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In this essay I will formulate and validate a mental skills program. The foundations in which this programme will be created will be on the applied sport psychology of self-talk and imagery. The preferred result of this mental skills programme is to help a footballer improve their confidence in regards to their penalty taking ability, which will be achieved by applying the sport psychology theories of self-talk and imagery. I will also be critically analysing the selected mental skills for the program in this essay.
Psychological skills training or PST is the use of organised practice of psychological skills to improve performance, and improve general happiness in their physical activity (Weinberg and Gould, 2011). Gill (2000) provides a straightforward description of PST when he states that psychological skill training is a combination of methods which have been chosen for the purpose of achieving psychological skill needs. An individual may at times face new challenges or barriers in sport which repeatedly test the limits of their psychological skills and may even produce negative effects to their game (Weinberg and Gould, 2011). Psychological skills training was developed to help the athlete or participant to overcome these problems and set them back on the successful path of achieving the goals set for them.
There is no individual package for Psychological Skills Training, each stage or element must be sport specific or identifiable to the individual and must be based upon the individual’s psychological state. When attempting to put together a successful (PST) program it is important that you are able to recognize the difference between (PST) methods and (PST) skills. (PST) methods can be usually used as a tool to aid improving the (PST) skill and (PST) skills are the psychological attributes in which development is required e.g. concentration (Calmels et al, 2003). To maximise the effectiveness of your Psychological Skills Training program, Thelwell and Greenlees (2001) argue that a (PST) program will be more effective if there are a few mental skills employed instead of just one but they must be sport specific.
Judging from the literature that has been published, it seems that the Soviet Union was the first nation to use mental skills training with their athletes and coaches way back in the 1950’s (Williams & Struab, 2006). This proves just how long Psychological skills training has been used in sport, although systematic contents did not emerge until the early 1980’s when it grew to become the major focus for practice and research within North America.
A common mistake in which coaches and athletes make is the factors in a sporting situation, with an example being losing concentration when attempting to take a penalty kick in football cannot simply be rectified by practising penalty kicks on a regular basis but more importantly by improving ones psychological skill as it is the individual’s lack of mental skills which usually lead to the penalty miss (Weinberg & Gould, 2007). A perfect example of a footballer who is known for their goal scoring ability and dead ball situations is Lionel Messi. The link below shows Messi miss a penalty at a time where he had been a run of two attempts missed attempts in his previous matches.
The psychological skills program in this essay will be centred on a 23 year old male professional footballer plying his trade in championship, who for the purpose of this essay will be referred to as Jerome. In the league in which he plays he is one of the deadliest strikers, who is used to putting the ball in the back of the net both in open play and in set pieces i.e penalties and free kicks which when awarded he is first in line to take. This being said he has not been successful in his last 4 penalty attempt which is very unfamiliar for a player of his track record. The player has confessed that he has lost confidence in his penalty taking abilities due to missing his last 4 attempts and is considering stepping down from his penalty taking responsibilities in the team. After much thought and analysis of the scenario, the psychological methods in which I have chosen for his personal skills training are imagery and self-talk as I believe these methods are most beneficial and effective in restoring the young footballer’s confidence in his penalty taking ability. The application of these chosen methods within his psychological skills training program will allow him to visualise himself scoring a penalty using imagery whilst using positive self-talk to assure himself that he can score as he walks up to take the penalty kick.
Both self-talk and imagery are skills so to increase the chances of success for Jerome they must be practiced. One way in which Jerome could practise imagery could be a couple hours or match day morning before a game, he could spend a few minutes of his time picturing himself walking unto the football pitch, going through his pre-game warm up routine, in game situations i.e penalty kick, free kicks etc. Vealey and Greenleaf (2006) believe that this imagery method should enable the athlete to identify and understand particular behaviours and thoughts that they can actively engage in to begin to move toward their ideal self-image.’ Weinberg & Gould (2003) state that In order to maximise the effectiveness of the exercise an athlete must assimilate all the various senses which are related to their experience. So Therefore it is important that Jerome try to imagine things that make him feel as though he is going through the experience e.g the feel of the grass on his boots, the feel of the ball on his feet, the noise from the crowd and generally anything which is familiar to him when he’s on the field of play. This type of imagery is described as “event-day” imagery.
