Sunday, April 8, 2007

The Future of USC: Adding a Sports Psychology Major

The University of Southern California is constantly trying to improve the academic horizon for its students by setting goals for the future and having a plan about how to achieve those goals. The 2004 strategic plan for "increasing academic excellence" at the university consists of three elements. First, we want to "conduct a range of research and scholarship that advances knowledge and at the same time addresses issues critical to our community, the nation, and the world." Second, we wish to "create a significant global presence that will increase international visibility, reach, and impact of our research, scholarship, art, education, and service." Finally, it is important for us to "focus our educational programs on meeting the needs of qualified students worldwide, from undergraduates through continuing professional development."

Through these objectives, USC aims to be "one of the most influential and productive research universities in the world." In order to achieve this goal, four "strategic capabilities" to focus on in the present have been suggested, which serve to facilitate the evolution of the university as it changes for the future. First, since society's problems do not fall within one domain of learning, we wish to "span disciplinary and school boundaries to focus on problems of societal significance." Second, we desire to "link fundamental to applied research," so as to make research and implementation more effective in practice. Third, we should "build networks and partnerships" all around the globe, because it is impossible for USC to have all of the answers all of the time. Fourth, we want to "increase responsiveness to learners," so as to better serve the students and their interests. By following these four capabilities, USC will be better able to accomplish its plan for the future.

My field of desired study, sports psychology, is one that is not explicitly represented at USC; therefore, I wish to lobby for the adding of a sports psychology major or minor for undergraduates, a masters or doctorate program for graduates, or at least the offering of sports psychology classes under the "psychology major" umbrella. Some people may say that a Bachelor of Arts in sports psychology may be too specific a field for an undergraduate degree, or that once a person completes their BA in psychology, they are more than welcome to attend graduate school for sports psychology. However, I believe that a BA in sports psychology is no more occupation-specific than a BA in accounting, or a BA in international relations. It is only those who do not know the expanse of the world of psychology, and the different areas of study within it, who argue that a Bachelor's Degree in the general area of psychology is sufficient.

Adding a sports psychology major at USC would address all four strategic capabilities for the university's plan for the future. First, sports psychology does not just involve the department of psychology, but it also reaches out to the Kinesiology department and Physical Education program, which satisfies the inter-disciplinary capability. Adding the sports psychology major would also attend to the second capability, because the research done about athletes could be used in either undergraduate or graduate classes to conduct experiments on the athletes (both intramural and school-sponsored) at USC. Since sports psychology is becoming an increasingly popular area of study, programs are now developing all over the world at various prestigious academic institutions, such as the University of Limerick in Ireland, where they offer a Bachelor of Science in Sport and Exercise Sciences Honours Degree. What is more, esteemed organizations such as the United States Olympic Committee use sports psychologists to train their athletes. Collaborating with other universities who also boast a program while having a partnership with a respected organization like the USOC would not only expand our partnerships in the world, but also elevate the university to a higher level of prestige in the eyes of the public.

More importantly, however, creating a sports psychology major would serve USC's student interest in a very direct form. According to the USC Recreational Sports website, "over 1155 Undergrad students participate in club sports along with 250 Graduate and 45 Alumni/Faculty," while about 566 students compete in university-sponsored sports. This means that over 10% of the entire undergraduate population at USC participates in sports at school, and probably an even greater number are interested in sports in general, since not everyone who likes to play sports enrolls in a club. What is more, thousands of USC students attend football games every year, signifying their interest in sports and football in particular. This great surge of interest in athletics shows the need for an academic response: USC is such an athletic school, and yet no academic possibilities besides kinesiology have been offered in reply to accommodate this great fascination. If a sports psychology major were introduced, I believe the student response would be overwhelming, and that a great many students (and especially student-athletes) would take great interest in the opportunity.

A sports psychology program will not only satisfy the short-term capabilities that the university desires to achieve, but will also put USC one step closer to attaining its long term goal of becoming a more diverse and well-rounded institution. I believe that by adding a BA in sports psychology, the university will be a more worldly and attractive place for potential students, and will be better able to serve the learning interests of the masses.

Sunday, April 1, 2007

True Leadership in Sports Psychology: Nominating Kirsten Peterson

"In bestowing an honorary degree, a university makes an explicit statement to its students and the world about the qualities of character and attainment it admires most.”

