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Controlling the self-controllables.

by Shaun Fuentes

Athletes and sports players who exert too much ‘self-control’ before and during competing risk hindering their sporting performance, a new study suggests. Sports scientists at Nottingham Trent University have found that the more self-control field-hockey players were required to exert the worse their performance became, with their dribbling, passing and shooting skills all affected. The research is published in the Scandinavian Journal of Medicine and Science in Sports. Self-control refers to athletes’ attempts to control their behaviours, emotions and thoughts in order to pursue their goals and relates to resisting overriding impulses or temptations.
 It is often linked to positive outcomes in sport and exercise performance and could include anything which might require them to fight their natural urges.This could be exercising control over diet before competing, resisting the temptation to watch TV in order to train instead, or having to put on a different persona to undertake media interviews. 
 Athletes are constantly confronted with self-control demands, but previous research has delivered sound empirical evidence that athletes are not always capable of dealing with these demands. According to the strength model of self-control, individuals have a limited amount of self-control strength, which can become temporarily depleted following self-control demands (e.g., attention regulation). When self-control strength is depleted, that is, in a state of ego depletion, athletes are less persistent during strenuous physical exercise, are less likely to follow their exercise regimens, and tend to perform worse under pressure. "Let your body go with the flow. You know you can do it. All you need is your own imagination. So use it; that's what it's for. Go inside for your finest inspiration. Your dreams will open the door." —Madonna in Vogue. Overthinking is every athlete's nemesis. In sports, self-control comes into play when an athlete makes cerebral attempts to control his or her thoughts, emotions, and behaviors while pursuing a goal that may involve resisting temptations or overriding impulses. In small doses, self-control plays a role in sticking with a training regimen and eating a healthy diet, but too much self-control prevents me from letting go, which is key to creating flow. The recent study by sport and exercise scientists from Nottingham Trent University reports that athletes who exert too much self-control before and during sports competitions tend to perform skilled movements with less fluidity. Conversely, not exercising too much self-control seems to up their game. Self-control is just like a muscle. If we do not flex it, then the muscle will weaken. At first, our athletes may not know what to do with choice. But we can guide them by offering a few specific choices: “Would you rather hit off the machine or have someone bowl to you?” And to our young athletes, something as simple as “What color practice jersey do you want to wear tomorrow?” offers autonomy.

We want our athletes to take control of their careers. One important way to cultivate that control is through self-controlled learning. Granting our athletes autonomy over aspects of their learning environment enhances motivation and improves information processing regarding learning. We must allow them to “self-control the self-controllables.” Of course anyone who has played or been involved competitive sports knows the feeling of being so frustrated with an aspect of the game or decisions made by officials , that they no longer act as themselves, and rather act on frustration and anger. Whether it comes from a ref blowing an obvious call or an opposing player performing a blatant foul on you or one of your teammates, a normally rational and unaggressive player can lose their self-control quickly. A study in 2014 by Englert and Bertrams looked at self–control depletion, focusing their study on the effects that self-control depletion has in sports. Being able to have self-control is a very important part of most competitive sports. Understanding the effects of self-control depletion in sports may just give you the competitive edge.According to the cognitive psychology blog on the Colby community website, self-control can be defined as the process of voluntarily controlling an impulse or habitual action, such as choosing to eat an apple instead of a piece of cake when you are on a diet. Much like how attention is a limited resource, self-control is also limited in its capacity. In sports, attention is spread to many different things, and since it is a limited resource, it is difficult to pay attention to self-control while attending to so many other distractions. Attention has often been described as a “spotlight”, and you must move the spotlight around to focus your attention on different things. In sports, that spotlight is constantly moving around, trying to focus on the most important aspect of the game. Since you are trying to focus on so many different things, you are spending much less time focusing on your self-control, and allowing it to get out of hand when presented with situations requiring utmost self-control.


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