Thursday, February 27, 2014
Studies show that more rapid loss of greater amounts of productivity in an athlete is associated with an improper understanding of the athlete’s psychology at initial consultation compared to established programs encouraging positive, proper, progressive and steady psychological productivity.
Does reading up on Sports Psychology make a difference? The researchers say probably not.
Evidence does not support the common advice that any knowledge is better than no knowledge.
Does walking an extra mile per day, which burns around 100 calories, lead to significant weight loss over time? Not as much as you would think. We typically think of 3,500 calories burned as equivalent to one pound of weight lost. In reality, if nothing changes in the diet, a person would need to burn around 18,000 calories to lose a pound. That would mean walking 4-5 miles per day to lose 10 pounds in a year.
So, why would reading an online blog on Sports Psychology daily help you?
Will increasing fruits and vegetables in the diet help with weight loss? Fruits and vegetables have many health benefits, but healthy foods do not lead to weight loss if calorie consumption overall remains unchanged.
Then, why would a lecture on Sports Psychology at a convention or a symposium be able to assist you?
Does snacking lead to weight gain? Not necessarily. Excess calories lead to weight gain. It does not seem to matter whether the calories are consumed all at once or little by little.
…OK…then why all of these daily or weekly emails with Sports Psychology information in them continue to be distributed from some of the top minds in the field?
The New England Journal of Medicine released a study where researchers pointed out that debunking these common misconceptions about Sports Psychology is important because people tend to believe even erroneous advice if it is stated repeatedly by numerous, often trusted, sources. However, the researchers are quick to point out the good news. The benefits of Sports Psychology are attainable by all even those whom have never taken a psychology course in their lives. It may take focused effort and hard work, but it is possible for anyone.
In fact, there are several things we know to be true about Sports Psychology.
Sports Psychology: What really works?
With having a Masters in Sports Psychology I am often asked which methods are best for a particular athlete or situation. The nature of the ever-growing and evolving field that makes up the realm of ‘sports’ psychology is such that in broad and general terms it turns out that the best method for most of these inquiries is actually no method at all. In fact, over-sensualisation, combined with too many ‘internet-taught” sports psychology ‘pundits” have begun to dilute the facts and truth.
Many common remedies being tossed about the football world are in reality nothing more than just “tricks” or “mental illusions.”
These “Mind Tricks” are especially dangerous for young footballers because in some cases, it can be like giving aspirin to a young child who is suffering from viral illness – the aspirin may set off a chain reaction leading to liver failure and brain death. While the detriments to a footballer are nowhere near as drastic as the failure of an organ or death, they can be so to the Player’s Development and their future in the game.
Furthermore, many coaches are so inept at sport psychology that their efforts are usually more prone to cause sedation among their roster than anything. What many of these coaches don’t realise is that improper application of psychological aspects can actually compound the issue they’re attempting to solve.
This does not mean coaches without degrees or experiences in the sport psychology field are without options. Quite the contrary to be exact. I call them “Mind Tricks.” Understanding them; knowing what they are and how to deal with them can be a very valuable asset to your coaching arsenal.
MIND TRICK #1: “Similar tragedies play out time and again when players try to rescue teammates.”
Domino Effect: The problem began with a well-played football match that remained scoreless after 120 minutes and being that it was played within a format where one of the two competing clubs had to advance the match was now headed into penalties.
Stacy Scotterson, a 24-year-old senior from Virginia was the first to step up to the charity spot to shoot for her team. As she’d done probably a million times before, she bent down and used her fingers to free the ground immediately surrounding the penalty spot from any obstructions. However, what she neither knew nor sensed was the inevitable fate of the game that was about to fill the pit in the bottom of her stomach. Within only a few seconds and just a few breaths later, she had keeled over. Her ball had sailed high and wide off the wet and sloppy surface completely missing the goal. Very soon, a teammate, Amanda Stoyouz, strolled down into the penalty area where Scotterson had missed just moments before, but she too succumbed to the same fate as her teammate. One by one, each teammate strolled down to rescue the others and one by one, each one missed in turn.
Similar tragedies play out time and again when athletes try to rescue teammates. A basketball player is fouled hard; his teammates follow up, one after the other, until they’re all in foul trouble. A quarterback gets drilled by an opposing defensive back and his offensive line goes into a frenzy to protect him; one taking the block, then another.
In each case, the domino effect results from a deep-seated emotion: the need to help others. The fear response shuts down areas of the brain that handle complex thoughts and planning, but it doesn’t affect simple emotions or well-learned habits like altruism. So we’re driven to think about helping others instead of rationally identifying potential hazards, like a wet and slippery surface or accumulating too many personal fouls.
“People lose the ability to think about the long-term consequences of their actions,” says Sian Beilock, PhD, a professor of psychology at the University of Chicago.
Avoid the Trick: If you ever find yourself or your athletes in an unfolding situation like the one Scotterson was in, Beilock recommends pausing for a moment to take a deep breath and think about what’s going on. “Even taking one step back sometimes allows you to see it in a different light, to maybe think, ‘My efforts would be better spent re-evaluating the situation’,” she says. Of course, it’s extremely difficult to separate rational thought from emotion during an unfamiliar crisis.
Planning for potential pitfalls can help; for instance, every team should practice how to deal with certain weather conditions.
MIND TRICK #2: “When the balloon began to rise, he held on, despite a chorus of shouts from the ground urging him to let go.”
Double or Nothing: In February 2003, a collegiate baseball team visiting Northern California prepared to watch a hot-air balloon take off at the Domaine Chandon vineyard near Yountville.
