How does a coach determine which message to deliver to the athlete or team? How does a coach select one skill to be more important than another skill? Why does a coach select a certain activity to attempt to refine or improve the previously selected important skill? Will the coach create a learning environment where athletes attempt to reach their potential or will success be limited to star performances?
Athletes that achieve the greatest success consistently employ psychological skills that optimize learning, focus, and enable them to successfully negotiate the inevitable challenges of development (Gould, Dieffenbach, & Moffett, 2002). The opposite is also true in that underachievers often have unrealistic expectations, low aspiration, and little persistence (Clark, 2001). Performers with exceptional psychological skills are more likely to get to the top and do better when they arrive.
Are we born with these psychological skills or can they be developed, refined, and made proficient throughout sport experiences?
Developed, refined, and made proficient is the pathway to excellence. Through intentional instruction of the Psychological Characteristics of Developing Excellence (PCDEs), participants can develop mental skills, attitudes, and emotions in which they realize maximal benefits from practice and developmental opportunities. The PCDEs established in the researched literature (MacNamara, Holmes & Collins, 2006; Kamin, Richards & Collins, 2006; MacNamara, Button & Collins, 2010) include:
- Goal Setting
- Focus and Distraction Control
- Quality Practice
- Game Awareness
- Realistic Performance Evaluations
- Coping Under Pressure
- Social Skills
To have the desired impact, coaches must incorporate these characteristics into training sessions on a daily basis. The macro plan a coaching staff establishes will have a single PCDE as the focus each day of training and games.
For example, a baseball training session could have two goals. Goal number one would be introducing and incorporating into the training session the PCDE. In this particular session, the coaching staff will introduce coping under pressure. Our baseball related goal for the day is 90% success rate for the end of practice infield/outfield 27 outs game. At the beginning of practice, the coach will have a group discussion with the athletes letting them know the goals. Throughout the practice, the coach provides the athletes with ideas about how to deal with pressure. The group will discuss practicing relaxation techniques to establish a more effective pre-pitch fielding routine. During each break, the coach will begin the short discussion with the players with a new technique or increased depth of a previous tip for dealing with pressure on the athletic field. It is important to check for learning by including the participants in the discussion over the course of the entire session.
The effective pre-pitch fielding routine can be analyzed before and after repetitions depending upon the result of the play. Through this type of reinforcement, learning to handle pressure will become more of an automatic response.
Goal number two for the practice has technical and tactical implications specific to baseball. As these baseball aspects are coached throughout the session, it will be expected for the coach to tie-in the primary goal for the day which is teaching the team how to cope under pressure.
The coach that intentionally delivers the Psychological Characteristics of Developing Excellence in a prepared manner over the course of one or multiple seasons promotes enhanced mental skills, attitudes, and emotions on and off the field. Giving players crucial psychological skills they will use over the course of their lifetime will have much more overall significance than teaching how to tackle, kick a soccer ball, or shoot a basket. Lessons that athletes can use over the course of their lives must be the focus.
The game gets them to the field, the coach gives them tools for a lifetime.
It is no longer acceptable for coaches to simply create athletes with refined technical, tactical, and physical skills. Intentionally developing mental skills within training sessions must become the expectation. If you have not used this technique as a coach before, it will not be easy or natural. It has to be prepared for, practiced, researched, and practiced again until it becomes second nature. The coach provides an incredible amount of value to each participant on the team when the PCDEs become the focus. Using the twelve PCDEs in a planned out intentional manner will greatly assist in developing individuals of character.
Coaches of significance train their pupils for life success by selecting the most important skills to focus on…the Psychological Characteristics of Developing Excellence.
Empowering athletes, families, coaches, and organizations to create opportunities for lifetime success,
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Clark B. (2001). Growing up gifted: Developing the potential of children at home and at school (6th ed.). Upper Saddle River, NJ: Merill/Prentice Hall.
Gould, D., Dieffenbach, K., & Moffett, A. (2002). Psychological characteristics and their development in Olympic Champions. Journal of Applied Sport Psychology, 14, 172–204.
Kamin, S., Richards, H., & Collins, D. (2007). Influences on the talent development process of non-classical musicians: psychological, social and environmental influences. Music Education Research, 9, 449–468.
MacNamara, Á., Button, A., and Collins, D. (2010). The role of psychological characteristic in facilitating the pathway to elite performance. Part 1: Identifying mental skills and behaviors. The Sport Psychologist, 24 (1). pp. 5273.
MacNamara, A., Holmes, P., & Collins, D. (2006). The pathway to excellence: The role of psychological characteristics in negotiating the challenges of musical development. British Journal of Music Education, 23, 80–98.