In addition to her interest in providing mental skills training to young athletes, Dr. Etnier is also an active researcher who explores the benefits of physical activity for the cognitive performance (mental performance) of children, adults, and older adults. Dr. Etnier was interviewed by Melanie Cole of Health Radio on January 18, 2011. The podcast was recorded in 4 segments and you can listen to them here: Physical Activity and Cognitive Performance, Effects of a single session of exercise on cognition, Exercise and Alzheimer’s / ADHD, Exercise for Chronic Illness
It is a funny coincidence to me that in the same week that the change in the Title IX women’s sport policy was announced, I had the opportunity to speak at the Girls in Sport Symposium held at the University of North Carolina at Greensboro. At that symposium, conversations focused upon both the increasing opportunities for girls and women in sport and the persistent lack of equality in terms of these and related opportunities.
Clearly, the Obama administration is bothered by the inequities that remain in the opportunities available to girls and women in sport. As a result, the Obama administration has eradicated a “loophole” in the enforcement of the Title IX policy that was put in place by the Bush administration in 2005. The change in policy is focused upon the particular method that is used to assess women’s interest in collegiate sport. The Obama administration believes that their recent change of the policy will allow for a more fair representation of the interest of a student body so that the methods for demonstrating compliance with Title IX are accurately assessed. This change in policy is being praised by the NCAA and by advocates of women’s sports.
Obviously, Title IX has gone a long way to increase the opportunities available for girls and women in sport. And, this tightening of compliance requirements for schools will help to insure that Title IX is implemented as intended. That being said, there is still room for improvement in terms of gender equity in sport. As Education Secretary Arne Duncan described, “There is no doubt that Title IX has dramatically increased athletic, academic, and employment opportunities for women and girls, and educational institutions have made big strides in providing equal opportunities in sports. Yet discrimination continues to exist in college athletic programs — and we should be vigilant in enforcing the law and protecting this important civil right.”
Evidence of a lack of equality abounds. Every time I am reminded of this, it makes me want to SCREAM. It’s 2010 and women are still having to fight to be treated equally and to be given the same opportunities as men. Here’s an example. In the Olympics, the opportunities for women to compete have seen steady growth. But, currently women only compete in about 75% as many events as men at the Summer Olympics and in approximately 60% as many events as men in the Winter Olympics. In colleges, 55% of students are women, but only 43% of college athletes are women. In high schools, 49% of students are girls, but only 41% of high school athletes are girls (source: Jill Dougherty, April 20, 2010, Biden announces change in Title IX women’s sports policy at http://www.cnn.com/2010/POLITICS/04/20/biden.title.ix/index.html). Further, if we examine coaching opportunities for women, we also see an inequity that boggles the mind. Prior to the passage of Title IX, 90% of NCAA women’s teams were coached by women. Over the last 20 years, only approximately 45% of NCAA women’s team have had female coaches. And, if we look beyond sport, we see that women are still treated inequitably in the job market – women who work full time and who have never taken time off to raise a family still make 89 cents for every dollar earned by a man with the same experience and in the same position (source: Shankar Vedantam, July 30, 2007, Salary, Gender and the Social Cost of Haggling at http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2007/07/29/AR2007072900827.html).
Audio Available at: http://wfdd.org/audio/voices/100226voices.mp3
Denise Franklin (DF) of Voices and Viewpoints and Assistant Professor Jenny Etnier (JE) from University of North Carolina a Greensboro, February 26, 2010.
DF: Hello I am Denise Franklin. Welcome to Voices and Viewpoints.
She travels nationally teaching coaches how to coach their athletes. And to develop their full potential. She says the principles are applicable to business and to life.
JE: You don’t give up on yourself. Just figure out how to retool and how to do it better, how to choose where I can be successful at a level that I’m going to be happy with and then figure out how to do it.
DE: Plus our literary Critic Dudley Shearburn reviews a national award winning biography of President Andrew Jackson
Voices and Viewpoints is next.
DF: Many people around the world have been focused on Vancouver as the winter Olympics took center stage. The audience has always included sports fans and folks who may not regard themselves as such. So we thought this would be an great time to talk to a sports psychologist who has a place on the national stage.