Shortly before 8 a.m., the ground crew was repositioning the inflated balloon when one of the visiting baseball players, a 23-year-old Scotsman named Steve Branson, grabbed hold of the basket, perhaps in an attempt to help.
However, when the balloon began to rise, Branson held on, despite a chorus of shouts from the ground and in particular from his own teammates and coaches, urging him to let go. The balloon rose quickly: 10 feet, 20, 40, 100. The empty air below Branson’s dangling feet stretched to a horrifying distance; pretty soon, he could hold on no longer. His fellow teammates watched as their companion plummeted fatally to the earth.
If a balloon unexpectedly begins to rise, a person hanging on can follow a deadly logic: When he’s only been lifted a foot or two in the air, he may think, ‘Oh, that’s no big deal. I can just step down if I need to.’ Then suddenly he’s at six feet and thinks, ‘I could twist an ankle, I’d better hang on and wait until it gets lower.’ Before he knows it, he’s at 25 feet, realizing that a jump would cause serious injury at best.
The runaway-balloon problem is a manifestation of our irrational assessment of risks and rewards. We tend to avoid risk when we’re contemplating potential gains but seek risk to avoid losses. For instance, if you offer people a choice between a certain loss of $1,000 and a fifty-fifty chance of losing $2,500, the majority will opt for the riskier option; to avoid a definite financial hit. From the perspective of someone dangling 20 feet in the air, the gamble that he might be able to ride the gondola safely back to the ground seems preferable to a guaranteed pair of broken legs. Yet in the moment, he can’t factor in the price he’ll pay if he loses.
Avoid the trick: Casinos are a perfect example of a modern enterprise that makes a very good profit from our flawed ability to calculate true risk. Gamblers wind up in a hole and then instinctively take bigger and bigger risks in an attempt to recoup the losses. To a veteran in the field of applied psychology, it’s a foregone conclusion. “I always tell my students, if you’re tempted to go to Vegas, just write me a check instead,” says Art Markman, PhD, a professor of psychology at the University of Texas at Austin.
MIND TRICK #3: “The narrow road took them into ever-deepening snow.”
Situational Blindness: In December 2009, an Assistant Women’s Basketball Coach at an NAIA school was headed out on a recruiting trip to Nevada after her team had played a Friday and Saturday double-header in Portland, Oregon. Following the directions of her GPS, she drove south on U.S. Highway 97 through Bend, then turned left onto Oregon Highway 31, passing through a dramatically beautiful high desert landscape before she connected with the highway to Reno near the California border.
Near the town of Silver Lake, Oregon, her GPS told her to turn off the highway onto a little-used forest road. If she had continued straight, then she would have arrived at her desired destination in less than six hours. However, her GPS was programmed to take the “shortest route,” not the “fastest.” The narrow road took her into ever-deepening snow. After driving more than 30 miles, she got stuck, managed to dig herself out, drive further and then get stuck again. She tried calling 911 but was in a location where she was unable to get cell phone reception.
For three days, she fought to stay warm and survive until she finally managed to get a cell phone signal and call for help. A sheriff’s deputy came to winch out her car.
As GPS units and satellite navigation smart-phone apps have flourished recently, there’s been a spate of similar cases in which travellers follow their devices blindly and wind up getting badly lost. The underlying mistake is not merely technological but perceptual: the failure to remain aware of one’s environment, what aviation psychologists call Situational Awareness, or SA.
People have always had difficulties maintaining SA, psychologists say, but the proliferation of electronics, and our blind faith that these devices will keep us safe, has led to an epidemic of absentmindedness.
Avoid the trick: Full Situational Awareness requires incorporating outside information into a model of your environment and using that model to predict how the situation might change. If all you’re doing is following the lines of the GPS and it turns out to be wrong, you’ll be completely clueless about what to do next.
In the athletic realm, we rely on what Beth Blickensderfer, PhD, a professor of applied psychology at Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University, calls Competitive SA to navigate our way through the consistently changing labyrinth. It’s especially relevant when you’re traveling to compete at another location, for example. If you’re not paying attention, you might not realize that the ball blends in with the bleachers when it is punted or the hills surrounding the pitch open-up behind one of the goals which allow larger gusts of wind to blow back towards play and you wind up committing a serious faux pas that could ruin the occasion.
MIND TRICK #4: “Once we form a theory, we tend to see everything through it.”
Bending the Map: Our minds are wired to find order within randomness. We look at clouds and see sheep. This can be useful for making decisions, since we’re helpless without a theory that makes sense of our quandary. However, once we form a theory, we tend to see everything through it. A consequence is that sometimes when people actually get physically lost, they can convince themselves they know exactly where they are; a problem sometimes called “bending the map.”
A few years ago, three collegiate-level skiers went out-of-bounds while doing some training via cross-country skiing at the Jackson Hole Mountain Resort located at Teton Village in Wyoming. Looking for fresh powder in Rock Springs Bowl, they took a wrong turn, headed north instead of south and wound up at the bottom of Granite Canyon. If they’d been where they thought they were, the stream should have been flowing from their right to their left and thus heading towards their left would have taken them back to the ski area. Instead, they found the stream flowing in the opposite direction; from their left to their right. They knew they needed to go left in order to get home, but based on the topography of where they thought they were, they knew they also had to go downhill.
Eventually, they decided on a solution: In this particular case, they made a collective decision that based upon the knowledge they already knew as fact; contrary to science and physics, the water had to be flowing uphill.
The group marched upstream, away from the ski area and wound up spending the night in the snow without any survival gear. The next morning, they reconsidered their earlier logic and still – once again - decided that, yes; the stream must indeed be flowing uphill.
They continued on and bushwhacked another quarter mile in the wrong direction before a rescue helicopter found them and flew them to safety.
