vendredi 6 avril 2018

Building Confidence off season

Confidence is the belief you can perform a task, it is built up from experience and exposure to situation (Magyar & Duda, 2000). As a Mental Training consultant and a coach, I think confidence is a state (that it can be modified), and that specific action can be taken, by the athlete and coach, to increase confidence.

To improve confidence, it is similar t
o motivation and comes back to the "challenge concept". To much challenge and the athletes can lose confidence, to easy of a challenge and the athlete will not gain any confidence. I need to find the challenge zone appropriate for the athlete. Also, the base confidence in a task allow the athlete to "push" his boundary more. The more confidence an athlete has, the more you can challenge them.

As a coach, I need to know the level of confidence of my athlete in specific task and situation (that is definitely the "art" of coaching!). To do so, early in the season I test my athletes in different situation to see how they react, how they ski and how they perceive they skied. Building that relation and communication help me understand what level of confidence they have. Once I have determined their "level" of confidence, I plan my training accordingly to prepare them to competition. Knowing what level of challenge they will have to face (in skiing all competitor might have to race on the same difficult hill) I progress the training environment to build that confidence. I can adjust many variable from session to session and event within a training session. For example, I can adjust the challenge to make it a bit easier at the end of the training session when the athletes are getting tired. I can also do the opposite if I know the athletes have a high confidence and I want to challenge them further.

Based on Bandura's Social-Congnitive theory (Bandura, 1977) self-efficacy (which include self-confidence) have transferability. In a 2013 article, alpine skier Erin Mielzynski said she was using mountain biking to help her gain confidence  at higher speed in skiing, "It's just about pushing your limits,". Athlete can use off-season's activities to build their confidence, mental thoughtless and be prepare to take on new challenges in the new season. Erin uses mountain biking, but anything can be used. The previous two fall we use climbing and parkour to build confidence. Thing as simple as strength training in the gym can also be used to improve confidence. By reaching a higher box jump, learning a new movement or lifting a heavier weight, we can help our athletes improve their confidence. 

Magyar M.T., Duda J.L. Confidence restoration following athletic injury. The Sport Psychologist, 2000, 14, 372-390

mardi 22 mars 2016

Taking Advantage of Off-Season Time

Winter is ending rather quickly on the east coast. For the average person, spring means that the end of the financial year and the school year is approaching. However, for athletes and coaches, it is also the end the competitive season for most winter sports, as well as most school indoor sports such as volleyball and basketball. Once the championships, exams, term papers or year's review are completed, it is a good time to get ready for the next season, but first it is very important to take time to recharge our batteries, take some time off, and re-discover the passions that drive us to do what we love. 

This time of the year is also important to take time and reflect on the season that is ending: what was well done, what was less successful and what needs to be done to improve in the future. Personally and with the athletes I work with, I like to put those reflections in writing (on paper or on the computer), which might me more time consuming, but ultimately helps to organize thoughts and gives us the opportunity to share ideas with people that can help us to develop (coaches, mentors, friends or family). 

In addition to reflecting, the upcoming off-season is an ideal time for working on technical and physical skills to help performance. To illustrate the importance of this point, imagine two pyramids, a wide one and a narrow one. Both are equally steep, however the wider one will be able to reach higher because its base is stronger and allows to support more weight. Developing skills works the same way: each year, when you start working during the off season, you work on basic technical skills, basic strength or flexibility and those basics increase your overall potential. 

Another benefit of working on those physical and technical skills is confidence. Confidence is the belief in our own ability to successfully perform at a task. In sports, there is a strong, direct link between confidence and athletic performance. Moreover, confidence facilitates the development of mental toughness. Back to our pyramid analogy, confidence is the mortar that holds everything together. Unlike other skills that you can work on directly, it improves with doing the work, day-in and day-out. More precisely, confidence comes from 3 main sources: training, feedback and pre-competition practice. If we take an exam at school as an example, doing your homework and studying (training) helps to increase your confidence that you will perform at the exam. Getting positive, precise and constructive feedback from your teachers, friends or parents also helps boost your confidence in your ability to master the content of the class. Finally, doing a practice exam or weekly tests (pre-competition practice) will seal that confidence and get you ready to perform on exam day. 

