The European Federation of Sport Psychology defined sports psychology as the study of psychological processes, effects and basis on sports (Jarvis 1999, p.1). A sport in this description encompasses all physical activities that are engaged in for completion, education, recreation or health. Psychology is in essence a science of behavior and mind. Sports psychology is a broad term which the American sport psychologist has divided into two distinct practices. The first is academic sport psychology that is concerned with the factors that affect the participation in sports and the performance in sports. The second is applied sport psychology that is concerned purely in the application of psychology to optimize or enhance the performance of athletes Jarvis 1999, p.1).
As such the issue of psychological persuasion can be classified under applied sport psychology as its main aim is to improve the performance of sports persons. Psychological persuasive techniques employee in sports include evaluative feedback, verbal persuasion, expectations from other people outside the player’s self and several other cognitive strategies. These techniques are currently very popular in sporting disciplines and are widely used by managers, coaches, parents and peers with the intention of influencing the team’s or athlete’s perception of their efficacy (Feltz, Short & Sullivan2008, p.10).
Bandura developed the self efficacy theory in 1977 with the main aim of addressing an athlete’s perceived capability at a particular time to perform specified sports skills. Persuasion is a technique that is used to attain this self efficacy. Essentially the theory indicates that self efficacy coupled with the athlete’s perception of his skill levels and incentive for success being present is an indicator of good performance.
As such, one of the most influential factors towards striving for success in sports is the self-efficacy construct. By definition Self-efficacy is the belief that one has on their own capability to attain given objectives through the organization and execution of relevant actions. Self efficacy is in fact focused on judging what an individual does with the skill they have rather than the skills themselves. These judgments on one’ self stem from the process of self persuasion and self appraisal that is based on the cognitive processing of varying information of one’s efficacy. These sources can be categorized into one’s past accomplishments in performing a task or mastering a technique, vicarious experience, physiological states/emotional arousal and verbal persuasion. This paper looks at the role that psychological persuasion plays or should play in motivating sports personalities and as a result help them reach a higher level of self-efficacy which breeds success.
According to Hemming and Holder (2009), verbal guidance, priming, encouragement and commentary represent some of the many diverse forms that can be used in sports for social support and influence on efficacy beliefs. It should be noted that verbal persuasions has the capacity for strongest impact only when the persuader is viewed by the receiver of the persuasion as an expert, prestigious, credible, genuine and trustworthy. Coaches are usually in such a position and are thus believed to be credible sources of information of their player’s capabilities. As such they can influence their player’s efficacy beliefs through inspirational messages, direct appeal, attributions, expectations and evaluative feedback.
According to Feltz, Short & Sullivan (2008), Vargas-Tonsing ,2004, found out that the pregame speeches given by the coaches did in fact increase the player’s self efficacy beliefs in relation to the impending game significantly. Athletes as such tend to predict victories with larger margins and also tend to have a stronger belief in their ability as well as that of the team when the coach gives them a pre game speech that has phrases aimed at confidence building. Also the amount of informational content that is perceived in the pregame speech by the coach was an indicator or predicator of the players’ efficacy belief to play a good game, to play to the best of each team members ability and as s result contribute to the victory of the team (Mellalieu &Hanton2008, p. 251).
The therapeutic or working relationship between the player and the consultant is crucial and significant in the building of a relationship based on trust that allows the player to believe the words of persuasion that are spoken to him/her. It should be noted that psychological persuasion can be both internal and external, that is, the player can be their own persuader through motivational and cognitive self talk or it can be external whereby the persuader is someone other than the player, for example, the coach (Hemming & Holder 2009, p.25).
Coaches have over the years identified verbal persuasion as one of the most effective techniques used to increase an athlete’s efficacy belief. Although the technique by itself has limitations in influence, it can still be helpful in motivating athletes to be persistent in their efforts as long as the appraisal from the persuader are within realistic boundaries. Feedback given by coach that emphasizes the progression of an athlete or sports team usually act to raise the efficacy expectations, however if the evaluation is made to highlight the shortcomings and pitfalls then self efficacy lowers. As such coaches who tend to encourage their player to measure their accomplishment in terms of their self improvement rather that the outcomes of their sports can help these players in the process of persuasion. A Coach’s expectation of his players and also the corresponding behaviors are also conveyors of subtle efficacy messages. In 1985, Horn found that out that coaches tended to give more praises to the mediocre performances as well as ignored more mistakes of their low-expectancy players compared to their behaviors towards their high-expectancy players. The coaches gave more corrective instruction in cases of skill errors and were also more critical of the performance of high-expectancy players. The low expectancy players thus interpreted this behavior as meaning that their abilities were fewer compared to those of players that were being conveyed high expectations (Feltz, Short & Sullivan 2008, p.95).
Persuasive influence is also seen in the attributions that the coach provides in instances of the player’s performance. As such, the coach who provides a player with attribution feedback that suggests that the player’s success is as a result of their ability is in a better position to enhance the player’s future efficacy beliefs than situations where success is attributed to luck effort (where this explains repeated success) or even an easy task. Further still, if the coach can help convince the players that ability as a skill can be acquired then this can instill in the player a stronger belief of efficacy more than if he emphasized on the ability being an inherent aptitude (Hemming & Holder 2009, p.26).