Such errors of overconfidence are due to a phenomenon psychologists call confirmation bias.
“When trying to solve a problem, we get fixated on a specific option or hypothesis,” explains Jason Kring, president of the Society for Human Performance in Extreme Environments, “and ignore contradictory evidence and other information that could help us make a better decision.”
A vast collective error of confirmation bias unfolded in the past decade as investors, analysts, and financial advisers all convinced themselves that legions of financial derivatives based on subprime mortgages were all fundamentally sound. There was plenty of evidence to the contrary, but the money was so good that many found it easier to believe. They kept convincing themselves right up until the roof caved in.
Avoid the trick: To outsmart “confirmation bias,” make a habit of scepticism, including scepticism toward your own gut feelings and assumptions. If you’re part of a group that seems prone to agreement, play devil’s advocate to encourage others to share different points of view. “Don’t use your intuition to convince yourself that things are going right; use it to alert yourself to potential problems,” says Jeff Haack, a former search-and-rescue specialist for Emergency Management British Columbia. “Listen to those nagging doubts.”
MIND TRICK #5: “There’s a risk that in the heat of the moment, we’ll be tempted to overstep our own set parameters.”
Redlining: Mountain climbing at high altitudes is a race against time. Human endurance is severely limited in the face of extreme cold and limited oxygen and windows of good weather can shut abruptly. Lingering too long is an invitation to disaster, so when mountaineers prepare to summit, they need to set a turnaround time and strictly abide by it.
The consequence of failing to heed this sacred rule was gruesomely manifested on May 10, 1996. It was on that date that there were an unprecedented number of climbers preparing to make the final stage of their ascent of Mount Everest, including some who had paid as much as $65,000 each.
For expedition leader Rob Hall, getting his ‘clients’ safely to the top and back down meant meeting a turnaround time of 2:00 p.m.. However, as they continued to ascend towards the summit, the turnaround time came and went. Eventually, at 4 p.m., the last straggler arrived at the summit and Hall began to lead his high-paying ‘customers’ back down. Unfortunately, it was too late. A deadly storm had already begun, lashing the mountain with hurricane-force winds and whiteout conditions. Stuck on Everest’s exposed face, eight climbers died, one by one. Hall would be one of the last in his group to succumb. Trapped just a few hundred feet below the summit and paralysed by the cold and a lack of oxygen, he radioed base camp and was patched through via satellite to his wife whom was at their home in New Zealand. “Sleep well, my sweetheart,” he told her. “Please don’t worry too much.” Today his body remains where he sat.
Hall became a victim of a simple but insidious cognitive error that I call “redlining.” Anytime we plan something that requires setting a parameter, then there will always be a risk that in the heat of the moment, we’ll be tempted to overstep it. Examples of such are: divers who see an interesting wreck just beyond the limit of their dive tables and proceed to check it out or airline pilots who descend through clouds to their minimum safe altitude, fail to see the runway and then go just a little bit lower.
It’s easy to think, “I’ll just go over the ‘redline’ a little bit. What’s the big deal?” The problem is that once we do, there are no more cues reminding us that we’re heading in the wrong direction. A ‘little bit’ becomes a ‘little bit more’ and at some point, it becomes ‘too much.’ Nothing is there to call you back to the safe side.
A similar phenomenon has been dubbed the “what-the-hell” effect, such as when dieters control impulses with strict limits on their eating, a nutritional redline. One day, they slip up, eat a sundae and boom—they’re over the line. “Now they’re in no-man’s-land,” says Markman, “so they just blow the diet completely. They binge.”
Avoid the trick: As in mountain climbing, the best response for footballers when passing a redline is to recognize what you’ve done, stop and calmly steer yourself back in the right direction. When it’s not a life-or-death situation, possessing the knowledge that ‘redlining’ is an actual reality and thus trying to keep it in check as much as possible will take care of most, if not all, situations.
So, What’s Next?
First, understanding that any psychological article you read (including this one) may be heavily influenced by the author’s own experiences, but inherently is not destiny. Changing the factors that lead to the efficiency of any element of sports psychology; like a better understanding of both your players and yourself, can prevent issues from compounding and getting even more out control.
Second, sports psychology comes down to a balance of emotions.
Increased understanding of emotions, and how they affect decisions, leads to better understanding of your players and a decreased risk of faulty results from attempted sports psychology practices. Therefore, any attempt at sports psychology should include some form of emotional consideration.
Finally, regardless of what anyone says (even the author of a blog such as is this one) education is good for you, regardless of whether or not it leads to changes in your players’ performance. Many coaches are discouraged to find that sports psychology, even via certified and educated professionals, does not automatically lead to a solution.
This is because the brain is wired to replace the reactions used during normal stimuli very slowly, so we tend to replace these reactory responses in what sometimes seem like years. However, education and experience offers many benefits that offset this time-consuming natural mental response to new stimuli even if there is no overall change in noticeable output. When a change in how an athlete reacts to a stimulus is achieved, research shows that sustained consistent education and experience aids in long-term maintenance of the preferred reactionary response.
Sunday, December 15, 2013
The Football IQ a player is born with is crucial in shaping the arc of their career—but so are other mental capacities that they can sharpen.
Allow me to tell the story of a friend of mine; a friend from child-hood and one of my closest mates to this day. We’ll refer to him as “John.” For the more than three decades that I have known John, his drive to succeed has never flagged. In grade school, he taught himself to read by poring over his father’s newspapers. In high school, he earned spots on multiple varsity teams with soccer being his favorite and most successful of them all. Then at the University of Evansville, where he played four years of Varsity soccer, he made the Dean’s List. Upon graduation from the University of Evansville, John plied his trade in the French Second Division for several years before finishing his professional career in the Italian Serie B. While he never once played at the highest-level of his respective Federations’ leagues, he did enjoy a lengthy professional football career spanning more than a decade.