Jenny Etnier is a PhD, a sports psychologist who consults for the United States soccer federation. She has been with the national coaching schools or camps as you might call them for more than a decade.
She is an Associate Professor at University of North Carolina at Greensboro and she is going to talk to us about what it takes to compete and succeed on a national and international level in sports and in life.
Dr. Jenny Etnier. Welcome to Voices and Viewpoints.
JE: Thank you for having me.
DF: You are author of a book called “Bring Your A-Game – A Young Athlete’s Guide to Mental Toughness. I understand its going to be translated possibly to a couple of languages.
JE: I am very excited, yes. They have asked me if they could translate the book into Japanese and Korean.
DF: Absolutely wonderful. Then let’s talk about your philosophy then. You coach coaches and you have written and addressed athletes and parents. If you could sum up your philosophy about sports, what would it be?
JE If young athletes can develop their mental toughness they will have a much better opportunity to reach their potential in sport. And I just see that as such a positive thing for everybody involved.
DF: You say something that I thought was just a nugget, was just gold. You say that all athletes should focus on the process rather than the outcome. Explain.
JE: Yeah. I think that something that is so key and something that young athletes really need to learn and maybe more importantly Coaches and parents need to learn. The idea here is that if young athletes focus on outcome which means winning, then they are not going to be satisfied all the time. Because in any sporting event there is only one “winner” as it were and everybody else is titled a “loser”. So if young athletes are focusing only on winning then they are not going to feel like they have been successful in sport. Young athletes who focus on process which is the technique of the game, the skill of the game the things you have to do to have a chance to be successful in sport, those young athletes are the ones who are going to be able to stick with it and who are going to be successful in the long run.
We sat down last night excited to watch the Opening Ceremonies of the 2010 Winter Olympics in Vancouver. But, like most of the world, we were horrified and deeply saddened to learn of the death of 21-year old luge competitor Norad Kumaritashvili during his training run for the luge event. The video clip of the crash was shown on NBC and is readily available through the internet. The reason that I am prompted to write about this event is because I cannot imagine how irresponsible it seems to me that the track was designed with steel girders flanking the sides of the track. Looking at the design, I cannot even imagine there’s a way to make the track more dangerous. In a USA Today article, Jeff Zillgitt tells us that “The speed of the track has been an issue since it was tested in 2007. In December 2008, Fendt said the high speeds at Whistler are ‘not in the interest of our International Luge Federation and it makes me worry.’” Strangely to me, however, the title of Zillgitt’s article is Probe: G-force, not track, cause of luger’s death at Olympics. The point of the article is that a mistake by the luger resulted in him being unable to stay within the track. My point here is this: athletes will make mistakes. The track should be designed with every caution to insure that mistakes do not result in the ultimate catastrophe. How in good conscious could a track be designed where it is possible that the luger might leave the track and the track is surrounded by steel girders? This seems to me to be completely ludicrous. Further, it seems to me that a more accurate article title might be Ill-conceived steel girders cause of luger’s death at Olympics. I am pleased that the event organizers have made changes today to try to protect the lugers in the Olympic events – all lugers will use starting points lower on the track than originally planned. Additionally, the walls in the 16th curve have been raised and the ice profile modified to help insure that the lugers stay inside the track. Clearly these changes are important and will hopefully insure that another tragedy does not occur in these Olympics. That being said, I hope that the authorities responsible will reevaluate the design of all luge tracks to make it impossible for a luger to leave the track and, if that is not possible, to design a secondary boundary that is more foregiving than a series of steel girders. The safety of the athletes must be the primary consideration in the design of every venue for every event. My heart goes out to Olympian Norad Kumaritashvili’s family and my prayers are for the safety of all of the Olympians.
