Vocabulary for Sports Psychology

Sports Psychology
Vocabulary Page

    This page contains many of the terms used on other pages for this course, and will hopefully allow you a better understanding of the theories and concepts discussed throughout.  It might be a good idea to print this page out for your notebook, so you can use it as a glossary.

Achievement Motivation - our position on success and failure - are we striving to succeed or trying to avoid failing?  As many coaches have stated, "Winners take responsibility and know where to place credit or blame, but Losers always look for excuses beyond their control."
Achievement Orientation - our perception of how stable our ability level is.  If we take a task approach, we believe that we can develop abilities, helping them grow and improve.  If we take the ego approach, we believe that all our abilities are a part of who we are and there is nothing we can do to change them.
Affirmation - a positive statement of belief about ourselves.  We write these statements to help us gain confidence in the choices we have made and to remind us that we are making progress.  An affirmation is always written in first person and in present tense (i.e. "I am in control of my emotional response to criticism at all times.").  We repeat these affirmations several times each day in order to make them an integral part of our thought process.  After all, what do we have to lose by thinking positively about our abilities at all times?
Analysis - a process developed by Sigmund Freud and his successors in which the Analyst carries on extensive discussions with the client in order to examine their past behavior patterns and compare them with current ones so a hypothesis can be formed about why they behave as they do.  With a sincere effort and some insight on the client's part, they can eventually become self-analyzing, maintaining their own mental health continuously.
Anchoring - a technique used to make a strategy automatic.  The subject associates a small physical action with a particular mental thought process.  This may be something simple, like touching the thumb to the middle finger.  The physical action triggers our mind to begin a specific process, perhaps a relaxation technique.
Arousal - our level of anxiety about a past, present, or future event.  There are two types of arousal: (1) Trait arousal is your own personal "normal" level - it's just how excited you usually are; (2) State arousal is the level at which you function during important and stressful events.  As with most functions, there is an appropriate and helpful level of arousal, and a dysfunctional level.  The arousal continuum indicates our relative level of anxiety (from none to extreme): sleepy - bored - interested - excited - anxious.  Circumstances help determine the appropriate level of arousal for us, e.g. some churches appreciate excitement while others think it inappropriate.  Being overly anxious is seldom useful to us in any situation, though it is sometimes unavoidable.
Attribution - how we explain the causes of our successes and failures.  There are two measures of attribution: (1) Causal elements are the reasons we bring up, whether we emphasize their positive or negative impact - ability, effort, task difficulty, and luck; (2) Causal dimensions are the way we measure the types of reasons we use - internal/external, stable/unstable, controllable/uncontrollable.  Therefore to say, "We lost because the other team was just better than we were." is to use a causal element of ability and a causal dimension of external/stable/uncontrollable (even if those reasons are not objectively correct).
Autotelic - literally, "self projection".  It is our ability to fully put our entire energy and all our skills fully into whatever task is at hand.  I sometimes use the phrase "active reading" or "active viewing" to refer to the same general principle - when we read a book, putting ourselves in the place of the character, visualizing what he sees, smelling even the smells, we are having an autotelic experience.  It makes any activity worth doing simply for the fun of it.
Behavior Modification - a structured process by which we retrain ourselves or someone else to behave in a more productive way.  By a careful application of reinforcement (and perhaps punishment), we condition the subject to behave the way we want them to behave (even if that is our self).   I really like Reese's Cups, and I would really like to improve my putting skills.  If I decide that I will reward myself with a Reese's Cup whenever I make 4 of 10 putts from over 15 feet, I am engaging in my own behavior modification.  This process occurs around us every day.
Brainstorming - an idea-creation process in which we come up with every possible solution to a problem, no matter how crazy they might seem on the surface.  (A full set of rules is in your Toolbox, you know.)
Case Study - a detailed collection of information about a particular individual.  It provides an extensive background that allows us to examine the individual "on paper" so we can make generalizations that will be useful if we ever encounter similar behavior patterns with other individuals.
