The crowd has quieted, but an electric energy from the packed grandstands fills the air. The diver stands atop the platform, aware of television cameras below that are broadcasting his every muscle twitch to millions of viewers worldwide. He can smell the chlorine wafting up from the diving pool 10 meters below. The texture of the platform feels rough beneath his feet. He takes a breath, makes his approach and jumps sharply upward. Then he twists through the air, executing a perfect dive and, finally, with no more than a few drops of splash, knifes smoothly into the cool water.
The diver opens his eyes. Feeling confident and relaxed, he now looks ahead at the platform and gets ready to climb the familiar ladder to make his practice dive before the actual competition, still weeks down the road.
This diver had just gone through one of his most important workouts before he actually stands up on the Olympic diving platform: visualization. Olympic divers, such as David Boudia and Thomas Finchum, as well as other top athletes, use trusted psychological tactics such as visualization and positive self-talk to stay at the top of their games—even when the pressure is on. Yet the sports psychologists who teach these techniques now have more scientific results in hand, and they are learning that the athlete’s mental tools are just the jumping-off point to achieving peerless performance. Giving an athlete or team the best chance of bringing home the gold also requires creating an entire environment of carefully constructed group and interpersonal dynamics. Sports psychologists are no longer just training athletes. They are also training the coaches and family members in the competitors’ lives.
“We’ve learned a lot in the past 10 or 15 years about how to be more effective” in teaching everyone around an athlete how to help him or her excel, says Daniel Gould, professor of applied sports psychology at Michigan State University. And the athletes say the work is paying off.
Getting inside the coach’s head
Even an athlete in the most individual of sports is part of a complex network of relationships. Coach, family, friends, even team administrators are an extensive and often under-recognized part of the experience. Elite athletes might be better than the average person at shutting out distractions, managing their emotions and controlling their energy levels. But they are not immune to an overbearing parent, negative coach or unsupportive teammate.
Coaches and support staff, whether they realize it or not, are creating a mental environment for athletes, not just a physical training regimen. And although sports psychologists are often deployed for the benefit of the athletes, “a lot of times we work through the coach because the coach is creating a psychological climate,” Gould says.
Counselors are achieving “a huge gain in better educating our coaches,” Gould continues. By the time an athlete reaches college or professional levels, coaches are almost operating like CEOs, Gould notes. They’re in charge of coordinating a huge organization of specialists—athletes, nutritionists, strength coaches, media liaisons and psychologists. So to gain access to athletes, physically and mentally, a sports psychologist must first be accepted and supported by the coach. Then the expert can start working to help the coach maintain a productive, balanced emotional arena for the athletes. Gould describes this environment as a fine balance of autonomy—individually empowered athletes and staff—and connectivity, essentially a feeling of relatedness among the entire group. “That’s pretty easy to say,” Gould says. But helping coaches and teams achieve that state is no small task. Especially when everyone is under extreme stress of high-level competition.
At professional or Olympic levels, coaches are increasingly in the spotlight. “Their job is in many ways harder than the athlete’s,” Gould says. “They’re trying to create an environment for the athletes, and at the same time the coach gets nervous, so sometimes they overcoach.” Combine that with nervous athletes and tensions can rise, hampering an athlete’s ability to perform at his or her best.
For team sports, of course, creating cohesion and good communication among team members—whether for synchronized swimming, volleyball, doubles tennis or even equestrian events—is key. To excel, players also need to feel confident about their own roles as well as their contributions to the team, notes Craig Wrisberg, a professor emeritus of sport psychology and past president of the Association for Applied Sport Psychology (AASP).
Family gain or drain?
Athletes also have people outside of the sport’s circle in their daily lives. Friends and family members can provide mental stability, but they can also be a psychological drain. Even for veteran athletes, “one of their greatest supports is their family—and it’s also one of their biggest distractions,” says Chris Carr, a sport and performance psychologist at Indiana University Bloomington, who has coached previous Olympic teams, including the 2008 U.S. Olympic diving team. Carr had learned this over years of working and talking with athletes. —Long before the team left for Beijing, he and his colleagues held workshops for divers’ family and friends to teach them how they could provide the most support—and the least distraction.
