What helps and hinders reaching the top?

We hear many great examples of how athletes “make it” to the pinnacle of sporting success, whether as talent selected, detected or transferred athletes, the fascination regarding separation of Mastery athletes from ‘the-rest’ was discussed in a recent blog post

This post by Brad Stulberg, discusses the recent findings of talent development researchers Dave Collins, Áine MacNamara, and Neil McCarthy in their paper published in the Journal Frontiers in Psychology. One of the notable themes emerging from this 54-athlete multiple-sport sample (soccer, rugby, athletics, rowing, curling shooting, skiing, karate, judo and boxing), was The Role of Coaches and Significant Others. Athletes were categorised as super-champions (e.g. multiple championships or multi-Olympic medal winners or top 3 in the world ranking), champions (top 40, achieving no more than one medal at world or Olympic level) or almost champions (world/European youth/junior medals, but no medalling performances at this level as seniors).  – See article for full details

We recognise that self-regulation is about how an athlete takes control of their own learning and development under the guidance of their support team. This autonomous learning was one factor displayed by those super-champions – with the notable athlete quote:

“I learnt how to be very self-sufficient at the time. It’s not that they [my parents] didn’t want to do it, they just didn’t need to do it, I could do it myself.”

Whereas those in the ‘almost champions’ category, were found to report significant others appeared to play a big (sometimes perceived as too big) part in their sport.

“My parents, Dad especially was always there…shouting instructions from the touchline, pushing me to practice at home. Really, I just wanted to be out with my mates, even though we would still be kicking a ball around. I felt like [sport] stole my childhood.”

These increasing stories of ‘helicopter parents’, who hover intently over their child’s sporting environments, may have long-term consequences for the development of self-regulation and an athlete’s psychological resilience.

“It was a real feeling of release to get away from [Father’s name] and go to University. But once there I seemed to lose my way. No-one telling me what to do…I just lost interest.”

The quote above from an ‘almost champion’, highlights the critical time before athletes leave high school prior to attempting to navigate university and being further afield from parents. Aside from educating parents on some pitfalls of their ‘best-intentions’, tailoring the daily training environment can assist young athletes develop a self-regulation skill set,  so they don’t feel like they have lost their way. Therefore, helping athletes develop abilities to handle challenges, establish routines and performance requirements (e.g. sleep and nutrition), all using their own skill sets, will leave them in a better position to attain sporting mastery.

Original article: Collins, D., MacNamara, Á., & McCarthy, N. (2015). Super champions, champions, and almosts: Important differences and commonalities on the rocky road. Frontiers in psychology, 6