Causality - the cause & effect relationship between a stimulus and its response.  We must be very careful not to assume that two things are related, simply because they occur in the same general time period.  In order to have good causality, the first event must lead directly and inevitably to the second.  This is not always an easy relationship to prove.  Did our turnover actually cause the other team to score?  Usually not.  (Think about it.)
Conditioning - the process by which we learn to give a certain response to a particular stimulus.  I had two cats who always came running whenever they heard the electric can opener.  Even though we used the opener for all sorts of cans, at least once every day we used it to open their food, so they became conditioned to run to the kitchen when they heard it.  There are actually two kinds of conditioning: (1) Classical conditioning, as discovered by Ivan Pavlov, established that a certain stimulus causes a specific response.  This is what my cats were subject to.  (2) Operant conditioning, as discovered by Thorndike and tested by B. F. Skinner, says that we associate certain behaviors with the consequences they bring.  Therefore, behaviors that are reinforced will increase, and those that are punished will decrease.
Congruence - the measurable similarity between what we think we are doing, and what we are actually doing.  The more congruence we have, the more likely we are to reach our full potential.  As an example, let's imagine you are running the 100 meter dash in practice.  You sincerely think you are working your hardest, but your times are well below your usual performance, and videos show that your rhythm and stride are seriously flawed.  To get more congruence, you must reevaluate your thinking, and discover why your mind is "missing the point".  This is often a source of argument between athletes and their coaches.  Coaches look pretty objectively at players, and can see when an athlete is not performing at their usual level.  If they confront the athlete with their observations, the athlete may respond defensively, because the athlete's congruence is not well-established.
Defense Mechanism - a pattern of thinking that either (a) helps us repress thoughts or emotions that make us anxious, or (b) allow us to change what is really happening into something we can deal with better.  When we are faced with thoughts and feelings we feel guilty about having, defense mechanisms come to the rescue, converting those "bad" thoughts and feelings into something we won't feel guilty about.  You will understand better if you look at the chart that accompanies the psychodynamic model.  CHART
Defensive - when a person responds to information with anger, resistance, counterattack, or withdrawal.  When an observer's analysis of our behavior differs from ours, we often respond defensively, because we are embarrassed at being viewed in a way we do not find complimentary.  Most of the time, the observer has good intentions, but sometimes they are just being cruel.  Our best strategy is to pause before responding, prepare an intelligent and unemotional response to their statement, and ask ourselves, "Is there anything in what that person just told me that could help me be a better athlete/person?"
Dream Analysis - the process of asking someone to record every person, place, and item that appears in their dreams, in an effort to discover thinking patterns that will explain their behaviors.  Depending on one's view, and Freud certainly had an elaborate set of ideas about dreams, the symbols in dreams represent wishes, fears, or hidden thoughts.
Dysfunctional Behavior - whether you call them difficulties, obstacles, problems, or dysfunctional behaviors, the effect remains the same.  Any action we take that leads to an undesired conclusion we should have expected is a dysfunctional action.  We should recognize that any aspect of our athletic process that does not lead us toward positive thinking, belief in ourselves, and ultimately success, is an aspect that needs to be changed.  Many of our dysfunctional behaviors will eventually go away as we grow older and more self-confident, but by that time we are likely to be finished with our competitive athletic career.  By removing these dysfunctions, we can begin to approach our fullest potential right now.
Emotions - feelings that accompany thoughts, actions, or other feelings.  A study by Vallerand (1984) claimed that there are only 7 basic emotions, and all others are a combination of them: happy, surprised, interested, afraid, angry, sad, disgusted.
Empathy - an expression of feeling similar to the way someone else is feeling.  It is often confused with sympathy.  Any of us can have sympathy for a friend who misses a tackle that allows an opponent to score.  Only those who have played football and have missed such a tackle can have true empathy.  (We can have some empathy by recalling a disappointing situation that happened to us under similar circumstances.  Humanists place great faith in and emphasis on empathy.
