Psychological factors to contribute to effective implementation of athlete's capacities under competitive conditions

Professor, Dr.Sc.Psych. B.P. Yakovlev1
Professor, Dr.Hab. G.D. Babushkin2
Ph.D., Associate Professor V.V. Apokin1
1Surgut State University, Surgut
2Siberian State University of Physical Culture and Sport, Omsk


Keywords: problem, factor, fitness, implementation, competition, intellectualization, mental load.

Relevance. The problem of implementation of physical capabilities in a competition is important for both a coach and an athlete. Science and experience have shown that the majority of elite athletes are not able to realize their capabilities during competitions. A weightlifter cannot lift the bid weight, a jumper cannot jump high enough, a swimmer cannot beat the clock, a biathlete overshoots, and so on. It happens due to many reasons (objective and subjective ones). Yet, it mainly depends on the athletes and their mental condition. However, the role of coach should not be underestimated. Various authors dealing with this subject propose experimentally verified tools and methods [1, 3-5, 8 et al.]. This issue is the subject of a number of scientific studies. They also find new alternate solutions to this problem [1, 4, 7, 9 et al.].

Objective of the study was to analyze the influence of psychological factors on the implementation of athlete's capabilities in a competition and substantiate the ways to increase their skill level.

Materials and methods. Athletes' personality characteristics were estimated using common psychological methods. The following personality characteristics were assessed: content of pre-contest mental activity, psychoregulation skills, athletes' mental load tolerance, interference immunity. We analyzed the competitive results of elite athletes (more than 60 people): sprint swimmers in the 2014 Championship of the Siberian Federal District, 2014 Russian Championship, 2014 Russian Cup; speed skaters - in the Sochi 2014 Olympic Games, 2014 Russian Championship; pistol shooters - in the 2014 Championship of the Omsk region.

Results. Analysis of the psychological literature and findings of our research and practical work with the athletes revealed solutions to the mentioned problem.

B.P. Yakovlev [8, 9] provides the solution to the problem of implementation of athletes' physical capabilities in context of mental load influencing athletes' psychomotor activity and self-regulation mechanisms (emotions, will, motivation, intelligence, intuition), which determine their readiness for successful performance in a competition. G.D. Babushkin, E.A. Skoruk believe that this problem can be solved through the prism of mental load tolerance, its diagnostic testing and development in athletes [2, 7].

Athletic performance in competitions is associated with big stress, which is hard to handle for some athletes [2, 7, 8]. This results in unwanted mental states of athletes and poor results, which is proved by the findings of the shooters' mental load tolerance study [7]. According to the Fisher's One-way Analysis of Variance (ANOVA), the mental load tolerance capabilities of elite shooters have a significant impact on the effectiveness of their competitive activity. Of the 10 measures of mental load tolerance under study, self-motivation, need for achievement, self-regulation skills, courage and vigor, perseverance and persistence, and character strength were proved to have the most significant impact on performance. It is shown that shooters having high mental load tolerance rates perform better. The rate of mental load tolerance of elite sprint swimmers was, generally, above average. We registered the low rates of self-regulation and interference immunity, and the average rate of positive thinking. Development of these qualities may improve athletes' mental load tolerance and swimmers' competitive activity.

If the most effective combinations of volume and intensity of physical load in macrocycles, mesocycles and microcycles have been determined in the theory and methodology of sport training, the theoretical and practical issues of volume and intensity of mental load in sport remain unresolved [3, 7, 8]. This leads to a variety of unfavourable situations in sport practice. Thereby, the solution to the problem of implementation of athletes' capabilities in a competition is mental loads regulation based on athlete's age, skill level and sport discipline.

We believe it is athlete's focus of thinking, his positive thinking before the contest that are important for success in a competition. The results of the testing of the pre-contest positive thinking rates in speed skaters in the Sochi 2014 Olympics and the 2014 Russian Championship revealed its rather high level - 54 points on the average (where 60 is the maximum). Depending on the fulfillment of the bid result in the competition two groups were singled out: the first one (20 people) was made of athletes who fulfilled the plan in the race and had the positive thinking rates equal to 54.7 points versus 52.1 points in the second failure group athletes (9 people). This testifies to the fact that speed skaters' pre-contest thoughts influence the success of their competitive activity, which was later proved by the factor analysis. Similar results were obtained when investigating fitness of pistol shooters [7].