I love watching sports when the outcome is unpredictable — watching sporting events between two players or teams who are evenly matched and who are equally motivated to win the competition. I don’t get as excited when the outcome becomes predictable. Although it is always enjoyable to see top level players perform well and certainly it’s less emotionally draining when our favorite teams/players are ahead, it’s definitely not as exciting or as fun when the outcome becomes certain. As an example, I had the chance to go to the women’s basketball game between the University of Connecticut (#1 in the country) and Duke University (then, #7 in the country) a couple of weeks ago. I was excited because these are two top teams and I expected a very close and exciting contest. It was close for much of the game; but towards the end of the game, when the Huskies pulled ahead by 25 or so points, my interest waned. Not that I didn’t enjoy watching these highly skilled players perform and watching the antics from the coaches, but truthfully the thrill of the competition itself had paled, and I was wishing I hadn’t caught a ride with one of the score keepers.
So, that got me thinking. The thing that makes sports so exciting and fun to watch is that you don’t know what’s going to happen. Athletes are going to give it their all and, hopefully, perform at the best of their ability and we get to see what happens in the end. Do they win or do they lose? It’s the not-knowing that makes it fun to watch!
So, after watching the NFC Championship game, I started thinking some more about competition in sport, what it means, and how it influences a spectator’s enjoyment of the events. I’m sure many of you watched the NFC Championship game between the New Orleans Saints and the Minnesota Vikings – the score was tied at the end of regulation. The rules for overtime in the NFL are that a coin toss determines ball possession to start the overtime period, and whoever scores first wins the game. People have been talking about this overtime system for years (it was implemented in 1974) and most of the discussions that I’ve seen or heard in the media argue against this system. The reason? Well, it’s probably obvious, but the problem with the current system is that the outcome of the game becomes at least partially contingent upon who wins the coin toss. If you look at statistics presented from 1974 until now, you get a sense of what’s happened since 1974 and you find that 52% of the time, the team that wins the coin toss goes on to win the game. But, if you look at more recent history, the percentage is even higher. This has been attributed as being a result of changes in the game of football that have occurred over the last 35 years. In 1974, kickoffs were taken from the 40 yard line, but now kickoffs are taken from the 30 yard line. Also, in 1974, field goal kickers were 20% less accurate than they are now (Pesca, 2009). So, if you look at more recent statistics accumulated over the past 5 years, there is a huge advantage to winning the coin toss. The record for teams receiving the ball first in overtime over the past 5 years has been 11-4-1. Clearly, this is not an “even playing field”. As further evidence, consider that from 2000-2007, 124 overtime games were played and the team that won the coin toss elected to receive the ball first in 123 of those games. Clearly, the teams are aware of the huge advantage gained by having the ball for the first possession. This seems completely crazy to me! The joy of sport is embodied by the fact that the outcome is unpredictable. But, the overtime rules in the NFL make it so that the outcome is predictable and is based upon a coin toss. And just think, the Super Bowl could come down to that too. Both teams could go out there and play their hardest and put everything they have on the field, but in the end if it’s tied, the NFL rules are such that we will decide the winner by tossing a coin.
The Australian Open Tennis Championship is just about to begin. The main draw will be released on January 15, 2010 and play will begin on January 18, 2010. And, so with this exciting tournament about to begin, my thoughts turn back to the most recent “major” tennis tournament and to the behavior of Serena Williams.
If you are a tennis fan, you probably know that Ms. Williams was a finalist in the U.S. Open Tennis Tournament in September, 2009 and that the final point of that championship match ended with a point penalty. If you didn’t see it, read about it, or hear the story, let me give you a brief summary. In short, the championship match was well played and hard fought. Ms. Williams was down one set and 5 games to 6 in the second set in a best of three sets match against Kim Clijsters. Serving at 15-30 (i.e., Ms. Clijsters was 2 points from victory), Ms. Williams was called for a foot fault on her second serve (meaning that she lost that point and was now only one point away from defeat). Immediately following the foot fault call, Ms. Williams began yelling at and threatening the line judge who had made the call. She waved her racket at the official and was reported to say “I swear to God I’m [expletive] going to take this [expletive] ball and shove it down your [expletive] throat, you hear that? I swear to God.” As a result of her behavior (and a previous warning for racket abuse), Ms. Williams was given a point penalty, which meant that she lost the match, and she was also given a fine of $10,000.