Environment - every person, location, and situation that we have ever experienced.  Behaviorists look at past environments to see how they have shaped our current behavior, or present environments to see why they are causing us to behave in a certain way.  Psychodynamics practitioners believe that our environments can cause major changing in our thinking processes.  Humanistic counselors might place more emphasis on how our environment is harming us.
Experiencing - in Humanism, the act of living this very moment to its absolute fullest.
Extinction - the process by which we "kill off" a behavior by providing no unconditioned stimulus.
Extrinsic - that which comes from outside of us, particularly motivation or reinforcement.
Faulty Thought Process - similar to Dysfunctional Behavior, it is any set of ideas or beliefs that contains some fundamental error.  We all have certain faulty thoughts, and many of them are harmless.  However, even the harmless ones can prevent us from improving our lives.  If I come to believe that I must remove a rock from the infield each time I go to my position or I will always make an error, my faulty thought is that there is somehow a connection between that one rock and my fielding ability.  If I fail to find a rock, even once, I am likely to worry excessively over the rock, rather than over my fielding fundamentals.  If I am fully focused on everything I know about fielding, I can probably play in gravel pit with no errors.
Flow - concept developed by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi to describe the state of being in perfect physical, emotional, and intellectual harmony, performing in an effortless and successful way.  We are totally absorbed in the task at hand, and all our senses work together to help us stay in balance and functioning well.
Free Association - an activity in which the therapist reads a list of "key" words, and the client responds with the first words that pop into their mind.  If the client feels comfortable, the pattern of their answers will reveal certain patterns of thought that will explain their behavior.
Heuristics - automatic thinking patterns we use to process information.  These can be quite helpful, because they help us figure out new information more quickly since we can compare it to things we already know.  On the other hand, they can also bias our viewpoint, causing us to misread new info.  In Cognitive psychology, there is an entire study of faulty heuristics to see how errors in our thought patterns corrupt our thinking process.  Check out the table HERE.
Homeostasis - the condition under which every part of our body, mind, and/or soul is working together properly.  In a physical sense, we are at a high level of homeostasis most of the time - our heart, lungs, muscles, etc. operate together to keep our body functioning effectively.  Humanists believe that the equation is even more complicated than that,
Imagery - creating a picture in the "mind's eye".  Cognitive psychologists believe that imagining an enjoyable event or the process of accomplishing a task, makes that event or task more possible.
Innate - literally, "from within us".  Something that comes from within us that is part of our inner being.  (Behaviorists would argue that there is no such thing - that everything we are comes from our experiences.)  In context, it is the opposite of "learned".
Insight - the ability to look inside ourselves and recognize the absolute truth about our thoughts, feelings, and behaviors.  The better your insight is, the more quickly you will recognize and change your dysfunctional behaviors and faulty thought processes.
Inner Conflict - the "wrestling match" that takes place between our Id, Ego, and Superego.  When the conflict is resolved in a satisfying way, we feel good about ourselves.  When the conflict goes unresolved, or ends in an unsatisfactory way, we may find ourselves carrying bad feelings with us for and extended period of time.
Intervention - As a verb it is the act of coming between a cause and its effect.  As a noun it is a strategy, chosen to help a person change a dysfunctional behavior.
Intrinsic - that which comes completely from inside us, particularly motivation or reinforcement.
Learning - the process by which experience causes a permanent change in our knowledge or behavior.  As with any other process, we can misinterpret our experience, which can change our knowledge or behavior in ways that are not good for us.  You may have seen the plaque in someone's home that has sayings like, "If a child lives with... he learns to ..."  This reminds us that not all children learn the same things as they grow up.
