Sports Psychology
The Humanistic Model

    "Man is the measure of all things", reasoned the philosophers of the Renaissance.  "Be all that you can be", reasons the U.S. Army of today.  In either case, the emphasis is on celebrating the individual, and the development of the whole person.  For that reason, this is sometimes known as "Person-Centered" theory.  The goal of the Humanistic model is for every person to become their absolute best, whatever that may be.  It accepts as fact that we cannot all excel at everything we attempt, but every one of us will excel at some things.  We are viewed as strong, capable people with the innate ability to grow, develop, and resolve our own problems.  The counselor is expected to be compassionate, a sensitive listener, and helpful as the subject works through their difficulties.  Reality is seen not as an objective situation that can be measured or quantified, but as a condition that is somewhat different for each person.  Thus, two teammates, involved in the same game, having statistically the same performance, may still have experienced a different reality.  One may be confident that they have succeeded marvelously, while the other feels like an abject failure.  Humanistic psychology endeavors to help people define their reality more clearly, and in a way that will help them feel good, and perform at a high level.

    At the forefront of the Humanistic movement was Carl Rogers, though ideas from Abraham Maslow and Karen Horney are incorporated in the process.  Like the other models, later theorists branched off from the main model to emphasize certain aspects of the model.  The Gestalt branch is named for the German word which means "whole".  It looks at the whole person, and believes that problems occur when we become separated from important parts of ourselves.  Fritz & Laura Perls and Erving & Miriam Polster were the primary developers of this branch.  The Existential branch is sometimes considered to have picked up where Carl Rogers left off, and has a broad range of proponents, including authors (Camus, Sartre, Kafka) and philosophers (Kierkegaard, Nietzsche), but the therapeutic approach owes its development to Victor Frankl, Rollo May, and Irvin Yalom.  [If you want to see how wacky those darned Existentialists are, go HERE.]

    Terms commonly associated with Humanistic psychology include: Self-Actualization, Self, Locus of Evaluation, Social Comparison, Experiencing, Reflection, Peak Performance, Peak Experience, Flow, Empathy, Therapeutic Alliance, Congruence, Being in the Present, and Homeostasis.

    In Humanistic psychology, everything that we are contributes to our thoughts and feelings about everything we encounter.  Physically, we may be in seemingly perfect homeostasis, while emotionally or mentally we are a wreck.  The object is to help people become self-actualized - capable of achieving their complete best in every possible way.  With this model, we are seeking internal changes that will have external results - inner changes in thoughts and feelings that result in positive changes in behavior.
    This theory teaches that all people are unique and special, and therefore not easily studied or categorized (as Behaviorists might think).  You are not a lab rat or guinea pig, but are expected to be an active participant in your entire therapy process.  Because it takes into account the whole person, the Humanistic model is more concerned with the overall quality of a person's life than with statistics or other measureable data.  Unfortunately, this also means that many other schools of thought downplay the value of the Humanistic model, because it does not lend itself well to the kinds of measurement scientific study usually demands.

    When Carl Rogers began Humanistic psychology, he was, like most who delve into the human mind, heavily influenced by his own personal history and values.  As he grew older, he changed from a person with strict "rules" for behavior and a highly judgemental attitude about others' motivations and values to a caring, compassionate individual, seeking out the good in others and sincerely trying to help them live better lives.  He was renowned as an excellent listener, and learned to carefully sort out the mixed and overwhelming emotions some folks were experiencing to help them find the keys they needed to repair their dysfunctions.
    Rogers claimed that he could see the need for self-actualization even in small children as early as when they were learning to walk.  He saw it as one of the earliest examples of our inner desire to reach for the full extent of our potential skills.  Why lie still if you can crawl? -crawl if you can stand? -stand if you can walk? -walk if you can run?  Little children are constantly changing because, as Rogers would explain it, they are constantly moving toward self-actualization, and the changes are obvious because they have so far to go.  As we become older, we begin to think that we have conquered all of our problems and accomplished all our skills, but the truth is that they have just become more complex and difficult to figure out.  If we continue to strive for self-actualization, we will have a goal that will carry on throughout our lives.

    According to Humanists, it is our concept of Self that most influences our behaviors.  Our Self develops as we interact with our environment and struggle to maintain what we have achieved while moving on to conquer more.  Happiness, then, is the result of how closely our ideal (best) Self corresponds to our behaving Self.  In other words, if we always imagine ourself serving an ace to win a key match, but in actual competition our serve always goes "out", we are unhappy.  If the real-life serve does become an ace, we are very happy, because our ideal matches the reality.
    It is also shown that we are happier when our locus of evaluation is internal rather than external.  When we have our own standards of performance, we know exactly what we need to do in order to feel fulfilled.  As long as we set our goals realistically and give an appropriate effort to accomplish them, we can find satisfaction with our Self.  If we attempt to find satisfaction through social comparison however, we are usually likely to end up unhappy and dissatisfied, because we have looked to external motives, which are much more inconsistent.
    Humanism also contributes to the Cognitive concept of achievement orientation, by showing that task orientation is usually more satisfying than ego orientation.  When we focus on "trying hard" and "getting better" in our sport, we are more likely to succeed according to our own measurements than we are if our only emphases are on ego-oriented standards like "winning" and "outperforming that other player".  One of the basic problems with ego orientation, as pointed out by this, is that we can achieve our goals yet still end up unsatisfied because we have left out the "how" the method.  (For example, if "win the game" is your only goal, and the team wins but you fumble 6 times, it's pretty unlikely that you'll feel fully satisfied.)