Vealey & Greenleaf (2006) describes imagery as the process in which an individual creates or recreates an experience in the mind. These images will usually be of times of previous experiences or a completely made up scenario where the performer is successful in completing challenges or performing physical skills on the pitch (Weinberg and Gould, 2011). The use and effectiveness of imagery is maximised when the focus is placed on the individual using imagery to control his or her emotions. It is not uncommon to see an athlete freeze up or even at times lose control of their emotions. For the purpose of eliminate this issue, the athlete when using imagery must recreate or imagine a possible or previous negative experience for him or herself, once they have done this they must then remove that particular image from their mind and imagine the same situation but in a positive manner or outcome. By the use of imagery our young footballer Jerome will be able to imagine/ recreate a negative experience taking a penalty and then replace that experience with the desired outcome of him scoring the penalty kick, which may help greatly reduce the chances of Jerome ‘choking’ or minimising his performance due to prying emotions.
Munroe et al (2000) contends that imagery can also be used to augment one’s sport skills, strategies, confidence and also maximise the chances of achieving set goals. Jerome could use this to rectify any errors or weaknesses within his play, which in turn will help him increase his confidence. Bandura (1986) indicated that experiences originating from one’s own imagination are an excellent source of situation specific self-confidence /self-efficacy. Imagery can be separated into two forms with these two training methods being either internal i.e. creating images in the mind or they can be external i.e. observing visual images (Weinberg and Gould, 2011). Research by Callow and Hardy (1997&2001) suggests that the use of external imagery could be better suited for the programme due to the athlete’s level of performance. This being said I will be focusing more on the internal training methods. One of the limitations of imagery is that some athlete’s do not have a great deal of imagery to begin with and as a coach it is pretty much impossible measure an athlete’s level of imagery as it is a mental process which cannot be observed.
Morris et al (2005) expresses his belief in imagery stating that imagery is one of the most commonly used method of mental training for athletes. Imagery is an integral part of many mental skills programs as it offers vast range applicability with imagery also being applicable in a wide range of sporting experiences. Moritz et al (1996) states how the correct use use of imagery can help improve confidence through rehearsing mental images. Imagery can also be used by a number of different individuals ranging from elites or professionals and novices or amateurs. Imagery also can be built into and around an athlete’s daily routine or workday in order to suit the individual needs of the athlete. This being said it is important that the athlete be in a good state mentally before beginning the process of imagery. Gregg, Hall and Hanton (2004) explains that before an athlete attempts or begins any imagery sessions it is important that he or she be in a good frame of mind and must also be in the right mood as this better prepares them for the sessions maximising the chances of success in the process. .
Self-talk is another psychological skills training technique that will be assimilated into Jerome’s (PST) program. Hackfort & Schwenkmezger (1993) define Self talk as the verbal dialogue in which an athlete can not only understand their perceptions and feelings but also evaluate how their feeling and then give themselves instructions or reinforcement. Self talk can be used both in a sporting environments e.g. the changing rooms, during competition before competition, after competition and in a non-sporting environments e.g. at home or a quiet/peaceful place.
Landin and Herbert (1999) states that self talk can be separated into three different categories which are positive i.e. motivational, negative and instructional. Self talk can be separated into three different categories positive i.e. motivational, negative and instructional. Conventionally positive self talk is used to increase an athlete’s endeavour and to promote a positive attitude although positive self talk does not implement any sport specific target or task e.g. (a golf player can say to himself “im going to sink this putt” ). Instructional self talk can be used in mental skills training to assist in the maintenance of an athlete’s focus on task associated areas of their own performance with the desired outcome being that they augment the execution of a skill e.g. (“a footballer could say to himself to self to focus on his technique when striking the ball”). The third and final category is negative self talk and this can be described as when an athlete is over critical of them self which can decrease the athlete’s chances of achieving their goals, this can also lead to anxiety which can also bring an athlete’s performance down. A good example of negative self talk could be a footballer telling them self that their passing is below par or they do not have the ability to compete with the opposition etc. one limitation of self talk is that if an athlete does not fully focused they may become distracted as they could find themselves confused as their overloaded with stimuli.
