Oct 2012


A change in perspective could be all it takes to succeed in school

Knowing the right way to handle stress in the classroom and on the sports field can make the difference between success and failure for the millions of students going back to school this fall, new University of Chicago research shows.

"We found that cortisol, a hormone released in response to stress, can either be tied to a student's poor performance on a math test or contribute to success, depending on the frame of mind of the student going into the test," said Sian Beilock, associate professor in psychology at UChicago and one of the nation's leading experts on poor performance by otherwise talented people.

She is the author of "Choke: What the Secrets of the Brain Reveal About Getting it Right When You Have To," released this month in paperback.

In a new paper published in the current issue of the journal "Emotion," Beilock and her colleagues explore the topic of performance failure in math and show, for the first time, that there is a critical connection between working memory, math anxiety and salivary cortisol.

Working memory is the mental reserve that people use to process information and figure out solutions during tests. Math anxiety is fear or apprehension when just thinking about taking a math test. Cortisol is a hormone produced by the adrenal gland and associated with stress-related changes in the body; it is often referred to as the "stress hormone."

Tracking math anxiety in students

Beilock and her team tested 73 undergraduate students to determine their working memory capacities and their level of math anxiety. They also measured cortisol levels (via a saliva sample) before and after a stressful math test. They published the results in a paper titled "Choke or Thrive? The Relation between Salivary Cortisol and Math Performance Depends on Individual Differences in Working Memory and Math Anxiety."

Among students with low working memories, there was little difference in performance related to either cortisol production or math anxiety, the study found. Students with lower working memory exert relatively less mental effort to begin with, researchers found, so taking a stressful test didn't drastically compromise their performance.

Among people with large working memories, those who were typically the most talented, rising cortisol either led to a performance boost or a performance flop — depending on whether they were already anxious about math. For students without a fear of math, the more their cortisol increased during the test, the better they performed — for these confident students, the body's response to stress actually pushed them to greater heights. In contrast, for students with more anxiety about math, surging cortisol was tied to poor performance.

"Under stress, we have a variety of bodily reactions; how we interpret these reactions predicts whether we will choke or thrive under pressure," Beilock said. "If a student interprets their physiological response as a sign they are about to fail, they will. And, when taking a math test, students anxious about math are likely to do this. But the same physiological response can also be linked to success if a student's outlook is positive," she further explained.

In other words, a student's perspective can determine success or failure. Students can change their outlooks by writing about their anxieties before a test and "off-loading" their fears, or simply thinking about a time in the past when they have succeeded, her research has shown.

Taking an exam brings on a different kind of pressure than when a student recites a memorized speech before classmates or an athlete plays before a packed stadium, other research by Beilock and her team demonstrates.

Why people choke under pressure

In another paper published this month in the "Journal of Experimental Psychology," Beilock and her colleagues identify, for the first time, different ways in which people can fumble under pressure. They also suggest remedies. The work, which was based on a series of experiments with several hundred undergraduate students in varying stressful situations, is reported in the paper "Choking Under Pressure: Multiple Routes to Skill Failure."

The experiments explored two theories of why people choke: One holds that people are distracted by worries, and as a result, fail to access their talents; another conversely proposes that stress causes people to pay too much attention to their performance and become self-conscious.

"What we showed in these experiments is that the situation determines what kind of choking develops. Knowing this can help people choose the right strategy to overcome the problem," Beilock said.

In the case of test-taking, good test preparation and a writing exercise can boost performance by reducing anxiety and freeing up working memory. The kind of choking prompted by performing before others calls for a different remedy.

"When you're worried about doing well in a game, or giving a memorized speech in front of others, the best thing to do is to distract yourself with a little tune before you start so you don't become focused on all the details of what you've done so many times before," she said. "On the playing field, thinking too much can be a bad thing," she further explained.

Provided by University of Chicago

"A change in perspective could be all it takes to succeed in school."

Anxiety and Testing

Pre-test jitters might boost scores, study says October 12th, 2012 in Psychology & Psychiatry A little anxiety seemed to help kids with good working memory, research found. (HealthDay)-For students with a good memory, feeling anxious before taking an exam might actually lead to a higher test score, researchers have found. In the new study, researchers in England used computer tests to assess levels of anxiety and working memory in 96 students, aged 12 to 14. Good working memory is generally associated with better school performance. The students were then tested on their general thinking and math skills. The researchers found that in students with a good working memory, anxiety was associated with higher test scores. In students with a poor working memory, anxiety led to lower test results, according to the report published Oct. 12 in the British Journal of Psychology. "The research is exciting because it enhances our knowledge of when, specifically, anxiety can have a negative impact on taking tests. The findings also suggest that there are times when a little bit of anxiety can actually motivate you to succeed," study author Matthew Owens, a researcher at the University of Cambridge, said in a news release from the British Psychological Society. Owens was at the University of Southampton when the study took place. The findings could improve understanding of the impact that anxiety has on students, the researchers said. They estimated that between 10 percent and 40 percent of children have anxiety when taking tests, and suggested that those who are more likely to do poorly on tests could be given priority for receiving extra help in school. While the study found an association between anxiety levels and test scores, it did not prove a cause-and-effect relationship. More information: The Anxiety and Depression Association of America has more about test anxiety. Copyright © 2012 HealthDay. All rights reserved. "Pre-test jitters might boost scores, study says." October 12th, 2012. http://medicalxpress.com/news/2012-10-pre-test-jitters-boost-scores.html

