There is an intense mental toll of reaching—and remaining—at the pinnacle of a sport. “The top six inches of the body matter just as much the rest,” says Matthew Cunliffe, a sports psychologist, who spoke with Quartz about what goes through the minds of elite athletes and how psychologists can help them win. The conversation has been edited and condensed for clarity.
The most common educational path starts with a bachelor’s degree in psychology. From there, students move on to a master’s degree, then finish with either a PsyD or a PhD at the doctoral level. Some schools offer joint degree programs, allowing students to get a master’s and doctorate degree at the same time. After graduating, students are eligible to test for licensure and may pursue real-world experiences.
There are so many ways to quit smoking, and in their quest to stop, many smokers try everything from quitting cold turkey to one-on-one counseling to nicotine patches and gums — or combinations of all of the above. If these stop smoking methods haven't worked for you, or you just want to take a more holistic approach, you may want to try hypnotherapy.
Over the past 15 years, it has become more and more popular to hire coaches for promising executives. Although some of these coaches hail from the world of psychology, a greater share are former athletes, lawyers, business academics, and consultants. No doubt these people help executives improve their performance in many areas. But I want to tell a different story. I believe that in an alarming number of situations, executive coaches who lack rigorous psychological training do more harm than good. By dint of their backgrounds and biases, they downplay or simply ignore deep-seated psychological problems they don’t understand. Even more concerning, when an executive’s problems stem from undetected or ignored psychological difficulties, coaching can actually make a bad situation worse. In my view, the solution most often lies in addressing unconscious conflict when the symptoms plaguing an executive are stubborn or severe.
The program he followed consists of an introductory video, several audio sessions, and an e-book. “There was all this imagery and counting down and clouds,” he says. “I would fall asleep listening.” It might all sound a little new agey, but Jonathan hasn’t had a cigarette in a year — besides a few weeks of cheating at the six-month mark. There wasn’t even a major time commitment — he would fall asleep a few minutes into the sessions every night, and he found himself smoke-free within days of starting the program.
A 2007 study from researchers at the American College of Chest Physicians compared hypnosis to nicotine replacement therapy. Fifty percent of patients who were treated in the hypnotherapy group were still quit at 26 weeks compared to just 15.78 percent in the nicotine replacement group. Patients who underwent NRT and hypnotherapy also experienced a 50-percent success rate at 26 weeks.
Thanks for this article, Nadine. Well said. In my experiences working with executives in my communication capacity, I can usually tell which have been exposed to coaching. They are consistent in their approaches and often have methods for stress reduction that they regularly employ. Their teams often reflect their approach so good executive coaching leads to better team response and production. I am looking forward to reading your book.
"I am qualified and experienced to help people cope with or resolve a wide range of challenges, including dealing with grief, depression or anxiety, working on relationship issues, making important decisions or transitions, recovering from injury or illness, working through current or past trauma and diagnosing and/or treating psychiatric and cognitive disorders. As a Psychologist with a subspecialty in Neuropsychology, I see a wide range of clients, including adolescents with developmental disorders or other troubles, adults struggling with emotional challenges or dealing with life's stressors, or individuals who have experienced neurologic or other types of illnesses."
While there is a multitude of different tangible benefits associated with executive coaching, many benefits don't appear as line items on financial statements. Executive coaching often focuses on leadership skills and relationships with managers, direct reports, co-workers, and other stakeholders. In these cases, executive coaches focus on teamwork, problem solving, decision making, and conflict resolution skills. The results can be transformative. A survey reported by Clear Coaching Limited found that executive coaching resulted in improvements in work relationships within a team (50 percent frequency), employees' abilities to see others' perspectives (47 percent), and improved atmosphere (40 percent). In a world where the strength of an organization's culture is increasingly trumping salary levels in terms of importance to employees, these intangible benefits are more relevant than ever.
