Athletic Insight - The Online Journal of Sport Psychology

ARTICLE COMMENTARY
An Extension of “One Consultants Experience”
Focusing on Sport Karate

Shaun M. Galloway
School of Sport, Performing Arts and Leisure,
Wolverhampton University, UK

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ABSTRACT

Introduction

Background Information

Initial Contact – Initial Success

Developing the Foundation

Preparing the Athletes

Tournament Day

Conclusion

References

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ABSTRACT

This brief report is a response to the Athletic-Insight special edition (2004, volume 6, issue 2). The special edition examined the experiences of applied sport psychologist in various sporting contexts. This article hopes to add to the experience of being an applied sport psychologists in sport karate. Throughout the article I make reference to Dr. Schinke’s experiences with boxing and to Professor Lane's experiences in his consultation with a boxer (this issue). Similarities and differences are explored and suggestions are given for those sport psychologists who may consult in the area of sport karate.

Introduction

       When I read the Athletic Insight issue that was dedicated to applied sport psychology consultation (2004), in particularly Dr. Schinke’s article, I found it tremendously insightful. However, I have never consulted with boxers and was constantly finding interesting differences of consulting practices due in part to the nature and culture of the athletes involved in sport karate. Starting out as a consultant I was continually looking for real life experience, which came mostly from articles and texts. It is for that reason that I am writing this response.

Background Information

       Traditional martial artist are athletes who constantly have to deal with the concept of ‘the way’ (tradition) and the concept of ‘competition’ (sport). Many times these two concepts do not coincide very well. To be exact karate athletes who compete in the kimute (sparring) aspect of karate and who are in the World Karate Federation (WKF) have to deal with a set of rules which are slowly turning the ‘way’ into a full fledged sport, similar to judo.

       Karate is similar to boxing in that for the most part two competitors will meet on a mat, which is comparable in size to a boxing ring, however this is where it stops. WKF karate is supposed to be semi contact with, very slight contact to the head and 40% maximum power to the body. This is not the real case as athletes are constantly loosing teeth, gaining concussions and breaking ribs or worse. Furthermore, in boxing you can take a large amount of contact and still possibly win. In karate you will only be hit so often before you will lose. These peculiarities make for a very special psychological environment.

       There are not very many sport psychologists or consultants who work with martial artists. Being intimately involved in the sport as an international competitor, coach and referee I naturally gravitated to it, as I felt most comfortable consulting in this area. It is my intention to contrast my experiences against those of Dr. Schinke and my colleague (see Lane, this issue) who have also written a letter of response in the area of combat sports.

Initial Contact – Initial Success

       Gaining entrance into the club (or dojo) was very easy as I spoke the same ‘talk’ as the instructor (sensei). I had thought that it would be problematic as traditional martial arts are quite hierarchical and I can say, as a general rule, that sensei’s don’t like to relinquish any form of power. While this sensei did keep to traditional karate, he did make delineation between ‘sport karate’ and ‘traditional karate’. He employed conditioning coaches, nutritionist, tactical analysis of competitors and with the inclusion of myself, a sport psychology consultant.

       The method of delivering the sport psychology service was to be completed in ten 50 min lectures 1 hour prior to training sessions. After this initial stage we got together and started to think about transactional methods of using this knowledge (Bar-Eli, 2002). Unlike, Dr. Schinke I was not immediately a part of the team but this quickly changed as I moved to using the techniques during simulated competition.

       Again, I was left wondering how the athletes would accept these sessions: the material and sport psychology’s usefulness to sport karate. From the start to the end the athletes were accepting of the material and continually questioning me as to how to best utilize the information. In past experiences I found that it had usually taken two to three sessions before this amount of questioning would be part of the session.