The study (conducted in collaboration with R.Ye. Rybin) of the implementation of capabilities of elite swimmers (18 people) in the Championship of the Siberian Federal District, Russian Cup, 2014 Russian Championship revealed a good part of sprint swimmers (60%) who failed to implement their capabilities in the competitions. The failure group swimmers were proved to have average pre-contest positive thinking rates, poor psychoregulation skills and low interference immunity.

Intellectualization of the athletes' training process is another direction in solution of the problem of capabilities implementation. Intellectual component is essential in sport activity, when an athlete deals with various problems during training and competition. Intellectualization of the training process implies athletes' changing the position of the object of coaches' activity to the one of the subject of his own activity through building the cognitive-psychological capabilities which serve a psychological precondition for his intellectual activity that helps him succeed in the chosen sport [3].

The implementation of the principle of intellectualization involves development of the knowledge about psychic manifestations in sport activity to be used by athletes in various competitive situations. The psychological knowledge required includes: knowledge of athlete's personality; knowledge of the laws and psychological aspects of training and competitive processes; knowledge of the tools, methods and techniques of mental conditioning. We developed an intellectual and psychological training program for young speed skaters [3]. Practical application of this program in the speed skaters training process proved its efficiency. When an athlete understands all the regulatory mechanisms of motivation and emotions in his sports activity, he/she can be fully ready for the contest and realize his/her capabilities and potentialities. What we mean is the athlete's ability to manage and regulate his/her own state and activity [8]. This is what athletes should learn about.

We believe that one of effective solutions to the problem of implementation of athlete's capabilities in a competition is to form his positive "self-concept". We give recommendations for the formation of the positive "self-concept" [3], based on the principles of cerebration as expounded by Canadian physiologist J. Kehoe [6], and the recommendations of other authors [1, 5, 6 et al.]. We worked with elite sprint swimmers to develop the positive "self-concept".

We believe, the techniques by G.D. Gorbunov [5] may be of great use during pre-contest mental conditioning of elite athletes: the first one - mindset training related to adaptation of athletes to competitive activity, which implies consistent visualization of the upcoming performance in a competition; the second one - actualization of capabilities just before the competition. These techniques are about visualization of the highlights of successful performances in the previous competitions. We used the given methods (alternating them every other day) with swimmers against the background of 30-minute deep relaxation prior to pool training sessions during pre-contest training.

One can judge the effectiveness of the above methods applied when working with elite swimmers of the Omsk region from their results in various competitions. In the Championship of the Siberian Federal District the swimmers improved their bid results in 80% of the cases; in the Russian Cup (2015, first series) - in 70% of the cases, 4 swimmers claimed first place. The swimmers' performance at the 2015 Russian Championship showed fairly high efficiency of the psychological support of the pre-contest training: one swimmer won bronze, the other came sixth.

Conclusion. Many elite athletes can not realize their capabilities, gained during training sessions, under competitive conditions. The implementation of their capabilities in competitions is due to a number of psychological factors, the effect of which is particularly noticeable in elite sports, where one fights for every single point, for a split second. Our research and pre-contest mental conditioning of sprint swimmers helped significantly develop the required psychological qualities that contribute to an improvement of pre-contest mental fitness and implementation of athletes' capacities in competitions.


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It is important for the theory of sport training and sport psychology that an athlete could implement his capabilities in a competition. This issue is under the spotlight of researchers in the field of sport psychology, since it is psychological factors that largely determine athlete’s achievement of planned results. This is a timeless goal of coach and athlete. Only some athletes and not always are able to realize their capabilities under competitive conditions. Psychological factors are essential for the implementation of athlete’s capabilities in a competition: the essence of athlete’s mental activity, cognitive and psychological capabilities, athlete’s stress tolerance, self­identity and others. Solutions to the given problem and the results of the implementation of techniques in the training of elite athletes are presented in the paper.