Psychological security at sport excellence stage

PhD, Associate Professor L.G. Maidokina1
PhD, Associate Professor A.V. Kokurin1
PhD O.V. Kudashkina1
PhD M.Y. Treskin1
1Mordovian State Pedagogical Institute named after M.E. Evseviev, Saransk

Keywords: psychological safety, psychological defense, mental stressor, mental health, sport excellence stage, trainings, competitive performance, mental control

Background. Nowadays mental conditioning tools to form due competitive mindsets and must-win motivations and effectively cope with the external stressors for competitive success – are in special priority among sport professionals. The increasingly fierce global competition may be ranked among the key sport-specific psychological pressures of potential detriment to the psychological safety and mental health, competitive spirits and success motivations. Such psychological pressures may provoke counter responses from athletes including verbal aggression inevitably harmful for the individual and collective sporting images.

The Regional Physical Education and Healthy Lifestyle Research and Practice Center under Mordovian State Pedagogical Institute runs research projects to offer detailed sport-qualification-specific psychological safety systems [2, 3]. Thus the psychological defense systems for education and sports are persistently developed under the ‘Continued training system and professional competence formation by educators and psychologists’ Project by the research laboratory of Mordovian State Pedagogical Institute headed by Professor Y.V. Vardanyan. The latter states the following: ‘The growing pressures from multiple negative factors expose athletes to serious stressors potentially detrimental for their mental statuses. Every sport career requires the athlete solving multiple psychological problems to effectively mobilize the own competitive spirit for success, cope with doubts and fears after injuries and losses, control the training and competitive stresses and maintain good competitive fitness and health under harmful psychological pressures from the ill-wishers. Permanent emotional tensions cannot but undermine the individual psychological defense with time, particularly when the athlete is unprepared for detection of psychological stresses to effectively mitigate and control them with their destructive potential being neutralized’ [1].

It should be mentioned that the multiple stressors may even force some athletes retire from sports – and this is the reason why the sport communities give so much attention to every new efficient mental conditioning tool to facilitate the competitive accomplishments, help every athlete develop an individual psychological safety system for the fully-fledged competitive performance.

Objective of the study was to analyze requirements to the modern psychological safety systems and test benefits of a new Psychological Safety in Elite Sports system.

Methods and structure of the study. For the Psychological Safety in Elite Sports piloting and testing at the Regional Physical Education and Healthy Lifestyle Research and Practice Center under the MSPI purposes, we sampled the elite (qualified MS and WCMS) Greco-Roman wrestlers and track-and-field athletes (n=38) trained at the A.M. Mishin Olympic Reserve Sports School and Olympic Reserve Athletics School in Saransk. The sample was tested by the following methods: Sports Psychological Safety Awareness test of our own design; V.V. Boyko Dominant Communicative Psychological Defense Strategies method; L.I. Vasserman, O.F. Yeryshev and Y.B. Klubova version of the R. Plutchik Psychological Defense Types test; and the standard mathematical statistics toolkit with the Mann-Whitney U-criterion.

Results and discussion. The questionnaire survey data obtained under the study showed every athlete in the sample being fully aware of potential benefits of efficient psychological defense for competitive progress albeit not always aware of the practical sport-specific psychological pressures and hazards. Most of the sample confessed being unhappy with their psychological defense and mental control under the training and competitive pressures. It should be emphasized that most of the sample was willing to improve their psychological defense related competences, psychological safety systems and mental control toolkits.

We used the V.V. Boyko Dominant Communicative Psychological Defense Strategies method to diagnose the dominant psychological safety strategies in the sample including the following communicative elements/ aspects: (1) Peacefulness as the psychological defense strategy making an emphasis on the interpersonal cooperation, with the person prepared to sacrifice the own interests for compromises in whatever situation; (2) Avoidance defined as the psychological defense strategy dominated by escapes from the conflict zones; and (3) Aggression that is the psychological defense strategy dominated by an active attacking opposition.

Based on the above tests, 50%, 31.6% and 18.4% of the sample was rated as prone to the avoidance, peacefulness and aggression strategies, respectively, with most of the athletes striving to leave the potential conflict/ tension zones and control their emotions under pressures to protect their own self.