The quote above was taken from James Freedman's book, Liberal Education and the Public Interest. Freedman (pictured left), the former President of the University of Iowa and Dartmouth College, rightfully believed that honorary degrees should be given to those who demonstrate truly valuable contributions to a university and to mankind at large, and who possess the ideal values that society holds dear. He argued that the degree is sometimes wrongfully given too freely to undeserving celebrities, "who are often famous principally for being famous." Freedman's ideas influenced me this week to think about important individuals in my field, sports psychology, who would be deserving of the honorary degree and recognition for their achievements. Since USC does not yet have a sports psychology program, I could not nominate an alumnus of the school. However, there is no scarcity of potential nominees in the United States in general, so my search for a candidate was still extensive and difficult to choose.

A leader is someone who not only sets an example for others, but more importantly influences their field in a way which greatly advances the study and practice of that discipline. For this reason, only leaders should be nominated to receive the esteemed USC Honorary Degree, which is given to "individuals who have distinguished themselves through extraordinary achievements in...the professions" and "who have made outstanding contributions to the welfare and development of USC or the communities of which they are a part." These nominees should project a positive, model image of what the university pictures as ideal, and they should be "widely known and highly regarded for achievements in their respective fields of endeavor" by their colleagues. The recipient of the honorary degree will also give the commencement speech for that year; an honor in itself. This speech is normally about current issues in the world, as it serves to send off the graduating class with high moral hopes and expectations of making a difference in the world.

I believe that Kirsten Peterson, PhD, fulfills the requirements for an ScD (Doctor of Science)honorary degree recipient perfectly, and is the most deserving individual of this gift in the field of sports psychology. Not only is she a leader in his endeavors, but she shows her care for athletes and human-kind in general through her practice. Peterson, one of three full-time sports psychologists of the US Olympic Committee in Colorado, serves to aid the US Olympic athletes by mentally training them for the stressors of the Games. She is also the President of the American Psychological Association (APA) Division 47 (Exercise and Sport Psychology), which serves to register and link sports psychologists all over America. In addition, Peterson is a member of the Association for the Advancement of Applied Sport Psychology (AAASP), and is registered as a "Certified Consultant," which allows the general public to contact her about problems with their training or counseling needs. Because she does not limit her clientell to Olympic athletes, and allows her business information to be widely displayed on the World Wide Web, she opens her office door to masses of people of all demographics. I believe this philanthropic gesture is one point which makes her ideal for the honorary degree, as the recipient should be benevolent to all people, no matter how talented or famous.

Another reason I nominate Peterson is because she looks at athletes as people, and not as machines whose sole purpose is to attain a gold medal. She was a firm supporter of TeamUSAnet, which serves to help retired Olympians and Olympic hopefuls after they have descended from their peak performance time in their lives. and the US Olympic Committee worked closely to first study the unhappiness of retired Olympians, then created the program to help them find pleasurable jobs after their retirement from the Games. Her support of this initiative shows her level of commitment to the athletes she counsels; even after the player is finished with his or her Olympic career, she is still concerned about their well-being and psychological state.

Considering all requirements for the USC ScD honorary degree, I believe Kirsten Peterson would be a wonderful candidate for the privilege. Her commencement speech would be one of motivation and inspiration, since that is what she does every day for her clients. She would most likely speak of the future Olympic Games in 2008, because it is most relevant to her field of study, but she would probably also compare the similarities of the Olympians to the graduates sitting in front of her, so as prove to them that they can achieve great heights if they are well prepared. All in all, she would bring encouragement to the hearts of the next generation.

Tuesday, March 20, 2007

This I Believe: Sports as Teachers

This week instead of writing an opinion, I wanted to share a personal belief that I hold about sports and their psychological effects, so that you my readers may better understand me, and the stance from which I view the world. My motivation was taken from the "This I Believe" national media project (their logo is pictured right), the purpose of which is to engage people "in writing, sharing, and discussing the core values and beliefs that guide their daily lives." My daily life is largely consumed by my devotion to cheerleading—I am the President of my cheer club at USC, and I also serve as the Captain of my particular team. As a cheerleader, I have absolutely no doubt that playing sports has helped build my moral character—both good and bad aspects—into what it is today. I believe that sports have the capacity to teach participants the vital principles in life, such as selflessness, hard work, honesty, and perseverance, and that those who play a sport are morally more experienced than those who do not. Any person who has partaken in a sport can easily identify the basic beneficial values one develops from encountering the athletic world. Teamwork, friendship, goal-setting, and leadership are all obvious principles that can be seen on the surface; however, I believe sports have the unique ability to teach more subtle morals, such as those involved with loss, failure, and picking oneself up.