Other psychologists have focused their efforts on helping athletes smooth over these support relationships themselves. Adeline Gray, a 2012 Olympic hopeful as an alternate for the first U.S. women’s wrestling team, can attest to the powerful role sports psychology can play in helping her support network help her. Gray knows that to do her best she needs to be calm and upbeat before hitting the mat. “If I get too jittery, it’s too much,” she says.
But her father, who has been one of her biggest supporters and long-time coach, had a habit of trying to pump her up before matches, getting in her face and yelling. This interference was starting to get to Gray. So her sports psychologist helped her work up the courage to ask her dad, instead, for a hug and a smile. Just like that, her dad switched to the hug, and she was able to enter into her matches in a better frame of mind.
Gray, who is 21, has been working with a sports psychologist since she was in her mid-teens. She says she encourages other athletes to find one to meet with—even if they just chat about their dog, she says. “It’s one more thing that’s going smoothly in your life so you can focus on your sport.”
Always an individual sport
Psychologists are focusing more on their own relationship with an athlete, too. Mental preparation is likely to be very different for a weight lifter, who needs an explosive burst of almost superhuman energy and strength, than it is for a marksman, who must calm her mind and even her heart rate while aiming. Understanding an individual’s personality and habits will improve how well the sports psychologist can best help the athlete.
Carr prepared the U.S. Olympic diving team for the 2008 summer Olympics in Beijing. By the time the opening ceremonies launched, “I had worked with a number of those athletes for four years—through observations and one-on-one discussions,” he says. Benefits accrued not just from his formal sessions with athletes or the team, he says, but casual, incidental interactions, such as “the informal bus ride chat from the training facility to the Olympic Village,” where he could check in and see how athletes were feeling and make sure they had their mental checklists ready to go.
After that much time, Carr was intimately acquainted with the concentration, confidence or composure challenges each diver faced. So when it came time for them to prepare for their big days, he had constructed a “very tailor-made intervention” for each athlete”—important, he notes, because “the Olympics is different than everything else.”
Despite his years of experience with U.S. Olympic teams, Carr says that if he got a call tomorrow to help out with the 2012 team he would think twice about it, fearing that not having been there all along could make him more of a detriment and distraction than an asset. Gray agrees that history is key in relationships between athletes and their sports psychologists. After her psychologist of a few years changed positions Gray started working with someone new. It was tough, Gray says, to form a new relationship with someone lacking the history and deep knowledge of her previous challenges and successes that her former psychologist had.
On the other hand, Gray notes, the athlete must be willing to develop the relationship. “It does take time and commitment,” she says. “And it’s a two-way street; it’s hard to release your emotions and allow someone into your personal life and tell them I do this before a competition and not worry they’ll think you’re crazy.”
Nevertheless, a coach has even more history with an athlete, and it falls to coaches to implement a lot of the mental training. The key is to push athletes beyond their mental comfort levels, allowing them to fail sometimes, but not to break them, Gould says. This can build mental toughness seen in many elite athletes, but for coaches to do this successfully takes skill and individual knowledge.
Special mental preparation is needed to soar at the lofty Olympics, “It’s a lot of emotion, it’s a lot of energy, it’s a lot of pieces,” Carr says. And “If you fall short of your goals, how do you manage that?” Sure enough, sports psychologists have further broadened their scope by helping athletes after their event. A team loss in a close soccer game might be tough, but how does a psychologist help a diver or a gymnast regain composure after a single mistake that they know could have just cost them a medal? That’s where the mental toughness training comes in, AASP’s Wrisberg says. “Mentally tough athletes are really good at making adjustments and doing them quickly. They look for a lesson in it, and if there’s none, they move on,” he says. “Otherwise, it’s a downward spiral, and it gets pretty ugly.”
Taking training to the next level
Widening sports psychology beyond individual athlete training still involves a lot of trial and error. Despite a wealth of scientific papers being published on everything from parents of young tennis players to competitive college teams, studies of truly elite athletes are relatively few and far between. That leaves most sports psychologists to craft their own approaches, rather than work from an industry standard. “We have to use the artistic nature of our profession,” Carr says.