    It is in the approach to sports that the Humanistic model is most different from other models.  To achieve true self-actualization, the quality of our life must almost continually improve.  Sport is seen as a wonderful vehicle toward this end, if we use it as an expression of our joy at being alive.  By playfully expressing our happiness, and through balancing the technical and expressive aspects of our sport, we get self-fulfillment and a liberation of our spirit.  A significant study (Fitts) shows that when two athletes of nearly equal ability compete, the one with the better self-concept nearly always performs better, because they have more positive expectation, fewer negative emotions, and less anxiety.  Humanists would say that those athletes are experiencing life much more fully.
    A really radical concept is Humanism's view of contests as a completely "win-win" proposition, where everyone profits from the competition.  First, is the idea that if we compete primarily against our own past achievements and strive for our personal best, we will be more self-actualized and therefore happier than other athletes, regardless of the outcome of the game.  (As an added plus, imagine the outcome of a game in which your entire team reached its personal best!)
    The game itself is viewed as a cooperative activity, in which the players are all working together so that everyone will perform their best.  The reasoning is that none of us can create our best possible performance alone, otherwise we would simply play by ourselves all the time.  Those of us who have competed know that games have much more intensity and a much higher level of technical performance than practices or pick-up games.  It is for that reason that so many coaches try to make practices as game-like as possible.  If we wish to reach our full potential, we actually require a capable opponent to draw that performance out of us.  In an environment regulated by rules and officials, each participant reaches to develop their full potential.  In this larger sense, every person present at the game is an agent in helping you become the most successful player you can possibly be.

     Several Humanistic concepts have been applied closely to sports situations:
    (1) The idea of Peak Experience comes from this theory, and is applicable to many aspects of life.  When we are fully focused on the task at hand, firmly connected to our present, feeling a sense of control over ourselves and our environment, and feel that we are transcending our self-imposed limits, we are having a peak experience.  Thus, when we are having the feeling of a creative outburst, spiritual epiphany, the euphoria of love, or sensory maximization, we are having a peak experience in other areas of our life.
    (2) During a peak experience, we may be fortunate enough to reach a Personal Best.  To reach this level of performance, several elements must be in place:  we must be clearly focused on our task; we must have an intrinsic interest in success; we must intend to perform at a high level and act strongly on our intentions; we must be absorbed in our personal involvement; we must spontaneously adapt to activity situations and change our strategy in response to game conditions; and we must experience a superior performance.
    (3) Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi developed the concept of Flow, to describe the feeling we experience when "everything comes together."  It is the ultimate moment, when all our physical, intellectual, and emotional skills are fluid, coordinated, and operating at peak efficiency.  Other theorists have used terms like "The White Moment" to describe such times, but it is an experience no one easily forgets.  Unfortunately, flow is easier to describe than it is to duplicate.  In fact, there is no evidence that any athlete, no matter how accomplished, can summon flow at will.  We can, however, learn to recognize flow and perhaps help it flourish when the time is right.  There are considered to be 9 elements to flow: (1) a balance between the challenge and our skill level ["I know I can do this."]; (2) smooth coordination of body & mind with our environment ["I feel fluid and totall aware."]; (3) knowledge of exactly what needs to be done, minute-by-minute ["I can see everything that's going to happen."]; (4) clear, objective feedback ["I need to do that more smoothly next time."]; (5) unwavering concentration ["It's as though it's only me and the ball."]; (6) an effortless sense of control over our environment ["Everything is going exactly how I intended it to."]; (7) the loss of all self-consciousness ["I'm insulated from everything."]; (8) there are distortions in time or other measurements ["It's like everything is happening in slow motion.  The game is almost over so fast?  The hoop seems so big tonight!"]; (9) Autotelic Experience ["This is worth doing just for the fun of it!"]
    (4) Humanists recognize some truisms about arousal too.  Athletes who are most often successful are the ones who are most able to attain their personal preferred level of arousal before, during, and after competition.  Additionally, we can use Humanistic techniques to discover our preferred emotional state, by asking, "How did I feel during my best ever performance?  How did I feel during my worst?"  Then we work on strategies that will put us in the proper state.

    As with all models, there are criticisms of Humanistic theory too.  One of the biggest ones is that it is qualitative rather than quantitative.  Since the goal is to get you to have the highest quality experience, Humanists believe that your interpretation of your experience is the most valid way to measure your success.  More scientific thinkers prefer specific data that can be recorded, measured, and tested.  Since flow and peak experience cannot be measured without the subjective view of the individual to which it occurred, many scientists consider the data invalid.
    Further, some criticize Humanism because subjects are expected to help themselves, while the counselor acts mostly as a companion, rather than a guide or director as other models suggest.

    The reality is that most of us would like to believe that we are rational, normal people who can solve our own problems if we are given the proper tools to do so.  (And statistically, most of us are.)  Humanism suggests ways that we can take charge of the situations we face, and our thoughts & emotions in facing them.  By doing so, we can overcome obstacles that prevent us from being our very best, and succeed in ways we previously had not thought possible.

~ (1) Print out the Humanist Performance Characteristics Worksheet.  [WORD format]

~ (2) Do a journal on one of the following topics:
    (A)  During contests in your sport, how closely does your behaving self resemble your ideal self?
    (B)  Where is your usual locus of evaluation for your sport, and how does that effect your feelings about your performance?
    (C)  How close do you come to the true meaning of sport as defined by the Humanistic model?  What could you do to get closer to those ideals?

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