Coaching Youth Middle Distance Runners: Psychology
Middle Distance Runners
Nutrition | Psychology
Since at least the late 19th century, scholars have analyzed the correlations between psychological qualities and athletic success (as cited in Raglin & Wilson, 2008, p. 211). As Kruger, Pienaar, Du Plessis, and van Rensburg (2012) concluded, it is "important to consider psychological skill development in young long distance athletes to enhance their athletic performance" (p. 413). Focusing on the overall well-being of athletes, including their mental states, can also foster positive overall development (Henriksen, Stambulova, & Roessler, 2010). A one-size-fits-all approach to this field is not advisable (Jones & Spooner, 2006; Thornton & Scott, 1995). Coaches can often misjudge the psychological skills of their athletes, even if they feel confident in their assessment (Leslie-Toogood & Martin, 2003), and they can threaten the athletes' psychological well-being by treating them disrespectfully (Gervis & Dunn, 2004). Therefore, they should use the research in this field, not their own intuition or experiences, to guide their actions. Approach each athlete from an individual perspective to learn about his or her personal responses.
A middle distance coach's role as a psychological motivator is important during competition, but it is perhaps even more important during training (Goose & Winter, 2012). While dedicated, deliberate practice is generally not considered enjoyable in most sports (Ericsson, Krampe, & Tesch-Römer, 1993), there is some evidence that middle distance runners perceive their most difficult and relevant activities as their most enjoyable (Young & Salmela, 2002), making a coach's job that much easier. Coaches should focus on creating specific task-oriented goals in an effort to improve athletes' intrinsic motivation (Barić, Cecić Erpič, & Babić, 2002: Ferrer-Caja & Weiss, 2000). Goudas, Biddle, Fox, and Underwood (1995) found that one way to engender this kind of motivation among young track athletes was to give them some control over their own workout. This kind of perceived autonomy has been shown to have significant positive and long-lasting effects on motivation (Almagro, Sáenz-López, & Moreno, 2010; Jõesaar, Hein, & Hagger, 2012). Care should be taken, however, to ensure that highly motivated runners do not endanger their health by running to the point of collapse (St Clair Gibson et al., 2013). Perhaps most importantly, coaches must instill a feeling of long-term hope in their athletes; Curry, Snyder, Cook, Ruby, and Rehm (1997) found that cross country and track athletes with a higher sense of personal hope were more likely to excel in both academics and athletics.
Retaining young athletes can often be a difficult task. Over a span of 25 years, Enoksen (2011) analyzed survey results of track and field athletes who had left the sport and found that the average "drop out" age was 17. There are many reasons a young athlete might leave an athletic program, including injuries and conflicts with work or school, but coaches can encourage retention by fostering a sense of competency in his or her athletes. In general, athletes who are task-driven with a higher sense of competency are more likely to remain in an athletics program (Konttinen, Toskala, Laakso, & Konttinen, 2006; Xiang, McBride, & Bruene, 2004, 2006). Conversely, young runners with a high ego orientation—that is, those who are primarily motivated by a desire to best others and/or a low perception of their own abilities—are more likely to drop out of an athletic program (Cervelló, Escartí, & Guzmán, 2007; Whitehead, Andrée, & Lee, 2004). Cashmore (2008) described this type of runner as someone who "may return a poor time in a 1,500 m race, but, as long as she finishes in front of the field, it counts as more of a success than if she had run a personal record but finished second" (p. 142). Setting performance goals based on time, rather than place, can help to avoid this mode of thinking (Lane & Karageorghis, 1997). Hill (2000) also listed a number of ways to encourage young runners to stay in their programs, including
- using imagery, such as having an athlete imitate the form of an elite runner;
- encouraging social interaction between athletes, such as positive feedback from peers or group-related running activities; and
- allowing self-pacing, rather than explicitly prescribing distances and times.
