Psychological self-help guide for athletes

Andreas Stenling
Dept. of Psychology, Umeå University.

John Kremer & Aidan Moran Pure Sport: Practical Sport Psychology 198 sidor, hft., ill. Abingdon, Oxon: Routledge 2013 ISBN 978-0-415-52528-2
John Kremer & Aidan Moran
Pure Sport: Practical Sport Psychology
198 sidor, hft., ill.
Abingdon, Oxon: Routledge 2013
ISBN 978-0-415-52528-2

Our goal in Pure Sport is simple. It is to help you use the mental side of your sport and thereby allow you to explore your true sporting potential.

Drawn from the first page in the preface, this quote clearly states the not so modest aim of the book that is the subject of this review. The two authors of the book, John Kremer and Aidan Moran, possess an extensive academic and applied experience in the field of sport psychology and the book summarizes much of that experience. Kremer and Moran has authored and coauthored several other books in the field of sport and exercise psychology, for example Sport and Exercise Psychology: A Critical Introduction and Sport Psychology: Contemporary Themes. The target audience for the book under review is primarily athletes (and to some extent coaches and students) and the idea is that the reader will eventually be able to manage their own sport psychology. As an aid to the reader in achieving this aim, the book contains many examples and quotes (sometimes too many) from athletes and coaches. Furthermore, although the main focus of the book is elite athletes, the authors argue that the content is useful for athletes at any level of competition. My previous experiences with books in this genre have often left me disappointed due to the weak empirical support underlying the claims made by the authors. Pure Sport: Practical Sport Psychology can be placed somewhere in the middle of the weak to strong empirical support scale. In the following, I will briefly describe each of the 10 (or actually 11) chapters in the book, and close with my overall view.

Chapter 1, Starting Out, contains justifications for the book, the authors’ view on sport psychology, and the role of sport psychologists. The authors argue that sport psychology and sport psychologists should be a part of the everyday performance preparation and that sport psychology should be viewed as a long-term process. In the last paragraph of this chapter the authors introduce the three Cs: confidence, control, and commitment (also defined as mental toughness), arguing that balancing the three Cs is a key for athletic success.

In chapter 2, The Winning Mind, the characteristics of the so called winning mind is put forth. Although the authors state that what is a winning mind is dependent on many internal and external variables, two key characteristics are proposed (1) an unswerving capacity to move forward, and (2) the ability to cope with and rebound from failure. The authors further describe the three Cs introduced in chapter 1 and argue that balancing and fine-tuning the three Cs combined with constant challenge are factors that contribute to a winning mind.

In chapter 3, Mirror Gazing, the authors introduce various techniques that athletes can use related to a concept they refer to as mirror gazing, which in essence means honest self-reflection. A motivational model based on four factors (effort, performance, outcome, and satisfaction) is presented with the aim of explaining the dynamic process of motivation. Performance profiling that helps athletes understand where they are and where they want to be is proposed as a useful tool and various types of goal-setting strategies, for example SMART or SCAMP, are explained. The authors also present a ten-step approach that can be used as a foundation in a goal-setting programme.

In chapter 4, Hitting the Zone, anxiety, fear, and choking under pressure are explained and recognized as common problems encountered by athletes. It is argued that most of the anxiety-related problems stem from how athletes perceive their situation. Based on this line of thought, various strategies to recognize and handle anxiety-related problems are proposed. Many of these strategies focus on “finding the zone”, which could be referred to as an athlete’s individual zone of optimal functioning. Various stress-management tools, cognitive restructuring, and relaxation techniques are also explained in a straightforward manner.

In chapter 5, Staying Focused, the authors discuss the concept of attention, for example the difference between conscious and unconscious attention, broad and narrow focus, and internal and external focus. Various internal and external distractors are identified and strategies to handle these distractors in order to maintain focus are presented. These strategies are related to various pre-performance routines, for example goal-setting, as well as mental and physical exercises like visualization and relaxation.

In chapter 6, Using Your Imagination, the authors elaborate the technique and potential benefit of imagery (visualization), arguing among other things that it can enhance athletes’ performance, reduce anxiety, improve concentration, and help athletes to recover from injuries. This chapter contains useful and concrete tips regarding dos and don’ts when applying imagery. In contrast to the previous chapters, chapter 6 has a much stronger research focus and more explicitly translates research findings on imagery into practical applications for athletes.

Chapter 7, Handling Setback and Mistakes, focuses on how athletes can bounce back after making mistakes. Mistakes can affect the way athletes think, feel, and behave, effective strategies to handle mistakes are therefore of utmost importance. In this chapter mistake management techniques are introduced, such as asking the right questions when analyzing your mistakes, how to frame (or reframe) your mistakes, and how to understand your attributional style when explaining what went wrong.

I was a bit puzzled by this statement, which in some sense discard the usefulness of previous leadership research conducted in sports and other settings.

In chapter 8, The Team, the book shifts from an individual to a team-oriented focus. In essence, the authors argue that teams that are fit for purpose combined with value-addedness will perform better than the sum of the individual athletes. This chapter addresses ways to do team profiling and important aspects related to teams, such as cohesion, continuity-maturity, conflict, identity, team building, and how to prohibit social loafing and enhance social facilitation.

In chapter 9, Leading and Managing, the authors highlight important aspects related to leadership in sports, for example self-awareness, effective communication, and conflict management techniques. A surprising statement is found on page 150:

When it comes to leadership and coaching, to be honest there is little point in bombarding you with theory. Both sport and industrial psychology are littered with dozens of leadership theories and models. As previously mentioned, while each may have a different focus and vocabulary, all acknowledge that there is no magic formula for predicting who will be a good leader – and no one style that will be successful across a range of situations.

I was a bit puzzled by this statement, which in some sense discard the usefulness of previous leadership research conducted in sports and other settings. Particularly when the various factors that are proposed as important leaderships skills, for example reflection, adaption, motivating, decision-making, communication, all are well-researched and incorporated in various ways into many of the leadership theories and models used in sports and other contexts.

Preceded by a summarizing chapter the book ends with a chapter where the authors exemplifies common problems that they have encountered over the years and they also propose possible solutions to these problems.

My overall view of this book is a bit torn. On the one hand it provides clear and understandable guidelines for athletes who wish to apply these techniques in their everyday routine. My personal favorites are chapters 3, 6, and 7, particularly the parts relating to self-reflection and goal-setting in chapter 3, the research-based explanations regarding how, when, and why imagery works in chapter 6, and the mistake-management and reframing techniques proposed in chapter 7. Although other chapters contain understandable and easy-to-use applications of techniques, the research-based foundation and the translation of research findings into practical applications in these three chapters really appealed to me.

On the other hand, there are some inconsistencies, for example in how the authors refer to relevant research, which in chapter 6 is very explicit and clear (references are provided), but in other chapters the evidence-base is very vague, or at least not very explicit. I would have liked to see more consistency in the use of references to research. Furthermore, in some chapters the authors refer to theories or models that are not utilized in contemporary psychology research. Examples of these are Maslow’s theory of motivation described in chapter 3 and Tuckman’s stages of group development described in chapter 8. To me, the lack of contemporary research on these theories/models reduces their utility in applied settings.

Taken together, there are some parts of this book that I think can be very useful for athletes, coaches, and students, especially chapters 3, 6, and 7, as described above. I do not, however, think that this should be the only sport psychology book on athletes’, coaches’, or students’ bookshelf and I encourage future readers of this book to be critical and reflective regarding what, how, when, and why sport psychology can be useful and how it can be incorporated in their everyday routine.

Copyright © Andreas Stenling 2014

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