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When to turn to eSport psychology?

Coaches often wonder in what ways sport psychology can help them. The general belief is that sport psychology can somehow help with things like anxiety during performance and lead to less choking. Some imagine that it can assist with intra-personal issues like team building and communicating with one another.

Without further ado, here’s a quick list of the strongest and most reliable interventions that research has shown can be delivered by sport psychologists (or coaches using sport psychology techniques).

Training efficiency

Many times, players do not practice how they plan to play. The result is that they sometimes engrain bad habits, and do not get training in the stress and anxiety that a real match would bring. Increasing training efficiency is usually helps reduce choking and improves skill development over time (faster athlete growth). ~goal-setting ~multi-action-plan

Performance anxiety

Consistency in major performances is sought after by almost every team’s coach, and there are a whole host of elements that go into succeeding regularly. However, performance anxiety is a sure way to lose any time the stakes get high or a losing streak sneaks in. Learning how to prepare for major matches helps reduce anxiety to the proper level so it does not have a negative impact on the match. ~pre-performance-routines ~self-talk ~multi-action-plan

Momentum

Losing streaks, winning streaks. In-game momentum in the form of throws. Simple knowledge of what kinds of mindsets lead to throws can help prevent them as well as inform how to play against teams that are ahead. ~momentum

Skill development

Skills and movements take years to automate and refine to high level in elite athletes. Small changes or adjustments in these skills can also take years to work themselves into the brain and fully automate. Being on tilt or in a losing situation can bring old habits back to the surface. Using a variety of mental skills in conjunction with an overall plan tailored to the athlete can keep from slipping backwards in pressure situations and help embed new movements. ~multi-action-plan ~mental-skills-training

But what about?

Communication

Interestingly enough there is a lot more to be taken from the communication field than from the sport psychology field in terms of inter-personal  communication. Leadership training, conflict management, and even intercultural communication for some modern multi-national teams, can be very effective. ~coach-athlete relationship ~Thomas-Gordon-training

Team building

Sport psychology has a lot of research about group dynamics and what effect it has on performance, practice, and motivation. However for actually improving the groups togetherness it’s best to just resolve any conflicts that are outstanding and hang out doing fun stuff together. Advantages in performance are usually garnered by making an atmosphere more professional, not making it more friendly. Deliberate training is accomplished best of course when conflicts are easy to resolve. ~team atmosphere

How to train players?

With players it is important to start with a performance profile. Elite athletes have a wealth of mental skills already developed. Help them to catalog their strengths and they will start to develop them individually without any outside assistance. Forcing them to confront their weaknesses makes them more pliable to learning new ways of approaching the game.

After a performance profile coaches can use various mental skills and resources on this site to help players refine their strong points and shore up their weak areas.

How to train yourself?

Coaches also suffer from excessive amounts of anxiety related to performance. A team might more easily fire their coach than their star player when the blame for a bad season starts to spread among the fan base. On top of that modern coaches are expected to handle a teams’ social relationships, player conflicts, strategy development, personal skill development, and motivational climate. That is a tall order for even the most experienced coaches. So how and where does one start?

To begin with, knowledge is power. Coaches often develop themselves by combining their experience with either stories or research about other successful coaches. For example let’s look at a hypothetical coach named Aaron. He has been coaching for a number of months and is now having motivation issues in his team. Aaron turns to a coaching manual and reads stories of how other coaches have handled similar situations. He also reads an article on motivational theory in business. The next step is crucial: Aaron reflects on his coaching and recognizes elements from the stories and the article in his own coaching. From this reflection Aaron is able to decide what his strong points and weak points are in how he motivates his players. Aaron uses his new knowledge as well as his self-reflection on his own style of coaching, and he develops some new, intentional behavior that promotes motivation.

The biggest challenge coaches face during development is to discern what advice is effective and what advice is just plain wrong. Many successful coaches write manuals on coaching that contains both good advice and pointless advice. However, because they were able to produce star athletes, the good and pointless advice gets placed all on the same pedestal and obtains, somehow, and equal status. This is exactly why it is important to also read articles on coaching theory, or research, and to always combine stories with one’s own experience. Using all three sources, the self, the star coaches, and the scientists, a developing coach has the best chance to make effective improvements.

When to bring in an expert?

Eventually an organization has to decide when they can subsist on their current staff, and when they need to bring in an expert to address a situation. For eSport psychology that decision should be based on how knowledgeable the current staff is and how large the problem needing solved has become.

Usually a team simply wants to improve, in which case they can typically do the research themselves and train their coaches in better techniques. An example of this would be low practice motivation or low energy during a competitive match.

However sometimes a team has legitimate issues that are continuously surfacing, and at those times an outside consultant can provide a breath of fresh air and confront the problem from a different viewpoint. Examples of this are constant choking during high pressure situations or repeated loss of momentum during certain in-game situations.

Another good reason to bring in an outside expert is to run a temporary skill building workshop or to enact a long-term intervention, such as the Multi-Action Plan.

Mindfulness Acceptance Commitment

Mindfulness Acceptance Commitment [MAC] training is an intervention system put forth recently by Gardner and Moore (2006), leading experts in sport psychology. The MAC is built on years of previous work in the clinical psychology sector with Acceptance Commitment Therapy. After noting how powerful a counseling technique it was for work with addictions, they had the bright idea of seeing what happened if the same style of training was adapted for elite athletes. The results were astounding, with a verifiable increase in performance ability from most people who undergo the training. The basic idea is that one plays “in the zone” no matter what their internal state may be. That requires the ability to disconnect ones actions and behaviors from how they feel at a given moment. The typical training time for the standard MAC program is 4-6 months. There is a lot of individual work on practicing how to act according to your goals versus your emotions. However, it is guaranteed to pay off in the long run, unlike more traditional methods which do not always work even after investing a lot of time in them.

Multi-action plan

The multi-action plan [MAP] is an intervention system put forth recently by Bortoli et al. (2012) along with Yuri Hanin, a leading expert on emotions in sport. The MAP is built upon Hanin’s previous work on Individual Zones of Optimal Functioning [IZOF], which has proven very successful in enhancing elite athlete performance. The MAP takes the emotional controlling aspects of IZOF and combines them with action-oriented coping mechanisms to create a holistic approach to helping an athlete handle their performance while in-game. The basic idea is that an athlete has a plan B to fall back on when plan A, being in-the-zone, doesn’t happen. Elite athlete’s play in this plan B situation almost all the time, but in-game pressure can force an athlete into bad habits and serious mistakes that are not easily recovered from. MAP builds a recovery system, through intervention during training over an extended period of time, and brings it to a conscious level so that an athlete can play at a consistent high level regardless of the situation with in-game momentum or recent mistakes. See here for more detailed information.