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Four Ways Psychometrics Can Help Instructors
Author: Dr. Brian Marentette
Published: 11/15/2016
Once a coach or instructor really understands what makes an athlete “tick,” teaching and coaching the athlete becomes a lot easier.  What do we mean by what makes an athlete tick?  Things like how the athlete is going to react to criticism, how hard the instructor can push him or her, or how confident the athlete is, to name a few.  The problem for instructors is that the process of getting to know an athlete could take months, if not years.  Luckily, we have psychometrics (the measurement of psychological variables, such as personality and motivation) that can help accelerate that process.  And many instructors are starting to use a brief psychometric assessment to learn about their students before they even meet for their first session.  

Here are four ways that a psychometric assessment tool can help instructors:

1)    Develop a better Working Relationship
Some athletes are easy to get to know.  By the end of the first session with them, the instructor has a pretty good idea of how the athlete thinks. Other athletes can take months or longer to figure out.  Some days the athlete is into it, some days, they’re not.  Some days they have an attitude with you, some days they don’t.  This kind of inconsistency can drive instructors crazy and interfere with an effective working relationship.  There are a few different personality traits that affect how working relationships between an athlete and their instructor.  When the instructor understands what these traits are and where the athlete stands on them, it becomes a lot easier to be patient and work around challenges with the athlete.  For example, when you know your athlete is low on self-discipline, you know they are more likely than not to waste time and not practice what you’ve taught them.  Your time working with them during a session is going to need to be more structured.  You will have to pay more attention to them.  If you try to give them a drill and let them do it while you go get something else setup, they may not actually do the drill.  The athlete needs you to be there providing structure and discipline to the session.

2)    Use the Right Strategies to Motivate the Athlete
Athletes should be motivated and encouraged from all angles.  The parents, coaches, instructors, and athlete should be working to keep the athlete motivated.  Instructors can work to motivate the athlete to learn and improve.  But first, the instructor needs to understand what motivates the athlete.  There are a few different types of motivation.  First, people tend to look at motivation in terms of internal and external forces. Internally motivated individuals want to perform well simply for the sake of doing what they set out to do.  Externally motivated individuals want to perform well because they will receive a reward, such as new shoes or praise from their coach.  Some individuals are motivated by both internal and external factors.  

In a practice or skill development setting, we also look at what motivates an athlete’s behavior with regard to what they are trying to accomplish.  When athletes are asked to do a drill, they may want to perform the drill correctly for a variety of reasons.  Specifically, they could be driven by a) a desire master that skill, b) a desire to avoid looking bad in front of other people, or c) a desire to prove to everyone that they can do the drill.  Athletes may be motivated to some extent by all of these, but typically, an athlete will have one primary motivator.  In any case, when you are instructing an athlete you want them focused on mastering the skill.  If you know they already have this focus, you don’t need to change your instruction.  However, if you know they are focused on avoiding poor performance, you need to address this by helping them set appropriate goals focused on mastering the skill.  

Understanding what motivates individuals is extremely important because not every athlete responds to the same motivational techniques – you cannot apply the same thing to everyone.  Once you know how and why the athlete is motivated, it becomes very easy to respond accordingly.  For example, if you have an athlete who is externally motivated you want to give them lots of praise, potentially in front of other people.  Alternatively, if you have an athlete that is trying to perform well to prove to their coach that they are good, you can tell them 

3)    Use the Right Strategies to Deliver Feedback and Criticism
Most athletes seeking personal instruction want to improve their performance, but not all of them want to hear the feedback and criticism needed to do so.  The athlete’s emotional reaction to the feedback is one of the key factors that determines whether the athlete will internalize and use the feedback. As an instructor, you can tailor your feedback to the athlete so that you maximize the chance the athlete will actually internalize and use the feedback.  

The instructor simply needs to have a solid understanding of how the athlete reacts to different types of feedback and different types of delivery style.  An instructor can accomplish this through trial and error over several weeks or months, or plan strategically by using an assessment before their first session.  Some athletes will need very objective feedback focused on the technique and less criticism.  Other athletes may welcome the criticism – these are the easy cases.  For the difficult cases, instructors can use video tape to show the athlete where they are doing something incorrectly, rather than just telling them.  The more objective the feedback, the more likely the athlete will not have an adverse emotional reaction to it – they can see if for themselves and make their own judgement.  Once you understand the athlete’s psychological response to criticism, working with them is a lot easier.  Getting to that point without a robust assessment is the difficult part.

4)    Work with The Athlete's Confidence
Confidence is one of the most important attributes for athletic performance – greater confidence leads to better performance.  Confidence is also important when an athlete is receiving instruction – greater confidence leads to the athlete pushing their self harder and into uncomfortable territory.  As an instructor, understanding and building an athlete’s’ level of confidence is essential.  Many athletes are good at hiding their lack of confidence, which can make it very difficult to know how to handle them from an instructor’s standpoint.  Some of the athletes with the least amount of confidence actually appear to be the most confident.  So how can we really figure out what their level of confidence is?  Measure it.

A comprehensive, valid assessment of an athlete’s mental make-up is a very powerful tool, not just for the athlete to understand who they are, but also for their instructors to gain some very useful insight to help the instruction process.  With the power of a psychometric assessment, instructors can shorten the time needed to learn how an athlete thinks and can gain more accurate information about the athlete than what their personal observations might tell them.
 
