Portion Control and our Emotions

So this was my lunch today (I will just say that it was awesome!!!!), its funny looking at this bowl because it’s a fairly modest portion I would say.

When I was still playing, training twice a day most days and working full-time I found that my body needed a lot of food. But it was also a lot to do with habit, I knew that I needed to eat because it was fuel, and this was how I saw it, fuelling my body.

What is interesting is that since retiring and I guess being a bit more ‘normal’ with my weekly demands, it has been a new phase where I have almost had to retrain my mind, become even more in tune with my body to establish what relationship I have with food, and what I actually need.

The temptation for people not as active as they were in the past would be to cut back and limit intake. Or, find that not being in a ‘regime’ presents an opportunity to just binge and eat everything, because you can.

What I have noticed is that my appetite is slightly smaller, but my body is naturally quite lean (something I actually don’t like) and so eating small amounts or really ‘clean’ causes me to lose weight and look ill. But that doesn’t mean I should just keep eating either! There’s a balance, a need to listen to my body and what it needs.

I can get caught in a habit of eating certain foods and quantities – probably no different to others. (You may also notice this with exercises you do in the gym, songs you like to play etc) but, it varies. No day is the same. Sometimes I crave a lot more than other days, and for me I need to be aware that if I have a low/no appetite I need to think of food as fuel and ensure I eat what my body requires. But at the same time, if I am really hungry, say I have been very busy or under stress, that I need to listen to my body and eat MORE.

I have always said that weighing and measuring foods can be a little dangerous in that it could promote or encourage disordered/obsessions behaviours with eating. But, we do need to know our bodies very well and adjust according.

Sometimes I can feel myself feeling guilty for eating more than usual, but actually if I am that hungry or been really busy, it is what is needed.
There shouldn’t be any bad feeling for that. The only time we need to be mindful is when we mistake hunger for boredom, dehydration or just greed. But lets face it, if something is reallllllllllly nice, why shouldn’t you have a couple extra. So long as is in moderation, who cares.

I guess what I am saying here is that, our emotions shouldn’t dictate portions, nor should comparing what we eat with other people. Listening to our own body is the most important part of what we do and personally I think the best ‘measure’ of what and how much we eat.

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Mind in Snooker, My Story Part 3

After months of abusing my body with junk food, I decided that enough was enough. In order to combat my eating disorder, my initial objective was to solve the root of the problem… snooker. I had to ask myself why I was allowing snooker dictate my emotions, and the answer was simple. I wasn’t achieving what I knew I was capable of.
In hindsight, I was too lackadaisical, I had no structure to follow or goals to motivate me, I was simply hitting balls around a table.
Consequently, I decided to set myself targets for the upcoming season accompanied by a reward based system to keep me motivated. Having specific targets has made me feel like I am playing for a purpose, a feeling which has been redundant for some time.
Since target setting, my eating habits have been controlled significantly. I have substituted junk food with exercise as a tool to handle my emotions. Exercise is a brilliant form of escapism which gives me the same endorphin comfort eating once did, but with a feeling of achievement rather than disappointment afterwards.
Changing my thought process about snooker has made a positive impact on my performance and life in general. I am no longer using junk food as a comforter, which means I am happier, healthier and financially better off.
All in all, I feel like I am in a good place mentally and I am looking forward to the start of the 2015/16 season. I am working hard everyday to eradicate errors on and off the table, hopefully this will be a season to remember.

The Mind In Snooker – Part 2

I used to be very conscious about my health prior to using food as a comforter, I would exercise daily and monitor everything I consumed. However, within a matter of weeks I went from being a fitness fanatic to having an addiction to junk food and I firmly believe that snooker was the primary reason for this.

Have you ever found comfort in something because there is something that you want so badly but you can’t have it? That’s the feeling I was having on a daily basis. Although I was doing something that I loved, I wasn’t content with the standard I was playing to. This resulted in me finding comfort in something away from snooker and junk food gave me the endorphin I needed. Comfort eating was a form of escapism that I couldn’t find anywhere else, it was a fixation that helped me to relieve anxiety caused by the feeling of not being good enough.