Upon his retirement from professional football, John went on to earn a Doctorate in History before launching a prosperous career as an entrepreneur. Today, at 40, he’s the chairman and Chief Executive Officer of one of the largest Internet content consortiums in the world.
Not such an unusual trajectory for a successful executive, perhaps. There are many former professional athletes who have become quite successful in the business world. However, there’s a twist to John’s story.
Throughout his life, John labored under a secret shame. He struggled to understand things that his peers grasped easily. His grade-school teachers wanted to hold him back. His father bluntly belittled him as “stupid.” Even after he’d been accepted into a private, four-year university, John once told me, “I was very worried that I would be found out, that I really was stupid.”
His College Board scores were so low, in fact, that after he’d made the Dean’s List, school psychologists asked to test him so they could figure out how he’d done it. However, they were stumped. “They had me do puzzles,” he told me on the phone the night after he had taken the first battery of these tests, “and they said that I couldn’t solve problems that most 7- or 8-year-olds could.” College Board officials wanted to study him, too. “They seemed to think,” as John always jokingly put it, “that I was some kind of freak.”
Reason to Worry?
It’s easy to understand why someone in John’s position might worry. Intelligence is arguably the most important trait a person possesses. Those who do well on IQ tests are more likely to get a good education, bring home bigger paychecks and enjoy longer lives.
Ironically, part of IQ’s importance and a semblance of its ambiguity can be ascribed to self-fulfilling prophecy. You see, our society actively works to sort its members through IQ tests. Those College Boards that John did so poorly on? They’re basically IQ tests, just not named so. PSATs, ditto. LSATs, same. All of those other exams by which our populace is sorted into future have and have-nots; check…IQ tests.
Now, at the same time, it’s important to understand to sociopyschological constructs of IQ itself, especially if we’re going to begin to understand how it correlates with the mental requirements that are useful in helping us navigate the labyrinth of life as well as what connection, if any, IQ has to a football player’s development. In simple scientific circles, IQ underlies learning, reasoning and problem-solving in every intellectual domain and it is related to both brain size and cognitive processing speed.
In contrast, however, there is a growing body of research showing impressively solid empirical evidence other factors besides intelligence—factors that most people in general aren’t ever tested for—play nearly as crucial a role in determining who is going to be successful in the game of football. These characteristics are largely uncorrelated with intelligence. What’s more, unlike intelligence, they can be improved with effort.
A Cautionary Tale
If we want to look at an example of the shortcomings of intelligence alone, then we only have to look no further than the late 18th and early 19th century scientist, Nikola Tesla. Considered one of the top geniuses of his time, Tesla is credited with pioneering the alternating-current electrical system that powers modern society. His name also lives on as the standard scientific unit of magnetism. Never-the-less, Tesla’s life was riddled with other tragedies of his own creation. He was superstitious, obsessive, compulsive and so displaced from reality that his ideas sometimes veered into the world of fantasy. At one-point, apparently, he actually believed that if he could make a tuning-fork sing at the same harmonic frequency of the Earth then he could shatter the entire planet. It shouldn’t come as a surprise that Tesla made a fortune with his brilliant ideas but lost it all from his ill-conceived ones. In 1943 he died without a cent to his name and all-alone at the age of 86.
As smart as Tesla was, he was drastically short on rationality, something psychologists define as the aptitude for recognizing and repairing flaws in one’s own logic. In the 1970’s; Kahneman and Tversky pioneered research on the topic and identified many systematic reasoning errors that they concluded all human beings are prone to. For example, we humans have a tendency to give more credence to information of which confirms that of which we already believe, an error in our judgment called confirmation bias. Another example is how we insist on placing overvalue on information that’s right in front of us; the so-called availability heuristic. These types of pitfalls can sidetrack the unwary into faulty conclusions and prevent them from perceiving their own mistakes. This is where the mind of a footballer really becomes interesting.
“To be skillful, a person must have well-chosen goals, well-calibrated beliefs and must act appropriately on those beliefs to achieve those goals,” explains Keith Stanovich, Ph.D., a professor of applied psychology at the University of Toronto. Stanovich’s own research suggests that a person’s IQ is only weakly correlated to their ability to learn and transfer skill. “There is surprising room,” says Stanovich, “for people who aren’t very smart to do very skillful things.”
…and in the game of football…lack of skill hurts. One study reported that professional footballers who scored better on a battery of rational-thinking tests were less likely to see their careers extended or to reach even higher levels of play. Another found that a similar group of test subjects who scored badly on general IQ tests displayed better decision-making skills, technical-acumen, tactical vision and were considered to be a generally less risky investment as players overall.
Let’s think of intelligence as a flashlight beam. It will light up whatever it’s pointed at, but sometimes it might just be pointed at the wrong thing. People might have the mental power to handle tremendously complicated problems and yet still fall for scams and hucksters. One study found that more than half of Mensa members believed in aliens and 44 percent of them ascribe to astrology.
The good news is that, unlike intelligence, skill is almost entirely learned, so with a little effort footballers can increase their allotment. “Don’t think like a scientist,” Stanovich advises. “Look at things from people’s point of view and consider as many possibilities as you can before making a decision.”
Of course, making a good decision and then actually implementing it with skill are very different things. In a game like football that is filled with temptations, it’s easy to choose one course of action and then find yourself doing something else. The key is self-control—another crucial mental attribute for skill success and in turn success in the game of football.