Locus of Evaluation - the center of our assessment process.  All of us evaluate our own behavior and performance.  If the central aspects of our evaluation process come from within us - our own values, thoughts, feelings - then our locus is internal.  If our evaluation is primarily based on the opinions of others, or from social comparison, then our locus is external.  Studies show that we are likely to feel consistently better about ourselves, if our locus is internal.
Logic - a thought process in which a conclusion must follow a set of precepts.  If A is true, then B must be true.  Many things that seem logical are not necessarily so.  In arguments, people often use logic as their primary "weapon", but close inspection may reveal that logic to be faulty.
Mental Rehearsal - the process by which we work through all the skills we need to perform successfully only within our mind.  Once you have all the physical skills for making a foul shot, you can improve your percentage by spending some time mentally rehearsing the steps you go through to launch a good shot.  This can be taken a step further, to mental practice, in which you may try to learn some new skills.  In either case, you must use proper fundamentals even within your mind, and you must think positively about the outcome.
Metacognition - the process of thinking about our thinking processes.  If I ask you to make a peanut butter & jelly sandwich, you will use cognition to get the job done.  If I ask you to make a list of all the steps you have to think about in order to accomplish this task, then ask you to streamline the process by combining your thoughts into fewer steps, we are using metacognition.  We can improve our thinking this way by working out faster, more accurate processes.
Modeling - a process, primarily used for skill acquisition, in which we observe or act out the proper way to perform.  In practice, we may watch a video of someone performing a skill correctly, or one of our more skillful teammates may demonstrate for us.  We may be asked to demonstrate the skill ourselves, becoming the model.  Nearly every young person imitates some respected or famous athlete, modeling their actions.
Motivation - our sustained dedication to doing something - the core reason why we participate, work, and strive for success.
Nature vs. Nurture - One of the great debates in psychology revolves around the percentage of our personality and character that are due to nature (components we were born with) and that which is due to nurture (the way we were raised).  Pure Behaviorists generally believe that nearly all of our personality is due to the nurturing we have received (both positive and negative).  Other schools of thought place varying degrees of emphasis on the quantity of our innate characteristics.
Paranoia - the fear that other people are talking, thinking about, or acting against us.  Though this may sometimes be true when we are an athlete or coach, true clinical paranoia is irrational because we imagine that everyone is doing so, and being extreme about it.  On the other hand, the famous funny twist on this says, "Just because you're paranoid doesn't mean people aren't out to get you."
Peak Experience - an activity during which we realize, "This is one of the highest points of my life."  We find the moment exciting, fulfilling, joyful, transcendent.  We feel very focuses, aware of all that is going on around us, in control of our environment, and in an effortless harmony with our physical, emotional, and/or intellectual capabilities.  In some cases, it may lead to a peak performance.
Peak Performance - behavior in an activity that exceeds what is normally anticipated.  A very high level of functioning.
Perception - how we receive information through our senses.  Two people might see, hear, smell, taste, or touch the same thing, yet honestly perceive it in a completely different way.  A modern application of this is to say, "The perception is the reality."  It implies that the way we perceive an item is much more important that what it actually is.  (If I hand you a candy bar as a reward for past performance, but you perceive it as a bribe for future behavior, no amount of explanation on my part is likely to change your mind.)
Present - not only "at this time" but also taking into account the place, others who are there and our interactions with them, our physical, mental, and emotional state, the thoughts and feelings we are experiencing, etc.  "Being in the present" means being fully aware of absolutely everything in our environment and its effect on us.
Processing - the way in which we deal with incoming information.  In Bottom-Up processing, we bring in information through our senses, and lose some along the way because we either don't register everything clearly or our attention filters out some data and highlights others.  Top-Down processing occurs when our brain organizes information into categories we have created, so it will have a meaning we have assigned to it.
Projective Testing - tests that ask a person to interpret marks or symbols, in the hopes that they will reveal their hidden thoughts and feelings.  The most famous example is the Rohrshach test, in which people are shown ink blots.  Though the ink blots have absolutely no specific shape or details, patients "project" their thoughts and feelings onto them.  Responses that are fairly common ("Hey, that looks like a Christmas Tree!) are not very revealing, but those that are unique tell much about the person viewing them.
