Mind games consulting recommends the Multi-Action Plan (MAP) developed recently and trialled relatively successfully with Italian Olympic shooters.1 The MAP combines theoretical elements from many previous successful models of intervention, notably the Mindfulness-Acceptance-Commitment (MAC) approach,2,3 the Individual Zones of Optimal Functioning (IZOF) model,4,5,6,7,8 and the Identification-Control-Correction (ICC) programme.9
In the MAP model, the ideal state for an athlete to be in is called optimal experience, and it includes the ideas of flow, peak performance, in-the-zone, etc. When an athlete is having an optimal experience in their performance, they are doing their actions automatically while the brain supervises their play. Since most elite athletes have experienced the state of being “in the zone” you can simply describe that experience for a complete description of what your optimal performance would feel like.
Sometimes, or most of the time depending on the athlete, there is a suboptimal performance. This is most recognisable in the term choking, which is commonly used by analysts, particularly when an athlete fails in pressure situation. In the MAP model there are two big classifications of suboptimal performances. Those caused by being over-controlling and those caused by being under-controlling.
In the over-controlled situation athletes experience stress, difficulty, and fatigue. They feel harm coming and unpleasant emotions which are dysfunctional such as dejection and annoyance. Typically there is a high energy level, but it is misused or misdirected. Mental or physical resources are at a low level or are not utilised. The mind’s focus is irrelevant to the task (strategy), or usually has too much focus on a singular objective, thus blocking out other inputs and leading to mistakes. Performance is done with conscious control overriding reactions, which can lead to disjointed play.
In the under-controlled situation athletes experience comfort or pleasure. They feel a beneficial situation coming and pleasant emotions which are dysfunctional such as complacency, pleasure, and relaxation. Typically there is a low energy level and mental or physical resources are also lacking. The mind’s focus is obfuscated and fuzzy with not enough concentration on controlling play. Performance is done with automatic motions, much the same as in an optimal experience, but the result is drastically different as the automatic motions are failing to stand up to the challenge.
Plan B! Optimal experience #2
So now we have three scenarios. Either the athlete is having an optimal performance in the zone, or they are having one of the two types of suboptimal performances. The solution is to try to transform play, ideally during the match in question, towards an optimal performance. However, athletes can not reliably get in the zone from such a challenging situation, and therefore another path must be opened up. In the words of an Italian shooter from the first MAP trial:
When in competition stress arises, you start to lose control and become panicked. Everything you did in practice and know very well seems to fade away. Your Plan A doesn’t work anymore… you have to suddenly switch to Plan B. If you have one! 1 p.695
Plan B is the other style of optimal performance, characterised by controlled actions versus automatic actions. In this situation an athlete experiences stress, difficulties, and fatigue very similar to an overly-controlled suboptimal experience. They feel threatened and unpleasant-but-functional emotions such as nervousness and anger. Typically there is a high energy level, but it is directed well towards compensating for the lack of flow. Mental and physical resources are at a high level and are effectively called upon rapidly to make good decisions and decisive actions. The mind’s focus is on core components to successful performance. Thus the performance is consciously directed, but engrained actions with a known high success rate are allowed to be automatic and thus they are fluid.
Athletes who have experienced this state will recognise it as a hard-fought victory, where they tried hard to eke out every ounce of performance they could muster and paid for it with the price of mental fatigue and a massive investment of energy and focus. Nothing was easy, but the actions were still masterful enough for an optimal performance. The athlete will clearly remember focusing on very crucial movements and decisions while simultaneously trusting that other, important movements would carry on automatically at a high level. Most of the emotions during the competition were stressful and unpleasant, but the victory (or a hard-fought defeat) can leave a satisfied sensation of giving it all.
In the MAP these four categories are performances are labeled thus:
- Type 1 performance → Optimal • Automatic (plan A, in-the-zone)
- Type 2 performance → Optimal • Controlled (plan B)
- Type 3 performance → Suboptimal • Over-controlled
- Type 4 performance → Suboptimal • Under-controlled
There are two ways to move from the suboptimal performance to the optimal performance: action-focused coping and emotion-focused coping. Emotion-focused coping moves from both suboptimal performances towards plan A, or type 1 performance, although it works best in the type 4 situation. Action-focused coping moves the athlete from both suboptimal performances towards plan B, or type 2 performance. Ideally it would work well in both suboptimal situations, however in type 4 it may not be better than emotional-focused coping depending on the athlete.
More articles forthcoming. Contact Mind Games Consulting for immediate information or consultation. See Hanin & Hanina 2009.
More articles forthcoming. Contact Mind Games Consulting for immediate information or consultation. See Hanin 2010.
- Bortoli, L., Bertollo, M., Hanin, Y., & Robazza, C. (2012). Striving for excellence: A multi-action plan intervention model for shooters. Psychology of Sport and Exercise, 13, 693–701.
- Gardner, F. L., & Moore, Z. E. (2004). A Mindfulness-Acceptance-Commitment-based approach to athletic performance enhancement: theoretical considerations. Behavior Therapy, 35, 707–723.
- Moore, Z. E. (2009). Theoretical and empirical developments of the Mindfulness-Acceptance-Commitment (MAC) approach to performance enhancement. Journal of Clinical Sport Psychology, 3, 291–302.
- Hanin, Y. L. (1978). A study of anxiety in sports. In W. F. Straub (Ed.), Sport psychology: An analysis of athlete behavior (pp. 236–249). New York: Mouvement Publications.
- Hanin, Y. L. (Ed.). (2000). Emotions in sport. Champaign, IL: Human Kinetics.
- Hanin, Y. L. (2004). Emotions in sport: an individualized approach. In Spielberger, C. D. (Ed.). (2004). Encyclopedia of applied psychology, Vol. 1 (pp. 739–750). Oxford, UK: Elsevier Academic Press.
- Hanin, Y. L. (2007). Emotions in sport: current issues and perspectives. In G. Tenenbaum, & R. Eklund (Eds.), Handbook of sport psychology (3rd ed.). (pp. 31–58) Hoboken, NJ: Wiley.
- Hanin, Y. L. (2010). Coping with anxiety in sport. In A. Nicholls (Ed.), Coping in sport: Theory, methods, and related constructs (pp. 159–175). New York, NY: Nova Science.
- Hanin, Y., & Hanina, M. (2009). Optimization of performance in top-level athletes: An action-focused coping approach. International Journal of Sports Science and Coaching, 4, 47–58.