Sports Psychology Tidbits

Superstition in Sport

Superstitious rituals are most prevalent with sports positions involving greater uncertainty. For example, players exhibit more superstitious activity when batting, with an average 26 percent success rate; as opposed to outfielding, with an average 97 percent success rate.

Success breeds superstition. More successful high school and university players tend to exhibit more superstitious activities, attributing part of their success to their ritualistic behaviors.

More superstitious activity can be seen in college team sports, such as basketball, ice hockey, and volleyball, than among individual collegiate sport athletes such as tennis players and swimming. This phenomenon may possibly be due to social transmission of superstitious beliefs among the members of the sports teams.

Vyse SA (1997) Believing in Magic, The Psychology of Superstition, Oxford University Press, 26-29

Reaction Time

Keep opponent blind to next move as long as possible. Having several options available or faking move can increase opponents reaction time.

Grief after Injury

Following an injury, athletes commonly experience a sequence of reactions similar to those outlined by Kübler-Ross (1969) in her book 'Death and Dying'.

  1. Disbelief, denial, and isolation
  2. Anger
  3. Bargaining
  4. Depression
  5. Acceptance and resignation
    • while remaining hopeful about the eventual return to competition
Rottella RJ, Heyman SR (1993). Stress, Injury, and the Psychological Rehabilitation of Athletes, Applied Sport Psychology; Personal Growth to Peak Performance. Williams JM, Landers DM, Boutcher SH. Performance. Mayfield Publishing Company, 2, 342.

Turning Failure Into Success

Focusing on optimal performance instead of past problems or unfortunate events is believed to positively affect sports performance. Athletes should avoid recounting poor performances or accidents and instead focus on perfect performances. Schmid (1993) describes a 16 year old downhill skier who ran off course and was seriously injured. Her skiing improved remarkably when she stopped telling people how she got injured. Whenever people asked what had happened, she instead focused on describing how she would ski the race successfully. See Concentration and Attention Control Training.

Schmid A (1993). Training Strategies for Concentration. Arousal-Performance Relationships, Applied Sport Psychology; Personal Growth to Peak Performance. Williams JM, Landers DM, Boutcher SH. Mayfield Publishing Company, 2, 262-273.

Verbal Feedback

As a coach or personal trainer, provide your athlete or client with specific feedback. Don't just say, "Good job", or "Do it better". Instead be more specific by telling them exactly what they are doing correctly or incorrectly (and precisely what they need to do to improve).

Offer supportive comments during times when your client is not doing well (eg: missed workout or eating or cheating on dietary plan). You may want to ask "How did that make you feel?" and "What do think you should do next time?".

Factors that Limit Performance

  • Skill not well learned
  • Inability to relax
  • Inability to control arousal
  • Lack of energy
  • Difficulties in focusing attention
  • Lack of confidence, or fear of failure

Psychological Skills Training

  • Arousal regulation
    • Deep breathing
  • Confidence building
    • Review successful past performance
    • Repetition (overlearning)
    • Self Talk
  • Increasing motivation and commitment
    • Goal setting
  • Attention or concentration skills
    • Cue selection and focus
    • Skill rehearsal
    • Imagery

Characteristics of an Athlete Not Needing the Skills of a Sport Psychologist

An athlete who is excelling in their sport and would not have reason to see a sports psychologist would have to be content with their performance. They would possess superior self-monitoring skills, yet they may not be fully aware of many aspects of their skills. They have probably developed some degree of automaticity when executing their given sport, yet are able to perceive the essential kinematic information necessary to make subtle adjustments in response to their environment. They have successfully developed the skill of anticipating the actions of an opponent. These athletes know situational probabilities and are able to plan their actions in advance. They have an organized and structured knowledge of their sport. They are able to effectively detect, locate, and recognize patterns from within their sport. Their expertise is specific to their task within their sport (Abernethy 1993).

Athlete Motivation Profile

Standardized athlete motivation profile used by NFL, and other professional sports. Reports reliability of test. Measures components of:

  • Competitiveness
  • Self Control
  • Coachability

Institute of Athletic Motivation, One Lagoon Drive, Suite 141, Redwood Shores, CA 94065, (415) 598-0700

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