Exploring sport coaching and psychology
Exploring sport coaching and psychology

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Exploring sport coaching and psychology

1 Chris Hoy’s story

Chris Hoy’s diverse childhood sporting background supports what was written in previous sessions about not ‘making it’ early. In Box 1 you will look at his route to cycling, before watching a video about his use of psychological skills at a key point in his career.

Box 1 Chris Hoy’s route to cycling

Chris Hoy was one of Great Britain’s most successful track cyclists, but he had an indirect path into cycling. In adolescence, he participated in rugby, athletics and rowing. He was proficient at them all, especially rowing, which he loved, but found that he was most physically suited to cycling. After international BMX racing from age 7 to 14, he transferred his skills to mountain biking, then road racing. Eventually, when he was 17, he found track cycling and he was smitten with the experience.

His father emphasised the benefit of Chris not being a child champion:

He [Chris] was never up there but he just kept plugging away. You’ve seen other kids who were winning all the time and when they get beaten they don’t like it so they stop what they’re doing. As long as they’re enjoying it and they’re doing pretty well, there is not a lot between first and second.

(Hoy, 2013)

Activity 1 Chris Hoy’s experiences of using psychological skills

Timing: Allow about 15 minutes

Watch the following video, in which Chris Hoy catches up with Michael Johnson. Which of the psychological skills does he describe as the most useful to him? You may find the PCDE list from the previous session useful.

Download this video clip.Video player: Chris Hoy’s experiences of using sport psychology
Skip transcript: Chris Hoy’s experiences of using sport psychology

Transcript: Chris Hoy’s experiences of using sport psychology


So we’re in Manchester on the way to see Chris Hoy and talk to him about his mindset – talk to him about his career and his journey to Olympic success. One of the things that I’ve always gathered from Chris is that he is a very, very tough competitor mentally and that is one of his strengths, one of his weapons.
Chris, how are you? Good to see you. I’m well. How about you?
Yeah, good, thanks.
Yeah. Me, too.
Chris, I think most people would think, going to see a sport psychologist, there must be something wrong. But that wasn’t the case with you. So what was it that prompted you to go and seek the sport psychologist’s help?
The reason that I engaged with Steve Peters initially was because I just felt as though I wanted to be as well-prepared as possible. So I knew that I wanted to tick every single box that I could to get to the start line knowing there was nothing more within my powers that I could have done. And it wasn’t like I had any major issues with dealing with pressure or lack of focus in competition.
But there was an example in 2003 at the World Championships where I changed my strategy based on watching a rival’s race. So I saw someone do an incredibly fast time. Instead of thinking maybe it was a fast time because the conditions are really quick and we’re all going to go quick, I changed the gear on the bike and I attacked way too hard at the start. And I died off at the end and did a really poor performance.
So it was just little areas. I thought, if I go and see him, even if it makes no difference at all, then I can feel that I’ve done everything within my powers to be in the best possible shape when the race starts. And with Steve, I think what he was great at explaining was that he can’t magic some performance out of thin air. You don’t find some sort of superhuman strength out of nowhere.
But what you’re aspiring to do is to be able to do what you know you can do, what you physically are capable of doing, under the most extreme pressures. So stepping up there could be the one shot in your whole career. Like you’ve experienced – I experienced – in front of a home crowd at an Olympic Games, this is your one shot. You’re never going to get this chance again.
And if you get distracted, if you focus on the wrong things, as you well know – and you dealt with it, I’m not sure how you dealt with it yourself but for me, it was about focusing on my performance. And Steve really helped me just to see anything that’s irrelevant, anything out with your control, forget it.
Hone in on the ABC, that kind of process, not the outcome. If you focus on the process, the result will take care of itself. That really helped me in many ways. It helped me in Athens.
Two weeks before, we were at a training camp in Newport. Steve was there and he said to me, what are you going to do if somebody breaks a world record right before you step up there? And I was like, well, I just won’t think about it. And he said, well, if I say to you right now, don’t think about a pink elephant, what’s the first thing you think about? This pink elephant pops in your head.
He said, you can’t say, I’m not going to think about something. You have to focus on something else to displace this negative thought and focus on what you want to do. And he said, from now on, whenever you get a negative thought, any anxious thought between now and the games – two weeks to go – I want you to visualise your race. It’s only a minute long.
Do it in real time. From the moment you’re in the start gate, the countdown, your deep breaths, the snap out the gate, the first half-lap, second lap – visualise the whole race. I was like, yeah. OK. No problem.
Went back to my room – logged on to the internet. One of the cycling websites announced that one of the French riders had done an amazing time in training – initial rush of adrenaline, that feeling of oh my god, he’s going to be going really well. I thought, oh, hang on. I’ll just use this little technique. And that’s when I started doing it.
And from then on, I don’t know how many thousands of times I must have gone over this race in my head. Got to the race on the night itself – it was like you had some sort of crystal ball. Four riders to go, the guy broke the world record. Three riders to go, another one – the guy right before me broke the world record again, to a point we never thought anyone would go that fast.
And instead of panicking and changing my strategy, I was aware of it but not consciously. I was just so focused on myself and getting this ride out that I knew, well I hoped, I could do.
Do you think that people in sport are starting to embrace that a little bit more, where athletes are starting to understand on the athlete’s side that there doesn’t have to be something wrong in order to see a sport psychologist and to benefit from that – but also on the sport psychologist’s side that you don't have to automatically seek to find something wrong with this individual if they come to see you? Your job is to help them to be better in terms of their mental preparation for a competition.
Without doubt, absolutely, and that’s the key. And also, just because someone is a sport psychologist, it doesn’t mean it’s either a good sport psychologist. There are good ones, bad ones - there are good mechanics, bad mechanics, good coaches, bad coaches, and it’s working out what’s right for you.
I know many guys on the team that never actually engage with Steve at all and still produce great performances. But that’s not to say they couldn’t have improved performances without him. And likewise, there are some people who spent a lot of time with Steve and they may not have improved at all. But it’s such a personal thing. It’s how you engage with it. It’s how you use the information and that’s why it’s such a personal thing.
That’s what makes sport interesting. It’s the way that people deal with pressure. It’s the way that there’s always that question that I still think that psychology is becoming a bigger part of sport. But it’s fascinating. It’s what we love about it. I think that’s the most exciting part of sport.
End transcript: Chris Hoy’s experiences of using sport psychology
Chris Hoy’s experiences of using sport psychology
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Chris Hoy discusses his use of sports psychology and how seeking psychological support can allow athletes to be as prepared as possible when going for gold. He talks about his visualisation technique, which psychologists would call imagery. He used this in his preparation and pre-performance routine for the 2004 Olympic final. He discusses focusing on the process of performance and what he could control, so it partly relates to the focus and distraction control part of the PCDE. Before using such techniques, he describes the anxiety he felt before crucial competition and, in particular, a time when he panicked and finished poorly.

Chris Hoy’s story of excelling under intense pressure should help you to identify in more detail what performing under pressure entails.


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