In the late 1960s and early ’70s, a young Stanford University psychologist named Walter Mischel, Ph.D., carried out a series of experiments that rocked the field of psychology. He and his team offered nursery-school students a tray of marshmallows, cookies and other treats. They then asked the children which kind they preferred, and told them that they could have one treat right now, or if they waited a few minutes, they could have two. The researcher then left the single treat in front of the child and left the room.
The average child lasted less than three minutes before giving in and eating the treat. However, Mischel found that a significant minority were able to resist. In fact, about 30 percent were able to hold out for a full 15 minutes. That’s remarkable—but the really astonishing thing didn’t emerge until years later. Out of curiosity, Mischel went back from time to time to check in on his subjects. It turned out that the simple act of resisting the urge to gobble a treat indicated the presence of a truly powerful and deep-seated trait, one that had a major impact on the subsequent course of a person’s life history. When they reached high school, the children who had been able to hold out for a quarter-hour tested, on average, more than 200 points higher on the SAT than those who had only managed to wait for 30 seconds. Later still, in adulthood, the treat-abstainers were more likely to earn more, to enjoy better health and to avoid things such as obesity, imprisonment, divorce and addiction.
These were huge differences to trace to a simple 15-minute test taken in toddlerhood—and yet upon reflection, perhaps not so strange. The same ability that helps a 4-year-old to restrain herself from eating a marshmallow might down the road allow her to study instead of go to a party, say no to an offer of drugs or even get herself out of a bad relationship.
What’s the correlation to football? Simple; the development of skill required in the game of football takes such a high-level of intrinsic motivation that the commonly thought correlation between intelligence and this required motivation is faulty, as both Mischel and Stanovich have already shown.
Those footballers who are, unfortunately, natural-born marshmallow eaters can find “getting a grip” an impossibly daunting challenge. When that’s the case, experts advise to think in ‘baby steps.’ “A good first step is to create a kind of laser focus on one particular aspect of the skill-set that you can control or one specific action that you can do,” advises psychologist Kelly McGonigal, Ph.D., author of The Willpower Instinct.
If your spending is out of control and you’re in debt, for instance, “You can start by opening your bills and highlighting how much you owe,” McGonigal says. That kind of small action isn’t going to solve your self-control problem in a single stroke, but it helps put you on the right path. “You see yourself on a new trajectory,” she explains. “It doesn’t matter how small the step is. You’ve toggled the switch from ‘you’re on the wrong trajectory’ to ‘you’re on the right trajectory.’ It’s going to make a big difference.”
Just being on the right path and engaging in behavior that demonstrates self-control and commitment to one’s skill-set can help one develop this skill-set even more. It’s a virtuous circle. Numerous researchers have found that what shapes footballers skills are more about their own proclivities and not as much what they think about; or rather what they observe themselves doing. When successful footballers see themselves performing an action, they assume at a subconscious level that it must reflect their underlying preferences, regardless of their actual motivation. Experimenters have found, for instance, that subjects who are coerced into volunteering for a long, boring task subsequently rate it as more pleasant than subjects who are paid to do the same chore. Subconsciously, the volunteers assume that because they are doing the task without any discernible benefit or reward, it must be because they are enjoying it.
Once a player perceives themselves as someone who possesses a knack for playing a properly textured ball, for instance, they can apply it over and over in all sorts of situations. Researchers in Britain recruited footballers who said they wanted to learn a new skill to improve their game. The researchers asked them to execute this skill at least once a day and note in a journal how much effort the task seemed to require. Most of the subjects rated their new skill as being effortless after about 60 days, on average. What started out as an effortful project had become second nature.
Grit your teeth while you’re eating those marshmallows
The belief that one is capable of achieving one’s goals is called self-efficacy, and it, too, is a significant predictor of success in the game of football. One study found that a youth footballer’s sense of self-efficacy at age 10 is more predictive of his future playing level as an adult than his reading in score in school is. This factor is also a key component of grit, or mental toughness—the capacity to stay committed to one’s goals in the face of hardship. Grit combines self-control with a strong sense of internal motivation and the emotional resilience to shrug off disappointment.
When a federal lawsuit led to the breakup of AT&T in 1981, many employees found themselves without jobs. Illinois Bell Telephone cut its 26,000-member workforce by almost half in the span of only a single year. Those who were fortunate enough to keep their jobs faced workplace chaos.
Salvatore R. Maddi, Ph.D., and colleagues from the University of Chicago were already studying more than 400 IBT supervisors, managers and executives for another, different study, when upon hearing of the companies major cuts to its labor-force; they decided to continue monitoring that same group annually until 1987.
For two-thirds of the affected workers, the layoffs were a painful jolt. They suffered heart attacks and strokes; their marriages fell apart and they suffered from mental health issues. For the other third, however, the transition wasn’t traumatic. In actuality, their lives improved. Their health remained sound, their marriages thrived and their careers continued to flourish. The study found that those who thrived remained involved in events rather than feeling isolated; tried to influence outcomes rather than becoming passive and viewed even negative changes as opportunities. This is the concrete foundation that holds the basis for “Grit.”
“Grit has to do with the passionate pursuit of long-term goals and the toughness to be resilient in the face of adversity,” says West Point psychologist Michael Matthews, Ph.D. “What it comes down to is just not quitting. I used to be a sheriff’s deputy, and our small-arms combat instructor used to say, ‘It’s OK if we find your dead body lying in a ditch by your patrol car, but we want to find an empty magazine in your hand.’ Go down fighting, man.”
Matthews and his fellow researchers have found that grit correlates with everything from performance at the National Spelling Bee championship to the ability of West Point cadets to survive basic training. The latter is where the game of football most closely relates, as pre-season training is the closest many athletes will ever get to the rigors of the military. Regardless, the two fall hand-in-hand in so many different areas that if it wasn’t the aspect of “putting one’s life on the line” with the military, an argument could be made that they are quite possibly one-in-the-same.