Self talk used correctly can be useful in a number of different tasks in sport, this being said it is important that the practitioner evaluate what would be the most suitable type of self talk for the selected task which will then maximise the chance of future performance augmentation for an athlete. Mikes (1987) suggests that there are six rules which can aid an athlete with performance implementation, these are as follows:
- First person should be used and present tense
- Keep phrases as short as possible and be specific The phrases should be constructive and positive
- Speak to yourself in a kind manner
- Phrases should be meaningful
- Phrases should be repeated frequently
In consideration of all the bullet points stated there are also a number of other strategies which have been found to improve self-talk. Changing negative self-talk and thought stopping are some of the most successful strategies used in psychology in sport. The term Thought stopping describes the way in which an individual or disregards or deals with negative thoughts before they begin corrupt the mind-set of the individual which whether you’re an athlete or amateur could lead to a negative impact on performance. The term Changing negative self-talk to positive self-talk can be described as when an individual is coping with negative thoughts and then transforms them into positive self-talk which could change the mind frame of the individual as the athlete or amateur will be more than likely more motivated. Jerome could use this particular mental skills method of positive self talk before attempting to take a penalty or free kick simply telling saying “I will score”.
Jerome’s psychological skills training program (PST) will be conducted in phases as he attempts to improve his confidence in his penalty taking.as previously stated the program will be based on the two mental skills training methods of imagery and self-talk. This program should be used and repeated for over 6 weeks as anything less could cause the effects of the skills training to be temporary.
Phase 1 – (Night prior to match)
Picture your customary match day routine as detailed as possible then once the match has ended picture yourself falling asleep.
Phase 2 – (Night prior to match)
Picture yourself before kick-off walking with your teammates through the tunnel, the cheers of the crowd, while also trying to imagine or recreate how that makes you feel, then end the image with you falling asleep.
Phase 3 – (Training)
Picture you on the pitch stepping up to take a penalty kick saying to yourself repeatedly “I will score”.
Phase 4 – (Night prior to match)
Picture yourself going through your customary match day routine, then imagine as detailed as possible yourself in a game situation just about to step up to take a penalty telling yourself obscurely “I will score” you should then imagine yourself scoring the penalty and celebrating moving on to your customary post match routine then ending the image with you falling asleep.
Phase 5 – (Match)
Prior to taking a penalty you should use imagery to picture yourself scoring and then use self talk saying to yourself obscurely and repeatedly “I will score”.
After analysing the current evidence and research in imagery and self talk it is safe to say that both are effective practices. The psychological skills training program provided will allow for the chosen athlete to improve his confidence in his penalty taking ability if both the practitioner conducts the program correctly and the athlete participates in the program willingly and in the right frame of minds. Jerome should be able to improve his confidence with regard to his penalty taking ability. The development of Strong mental skills may help Jerome to perform at his maximum level and may also lead to him becoming a more consistent performer. Although, a number of limitations have been recognized that could affect the success of these types of programs. The person delivering the programme plays a key role in the success of the program as the person delivering the programme has to be able to correctly impart to the player the basics behind the use of these methods as lack of knowledge of the methods could have a negative effect in the players motivation as they might start to lose faith in the methods. This could possibly lead to a decrease in effort from Jerome as motivation could play a key role in him being able to work on and maintain his ability to produce mental images. Another limitation that can affect the success of the program is the time spent on it as it is important that the athlete spend almost as much time practicing these skills as they do practicing their physical skills. A common mistake made in the application of these programmes is that the practitioner or athlete does not keep to the recommended time period which in order to augment and maintain not only their mental stability but also their confidence in these methods should be recurrently practiced throughout the football season.
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