Monday, November 21, 2011

"Circle the wagons!" The problem of loyalty in the culture of college sports

What are the cultural aspects of college athletics that led employees of the athletic department and the university administration to cover-up the sexual abuses of revered coach Jerry Sandusky, who was sodomizing children for years in his dual role as the boss of the Second Line charity? Is Penn State football so revered in Pennsylvania that football coaches can't be held accountable to the same moral and legal standards as all citizens? How come Sandusky wasn't cut loose and dealt with in 1999, when charges first began to surface?

The answer lies in a disturbing part of the human psyche, in one of our tragic flaws that is essential for survival, but has also created its share of human misery throughout time. I'm talking about loyalty, which has the power to bind you to a group that means more than yourself, but also to blind you to the abuses that a group may make in its own interest.

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Mental Toughness - now part of Wikipedia

Mental toughness has been my primary research interest over the last two years. It is a term that gets used frequently without having a strict definition or framework that explains what it is and what it ain't. In the internet age, a Wikipedia entry can provide consistency and clarity for a term. It's typically the first hit of a Google search. With that in mind, I've created a mental toughness page for Wikipedia.

Wikipedia is an open venture. Its strength lies in crowd-sourcing. I highly encourage people to update and edit this post, as it serves as a beginning framework.


Mental toughness - a term commonly used by coaches, sport psychologists, sport commentators, and business leaders - generally describes a collection of attributes that allow a person to persevere through difficult circumstances (such as difficult training or difficult competitive situations in games) and emerge without losing confidence.
Mental toughness is a contested term, in that many people use the term liberally to refer to any set of positive attributes that helps a person to cope with difficult situations. Coaches and sport commentators freely use the term mental toughness to describe the mental state of athletes who persevere through difficult sport circumstances to succeed. Only within the past ten years has scientific research attempted a formal definition of mental toughness as a psychological construct.

Sunday, June 26, 2011

A Brief History of Sport Psychology

This history of sport psychology was my contribution to the Sport Psychology Wikipedia entry, and a much abbreviated version appears on Wikipedia. In this history, I tried to focus on the modern applied sport psychology movement and the events that have led to the crossroads the field now stands at.

I was urged to write a portion of the new Wikipedia entry by my Michigan State cohort Sam Forlenza, who is battling the stunning lack of clarity in sport psychology knowledge and information on the web. Sam has also revived the sport psychology movie database, a comprehensive list of movies related to sport psychology.


Early History: Isolated Studies of Motor Behavior and Psychology of Sport and Physical Activity
Look back at the history of sport psychology, and until the mid-1960s, it is hard to find a consistent line of research and applied practice typical of a scientific discipline. From the late 1800s until the middle of the 20th Century, psychologists, physical educators, coaches, and even ornithologists, carried out the “work” of sport psychology.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Psychological Development in Youth Swimmers

Here's a great video on psychological development in youth swimmers. The speaker is Dr. Dan Gould at the Institute for the Study of Youth Sports at Michigan State University.

I think the discussion of maintaining consistency after races is something that swimming coaches and researchers need to explore. There is always a reason to celebrate a good performance, and it's important to acknowledge that a string of good races creates a sense of positive momentum in a swimmer's mind (it can also contribute positive momentum to others by inspiring teammates). However, each race is a separate entity in a swim meet, and swimmers who are able to compartmentalize past performances (both good and bad) seem to be the most consistent performers, especially in pressure situations.

Thursday, March 3, 2011

Coaching with compassion

Coaching in a positive way allows the person being coached to open up and be more perceptive. Coaching in such a way where the person being coached feels angry or guilty may cause this person to shut down. These findings come from neuro-scientists at Case Western have examined the brain's response pathways to different coaching styles. I should point out here that coaching in these cases refers more to the type of coaching you would experience in the business world... arguably, there are many carry-overs to sports coaching.

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Rebuilding Team Confidence (Video)

At the Institute for the Study of Youth Sports at Michigan State, we have assembled a few videos regarding building team confidence. This video features Dr. Larry Lauer providing some practical advice for ice hockey coaches seeking to improve team and player confidence.

More videos will follow later this week, which I will post at this site.

Monday, February 21, 2011

Great Insights at the 2011 Midwest AASP Conference

Life skill acquisition. Sport and gender. Mental toughness. The culture of high-performance youth sport. These topics and more were discussed at the 2011 Midwest AASP conference (Feb 18-19), hosted by Miami University in Oxford, OH. The conference was heavily student-driven, and included over twenty presentations of research and research proposals. There was a strong contingent of undergraduate presenters... always good to see undergrads getting involved early. I'll discuss a few of the presentations that resonated with me in my post below.

Monday, February 14, 2011

Thoughts on Race-Preparation for Swimming

After spending ten years as a swimming coach, I find it hard to come to mid-February without standing on a pool deck somewhere. I got a question about "tapering" and I thought I would post up some of my thoughts on the process. For those unfamiliar with a taper, it is the gradual reduction of training volume and intensity in order to help induce a super-compensation effect (the body outperforms previous best performances). It is interesting that in other sports, this process is called peaking; the language has a strong, positive connotation, it implies peak performance. In swimming, the word "taper" suggests cutting back; not really a positive or negative connotation, it implies "just take it easy, and everything will fall into place." If that's your approach, why even bother holding practice?

Thursday, February 10, 2011

Brief Diversions During Training

An interesting study confirms what many of us already suspect: brief diversions help us to retain focus on a task over the long-term. A five minute Facebook update or a brief walk around the office can help return focus to the task when the break is over... as opposed to trying to maintain focus for an uninterrupted period of time. The researchers suggest that your brain loses interest in stimuli that remain constant. For instance, fifteen minutes after you have put on your clothes, you tend to no longer notice the sensations they produce. What does this mean for athletes and their coaches?