Sports Psychology
The Cognitive Model

    With this model, the basis for who we are lies totally within our thought patterns and mental habits.  The saying goes, "As we think, so we also behave".  We are seen as active receivers of information, who choose how we will interpret the information we receive.  By extension, we create our own reality through our perceptions of information we get.  Distortions in our thought processes create dysfunctional behaviors and nonproductive emotions.  Distorted thinking is recognized by its characteristics: narrow, resistant to change, egocentric, biased toward negativity, and often irrational.
    Since it is our thoughts that determine our feelings and behavior in this model, the solution to dysfunctional behaviors is to change the thinking processes and patterns that create them.  If we can learn better ways to interpret in the information we receive, we can be more productive, and by extension happier.  We need to monitor our counterproductive thoughts, make connections between those thoughts and our emotions & behavior.  We must learn to examine evidence objectively, and replace our distorted patterns with those based in reality.

    Famous proponents of Cognitive psychology include Albert Ellis, Aaron T. Beck, George Kelly, Judith S. Beck, and David Burns.

    Some common terms associated with the Cognitive model are:  Processing (Bottom-Up and Top-Down), Heuristics, Schemas, Thoughts (Automatic & Voluntary),  MetacognitionArousal (Trait & State), Mental Rehearsal, Attribution (and its Retraining), Achievement Motivation, and Achievement Orientation.

    Every day, we are bombarded by a variety of thoughts on an uncountable number of subjects.  As we awaken, we think about what we have to do that day, what we'll have for breakfast, and how soon our schedule kicks in.  As the day progresses, we think about many things we expect to (classes, relationships, lunch, homework) and are faced with many unexpected situations that provoke thoughts we could not anticipate.  Even in dreams, our unconscious mind may be working out various problems that we didn't have time for during the day.  With this model, it is not the stimulus we receive that matters, but our perception of it, based on our heuristics.  [A dog runs toward you and your friend.  You reach down to pet it but he prepares to run away.  Your positive perception of dogs (friendly, furry, comfortable) is very different from his (snarling, sharp teeth, attacking).]
    Cognitive psychology developed in response to the theory that what we think, and how we think about it, has a great deal to do with the extent of satisfaction we have about our lives.  By inspecting our heuristics, schemas, and automatic thoughts, Cognitive psychologists expect to help us learn to think in better, more productive and satisfying ways.  If we have faulty heuristics, or if our schemas are improperly constructed, then problem behaviors and uncomfortable emotions are likely to result.  The simplified answer to changing our behaviors and feelings is: Change Your Thinking!  Subjects are encouraged to use logic and rational thought to learn a more healthy lifestyle.  We use metacognition to actually think about how we think about things, we we'll be able to recognize the weaknesses in our thought processes.
    Naturally, there is disagreement about how best to help a person change their thought processes.  Some theorists prefer an indirect approach to resolving the problems, so the basic method is, "Let's test out this idea of yours and see how it holds up."  Hopefully, by approaching the problem in this way, the subject "fixes" their own thought process, and experiences the sense of accomplishment that comes with taking positive action to improve their own life.  Counselors using this method may try techniques like these to reveal and change the faulty processes:
Decatastrophizing - we prepare a plan to deal with the "worst-case scenario" so we will be less afraid of a bad situation if it occurs.
Reattribution - we consider all the causes for an action, and look at who else shares responsibility for the outcomes.
Redefining - we make a clearer definition of what our problem is, so we can "brainstorm" the most possible solutions to it.
Decentering - we learn to recognize that we are not the center of universe, and that there is not as much emphasis on us as we think there is.

     Albert Ellis preferred, and pioneered, the direct approach to resolving faulty heuristics.  He believed that it was in our best interests to attack our distorted thoughts directly, and actively change them, thus changing our lives for the better.  In order to make changes, we would have to first recognize our biases, distorted schemas, and damaging automatic thoughts.  Then, we would need to challenge and change our thought processes.  Finally, we would use rational thinking, logic, and testable experimentation to fix our errors.  As a result, our lives would improve dramatically.  He claimed that three Irrational Beliefs kept many people from functioning at their very best.  Those Irrational Beliefs are:
"I must perform well, and win the approval of those who are important to me, or I am an inadequate, worthless person."
"All other people must, under all conditions and at all times, be both nice and fair to me, or you are rotten, horrible people."
"My living conditions must be comfortable, safe, and advantageous, or the world is a rotten place, I can't stand it, and life is hardly worth living."
Taken out of context, each of these thoughts seems like something we'd never say (at least not out loud), but if we look closely, we realize that every day we border on thinking something very much like this.  Ellis saw many ways that we could eliminate these beliefs from our regular processes.  We could use imagery to help us develop coping skills for certain circumstances, argue with ourselves aloud to hear how our thoughts sound, or role play both sides of the situation in order to see the other viewpoint.  We could laugh at ourselves and how silly we sound sometimes, and even do outrageous (harmless) things to help ourselves deal with the shame we often feel from "making a fool" of ourselves.  We could share in groups to see that we are not the only one thinking these thoughts.  We could learn to make forceful statements when we feel a distorted thought coming on ("No, that's not what really happened!  Stop thinking such things!") 
    To see examples of what we mean by distorted thoughts (or faulty heuristics) click HERE.

