Exploring sport coaching and psychology
Exploring sport coaching and psychology

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5 Sports psychologists explain their work

You have explored learning, feedback and those who experience failure, but what about something you so often hear in commentary and observations about those competing in sport: what are the qualities of ‘resilient’ or ‘mentally tough’ sportspeople?

In the next two activities, you hear from two leading sports psychologists who articulate what these terms, or their own versions of them, mean.

Activity 2 What is this thing called mental toughness?

Timing: Allow about 20 minutes

This activity (which takes its name from Jones’ 2002 article on mental toughness) introduces you to sports psychologist Peter Clough, who explains why ‘mental toughness’ is important for school children to master for their general development. Listen to this interview between a BBC interviewer and Peter Clough, and respond to the two questions below.

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Peter Clough on toughness
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  1. What are the characteristics of Peter Clough’s version of mental toughness?
  2. What steps does he describe for enhancing mental toughness?

Discussion

  1. Peter Clough talks about people coping in pressurised environments, describing people as
    • not being fazed by challenges

    • having control of the things they can control

    • controlling levels of confidence/commitment

    • learning from mistakes

    He describes how high potential or ability cannot be realised when mental toughness is lacking.
  2. He explains the importance of having clear and realistic goals and setting expectations based on a person’s potential. He also outlines the importance of regulating emotion i.e. not letting feelings distract from what you are doing. In addition, the ability to deal with heightened emotions from anxiety and stress is mentioned. In each case, it is not entirely clear how these ideas are put into practice to enhance mental toughness, but some guidance is provided about goal setting and exposing people to challenges.

Next, you will hear from another sports psychologist, Dave Collins, who talks about the ideas that come from his research: he calls them the Psychological Characteristics for Developing Excellence (PCDE)

Activity 3 Negotiating challenges on the rocky road

Timing: Allow about 20 minutes

Listen to the following interview with Dave Collins, one of the key authors of the PCDE research.

  1. Dave Collins talks about psychological characteristics. What characteristic of sporting development does he focus on?
  2. What is the connection to snow ploughing and his reference to super champs (champions) and champs in the second half of the clip?
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Dave Collins on PCDE research
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Discussion

  1. He focuses on the degree of challenge that a person faces in their training environment and their response to it – in fact he mentions ‘challenge’ eight times and also refers to this development journey as ‘the rocky road to success’ (part of the title of one of his team’s research papers).
  2. He makes reference to snow ploughing as a removal or obstacles and challenge in peoples development paths often being counterproductive. Dave Collins goes on to describe his most recent work comparing super champs and champs and how they cope with adversity; more importantly learning from challenge to enhance their skills and therefore take this into the next challenge. He suggests in his final comment that this is the biggest distinguishing characteristic between super champs and champs. It is not stated in the interview clip but a super champ is one who has 50+ national appearances in team sport or 5 or more world/Olympic medals.

Next, you will go on to explore psychological characteristics in more detail beyond responding to challenges.

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