In a game, players are faced with many moral dilemmas both on and off the field. For instance, when the referee is not looking, who is there to call an athlete on bad sportsmanship? Many players in contact sports will take cheap shots at each other simply because they think they can get away with it. In some extreme cases, such as when NHL player Chris Simon took a "vicious two-handed stick swing to the face" of Ryan Hollweg with his hockey stick (pictured left), the offender does not end up getting away with their immoral actions. Although they may still learn a lesson from their punishment, unacceptable acts are looked down upon and shameful. On the opposite hand, I believe someone who makes a conscious decision to do the right thing (such as a football player who resists the temptation to grab a face mask when bringing a man down) is rewarded with pride and learns that doing things the honest way is psychologically rewarding, especially in regards to their self-esteem. So, although it may seem as though unsportsman-like players do not care what their actions are, I think the result of any decision is a valuable lesson learned by the athlete.

Soccer is an example of a sport where the fans actually receive just as many moral teachings as the competitors themselves. Both soccer players and fans are infamous for running amok in hosting towns; watching one game of World Cup Soccer feels more like watching an acting class than a sporting event when the participants fake their injuries to draw fouls. The lesson they learn comes from the fact that this pretending works very little, and referees are actually less likely to sympathize with the player who constantly acts hurt. This is referred to as "crying wolf," where a person's dishonesty can impair other's judgments and affect their future opinions. In comparison, the fans of soccer (especially in Europe) let their emotions get the best of them as they run wild through towns after winning a game, destroying everything in their path and sometimes assaulting supporters of the opposing team. The moral people learn from this is that disrespecting others and their property leads to resentment and mutual disrespect, which can lead to a snowball effect. In fact, fan clubs of soccer teams in England have become so rowdy that riot police have been called out to subdue the crowd, as was the case during a day in the FIFA 2006 World Cup,when English and German fans suddenly started "throwing bottles and chairs and trading punches." Many English fans, such as the one pictured to the right, were arrested and put in German jails for disturbing the peace.

Learning from immoral acts is not just contained to the actual game or match; much of what athletes learn comes from the everyday practice of their activity. For instance the use of anabolic steroids (some examples are pictured left) to enhance muscle-building capability is not illegal in baseball, but it certainly gives the consumer a great advantage over his competitors. Sports were meant to test the limits of the human body, so by taking steroids, a person is cheating their competitors—and themselves—of a fair match. Ethics concerning performance-enhancing drugs have recently been a large issue, simply because the utilization of them is so widespread at all levels of play. The use of steroids teaches a hard lesson: while immediate gratification may be a result, the side effects in the future may not be worth taking the drug. In addition to the potential negative results, a moral lesson is given in the form of lessened pride—knowing that anything achieved was not solely because of hard work, but partly because of an external factor that could be considered cheating.

While certain morals are obviously taught through participation in sports, some are more subtle and require closer examination. I, for one, have put to practice all the morals by which I stand during my cheerleading career, and I am proud to say that I have made good decisions.
All moral lessons (good or bad) taught by sports are important and relevant to every day life, and those who take these lessons to heart are better for it. I know I am.

Sunday, March 4, 2007

For the Sake of the Sport: The Psychological Aspects of Athlete Burn-Out

Many young professional athletes face a tough life ahead of them: not as a result of the difficulty of their respective sports, but because of the looming threat of athlete burn-out. Players such as Michelle Wie (pictured left)—seventeen years old and already participating in professional golf tournaments—and Andrew Bynum (pictured below, to the right)—nineteen years old and currently the youngest NBA team member—are in serious jeopardy of losing their passion for sport simply because they jumped head-first into the highest (and most serious) level of compeitition too soon. Although I understand that one who is talented enough to be able to play with the professionals should be allowed to do so, I beg that athlete to reconsider his or her choice to compete so fiercely, as they may later find that the pressures of high-stake sports can cause them to be entirely disenchanted with a game they once loved.