The field is spotty on a global scale. Although many pro and Olympic—and even college—teams in the U.S. and other wealthier countries work extensively with sports psychologists, most teams across the world do not have this luxury. One of the biggest challenges facing the field, however, is that it’s nearly impossible to measure results. Athletes can report what they were thinking and how they felt, and those answers can be measured against the competitive results. But Gould says that’s not good enough. Brain-imaging studies are likely to be the next step in improving the mental game. With a peek into high-performers’ brain activity, sports psychology and coaches might be able to learn some of the secrets to success—and then try to teach these ways of thinking to other athletes.
Not even the best mental preparation can guarantee gold. But, says Carr, it can help an athlete “be able to compete when their Olympic moment comes.”
In this month’s Atlantic cover article, “The Case Against High-School Sports,” Amanda Ripley argues that school-sponsored sports programs should be seriously curtailed. She writes that, unlike most countries that outperform the United States on international assessments, American schools put too much of an emphasis on athletics. “Sports are embedded in American schools in a way they are not almost anywhere else,” she writes, “Yet this difference hardly ever comes up in domestic debates about America’s international mediocrity in education.”
American student-athletes reap many benefits from participating in sports, but the costs to the schools could outweigh their benefits, she argues. In particular, Ripley contends that sports crowd out the academic missions of schools: America should learn from South Korea and Finland and every other country in the top tier of international test scores, all of whom emphasize athletics far less in school. “Even in eighth grade, American kids spend more than twice the time Korean kids spend playing sports,” she writes, citing a 2010 study published in the Journal of Advanced Academics.
It might well be true that sports are far more ingrained in American high schools than in other countries. But our reading of international test scores finds no support for the argument against school athletics. Indeed, our own research and that of others leads us to make the opposite case. School-sponsored sports appear to provide benefits that seem to increase, not detract from, academic success.
Ripley indulges a popular obsession with international test score comparisons, which show wide and frightening gaps between the United States and other countries. She ignores, however, the fact that states vary at least as much in test scores as do developed countries. A 2011 report from Harvard University shows that Massachusetts produces math scores comparable to South Korea and Finland, while Mississippi scores are closer to Trinidad and Tobago. Ripley’s thesis about sports falls apart in light of this fact. Schools in Massachusetts provide sports programs while schools in Finland do not. Schools in Mississippi may love football while in Tobago interscholastic sports are nowhere near as prominent. Sports cannot explain these similarities in performance. They can’t explain international differences either.
If it is true that sports undermine the academic mission of American schools, we would expect to see a negative relationship between the commitment to athletics and academic achievement. However, the University of Arkansas’s Daniel H. Bowen and Jay P. Greene actually find the opposite. They examine this relationship by analyzing schools’ sports winning percentages as well as student-athletic participation rates compared to graduation rates and standardized test score achievement over a five-year period for all public high schools in Ohio. Controlling for student poverty levels, demographics, and district financial resources, both measures of a school’s commitment to athletics are significantly, positively related to lower dropout rates as well as higher test scores.
On-the-field success and high participation in sports is not random–it requires focus and dedication to athletics. One might think this would lead schools obsessed with winning to deemphasize academics. Bowen and Greene’s results contradict that argument. A likely explanation for this seemingly counterintuitive result is that success in sports programs actually facilitates or reflects greater social capital within a school’s community.
Ripley cites the writings of renowned sociologist James Coleman, whose research in education was groundbreaking. Coleman in his early work held athletics in contempt, arguing that they crowded out schools’ academic missions. Ripley quotes his 1961 study, The Adolescent Society, where Coleman writes, “Altogether, the trophy case would suggest to the innocent visitor that he was entering an athletic club, not an educational institution.”
However, in later research he would show how the success of schools is highly dependent on what he termed social capital, “the norms, the social networks, and the relationships between adults and children that are of value for the child’s growing up.”
When Did Competitive Sports Take Over American Childhood?