Approximately 2 months later, the Grand Slam committee decided that Ms. Williams would be fined an additional $82,500 for her outburst and put on probation for 2 years. This fine is the largest ever for inappropriate behavior during a Grand Slam event. And, the probation period means that if Ms. Williams commits another similar behavior during any Grand Slam Event in the next two years, the fine would be increased to $175,000 and she would not be allowed to compete in the next US Open.
Clearly, this is an extreme example of how athletes might react inappropriately to what they perceive to be bad decisions made by officials. However, it is amazing to me that much of what you might read regarding this event suggests that Ms. Williams was “right” and that such a call should not have been made at such a critical point in the match. I find this to be remarkable. Although there is no
We’re just watching today’s bowl games and hearing the news of Urban Meyer’s retirement from his responsibilities as head coach at the University of Florida. Speculation by the commentators during the break between bowl games focused on his reported health problems, but also turned towards the idea of burnout. The information scrolling across the bottom of the screen now suggests that the reason is largely related to a recent diagnosis of heart problems. But, the topic of burnout in coaches remains an interesting one to talk about.
Most people are probably well aware of the fact that burnout occurs in athletes – it tends to result from overtraining physically, perceiving high pressure for success, and perceiving an imbalance between costs and rewards. But many people might not realize that burnout also occurs in a variety of professions that are similar in these regards. It occurs with frequency in professions including teaching, nursing, athletic training, and coaching.
So, how do coaches experience “overtraining physically, perceiving high pressure for success, and perceiving an imbalance between costs and rewards”. Overtraining physically might be the least obvious of these. But, it ties into the other two contributors to burnout. When you experience high pressure for success and an imbalance between costs and rewards, you tend to not sleep very much or very well. You work harder and harder to try to be successful and you are mentally challenged without relief as you try to problem-solve your way to success. Anyone who has experienced this can surely relate to the fact that this tends to negatively impact your sleep. The lack of sleep then results in your body undergoing a constant state of fatigue which ultimately results in an experience that is similar to the physical overtraining that is felt by athletes.
The holidays are coming! And, my stress levels are rising! Are your’s? Trying to wrap up end of the year responsibilities at work, finishing off the last of the shopping, getting cards out, anticipating spending days with family!, and packing up to be away for an extended period. And, with this increase in stress, responsibilities, and commitments, guess what goes by the wayside? For me, it appears to be three things . . . . sleep, exercise, and good eating behaviors. Now maybe you never get much sleep, maybe you’re not a regular exerciser, and maybe you don’t eat well during the rest of the calendar year, but no matter where you’re starting from, my guess is that you will do everything a little worse over these next few weeks. And, do you know what the worst thing is about sleeping less, exercising less, and eating more poorly because of stress? The worst thing is that these behaviors contribute to feeling even more stress! It’s a vicious cycle. The more stress we feel, the less we keep up the behaviors that help us to manage stress. For me, I keep popping pecan sandies and peanut butter brickle and merangues as if they are, well, candy. I don’t stop my behavior, but I also feel stressed realizing that by the end of the next 2 weeks, if I’m not careful, I will have gained weight that I don’t want to gain! And, that stresses me out even more!
So, what’s the answer to the dilemma? Well, since we’re talking about three different types of behaviors, it’s really on three fronts. But, they all tie into a common theme which is setting a plan designed to manage the stress over the holidays and sticking to that plan as much as possible. The plan should allow you to enjoy this special time of year while also helping you control the stress that you are naturally experiencing.
“Mommy, can I play soccer?” This is a question that I have recently started to hear from my 5-year old daughter. As an avid soccer player and fan, I’m anxious to get her going. I’m ready to buy the gear. I’m anticipating watching her play from the sidelines and the joy that I’ll feel knowing that she’s having fun.
So, I start checking into it. I can’t help myself. I’m ready and she’s starting to express some interest. So, I pull up the websites, I start asking other parents, and I start generally snooping around. And, guess what I find? It’s all there for us. The teams, the uniforms, the leagues, it’s all ready for us. So, why am I hesitating??? Let me tell you. Kids don’t need all that. They don’t. You can read any resource on motor development for children and it will tell you that. They don’t need structured teams, they don’t need uniforms, and they certainly don’t need competition.
