Much research within the sport psychology field looks at how our minds can lead to be detrimental on our performance. Instead of focusing on the negative aspects, such as worry, pessimism and fear, this article shall be looking at how positive psychology, such as hope and optimism, can positively impact our sporting performance.
Optimism and hope can be perceived as positive mindsets which some people do or do not have. Synder et al. (1991) defined hope as a goal-directed cognitive construct, formed by two reciprocal components; agency and pathways (Feldman and Sills, 2013). When referring to agency, Synder (1991) explained it as a goal-directed determination, which without acquiring it may be thought that you cannot reach high levels of hope. Pathways on the other hand are the potential routes which an individual plans to take in order to reach their goal. Individuals who are hopeful tend to be optimistic agentic thinkers who have clear pathways to reach their goals. Alike the definition of hope, Scheier (1985) specified optimism as a determinant of the differentiation between ‘continued striving’ and ‘giving up and turning away’ (Youssef and Luthans, 2007).
Although hope and optimism may be perceived as just a frame of mind, it can in fact help coaches and sport psychologists to predict and understanding an athlete’s sporting performance. Those who are hopeful have the willpower and determination to overcome obstacles which may be blocking the pathway of their individual goal oppose to ‘throwing in the towel’. This is due to the strong power of agentic thinking, whereby the determination and motivation is based on achieving a particular goal. With this in mind, goals/targets can be made more challenging for the individual.
Those taking part in competitive sports, whether team or individually based, need to be motivated in order to strive towards long- and/or short-term goals. As previously mentioned, one of the components of hope is clear, goal-directed pathways. Having set goals is naturally motivating, as it is expected that there is an intrinsic underlying desire or external motive pushing you towards that goal. If the goal is irrelevant, it is unlikely that you will continue to strive towards that goal if it is difficult to get to. In addition, having numerous goals reflects the characteristics of hopeful and optimistic individuals, as optimistic people believe there is nothing to hold them back or prevent them from reaching their goals, so if this is the case, why not have numerous amounts of them?! Even if the goals aren’t reached, optimistic people are thought to have “leniency for the past, appreciation for the present, and opportunity seeking for the future” (Schneider, 2001). This suggests that if something fails it can be overlooked and thought as a result of external and temporary reasons, oppose to personal and permanent explanations (Seligman, 1998). Therefore because the individual isn’t held back by feelings of fear, guilt and negativity, they can continue to strive towards a goal even when things get difficult, rather than give up.
In sport, having the ability to continue to strive towards an end goal even when things get hard is crucial because within most sports the margin between winning and losing is by a matter of points or goals which can be quickly scored or conceded. With the correct mindset of positivity those crucial points/goals that you require can easily and quickly be achieved, as long as you remain hopeful and optimistic.