Although coaches have the persuasive powers to enhance the efficacy perceptions of the player, it is important to note that negative or debilitating effect of the information used in persuasion is more powerful than the enabling or positive effects. Individual players will tend to avoid most challenges if they are persuaded that they lack the abilities to meet such challenges or they also tend to give up easily or quickly. Notably, it is therefore easy for coaches to undo feelings of efficacy than it is to foster strong efficacy beliefs by using persuasive techniques alone. As such, coaches must exercise good diagnostic skills in the process of regarding their player’s weaknesses and strengths so as to cultivate enhanced senses of efficacy in individual players through the use of appropriate persuasive techniques (Tenenbaum & Eklund 2007, P. 803).
In addition to the persuasive influence of the coach, persuasion at the societal level can be an influence to the individual’s efficacy judgments especially in groups that are negatively stereotyped. The mere introduction of a stereotype or a negative belief about a social group in one sport has the potential to reduce the task performance quality that will be exhibited by members in that particular group or team. This phenomenon is termed as “stereotype threat”. An example of this is the framing of a particular sporting activity such as balance beam as indicative of stereotypes that are negative, for example, that men are poorer than women in the tasks of balancing. This causes harm to the negatively targeted group member’s performance by undermining the self-efficacy judgments of the individuals in that group. This is especially true in expert or high-levels of sports participation since the stereotype threat is most articulated in domains where performance is most important to individual athletes (Tenenbaum & Eklund 2007, P. 803).
According to Feltz, Short & Sullivan (2008), another technique of persuasion is internal, this is where an individual persuades themselves that the can cope with or perform certain tasks, individual players have the capability of regulating their own thought processes within the social cognitive theory. As such athletes at times convince/persuade themselves that they have the capability to accomplish certain task and therefore attain certain goals through techniques such as task and self -related statements. Self-talk includes statements that help the individual to focus the necessary attention in order to acquire skills, for example, keeping one’s eyes on the ball, control one’s effort, for example, keep pushing, to control one’s emotions, for example, stay smooth, to help one deal with the occasional shortfall, for example, unlucky, and the control thought that are unwanted, for example, I am quick. Likewise, self talk that is negative as well as thinking irrationally can undermine a player’s self efficacy which can be carried forward to consequent performances, something that is detrimental to the player’s career. As such, sports psychologists and coaches should assist the players through programs centered on self talk which would provide control over processes of negative thought and in extension promote the player to use self-affirmation that is positive. Successfully implementing these skills, self-talk, produces impacts on a player’s confidence through he domain of achieving (Feltz, Short & Sullivan2008, p.11).
Bartlett, Gratton &Rolf (2006) argue that Athletes’ participate in verbal persuasion, in the form of self talk, throughout competition and practice. This form is either done silently, thus cognitively or spoken to one’s self loudly. Self talk has been known to impact the performance of a sports person. As such positive self talk influences the performance of an athlete positively by focusing on the task that is presently at hand and through the positive increase in self efficacy as well as increase the athlete’s concentration. This positive self talk can be in the form of behavioral cues and self-instruction all of which are aimed at changing or creating the habit or mood to control attention and effort focus (Bartlett, Gratton &Rolf 2006, p. 1187).
If an athlete by any chance engages in negative self-talk, it can be detrimental on the performance of the sporting activity. If this occurs during a sporting competition, then it can be disruptive the athlete’s ability to perform and execute their skills and techniques automatically. As this occurs, then the athlete is likely to experience more frustrations and errors to the point of creating a negative cycle of poor performance coupled with negative talk. In other words, if the athlete engages in a lot of negative self-talk then they are likely to develop a negative perception of themselves. Adjectives and nouns that are used during negative self-talk include, loser, stupid and worthless. This form of persuasion can also be about the coach, fellow teammates as well as other teams. When this happens, the performance of both the individual player and the team are affected. Self-paced periods of training such as golf putt and free throw presents conditions where athletes use self talk as they prepare for the skill. As such, this is not true for reactive-paced activities/skills where one has to react to an environment that is ever changing, such as volleyball or a soccer match. In this situations, self-talk takes place during stoppages, for example, before serving or before receiving a serve for volleyball players and during halftime or before a free kick in soccer. Most athlete do not engage in self-talk consciously especially in cases of negative talk. As such they are encouraged to keep diaries on which to not the progress of their self talk. Once aware, then they can take measures to ensure that they are positive in talking to themselves as well as to others. Also as the player becomes more skilled, the habits of self-talk that they possess are bound to change. During the early stages of acquiring a skill, the athlete is likely to gain skills more easily when employing self-instructional talk; this is a mechanism employed to help them focus on specific aspects and cue of the desire movement or technique. As the athlete becomes more skilled then the tendency for self-talk reduces and is replaced more by focusing on attaining a psychological state4 that is optimal and also on competitive strategies. On their part coaches are supposed to encourage athletes to engage in positive self-talk by creating a atmosphere for practice that us positive as well as effectively using modeling techniques. It is important for them to note that their reaction to circumstances such as errors set the guidelines of which the thoughts of the athlete follow (Bartlett, Gratton &Rolf 2006, p. 1187).