Coleman finds that social capital is highly predictive of academic success. He comes to this conclusion after conducting substantial research on the remarkably low dropout rates at religious private schools. “After extensive investigation,” he and his colleagues Thomas Hoffer and Sally Kilgore conclude that the private-school effect “was not the result of greater curricular demands or anything else within the school, but was due to a different relation of the school to the parental community.” He concludes that it is weekly gatherings for religious services that facilitate increases in social capital. Although Coleman never studies sports from this aspect, we believe school-sponsored sporting events provide a secularized equivalent to these weekly, religious gatherings.
These events provide venues for parents, students, and teachers to come together, providing opportunities for increasing social capital. The research results from Ohio suggest that these venues bolster, rather than deter, academic missions.
Of course correlation does not imply causation. It might be that schools with well-run athletic programs benefit from superior leadership that also fosters better academic results. Or, put differently, schools that tend to be successful in one venue are often successful in others. Much more research is certainly needed on the topic, but we theorize that sports can in fact reinforce the missions of schools in ways that potentially help, not harm, academic achievement.
The need to build trust and social capital is even more essential when schools are serving disadvantaged and at-risk students. Perhaps the most promising empirical evidence on this point comes from a Chicago program called Becoming A Man–Sports Edition. In this program, at-risk male students are assigned for a year to counselors and athletic coaches who double as male role models. In this partnership between Chicago Public Schools, Youth Guidance, and World Sport Chicago, sports are used to form bonds between the boys and their mentors and to teach self-control. The usual ball and basket sports are sometimes played, but participants are also trained in violent sports like boxing at school.
Chicago researchers were able to conduct a gold-standard evaluation because the program was oversubscribed and participation was determined by lottery. According to a 2013 evaluation conducted by the Crime Lab at the University of Chicago, Becoming a Man–Sports Edition creates lasting improvements in the boys’ study habits and grade point averages. During the first year of the program, students were found to be less likely to transfer schools or be engaged in violent crime. A year after the program, participants were less likely to have had an encounter with the juvenile justice system.
If school-sponsored sports were completely eliminated tomorrow, many American students would still have opportunities to participate in organized athletics elsewhere, much like they do in countries such as Finland, Germany, and South Korea. The same is not certain when it comes to students from more disadvantaged backgrounds. In an overview of the research on non-school based after-school programs, Gardner, Roth, and Brooks-Gunn find that disadvantaged children participate in these programs at significantly lower rates. They find that low-income students have less access due to challenges with regard to transportation, non-nominal fees, and off-campus safety. Therefore, reducing or eliminating these opportunities would most likely deprive disadvantaged students of the benefits from athletic participation, not least of which is the opportunity to interact with positive role models outside of regular school hours.
Another unfounded criticism that Ripley makes is bringing up the stereotype that athletic coaches are typically lousy classroom teachers. “American principals, unlike the vast majority of principals around the world, make many hiring decisions with their sports teams in mind—a calculus that does not always end well for students,” she writes. Educators who seek employment at schools primarily for the purpose of coaching are likely to shirk teaching responsibilities, the argument goes. Moreover, even in the cases where the employee is a teacher first and athletic coach second, the additional responsibilities that come with coaching likely come at the expense of time otherwise spent on planning, grading, and communicating with parents and guardians.
The data, however, do not seem to confirm this stereotype. In the most rigorous study on the classroom results of high school coaches, the University of Arkansas’s Anna Egalite, Daniel Bowen, and Julie Trivitt find that athletic coaches in Florida mostly tend to perform just as well as their non-coaching counterparts, with respect to raising student test scores. We do not doubt that teachers who also coach face serious tradeoffs that likely come at the expense of time they could dedicate to their academic obligations. However, as with sporting events, athletic coaches gain additional opportunities for communicating and serving as mentors that potentially help students succeed and make up for the costs of coaching commitments.
If schools allow student-athletes to regularly miss out on instructional time for the sake of traveling to athletic competitions, that’s bad. However, such issues would be better addressed by changing school and state policies with regard to the scheduling of sporting events as opposed to outright elimination. If the empirical evidence points to anything, it points towards school-sponsored sports providing assets that are well worth the costs.
Despite negative stereotypes about sports culture and Ripley’s presumption that academics and athletics are at odds with one another, we believe that the greater body of evidence shows that school-sponsored sports programs appear to benefit students. Successes on the playing field can carry over to the classroom and vice versa. More importantly, finding ways to increase school communities’ social capital is imperative to the success of the school as a whole, not just the athletes.
