This case covers a 10 day long support service with the British Disabled Ski Team, delivered in Austria when I was invited to travel with the team to a training camp on snow.
The needs analysis began when I first approached the coach. I initially gathered information by email about the athletes, their age, standard, impairments. Once I arrived in resort I met with the coach for an hour to discuss his ideas and what he wanted the athletes to get from the camp. His ideas were simple; he wanted the athletes to develop an understanding of the main psychological skills for skiing. He also wanted the athletes to understand their minds better and begin to use techniques to control their thoughts and emotions.
On the first evening I had a chance to discuss with the athletes as a group what they wanted from me. After some discussion the athletes stated that they were keen on knowing more about visualisation and self-talk. The VI skier and Spinal Injury skier seemed especially keen on learning about visualisation and how they could use it within their skiing. One of the athletes had mentioned Dr Peter’s (2011) work on the chimp paradox, they were interested in how those ideas worked and what was meant by ‘the chimp’. Over the first two days I used the opportunity to observe the athletes skiing over different terrain and conditions and I noticed that often that the athletes would get frustrated with things that were outside their control such as fog, wet snow, steep terrain, and other skiers. When conditions became difficult their ability or confidence to ski run they had done many times before declined. Outbursts of frustration were evident when difficulty arose, and this had a negative effect upon the performance in the rest of their ski run.
As the camp progressed I had the chance to discuss the needs of the athletes and coach individually. It transpired that in disability skiing, the athlete’s performance and their ability to cope would deteriorate when unexpected things happen for example time delays or weather problems. After a discussion on the chair lift with the coach and a few of the athletes it became apparent that having the tools or plans to deal with these situations when they arise would be useful. This needs analysis was short, specific and developed as the camp progressed due to the lack of time available and the short notice at which I was expected to deliver some support work.
Aims of the Support Provision:
Following the needs analysis with the athletes and coach it was decided that the aims were as follows;
To build effective relationships with the athletes and coaches
To develop an understanding of the wider issues within disability skiing
To dispel any myths about sport psychology
To introduce sport psychology to the athletes and develop an awareness of how sport psychology can be used in training and competition using one hour workshops in the evening and teaching moments in the training environment.
Workshop One: ‘Athlete Awareness’
Aim of the session: To increase awareness in skiing
I presented on sport performance being a combination of three elements; physical condition, skill level and psychological readiness. I used the metaphor of a traffic light to develop some awareness (Ravizza, 2010). When they are happy and able to perform they are at a green light, when they are feeling anxiety, or a under some pressure they must proceed with caution, and finally when there is an immediate problem there is a red light they must stop and deal with the problem or performance will decline. To end this session I facilitated a discussion around controlling the controllables within skiing (Bull, Albinson & Shambrook, 1996). Controllables such as equipment, preparation, sun cream, water, focus were identified and uncontrollables such as others, the weather, officials, conditions and spectators were discussed
Workshop Two: ‘An Introduction to the Monkey Brain’
Aim of the session: To introduce the monkey brain ideas of Dr Steve Peters.
This workshop takes the ideas presented in ‘The Chimp Paradox’ (Peters, 2011) and simplifies them into an easy to understand way of thinking about how the mind works in sports performance. I introduced the three brains that are included in this model; the frontal lobe (human), the limbic system (monkey) and the parietal lobe (Computer). The chimp is an emotional machine which jumps to opinions, thinks in black and white and is irrational. The human is evidence based, rational, has perspective and uses balanced judgement. Finally I presented the idea of the computer as a storage centre for all experiences, behaviours, thoughts and information. The purpose of this is to allow athletes to identify that a specific part of their brain is involved in the negative thoughts and that they ‘the human’ can control it if they want to.
Workshop Three: ‘Talk yourself to a Gold Medal’
Aim of the session: To introduce self-talk and its uses within skiing.
This workshop was designed to introduce the use of self-talk to control the ‘chimp’ brain and to change negative thoughts. Thoughts have a significant impact on the performance of motor skills (Miles & Neil 2013). I presented the idea that an activating event will start anger the chimp and increase negative self-talk. I presented strategies to help athletes develop their self-talk such as using powerful lyrics from songs, phrases or passages that resonate well and have meaning for the athlete. I proposed this technique could be used before a race, when feeling anxious or when having trouble with training. This session ended with the athletes coming up with various sets of words or affirmations that could be used in various situations during training and competition for example when struggling with a technique or when the weather closes in.
Workshop Four: ‘The Power of Imagination’
Aim of the session: To introduce techniques for using visualisation, to help athlete develop their visualisation and to practise visualisation.
At the start of this session I introduced a short 10 breath relaxation technique to help the athletes relax before trying visualisation. Many of the athletes had used visualisation in various forms for (e.g. seeing themselves ski race courses). In this workshop I presented vividness, controllability, the use of the five senses and starting with what you know and then applying it to different situations (Monsman & Feltz, 2006). In this workshop I also suggested that imagery could be useful for learning the course and preparing for a race. I introduced using simple imagery scripts, well known courses such as from the front door of an athletes’ house to their bed room as a way of learning how to use imagery through a course. I encouraged them to learn race courses well and develop their own imagery scripts to use when training or competing.
Workshop Five: ‘What If… It all goes wrong, contingency planning in elite level sport.’
Aim of the session: To develop contingency plans and what-if plans in skiing.
This workshop was intended to allow the athletes to come up with coping strategies when events outside of their control influence performance (Butler, 1996). Before the session each athlete was asked to come up with events that can happen during training or on a race day. During the session I facilitated a group discussion around what strategies they could put in place for when these events happen. For example, ‘what if… conditions close in?’ Then ‘choose appropriate lenses, wear a thicker jacket, get regular updates on the course’ and ‘what if…communication equipment fails?’ Then ‘have spares, know how to use the equipment, or find a team member that knows about the equipment’