Is there a place for professionalism in amateur sport - 2. Psychology?

Written by:
Mark Cairns


Following on from my previous post about introducing the lessons learned from the professional game into other amateur sports, I am going to consider how sports coaches can use psychology as part of their preparation.

As part of our preparation for our first tour in the IRB 7’s World Series we had a team session with the questions being asked aimed at focussing us on our team values, goals and identity.

Schools Out

I am sure some of you remember the 1st lesson of term where the teacher put his/her classroom rules on the blackboard, which the class had to obey. This command style of teaching now plays less of a role within classrooms. However, coaches still hang onto it, barking instructions to players that if disobeyed, are followed by sanctions like press-ups, a lap of the pitch, or worse!

Teachers will still identify ‘classroom rules’, but, in many cases, it also involves asking pupils to outline personal goals for the year. The class is now taught using an indirect teaching style (Mosston and Ashworth 1986) and depending on the maturity of the pupils is taught through ‘guided discovery’ (style F) or in some cases ‘self learning’ (style J).

Goal Setting

Our goal setting session followed a similar approach. The first goal we set as a group was a long-term goal to identify; ‘what the team ultimately wants to accomplish’? Here are some examples:

  • Finish in the ‘top three’ in the league

  • Build a title/promotion winning squad (over 2-3 years)

Whatever this goal is, it must be measurable.

Once you have done this, it is a good idea to split the team into small groups. This will give your team the chance to discuss how they feel they will contribute to the teams’ success. This was the format we followed, and is really important to give the team ownership and accountability of the goals set.

One Game at a Time!

You’ve all heard it before, and have no doubt groaned when all you want is that magical insight rather than the same old cliché! However, all these professional coaches and players couldn’t be more accurate.

It is definitely something that the amateur/school teams should consider more by setting short term – game by game – goals. It essential these goals are measurable, and should be performance rather than outcome based.

At the tournaments, we play 3 games in 1 day making it impractical for us to set goals for each game, but I have included an outline of the goals I would set.

I set three performance goals per tournament that relate to aspects of my game that I felt were important to the teams overall success. The goals would be based around:

  • Number of turnovers

  • Tackle completion rate

  • Set piece

I am now employing the lessons I have learned into my performance preparation at club level.

There is no ‘I’ in Team

This is true, but you need to remember that individuals make up the team, and all of the above helps to build a strong personal and team work ethic, whether that is in your own time (nutrition, gym sessions), at team training, or on the pitch. It is the player that ultimately decides how much effort they give when games are tight. These types of strategies could be the difference between winning and losing the close matches.

The site will allow you to 'Goal Set' as a team and individually and there will be a another blog on the topic soon, but in the meantime, please comment on how your team has used psychological methods and whether you feel they have been successful or not.

I look forward to hearing from you…


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