In the article by Escarti and Guzman (1999), they argue that Evaluative feedback is one of the more popular lines of inquiry regarding verbal persuasions efficacy belief’s source. The way that feedback regarding motor behavior of athletes is given to them is a major influencer on the learning and performance of a particular skill. The types of giving this feedback have been identified: Knowledge of performance (KP), which focuses on information regarding the movement characteristics that led to the outcome of the performance, and the other is Knowledge of Results (KR), which involves the presentation of information externally with regard to the skill performance of information on the achievement of the goal of performance. Fro example, a coach of a 100 meter runner using the KP feedback will disregard the time and comment on the form and technique of the runner while one using the KR feedback will concentrate on the time clocked by the runner. Feedback given can either boost or undermine the athletes self efficacy. Typically, feedback that commends successful performance is considered positive while that conveying failing an activity is negative. Self efficacy has been shown however to be an effective mediator between the performance-feedback relationship, that us, athletes who have self-efficacy still continue performing better than those with less after receiving negative feedback (Feltz, Short & Sullivan 2008, p.96).
Bogus feedback has been used by most researchers of self efficacy. These have usually employed weightlifting tasks where the participants were told to lift les or more the weight that they actually had. The results by Patton and Ness (1979) stated that the participants were able to gain higher performances in terms of strength when the weight they were lifting weighed heavier than they had been told. This brought about the notion that positive feedback that is actually falsified in fact improved both the self-efficacy as well as the performance of athletes. However, other studies implied that persuasive techniques whose purpose was to enhance emotional arousal as well as efficacy influence strength performance but their efficacy beliefs were in no way responsible for the effects. Bandura in 1997 stated that bogus feedback offered an effective way of testing the theoretical proportions of efficacy beliefs by altering them. However, they should not be used under coaching circumstances to build the efficacy beliefs of athletes. Instead coaches should use methods that truly cultivate a sense of efficacy that is robust and also develops skills. In more specific terms therefore, performance gains for athletes are more achievable when they are convinced that they have the capability to succeed in themselves. Thus self-efficacious is what coaches should aim for as it fosters the effective usage of an athlete’s skills and as a result offers an effective persuasion (Feltz, Short & Sullivan 2008, p.97).
The relationship between efficacy belief and feedback is broad. For instance, the attributions that an athlete has with regard to past achievements are a source of self-persuasive information that is crucial in the formulation of future expectation. As such success attributions hinged on ability that the athlete has are accompanied with beliefs of self efficacy that are heightened which then predict future attainments in performance. As such coaches should train their athletes to make strategy attributions for shortcomings enabling them to have greater self-efficacy than those who attribute their failures to lack of effort or ability. According to Solmon et. al, (2003), In developing effort attributions then athletes who have a conception of acquired ability are more likely to have higher confidence levels than those who have innate-conception-ability or acquire-but-ability-helps (Beauchamp & Eys 2007, p. 72).
Applied Modern sports psychology has seen the popularization of setting and assigning goals. When coaches and other parties engage in the process of assigning goals to their athletes then they are engaged in the verbal persuasion of these athletes. Goal setting has been know to work and as such it is one of the techniques that coaches should be engaged in their profession. Kyllo and Landers (1995), summarizes 36 studies done about goal setting in sports which showed the effectiveness of this very technique. Other researches have also shown that this technique has strong effects on the performance of athletes. According to Bandura (1997), self-efficacy is the source of the goals that these athletes set and not vice versa. However, this becomes an issue when the goals set are by other people, that is, coaches, teachers, and parents and as a consequence have the capacity to influence the self-efficacy of the athlete. This more true especially when the goals convey information about the beliefs of the assigner (coach) with regard to the abilities of the performer (athlete). If the goals set are challenging the coach convey a belief that the player or players in questions have the ability to meet the performance levels stated (Cashmore 2002, p. 126).
Sports psychologies advice coaches to assign effective goals as they influence athletes’ self-efficacy beliefs. There is differential effectiveness during the different stages of the skill learning process depending on the types of goals that are used. The article by Zimmerman proposed the use if developmental sequence during the process of skill mastery where the process goals should precede outcome or product goals. As such, for athlete learners the process goals offer more effectiveness whereas the product goals help learners to adapt a more routine program of performance of skills to the dynamic conditions of competition later on (Feltz, Short & Sullivan 2008, p. 102).
Sport psychology offers the coach with the various methods and techniques that they can use to persuade their athletes both during training and also during competition so as to give them an extra edge over their rivals psychologically. This can prove crucial especially now that sports have become very tactical as well as technical such that athletes can no longer rely on pure skills to push them through. There is need for athletes to have mental toughness and to be properly and effectively motivated every time they play. As such this paper highlight major persuasive techniques as well as the proper way to implement them win sports to ensure success in whichever discipline.