Eating made me feel good in the moment, but the feelings that triggered my comfort eating were still present afterwards… except they were made much worse now I had consumed unnecessary calories. I was gaining weight rapidly and losing my confidence in the meantime… I was simply punishing myself!

In my mind I would say to myself ‘it doesn’t matter about today, I’ll start a fresh tomorrow’, I was waiting over a year for ‘tomorrow’ to happen.

Mental toughness. Are we sexist with our assumptions?

IMG_4310If you caught Susie Wolff on the Clare Balding Show last week you would have seen the interview where she explained a comment made by Sir Stirling Moss. That comment suggested that women do not have the mental skills to race in Formula 1, the former driver followed by telling the BBC “I think they have the strength, but I don’t know if they’ve got the mental aptitude to race hard, wheel-to-wheel.”

Now as a woman with personal experience of sport at the highest level as well as professional with expertise in psychology and cognitive development I find this a very misleading comment. Working through current literature there are of course certain gender differences in men and women. For example, we know that we process information slightly differently and through the general population we find that males are more logical in their processing approach whereas women are typically more emotional and follow a ‘feeling’. But how much does that really matter to mental skill development and performance?

|f we follow the concept that mental toughness (aside from natural personality factors which also play a key role) are mental skills, then surely Ericson’s theory of deliberate practice in the acquisition of expert performance may apply because mental skills are after all, skills. The theoretical evidence presented by Ericson suggests that in most domains of expertise individual differences even among elite athletes are closely related to the amount of deliberate practice. Therefore what’s not to say that one person displaying more mental toughness than another is not related with gender but more because they have the awareness and strategies in place to execute that particular skill and more importantly have practiced it so it has a positive impact on their performance when required

Another element to consider on this topic is that many studies will discuss the benefits of mental skills training however the research does not necessarily measure mental toughness as its own specific variable, studies may also study slightly different aspects within this area, so how can we truly know what mental toughness is? How effective it is? Or even the variables of?

On a more practical level during any work with an individual, self-awareness is at the heart of what we do. This is because in order for somebody to develop effective mental skills which are appropriate and specific to that person they first have to understand how they work, what their emotional, cognitive and behavioural responses are to certain situations. Now we do know that traditionally women are typically more likely to seek support in most health related fields because the social norm is more accepting, however, that does not necessarily mean that they are more self-aware. I have seen both male and females who are equally self-aware and emotionally intelligent. At the same time I have also worked with males and females who have really struggled to self-reflect and build that self-awareness therefore the development of mental strategies and application of has really struggled.

Coming back to the term mental toughness and what it actually means, I personally dislike the term mental toughness as it implies a sense of someone being mentally strong and mentally weak which I find dangerous territory in today’s society. If we delve down the route of assuming that someone not classically mentally tough is therefore ‘weak’ then there is a risk of preventing people from speaking out about their own problems both emotionally and cognitively in case they are viewed in a negative way. This may also impact on help seeking behaviours for mental health problems, something which the field is working very hard to eliminate current stigmas with. So is mental toughness the appropriate word to use? Is there a more suitable and accurate way of describing it? And can we assume that there are such great gender differences when it comes to mental skills, resilience and emotional intelligence?

It is clear from current research that there are certain gender differences in a person’s cognitive abilities, we know there are differences in physical attributes, but there are also a wide range of other factors which may contribute to one individual developing greater mental skills than another which may not be gender specific such as personality, life experiences, practice, adherence and overall self-awareness.

Therefore I would encourage professionals and athletes to first consider the impact of the word ‘mental toughness’ and reflect on exactly what they are developing within such a broad field. And secondly in conversations or practice rather than having set assumptions and gender generalisations actually consider the individual differences. On this, it is the differences of one person to another which makes them unique so work to explore their areas of development, their strengths and empower that person to be the emotionally intelligent person they are capable of being.

We are all creatures of habit, mental skills are successful when the matching of appropriate skills is combined with applied practice, adherence and the belief that they will work. I truly believe that any individual, from any walk of life is capable to develop these skills and be empowered to reach their potential, it is our job as practitioners to help make that possible.