Offering advice, criticism, and praise is an integral function of the coach–athlete relationship. As Stein, Bloom, and Sabiston (2012) concluded, "it is important that coaches realize the significance of giving feedback following good performances, and attempt to incorporate positive and informational feedback into their interactions with their athletes" (p. 488). Stoate, Wulf, and Lewthwaite (2012) found that runners who were given positive feedback about their form (in this case, fabricated) were more likely to improve over time than those who were given no feedback. Parents should also focus positive verbal feedback on their child's effort, rather than an outcome like finishing place (Loprinzi, 2012).
It is also important to consider the focus of the advice given to an athlete. Though a less experienced runner may react to a coach's external cues—such as "pass that runner!"—positively, higher-level runners consistently report more internally-based thought processes—such as monitoring breathing and maintaining proper form—during competition (Nietfeld, 2003), and their coaches often focus much of their verbal feedback on promoting those internal processes (Porter, Wu, & Partridge, 2012). That said, Schücker, Anheier, Hagemann, Strauss & Völker (2013) found that there were physiological benefits to maintaining an external focus during high intensity exercise. If nothing else, a simple confirmation of the distance remaining can be better than no feedback at all (Faulkner, Arnold, & Eston, 2011; Neumann & Piercy, 2013). Children will also find it easier to respond to cues related to distance than to time (Chinnasamy, St Clair Gibson, & Micklewright, 2013).
In general, both male and female athletes "want a coach who (a) implements instructional practices, (b) can perform the skills required of the sport, and (c) provide opportunities for the athletes to compete and achieve their goals" (Martin, Dale, & Jackson, 2001, p. 208). That said, preferred communication style may differ between genders: Male runners and coaches may prefer to focus the conversation between coach and athlete on fitness and athleticism, while female runners may prefer to address a broader array of topics (Childs, 2010). Sources of motivation may also differ significantly. According to a study by Sirard, Pfeiffer, and Pate (2006), "boys are more attracted to the competitive aspects of sports whereas girls are more motivated by the social opportunities that sports provide" (p. 696). Gneezy & Rustichini (2004) found that "when children ran alone, there was no difference in performance. In competition boys, but not girls, improved their performance" (p. 377), although Dreber, von Essen, and Ranehill (2011) found no such effect in their similar study. A focus on competition, however, is not necessarily a stronger long-term motivational force: Young women may feel more motivated by the unity of their team (Smith and Ogle, 2006). In fact, Feltz, Lirgg, and Albrecht (1992) found that the young female runners in their five-year longitudinal study were more dedicated than the males.
- Almagro, B. J., Sáenz-López, P. & Moreno, J. A. (2010). "Prediction of sport adherence through the influence of autonomy-supportive coaching among Spanish adolescent athletes". Journal of Sports Science & Medicine, 9 (1): 8–14. https://www.jssm.org/vol9/n1/2/v9n1-2pdf.pdf.
- Barić, R., Cecić Erpič, S. & Babić, V. (2002). "Intrinsic motivation and goal orientation in track-and-field children". International Journal of Fundamental and Applied Kinesiology, 34 (1): 50–60. http://instructional1.calstatela.edu/dfrankl/curr/kin370/Paper%20439%20edited.doc.
- Carless, D. (2008). "Narrative, identity, and recovery from serious mental illness: A life history of a runner". Qualitative Research in Psychology, 5 (4): 233–248. doi:10.1080/14780880701826101. http://www.tandfonline.com/doi/abs/10.1080/14780880701826101
- Cashmore, E. (2008). Sport and exercise psychology: The key concepts (2nd ed.). Abingdon, Oxon, England: Routledge. http://www.scribd.com/doc/57194508/Sport-and-Exercise-Psychology-the-Key-Concepts-2e-2008.
- Cervelló, E., Escartí, A. & Guzmán, J. (2007). "Youth sport dropout from the achievement goal theory". Psicothema, 19 (1): 65–71. http://www.unioviedo.net/reunido/index.php/PST/article/download/8598/8462.
- Childs, M. L. (2010). Perceived and preferred coach communication behaviors of cross-country athletes according to gender. Unpublished master's thesis, Oregon State University, Corvallis, OR. http://ir.library.oregonstate.edu/xmlui/bitstream/handle/1957/16333/ChildsMichelleL2010.pdf.