Burn-out, as defined by mental and physical health guide Selfhelp Magazine, is a phenomenon in which an athlete loses interest or motivation in their sport, and "[drops/quits] their activity." It can occur for several reasons, according to Mind Tools (a site dedicated to the enhancement of everyday life): for example, an overly demanding coach, radically intense stress for great lengths of time, or setting too many goals too high. The results of these triggers are two-fold: physically, the athlete will experience "intense fatigue," "vulnerability to viral infection," and immune system deficiencies. Mentally, however, the damage is much worse—feelings of a "loss of a sense of purpose and energy," a "growing tendency to think negatively," and "incorrect belief that [they] are accomplishing less." These psychological factors also have an effect on the athlete's personal life; players can show an increasing detachment from personal relationships and stress or conflict that stems from this can add to the hardship of burn-out, causing a vicious cycle.

As the minimum age threshold for professional athletes gets younger, I believe the risk of burn-out gets elevated. For example, the youngest NBA players' ages have been slowly declining over the past decades, so not surprisingly the rate of turnover has been rising in response. The table to the left, with data collected by in October of 2006, shows all of the participants in the NBA and their corresponding years of experience as a professional basketballer. More than half of the men in the NBA are rookies, or have one, two, or three years of experience. I believe this is mostly due to the fact that adolescents are generally more susceptible to the stressors of life (because they have fewer experiences which allow them to handle high pressure situations), and young professional athletes are especially vulnerable because of their incredibly publicized lives. The high hopes as a result of too much publicity can be overwhelming for an adolescent, whereas if they were given a little while more to mature, they may be able to better cope with those expectations. Although I realize that the select few athletes who are deserving of this attention must be more mature than others their age in some way (probably just physically), the fact still stands that they do not have the mental maturity level to know how to properly handle the stress and publicity in a healthy manner. As a result of this lack of knowledge, youthful athletes will be more likely to buckle under the pressure, and will therefore be more likely to burn out before an older, more stable adult would.

This phenomenon can be avoided by taking simple, general steps. According to Mind Tools, the first step is "learn stress management skills." If a player does not deal with stress well, they cannot survive the intense level of play on which professional sports thrive. Second, setting personal goals that are achievable is important for self-esteem and motivation. A lot of burn-outs are caused by unrealistic goal setting, which is followed by failure to achieve those goals, and a sense of lack of control that can be a factor of burn-out. Third, "get the support of your friends and family in reducing stress." If a coach only has an eye for winning, they may go to great lengths at the expense of the athlete in order to achieve that goal. This can lead to unhealthy workouts and even higher expectations and stress levels. The most important idea to remember, however, is that sports are supposed to be fun. If no one had fun playing sports, then sports would not exist! It is hard to remember this fact when speaking of professional games, as this is the athlete's livelihood; however, those who make it to that level of play are most likely those who love the sport the most. To avoid burn-out, one must enjoy what they do, even if the intensity is very high. If a player loses sight of this fact, and turns professional for other reasons (money, publicity, etc.), they will burn out quickly. Unfortunately, it seems as though many adolescent professional athletes today are turning professional for those other reasons, and I fear their respective sports will lose great young players at a faster rate than they should.

Monday, February 26, 2007

In the "Zone": What Others Think of Flow

The psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihaly (pictured left) is famous for his naming of and research on "flow," or the point at which heart, mind, and will are all synchronized and working together, and concentration is a conscious-less feat. Flow can be experienced while doing almost anything—from knitting a sweater to computing a math problem—as long as the person is not using conscious thought, the activity is challenging, and his or her skill level meets that of the challenge. Athletes who are experienced in a sport often experience flow, because they are able to play without actively thinking about what they are doing. Most of the time players refer to this as "being in the zone," which is key for confidence and concentration when competing and practicing. This week I found blogs that are about flow and related them to sports through questions and comments (my remarks are available at those posts as well as below). The first response is to Dr. Ted Klontz and Dr. Brad Kontz's post (they are a father and son team), which aims to offer consultation to individuals and companies. I found this post to be well written and thoroughly thought-out, and agreed with much of what they wrote. The second response is to Mr. Ewout Stam's personal post, who regularly writes opinion articles on productivity and software. His piece was very opinionated and at the same time a little too vague.

