This week's guest blog on sport psychology is from Tony Westbury, a lecturer at Edinburgh Napier University.
We ask a lot of our junior athletes. We ask them to commit fully to the often repetitive but physically exhausting process of preparing for races. On competition day, we ask that they push themselves to the limit of their physical, technical and mental ability - coping with their nerves and all the distractions of competition in pursuit of a goal. The will to win is nothing without an equal willingness to prepare.
Where does this mental energy to strive come from?
Sport psychology offers some answers and ideas about how to build and maintain the motivation needed to stick with the training needed to develop fitness, technique and mental skills for performance.
Motivation is a key element of this. Motivation is the mental energy that drives why we do what we do. Definitions sometimes fail to capture the complexity of motivation in sport. They talk about motivation in terms of choices about what we do and the effort we invest in that choice. For example, in triathlon we are talking about a willingness to invest hours in developing swimming technique, a willingness to ensure long, cold hours on your bike and a willingness to run reps on the track or up the hills. The ‘pay-off’ for this may come months or years down the line. Delaying gratification - getting your reward a long time after doing the hard work is part of the motivational make-up for the serious triathlete.
Goal setting for motivation
This is why goal setting is such an important technique. Many people have come across the idea of setting SMART goals (Specific, Measureable, Achievable, Realistic and Time-lined). Goal setting of this type is designed to enhance motivation by focussing attention on an outcome or task, increasing effort, persistence and seeking new strategies. In SMARTER goal setting people tend to set themselves only outcome goals such as winning, or being selected for a team. These goals are important because they energise you and encourage you to train hard. However, there are two other types of goals that I consider to be of equal or greater importance. These are performance goals and process goals.
When you set goals you need to look also at what performance you are aiming towards. For example, what time, distance or score is likely to give you the outcome you’re driving towards? These are performance goals and they are your key benchmarks.
Supporting your performance goals is an even more important type of goal: a process goal. This is a critical “how to?” goal. It is a daily behaviour that will make the outcome you have established more likely to happen. Process goals are the things that must become habits if you want to be successful.
Developing a goal achievement plan
I encourage junior athletes to put together a personal goal achievement plan that identifies their performance goals and associated daily process goals. This allows them to set goals for every training session. It makes sure that they are focussing on the behaviours and actions that will deliver performance. Athletes should be excited and energised by their achievement plan, as they know that it is a personal outline for continued improvement and success.
Tony's research interests include sport psychology interventions for performance, and behavioural change/exercise psychology.
Tony holds a PhD from University of Brighton and is accredited by the British Psychological Society Chartered Sport and Exercise Psychologist BASES as a Sport and Exercise Scientist.
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