The Psychological Responses to Sporting Injury

Injury is a common issue facing all sport performers (Ristolainen et al. 2012). Sporting injury can be defined as “loss or abnormality of bodily structure, or functioning, resulting from an isolated exposure to physical energy during sports training or competition, that following examination is diagnosed by a clinical professional as a medically recognized injury” (Timpka et al. 2014: p.425). There are two types of sports injury; acute and overuse (Fagher & Lexell 2014). Acute/traumatic injuries refer to the immediate, or first time, occurrence of an injury (Flint et al. 2014), caused by a specific event (Fuller et al. 2006), such as, the breaking of an ankle after a sliding tackle in football. While overuse/chronic injury is a reoccurring injury (Flint et al. 2014) caused by repeated micro trauma, with the source of the issue being unidentifiable (Fuller et al. 2006), such as tennis elbow. Acute and overuse injuries can be caused by physical factors, such as contact (Ivancic 2012), as well as psychological factors including stressors such as perfectionism (Masten et al. 2014). The sports injury response most commonly discussed is physical pain and discomfort however, psychological responses also play a role in the road to recovery (Walker et al. 2007). As injuries have the potential to be career ending (Fuller et al. 2006), the concept of injury is usually associated with negative emotions (Evans et al. 2008).

Numerous models and psychological emotions/responses to injury exist. However, it is beyond the scope of this paper to cover every response. Therefore, only several models and responses will be identified. Two models that have attempted to identify the psychological response process athletes enter post injury are the 5-stage grief response model (Kubler-Ross 1989), and the Integrated Model of Response to Injury (Weise-Bjornstal 1998). The 5-stage grief response model (Kubler-Ross 1989) is based on an athlete experiencing grief post injury. Despite limitations, such as a lack of individual differences, this model has been used to explain psychological responses to sports injury for years (Walker et al. 2007). The 5 stages include:

1 – Denial

2 – Anger

3 – Bargaining

4 – Depression

5 – Acceptance

However, Weise-Bjornstal et al. (1998) proposed another model; The Integrated Model of Response to Sports Injury, incorporating both grief and cognitive appraisal responses (Walker et al. 2007). The model views injury as a dynamic process, taking personal and situational factors into consideration, with regards to rehabilitation adherence, while also outlining cognitive, emotional, and behavioural responses to sports injury (Weise-Bjornstal et al. 1998). Both Kubler-Ross (1989) and Weise-Bjornstal et al. (1998) emphasize the importance of adhering to the rehabilitation program, without which recovery process time is increased. As both models are concerned with adherence to rehabilitation programs it is suggested both models are more applicable to long term/severe injuries (Levy et al. 2008).

Walker et al. (2007) identified self-motivation as the most important factor concerned with rehabilitation adherence. Therefore, it can be suggested with increased motivation, adherence is improved, resulting in positive health outcomes (Grindley & Zizzi 2005), in this instance recovery. A psychological intervention used to increased motivation is imagery; ‘an experience that mimics real experience’ (Wesch et al. 2012: p.695). Within sport, imagery serves two functions: cognitive, the rehearsal of skills (Milne et al. 2005), and motivational, imagining goals and the steps required to achieve them (Wesch et al. 2012). With regards to a rehabilitation program cognitive imagery can be used to rehearse strengthening exercises, such as pistol squats, while motivational imagery can be used to set a goal date for recovery.

Psychological emotions/responses to injury include body image; one’s thoughts and feelings about their own body (Grogan 1999). Performers with chronic/severe injuries may suffer from a loss of athleticism (Cassidy 2006b), whereby the performer loses muscle definition and/or skill ability during inactivity (Cassidy 2006a). A result of this can be an increase in anxiety prior to sporting return (Monsma et al. 2009). Increased anxiety is associated with re-injury concerns, not being able to achieve one’s goals, and a lack of competency (Podlog & Eklund 2006), all of which can have a negative impact upon performance. Consider a rugby performer’s goal was to achieve the same standard of performance prior to injury, but do not enter a tackle with 100% commitment due to re-injury concerns. Consequently, frustration may occur (Walker et al. 2007), as the player is not tackling to their full potential. This can lead to reduced competence, whereby the athlete is not sensing effectiveness in the activity they are undertaking, resulting in disinterest. To restore competence goal setting (GS) can be used (Podlog & Eklund 2006). However, it is crucial GS follows the SMART principles (specific, measureable, attainable, relevant, & timely) (Johnson et al. 2014), and allow the athlete to have a say in the goal being set (Podlog et al. 2011), thus ensuring the performer’s autonomy is preserved (Podlog & Eklund 2006).