An Athlete's Guide to Working Through a Performance Slump
Author: Dr. Brian Marentette
Published: 10/31/2016
Performance slumps can be extremely frustrating and can be difficult to get out of without properly addressing the root cause. In most cases, the root cause is your mentality.  We will discuss a four-step process on how to mentally work through a slump.

Step 1: Change your mindset
Recognize that you think you are in a slump and that every athlete goes through this at some point. It is only natural. The first thing you can do is stop telling yourself that you are in a slump! This negative “self-talk” is only making things worse. Nobody else (not your teammates, not your coaches, not your competition) is causing this slump.  You can control your performance and the way you view it.  Every time you tell yourself you are in a slump, you are telling your mind to expect poor performance.  Replace that negativity with positive, confidence building thoughts and statements to yourself. Instead of saying something like, “that pitch was terrible!” you can say, “I made a mistake, but I’m an awesome pitcher.” Simple statements like this keep your mind in the right place.  The key here is to not focus on being in a slump, rather focus on being your best.  For every negative thought you have about yourself, counter it with two positive ones.

Step 2: Increase your confidence
You are most likely replaying your recent poor performances repeatedly in your mind. Needless to say, this is decreasing your confidence and your future performance. The best way to get over this is by tricking your mind into replaying strong performances. You can quickly build confidence by thinking about some of your best performances and “re-living” them. You can literally replay those performances in your mind as if you are watching game tape of yourself. If you are having a hard time thinking of strong performances, simply picture yourself performing well in a make believe competition. That’s right, you can visualize yourself performing well, even if it is made-up. You will get the same benefit.

Step 3: Focus on the process
When you are in a slump, it can become very easy to start trying to avoid failure, rather than approach success. It can also be easy to start thinking more about results (e.g., strikes-outs), versus the process (e.g., doing the same routine/wind-up each time). Focusing on the process will help you stay focused on proper execution. With proper execution comes positive results.  By following the right process, the rest will naturally take care of itself. 

Step 4: Maintain and repeat as necessary
Getting out of a slump is tough.  It might not happen overnight.  Understand that more setbacks will happen, but trust the process and stay confident. Sticking to this process will help you get out of the slump more quickly. Remember that when mistakes happen, it doesn’t mean you are back in the slump. Mistakes and bad performances happen to the best athletes in the world. How an athlete responds to these situations is what makes great athletes…great. Repeat steps 1 to 3 to keep moving upward and onward out of a slump.
 
4 Ways that Olympic Athletes will Deal with "Failure"
Author: Dr. Brian Marentette
Published: 8/5/2016
As competition gets underway and medals begin to be handed out, we are going to see A LOT of “failure” at the Olympics. Every athlete competing has dreams of winning a gold medal. With over 11,000 athletes competing, and only about 850 of them receiving gold medals, there is sure to be quite a bit of disappointment and failure to achieve that dream. How will all these elite athletes deal with this "failure" of not winning a gold medal? There are a several ways that the most mentally strong athletes deal with failure to achieve their goals. We will dive into four ways that the best athletes deal with adversity, setback, and “failure” at the Olympics. 

1) Learning from the experience
The first thing elite athletes will do after failing to reach a goal or losing a competition is ask themselves a series of questions to learn from the experience. What went wrong? What didn’t they do that they could have? What could they do better? Was it a lack of effort? Was the winning competitor simply better than me? All of these questions help the athlete learn from their mistakes and go back to working on being the best they can be. Without failure, learning where you need to improve is a lot more difficult. Failure tells you a lot about your weaknesses. It's up to the athlete to realize their weaknesses and turn them into strengths.

2) Identify the positives that come from the experience
You could be in the finals, run your best race of your career and finish second. Is that failure? Or did you essentially make it to Olympic finals with the 7 best runners in the world, and just happen to be the 2nd best runner by .01 seconds? Re-framing the outcome of a competition is a very powerful mental skill that elite athletes use. Finishing second in an Olympic final race is still quite an accomplishment; you’ve beat out thousands (or more) athletes, only to be bettered by one person by .01 seconds. While that’s disappointing, elite athletes keep a positive perspective that they came just that close to winning. If they are that good, they likely have a very good chance at winning the next race, so there’s no sense in getting down on themselves. The best athletes stay positive.

3) Accept that failure is inevitable in every athlete's career
Fact: There is no single (competitive) athlete in the history of sport to go undefeated in their entire career. Failure is inevitable and the best athletes know this. Elite athletes understand that failure is going to happen, but that doesn’t mean they are OK with failing. Quite the opposite; most elite athletes cannot stand to lose! But just because an athlete loses a big competition, even the biggest like the final of an Olympic event, the best athletes don’t immediately quit the sport or get a negative attitude. The best athletes accept the defeat and move on.

4) Do not attribute the failure to lack of talent
Olympic athletes are the best in the world in their respective sport. All of them have gotten to where they are because of hard work, effort, and preparation. None of these athletes had an easy road to the Olympics. Just making it to the Olympics is quite an accomplishment and is the result of years and years of preparation and competition. Yet still, the best athletes look at failure as a lack of preparation, taking the wrong strategy, making a critical mistake, or another aspect of the competition and their performance. They do not look at failure as a lack of talent. One might make a counter argument when running against Usane Bolt; he holds several world records and is considered the fastest sprinter in the world. But do you think it will do you any good to just say “hey, I’ll never win against Usane, he’s just more talented than I will ever be!” No, it won’t, and the best athletes in the world would never say that. They might admit that they need to double their training time and intensity to be able to beat him, but they won’t just give in and say he’s just more talented. The best athletes recognize that more effort, better strategy, and better execution can deliver the results they want.