Okay, so the league in my home town is 3-v-3. At least that’s the right attitude. Small sided games for the youngest kids. That way, they get the most touches on the ball, they have the opportunity to learn about shape and space and the other tactical concepts that will help them be great soccer players. But, here’s the problem. They shouldn’t be competing at all! Why are they playing towards a goal, keeping score, and worrying about the other team scoring? They don’t need all of that. What they need is the chance to PLAY with a ball. To just run around with a ball and dribble and change directions and learn to pass and that’s it.
Just yesterday, I had the chance to speak to a Director of Coaching about this very issue. And, he told me that he agreed with me. He expressed to me his belief that the 3-v-3 league was not appropriate for this age group, but he explained that because the other clubs offer these leagues and because soccer clubs are money-making entities, they couldn’t figure out how to NOT offer 3-v-3 leagues. So, again, it’s all there. The teams, the uniforms, the leagues, the chance to watch my daughter play a game that I love. But, you know what. I’m going to wait. I’m going to wait until she’s a little bit older. I’m going to take the ball outside with her every chance I get this spring and we’ll knock it around. In fact, we’ll each have a ball. We’ll dribble and pass and run and laugh and we’ll not do it in the structure of a league. And, some days we won’t play soccer. Some days, we’ll play tag. Or, we’ll do artwork or read a book. And, do you know what I’ll bet? I’ll bet that when she does start playing at 7, she won’t be behind. In fact, I’ll bet anyone that she’ll be better than some, the same as others, and worse than some in terms of her soccer skill. But, the other thing that I’ll bet is that my daughter won’t burn out from sport at a young age. I’ll bet that my daughter will stay motivated and happy in her sport experience, will learn how to be active for a lifetime, and will decide if she wants to play the sport that I love, or some other sport, or no sports at all. And, I can wait a couple of years to buy the gear and to watch my daughter participate in an activity and have fun.
The recent news story regarding Tiger Woods’ alleged indiscretions is interesting from a sport psychology perspective. Tiger Woods has been described as one of the most mentally tough (if not the most mentally tough) golfers to ever play the game. His accomplishments on the golf course have been incredible. His appeal to golf fans has been unparalleled. In fact, it has been reported that television viewing increases by 40% when Tiger is playing in golf tournaments.
Why has Tiger been so phenomenally popular? Well, obviously, the biggest reason is because of his skill, tenacity, competitiveness, and success on the golf course. But, part of the reason must also be because he is a gentleman whose demeanor, professionalism, and ethics have contributed to the loyalty and interest of an enormous following. So, what happens when things change? When this perfect gentleman admits to transgressions that impact him and his family. When an athlete who has experienced only positive media coverage says “I have been dismayed to realize the full extent of what tabloid scrutiny really means. For the last week, my family and I have been hounded to expose intimate details of our personal lives.” (www.tigerwoods.com, December 2, 2009). As I notice the stories about Tiger on the tabloid covers, I think – wow, Kate Gosselin must be sighing with relief – the focus has finally left her for someone else! Of course, from a social perspective it will be fascinating to see how people respond to this. Will Tiger’s fan base stay true, will television viewing remain high, will sponsors remain committed? The answer to this will likely depend upon what happens next.
The second part that is interesting will be to see how Tiger responds. This too will likely depend at least somewhat upon what happens next. But, many athletes are able to mentally keep their personal lives and their sport performance separate so that they can maintain their performance at a high level. Given Tiger’s mental prowess, it wouldn’t surprise me if he were able to maintain his competitiveness in future tournaments. But, then again, everyone is human and when trouble starts to impact your family, maintaining your focus in sport (and perhaps especially in the sport of golf) can be hard. So, what should Tiger do relative to his golf game? The answer is that he should do what he has always done. He should prepare like he has always prepared. He should practice like he has always practiced. He should do everything in his power to keep himself in his normal routine with respect to golf. If he has moments when he feels himself losing his focus, then he should use thought-stopping techniques to stop those types of thoughts and he should use imagery, relaxation skills, and energy management methods to get himself back on track. The world will be watching and it will be interesting to see how Tiger responds.