- Chinnasamy, C., St Clair Gibson, A. & Micklewright, D. (2013). "The effect of spatial and temporal cues on athletic pacing in schoolchildren". Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise, 45 (2): 395–402. doi:10.1249/MSS.0b013e318271edfb. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/22968310
- Crocker, P., Bouffard, M. & Gessaroli, M. (1995). "Measuring enjoyment in youth sport settings: A confirmatory factor analysis of the Physical Activity Enjoyment Scale". Journal of Sport & Exercise Psychology, 17 (2): 200–205. http://psycnet.apa.org/psycinfo/1996-91391-001.
- Curry, L. A., Snyder, C. R., Cook, D. L., Ruby, B. C. & Rehm, M. (1997). "Role of hope in academic and sport achievement". Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 73 (6): 1257–1267. doi:10.1037/0022-3522.214.171.1247. http://www.hopesurvey.org/pdfs/publications/Role-of-hope-in-academic-and-sport-achievement.pdf
- Dreber, A., von Essen, E. & Ranehill, E. (2011). "Outrunning the gender gap: Boys and girls compete equally". Experimental Economics, 14 (4): 567–582. doi:10.1007/s10683-011-9282-8. http://www.econstor.eu/bitstream/10419/56335/1/591456281.pdf
- Enoksen, E. (2011). "Drop-out rate and drop-out reasons among promising Norwegian track and field athletes: A 25 year study". Scandinavian Sport Studies Forum, 2: 19–43. http://www.sportstudies.org/content/vol_2_2011/019-043_vol_2_2011_enoksen.pdf.
- Ericsson, K. A., Krampe, R. T. & Tesch-Römer, C. (1993). "The role of deliberate practice in the acquisition of expert performance". Psychological Review, 100 (3): 363–406. doi:10.1037/0033-295X.100.3.363. http://graphics8.nytimes.com/images/blogs/freakonomics/pdf/DeliberatePractice(PsychologicalReview).pdf
- Faulkner, J., Arnold, T. & Eston, R. (2011). "Effect of accurate and inaccurate distance feedback on performance markers and pacing strategies during running". Scandinavian Journal of Medicine & Science in Sports, 21 (6): e176–e183. doi:10.1111/j.1600-0838.2010.01233.x. http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/j.1600-0838.2010.01233.x/abstract
- Feltz, D. L., Lirgg, C. D. & Albrecht, R. R. (1992). "Psychological implications of competitive running in elite young distance runners: A longitudinal analysis". The Sport Psychologist, 6 (2): 128–138. http://journals.humankinetics.com/tsp-back-issues/tspvolume6issue2june/psychologicalimplicationsofcompetitiverunningineliteyoungdistancerunnersalongitudinalanalysis.
- Ferrer-Caja, E. & Weiss, M. R. (2000). "Predictors of intrinsic motivation among adolescent students in physical education". Research Quarterly for Exercise and Sport, 71 (3): 267–279. doi:10.1080/02701367.2000.10608907. http://psicdesp.no.sapo.pt/mot/12.pdf
- Gervis, M. & Dunn, N. (2004). "The emotional abuse of elite child athletes by their coaches". Child Abuse Review, 13 (3): 215–223. doi:10.1002/car.843. http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1002/car.843/abstract
- Gneezy, U. & Rustichini, A. (2004). "Gender and competition at a young age". American Economic Review, 94 (2): 377–381. doi:10.1257/0002828041301821. http://citeseerx.ist.psu.edu/viewdoc/download?doi=10.1.1.195.4452&rep=rep1&type=pdf
- Goudas, M., Biddle, S., Fox, K. & Underwood, M. (1995). "It ain't what you do, it's how you do it! Teaching style affects children's motivation in track and field lessons". Sport Psychologist, 9 (3): 254–264. http://www.spectrumofteachingstyles.org/pdfs/literature/Goudas%20(2).pdf.
