Applying Sport Psychology to Coaching
‘Clinic’ Question – I have an athlete who is absolutely brilliant in practice but I think underperforms in actual games – what can I do?
The ‘Naked’ Sport Psychologist answers;
This is a very common scenario. But before we begin we do need to consider the accuracy of the observation. Is the athlete really brilliant in practice? Does everyone around them relax a little in practice sessions and thereby give the impression that this player, who trains to their maximum, looks better. In other words, what is leading me to the impression that this player appears to be underperforming in actual competition.
Once the coach has engaged in this reflection and concluded that the performer is not fulfilling their potential in actual performance we need to explore why this is;
Is it physical? Are they not fully recovered from training sessions?
Is it technical? Do key skills breakdown under the stress of competition? If so which skills and when do they break down?
Is it tactical? Is the player making poor decisions or taking wrong options under pressure?
The interesting thing about all of these are that the solutions lie at the discipline boundaries between conditioning (physiology), skill training (biomechanics) and psychology.
The clearer the answer the coach gets, the more effective any change to coaching will be. One of the cardinal rules of coaching is that practice should translate as closely to performance as possible. Coaching the skills that breakdown under pressure in practice should have an impact on performance.
Performers are human beings, we like to do things we are good at. If I know I have a particular weakness in certain areas of skill, I don’t want that shown up when I practice. This really is the art of coaching, ‘selling’ an area of weakness as potentially an area of greatest gain. As a coach you need to help a performer see, work on and eliminate the things that are holding them back.
Finally, one of the main reasons performers appear to perform less well in competition than in practice is because they get overly nervous. We often forget that sport involves a public performance, which will be evaluated, that has consequences and that the outcome is uncertain. All of these are factors in the underperformance mix. A skilful coach will address each of these with the player. It is easy for the performer to disappear into their own heads, if they make a mistake early on. By simulating the pressure of competition in training, strategies for dealing with pressure and nerves can also be practiced.
Human beings are complex – this answer may not fit every individual – if have an issue like this and would like to follow it up. Please get in touch.