Alex is a 20 year old swimmer who regularly competes for his college swim team. 183 cm tall and 77 kg, he makes great effort to ensure his body fat is around 10 percent to better manage his buoyancy, as this is essential to the sport. Though he only trains for an average of 20 hours a week, he makes it a priority to make good lifestyle choices. The whole team has also been instrumental in reinforcing positivity as they have made it an objective qualify individually for the national team. Despite these, Alex exhibits low motivation during trainings as he always feels anxious to compete with such exceptional athletes. This has affected both his self-esteem and self-confidence.
For swimmers, it is important to possess physical, mental, and emotional toughness. Unlike team sports, there are no opponents or unpredictable elements to anticipate. Consequently, to succeed, swimmers need to focus on developing their own skills, techniques, speed, power, endurance, among others. Following are the 3 area a swimmer minimally must possess, they are Motivation (SDT), Self-confident/Self-efficacy and anxiety/arousal in enhance a swimmer psychologically when swimming competitively. For example: A swimmer participating in a swim event, he/she is under a certain level of stress which may affect his/her performance. As such, swimmer will need exercise the recommended area to triggers their thought psychologically.
This essay analyzes and discusses Alex’s psychological strength through the use of the Athletic Coping Skills Inventory-28 (ACSI-28) Questionnaire. Areas of improvement as well as recommendations would be provided. The ACSI -28 Questionnaire is a self-reporting tool that measures an athlete’s psychological skills using numerical scales (Hidrus et al., 2017). Knowing an athlete’s skills would enable one to understand how specific psychological factors affect performance and physical activity. The questionnaire measures seven sport-specific sub-scales namely: Coping with Adversity, Peaking Under Pressure, Goal Setting/Mental Preparation, Concentration, Freedom from Worry, Confidence and Achievement Motivation, and Coachability (Hidrus et al., 2017). The scores for each component are added to get the Personal Coping Resources score, which represents the overall psychological strength of an athlete (Hidrus et al., 2017). Alex got an overall score of 60, and scored less than 10 out of 12 in the areas of (1) Coping with Adversity, (2) Confidence and Achievement Motivation, and (3) Peaking under Pressure. (1) Developing Self Confidence/ Self Efficacy, (2) Remaining Motivated, and (3) Managing Anxiety and Arousal can be considered Alex’s weak points. As such, this paper would discuss those areas of improvement.
Self Confidence / Self Efficacy
Self-confidence can be defined as the belief in one’s ability to succeed (University of Queensland, n.d.). It reflects how one thinks and feels about himself relative to the certain task or situation (University of Queensland, n.d.). Often influenced by past events, improving self-confidence plays a key role in how athletes perform (University of Queensland, n.d.). It can result to positive emotions, increased concentration, enhance effort, among others. Meanwhile, self-efficacy can be defined as the belief in one’s capabilities to produce a desired outcome (Carey & Forsyth, n.d.). Efficacy expectations affects the amount of effort and persistence one puts into a task as one can expect more effort towards tasks that one has stronger efficacy (Bandura, 1977). According to Bandura, one’s self efficacy is a product of four factors. These are: (1) Performance Accomplishments, (2) Vicarious Experience, (3) Verbal Persuasion, (4) Physiological States, which refer to emotional responses to threatening situations (Bandura, 1977). These factors vary in terms of dependability, with Performance Accomplishments having the biggest and more lasting impact on the individual (Bandura, 1977). Performance accomplishment in individual sports such as swimming is one of area which I personally will advise, as individual performance in swimming will affect swimmer psychological thought in term of timing and swim technique.
Alex’s current level of self-confidence and self-efficacy might have resulted from past negative experiences of competing against better athletes. As he feels that he is not at par with his teammates, he might not have enough successful experiences in competitive swimming to overcome this. This might be further aggravated by negative self-talk, inducing an unsupportive emotional state. This can result in a downward spiral that can influence demotivation, eventually leading to poorer performance. This can be addressed by expending the effort to achieve a realistic set of goals that aim to improve his overall skill level. These have to be broken down to workable components so as to be able to strategically work on accomplishing them. This would provide for more positive experiences that can shape the way he views himself and his performance. Positive self-talk as well as having successful role models would also be helpful.