Developing the Foundation

       The shared experience that I had with these competitors was still no substitute for time (Schinke, 2004; Lane this issue). Similar to Lane (this issue) I was careful to not contradict other consultants that the club used. This point was compounded due to the fact that many of the athletes asked me about training method, nutrition and tactical-technical questions because of my success and experience. I have always thought that my knowledge of sport science would be a positive in developing the foundation, but during this process I found that I really had to put limits on what I could and should consult on. On the other hand I was able to liaise with the consultants and use the professional terminology with them so that all concerns were met.

Preparing the Athletes

       The delivery service that I used was directed by the sensei. He had read about various sport psychology approaches and wanted to use: individual zones of optimal functioning – IZOF (Hanin, 2000) and psycho-physiology techniques (Blumenstein, Bar-Eli & Tenenbaum, 2002). With these criteria, I taught six group sessions of traditional sport psychology techniques, which included: goal setting, self-talk, imagery, arousal control and how to relate these skills to IZOF and the use of the psycho-physiology equipment that was to be used over the next four sessions. The final four group sessions focused on psycho-physiological feedback in relation to the traditional sport psychology techniques taught in sessions one to six. It was also pointed out that a relaxed or meditative state may not be the optimal zone of functioning and that this could only be determined after correlating their psycho-physiological values (via. frontalis EMG, Galvanic skin response and EEG states) to performance levels. This point of reference served as a very important breakthrough. Most of the competitors were able to reach a very relaxed meditative state, most likely due to the connection with traditional karate practices, however many of the competitors found that they felt sluggish and that it wasn’t until their second or third fight that they were in a good competitive frame of mind. Almost all of the athletes had thought that a very relaxed state was optimal to high-level performance. It wasn’t always the case.

       After this phase of consultation, I focused on helping individuals through the use of video analysis (which also included the sensei and a technical/tactical advisor who had set up a notational analysis system). I gave many different suggestions, but in most cases I was facilitating the understanding of where a competitor could use the psychological skills learnt. For all competitors’ psychological skills training sessions were developed. This would take the form of a simulated match, where the athlete would use pre and post psychological skills as well as during match skills. A common theme was the difficulty in using psychological skills during the match as their attentional focus was directed toward their competitor. This conflict was solved by having the sensei become a short-term facilitator of these skills. Similar to the boxing, karate has its own type of between rounds ‘down time.’ However, karate’s down time is typically five to ten times at 5 to 10 sec due to referee decisions on points and rule infractions. It is customary at these times to have the sensei yell a lot of technical advice which is usually not heard due to the athlete’s inward focus. With this in mind, we developed a system of three or four hand signals which would represent: remembering the game plan, centering/breath control, use of a trigger word or kinesthetic action, slow down of the match and speeding up the match tempo. This intervention strategy was appreciated by both the instructor and the athletes. Feedback indicted that the athletes were able to respond to three to four signals and then re-focus on the match as well as alleviating the stress of not listening to or understanding the instruction given by their sensei. The sensei’s were happy because they felt that they were getting involved and had some sort of impact. There was some concern with regards to the cessation of the hand signals, but this was quickly resolved as it was pointed out by the athletes that there was no way to be with all the athletes on the mat at the same time (which is a usual circumstance) and so they thought that it would be fair for everyone to not have the help of the sensei once they had learnt how and when to use their skills.

       Throughout this phase of sport psychology services I was constantly challenged as to what would be useful and what would not be useful during actual competition. Many answers would have sufficed but the one that held the most use was to try them out and see what the results would be and to give each trial five to ten times before they ‘black listed’ a technique. This was in a similar mode to the traditional pedagogical approach used in karate instruction and was accepted by all the athletes.