Now, let see how we can do the same process in sports: 

1- Plan 
In your end of the year/season debrief, you can reflect on specific areas in which you want to improve. Those can be physical (strength, vertical jumping height, flexibility, endurance...), technical (shooting precision, outside ski pressure, skating speed...) or mental (focus, visualization, mental toughness, decision making...). Once you have identified these areas, you can select 3 main aspects you want to improve and write them down. Then, identify your starting point (I can jump 20 inches) and your target (I want to jump 24 inches) with a time frame (by the end of June). The third step it to plan what you will do to reach that goal. It is the most important step! Setting a goal and not working on it daily or weekly is self-defeating. Imagine your plan like a stair case: your goal and target are the top of the stairs, and right now you are at the bottom of those stairs. What are the steps you need to make to get there? How do they unfold in daily, weekly and monthly training?

Goal: Improve Jumping
Current performance: 20 inches
Target performance: 24 inches (22 inches)
Deadline: End of June (end of May)
Plan:  Twice a week in the gym for May and June do 10 squat jumps at the end of every practice

2- Social Support / Feedback
To help you achieve your target, you can use the help of others. You can use teammates, friends, parents or coaches by telling them your goal. That way, they can help you stay on track, give you that little incentive to go to practice on a tougher morning, and they will assist you to stay accountable to your goal. Your coach or teammates can also help you by providing feedback, letting you know how you're doing ("you're jumping higher than last practice" "your kicks are getting more precise") and giving you positive and constructive cues that will help you get better ("use your arms more to jump higher" "plant your foot closer to the ball" "keep your eye on the puck as you shoot"). Feedback is extremely important to reach your goal and to build confidence. 

However, just like the pyramid, you want to go up and build. Destructive feedback (and self-talk) is not going to help. To build constructive feedback, identify what you don't do enough and frame your ideas in a positive way: tell yourself what you want to do, not what you don’t want to do. You can find ways to give yourself feedback, too. An example for shooting precision would be to keep track of your accuracy (shots on target out of 10). When your accuracy is getting up, it is important to challenge yourself (increase the distance of the shooting, jump on a higher box...). Those are steps in the staircase and it will help you reach your goal and build your confidence. 

To conclude, the services of a coach, a strength coach or a mental training consultant can help you make your plan and guide you in identifying the steps of your “staircase” towards reaching your target. Don’t hesitate to contact one if you require support for your off-season training!

What are your goals for the off-season? How do you plan on achieving them? Feel free to share and comment in the section below!

  • Zinsser, N., Bunker, L., & Williams, J.M. (2006). Cognitive Techniques for Building Confidence and Enhacing Performance. In J.M. Williams (Ed.), Applied sport psychology: Personal growth to peak performance (5th ed., pp. 284–311). Boston, MA: McGraw-Hill. 
  • Connaughton, D., Wadey, R., Hanton, S., & Jones, G. (2008). The development and maintenance of mental toughness: Perceptions of elite performers. Journal of Sports Sciences, 26, 83–95.

lundi 30 novembre 2015

Using Imagery in Strength and Conditioning

Mental training involves the use of skills that research has shown to be present in the training of successful athletes compared to less successful ones (Gould, 2002 ; Weinberg, 1994). Those skills, rather than innate characteristics, can be developed through formal training  (Durand-Bush, 2002 ; Gould, 2002). As athletes spend a good deal of their training time in the weight room it would be a good place to integrate mental skill training as performers using mental skills were more successful when they use them both in training and competition (Frey, 2003 ; Thomas, 1999). Psychological skills like goal setting, confidence building, seem to be more widely used by strength coaches, whereas more complex cognitive skills such as imagery seem to be use considerably less (Radcliffe, 2015). Mental imagery can be very beneficial to athlete for motor learning, as it activates the muscles that are going to work during the real movement. Jody (1990) showed that the same muscles used for juggling are activated in the same sequence when visualizing the movement. Your brain is literally practicing the skill or movement you imagine. Imagery can also lead to improvement in strength. Lebon (2010) showed that imagery training, performed during a rest period, improved maximal voluntary contraction (MVC), which is the capacity to actively contract your muscle, a higher MVC indicate that you can activate more motor unit in your muscles and therefore produce more force. 