Hold on for your life! There’s no thrill greater than jumping from an aircraft with a parachute attached to your back and free falling at unbelievable speeds to the on-coming ground below. When the chute opens, your world transforms from extreme to divine as you float through the silent sky. Discover the best way to get started and prepare yourself for a true extreme sport that sends you hurtling through the air!
It’s a so great feeling the one you have when your parachute opens that makes me tell all my friends and colegues to at least try this great extreme sport called sjydiving. I will outline in this article some great tips to help you get started right in practicing this sport.
1. Make sure you really want to practice skydiving. If you really want it then you will be able to learn all the things you need to in order to make is an enjoilable sport but in the same time a very safe one. You have to decide this right now.
2. Finding a good skydiving school might be a great first step for your experience. You should first investigate very well the school you want to atend to, for your own peace of mind. A great thing about skydiving schools is that most of them offer first jump opportunities so go for it.
3. Before you will atend the classes you will have to understand all the eforts your mind and body will have to support. You can visit your own physician and tell him what you want to do, he will be able to lead you in the right direction.
4. Skydiving is great when you connect with more and more skydivers, you can get connected with other skydivers that are already experienced. You can also lead your friends to try this extreme sport, they will love the idea of living on the edge.
In conclusion, skydiving isn’t an very hard extreme sport to practice, but, still, you need a lot of commitment and a little touch of insanity but the feeling really worths it.
A basketball hoop in the driveway, on the garage, or above a poured slab of concrete in the back yard is a must for hoops junkies. The new basketball goal is the perfect place to shoot some hoops with your kids, sharpen your own game, or get in a game of two on two with the gang from the neighborhood. However, before you go to put your basketball hoop up, there are things to consider. Where should you put it, how should it be attached, and what type do you want to get?
First and foremost, you will need to decide what kind of basketball hoop ou need. The three main types to consider are portable basketball goals, in-ground basketball goals, and wall mounted basketball goals. Only by considering the pros and cons of each kind will you be able to determine the best type of hoop for you and your home.
A portable basketball hoop is going to be best if you are someone who wants to be able to move your goal inside at the end of the day. It is also going to be your best bet if you don’t want to go to the trouble of installing an in-ground goal. It is also perfect if your family moves frequently or lives somewhere that will just not work for a regulation court. The base that holds the hoop system in place is generally filled with water or sand, but is still easily moveable because of a set of wheels on the front of the base.
The more traditional basketball hoop is the in-ground goal. This hoop is actually anchored in the ground. In-ground goals work best for people or families that have a space where such a goal can be installed. This is usually ground just next to a driveway or a concrete pad that has been poured expressly for the purpose of basketball. If you are thinking of buying an in-ground hoop, take into consideration that it is a fairly permanent fixture and probably not for you if you plan to move in the near future.
The in-ground hoops can really be divided into inexpensive and heavy duty. The inexpensive are the type you would buy for younger children. They are not as sturdy and do not last as long, but they are fantastic for giving children a place to shoot hoops at home. The second type, the heavy duty in-ground basketball hoop, is great for both children and adults. Generally they have break-away rims to accommodate dunking and to give a truer bounce. The heavy-duty cost more, but will last longer and will withstand heavy use much better than the inexpensive brands. The heavy duty goals are generally best for those that are more serious about basketball.
Wall mounted hoops are also popular. Wall mounted goals are ideal for those who are have only limited space, but want to put up a more permanent basketball hoop. The wall mounted hoops come with brackets so that they can be mounted on an already existing area. They can be put on garage roofs, against walls, or even off of the side of your home if you so desire. These permanent basketball hoops [http://www.bassettnews.com/category/recreation-guides] are commonly found above garage doors for great driveway play. The installation on them is a bit easier than in-ground, but offers you the challenge of having to get on top of your garage or a ladder.
No matter which system of mounting your basketball goal you use, just make sure it is the best one for you. Find the right one and you will be giving you and your family a chance to play a great sport right outside your front door.