The Mental skills of Decision Making – Tim Goodenough
"Experience” is arguably a combination of an athlete having two key mental skills. Firstly better state management skills: “I have been here before so I won’t get too uncomfortable, become overawed or panic, and so I am more likely to be in the right mood to perform – and know how to get into the right mood if I am not”. Secondly better decision making skills: “I have got this wrong before and have had several years of trial and error and have learnt from those experiences and now will hopefully get it right”. So if experience is a function of state management and learning, why do people assume it’s a related to the number of years spent playing the sport?
The major reason for this is that athletes and especially athletes in team sports are generally very ineffective learners. It takes a long time for lessons to sink in; that time is often referred to as experience. This is due to a combination of factors:
1. Visually can I see all that I need to see to make a quality decision about it? Dr Sherylle Calder’s work is about specifically improving the quality and quantity of visual information coming into the brain, in order to make more effective decisions with the complete visual data available. A poor visual system will limit high quality decisions. The ability to consider all the visual data is not only a function of visual skills, but also of state. When any emotions manifest in an extreme way (e.g. anger, tension or stress) it can create a form of literal tunnel vision for an athlete, their narrowed focus a by-product of an evolutionary fight/flight response. Clive Woodward’s 2003 World cup wining mental guru Yehuda Shinar developed the acronym T-CUP or Thinking Correctly Under Pressure, as a way to describe the mental strategy developed by the team to ensure state didn’t negatively affect decision making.
Does the athlete have the technical nous (and mental aptitude) to know when to go for a possible chance, and when to go for something that is probable? And to know which is which and to trust themselves to go for it completely?
3. Do I own the option? Athletes who talk about moves or options as the coaches, and not their own move that the coach suggested have a split second check mentally to consider what someone else wants them to do, that split second can affect the quality of the decision. Even if the move is stipulated by the coach, designed and created by the coach, the athlete needs to own it completely as if they created the move them self to improve the chance of a quality execution of that move.
4. Do I have permission to commit 100% to this decision? To commit 100% to a decision means to make it without worrying what the coach or teammates might say if things don’t go well. The athlete doesn’t worry about repercussions; they are too busy executing their decision to worry about that. If a player is lacking in confidence often their permission to commit 100% to a decision is impacted, as they fear “giving it a go”
5. Have I trained my body what to do effectively and to "know/feel" the correct timing of the decision?
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