Hannah (Podium Psychology) Pete Stewart (GoLift)

One of the ways we highlighted to increase athletes confidence was Self-talk.  Self talk is the internal dialogue that a person may have with themselves, sometimes it may even be verbalised.

When using Self talk to enhance confidence it is important to first be aware of any existing self- talk.

After this the athlete can regulate it, or seek advice on what to regulate.

Recent research shows that it might be better in the 2nd person i.e. “you can do this” as opposed to ‘I can do this”. Ultimately it should be positive and either motivational or instructional.

Here is a great example of an athlete verbalising self-talk.

In this video the girl breaks down the new task and persuades her-self that it is possible. (Turn the volume up to hear it)

Finally we would like to say a big thank you to GoLift Weightlifting Club for asking us to do this.   If you are looking for a place in Newtownabbey (near Belfast)  to learn how to Snatch or Clean or Jerk or get strong for your sport, we highly recommend them. Check them out below!!!!

http://www.GoLliftweightliftingclub.com

https://www.facebook.com/goliftweightliftingclub10891557_833243313406296_1546390306834012633_n

Why fruits are not mentally tough!

607ca9b9bba05265ab22b22b8f0906ffThe term mental toughness has plagued sport for a number of years. It panders to the macho realm of sport, where the performance of one person dominates another. I have heard of mental toughness being applied to swimming, rugby, running, cricket, combat sports, Barbell sports, Crossfit, and the GAA.

If we pick an athlete who you envisage is “mentally tough” it may be a champion of sorts or a high performing team player. The term “Mentally tough or strong” is placed on them because of their action or levels of achievement within sport/life.

Similarly we then judge other athletes against that standard they are below or at the opposite end of the spectrum of “toughness”, people use phrases like “they don’t have it”, they are “weak”, “a pussy” “mentally soft” etc.

The big issue is people view mental toughness as a real “thing” that someone can have. In fact it doesn’t exist.  It is a fruit salad.

I can make a fruit salad, and so can you. Neither will be the same. I like pineapples you like apples, you cut your fruit into fancy polygons, I stick to basic cubes.

Yet both of us have a fruit salad.

The scientific research of mental toughness is like a fruit salad. And indeed coaches and journalists have their own understanding of how to make their mental toughness fruit salad.

One  definition below of mental toughness states that you must be facing an  opponent, this would mean that mental toughness only works in domains with competitors and this definition also takes into account being focused, confident, and in control under pressure.

“Mental toughness is having the natural or developed psychological edge that enables you to, generally, cope better than your opponents with the many demands (competition, training, lifestyle) that sport places on a performer and, specifically, be more consistent and better than your components in remaining determined, focused, confident, and in control under pressure.”

What if when you compete you don’t feel pressure? Then by this above definition you wouldn’t be mentally tough.  Does Usain Bolt ever look under pressure?

From my experience it’s obvious that if I have been working with an athlete to reappraise threats as challenges then they don’t perceive the same level of pressure. Therefore by the above definition I must be making them mentally weak, yet they perform better.

A second definition

“Mental toughness in Australian Football is a collection of values, attitudes, behaviours, and emotions that enable you to persevere and overcome any obstacle, adversity, or pressure experienced, but also to maintain concentration and motivation when things are going well to consistently achieve your goals.”

 

This definition says mental toughness can be used to overcome ANY obstacle. So by extrapolation I just need to use mental toughness to overcome the obstacles provided by war and poverty and the lack of production of electricity by my glutes… Really…?   Could mental toughness allow me to achieve world peace while shooting lightning bolts out of my arse? … doubtful. This mental toughness fruit salad does not taste good.  Yet the definition contains good psychological fruits such as Motivation, Concentration.

The reason I use the fruit salad analogy is that it takes fruits to make a fruit salad. The fruits of confidence, controlling pressure, and many other psychological aspects have plenty of applied research on them. These fruits are the aspects of Sport and Performance psychology which help athletes improve and perform. They give us a common language with which to look for performance improvements.

Mental toughness as a fruit salad is confusing, but tasty and mysterious. It draws us in, but leaves us with no place to look for a new way to approach our understanding of how to improve the individual psychological fruits. Sometimes people mistake the fruit salad for a new fruit.

The reason I detest mental toughness as a term is because it has very severe downside.  I had an athlete come to me who was doing everything right, training hard, performing exceptionally as a leader in the team, and juggling all the balls of life very well. But it got too much; being pulled different directions by different GAA teams they were on. They approached me and said

 “I can’t cope, but I don’t want the team to see me as weak but I need a rest I have too much going on.”

Asking for help leaves us feeling emotionally vulnerable, it is sometimes made difficult to do, yet asking for help is the bravest thing an athlete can do. Asking for help is not “mental weakness or softness”, it is a high performance behaviour, if a team is made up of athletes who ask for help, support and understanding from their team and from their support staff/coaches, then that is a team that I want to work with, because that is a thing that creates success.

Someone who ascribes to the “keep going be mentally tough” is increasingly likely to fall foul of burnout by injury or increased injury. And if you create an environment where people are asked to be mentally tough their understanding of that fruit salad may cause poor improvement or  worse.

Coaches can help athletes by creating an environment where they can broach all topics and issues with the coach.

And you can help develop your psychological fruits by consulting with a sport or performance psychologist and not  a person selling fruit salad or mental toughness.

Our willingness to share good blog posts directly correlates with likes and shares 🙂  which we are continually grateful for. Thank you.

References

Andersen, M. B. (2011). 5 Who’s mental, who’s tough and who’s both? Mental toughness in sport: Developments in theory and research, 69.

“Psychology for Weightlifting” Workshop Dublin, Deadline 28th Oct

Date: 1st Nov

Time: 10.30am -4.00pm

Location: CrossFit West Dublin / Resurrection 8 Weightlifting Club http://www.crossfitwestdublin.com/

Cost: 55 Euro  or 65 Euro If paid after the 28th of Oct

 

This  workshop will involve a light practical element so attendees are asked to bring gear to lift in.  

Due to demand places are limited 

Email us so we can send you a payment link via PayPal or details for bank transfer if needed.

Email: PodiumPsychology@gmail.com for further information or to book your place.

 

It is possible to attend without lifting, (if this is not possible for you) however you will benefit more from it by full participation

You will need to bring your own food and drink for the breaks and lunch time.

To avoid a late payment surcharge of 10 euro pay before midnight  Tuesday the 28th of Oct.  

 

CFWD

If you do us the favour of liking and sharing thanks we appreciate it.    🙂

 

Look forward to seeing you there.