    Applications to sports for Cognitive theory are widespread.  We must learn how to play a sport, and along the way we learn to deal with the stressors peculiar to that sport.  Unfortunately, we often learn improper or distorted ways of viewing our performance and that of those around us.  The usefulness of any model lies in its abilty to help us overcome those distortions.  Skill acquisition contains many Cognitive components: problem-solving, decision-making, the way we interpret feedback, and the way we keep certain events in our memory.
    Obviously, our thinking processes during competition and practice are the primary area where Cognitive theory applies.  There are a variety of Cognitive techniques used to help us be more productive and successful in games and practice.  Let's look at some of these applications:
     (1)   Self-talk is a process by which we prepare certain words or phrases that will help us bring up the thoughts or feelings that we want to experience, rather than the dysfunctional ones we might have learned earlier in our lives.  Some are repetitive commands that help us get in the proper frame of mind before a game, practice, or skill ("Stay calm.  Breathe deeply.  Run Hard.")  The vocabulary is very important, because we focus on the positive and active, saying what we are going to do, rather than what we do not want to do.  Studies show that the word "don't" does not function in our brain, because we cannot imagine the absence of something without imagining the thing itself.  Thus when you say to yourself, "Don't miss this shot!", the only concept in your mind is "miss this shot".  (Now you know why I get aggravated with cheers that use this negative imagery.)
    (2) Visualization is a commonly used practice that allows us to "see" a situation or event before it actually occurs.  If you watch the Olympic bobsled team or lugers, you will notice that before they leave the starting gate, they stand with their eyes closed and imagine the entire run, to the point that you will notice their bodies sway side-to-side with the "curves".  Nearly all world-class athletes use this technique, though in most cases it may not be displayed so dramatically.  Professional golfers often visualize a shot before they hit it, imagining how it will curve around a tree and roll onto the green.  Basketball players visualize the "swish" of a ball through the net, football players visualize the results of their next crushing tackle or block, and some track athletes visualize exactly how they will step over each hurdle.  (Edwin Moses, who holds the record for most consecutive wins in the 400 meter hurdles, visualized every race several times before he actually ran it.)  Studies have proven that visualization along with physical practice improves performance greatly.  (In fact, there are many stories of athletes who succeeded in an event using only visualization, though I wouldn't recommend it.)  Even in mental practice or rehearsal, skills must be practiced correctly for it to be helpful.
    (3) Arousal, the level of excitement we have for a particular activity, is of great importance to athletes.  Sometimes, we just can't "get up" for a game or practice, and professional athletes have the same difficulty (can you imagine, really, the effort it requires to play 162 baseball games each year?).  There is a continuum on which some place our levels of arousal: sleepy - bored - interested - excited - anxious.  On this line, we certainly wouldn't be productive at either extreme during a sporting event, either too sleepy to exert enough effort, or too anxious to control our actions effectively.  We would most likely want to be in the "excited" range, and Cognitive psychology attempts to help us think our way into high-level performance.  This is one of the places goals come in handy, as the importance of the goal to us helps us determine our arousal level and our feelings about the importance of success or failure.  We can improve our arousal level by being more attentive to both our internal state (thoughts, gut feelings, etc.) and external events (game situations).  Our level of focus and concentration are directly related to our ability to perform at our level of ability.
    (4) Motivation is also a key focus of Cognitive theory.  We may sometimes ask ourselves, "Why am I doing this?"  We can learn to improve our outlook and motivation in sports by using Cognitive techniques to improve 3 areas of our thinking: (A) Raising our level of self-efficacy; (B) Improving our self-confidence; and (C) Taking full value from our competence.  By working on these aspects of our thinking, we can become more motivated to do our best.  We can improve our achievement motivation and perhaps even change our achievement orientation.
    (5) Attribution retraining helps us find ways of changing those things that we see as the causes of our success or failure.  We can pick a task, compare the relationship between our effort and our performance, acknowledge and celebrate our successes, and then repeat the process with a new task.  This helps us realize that we have much to do with our successes and failures, and therefore a great deal of control lies within our power.
    (6) A great deal of study has been done lately on the power of our minds to help heal our injuries.  Though studies are still in their relative infancy, it has been shown athletes can heal much more quickly and more completely by incorporating Cognitive techniques into their rehabilitation.  Using relaxation and imagery, we can facilitate our healing, correctly identify and control our pain, focus on rehabbing with a positive attitude, continue to practice mentally while injured, and block out thoughts of the original incident.  When we return to full health, we are much more likely to return effectively.

    Cognitive psychology is largely responsible for the presence of so many "mind-power" presentations in our society these days.  We are only beginning to comprehend the amazing effects certain types of thinking or mental processes can have on us.  Does this mean that we will soon be moving chairs around the room and reading other people's thoughts?  Of course not.  Does it mean that we have the power to "think" our lives differently?  Yes, it does.

Do one of these:
~ Print out the "Attribution Chart", and complete it.
~ Ask me for the "Ellis Questionnaire" and complete it.

Do both of these:
~ Write a journal for your notebook about the following questions:  Why are you playing the sport in which you are currently involved?  What do you think about the reasons you have chosen for playing?  How high is your achievement movtivation in this sport?  Are you taking a task approach or an ego approach to this sport?  What do you think about your relative levels of self-efficacy, self-confidence, and competence in this sport?
~ Write a journal for your notebook about the following:  Where are you usually on the arousal continuum before, during, and after a sporting event?  Which emotions get the better of you in relation to your sports activities?  Which ones do you notice occuring most often?  What automatic thoughts do you have that cause you stress and difficulty?

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