In the weight room context where complex movement requiring focus, good technical skills and strong muscle contraction, visualization can be very helpful. The first step is to prepare for visualization by relaxing and clearing your mind. Simple breathing routine can help to achieve this state and training make it more effective and faster (Nideffer, 1979). Then the athlete only have to imagine the movement he want to perform (like a squat), the strength coach role is simply to guide the imagery to relevant cues : « push through the heels », « chest up » etc. There are 3 important elements to effective visualization : Clarity, control and positivity (Weinberg & Gould, 2007). A simple way to help athletes progressively become better at visualization is to ask them how clear or in control their visualization was (out of 5 using fingers in a group setting work well). You  can also help the athlete get better at a specific element, for clarity give them progressively more details to imagine. For control, guide them to do specific part of the movement, like taking a pause in a squat or feeling stronger through the push. Finally, positivity of the image is very important as Murphy (1988) showed that visualizing with fear, anger or relaxation lead to lower strength level. It is essential to visualize what you want as an outcome. Key words can be use as a reminder when you are about to start visualizing such as « Strong core » « Stiff legs », to keep the focus toward the outcome : getting stronger.

  • Radcliffe, J, Comfort, P & Fawcett, P. Psychological strategies included by strength and conditioning coaches in applied strength and conditioning. JSCR : 29 (9), 2641-2654, 2015.
  • McGill, S. Ultimate Back Fitness and Performance. Backfitpro Inc. p183-184, 2014.
  • Lebon, F, Collet, C, Guillot, A. Benefit of motor imagery training on muscle strength. JSCR 24 : 1680-1687, 2010.
  • Weinberg,S, & Gould, D. Foundations of Sport and Exercice Psychology. 4th ed., 2007.
  • Jowdy, P, Harris, V. Muscular Responses During Mental Imagery as a Function of Motor Skill Level. JSEP : 12, 191-201, 1990.
  • Murphy, S, Woolfolk, L, Budney, J. The Effects of Emotive Imagery on Strength Performance. JSEP : 10, 334-345, 1988.
  • Deci, L & Ryan, M. Intrinsic motivation and self-determination in human behavior. New York: Plenum. 1985.
  • Nideffer, R. The inner athlete : mind plus muscle for winning. 1979.

Women’s motivation toward RE training

Motivation is a very important factor in maintaining commitment towards training. In there research, Focht (2015) assessed the effects of resistance exercise (RE) on the affects of further participation. Their subject were recreationally trained women that performed 3 sessions at different load (40% 1RM , 70% 1RM and Self-Selected). Their results showed that the Self-Selected (SS) condition reported the highest intention towards future RE training. This is a direct representation that Autonomy-Supportive (AS) environment can increase motivation (Deci & Ryan 1985). Motivation is affected mainly by 3 aspects : Autonomy, Competence and Relatedness. An AS climate is designed to give some freedom of choice to participants to help increase motivation towards the activity. Self-Selected RE seem to be an effective strategy to increase motivation. 

 A second result from the study was that « affective response » were not related to intention or self-efficacy post-training. In the SS and 40% 1RM session, subjects rated increase in pleasure during the RE. Whereas in the 70% 1RM session they rated « displeasure » , which was only a transient situation and affect improved post-training. The authors suggest that affect improve after acute RE irrespectively of the load. Those results indicate that immediate pleasure is going to be higher if the subject use light load or SS load, however heavier loads have no effect on post-training affect and intention of future training. These findings are similar to those of Ekkekakis (2008), where they use aerobic exercise Below, At and Above ventilatory threshold. Higher intensity was link to more acute displeasure, where affect post-exercise was irrespective of exercise intensity. These results are very interesting since they show that it is possible to impose higher intensity of work without negatively influencing motivation. The authors suggest that preparing women to manage the potential discomfort will help reduce the acute displeasure associated with imposing higher intensity.  

  • Ekkekakis, P, Hall, EE, and Petruzzello, SJ. The relationship between exercise intensity and affective responses demystified: To crack the 40-year-old nut, replace the 40-year-old nutcracker! Ann Behav Med 35: 136–149, 2008.
  • Deci E.L. & Ryan R.M. Intrinsic motivation and self-determination in human behavior. New York: Plenum. 1985

jeudi 27 novembre 2014

Does Soccer shoe cause Injury ?

