Competitive mental adaptation in cyclic sports

PhD, Associate Professor M.A. Kuzmin1
PhD, Associate Professor G.V. Zarodnyuk2
M.N. Larionova2
1Plekhanov Russian University of Economics, Moscow
2St. Petersburg Mining University, St. Petersburg

Keywords: differential sport psychology, cyclic sports, mental adaptation, competitive conditions, personality qualities, motivation.

Background. Projects to develop modern individualized/ differential mental conditioning methods are in high priority in the theoretical and practical research in view of the fact that every activity sets certain requirements to the actors. Competitive performances are sport discipline specific and thus vary in the competitive adaptation requirements and patterns [2, 4, 5].

In our prior studies (M.A. Kuzmin, 2017, 2018, 2018) we analyzed the adaptation processes in martial arts, team sports and artistic sports. Competitions in cyclic sports, for instance, require high tolerance to long physical and mental stresses, high endurance under stresses and willpower, with the competitive success determined by the movement pace, speed and tactics i.e. performance control on the distance. Objective factors of sport activity include weather conditions, daytime, distance, track, equipment, heart rate, movement pace, speed, coordination, breathing, competitive situation etc.

Objective of the study was to analyze the theoretical and practical grounds for competitive adaptation in the modern cyclic sport disciplines.

Methods and structure of the study. We used for the study purposes the following methods: G.D. Gorbunov’s intellectual performance test [1]; M.A. Kuzmin’s competitive performance, conditions assessment and forecast method; A.N. Nikolayev’ mental status SAANTUV test; T. Ehlers motivation to success test; J. Strelau temperament inventory; D. Brengelman temperament test; B.N. Smirnova’s volitional qualities test; A.L. Gorfinkel and I.L. Keleynikov Q-sort competitive spirit test; D. Rotter’s self-control stock test; N.I. Reinvald self-discipline test; Spielberger anxiety test (Y.L. Khanin’s version); A. Wagner’s aggressiveness (hand test) test; N.A. Nikolayeva sport motivations test; and A.G. Maklakov and S.V. Cheremyanin adaptability personality inventory.

Sampled for the study were the 15-21 year old trainees (n=563) from the children’s and youth sport centers and schools specialized in cyclic sport (cross-country skiing, n=138); team sport (basketball, n=142), artistic sport (figure skating, n=144) and combat sport (judo, n=139).

Results and discussion. Based on the study data, we developed a frame operational competitive adaptation model with the relevant subjective and objective progress rating criteria, internal and external factors of influence on adaptation and adaptation functions.

Subjective adaptation rating criteria include prestart mental status; individual assessment of the competitive situation; and success expectations/ forecasts. Objective competitive adaptation rating criteria include intellectual performance efficiency and competitive adaptability [3]. We have classified the subjective adaptation criteria into general sport-unspecific and sport-specific. Thus in the competitive situation assessment domain, organizational conditions of the tournament may be classified as the general sport-unspecific criterion. Sport-specific adaptation rating criteria in cyclic sports, for instance, include: weather/ climatic conditions; location; potential contingencies/ unpredictable factors; quality of the sport equipment; difficulty level of the competitive situation; support from the family and audience; conflicts if any in the team etc.

The individual competitive performance forecasts/ expectations comprise one of the key adaptation criteria critical for the individual resource mobilizing, focus on success or failure and internal commitment for the result. The competitive success motivations are known to largely predetermine the actual competitive results since they establish the relevant nervous links to facilitate the goals being attained (known as the Pigmalion’s effect).

The study found significant sport-specific differences in the competitive success forecasts, with the lowest success forecast probability in the cyclic sports; somewhat higher probability in the artistic sports; and the highest forecast probability in the team sports and martial arts [2, 4-7]. Positive success-focused mindset largely predetermines the competitive performance and success and, hence, may be ranked among the key adaptation criteria and factors of influence controllable by the athlete in the efforts to speed up and optimize the precompetitive adaptation process. Individual success expectations, as demonstrated by our studies, are particularly important in the modern cyclic sports.

