Using Sport Psychology Self-Help Interventions

Athletes crave interventions that improve performance. Finding an intervention that works could involve working with a professional sports scientist or following a self-help package. Recent years has seen a rapid growth in the popularity in self-help interventions. Andy Lane offers guidance on how to use self-help interventions to improve performance. (Photo above: Andy Lane finishing Virgin Money London Marathon).

The nature of sport is that individuals strive to find methods to improve performance. Commercial activity to meet this demand has led to increased availability of products such as sports drinks, supplements, equipment modification and numerous self-help books.

In this article, Andy Lane focuses upon the use of self-help materials designed to give an athlete a psychological edge. However, it’s worth noting that physiological, biomechanical, technical and nutritional factors tend to work in tandem with psychological ones. Thus, anyone considering using a self-help intervention should remember that changing one aspect of performance could influence another. For example, in my experience with endurance athletes, interventions that bring about improvements in physiological indices that athletes see as important (lactic threshold, Vo2) are coupled with improvements in psychological ones. (below a runner taking a VO2 max test).

What is a self-help intervention?

An intervention occurs in a number of different ways. In other contexts, e.g., if you are feeling ill you could book an appointment at your GP.  Alternatively, if you have had the illness before, and believe you have correctly identified it, you could take an over-the-counter medication. The following stages lead to improved performance in sport:

1. Identify the problem

2. Implement the intervention and establish the criteria for judging effectiveness

3. Assessment its effectiveness

In sport psychology, the problem can be difficult to identify; an athlete might want to perform better but knowing which parts to work on is complex also assessing the effectiveness can be difficult, especially as psychological data tend to be subjective, an issue exacerbated by the fact that following a self-help intervention, you are both the client and consultant.

Self-help interventions and sport psychology: do they work?

There is an extensive literature that describes how to use self-help sport psychology interventions (1). I have contributed to this literature including authoring 17 Peak Performance articles (see www.pponline.com), each one offering self-help advice.

How do I know if this is good advice? How do I know if the interventions I propose work?

The intervention should be supported by theory and tested scientifically.

The evidence supporting the use of self-help psychological interventions is strong and not restricted to sport (2).

In clinical psychology, patients that followed an online self-help intervention for the treatment of anxiety and depression recovered as effectively (3). 

In health psychology, self-help interventions have helped people manage cravings when following diets (4).

In sport psychology, self-help interventions successfully led to runners not only experiencing more pleasant emotions but also performing better (5).

So how do I develop an effective self-help package?

The question an individual following a self-help intervention should ask her or himself is; “how do I identify where gains can be made”? With self-help interventions, the individual is also a consultant, and therefore, it is important to establish monitoring systems to enable identification of factors that appear to influence performance.  

Your training diary as a way of assessing whether an intervention is needed?

A training diary can be a very effective way of identifying which variables to target for intervention work. However, at least three factors influence the relative success of using a training diary to help guide interventions. First, the diary needs to capture important variables that influence performance and be open to the possibility that you are not assessing the right information. An individual following a self-help intervention needs to be open to new ideas and continue reading widely. The individual is both the client and the consultant, and we expect consultants to be professionals who keep up with the latest research.

With the data sitting in front of you, the key question is “how do I make sense of it so that I know how my performance can be improved”? When deciding what data to record, you should also consider what you will do with it. If you record time spent training then presumably you will use this information to gauge whether it was useful in helping you achieve your goal? If you believe that running long periods of time, or completing certain distances, will help you achieve your marathon goal, then seeing that you are running for longer is likely to improve your confidence. However, if confidence is also influenced by the relative intensity of each run, and you realise that you are running for longer but at a lower intensity your confidence to be able to run at the high intensity on race day may not necessarily be increased. In the example above, the athlete should reflect on whether distance covered is truly a marker of progress with a suggestion that speed needs to be considered and recorded. The key point here is to have a strategy on how you will analyse data and how this will relate to the relative achievement of your goals.

 A third factor to consider is that the act of keeping a training diary could be an intervention itself, particularly for helping manage unwanted emotions. Keeping a diary where you detail intense emotional experiences has been found to be an effective self-help strategy. Expressive writing is proposed to help process information better, and help restructure information from these experiences in a way that if such a situation arises next time, then they are better coped to deal with it (7).

Putting into practice

Training diaries for endurance athletes are aided by the use of modern technology. You can get satellite navigation technology on your mobile phone with numerous free apps available to help record and collate training. In this regard technology has provided a huge advantage in that it takes away potential biases deriving from inaccurate measurement. Further, all you need to do is put on the device, and press start and stop to record training. You do not need to write down what was done which brings in issues to do with the accuracy of recall especially if you do not record what was done shortly after the session.

In addition to this type of data, It’s suggested to record daily mood. Mood is a useful way of recording how well you are coping with training demands. Mood can be used to help balance your training so that you are recovered sufficiently so to maintain quality.

