In athletics, the goal has always been to win; that’s the point of the game! Especially at the highest levels, collegiate and professional, a coach becomes easily frustrated when athletes aren’t performing. The lack of performance usually results in the short term in losing the game and in the long term in the coach losing his job. Athletes do not run for two main reasons: 1) without physical preparation or 2) without mental preparation. The saying “it’s 90% mental 10% physical” is the reality. Coaches tend to stress the importance of practice, lifting weights, and staying in shape, but what about the mental game? Can a coach mentally prepare his athletes before a competition and get more points in the win column?
William Cusick, author of All Clients Are Irrational, believes that a person’s decisions and actions start in the subconscious mind and are influenced by external factors. “Priming describes a phenomenon in which a person unconsciously reacts to an environment or stimulus that is inherently positive or negative” (Cusick, p. 88). The subconscious reduces decision making by gathering information from past experiences, patterns, and nonconscious stimuli (nonconscious priming). “Nonconscious readiness cues can be words, trait or category concepts, environmental or material objects” (Brechue, William. “Unconscious activation of behavior and performance; classroom readiness success”). These preparation categories may not be useful for all athletes, but recognizing the potential influence and testing the results can have a positive impact on the team.
Brechue gives examples and investigated experiments for each priming technique.
Words: Individuals primed with the concept of politeness or rudeness were less or more likely to interrupt a conversation (Bargh, et al., 1996). Priming fairness significantly altered price negotiations and more cooperative bargaining strategies among individuals (Maxwell, et al., 1999).
Environmental: When shown a picture of an upscale restaurant, people were primed to recognize words associated with well-mannered behavior. “Fancy restaurant” priming also had an impact on behavior in that during a “feeding experiment” properly primed individuals spent more time cleaning and left their area cleaner than controls.
Trait/Behavior: The chameleon effect is the involuntary imitation of the expressions, actions, or movements of other individuals during social interactions. (Chartran and Bargh, 1999). In a social setting, one individual adopts the expressions and gestures of another individual. In an experimental setting, subjects consistently imitated the smile, foot movement, and body postures adopted by the experimenter during various cooperative or discussion tasks. The impact on the social environment showed that the subjects perceived their interaction more positively when the person imitated the subject’s gestures and postures. Conversely, subjects reported negative experiences when the experimenter explicitly avoided imitating the subject’s expressions or movements.
Object: When asked to judge the interaction between two people based on a vague description, people were more likely to judge the interaction as cooperative or competitive depending on the presence of a backpack or briefcase. Business objects (briefcase, boardroom table, etc.) stimulated a competitive environment and behavior. On the contrary, the backpack represented a leisure object that led to greater cooperation. Interestingly, these observations indicated a similar response when exposed to the actual object or just an image of the object.
As a college coach, I feel like I can use these techniques to motivate my athletes to compete. In the past, the coaching staff has repeatedly emphasized work on softball’s physical skills, which has contributed to further success, but the team continues to struggle to stay mentally focused throughout the season. We’ve been known to start a match with little to no energy and turn the intensity down if we fall behind on the scoreboard. I used to think it was a personal problem. The people on the team lacked mental toughness, competitive drive, and passion to succeed, so those were the reasons that contributed to the failure. After researching the topic of preparation, I now realize that I have the power to influence my team in a positive and competitive direction. It is not a personal matter; it is a lack of mental preparation.
There are many opportunities throughout the season to prepare an athlete. The team locker room, bus trips for transportation, and days off between games provide plenty of time to subtly prepare players. This spring season, I want to experiment with my athletes by watching a motivating and inspiring movie on the bus or in a hotel room the day before a game, controlling the mood on our playing field by playing upbeat, high-energy music on game day. game and post softball and non-softball related images depicting competing, attacking, winning, positivity and excellence in the locker room as well as at the charter bus door. With all of the current and past data, I am confident that preparing the Western Carolina softball team will mentally prepare them on the field and result in a winning 2016 season.