Punishment - when something we consider to be bad happens to us when we do not perform a required behavior.  Getting grounded because you made poor grades is punishment.  (Make certain that you do not confuse this with negative reinforcement!)  Sometimes, we view normal actions as punishment.  Running is a necessary part of getting in shape for any sport, but athletes often view running as a punishment for having failed to perform some task properly.
Reflection - a technique in Humanistic counseling in which the counselor, having listened carefully to the statements of the subject, restates those comments back to the subject in an effort to get them to get more meaning out of what they are saying.
Reinforcement - a response that occurs to some action on our part - it may be viewed as a reward.  There are two kinds of reinforcement: (1) Positive reinforcement comes when we are given a reward for a good behavior.  If you give your dog a treat for doing a trick, you are presenting positive reinforcement.  If your parents give you money for getting a 4.0, that is also positive reinforcement.  (2) Negative reinforcement comes when something we might consider to be bad is removed from our environment after we do what is asked.  When your parents unground you because you cleaned up your room, you have received negative reinforcement.  When your coach cancels gassers because the entire team ran the plays perfectly, the canceled gassers are negative reinforcement because they did not occur.  (Like that could ever happen!)
Relaxation - a technique used to help us eliminate some of the anxiety we may feel in a stressful situation.  The technique is described on the Strategy page.
Repression - the act of hiding or "burying" our feelings because they cause us too much pain. 
Response - any reflexive action that follows a stimulus.  There are two kinds of response: (1) an unconditioned response is one that occurs without our having been trained to do so.  When Pavlov's dogs salivated over their food, they were exhibiting an unconditioned response, because it came automatically.  (2) a conditioned response is one we've been trained to give.  When Pavlov's dogs salivated at the sound of a bell, they were giving a conditioned response.
Role Play - a technique in which we represent either ourselves expressing our true feelings to someone we have difficulty communicating with, or the other person, imagining them explaining why they are behaving the way they do.
Schema - frameworks we use to incorporate new information.  Schemas are sufficiently flexible to accept info that is extremely different than that we already had (thus, our schema of "bird" accepts an ostrich, even though it's pretty weird).  Cognitive psychologists believe that our schemas tell much about our thought processes, and believe that our schema of "self" is vitally important to explaining who we really are, because it is our definition of who we are.
Self - in Humanism, the personal patterns of perception and values that we label "me".  As we interact with our environment, and struggle with obstacles that challenge us, we gradually develop a more well-defined sense of Self.  It is, of course, preferable that we love, honor, and respect our Self.  Humanists believe that dysfunctional behaviors occur when we lose touch with our real Self.
Self-Actualization - a concept invented by Abraham Maslow, and expanded upon by Carl Rogers, that claims that our primary inner force is to grow, develop, and become the best person we possibly can.  Humanists believe that every time we engage in any activity that teaches us any thing, we are being motivated by our need for self-actualization.
Self-Efficacy - our sense of effectiveness, and a belief that we have the resources to accomplish what we set out to do.  Persons with a high level of self-efficacy fully believe that they can change their lives for the better, their neighborhoods, and even their world.  Persons with low self-efficacy aren't certain they can change their underwear.
Shaping - the process by which we reinforce (and/or reward) behaviors which are close to what we want, in order to get the subject to move toward the intended goal.
Social Comparison - drawing our standards for evaluation from the behavior of our "peer" group.  When using social comparison, we judge ourselves by how well we "measure up" to others who are important to us.  The trap in this kind of thinking is that our "peer" group changes, depending upon what we are measuring.  Thus, if we are evaluating our grades, we may use a classmate who always makes A's, but when evaluating aspects of our athletic success we compare to a different classmate who is the "star" of the team.  (or we may even choose a professional role model.)  The fallacy is that we expect ourselves to be exceptional in every area, but others to be outstanding in only one area.  It is much more effective to move our locus of evaluation to an internal standard, set our own goals and measurements, and strive for our personal best.