Nowadays, with technology, information is easily and quickly available. However, as a down side, it is also easy to come across a brief overview of a subject and apply it as if it was truth. The topic of soccer shoes and injuries has been discussed more on the news this years with various event such as the Word Cup in Brazil, the women U20 Word Cup here in Canada and the potential law suit against FIFA for the senior women Word Cup of 2015. A good example of this phenomenon is the research by Drakos (2010) which states that the playing surface (turf vs grass),  not shoe type, may increase risk of injuries. With that information, one could state that turf increases risk of injuries. However, if we take a closer look at the paper by Drakos, we find out that the study was done on cadaver specimens with an average age of 57 years. Drakos (2010) did show an increased ACL strain with friction on turf surface, but the limitation of having cadavers without muscle contraction to stabilize the knee seem important. Using cadavers  does not provide a realistic picture of the situation of injuries in relation with surfaces of play and shoe design. This is why I decided to have a closer look at the topic of cleats and injury in soccer.

First of all, there has been a good amount of research on the subject, in soccer, handball and america football. The oldest study I found on the topic is from Lambson (1996), which looked at « Edge Design » (ED) soccer cleats. They statistically showed more injury happening with the ED shoes (0,017%) compared with regular round studs (0,005%). 56% of those injuries where non-contact ACL injuries, which are believed to be caused by increase torque from the shoes. That is, at first, coherent with the study of Drakos. However, another interesting finding about the research of Lambson (1996) is that full-foot stance developed about 70% more torque than toe stance. What I see here is that torque is position dependent. As such, it would be possible to change torque by teaching proper technique when player changes direction, for example. An other research by Queen (2007), shows that « turf shoes » where the only one reducing force and pressure under the metatarsal head. Even if researchers concluded that it could lead to a decrease in injuries, but that there is no conclusive evidence that the choice of shoe can help minimize risk of injury. This is another good example of research where one could have stated that shoes, other than turf specific shoes, increase the risk of injuries. However after looking at limitations and conclusions of the authors, it seem too early to do such a statement. A third paper by Smeets (2012), looked at different turf fields and showed higher torque when using sand-filled turf (Varioslide Excellence) as compared to the latest generation of turf field (Champion Infinity). They also showed that torque was higher in dry conditions compared to wet conditions. Consequently, the sand-filled turf (Varioslide Excellence) in dry conditions was considered as the most hazardous surface to play on. 

Gehring (2007) state that « low knee flexion angles, a highly activated m. quadriceps femoris is generally associated with increased ACL strain ». They also point out evidence that hamstring action is essential to knee stability. However the most interesting information Gehring (2007) have found is that increased ground force reaction (GFR) does not transfer to knee joint moment. If higher GFR does not transfer to the knee, then the increased torque between shoe and surface of play is not a risk factor for knee injuries. Gehring (2007) concluded that no indicator of non-contact increase injuries come from bladed cleats. On the applied side of things, researchers stated that « activation of m. biceps femoris peaked in the pre-activation phase and during foot strike, this could be associated with an injury preventing strategy. » In other words Gehring (2007) message is that the right muscle activation at the right timing is a greater factor to consider in injury prevention. Luckily is it also more coachable, as you can work on increasing muscle strength, activation and coach better movement patterns. Another paper by Galbusera (2013) comes to the same conclusion, showing no difference in the torque of cleats and playing surface.  Finally, Hennig (2011) published an extensive review on soccer shoes, looking at injuries, comfort and performance. The authors point out that « There is surprisingly little or no evidence that there is a relationship between traction properties and injury risk. » His review also showed no difference in injury rate on different playing surfaces.

In conclusion, it seem to be that there is no significant evidence that playing surface and shoe design lead to increased risk of injuries. As a professional in coaching, I think those result show that better training, strengthening and injury prevention strategies could lead to reduced injuries. If one is to make a public statement about a topic based on research results, I think it is a professional duty to take an extensive look at the available literature on the subject beforehand.

