Developing self-awareness within athletes is, for me, the most important job a sport psychologist has within applied work. Greater self-awareness can help athletes (and coaches) to build self-confidence and self-esteem, take more responsibility for their actions, and to make better decisions, both in and outside of sport.
What is self-awareness?
Being self-aware involves having knowledge and perception of one’s own:
- Strengths and weaknesses
- Thoughts, emotions, and behaviours
- Values and beliefs
Unfortunately, many athletes are not very self-aware. Younger and less experienced athletes may find it difficult to recognise certain aspects of themselves and their performances. Below are some practical suggestions for developing self-awareness in your athletes.
1. Learning to pay attention
A step towards having a better understanding of yourself involves observing and paying more attention to your thoughts, feelings and behaviours. Taken from the concept of mindfulness, athlete can be taught to be more aware and focused in the present moment using meditation, guided imagery and relaxation exercises. A simple exercise would be to ask the athlete to close their eyes and observe their normal breathing pattern. Ask them to notice the rhythm, rate and depth of their breathing.
2. Becoming aware of more than just strengths and weaknesses
Some sports coaches may be aware of the performance profiling tool used to help athletes become better aware of their strengths and weaknesses. If you aren’t aware of performance profiling, click here for more information. To expand upon this tool, a S.W.O.T analysis as a follow-up discussion on how an athlete can use their strengths, overcome weaknesses, and consider their opportunities and threats.
Strengths and Weaknesses
- Strengths and weaknesses can be systematically identified via a performance profile or through brainstorming exercise.
- Ask the athlete to describe how others would see their strengths and weaknesses (e.g., how would your coach and/or team mates describe some of your strengths and weaknesses that you may not be aware of?).
Opportunities and Threats
- Ask the athlete to reflect on what opportunities exist for them in the future. These could be potential future strengths.
- Similarly, what are future threats? These are potential goal-busters that might be challenges that hinder the athlete from achieving their goals.
Create strategies that will get USED
- Ask the athlete to reflect on the 4 areas and what they have learnt about themselves from the above task.
- Next, encourage the athlete to think about how they will use this information. The following questions may support the development of some useful strategies:
- How can you Use each strength?
- How can you Stop each weakness?
- How can you Exploit each opportunity?
- How can you Defend against each threat?
3. Identifying blind spots
The Johari window is useful for helping athletes to recognise their blind spots (e.g., attitudes and beliefs) as well as discover aspects of themselves they may have never fully appreciated. Similar to the S.W.O.T analysis, the Johari window involves a simple grid of 4 quadrants each representing a different area for athletes to consider about themselves, as well as receiving feedback from others. Below is a diagram of the Johari window model with a description of each of the 4 windows:
Open Self (1): What is known by the athlete about him/herself and is also known by others.
Blind Self (2): What is unknown by the athlete about him/herself, but which is known by others.
Hidden Self (3): What the athlete knows about him/herself that others do not know.
Unknown Self (4): What is unknown by the athlete about him/herself and is also unknown by others.
The balance between the 4 quadrants can change. The athlete may want to increase or decrease the size of any of the quadrants by disclosing information and learning about others from the information they in turn disclose about themselves. With the help of feedback from their coach, team mates and significant others, the athlete can become aware of some of their positive and negative attitudes and behaviours as perceived by others. This task will encourage athletes to learn and appreciate their strengths and to take in to account feedback.
4. Core Beliefs and Values
A fourth area for developing self-awareness focuses on helping athletes to become better aware of their identity as well as core beliefs and values. Ask an athlete to write their own ‘mission statement’ – it will help them understand what is important to them and remind themselves of the reasons why they participate in their sport. This activity may be particularly helpful for athletes who are struggling with their motivation or facing difficult decisions about their future in sport. Some questions that athletes may wish to consider before writing their final mission statement are:
- Identify some of your core values
- What values are most important to you?
- Identify some of your contributions to various areas of your life (the world in general, family, friends, team mates, community, etc.)
- Identify some of your past successes
- Identify some goals (short-term and long-term)
I hope that you find the above suggestions and tasks useful as coaches for encouraging your athletes to develop their degree of self-awareness and to encourage your athletes to engage in ongoing self-reflection. By encouraging your athletes to become more self-aware, they will be better equipped to understand and regulate their own thoughts, feelings and behaviours. Athletes who can become honestly self-aware of aspects of themselves and their performances can develop their ability to be consistent and ultimately control performance.
Have you used any of these activities with your athletes before or have any other suggestions? If so, please leave a comment. I would love to hear from you!