The long and winding road: Interview with a Trainee Sport Psych

The undergraduate degree. The postgraduate degree. Supervised practice. Attending conferences and presenting research. ‘Networking’ and making contacts. Trying to gain voluntary work while trying to earn a living. The path to becoming a Sport Psychologist isn’t an easy one, but Rory Mack is making his way down that path, and is just about to start his BPS Stage 2 training. 

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Trainee sport psychologist, Rory Mack, explains performance profiling to a group of young athletes.

We don’t often get to hear what it’s actually like being a trainee Sport Psych

Do we deserve better from our sporting ‘heroes’?

Lionel Messi….. Roger Federer….. Tiger Woods….. LeBron James…..

Some of the world’s most recognisable faces. Recognisable because they’re really, really, really good at kicking or throwing a ball, or very, very good at hitting a ball with a stick.

Many of these people have been kicking, throwing and hitting balls since they were very young and have got so good at it that millionaires are willing to pay them lots of money to continue doing it, and we, the people, are willing to pay sometimes extraordinary amounts to watch them.

“He’s on Fire!” – Is there such a thing as ‘the hot hand’?

A couple of weeks ago, Steph Curry of the Golden State Warriors went crazy (yes, that’s the correct psychological term) and hit 11 of 13 three pointers on his way to scoring 54 points against the Knicks. A week later, Deron Williams of the Brooklyn Nets, went absolutely nuts (yup, fine) and hit 7 from 7 three pointers in the 1st quarter (9-11 by half time) and finished with 42 points.

Yesterday, Boston College freshman, Olivier Hanlan, hit 12 shots in a row (14-18 overall, including 8-10 three pointers) on his way to 41 points against Georgia Tech. All examples of spectacular shooting, and all examples that got me thinking about what basketball players, fans, and commentators describe as “the hot hand”.

The hot hand is described as “a belief that the performance of a player during  a particular period is significantly better than expected on the basis of the player’s overall record”.¹  In other words, if a player hits a couple of shots in a row, people tend to think that he’ll make his next shot too.  But in actual fact

Mental Toughness in the Ring

So I’ve been doing some consultancy work in boxing for a while now, and it’s safe to say that it’s a sport that’s unlike any of the sports that I’ve worked in before.  It’s a brutal sport, there’s no getting away from it.  The aim is to punch your opponent until he/she can’t punch you back any more.  

However, it’s also a sport that requires not only immense physical strength and stamina, but also discipline and control, and the ability to think tactically and strategically while under pressure.  So in some ways, I suppose it’s not that dissimilar to other sports after all. 

People will tell you that boxing is 80% mental.  …or maybe 90% mental. …. or 95% mental…. The bottom line is, nobody would question that boxers have to be mentally tough ….  but what exactly is mental toughness, and how can Sport Psychology help boxers develop it?

Coaching under Pressure: Part Three – How Can Sport Psych Help?

It is well established that coaching can be a stressful occupation and that coaches should really be considered as performers in their own right. In part one, of this blog post, I questioned the availability and accessibility of coaching/psychology research for the coaches that could benefit from it. I also discussed what stress actually is and how the stress process works.

Part two looked at some of  my research into elite coaches’ experiences of stress, the kinds of environmental demands they encounter, the sometimes significant impact that stressors can have on coaches, and the sorts of things that coaches do (or don’t do) to cope with stress. Here in part three, I’ll be summarising some of the ways that sport psychology might help coaches to coach more effectively when the pressure is on.

Coaching under Pressure: Part Two – Stress in Elite Sports Coaching

Coaching can be stressful. While coaching manuals often talk about the different roles that coaches take on, this doesn’t really cover the complexity of the coaching role. At the end of the day, coaches are performers1.

They perform in very different ways to their athletes, but they still have to prepare meticulously for training and competition, execute plans in pressurised competition settings, and handle pressure from the media, often with funding, and the future of their sports programmes (i.e., their jobs) on the line. So yes, coaching can be stressful.

In part one, I wondered how many coaches read the Journal of Applied Sport Psychology on the off-chance that there might be a useful article on coaching psychology in there?

Coaching under Pressure: Part One – What Exactly is Stress?

Twitter is great. I mean, at first I thought it was an outlet for the self-indulgent, a way for people to let strangers know what they had for breakfast, or that they were annoyed at something on the TV. I kinda still think that’s what it is, but I’ve also started to realise how useful it is as a tool for sharing information. I’m constantly being directed to interesting articles that I otherwise wouldn’t normally come across or have time to look for myself.

For example, the other day I saw a tweet linking to a BBC news story about elite coaching (here), and how the England Rugby coaches handle the pressure of competition. Now, I wrote my PhD thesis on stress in elite sports coaching. I spent four and half years studying this subject. Three of the four studies have been published in peer-reviewed journals and the fourth is about to be submitted… but how many coaches know about that research? 

Superbowl Sunday – Refocusing When The Lights Go Out!

Momentum.  Or the perception of momentum. Does a change in momentum just come down to your ability to re-focus when things aren’t going your way?

I remember staying up late as a 7 year old to watch Superbowl XX with my older brother. It was brilliant. The Chicago Bears hammered the New England Patriots 46-10. We had popcorn. Twenty-seven years later and still in love with the sport, I stayed up late again, on a school night, to watch Baltimore and SanFrancisco compete in Superbowl XLVII (uh… 47?) and I’m so glad I did.

It had everything: two teams with perfect Superbowl records, Ray Lewis looking for a Superbowl win in his last ever game, sibling rivalry, fake field-goals, and Destiny’s Child.

But it also had some major swings in momentum. Momentum can be a significant factor in sports. Or at least the perception of momentum can be.

GB Basketball: The Mental Challenge

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As a basketball fan, I can honestly say that I’ve really enjoyed watching Great Britain compete at the London 2012 Olympic Games. Having both men’s and women’s teams there amongst the world’s best players has been good for British Basketball, and their performances have certainly been credible.

The GB Men’s team (ranked 43 in the world) pushed Spain (2) all the way to the final seconds, while the women’s team (ranked 49) have been punching above their weight, challenging Russia (3), France (8), and Canada (11) in close games. There has been some entertaining play, and the effort and intensity that both squads have brought to every game should be recognised and applauded.  

Have they done well? …Yes.

Could they have done better? …Absolutely. 

Hello world!

Hello there.  I started this blog while watching the 2012 Olympic games. As a Sport Psychologist, I was really impressed with the amount of attention that was given to the mental aspects of sport and the importance of psychology.

I suppose I decided to start writing down some of my thoughts and observations about the psychology of performance after watching the GB Basketball teams punch well above their weight, yet remain unable to close out some really close games (see my first post above). Anyway, these are just my thoughts. I hope you enjoy reading them.

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