Cognitive psychologists suggest that an individual athlete’s “explanatory style” is a significant factor in influencing sports performance. Individuals with an optimistic explanatory style consistently outperform those with a pessimistic explanatory style. [Seligman, (1990); Hanrahan & Grove (1990)]. Their work is based on ‘attribution theory’ – ie. on how people explain ‘good’ and ‘bad’ events that happen in their lives. An individual’s explanatory style can be used to determine their level of optimism or pessimism – and as a consequence, their performance potential in sport.
To determine explanatory style (and hence optimism or pessimism), psychologists typically employ an Attributional Style Questionnaire (ASQ) to evaluate various “dimensions” such as Personalisation (Ps), Permanence (Pm) and Pervasiveness (Pv) about both negative and positive events which has been suggested ultimately determine optimism or pessimism in explanatory style [Seligman (1990)]. Others, [Hanrahan, Grove and Hattie (1989), Hanrahan and Grove (1990)], have likewise developed attributional style questionnaires measuring dimensions of internality, stability, controllability, globality and intentionality.
Most such questionnaires use very general scenarios and are not particularly sports specific, consequently, the following short questionnaire was developed as a sports contextualised style of ASQ. Using the following short Sports ASQ coaches can obtain a very general guide to their athletes’ explanatory style, and establish relative levels of optimism and pessimism between individual players. Such information may be of use in both the recruitment and selection of players (when everything else is about equal choose the more optimistic recruit), and in identifying existing players who may benefit from specific psychological skills training to develop more optimism – and hence improve sports performance.
When using the following questionnaire with players, recognise that it is a simplistic questionnaire – not a proper psychological diagnostic tool – and should be used as a guide only. Should a specific player be identified as pessimistic by this questionnaire, further professional guidance should be sought in establishing the veracity of the result, and in the specific identification and design of a cognitive training program to develop more optimism.
Ideally, rather than a psychological profiling tool, the questionnaire should be viewed and used as a way to encourage players to “think about their thinking” – and to establish a dialogue among players and between players and coaching staff as to the types of thinking which lead to good sports performances.
For those who wish to explore the concepts of optimism and explanatory stye in greater detail, there are validated psychological tools (such as the Seligman Attributional Style Questionnaire) which I recommend and which can be used for specific psychological profiling. For more information about these, contact Sportsmind and I can refer you to appropriate organisations and professionals who have the skills and expertise in this area.
Hand out the questionnaire and encourage your players to complete it quickly, choosing the response that most closely reflects how they would think in the given context.
SPORTS OPTIMISM QUESTIONNAIRE
There are no ‘right’ or ‘wrong’ answers. Circle only one response per question, and answer every question even though the situation may never have happened to you. Read each description and imagine it happening to you; then choose the response that is most closest to how you would think in that situation.
1. Situation: You are asked to replace a player in a higher grade who is injured :
A: I am good enough to play in the higher grade.
B: I have filled in occasionally before when needed.
2. Situation: You win a tournament / important game :
A: I was feeling unbeatable that day.
B: I always put a lot of effort into my training.
3. Situation: You do exceptionally well in an interview for a coaching position :
A: I always perform well in interviews.
B: I felt very relaxed and confident in the interview.
4. Situation: Despite being new to the team, you are put in the starting lineup :
A: I was in top form that day.
B: I am enthusiastic and try hard.
5. Situation: You invite a few team mates over for a party, and it’s a raging success :
A: I host great parties.
B: I was particularly friendly that night.
6. Situation: You forget to go to training after a long weekend :
A: My mind was still on holiday that day.
B: I always forget when my routine is disrupted.
7. Situation: You lose your cool with the referee during a game :
A: That referee is biased against me.
B: He / She didn’t referee fairly in the game.
8. Situation: You put on a lot of weight over Christmas and have trouble getting back
to your peak weight and fitness :
A: The diet I tried didn’t work.
B: It’s always hard to get back into training after a break.
9. Situation: Your coach says something that hurts your feelings :
A: He / She is always very cutting with criticism.
B: He / She was in a grumpy mood and took it out on me.
10. Situation: You’ve been feeling very tired lately :
A: I’ve been really busy this week.
B: I don’t get a chance to relax.
11. Situation: You successfully resuscitate a person who was pulled from the surf :
A: I stay calm in a crisis.
B: I’m trained in first aid.
12. Situation: Your team is losing, and the coach asks your advice :
A: I know some good plays for pressure situations.
B: I always keep an overall perspective on the game.
13. Situation: You win a ‘most improved player’ award :
A: I was the most improved player.
B: I had important wins near the end of the season.
14. Situation: Your coach tells you you are at peak fitness level :
A: I stuck to my training program.
B: I’m very fitness conscious.
15. Situation: A team member comments on your confidence :
A: I am a confident person.
B: I’ve been playing well lately.
16. Situation: You perform poorly at an event for which you’ve been training hard :
A: The competition was fierce that day.