Athletic identity (Madrigal & Gill 2014); “the extent to which a person identifies with the athlete role” (Horton & Mack 2000: p.102), is another response to injury weakened during situations where the sport-related outcome is unfavorable (Grove et al. 2004), such as injury. Consequently, the individual cannot train and/or compete. Therefore, the behaviours of the individual are not in line with those of an athlete (Perrier et al. 2014). Consider a rugby player who cannot train or compete due to injury, he/she may no longer identify as an athlete, as they are not carrying out the similar behaviours.

A reduction in athletic identity can lead to a state of depression (Madrigal & Gill 2014) through the loss of social support groups, such as team members, causing the injured individual to feel isolated (Cassidy 2006a). From which motivation towards the individual’s sport can change (Proios 2012). All of these factors can negatively impact performance. For example, a change in motivation from autonomous to controlled (Chan et al. 2011) can result in an attitude change, whereby the performer may no longer care about their performance (Martin & Horn 2013) and therefore, do not put 100% effort into training resulting in not being selected for the team. This can further reduce an individual’s athletic identity (Grove et al. 2004) and feeling of isolation, as the performer is pushed further away from team situations. To overcome motivational changes and a loss of social support Chan et al. (2011) suggests the trans-contextual model can be used to transfer motivation from coaches to the performer. For example, if coaches remained autonomously supportive of the injured performer throughout the recovery process, the performer will not lose their social support network (Cassidy 2006b) and may retain their own autonomous motivation from feeding off of the coach’s, which as previously identified is key to rehabilitation adherence (Walker et al. 2007).

Within the constraints of this paper the issues outlined above have highlighted several psychological responses to injury. A more extensive review would identify additional responses, including the perception of weakness.

Mind In Sport announce their first Athlete Ambassador

Mind In Sport are pleased to announce that Jack Bradford will be joining the team as Athlete Ambassador.

As part of his role, Jack will share his experiences as a full time athlete and how Mind In Sport has worked to help him with his development on and off the table.

Jack is 23 years of age and currently lives in Ewloe (North Wales). Currently playing snooker full time, Jack is working hard to turn my dream into reality and make it onto the professional circuit. To fund his snooker career he also works part-time at Broughton Wings Sports & Social Club as a bartender and gym instructor. Jack has played snooker for many years, starting as a child where he played a small sized table at his grandparent’s house before making the leap to a full sized table at the age of 12 at Sealand Leisure Bowls & Snooker Club. What started off as a hobby, snooker soon became a way of life.
After graduating from the University of Chester with a degree in Sports and Exercise Sciences in 2012, Jack made the decision to dedicate his time to snooker and not just as a player. In March 2014 he also qualified as a certified development coach through the EASB and IBSF governing bodies is currently in the process of developing his own coaching network.

On starting this partnership Jack said ‘It is a great honour to be selected as an athlete ambassador for Mind In Sport, a company which has helped to improve my performance as an athlete for the last couple of years. I am now relishing the opportunity to work alongside Mind In Sport in order to help individuals who have been in a similar position to myself regarding ways to improve performance.‘

Director of Mind in Sport Cara Lea said ‘We are really pleased to be working alongside Jack and welcoming him to our team. Jack has a lot of potential in the sport and has a keen interest both in his own performance but also in embracing our aims in helping others holistically with their own.’
We will be announcing more news and updates of our working relationship over the coming weeks

Deliberate Practice Theory tells us everything we need to know about how a novice athlete becomes an expert athlete