  • Lambson R.B., Barnhill B.S., Higgins R.W., (1996). Football cleat design and its effect on anterior cruciate ligament injuries. The American Journal of Sport Medecine, 24: 2, 155-159.
  • Gehring D., Rott F., Stapelfeldt B., Gollhofer A., (2006). Effect of soccer shoe cleats on knee joint loads. International Journal of Sport Medecine, 28: 1030-1034.
  • Queen R.M., Charnock B.L., Garrett W.E., Hardaker W.M., Sims E.L., Moorman C.T., (2007). A comparaison of cleat types during two football-specific tasks on field turf. British Journal of Sports Medecine, 42: 278-284.
  • Drakos M.C., Hillstrom H., Voos J.E., Miller A.N., Wickiewicz T.L., Warren R.F., Allen A.A., O’Brien S.J., (2010). The effect of the shoe-surface interface in the development of anterior cruciate ligament strain. Journal of Biomechanical Engineering, 132: 1-7.
  • Smeets K., Jacobs P., Hertogs R., Luyckx J.P., Innocenti B., Corten K., Ekstrand J., Bellemans J., (2012). Torsional injuries of the lower limb: an analysis of the frictional torque between different types of football turf and the shoe outsole. British Journal of Sports Medecine, 46: 1-7.
  • Galbusera F., Tornese D.Z., Anasetti F., Bersini S., Volpi P., Barbera L.L., Villa T., (2013). Does soccer cleat design influence the rotational interaction with the playing surface? Sport Biomecanics, 12: 3, 293-301.
  • Hennig E.M., (2011). The influence of soccer shoe design on player performance and injuries. Research in Sport Medicine, 19: 186-201.

jeudi 16 janvier 2014


We live in a society of convenience. Cell phones are disposable, computers work at light speed, everything needs to be fast and expendable. Even in healthcare, there is a pill for everything! Unfortunately, this mentality has tainted athletes' development. I have seen young athletes being pushed to win to a point of verbal abuse. This kind of behaviours favours athletes dropout, sport injuries and even burnout. Thankfully for my profession, there is still no pill that makes you stronger or more efficient. Performance comes from good work ethic and motivation to improve. 

New York Times recently published an article about American ski racer Mikaela Shiffrin. At 17 years old, she is second youngest USSA athlete to win a world cup race. The article is about how her well rounded development made her into a champion. I was pleasantly surprised to find a story not about parents pressuring and overworking their children, instead I read about supportive parents and a well rounded childhood. The Shiffrin children learned that one of the most important things to be successful in sport and in life is a good work ethic. To quote Eileen (Mikaela's mom) :
“It was 90 degrees and she was 10 years old and she worked so hard without complaining. So she’s a good ski racer because she did all kinds of different developmental things — like learning a good work ethic — but none of them were part of a plan to make a world champion.”

Mikaela's parents focused on having their children developing essential skill for life through sport. Through support and encouraging their children to practice various sports and activities (outside of skiing), Mikaela and her brother learned motor control more efficently (unicycle riding) and were able to develop their work ethic (doing house maintenance work). They was no magic formula, they fostered a very important condition to success : Motivation. Intrinsic Motivation Theory (Deci & Ryan, 1985) illustrated below:

(Deci & Ryan, 2000)

For example, if you say to yourself "I have to do the dishes" your motivation is Extrinsic, you are experiencing Introjected Regulation. Knowing the consequences of not doing the task, you "have to" do it but perceive it as a "punishment". If you're doing the dishes because you're getting paid to do it, there is external motivation. You are receiving an external reward. This theoretical model illustrate separate levels of motivation which should to be seen as a continuum. Practicing an activity regularly and having a positive experience as well as receiving positive feedback, may entail internal motivation (Identified, Integrated and Intrinsic). These levels of motivation are an essential part of what it takes to become an expert in any domain. Having Mikaela say “I will want to win. But the result of the race will not motivate me. I can honestly say that I am motivated by improvement, not results. That’s a core principle.” is a sign that she is Intrinsically motivated, not only to do her sport, but to improve in it.

In order to help young athletes become motivated, parents and coaches should focus on 3 elements to help increase motivation : Competency, Autonomy and Belonging. Helping turn focus to the child's strengths or on one particular skill in his sport for example. This will help foster their motivation to practice that particular sport. Being more intrinsically motivated will help them focus on making regular progress and strive for improvement. As John Wooden said "Seek small improvements on day at a time. That's the only way it happens - and when it happens, it lasts."