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The Psychologist on the Sports Field

10 June 2010

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    The Psychologist on the Sports Field
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“Sport has the power to change the world. It has the power to inspire. It has the power to unite people in a way that little else can. Sport can awaken hope where there was previously only despair.” (Nelson Mandela, Laureus World Sports Awards Ceremony, 2000)

Author: Dr. Nicola Taylor The South African Department of Sports and Recreation recently published an in-depth study on the social and economic value of sport to the nation. Sport contributes greatly to the nation’s culture, recreation time, health, economy, and even education. Sport helps create a forum through which values and discipline are instilled, entertainment is provided, and a sense of camaraderie is evoked. While the social and economic value of sport cannot be denied, the challenge lies in maximising this value to the benefit of every stakeholder. In South Africa, the government spends an estimated R3 billion annually on sports-related activities. With the hosting of major sporting events such as the annual Nedbank Golf Challenge, the Comrades marathon, the Argus Cycle Tour, the Rugby World Cup in 1995, the Cricket World Cup in 2007, the Indian Premier League in 2009, and now the 2010 FIFA World Cup, South Africa has demonstrated its capacity, willingness, and enthusiasm for arranging world-class tournaments. So, with all this focus on sport – what happens with the players? While some of the funding goes to community sports development programmes and facility maintenance, the Department of Sports and Recreation proposed in their strategy for 2010-2014 that they will attempt to focus on making the transition from mass based programmes to high performance easier for athletes. In order to do this, they would have to coordinate and monitor talent identification and development programmes as well as the delivery of scientific support to national development athletes. These sports development programmes will supposedly be reinforced by an athlete tracking system to allow the impact of the interventions to be assessed. And so enters the psychologist. In business, we are experts at identifying and developing talent, and these skills can be put to excellent use in the sports arena. Talent in sport is multifaceted, and many models exist for evaluating the areas in which an individual needs to excel in order to become successful in a particular sport. The main components usually include physiological, physical, psychological, and technical attributes, along with other intangibles such as being coachable. It follows that even though an athlete may be exceptionally physically and technically talented, other aspects could hinder their ability to fully perform. In a study conducted by the Evashaw Sports Programme across all sporting activities, it was found that 40% of all athletes were not receptive to their coaches, and 98% of elite athletes fail to achieve their full potential. As psychologists, we have excellent tools to assess areas in need of development, and we have the models to develop practical development plans. While there are exceptional sports psychologists doing good work in South Africa, very little research is published on the use of assessments and the outcomes on the sports field. Where assessments have been used, they tend to be specifically developed to measure aspects of coping in athletics. JvR has been privileged to work with some of our clients in research in sports, and also have a wide variety of assessments that have been shown to measure aspects of sport performance in the international arena. Recently, a study done by David Crombie highlighted the importance of emotional intelligence in sport in South Africa. He showed that specific aspects of EI (as measured by the MSCEIT™) actually predicted where a provincial cricket team would finish on the log in the SuperSport Series. Other studies are currently underway looking at the importance of mood states, personality, emotional intelligence, and attention skills in athletic performance in various sports. The creators of the Vienna Test System have also put together a special system for use in assessing sports performance. The VTS has the ability to assess aspects such as reaction time, visuomotor coordination, vigilance, attention, peripheral perception, and many other psychological attributes. This Expert Sport System has been used successfully in predicting performance in motor sports, has been used by the German football team for development, and is used at a number of Sports Institutes across the world in training for high performance. In addition to the assessment function, there are also programmes that help train special abilities, such as memory and attention (Cogniplus), and physiological stress management (Biofeedback).

At JvR, we are excited about the potential for working in the domain of sports performance and are happy to work with our clients in selecting the best assessments for the job. If you are, or know of anyone, involved in assessment in sport, we would love to hear from you and work with you in the future. Case studies, interventions, and any opportunities to do research will be welcomed!

Call or email Nicola on 011 781 3705

For more information, please contact us on +27(0) 11 781 3705/6/7 or send an email to

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