Tournament Day

       Tournament day was quite a bit different from other sports that I had worked with. With other sports roughly half the team or club would come to me and talk about general topics as well as questions about which psychological techniques to use. This was not the case for this group of athletes. They had well defined personal psychological skills routines. There was very little conversation prior to competition. This trend continued throughout the actual competition. The only exception was to have me make sure they were collecting proper psycho-physiological data for their IZOF profile. Things rapidly changed after the tournament depending on whether they had reached or not reached their goals. Those who had reached their goals came to me to consolidate findings in relation to their performance and to figure out future goals. This posed a problem because their sensei was not able to sit down and re-set goals at that point and the athletes wanted to direct their positive feelings towards accomplishing more challenging goals. In retrospect it would have been good to have individual meetings available after the competition with the sensei and myself. Those who did not reach their goal, in most cases, were questioning their effort in relation to the pay-off. Karate is not a professional sport and so athletes compete for their selves as well as the possibility of representing their country (with very little financial support). This became an area where we would weigh the costs of intense physical and mental preparation in relation to real world transference. Was all this work that they were doing able to be related to future real life experiences? Was it worth all the time, dedication and sacrifice? In general, time scales were used to achieve goals and how moving towards these goals could help with life experiences in general. In this way, their time, dedication and sacrifice in karate could be related to obtaining a life goal like applying for and finishing a graduate degree – for example.

Conclusion

       This report’s intention was to highlight some points of reference when consulting with sport karate athletes and some of the pitfalls that can be present due to ‘cross consultation’. The athletes took active part in developing their own personal sport psychology techniques based on the IZOF model and the use of psycho-physiological markers (Hanin, 2000; Seabourne, et al., 1984, 1985; Schinke, 2004). This program was based on the first six sessions, which were taught systematically as suggested by Weinberg and Comar (1994). After these sessions were completed the final four group sessions focused on transforming mental skills into practice during a simulated competition environment.

       The competitors were self-sufficient before and throughout the tournament environment but were very interactive post competition, when they were either trying to figure out how they can better themselves or whether they should continue at their present level of commitment. It could be suggested that this is a reoccurring theme with athletes who have to sacrifice so much for so little: the problem of the elite athlete in a low priority – poorly funded sport.

       The last observation that this paper would like to bring to the fore is that the sport psychologist should be prepared to have a multitude of skills. Similar to Schinke (2004), I did everything from grunt work to helping with the video notational analysis system scoring. Coming from a sport science back ground there were many areas with the sport science group that I could have gotten involved in and choose not to, so that there would be no confusion with my role on the team. Knowing your limits and where to put up those limits was a very important factor for me in the delivery of sport psychology services for sport karate athletes. In closing, I hope that this review will give some insight to consulting in sport karate.

References

       Bar-Eli, M. (2002). Biofeedback as applied psychophysiology in sport and exercise: conceptual principles for research and practice. In B. Blumenstein, M. Bar-Eli & G. Tenenbaum (Eds.), Brain and body in sport and exercise: Biofeedback applications in performance enhancement (pp. 1-14). London: John Wiley.

       Blumenstein, B., Bar-Eli, M., & Tenenbaum, G. (Eds.). (2002). Brain and body in sport and exercise: Biofeedback applications in performance enhancement. London: John Wiley.

       Hanin, Y. L. (Ed.). (2000). Emotions in sport. Champaign, Illinois: Human Kinetics.

       Schinke, R. J. (2004). The Contextual side of professional boxing: One consultant’s experience. Athletic Insight. Retrieved November 24, 2004, from http://www.athleticinsight.com/Vol6Iss2/Professionalboxing.htm

       Seabourne, T., Weinberg, R., & Jackson, A. (1984). Effect of individualized practice and training of visuo-motor behavior rehearsal in enhancing karate performance. Journal of Sport Behavior, 7, 58-67.

       Seabourne, T., Weinberg, R., Jackson, A., & Suinn. (1985). Effect of individualized, nonindividualized, and package intervention strategies on karate performance. Journal of Sport Psychology, 7, 40-50.

       Weinberg, R. S., & Comar, W. (1994). The effectiveness of psychological interventions in competitive sports. Sports Medicine, 18, 406-418.

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Address all correspondence to: Shaun M., Galloway Ph.D., Senior Lecturer, School of Sport, Performing Arts and Leisure, Gorway road, Walsall, WS1-3GB, Phone - + 01902 323234, E-mail: s.galloway@wlv.ac.uk

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