Not only can grit be taught, it’s the reason a thing exists called ‘boot camp.’ “Basic training, in any military in the world, is a grit-building exercise,” says Matthews. Obstacle courses bolster physical fitness but, more important, give new soldiers the confidence to tackle challenges unlike any they’d ever faced before. “I went through that,” he says, “and I remember being in basic training in the Air Force, and looking up at this God-awful obstacle that we had to go over, and it was tilted back and something like 30 feet high, and I thought, ‘Oh my God, nobody can climb that.’ So when you get up there and you’ve done it, you just want to go, ‘Woo-hoo.’ ”
If you’re not ready to be inducted into the military, you can achieve the same ends by making a habit of challenging yourself to push your limits. Test your boundaries and develop new skills. “For players who are afraid of taking chances, even the simplest aspects of the game are a huge challenge,” he acknowledges. “But once they’ve proven to themselves that they can handle that, they’ll be able to progressively attempt more challenging aspects of their game.”
Whatever his perceived intellectual shortcomings, “John” possessed grit by the tanker load. Where others might have seen rejection and dismissal, he resolved to work twice as hard. “I always felt that, one way or another, I’d overcome it,” he once told me. Instead of despairing over his academic failings, he identified areas of strength and concentrated his efforts there. He couldn’t get his head around Math and English no matter how hard he tried, but he seemed to have a natural aptitude for History. “I have a phenomenal memory,” he says, “and I’m good at seeing relationships. I really enjoyed reading about something that happened in 1882 and remembering something that happened in 1772, and seeing the similarities.” His gifts carried him all the way to a Doctorate.
Only many years later was John told that his problem all along had most likely been dyslexia. By then, he was already well established on a fruitful and rewarding career, comfortable enough in his life and his skin that it didn’t make much difference to him either way. Still, he feels for his younger self and the suffering he had to go through. “I think I would have understood and enjoyed life a lot more if I had known when I was 10 or 20 years old,” he says today. “I definitely had a bit of an inferiority complex.”
Then again, the things that seemed almost insurmountable obstacles to John when he was a schoolboy helped forge the talents that he enjoys today. It’s not the yearned-for victories that turn out to make life long and happy, but the spirit in which we accept our inevitable share of victories and defeats.
That’s not a slogan from an inspirational poster, by the way, but one of the main findings of one of the United States’ longest-running psychology experiments. Since the 1930s, researchers at Harvard University and Massachusetts General Hospital have been gathering data on a group of former Harvard College undergraduates who are now in their late 80s or older. Approximately three-quarters of the original study group are now dead, but most of the rest continue to take part in the ongoing study, willingly answering biannual surveys about their health, well-being and outlook. Over the years, the group’s data set has offered a rare perspective on which factors of one’s life and more specifically how one’s mental aptitude, shapes their skill-sets.
One of the great ironies, it turns out, is that what one hopes for when they’re young is very different from what they value looking back from old age. Starting out as young players, we want to dazzle the football world with our brilliance. What turns out to be more important than impressing others, though, is forging a sense of consistency.
Robert J. Waldinger, M.D., director of the Study of Adult Development at Massachusetts General, now heads this ongoing study. “One of the things our data has shown us is that experiences—good, bad, positive, negative, etc…—are really central to people’s skill development, to their work-life success and certainly to their physical health,” he says. “The knowledge gained from these experiences is far more influential on future skill attributes and thus-so respective success than any other cognitive function.”
Brilliant, explosive, vibrant and top-of-the-headline careers, in contrast, turned out to seem much less important at life’s twilight. “…and remember, these men were all Harvard undergrads, among the most success-oriented people out there,” Waldinger points out. “What we find is that there is a cognitive developmental pathway that most people take, where as they age they begin to care less and less about the signs of achievement and more and more about whether what they’re doing is consistent and fruitful.”
In other words, your IQ might help you achieve success, but that success by itself won’t translate into the needed skill-set that will make you successful in the game of football…or in almost any other profession, for that matter. Indeed, other studies have confirmed that IQ has very little to do with life-long skill mastery or overall technical acumen.
You see, so many pundits focus so much on the "genius" side of the game of football that they miss the motivation, ambition and of course the rationality that drives the player to develop. I know of players of whom high IQs run in their family genes like they were wetting their pants; yet, I also happen to know of players whose IQs are so low that they couldn’t even be measured if time was to go in reverse. I consider both sets of players successful, whereas it’s the latter pool that I would dip into first when choosing a side. The funny thing is, when I was in my early twenties, I held IQs in such high regard, but now, almost 15 years later, I realize that having a high IQ is only useful if you actually do something with it; it's one variable in the much longer equation of skill development and success. One of the more important things I've learned in my career as a player and a coach is that it doesn't take a genius to be successful at this game, just a little ambition and the proper motivation.
The value and importance that society has increasingly placed on one’s IQ has been an eye opener for me.
Having personally known John, I know that he was a non-materialistic and spiritually oriented person. His personality was, however, very difficult to understand; not because of his craziness but rather because of the ignorance of the average-minded and jealous people (no matter which title they held: coach, player, teammate, fan, etc…). He changed the world for the better and that's a fact. His attitude, personality, theologies, ideologies, etc…, were ahead of his time - both intellectually and spiritually; not to mention as a footballer.
So, with all of that being said; that old saw turns out to be a scientifically demonstrated fact. “It really is true,” Waldinger says. “On their deathbed, nobody ever wishes that they’d spent more time in the office.”