Prestart mental conditions rating and comparative analysis for the cyclic sports show the highest variations (versus the quiescent state) in the wellbeing, anxiety, mood and excitement test rates; and the lowest variations in the tension and confidence test rates; with the precompetitive mood, excitement and anxiety somewhat increased and wellbeing decreased.

Intellectual performance efficiency comprises one more objective competitive adaptation criterion. Practical tests found the relatively high intellectual performance efficiency rates in the subject sport disciplines, with the athletes tested with fast data search and selection, visual data perception, concentration and attention control abilities, operational memory efficiency, fair speed and effectiveness of the intellectual processes geared to work out an action plan versus the actual situation as dictated by the available data. This finding may be interpreted as indicative of the high adaptability facilitated by the excellent data processing skills.

Let us now consider the competitive performance assessment as one more objective adaptation rating criterion. Our study found the competitive performance assessment skills being most expressed in the combat sport followed by cyclic sport (skiing) and artistic and team sports (figure skating and basketball) [2].

Our study of the contributions of the external factors (competitive conditions, social traits of the athletes etc.) of influence on the individual competitive sport-specific adaptation yielded the following results. In the cyclic sport, the athletes were the most accurate in their assessments of the competitive situations/ conditions; with the highest error rates (i.e. deviations from the objectively metered rates) found in their assessments of the effects of external potential contingencies on the competitive performance and result; and difficulty levels of the location, accommodation and organizational provisions for the competitions. It was found that in the cyclic sport the athletes tend to overestimate the difficulty levels and effects of potential contingencies on the competitive performance and success. The athletes were also found to rate lower than experts the location, accommodation and organizational provisions for the competitions. These individual assessments may complicate the efforts to adapt to the upcoming competitions.

One more factor of influence on the individual sport-unspecific competitive adaptation is the athlete’s social characteristics including the sport qualification and track record. We also rated influences of the internal (psychological) factors of influence on the individual competitive adaptation in the cyclic sport. The most successful athletes were those tested with the highest individual adaptability resource; emotional balancing skills (i.e. relatively low anxiety levels); stress tolerance; confidence; success motivations; high discipline and determination; insistence; and full responsibility for own actions and decisions free of any blaming of the outside circumstances, people and faith for own failures. Competitive success in the cyclic sport was found largely predetermined by the fair individual plasticity rates i.e. tolerance to the hard work and reasonable flexibility under pressures of varied conditions and circumstances.

Conclusion. The study data and the frame differentiated competitive adaptation model made it possible to improve the competitive progress of the sample. The competitive differentiated adaptation technology was geared to facilitate, speed up and optimize the competitive adaptation process on a sport-specific individualized basis, particularly in the cyclic sports. The new differentiated competitive adaptation model has been tested and successfully implemented by the university sport system in Moscow and Saint Petersburg cities.


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The article analyzes the issues and promises of the differential sport psychology, a new research discipline; considers competitive mental conditioning tools applicable in the cyclic sports; offers a set of the individual competitive adaptability rating criteria for sports on the whole and the cyclic sports in particular; and analyzes benefits of the new competitive mental adaptation model that applies the subjective and objective sets of factors and criteria. The objective competitive adaptability factors include the competitive conditions and social traits of the athletes; and the subjective competitive adaptability factors include the emotional balancing, volitional and motivational personality qualities, plus the motivations-specific missions. Furthermore, the article offers the sets of subjective and objective adaptation rating criteria. The subjective adaptation rating criteria generally include the competitive environment assessments; prestart mental conditions; and the competitive success forecasts; and the objective adaptation criteria generally include the intellectual capacity rate and competitive adaptability rate. The study data on the competitive adaptability in cyclic sports may be beneficial for the precompetitive and competitive mental conditioning technologies and tools.