Digital Sport Psychology
Sport psychology is going digital. Modern applied sport psychologists are using digital cameras, computers and other devises to help coaches enhance the performance of their athletes. From a historical perspective, coaches have been leaders in the use of film and videotape to improve the teaching/learning process. Good coaches are good teachers! They know how to break complex skills down into their component parts and use a whole/part method of instruction. Experienced coaches know that a ‘good picture is worth a thousand words”. And, “show and tell” is always better than showing or telling.
The use of digital technology requires coaches to learn new videotaping, editing and video production skills. Digital video specialists are joining coaching staffs to help coaches provide definitive feedback to players following practices and games. One thing is certain: after performances players need to know what they did well and what they need to do to get better. Game tapes are edited and selected clips are shown to players the day after they perform. Coaches often begin their post game analysis with: “These clips show what we did well and what we need to do to get better”. Players who need a boast in confidence are often rewarded in front of their teammates by showing video clips of their good performances. Post game analyses are usually limited to 15 - 20 minutes. Coaching is a race against time and it is well known that physical practice of the right type and intensity is the single most important factor in skill improvement. As the ole saying goes: “perfect practice makes perfect”.
Obtaining the right equipment is the first step in producing good quality videotapes. The author has had excellent results using the Canon XL1 - a three chip mini digital camera. The XL1s is the only camcorder that uses interchangeable lens and is considered to be at the top of the pro consumer line. The XL1s, the current version, sells for approximately $3, 600.00. Three chip cameras separate the three primary colors of red, green and blue and produce superior quality footage to one chip cameras.
In addition to a quality camera, a good laptop or desktop computer is also needed. Personally, I like the Apple G4 PowerBook computer with 1 gigabit of memory and running at a speed of 700 MHz. After videotaping, the camera is hooked up to the computer via a fire wire connection and the footage is downloaded into a software program called iMovie or to Final Cut Pro, a more sophisticated editing program. Once downloading has occurred, editing of the clips may begin. When editing is complete, the clips are outputted to the camera or to a VCR deck. However, it is not a good idea to use a camera as VCR. It is a far better practice to purchase a separate unit for this purpose. This device may be used to convert digital to VHS or VHS tapes to digital. Transitions, graphics, voice over and other refinements may be made to enhance the quality of the tape. Personally, I always add background music to create mood and enhance the quality of the tape.
The laptop is particularly valuable since it may be taken on the road and used on the bus/plane when talking with athletes in small groups or one-on-one. Each clip may be marked with the athlete’s number or his/her name so that identification is possible. It is also possible to make season ending highlight and recruiting tapes from the footage that is acquired throughout the season.
Integration of Mental Training and Digital Technology
Mental training, the practicing of psychological skills such as relaxation, concentration, imagery, goal setting and cognitive restructuring, is now an integral part of the training program of high school, college, Olympic and professional athletes. The author’s specialty is the making of video-visualization tapes for athletes. When athletes perform well, video clips of their performances are dubbed onto visualization tapes. Usually each clip is dubbed three times with a transition placed between clips. For example, “a great forehand drive” versus Cornell on a particular date. Usually the middle clip is in slow motion so that athletes may view the intricate components of the skill. Most athletes prefer to use their tapes just before they go to bed each night. After watching each series, players are instructed to place their VCR’s on pause and visualize the each play for two minutes. When athletes visualize, they should activate all their senses. They should see themselves performing, hear the sounds, pick-up the smells, tasted the salt in the sweet, and most importantly, feel it in their muscles. The ‘feeling’ aspect is referred to as kinesthetic imagery. Several research investigations have demonstrated the effectiveness of imagery in enhancing performance in a wide variety of tasks.
Videotaping for Motivation
The quality of the original footage is very important. Sport videographers may have excellent equipment but if they do not know how to use it they will not obtain good quality tapes. It takes considerable practice to learn how to videotape athletic events. I make every effort to capture the “up close and personal” part of the sporting experience. When players perform well, close-ups are obtained to show the emotion of the athlete, other players, coaches and fans. Videotaping for motivation may have a positive effect on performance and promote good team cohesion.
Digital video technology is changing the face of sport psychology and coaching. In particular, the use of mini digital cameras and computers has revolutionalized the way coaches and sport psychologists interact with individual players and teams. Once thing is certain: feedback is essential to learning. And, it is well known that immediate feedback is superior to delayed feedback. For example, in ice hockey when talking about ‘power plays’ between periods, it is now possible to show clips of plays that took place during the previous period. The digital revolution is now an integral part of athletics and it is important for coaches at all levels of competition to use videotapes to not only improve performance but to enhance the satisfaction that players may obtain from their sporting experiences.