In past years many researchers have focused on the processes that make it possible for an individual to become an “expert” in certain domains such as science, medicine, music, sport, and art (Ericsson, Krampe, & Tesch-Romer, 1993). For example, Galton (1896) first attempted to focus on the notion that individuals had an “innate natural ability” and believed that many “experts” were biologically similar. However, the chosen topic has since been the cornerstone of a great and lengthy debate with numerous researchers dismissing Galton’s theory (Bridge & Toms, 2013). Furthermore, Watson (1930), a major contributor within the field of behavioural psychology, also dismissed Galton’s claim by famously stating:

“Give me a dozen healthy infants, well-formed, and my own specified world to bring them up in and I’ll guarantee to take any one at random and train him to become any type of specialist I might select doctor, lawyer, artist, merchant-chief and, yes, even beggar-man and thief, regardless of his talents” .

Who and What is an Expert?

Throughout sporting literature there have been many definitions for the term “expert” which, in order to gain a true understanding, is beneficial. On the other hand, it also results in inconsistencies throughout literature in terms of producing a solid definition. Numerous papers have considered international athletes to be expert performers (Hodges & Starkes, 1996). Although, others have only considered World Champions and Olympians as experts in their chosen sports (Law et al., 2007). In order to know who is an expert performer, it is important to know what an expert performance is.

Again, there are a number of researchers that claim to have defined ‘expert performance’; however, Ericsson’s et al. (2007) definition is sufficient. Ericsson et al. indicated that true expert performance can involve three significant aspects: (1) Expertise should lead to consistently superior performance over that of other experts. (2) True expertise should generate “concrete results”. (3) Expertise can be simulated and measured in a laboratory.

Deliberate Practice Framework

The framework for deliberate practice was a developmental model which was based upon learning effectiveness and as a result, Ericsson et al. (1993) introduced deliberate practice as a major influence on an expert’s development. Ericsson et al. pioneered a study that focused upon the area of expertise. Within the study, the practice record of expert and non-expert violinists and pianists were compared. It was hypothesised that the level of performance generated by the musicians would have direct correlation to the hours spent partaking in deliberate practice. To note, at this point deliberate practice was acknowledged to be an activity that performers are involved in for the sole reason of improving specific skills and abilities that contribute towards performance. The results of Ericsson’s et al. study significantly supported their hypothesis. In line with Simon and Chase (1973), expert musicians were found to have engaged in considerably more practice time (10,000 hours by the age of 20) than non-expert musicians (5,000 hours by the age of 20). However, Ericsson et al. established a difference to Simon and Chase’s findings, in that not only did the expert musicians practice for more hours; but they also participated in a specific and purposeful type of practice, so named deliberate practice. Ericsson et al., also indicated that the activity the expert performer participated in required sizeable effort and concentration (Baker et al., 2005), and were said not to be naturally enjoyable. On a significantly positive note, research within the sporting domain argued this point by stating that many of the aspects of deliberate practice were, in fact, enjoyable (Hodges & Starkes, 1996). The literature provided directly shows support for the deliberate practice framework by providing evidence of a relationship between deliberate practice and performance. Ericsson et al. confirmed the theoretical framework was established.

Since establishing the original deliberate practice framework, many researchers have supported the relationship between deliberate practice and expert performance and has been done so in numerous specialist areas including: wrestling (Hodges & Starkes, 1996), ultra-endurance triathlon (Baker et al., 2005), chess (Charness et al., 2005), long-distance running (Wallingford, 1975), and even in areas such as teaching (Dunn & Shriner, 1999) and medicine (Ericsson, 2004). The deliberate practice framework was first introduced into sport by Hodges and Starkes (1996) with their interest in wrestling expertise. The study followed the methodology of Ericsson’s et al. (1993) in terms of comparing the practice history of international level and club level wrestlers. They concluded that the expert group engaged in lengthier quantities of deliberate practice compared to the non-expert group. These findings further support and validate the deliberate practice framework in its entirety. Although, another significant factor emerged that had previously been dismissed, which was that the expert wrestlers dramatically increased their practice hours earlier within their career as opposed to the non-expert wrestlers who did not (Hodges & Starkes, 1996).