Stimulus - any action from our environment (that registers in our senses) that causes us to respond in a certain way.  An unconditioned stimulus usually creates a response beyond our control.  Thus, if we are sitting in a quiet place, a sudden loud noise will startle us.  Touching a hot object may cause us to jump back quickly.  An unpleasant odor may get us to wrinkle up our nose.  A conditioned stimulus is one we must be trained to respond to.  Pavlov's dogs were conditioned to salivate when a bell rang.  You are conditioned to complain immediately about homework, even if it might have some benefit for you.
Stressor - any element of life that causes a physiological reaction in us.  Eustress is the good stress we experience all the time - heartbeat, breathing, muscle movement, etc.  Distress causes a physiological change that is not good for us - shallowing breathing, tense muscles, cluttered mind, etc.  One of the major keys to being a successful athlete is to learn how to handle our stressors effectively, and prevent distress from hindering our performance.  Any great athlete will tell you, "Yes, I was nervous", but they were able to perform through the nervousness.
Sublimation - the process by which our Ego transforms our Id's base desires into acceptable outcomes. 
Synergy - the intricate relationship between several variables, which causes them to suddenly "come together" in a truly unique, often enjoyable, and beneficial way.
Therapeutic Alliance - in Humanism, it is the relationship between the subject and their counselor, functioning as a team to recognize difficulties, establish a plan of action, set goals, and measure achievement.
Thoughts - ideas that pop into our heads at different times.  There are two categories of thoughts: (1) Automatic thoughts are those which come out of our schemas and beliefs.  These are the things we immediately think of as the "truth" without questioning their validity or reality.  An example is, "There's a guy wearing a PCHS T-shirt.  Those kids are all a bunch of stuck-up, rich kids." (I used an example we'd know wasn't true.)  (2) Voluntary thoughts are those we choose to have, and we are aware they are coming into our heads.  These can be verbalized and changed when we decide to.  Example: "I used to think badly of PC kids, but I realized that wasn't fair.  Especially after I met Nate and Rachel."
Transference - the process of using previous experiences, particularly in our personal relationships, to help us prepare for and succeed in current activities.  If we transfer positively, we are likely to make our current experience better than our former one.  If our transference is poor, we are likely to bring the bad things that happened to us back to the forefront.  For example, if you had a previous bad experience with a boy/girl-friend, you might make your current S.O. miserable by expecting them to make up for what the other person had done to you, even if they had no knowledge of it.  This is another scene we've seen in the movies, "Oh, Chris, I don't want to fall in love.  I just don't think I can stand to be hurt again!" (even though Chris has done nothing hurtful)
Unconscious Mind - the actions of our mind that take place without our actually having to "think" about it.  Similar, perhaps, to our autonomic nervous system, which causes our heartbeat and breathing without thought, our unconscious mind frequently deals with problems that we really don't want to "think" about.  It often seems to resolve these issues, though the truth is that they have usually only been buried temporarily, and will reoccur when we face a similar situation later in life.  In the most horrible situations, the unconscious mind protects us, shielding us from frightening thoughts and strong emotions.  In order to be fully healthy, though, we must eventually examine these issues and resolve them in a complete, open way.
Visualization - a technique in which we use imagery to "see" ourselves performing effectively, improve our game skills, and enjoy success.  The basic process is described on our Strategy page.
Worst-Case Scenario - the most awful situation we can possibly imagine.  Thinking worst-case helps us stay a bit more balanced, because we realize that the situation could be much worse than it actually is.  This is the origin of the standard coaches' phrase following losses, "Well, the sun will still come up tomorrow."  Which it will.  If it didn't, we'd have a true worst case.

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