In response to your post, I found some "strategies" to be confusing: first, I thought flow was only achieved when the person was fully immersed in their activity, and not consciously thinking of what they are doing. For example, people who play sports get so involved in the game that they do not actively think about what move they will make next, but they just know it is the right move to make. If this is true, then would not holding a conversation with someone (which requires much cognitive functioning) not be considered a "flow" activity? Second, the fourth strategy is confusing in that it seems as though "being active" is equated with experiencing flow. Although I certainly agree that taking a proactive jump at life is better than sitting back and watching TV, I think if you said "become good enough at an activity so that flow may be achieved in the future," the statement would hold more true to Csikszentmihaly's ideals. If people start endeavors at which they are not skilled, they experience anxiety or arousal, not flow.

When you say "Flow takes a bit of time to 'get into,'" that brings up many more specific questions in my mind. How long would you say an average athlete takes to get into "flow" during a game? Do you think they jump right in and experience flow from the moment they touch the ball, or may they possibly have to play for a while before they can get into the zone? Or perhaps if they are truly concentrating on their game, they can achieve flow in warmups even before the game has started? Also, what are your thoughts of whether players can be in flow for longer periods of time because they do not really have the distractions of, say, the office? When I watch football, I believe the players only experience flow while the play is going, but as soon as the whistle blows their flow is interrupted. Basketball players on the other hand do not have their plays frequently start and stop, so therefore they can experience flow for longer periods of time. Is flow such a fragile thing that can be broken easily, or is it something that is stronger; something that can withstand a large crowd of fans or a break between plays? Please tell me what you think.

Tuesday, February 20, 2007

Whoa There, Mom and Dad: Little League Parent Syndrome

Children's games and sports are meant to bring happiness, community, and teamwork all to the same playing ground. National establishments like Pop Warner Little Scholars, Inc. (PWLS) and the American Youth Soccer Organization (AYSO) are meant to create sportsmanship while also "seek[ing] to develop well-rounded young men and women," so that children learn the importance of fair games and respect early in life. Unfortunately, nowadays the people who need the most sportsmanship education are the select few parents who take theirildren's games a little too seriously. Sports psychologists, concerned about the effects this may have on the children, have coined the term "Little League Parent Syndrome" (LLPS) to describe this unholy trend that is slowly growing more popular with adults—and more detrimental to children—in youth sports.

Some extreme parents, such as coach Cory Petero (pictured left) have even gone so far as to physically assault other parents, players, or referees. Petero, 36, tackled a thirteen year old boy directly after the boy made a late hit on his son during a youth football league game (watch the video here). But he is not the only adult to get too emotionally invested in his kid's youth game—hockey parent Thomas Junta, who brutaly beat another supervising parent after practice one night, let his passions get the best of him as well. Although these stories are not very recent, they serve as prime examples of what is still happening today. At the same time, parents alone are not to blame for the uproar either: pee wee football coach Robert Watson attacked a referee for ejecting him from the game (watch the video here), starting a large, violent brawl in the midst of five and six year olds.

There is no need to discuss how terribly wrong the actions of adults with LLPS are; any person with a minute sense of morals can understand how unacceptable it is to mix violence with children's sports. My focus and concern, rather, is for the children whose lives are directly affected by their surrounding aggressive role models. Youths learn largely from observational learning, or what psychologists call the Social Learning Theory, where "an observer's behavior changes after viewing the behavior of a model." Young athletes look up to the immediate adults in their lives (parents, coaches, and parents of other children) for examples of what is socially appropriate and what is considered taboo. If the adults they admire and mock are modeling the wrong ideals, then how are the children supposed to know what is right and what is wrong? Youths are always told "violence is not the answer," but if they see a "grown-up" being aggressive, how are they supposed to sort out the controversy? The result is a very confused, angry child, with a contradictory parent for a role-model.

Along with the psychological confusion, children are also experiencing first hand violence as a result of LLPS. Studies about the effects of violent households, watching too much gruesome television, or playing sadistic video games (like the one pictured on the right) have all suggested that too much of this influence can result in a more aggressive and hostile adolescent. If watching television and playing video games can influence a child's aggressiveness, then watching a live brawl (in which their parents are participating) is sure to make the youth more susceptible to hostility later in life. Therefore, as human beings, we have a responsibility to our children to set good examples and be righteous role models, so that they may follow in our footsteps and lead the best lives possible. If we fail to show our descendants the right choices in life, from whom will they learn? It is imperative that the Little League Parent Syndrome stops completely; not for the sake of stopping violence, but for the sake of the children who are watching.