Thursday, October 17, 2013
This week's blog comes courtesy of Gary Avedikian.
When was the “game the best teacher?” Maybe it was when kids played in the neighborhood with older kids who played at a higher level and knew more about the game than the younger ones. That sure isn't what happens now. Maybe it was when kids watched older ones and then practiced what they saw and improvised from there...those kids repeated the moves and touches over and over again until they “got it”…and then embellished it to make it their own! Perish the thought…they drilled themselves until they had control of whatever. Dirty word “drilled.” Sorry about that.
· * Does this type of development happen now and if so how often?
· * Who encourages this type of repetitive technical practice and where are the kids who are working for mastery of a technique on their own?
Our system rewards wins. It rewards wins at every level. Wins justify fees. Wins get the kids scholarships? Wins mean the players are “good” and ready for the next level? Wins save coaches their jobs.
I watch professional, collegiate, high school, club, and even a few U12 games and practices at every level every year. As a country, we’re technically ignorant and ill prepared. We’re nowhere near where we need to be right now.
When was the last time coaches went somewhere to hear more about teaching the side volley? Goalkeeper coaches seem to be the only ones always looking for new ways to improve technique. Maybe that’s why our goalkeepers do better at high levels than our field players in Europe. Everyone has been looking for the “magic tactic” that they can employ that their competition might not have an answer to. That will equal more wins for their teams. Small-side games are frequently created to teach decision making. Endless amounts of small-sided games are supposed to equal mastery of the tactics and techniques. What happens when the players can’t do the exercise? More teaching goes on about how to do the exercise than correction of the technical errors that create the confusion about how to do the exercise correctly in the first place. Add to that the need to do it faster and faster to approach match speed and what have you got going on for the players?
I've been around the game for a long time now, and I keep forgetting that the game is the best teacher so long as the coach recognizes the teachable moment and implements the proper steps to correct the technique issue the coach sees. However, what happens if the players can’t make the passes required? That’s a simple one…change tactics because we aren't teaching the techniques to make the passes happen. The game was the best teacher when younger players played with older ones who were willing to help the younger ones “get it.” Where does that happen today except on a basketball court in New York?
Now everyone assumes that the teaching of techniques and basic tactics should have gone on before they get the player. If the player doesn't “get it” immediately, they’re a “throw-away” item and the coach looks for a new player.
How can we take advantage of the coolest tactics and formations ever devised by coaches when the players are the product of a system based on a throw-away development process?
Players at every level are expendable. They come to us at every level because they think, and we think, they can move up. We teach tactics and decide their future based on how well they execute the tactics. How much work is put into the development of pure technique and then raised to the level of skill? I maintain that there is so little emphasis on this idea that the technical ability at every level is woefully lacking…and it’s our fault as coaches.
When are we, as the coaches, going to “get it?” You can’t take full advantage of a tactic if you can only play comfortably with one side of your body. Time after time I watch players make unrewarded runs, not because of some subtle defensive move but because of a lack of confidence or outright lack of technical competency to make the pass, especially if they are longer passes. When we are finally fed up with these players, we throw them away…and we get new ones we hope will make the better technical moves demanded by our latest tactics. We blame their lack of development on the players themselves and the people who coached them earlier.
If I were a professional league coach the pressure to win and salary cap maneuvering would make approaches to the problem different, up to a point. If the player isn't getting it done, does it make sense to have a technical coach work with the player to have a chance to improve so that the player is ultimately better for me plus worth more on the market later? That can’t happen currently because unlike every other major sport in this country, we don’t have technical coaches. Either we’re much smarter than the other sports are…or we flat out don’t know much about teaching technique so we mask it with smoke and mirrors tactics that hide the weaker players. So many players are being switched to opposite sides of the field to compensate for the relative ineffectiveness of the “weak side” of their body or the weakness to come inside of the players who normally play wide. It is destroying the concept of creating total players while killing off positions and style.
When you’re watching a game, did you ever notice how often the teams seem to choose to counterattack and penetrate on the side of the field that the attack against them just occurred? Unless the opponent concedes some space, they don’t switch the point of attack very often, and when they do, the relay around through the backs is so slow the other team gets to shift over and re-balance itself. Oops, another mistake on my part…they all over shift to more than half way across the width of the field offering the team all the excuse it needs to keep going in against their increasing numbers! I’m so out of touch with the modern game, I guess; that I keep thinking that the defense is begging me to switch the point of attack to the other side of the field…but that would take someone with the skill to drive a ball knee high across the field. That would also take mastery of a special technique through repetitive practice in order to do it with both feet. That isn't how to train players these days because they get bored with that kind of practice and besides it shows the coach is out of touch with the players and the newest training ideas?
The basic laws of the game seem no longer to apply, of course…
· * or we wouldn't counter into a defense that out numbers us on a wing side of the field,
· * or we wouldn't allow the cross,
· * or we would get immediate pressure on the ball and not allow players to look up and pass wherever they like,
· * or we would defend with one more than they have up front.
But of course I’ve been around so long I think that the basic laws of the game do still apply!
Years ago I watched a famous American professional soccer player practicing left-foot side volleys. He couldn't get consistent service. How do you groove a stroke if you don’t get consistent service? Once the mechanics of the stroke are under control then, of course, one works to achieve match levels of execution. Not one coach had a thought about how to give him consistent service other than to kick it in to him. When he was struggling to get the ball turned to goal, not one coach walked up to him and told him how to get his foot over the ball or how to get his hips re-positioned to make the movement easier to control. Where was the technical coach to help him? If he were a professional golfer his swing coach would have been working with him.