More recently, the theory has since achieved a extensive level of support with Kaufman (2007) stating; “The expert performance approach championed by Ericsson et al. provides a scientific way forward for research on giftedness, and offers exciting new ways to further our understanding of the determinants of high ability within a particular domain of expertise”. Equally, the research has been criticised with Winner (2000) explaining that “Ericsson’s research demonstrated the importance of hard work but did not rule out the role of innate ability”. However, due to the framework being loosely developed from Galton’s (1896) “natural ability” theory it would be un-ideal to dismiss this claim entirely. In order to explore natural ability, this would lead into a different approach entirely and possibly even a different area of profession. In contrast, it was explained that when including individual differences within performance, deliberate practice is a necessary factor (Campitelli & Gobet, 2011).

Although Ericsson et al. (1993) suggested that individuals who specialise earlier in their life gain a considerable improvement compared to those who do not, they did not find it a necessary aspect of the framework. Since then, however, the aspect of early specialisation has been deemed a contributor within the framework and suggests that individuals who specialise at a later point in their life are unlikely to surpass the performance levels of those who specialise at an earlier stage (Williams & Ford, 2008).

Due to the research in early specialisation, this has created a belief that in order to become an expert in any domain it is vital to specialise in the deliberate practice needed to become expert in that domain as early as possible. The concept of early specialisation has been subjected to harsh disapproval by numerous researchers in the sporting domain, explaining that early specialisation can lead to many negative consequences. Negative consequences such as significantly increased injury risk (Law et al., 2007), eating disorders (Anshel, 2004), burnout, and dropout (Gould et al., 1996) in young athletes. However, further research has contradicted these claims by stating that the population of athletes who experienced these negative consequences was insufficient compared to athletes who benefitted from early specialisation without any consequences, and thus was suggested that it cannot be significant in predicting future actions (Ericsson, 2013).

The Developmental Model of Sports Participation (DMSP)

With these criticisms in mind, another model was developed from and concurrent with the deliberate practice framework. Cote and colleagues (Cote, 1999) highlighted the importance of early specialisation and produced The Developmental Model of Sports Participation (DMSP). The DMSP is a theoretical framework that combines the athlete alongside their environment. It has also produced additional developmental pathways which include a path for athletes who do not become expert but continue to participate therefore resulting in recreational athletes. With further addition, an early specialisation path was also included, which acknowledges the deliberate practice theory. Recent investigation studies (Bruner et al., 2009) highlighted that the DMSP is the foremost conceptualisation of athlete development in the sporting literature.

To start, Cote conducted a qualitative assessment of four elite athletes, including their families. Derived from the results, he then introduced three chronological stages (years) of talent development with some major alterations. The stages introduced by Cote included the aspects of deliberate play and deliberate practice, are specific to sporting domains, and set a time span from early childhood to late adolescence, in turn drastically increasing the importance of youth development. The stages introduced by Cote were the sampling, specialisation, and investment years. Firstly, the sampling years were suggested to have occurred between the ages of six and thirteen, following the Critical Stages of Talent Development, the first stage was playful activities by nature. However, he discovered that these playful activities integrated into multiple sports. In addition, the presence of deliberate play; which is an aspect defined by Cote et al. (2009) as participating in sport for their own sake, is enjoyable and does not require adult involvement. Secondly, the specialisation years occur between the ages of thirteen and fifteen (Cote et al., 2012). Athletes at this stage were suggested to be focused on only one or two sports and they are involved in frequent and structured deliberate practice. Finally, the investment years are suggested to occur from the age of fifteen and onwards. At this stage the athletes are involved in substantial amounts of deliberate practice, along with offering a considerable amount of time and effort to this stage.

Application

The Deliberate Practice Framework and the DMSP combined can be offered as an explanation for the development of expert performers in multiple sporting domains. Future research using the relevant developmental pathways as a channel may be able to inform and applied to practices and policies within sporting programmes and National Governing Bodies. Further investigation into the developmental history of athletes will highlight vital information about the ideal conditions for learning and practice. Therefore, coaching staff, trainers and parents may be able to utilise this information in order to direct the athlete/performer to take full advantage of their development potential.