Monday, February 12, 2007

Prayers to the God of Sports: Comments on fans and their relation to sports

The goal of the blogosphere is to virtually connect people and their ideas at an exceptional rate. The point of leaving comments on a person’s post is to give them feedback about their thoughts, and to also create deliberation between members of the online world. Therefore, I feel it is necessary to write a blog dedicated to networking and probing, thoughtful commentary within this expanse of information. The point of this is not to prove any point, make negative comments, or to put others down with criticism, but to simply reply to others’ blogs and ideas, and to provoke discussion. I chose the following posts by other people to be fascinating and well thought out, with clearly stated ideas and stimulating discussion topics, so I decided to comment on their articles (I have posted the same comments below for easier access). In no way are my comments meant to offend; they are simply there for the sake of setting up connections and hopefully causing others to participate in the discussion as well.

Permanent Links:

In response to: “Think you’ve got magical powers?” by Emily Pronin

As an avid sports fan, I love to believe that I have some sort of influence over what is happening on the field or court. As you wrote, it does in fact make me feel hope for my team, and lets me believe that I in some way contribute to the game. However, common sense tells me that none of my efforts to cross my fingers in just the right way will actually make a difference. Despi
te all of this, I still think that my wishful thinking helps—in a very indirect yet significant way. I am a competitive cheerleader, and I know that it feels different to walk into a venue full of teams rooting against you, versus a venue full of your supportive friends. I know that even a stranger who supports you can make a difference as to how you perform, and that their energy and encouraging aura help with the mental part of the game immensely. So in regards to your live basketball game study with Mr. Wegner, Ms. Rodriguez, and Ms. McCarthy, I do not completely agree with your assumption that fans may not have influence on the game, simply because the mere support of the fans can mean a lot to a player. Could it be that fans believe they have some control over the game because they actually affect the players’ psyches? I wonder if you had already taken this into consideration, and if so, how did you account for this factor?

In response to: “Is Sports the New Religion?” by the National CAtO Post News Service

As I read this article, I was convinced more and more that some people do in fact treat sports as if it were a religion. I can agree with the comparisons between facets of religion and certain aspects of sport fan behavior. I would also like to point out that like religion, people turn to sports when they need something to believe in if they are feeling down and hopeless. For example, watching a football game temporarily puts my negative feelings on hold and acts like a momentary outlet for bad moods. I personally believe religion came about because people had an innate need for support and hope during bad situations. I think a perfect parallel can be drawn from religion to the world of sports—it provides inspiration to those who seek it, and also give fans and participants a sense of importance and purpose. Sports can lift the spirits of a fan or athlete, which is why there are so many people who participate in some kind of sport activity.

Monday, February 5, 2007

Back to Basics: Setting America’s Priorities Straight

There is no doubt sports are beneficial in many ways. Playing a sport, like the little leaguers pictured on the right, is not only good for the body, but it can also foster good work ethic, teach teamwork, develop self-esteem, promote sportsmanship, and even reduce depression. Most people would probably say sports are a great part of American culture, and that people who play sports are better for it. To a certain extent, I agree with this opinion. However, I also believe most people do not realize some aspects of sports have evolved beyond the realm of good intentions and become harmful to the American value system.

For instance, athletes live on a comparable level of publicity and stardom to some national leaders. I, frankly, talk about Reggie Bush, Peyton Manning, and Brett Favre more than I gossip about President Bush or Osama Bin Laden. How is it that an athlete can be more important to the masses than someone with a nuclear bomb at their fingertips? The answer: American culture is absurdly flawed. True importance and relevance to society, no matter how charitable, cannot compete with the stardom and awe which accompany the world of sports. The priorities of the American people are skewed, and most are completely unaware of it.

Look at the difference in wages between an average professional football player and an average public high school teacher. The NFL
(National Football League) 2005 average player in the league earned about $600,000. Compare this to the average public high school teacher now makes about $40,500. Now compare the impact a professional football player directly has on a teenager to the impact a high school teacher has on the same child. The football player serves as a role model, but normally never directly has contact or influences the child in any way. The teacher, on the other hand, is constantly shaping the child on a daily basis, and has almost as much influence as a parent. The importance of the teacher in the child’s life is much more significant than the influence of the football player. Why, then, are football players paid almost 15 times as much as teachers, when teachers have a direct impact on the children of the future? America’s priorities are all wrong—fame and celebrity are valued over essential jobs, and the salaries of occupations reflect it.