How often do you see evidence that we learn from successful training programs in other sports? Every major professional team in this country… except soccer…has technical coaches for their players. We only see it for goalkeepers in soccer but not for field players. Coerver is a training system for a player that breaks the dribbling training issue into steps that, once learned, enables anyone to teach their players. We should have been developing training of all the techniques in this format years ago. How much do we study how our sister American sports teach technique? Do we learn from them? Other nations have looked at our basketball’s multiple defenses very carefully. Do we see anything to be gained from employing their tactics and street smarts in our game? Certainly, the Europeans will evolve their game faster than we can play catch-up. We always talk about an “American” style but inevitably we copy the Europeans.
Years ago in a meeting with the chairman of the NASL’s Competition Committee, in answer to the question of how to speed up the development of our players, I proposed using circular TV and holographic images to increase exponentially the exposure to quality opponents of our players. When will we utilize the technology to allow us to get our field players caught up? If our technical ability was up to standard and we had an American style, the Europeans might be chasing us for a change.
All this assumes that as coaches we actually know how to teach technique and then elevate it to skill in a match. If some of the college coaches think that the players today are less technically competent than they were 20 years ago, then whose failure is that?
Of course this may all be academic if today’s coaches are a product of the “throw-away” system themselves, are they going to turn to the NSCAA for technique training or do they think they are beyond that? Maybe they believe technique training should be done at a lower level than where they are coaching, leaving them free to be seeking the “magic tactics” that will equate to wins…and that simply continues the downward technical spiral!
Winning certainly matters at a lot of high schools, at most colleges, and at all clubs; and all professional programs. Yet when we look at those levels of the game:
· * where are the imaginative tactics?
· * where are the players with flair that can lend excitement to the game?
· * where are the games that aren’t like watching reruns?
I saw a few…and they made the blood rush!
We can’t even tell how good our coaches actually are because the players probably can’t execute the imaginative tactics that our coaches can envision…so we blame the coaches for mediocre performances at all levels.
· * Are the players to blame at all for this mess? I don’t think they are exempt from criticism either. How many come to the coach eager for more ideas on how to improve themselves as players? How many are looking for new techniques to master? Most are getting to the next level after years of hearing how good they are. When they get to the next level, and I’m thinking of college now, it is their first experience with playing in an open age group and playing with players to whom they have to prove themselves. Many even show up believing that they are beyond needing technical training and think that a coach who is trying to improve their technique is out of touch. If they fit into the program they may get 10% better but how many really blossom into something special? Is that the coach’s fault or the fault of a soccer system that doesn't value the technical coach as part of the system at any advanced level of the game?
· * What complicity lies with the parents in this mess? It lies in the idea that if their child plays for the club with the most wins, and costs the most to join, that somehow this will lead to their child having a scholarship. They frequently leave clubs that were trying to give the player a solid technical foundation for a club that wins more. The parents don’t even think about whether their child actually learned all there was to learn from the coaches that made them attractive to other clubs. Who nurtures this attitude in them? Is it the clubs and their PR programs? Is it the colleges who don’t make any clear statements that programs that produce the best technical/tactical players don’t always have to win to get their attention? Many parents are obsessed with reducing the stress and frustration that is often required to meet the challenges that produce players that are better skilled and stronger mentally. How many parents want to see their child technically challenged repeatedly and hardened to the point that they can compete with people who play to eat?
· * Are referees complicit in our failure to develop better technical players? Yes…however, I do not believe it is intentional at all. We need our referees to be more protective of the players at all levels so technical flair can be nurtured and on display. Increasingly, the game is getting more rugby-like. Aggressiveness is being substituted for defensive 1v1 skill. Physically threatening play when they’re young is down to ineptness. Overly physical play when they’re older is down to style and, after all, they’re grown ups. To some degree, referees should be the guardians of the beautiful game as much as enforcers of its laws.
We have a few oases in this technical desert where the premier clubs and high schools are focused more on technical development and believe that winning will come. Only the most secure clubs can afford to tell a parent that they are going to focus on technical development and not worry about their winning until they are U14 and up, and if they don’t get it, they should take their child somewhere else.
Until we find a way around the complexity of this mess we are going to continuously look at coaches who have to work with what they can get, and then take the blame for the mediocre level of the game…some of which they deserve and some of which they don’t.
Of course, there is a relatively simple partial solution:
· * Create more technical coaches and use them to improve the players we have now and those we will get in the future.
· * Technical coaches are the first step.
· * Position coaches are the second step.
· * Use the technology we have in the USA that we pioneered.
· * UEFA is a step ahead of what we need first.
Think about this…If the “game is the best teacher,” then all I have to do is play 3,000 rounds of golf and I would be nearly as good as Tiger Woods!
Gary Avedikian has been involved in football coaching and education for more than four decades. One of the select few current NSCAA Master Coaches, the former president of the NSCAA spent 10 years as the Head Men’s Soccer Coach at The Ohio State University where he was recognized as the Big Ten Coach of the Year in 1992. Prior to his decade in Columbus, Ohio he put in 30 years at the high-school level all of which earned him recognition by MLS as one of the 100 most influential people in soccer in Ohio.
Based out of Centerville, Ohio in the Dayton Metropolitan area also earned him a similar recognition as one of the most influential people in sports over the last 100 years in Dayton, Ohio.
Based out of Centerville, Ohio in the Dayton Metropolitan area also earned him a similar recognition as one of the most influential people in sports over the last 100 years in Dayton, Ohio.
Married with two sons and two grandchildren, Avedikian has been a Consultant to NIKEIncorporated’s Soccer Division since 1977.
An extensive traveler through Brazil, Europe and the United States, He also enjoys chess, computers, golf and photography in addition to his life-long passion for football.