Prime Your Athlete for Success

Prime Your Athlete for Success

In athletics, the goal has always been to win; that’s the point of the game! Especially at the higher levels, collegiate and professional, a coach easily becomes frustrated when the athletes are not performing. Lack of performance usually results short-term, in losing the game, and long-term, a coach losing his job. Athletes do not execute for two main reasons: 1) unprepared physically or 2) unprepared mentally. The saying “it’s 90{4b1fe63123713d31487550d3441c07e511f9c896d21719779d3ce493da6269bd} mental 10{4b1fe63123713d31487550d3441c07e511f9c896d21719779d3ce493da6269bd} physical” is the reality. Coaches tend to stress the importance of practice, lifting weights, and staying conditioned but what about the mental game? Can a coach prime his athletes mentally before a competition and achieve more tallies in the win column?

William Cusick, author of All Customers Are Irrational, believes that a person’s decisions and actions initiate in the subconscious mind and are influenced by outside factors. “Priming describes a phenomenon wherein a person is subconsciously reacting to an environment or stimulus that is inherently positive or negative” (Cusick pg. 88). The subconscious reduces decision making by compiling information from past experiences, patterns, and non-conscious stimuli (nonconscious priming). “Nonconscious priming cues can be words, trait or category concepts, environmental or material objects” (Brechue, William. “Non-conscious activation of behavior and performance; Priming success in the classroom”). These categories of priming may not be useful for every athlete but acknowledging the potential influence and testing for results can positively impact the team.

Brechue gives examples and researched experiments for each priming technique.

Words: Individuals primed with the concept of politeness or rudeness were less or more likely to interrupt a conversation (Bargh, et al., 1996). Priming fairness significantly altered price negotiations and more cooperative bargaining strategies among individuals (Maxwell, et al., 1999).

Environmental: When shown a picture of an upscale restaurant, individuals were primed to recognize words associated with well- mannered behavior. The “upscale restaurant” prime also had an impact on behavior in that during an “eating experiment” appropriately primed individuals spent more time cleaning up after themselves and left their area cleaner than controls.

Trait/Behavioral: The chameleon effect is the unintentional mimicking of another individuals expressions, actions or movements during social interactions. (Chartran and Bargh, 1999). In a social setting, one individual adopts the expressions and mannerisms of the other individual. In an experimental setting, subjects consistently mimicked smiling, foot shaking and body postures taken by the experimenter during various cooperation tasks or discussion. The impact on the social setting showed subjects perceived their interaction more positive when the person mimicked the subject’s mannerisms and postures. In contrast, subjects reported negative experiences when the experimenter explicitly avoided mimicking the subject’s expressions or movements.

Object: When asked to judge the interaction between two people from a vague description, individuals were more likely to judge the interaction as cooperative or competitive depending upon the presence of a backpack or a briefcase. Objects of business (briefcase, boardroom table, etc.) stimulated a competitive environment and behavior. Contrastingly, the backpack represented an object of leisure that led to more cooperation. Interestingly, these observations indicated a similar response when exposed to the actual object or merely a picture of the object.

As a college coach, I feel I can use these techniques to motivate my athletes to compete. In the past, the coaching staff repeatedly emphasized working physical softball skills, which has contributed to more success, but the team continues to struggle staying mentally focused throughout the season. We have been notorious for starting a game with little or no energy and letting down intensity if we fall behind on the scoreboard. I used to think it was a personnel issue. The people on the team lacked mental toughness, competitive drive, and passion for being successful, so those were the reasons contributing to the failure. After researching the topic of priming, I now realize I have the power to influence my team in a positive, competitive direction. It is not a personnel issue; it is a lack of mental preparation.

There are many opportunities throughout the season to prime an athlete. The team locker room, bus rides for transportation and off days between games provides plenty of time for subtlety priming the players. This spring season, I want to experiment with my athletes by watching a motivational, inspirational movie on the bus or in the hotel room the day before a game, controlling our home field environment by playing upbeat, high-energy music on game day, and posting softball related and non-softball pictures that represent competing, attacking, winning, positivity, and excellence in the locker room as well as on the door of the charter bus. With all of the current and past data, I am confident priming the Western Carolina’s softball team will prepare them mentally on the field and result in a winning 2016 season.