- Goose, M. & Winter, S. (2012). "The coach's impact on long distance runners' training and competition motivation". International Journal of Sports Science and Coaching, 7 (2): 383–398. doi:10.1260/1747-95126.96.36.1993. http://research.smuc.ac.uk/301/1/Goose_Winter_International_journal_of_sports_science_2012.pdf
- Henriksen, Stambulova & Roessler (2010). "Successful talent development in track and field: Considering the role of environment". Scandinavian Journal of Medicine & Science in Sports, 20 (Supplement 2): 122–132. doi:10.1111/j.1600-0838.2010.01187.x. http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/j.1600-0838.2010.01187.x/abstract
- Hill, G. M. (2000). "Ten ways to get kids excited about running". Journal of Physical Education, Recreation & Dance, 71 (4): 25–28. doi:10.1080/07303084.2000.10605125. https://www2.csulb.edu/colleges/chhs/departments/kin/files/10waystomotivatetorun.pdf
- Jõesaar, H., Hein, V. & Hagger, M. S. (2012). "Youth athletes' perception of autonomy support from the coach, peer motivational climate and intrinsic motivation in sport setting: One-year effects". Psychology of Sport and Exercise, 13 (3): 257–262. doi:10.1016/j.psychsport.2011.12.001. http://www.selfdeterminationtheory.org/SDT/documents/2012_JoesaarHeinHagger_PSE.pdf
- Jones, G. & Spooner, K. (2006). "Coaching high achievers". Consulting Psychology Journal: Practice and Research, 58 (1): 40–50. doi:10.1037/1065-92188.8.131.52. http://psycnet.apa.org/index.cfm?fa=buy.optionToBuy&id=2006-04784-004
- Konttinen, N., Toskala, A., Laakso, L. & Konttinen, R. (2006). The interaction of goal orientation and perceived competence in predicting sustained participation in competitive sports: A longitudinal study of track and field youth athletes. Unpublished manuscript, Research Institute for Olympic Sports, Jyväskylä, Finland. http://www.european-athletics.org/files/awards/2nd_-the_interaction_of_goal_orientation_and_perceived_competence_in_predicting_sustained_participation_in_competitive_sport.pdf.
- Kruger, A., Pienaar, A., Du Plessis, E. & van Rensburg, L. J. (2012). "The importance of psychological characteristics in potentially talented adolescent long distance runners: Sport psychology". African Journal for Physical Health Education, Recreation and Dance, 18 (2): 413–422. http://www.sabinet.co.za/abstracts/ajpherd/ajpherd_v18_n2_a18.html.
- Lane, A. & Karageorghis, C. (1997). "Goal Confidence and difficulty as predictors of goal attainment in junior high school cross-country runners". Perceptual and Motor Skills, 84 (3): 747–752. doi:10.2466/pms.19184.108.40.2067. http://www.amsciepub.com/doi/abs/10.2466/pms.19220.127.116.117
- Leslie-Toogood, A. & Martin, G. L. (2003). "Do coaches know the mental skills of their athletes? Assessments from volleyball and track". Journal of Sport Behavior, 26 (1): 56–68. http://www.cabdirect.org/abstracts/20033026070.html.
- Loprinzi, P. (2012). "Psychosocial influences on runners' endurance performance: Focus on younger runners". Track & Cross Country Journal, 2 (1): 35–40. http://www.tccjournal.org/uploads/Vol_2_Issue_1_July_2012.pdf.
- Martin, S., Dale, G. & Jackson, A. (2001). "Youth coaching preferences of adolescent athletes and their parents". Journal of Sport Behavior, 24 (2): 197–211. https://faculty.coe.unt.edu/sites/faculty/files/148/154/JSB_Martin_01.pdf.