The fact of the matter is: a portion of the money and time devoted to sports should be given to charities, educational funds, and other fundamental groups in need, so that America can help its needy citizens. One average football player’s salary could cover all of the administrative expenses
of Big Brothers Big Sisters (BBBS) for a year. If Shaquille O’Neal of Miami Heat in the National Basketball Association (NBA) gave half of his $20 million 2006 salary away, he could fund all of Disabled American Veterans Charitable Service Trust’s (DAV) expenses for more than five years.

Sports, in general, are meant to be positive experiences; and, for the most part, they are filled with benefits for the player and society. Americans have simply taken sports one step too far, in that the once team-centered experience is now an overly commercialized industry. Let us not lose sight of what is important in life, and not spend superfluous amounts of time and money on sports. Instead, we should re-analyze our priorities and use those resources to fix the obvious social problems in America, so that it can become a better place to live.

Saturday, January 27, 2007

The Use of Psychology in Sports: Does Counseling Really Improve Performance?

Extra, extra, read all about it: a new field of study has recently been born. Sports psychology, one of the relatively newest areas of research in the world of psychology, has come about as the world becomes more and more fascinated with the idea of perfect performance in sports, and as athletes become increasingly aware of the mental aspects of their game. The purpose of studying the psychology of sports is simple: to improve and enhance the performance of a player by changing the way they mentally approach the game. But how can something so intangible change the way person performs in any sort of substantial way? How can talking about gossip in school—with a person who is only an acquaintance—enhance one’s physical capabilities on the field?

For as long as sports psychology has been studied, it has been criticized by some for being a waste of time and money, while others hail it as “the missing link” to success in sports. So which is it? Are sports psychologists just pretending to be able to change athletes’ minds? Or is there substantial evidence that using psychology as a way to better an athlete actually works?

Despite disbelieving critics, many individual success stories can be found in the world today that prove the latter of opinions stated above. Countless personal reports of success and improvement after using a sports psychologist come from all levels of play, in areas all over the world. Kellen Kulbacki, an outfielder for James Madison University, did not completely believe in the advantages of using a psychologist at first, but said he started using a sports psychologist because “A-Rod has one, [and] it was an opportunity that [he] needed to check out to see if it helped [his] game at all.” After seeing a sports psychologist for a time, Kulbacki states he has seen a “huge difference in the way [he] approaches the game,” and that it has had a “huge effect on [him] having a successful year.”

At a higher level, sports psychologists have been known to help internationally competitive athletes as well. Harald Barkoff, an assistant professor of health and physical education at the University of Hawaii, Hilo, helped two such athletes regain their footing in the 2004 World Championships of Artistic Roller Skating. After many hours of observation, Barkoff assigned the two skaters to training programs which revolved around their individual mental needs, and also recorded their feedback about how the program was working, so that changes could be made to the programs if needed. The result of all of Barkoff’s time and research was two world champions—one male, one female—both athletes he had counseled for his home country of Germany.

Sports psychology does not just consist of fairy tale success stories and miracle-working psychologists; it is also an educational and concrete research area. In 1986, sports psychology was recognized by the American Psychological Association (APA), the largest professional and scientific organization of psychologists in the United States, as an official division of psychology. In order to be recognized, a division must be voted into existence by members of the APA Counsel of Representatives, which is made up of doctors, psychologists, and psychiatrists around the United States. Not surprisingly, the proposal to make exercise and sports psychology a division passed without a single opposing vote. If all these esteemed individuals, who are the elite of the researchers and educationalists in the world, can all agree the sports psychology is in fact worth acknowledging, then they must believe that psychological counseling for sports works.

One study which also supports this idea was conducted by Michael J. Mahoney and Marshall Avener. Mahoney and Avener studied the psychological and cognitive strategies of thirteen male gymnasts during the final tryouts for the Olympic team, and found that there was a significant psychological difference between those who made the Olympic team, and those who did not. (Link5) This study shows the need for mental preparation for optimal performance, and the necessity for a psychological coach.

Although research directly focused on whether sports counseling makes a statistically significant difference is hard to find, all one must do is ask an athlete who has been personally counseled by a sports psychologist. The answer is clear: sports psychology works.