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Encyclopedia of Psychology Alan E. Kazdin, PhD, Editor-in-Chief

ATHLETES

William James (1890) wrote: ”Everyone knows what attention is. It is taking possession of the mind, in clear and vivid form, of one out of what seem several simultaneously possible objects or trains of thought” (pp. 403-404).

Robert Nideffer (1976), an American psychologist, developed the concept of attentional styles, by which individuals tended to fall within one of four attentional quadrants depending on the locus of attention (internal or external) or its breadth (broad or narrow). Individuals who were broad-external, for example, would be apt at reacting to complex sport environments, such as a quarterback in football, while external-narrow individuals would be more suited to aiming tasks, such as pistol shooting. Skilled performers have been shown to demonstrate the ability to switch their attention to various features, both of the environment and their thought processes. Stress was believed to first decrease attentional flexibility, then progressively narrow and internalize it.

The maintenance of attention has also been studied in activities which take place over extended periods. Successful marathon racers use an associative focus by attending to cues from their bodies during the race, while less successful runners used a dissociative strategy to block out or distract themselves from both the pain and negative thoughts. Orlick (1986) introduced the concept of refocusing, or bringing one’s attention back to the relevant cues once distraction had occurred, as being a crucial performance enhancement skill for athletes

John Kerr (1989) has also demonstrated that an athlete’s interpretation of the state of high anxiety could be changed to one of excitement, or boredom could be changed to relaxation, in an adaptation of Apter’s (1982) reversal theory. Thus not only do successful athletes modulate their attentional focus, they also develop necessary skills for the reinterpretation of states of anxiety.

ATHLETIC COACHING is involved with competitive physical activities. To prepare individuals to compete a coach should attempt to develop the nature (form/technique and scope/repertoire), quality (normally an increase in behavioral effects), and quantity (an increase in volume and consistency) of relevant sporting behaviors.

Effective coaching focuses on the behavior of the coach rather than vague descriptions of “personality traits,” “types,” or “characteristics” of coaches. It also requires social validation by the athlete and the related family or organization.

Much folklore surrounding coaching has resulted from an absence of definitive studies. The behavioral approach has described what coaches have to do to be effective. Only recently have assessment formats been described that allow reliable and valid observations of coaching behaviors.

Little is known about female coaches, particularly whether their behavior is different from that of male coaches in any definitive way.

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