Self-determination theory (SDT) is a macro theory of human motivation and personality that concerns people’s inherent growth tendencies and innate psychological needs. It is concerned with the motivation behind choices people make without external influence and interference. However, Self-determination theory (SDT) assumes that inherent in human nature is the propensity to be curious about one’s environment and interested in learning and developing one’s ability. All too often, however, coaches introduce external controls into performance climates, which can undermine the sense of relatedness between coaches and athlete, and stifle the natural, volitional processes involved performance accomplishment. Motivation is the act or process of giving a person a reason, possibly a need or desire, which results into action (Merriam-Webster, n.d.). Achievement Motivation, sometimes known as “competitiveness”, is important as it significantly influences the choice of activities, amount of effort exerted, and persistence used to achieve a goal (Weinberg & Gould, 2015). There are four theories of achievement motivation. First is the Need Achievement theory wherein the motive is either the satisfaction in doing well or the need to avoid the humiliation of failure (Weinberg & Gould, 2015). Second is the Attribution Theory, which focuses on how people rationalize their successes and failures (Weinberg & Gould, 2015). Athletes that are able to attribute their performance to stable, internal and controllable factors enjoy greater success (Weinberg & Gould, 2015). The third is the Achievement Goal Theory, which differentiates outcome oriented athletes with task oriented ones (Weinberg & Gould, 2015). Outcome oriented athletes focus on comparing their performance with others and feel success when they score comparatively better than their peers (Weinberg & Gould, 2015). In contrast, task oriented athletes focus on improving their current performance relative to the past (Weinberg & Gould, 2015). Between the two, task oriented athletes are more likely to succeed. Lastly is the Competence Motivation Theory, which highlights how self-esteem, together with perceptions of control and competence, determine motives (Weinberg & Gould, 2015).
In the case of Alex, it seems like he is focused on comparing his performance with his teammate’s, often avoiding being last and feeling humiliated. It is also possible that Alex attributes his success to external factors such as the ability of his coach or his team versus his own. Moreover, he might have low self-esteem, resulting to his feelings of incompetence. All these might make him feel unmotivated to give his best effort, as he thinks he would never be as good as everyone else. To address this, it would be ideal if his teammates create a supportive versus a competitive environment. Rather than race against each other, it would be best if they compete against their own personal best. Moreover, Alex should remind himself of his original intention and passion for swimming. The coach can also aid in positively influencing his performance by giving constructive feedback, good quality instruction and through acknowledging his small wins. It would also be good for Alex to control his self-talk, avoiding negative, judgmental thoughts and replacing them with positive and helpful ones. Increasing practice and systematic goal setting would also help.
Arousal can be defined as the physiological state of being alert (Mitchell, n.d.). Increased arousal can positively impact an athlete’s performance as it is able to increase attention and focus. Anxiety can be described as disturbed state of mind and is expected in competitive situations. Neither too much nor too low levels of anxiety is ideal, resulting in a need to manage anxiety levels to attain best results. It has both psychological and physiological impacts such as lack of concentration and loss of control. The Inverted U Theory states that there is an optimal level of arousal for peak performance. As one gets closer to this state, performance level would increase but once passed, the level of performance would decrease. Meanwhile, Hanin’s Individual Zone of Optima Functioning (IZOF) model relates emotions and optimal performance (Woodcock et al., 2011). To attain optimal performance, an athlete should be within his specific bandwith of state anxiety (Woodcock et al., 2011). This level is dependent on the individual, with some performing best with high levels of anxiety and others at lower levels (Woodcock et al., 2011). Although both these theories have some criticisms, they both agree on the existence of a state for optimal performance. Consequently, athletes should develop ways to control and optimize their arousal/anxiety levels to induce optimal performance.
To address Alex’s arousal/anxiety during performance, it is recommended that he practices diaphragmatic breathing exercises and other relaxation techniques to combat excessive arousal/anxiety. He can also learn to focus on what he can control, such as his performance, rather than on the performance of others. Properly training for pressure situations through imagery can also be effective so as to anticipate the level of anxiety during competition. If his arousal/anxiety levels are too low, he can work get himself motivated by playing upbeat music, jogging, and short workouts, among others.
This essay has analysed and discussed Alex’s psychological strength, identifying areas of improvements such as self-confidence/self-efficacy, motivation and anxiety/arousal. Recommendations are also provided to facilitate better athletic performance. These are targeted to improve his self-confidence/self-efficacy by creating more successful experiences through increased training and goal setting, attain optimal arousal levels by various relaxation and stimulation techniques, and by developing a more task oriented athlete who’s focused on competing against his past performance versus those of others.