Sep. 23, 1998 Writer: Kristin Harmel, firstname.lastname@example.org
Source: Robert Singer, (352) 392-0584
GAINESVILLE, Fla. --- When it comes to coaching, the pep talk is better than the locker room tirade, University of Florida researchers have found in a new study.
In a project that applied methods previously used only in classroom settings, a team headed by Professor Robert Singer found that changing people's attributions, or how they think about themselves, influenced their performance in sports tasks they sought to learn.
"How we think about how we will do and how we've just done can very much affect our persistence, our attitudes and our achievements," said Singer, chair of UF's department of exercise and sport sciences. "It's not only a belief in what you can do, it's also an understanding of thinking more objectively."
The technique is known as attribution training, which involves using people's self-perceptions and the extent to which they feel they can control their own behavior to help them succeed at various tasks. Those who believe they can control and change how they feel about themselves are said to have constructive attributions.
In the study, scheduled to be published in March in the journal "The Sport Psychologist," Singer and UF colleague Iris Orbach divided 35 college-age beginning tennis players into three groups, each of which was given different instructions regarding personal failure. The first was told they could control their attributions and effort and could change their performance. The second was told their failures were due to a lack of innate ability. The third group was told nothing.
In four trials, the first group scored consistently better in performance, expectation, success perception and emotional control, Singer said. For example, on a test to measure feelings of personal control over behavior, the first group scored twice as high as the control group, while the second group scored below the control group.
In a related study in 1997 that focused on basketball time trials, the first group improved their final time between the first and fourth trials more than twice as much as the control group and more than nine times as much as the second group did.
"When it comes down to it, the primary thing is that you really have to understand what helps you to achieve and what's under your control," Singer said. "What has been observed is that those individuals who tend to have more constructive attributions tend to persist longer and tend to achieve more than those who do not have constructive attributions."
Most studies associated with attribution training techniques have been conducted in the area of education, with the goal of raising the standards for children who are underachievers in the classroom. Singer and Orbach were among the first in the world to apply the techniques to sports.
"Why not try this in a sports setting?" Singer said. "The typical design is to train one group with an attributional orientation that reflects that if you try harder and you try smarter, you'll have a greater chance of doing well. You'll learn the skills better and think better things will happen."
Although it is a common perception that believing in yourself can lead you to success, Singer said his study could have a significant impact on the way people teach and learn athletic activities.
"A lot of times in sports, there's a negative attitude and a lot of criticism that goes on," he said. "Probably many athletes and coaches don't realize the significance of what we're talking about and the relevance of how people think ... I believe that if there's a better understanding by coaches as to the kind of feedback they give to athletes and how stuff is delivered to them, it could make a difference."
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