This week's guest blogger is Tracy Donachie, a qualified performance psychologist. She tells us about her passion to help athletes in the field of sport psychology and how she believes sports psychologists can support young female athletes in their performance.
Tracy gained a full football scholarship to play in the USA before returning to Scotland to continue her studies, play football in the Premier League and work with athletes within the field of performance psychology. She currently works with Edinburgh Leisure as the Looked After & Active Project Officer where her aim is to increase the physical activity levels of looked after children within Edinburgh.
Tracy has worked with various sports teams within Edinburgh and provides performance psychology for the Scotland National Women's football team, (A Squad, Under 15s, Under 17s, and Under 19s).
If you listen to athletes competing in the Olympics, Wimbledon etc, they will mention the things like “effort, dealing with pressure, motivation”, but how often do we actually consciously train those things? When I teach performance psychology skills, I aim to give athletes strategies to help them improve performance but also self-awareness, skills to self-evaluate and to build confidence. Mental preparation is vital to success and I think sometimes the stigma attached to “psychology” stops people seeking help to be ready in the mind.
I believe you can have all the skills and talent in the world, but if you are unable to manage the psychological demands of performance, then skills and talents suffer. For example, a performer who suffers extreme anxiety may not be able to reach peak performance due to the strain on their body from being constantly stressed. Therefore, the role of performance psychology is to assist this person in dealing with anxiety.
Are there differences between male and female athletes? I believe so. According to research, women are more likely to attribute their success in sport to effort or luck, e.g. “I tried hard; I put in the effort; I was just lucky on the day!” Whereas men are more likely to attribute success to their talents, “I am talented, I won because I am good!” It is important that we teach women to be more confident about their ability. A study completed in the USA asked men and women to predict their exam results. Women predicted grades lower than they received, whereas men overestimated and said they would do better than they actually did.
What can we do to make women more confident? First of all, motivating females to stay in sport could be beneficial to overall confidence and self esteem. According to the Women’s Sport Foundation:
- High school girls who play sports are less likely to be involved in an unintended pregnancy; more likely to get better grades in school and more likely to graduate than girls who do not play sports.
- Girls and women who play sports have higher levels of confidence and self-esteem and lower levels of depression.
Girls and women who play sports have a more positive body image and experience higher states of psychological well-being than girls and women who do not play sports.
“Girls lose confidence, so they quit competing in sports, thereby depriving themselves of one of the best ways to regain it.” (Confidence Gap, 2014)
Whilst continued involvement in sport has significant benefits to females confidence, I think by teaching women to be proud of their talents and their participation in sport we can further increase confidence. Just like learning how to catch a ball, or develop skills in sport, mental skills take time and training. To build confidence is a journey, and there will be situations in which an athlete’s confidence is high and others in which it is low.
How can we get more female athletes to have high confidence in more situations? I believe that it is important to teach females to be proud of being different, and being proud of who they are. In many cases, I feel like sports define athletes, and their self confidence is based on results or sports performance. My favourite quote is “sport is something you do, not who you are!”. It is important we make females aware of their positive personality traits, and not just build their self esteem based on the things they are good at. Emphasising uniqueness, and be the best person you can be. We need to teach that it is okay to be different and that in fact, the most successful athletes are those who aren’t afraid to be different. They are the one’s who are brave and stay later at training, skip parties, choose healthy foods when friends aren’t. We need to reinforce that being different is something to be proud of, empowering and can build confidence.
The reason I love my job helping athletes in gaining psychological skills is because when we can instil confidence in young people and empower them to be “their own coach”, it is the most rewarding feeling to see them progress, not just in their sport but in their self acceptance. For me, this is the most rewarding part of my job. Even the smallest of changes, can bring around the biggest results, and that is why I love helping people to be more confident and gain psychological skills to help them in life and competition.
Tracy has also worked as a counsellor with various populations including youths at risk, sexually abusive adolescents, domestic violence victims and offenders, divorcees, those with emotional and behavioural disorders, family mediation, and athletes. She completed all her training for Mediation in the state of Virginia.
More information can be found on Tracy’s website: http://believepositivepsychology.weebly.com