As indicated previously, expressive writing has been found to be an effective intervention strategy. By exploring the likely cause of unwanted emotions, you also begin to develop a blueprint that helps you recognisesituations which bring these and therefore provide opportunities through which to choose a different path to act in the future. For example, if speaking to competitors on the start line gets you particularly nervous, or their banter evokes anger which in turn affects your race strategy, then recognising this to be the case might help change your decision on where to warm-up. You could warm-up alone or rather than warming up near your competitors, and if situational factors prevent this, then listening to music via headphone can serve to block out their conversations. 

References

1. Inside sport psychology, Champaign, IL: Human Kinetics, 2010

2. Clinical Psychological Review 2006; 13, 169-186

3. Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology 2011; 79: 123-128

4. Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin 2008; 34: 381-393

5. Journal of Sports Science and Medicine 2011; 10: 400-407. www.jssm.org/vol10/n2/22/v10n2-22pdf.pdf

6. Psychological Science 1997; 8: 162-166

Sport Psychology Consultant: Dr Andy Lane

Website @winninglane.com

Consultancy either by Skype £50 per 30 minutes or in person at CHHP (Harley Street, London, call for costs).

Why join an Internet Running Club and/or Online Running Community

Until a few years ago I didn’t know what a internet running club or an online running community was. Why would people even want to join an internet running club or blogging club? The advantages of belonging to one are:

  • They are normally Cheaper than normal running clubs, yet
  • you are affiliated to England Athletics so you still do get discounts on races.
  • You have a chance to win a Club ballot place to run in the London Marathon.
  • You still get support from club members, even though you don’t attend races.
  • You will never get left behind on a club run again!
  • No Club politics problems.

There other appealing aspects, they may differ from each club.

There are quite a few Internet clubs but I’ve only mentioned two; UKnetrunner and UKrunChat as these are the only ones I’m familiar with. My Internet club I belong to is UKnetrunner. It has all the advantages listed about. Once a year, we meet up at a race event and have a big meal afterwards (paid for by the club). This is followed by the Prize Giving (lots of Trophies) and AGM. There are mementos for all sorts of things, e.g., a UKnetrunner mug for all those who ran “5 different parkruns, over an 8 week period”.

UKnetrunner website

“We cater for runners whose lifestyles make it difficult to attend a local running club, but still want the support of clubmates. With UKnetunner your clubmates are available all day, every day, via facebook, twitter and the members’ chat forum.

Our running club offers various ways for members to get involved, but with the flexibility of participating when it suits you – there’s no pressure to attend certain races. You can add all your results to your member profile and these will be used to rank you in the UKnetrunner Grand Prix according to your progress over the previous year. There’s even a prize for the winner at the end of the year.

There are also a variety of handicap races held at events across the country each year. The handicap system allows you to compete fairly against members of all abilities with the triumphant runner receiving a trophy. If you’re still not sure, get in touch and ask any questions you may have before you JOIN.”

I also follow UKrunChat is an Online Running Community that cost nothing to join. It has thousands of followers. It is also your choice to join it as a club athlete so you are a member of England Athletics and you will get discounts on races.

UKrunChat website

“Our community has grown and we have lots of #UKRunChat people meeting up at events each and every week. With this in mind, we decided it was time to take the next step. We are now an official affiliated club with England Athletics. You can read some of the benefits here as to why being affiliated is great for both a club and individuals.  We would also like to affiliate with Scottish and Welsh Athletics.

We already have a virtual place for you to chat, give advice, support one another and celebrate with each other and now you’ll be able to do all of this in person whilst running together as part of the UKRunChat Running Club!

Lots of us for different reasons don’t have time to join a club or you have other commitments which stop you from joining. If you join the UKRunChat running club then you will have your team mates accessible at all times through our usual social channels and can arrange to meet up at events that you want to do offering complete flexibility. This means you are at home and out running when it suits you, your family and your schedule and there is no pressure to attend any races or training sessions that you don’t want to.

You can see where fellow UKRunChat members are running on our race calendar (coming soon) and we will be arranging to run at specific events across the UK so we can all meet up as one club. You can see events on our new events listing.

If you want anymore information then please email info@ukrunchat.co.uk Club Subscription: Free of Charge | England Athletics Affiliation fee: £13 (Optional).”

Jonny Mellor Misses Out on Commonwealth Games Place

English marathon runner Jonny Mellor has called the decision not to pick him for the 2018 Commonwealth Games “very short sighted” after he ran 63 seconds inside the qualifying standard.

England Athletics announced their 75-person team on Tuesday, but did not select a male marathon runner.

The body told Mellor he was not considered to be a medal contender.

His time of two hours 12 minutes 57 seconds in Berlin would have won Commonwealth gold in 1998 and 2010.

“I never take anything for granted – but I did expect to be on the team, to be honest. So when I found out it was a little bit of a shock,” Mellor told BBC Sport.

Mellor was told he had not been selected for the Gold Coast event in a phone call from England Athletics earlier this month.

The 30-year-old submitted an appeal but England Athletics lawyers contacted him on 6 October and said that it had been unsuccessful.

“They basically explained that just running the qualifying time does not justify your selection and they didn’t really go into any details about any points I’d raised in my appeal,” Mellor said.

“It just felt like a copy and pasted email.

“We dedicate our lives to it and work so hard for it and to get it taken away from you like this is really, really upsetting.”