The 4 Cs of Sport Psychology

Concentration, confidence, control and commitment are the 4Cs of sport psychology. They are generally considered to be essential mental qualities important for successful performance in sports.

  • Concentration is the ability to maintain focus on relevant stimuli (e.g., cues) for a period of time.
  • Confidence is a general term for a belief in one's capabilities.
  • Control is the ability to maintain emotional composure regardless of distractions. 
  • Commitment is the ability to continue working toward one’s goals.

The techniques of relaxation, centering, mental imagery, and hypnotherapy are among the ways to assist athletes in achieving the 4 Cs of sport psychology.

Concentration

Concentration is the first of the 4 Cs of sport psychology. Concentration is the ability to sustain attention on selected stimuli. It can be disrupted by our own thoughts and feelings that distract us.   

Intense concentration is requires emotional energy.  The harder athletes try to concentrate, the more it can slip away.  Effective concentration is an effortless process.

Concentration comes naturally when the mind is completely consumed with the immediate situation   The athlete becomes absorbed in the competition, paying attention to just the right cues to perform well.  

Concentration is dynamic, so it constantly shifts from one point to another.  A loss of concentration occurs when attention is divided or shifts to something irrelevant. 

Confidence

Confidence is the next of the 4 Cs of sport psychology.  Elite athletes often say that confidence is fragile, especially when they compete under pressure. Confidence allows the athlete to focus on essential tasks. Fluctuations can mean the difference between best and worst performances. 

Sport research focuses on self-confidence--the belief that one has the internal resources, abilities, and expectations to achieve success. 

Researchers break down self-confidence into many sub-categories to study and assess it and its influence on sport performance.  Two basic categories of self-confidence are state and trait.  

Trait self-confidence (global) is the degree to which individuals believe in their ability to succeed, in general.

State self-confidence is the belief that they can succeed in a particular moment. In sport, it may be task or skill specific.

According to Feltz, the sources of self-confidence are:

  • Mastery experiences, or performance accomplishments, are the most critical dimension. When athletes perform a task successfully, they are willing to try something more difficult.  On the other hand, repeated failures can diminish confidence.
  • Vicarious experiences boost confidence through the emotional motivation they provide. Vicarious experiences are those felt through the experience of someone else’s participation. One source occurs from watching successful teammates. This stimulates the notion, “if they can do it, so can I!” 
  • Imagery is another useful source of vicarious experiences. This strategy is used to help the athlete create and experience a successful performance by imagining the performance in as much detail as possible including the sights, sounds, and muscle activity.
  • Verbal persuasion is a strategy widely used by teachers, coaches, and peers to influence behavior. It is useful for boosting an athlete’s confidence by convincing them they are completely capable of accomplishing the challenge ahead. 
  • Physiological states such as muscular tension and butterflies in the stomach can reduce feelings of confidence.  
  • Emotional states relate to how the athlete controls the emotions associated with competition, such as excitement and anxiety. Big competitions can creates undue anxiety and self-doubt, so it is critical that the athlete learns take control of their thoughts and emotions. 

Control

Control, the third of the 4 Cs of sport psychology, refers to emotional control, or composure.  An athlete's ability to maintain control of their emotions in the face of adversity and remain positive is essential to winning. 

Two emotions which are often associated with poor performance are anxiety and anger. Emotions can claim the athlete’s level of concentration and attentional focus. Identifying when an athlete feels a particular emotion and understanding the reason for the feelings is an important stage in helping an athlete gain emotional control.

Consequences of emotional responses.  Emotional responses have an impact on performance, whether positive or negative.  The following describes what can happen with emotional responses.

  • Intrapersonal consequences may be cognitive, physiological, or motivational. Heightened arousal of may affect power, muscular tension, and coordination. 
  • Cognitive consequences apply to attentional focus, information processing, and decision-making. With high physiological arousal, attention narrows to relevant cues or irrelevant cues, which can positively or negatively affect performance.   Anger can prompt greater risk taking in sport situations.
  • Motivational consequences affect the athlete’s desire to perform.  Dysfunctional emotions result in an inappropriate amount of energy. Long term, emotions could influence both persistence and commitment.
  • Interpersonal consequences are those that affect others. Opponents’ and teammates’ emotions may shape a given athletes interpretations and responses.  It may influence judgements about situations, such as the intent of an opponent to cause harm. 

Commitment

Commitment is the final quality of the 4 Cs. Sport commitment is defined as a psychological state representing the desire or resolve to continue sport participation. 

Factors that affect commitment. The Sport Commitment Model developed by Scanlan and her colleagues (2003) suggests that enjoyment, personal investments, involvement opportunities, attractive alternatives, social constraints, and social support all influence an athlete’s level of sport participation and commitment. Among those factors, enjoyment has been the strongest predictor of sport commitment among youth athletes.  They also found that sport enjoyment and involvement opportunities were the strongest predictors of sport commitment in elite rugby and collegiate soccer players. 

It is generally agreed that motivation is a key contributing factor to commitment. Motivation is defined as the psychological energy, or the force that initiates, or directs, and even sustains our behaviors over a period of time. It is the force driving you to choose certain types of behaviors over others. 

Strategies to Improve the 4 Cs of Sport Psychology

The following strategies can help athletes accomplish the 4 Cs of sport psychology:

  • State performance goals clearly.
  • Use pre-performance routines
  • Practice imagery and visualizations.
  • Maintain a positive pre-competitive environment.
  • Provide positive feedback and praise.
  • Criticize the athlete's behavior, not the athlete personally.
  • Use positive self-talk.
  • Practice relaxation techniques.

If you are interested in learning more about the 4 Cs, as well as many other topics, I highly recommend Advances in Sport Psychology.  It's a very sound and comprehensive resource in this field.

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