Executive coaching is a major growth industry. At least 10,000 coaches work for businesses today, up from 2,000 in 1996. And that figure is expected to exceed 50,000 in the next five years. Executive coaching is also highly profitable; employers are now willing to pay fees ranging from $1,500 to $15,000 a day. That’s a lot more than any psychotherapist could even dream of charging. Why are companies willing to pay so much more for their coaches?
Preperformance routines refer to the actions and behaviors athletes use to prepare for a game or performance. This includes pregame routines, warm up routines, and actions an athlete will regularly do, mentally and physically, before they execute the performance. Frequently, these will incorporate other commonly used techniques, such as imagery or self-talk. Examples would be visualizations done by skiers, dribbling by basketball players at the foul line, and preshot routines golfers or baseball players use prior to a shot or pitch. These routines help to develop consistency and predictability for the player. This allows the muscles and mind to develop better motor control.
In North America, early years of sport psychology included isolated studies of motor behavior, social facilitation, and habit formation. During the 1890s, E. W. Scripture conducted a range of behavioral experiments, including measuring the reaction time of runners, thought time in school children, and the accuracy of an orchestra conductor's baton. Despite Scripture's previous experiments, the first recognized sports psychology study was carried out by an American psychologist Norman Triplett, in 1898. The work of Norman Triplett demonstrated that bicyclists were more likely to cycle faster with a pacemaker or a competitor, which has been foundational in the literature of social psychology and social facilitation. He wrote about his findings in what was regarded as the first scientific paper on sports psychology, titled “The Dynamogenic Factors in Pacemaking and Competition”, which was published in 1898, in the American Journal of Psychology. Research by ornithologists Lashley and Watson on the learning curve for novice archers provided a robust template for future habit formation research, as they argued that humans would have higher levels of motivation to achieve in a task like archery compared to a mundane task. Researchers Albert Johanson and Joseph Holmes tested baseball player Babe Ruth in 1921, as reported by sportswriter Hugh S. Fullerton. Ruth's swing speed, his breathing right before hitting a baseball, his coordination and rapidity of wrist movement, and his reaction time were all measured, with the researchers concluding that Ruth's talent could be attributed in part to motor skills and reflexes that were well above those of the average person.
Arousal regulation refers to entering into and maintaining an optimal level of cognitive and physiological activation in order to maximize performance. This may include relaxation if one becomes too anxious through methods such as progressive muscle relaxation, breathing exercises, and meditation, or the use of energizing techniques (e.g., listening to music, energizing cues) if one is not alert enough. The use of meditation and specifically, mindfulness, is a growing practice in the field of arousal recognition. The Mindfulness-Acceptance-Commitment (MAC) Theory is the most common form of mindfulness in sport and was formed in 2001. The aim of MAC is to maximize human potential for a rich, full and meaningful life. It includes specific protocol that involve meditation and acceptance practices on a regular basis as well as before and during competition. These protocol have been tested various times using NCAA men's and women's basketball players. In a study done by Frank L. Gardner, an NCAA women's basketball player increased her personal satisfaction in her performances from 2.4 out of 10 to 9.2 out of 10 after performing the specific MAC protocol for several weeks. Also, the effect of mental barriers on her game decreased from 8 out of 8 to 2.2 out of 8 during that same time period as a result of the MAC protocol. Another study of the MAC protocol performed by Frank Gardner and Zella Moore on an adolescent competitive diver showed that when the MAC protocol is tailored to a specific population, it has the potential to provide performance enhancement. In this case, the vocabulary and examples in the protocol were tailored to be more practical for a 12-year-old. After performed the MAC protocol for several weeks, the diver showed between a 13 to 14 percent increase in his diving scores. This finding is important because previously the majority of tests performed using the MAC protocol had been on world class athletes.
In 2007, a meta-analysis from the Cochrane Collaboration found that the therapeutic effect of hypnotherapy was "superior to that of a waiting list control or usual medical management, for abdominal pain and composite primary IBS symptoms, in the short term in patients who fail standard medical therapy", with no harmful side-effects. However the authors noted that the quality of data available was inadequate to draw any firm conclusions.