- Neumann, D. L. & Piercy, A. (2013). "The effect of different attentional strategies on physiological and psychological states during running". Australian Psychologist, 48 (5): 329–337. doi:10.1111/ap.12015. http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/ap.12015/full
- Nietfeld, J. (2003). "An examination of metacognitive strategy use and monitoring skills by competitive middle distance runners". Journal of Applied Sport Psychology, 15 (4): 307–320. doi:10.1080/714044199. http://www.cabdirect.org/abstracts/20043023821.html
- Porter, J., Wu, W. & Partridge, J. (2012). "Focus of attention and verbal instructions: Strategies of elite track and field coaches and athletes". Sport Science Review, 19 (3–4): 77–89. doi:10.2478/v10237-011-0018-7. http://review.sportscience.ro/wp-content/uploads/2010/10/Jared-M-PORTER.pdf
- Raglin, J. & Wilson, G. (2008). "Chapter 14: Psychology in Endurance Performance". in Shephard, R. J. & Astrand, P. O.. The Encyclopaedia of Sports Medicine. 2 (2nd ed.). John Wiley & Sons. pp. 211–222. http://books.google.com/books?id=_IuGSCUhWoEC&pg=PA211.
- Schücker, L., Anheier, W., Hagemann, N., Strauss, B. & Völker, K. (2013). "On the optimal focus of attention for efficient running at high intensity". Sport, Exercise, and Performance Psychology, 2 (3): 207–219. doi:10.1037/a0031959. http://psycnet.apa.org/psycinfo/2013-13263-001/
- Sirard, J., Pfeiffer, K. & Pate, R. (2006). "Motivational factors associated with sports program participation in middle school students". Journal of Adolescent Health, 38 (6): 696–703. doi:10.1016/j.jadohealth.2005.07.013. http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S1054139X05003782
- Smith, P. M. & Ogle, J. P. (2006). "Interactions among high school cross‐country runners and coaches: Creating a cultural context for athletes' embodied experiences". Family and Consumer Sciences Research Journal, 34 (3): 276–307. doi:10.1177/1077727X05283598. http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1177/1077727X05283598/abstract
- St Clair Gibson, A., De Koning, J. J., Thompson, K. G., Roberts, W. O., Micklewright, D., Raglin, J. & Foster, C. (2013). "Crawling to the finish line: Why do endurance runners collapse?". Sports Medicine, 43 (6): 413–424. doi:10.1007/s40279-013-0044-y. http://link.springer.com/article/10.1007%2Fs40279-013-0044-y
- Stein, J., Bloom, G. A. & Sabiston, C. M. (2012). "Influence of perceived and preferred coach feedback on youth athletes' perceptions of team motivational climate". Psychology of Sport and Exercise, 13 (4): 484–490. doi:10.1016/j.psychsport.2012.02.004. http://sportpsych.mcgill.ca/pdf/publications/PSE_Stein_et_al_2012.PDF
- Stoate, I., Wulf, G. & Lewthwaite, R. (2012). "Enhanced expectancies improve movement efficiency in runners". Journal of Sports Sciences, 30 (8): 815–823. doi:10.1080/02640414.2012.671533. http://www.tandfonline.com/doi/abs/10.1080/02640414.2012.671533
- Thornton, E. W. & Scott, S. E. (1995). "Motivation in the committed runner: correlations between self-report scales and behaviour". Health Promotion International, 10 (3): 177–184. doi:10.1093/heapro/10.3.177. http://heapro.oxfordjournals.org/content/10/3/177.short
- Whitehead, J., Andrée, K. V. & Lee, M. J. (2004). "Achievement perspectives and perceived ability: How far do interactions generalize in youth sport?". Psychology of Sport and Exercise, 5 (3): 291–317. doi:10.1016/S1469-0292(03)00016-5. http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S1469029203000165
- Xiang, P., McBride, R. E. & Bruene, A. (2004). "Fourth graders' motivation in an elementary physical education running program". The Elementary School Journal, 104 (3): 253–266. doi:10.1086/499752. http://www.jstor.org/stable/3202952
- Xiang, P., McBride, R. E. & Bruene, A. (2006). "Fourth-grade students' motivational changes in an elementary physical education running program". Research Quarterly for Exercise and Sport, 77 (2): 195–207. doi:10.1080/02701367.2006.10599354. http://www.tandfonline.com/doi/abs/10.1080/02701367.2006.10599354
- Young, B. W. & Salmela, J. H. (2002). "Perceptions of training and deliberate practice of middle distance runners". International Journal of Sport Psychology, 33 (2): 167–181. http://www.cabdirect.org/abstracts/20033062510.html.