B: I’m not a natural athlete.
17. Situation: The coach says you’re not working hard enough :
A: I’m not as motivated as everyone else in the team.
B: I have been slacking off a bit lately.
18. Situation: Your romantic partner breaks it off with you :
A: I didn’t communicate well with him / her.
B: I’m too moody.
19. Situation: You are in charge of a team training session while your coach is sick, and
no one enjoys the training :
A: I’m not very good at coaching.
B: I didn’t put much thought into the coaching session.
20. Situation: You forget to go to an unscheduled training session.
A: I forgot to check my diary that day.
B: I’ve got a bad memory for things like that.
Evaluate your answers using the following system:
1. Start by looking at every odd numbered question, and mark an ‘A’ choice with 1 point and a ‘B’ choice with 0 points. (For example, if in question 1 you chose response ‘A’, you would get 1 point for that question.
2. Now look at every even numbered question, and mark an ‘A’ choice with 0 points, and a ‘B’ choice with 1 point. (For example if you chose response ‘A’ in question 2, you would get no points for that question)
3. Next, look at the subheadings : PmG, PmB, PvG and PvB, and add your individual question scores to get a total for each of these categories. There are five questions for each category. Use the table to help you keep tally.
4. Finally, add up your total ‘B’ and total ‘G’ scores.
PmB = PmG =
PvB = PvG =
Total B = Total G =
Your scores mean the following:
If your total ‘B’ score is
* 3 or below, is optimistic;
* 4 – 6, is average;
* 7 or above, is pessimistic.
If your total ‘G’ score is
* 8 – 10 is optimistic;
* 6 – 7, is average;
* 5 or below, is pessimistic.
It should be noted that the total ‘B’ scores are the most significant, as they reflect an individual’s ‘explanations’ about ‘Bad’ events, while total ‘G’ scores measure explanations about ‘Good’ events. Since it is much more difficult to remain positive and optimistic in the face of trials and difficulties, hence an individual’s total ‘B’ score will usually be more important.
Researchers suggest that an optimistic explanatory style, particularly about bad events, encourages perseverance: pessimistic athletes are more likely to lose confidence and motivation after a poor performance than optimists, and encouraging optimism in athletes can therefore lead to improved sports performances by encouraging perseverance. [Seligman (1990)] Likewise the identification of pessimistic athletes in a squad can be important. When a negative event occurs – for example, losing an important match; sustaining an injury; not being selected for a team; and so on – then their explanatory style would promote less perseverance, and may be resulting in those athletes not achieving their inherent sports potential.
It’s significant to note that one can’t not make explanations about the events that happen in one’s life; one has to do that in order to make meaning out of the world. However, the consequences of the type of explanations one makes is very different. If we tend to make more optimistic explanations about events, then we’ll be more successful in the long run, than if we tend to make more pessimistic explanations – and this is especially true in sport.
Seligman, M.E.P. 1990 Learned Optimism Milson’s Pt, Sydney, Random House.
Hanrahan, S & Grove, R 1990 “A Short Form of the Sport Attributional Style Scale” Aust Journal of Science & Medicine in Sport Vol 22 Isue 4 97-101.
Hanrahan, S. & Grove, R, & Hattie, J 1989. “Development of a Questionnaire Measure of Sport-Related Attributional Style” Int Journal of Sport Psychology 20 : 114-134.
About Jeffrey Hodges B.Sc.(AES) M.Sc.(Hons)
Jeffrey Hodges is a performance consultant to elite athletes, sporting teams and corporate clients. He is the author of the widely acclaimed “Sportsmind – An Athlete’s Guide to Superperformance Through Mental & Emotional Training” and “Champion Thoughts, Champion Feelings”; creator of the Sportsmind performance enhancement workshops and audio tapes; and Director of the Sportsmind Institute for Human Performance Research.
He is a NLP Master Practitioner and Associate Trainer, and his Sportsmind programs have been endorsed by the NSW Dept Sport & Recreation, and recommended by top sportsclubs and successful athletes. Jeffrey has competed in many sports, notably Volleyball, Squash, Soccer and Golf, and currently trains in Aikido, holding a black belt.
Some of his clients to date include :
Australian Rugby Union
St. Joseph’s College
Woodlands Golf Club
Financial Institutions Remuneration Group (FIRG)
Network for Fitness Professionals
North Sydney and Penrith Rugby League Clubs
Qld. Athletics Assn
NSW Netball Assn
Northern Inland Academy of Sport
Victorian Soaring Assn
Orange Agricultural College Equestrian School
Qld and NSW Departments of Sport and Recreation
Qld Academy of Sport
and the RAAF.
For more information, contact :
SPORTSMIND , 77 FLAXTON MILL ROAD
FLAXTON Qld. Australia. 4560.
PHONE 61 7 5445 7994
email : email@example.com
website : www.sportsmind.com.au