Furthermore, we used the L.I. Vasserman, O.F. Yeryshev and Y.B. Klubova version of the R. Plutchik Psychological Defense Types test to classify the psychological safety types in the sample as follows:

(1) Denial, with the person ignoring the stressors and pressures that may provoke anxiety; (2) Displacement, the defense mechanism that implies the person to marginalize the influences that may cause anxiety; (3) Regression, with the person prone to set back to the infantile frame of mind to forget about the troubles and avoid negative mental conditions; (4) Compensation, with the person trying to replace the real or imaginary deficiency with some other positive quality – often copied from somebody else; (5) Projection, with the person trying to ascribe the own feelings and thoughts to other people; (6) Substitution, with the person replacing an unacceptable action with an acceptable one; (7) Intellectualization, with the person coping with every conflict situations by actively mobilizing the own intellectual resource; and (8) Reactive transformation, with the person transforming the inflow of negative thoughts, feelings and actions into positive sentiments.

Based on the above tests, classified with the denial, replacement, projection, compensation, intellectualization, regression, reactive transformation and displacement strategies were 26.3%, 18.4%, 15.8%, 13.2%, 10.5%, 7.9%, 5.3% and 2.6% of the sample, respectively.

The test data and analyses showed domination of moderate/ acceptable psychological defenses (denial and replacement), although quite many athletes were tested prone to the somewhat destructing (projection, displacement) psychological defense strategies – that are still not that detrimental to competitive progress. An around one of four athletes was diagnosed with the highly destructive psychological defense strategies (compensation, intellectualization and reactive transformation). The test data urge the sport communities to take efforts to improve the psychological defenses in elite sports.

We made our contribution to these efforts by developing the Psychological Safety in Elite Sports system that includes theoretical and practical parts. The theoretical part of the Psychological Safety in Elite Sports analyzes the psychological safety issues faced by elite athletes; psychological safety basics; and the personality traits in connection with the relevant psychological safety tools. And the practical part of the Psychological Safety in Elite Sports was designed to train constructive solutions finding abilities to effectively address many sports-specific psychological issues and develop a set of adaptive mental control skills including due self-control, stress tolerance, competitive motivations etc.

A special emphasis in the above trainings was made on the practical tasks to develop due mental controls in a variety of negative situations and encourage determination, tenacity, success motivations, decisiveness, courage and self-confidence to effectively cope with anxiety and fears, cultivate constructive attitudes to the successes and losses etc. Benefits of the Psychological Safety in Elite Sports were tested by the pre- versus post-experimental tests of the sample – and the athletes were found to make statistically meaningful progress in the individual psychological defenses and mental controls as a result of the Psychological Safety in Elite Sports.

Conclusion. The new Psychological Safety in Elite Sports system was found beneficial as verified by the statistically significant progress of the sample in the individual psychological defenses and mental controls. The sample improved the psychological defense / psychological safety competences, abilities to constructively solve many sport-specific psychological issues and mental control tools to effectively protect themselves from stressors. The study demonstrates that the national sport communities should give a special priority to the psychological safety systems applicable in elite sports.

References                                         

  1. Vardanyan Yu.V. Sub'ekt psikhologicheskoy bezopasnosti v obrazovanii i sporte: otechestvenny i zarubezhny opyt eksperimentalnogo issledovaniya [Subject of psychological security in education and sports: domestic and foreign experience of experimental research]. MSPI. Saransk publ., 2014. 128 p.
  2. Kokurin A.V., Maydokina L.G. Problema razvitiya psikhologicheskoy kompetentnosti v sisteme podgotovki sportsmenov raznykh kvalifikatsiy [The problem of development of psychological competency in the system of training athletes of various qualifications]. Teoriya i praktika fiz. kultury, 2014, no. 8, pp. 12–15.
  3. Maydokina L.G., Kudashkina O.V. Razvitie samoregulyatsii sportsmena v sisteme ego psikhologicheskoy podgotovki [Development of Self-Regulation of Athlete in the System of His Psychological Training]. Teoriya i praktika fiz. kultury, 2014, no. 8, pp. 18–21.

Corresponding author: t_i_shukshina@mordgpi.ru

Abstract

Training systems in modern sports give a special priority to the mental conditioning components that are generally designed to develop a high stress tolerance and facilitate the competitive progress. The growing global competitiveness and the increasingly unfair attitudes of the international sport organizations to the Russian sports require the psychological support service to national athletes being further improved. The national sport elite suffer from the negative attitudes and hostilities on the global sport arenas. The multiple sanctions from the international sport organizations expose the athletes to serious stressors that may undermine their competitive success motivations and athletic spirits. Objective of the study was to analyze requirements to the modern psychological safety systems and test benefits of a new Psychological Safety in Elite Sports system offered by the authors. The study was designed to first test the primary psychological defense in the sample; develop and implement the Psychological Safety in Elite Sports system; and rate the Psychological Safety in Elite Sports benefits by the pre- versus post-experimental tests of the psychological defense and mental controls.