Making It Happen In 2016

It is hard to believe that it is almost 2013. Some great things are happening in Sports Science. In this post let’s take a look at what the USTA High Performance Coaching Programme is all about. From the USTA. It takes the guess work out of selecting a coach for your child’s development. I am one of the first graduates of the programme and strongly support it. As is everyone’s credentials are verified and education is grounded in sports science.

The USTA's Coaching Education Department is committed to offering coaches one of the highest-quality coaching education experiences in the world through participation in the USTA High Performance Coaching Program. 

INCENTIVES FOR THE PROGRAM The incentives for the coach who completes the program will be significant.  They include: personal and professional growth, being involved in a program that is on the cutting edge of coaching, and becoming a part of a publicly recognized group of America’s leading coaches.  In addition, we will provide ample opportunity for the high performance coach to interact and network with other leading coaches throughout the United States.  We will offer ongoing continuing education through the monthly coaching education and sport science E-newsletter, event based programming and High Performance educational workshops and seminars throughout the year. 

Our intent is to provide ongoing benefits to the high performance coaches who participate in the program.  Our goal is to provide opportunities to help these coaches in their efforts to develop the next generation of American players.

The USTA Coaching Education Department staff will select coaches for admission into the program.  A committee comprised of the USTA Coaching Education department, as well as a USPTA and a PTR representative, will assure the stated selection philosophy is being met and will review the selection process.

In selecting coaches for the program, the USTA Coaching Education Department will be fair and equitable in choosing the most qualified applicants who possess the qualifications listed below.  The coaches’ playing background will be taken into account.  Consideration will also be given to coaches from diverse ethnic and socioeconomic groups as well as geographical location.

As the program grows, the USTA Coaching Education Department will continually review the selection philosophy and qualifications to ensure that the program meets its goals.

Applicants must meet at least five (5) of the criteria listed below:


1.    Coaching in United States.  Each applicant must reside and actively coach in the United States. (MANDATORY)
2.    United States Tennis Association Membership.  Each applicant must be a current member of the United States Tennis Association. (MANDATORY)
3.    Certified.  USPTA P1 and/or PTR Professional level. (MANDATORY)
4.    Coaching Experience.  At least 5 years of experience coaching high performance players.
5.    Sectionally Ranked Players.  Currently directing a program with and/or currently serving as the primary coach of a specified number of sectionally ranked players.
6.    Nationally Ranked Players.  Currently directing a program and/or currently serving as the primary coach of a specified number of nationally ranked players.
7.    Coach of Successful Players.  Has coached players who have gone on to play at all levels of the game, including collegiate and professional tennis.
8.    Active High Performance Coach.  Is actively coaching high performance players.
9.    Sports Science Competency Test (Level One) must have successfully completed this test.



Motor Control

Technique: Skill Learning – Motor Control
(The information in this article was taken or adapted from the High Performance Coaching Program Study Guide.)
Another major area of expertise of a good coach is an understanding of the usual sequence for learning tennis skills.  This knowledge allows coaches to put together a thoughtful sequence of experiences commonly called a learning progression. Instruction and practice then become most effective because players develop skills when they are most ready to accomplish them and benefit from them.   Much of the art of teaching and coaching is the use of communication and motivation to get players to focus on these intermediate steps to success and not pursue inappropriate skills or short-term results. Listen to your players and know exactly what their playing goals are so you can determine the right mix of practice and conditioning for them.
A player who is learning a new skill goes through three stages of learning before she or he masters the skill:
  • Beginning
  • Intermediate
  • Advanced
Knowing these stages will help you in planning players’ instruction.


In the beginning stage of skill learning, your athletes will need to do three things:

  • Recognize previously learned movement patterns that can be used with the new skill
  • Learn the new movement patterns required to perform the new skill
  • Integrate and arrange the previously learned and new patterns into the proper sequence of movements for the new skill
To help them do this, verbally introduce the skill, explain and demonstrate the skill, and help them perform the skill well enough to start practicing it. (See Competency One for more on how to explain and demonstrate skills.) The introduction and demonstration should help them construct a motor program, a mental representation of how to perform the skill. This program is a sequence of general instructions that athletes’ nervous and muscular systems carry out to perform a skill. They will need to practice and revise the program based on feedback from themselves and from you until it is more efficient.


During this stage, players practice the skill. However, if that practice is to be effective, the players must

  • be motivated to learn,
  • attend to relevant cues or strategy,
  • receive instructional feedback on performance, and
  • receive reinforcement from you or others.
See Competency One for more on feedback and reinforcement.
Players need a lot of feedback from you at the beginning of this stage, as they may not yet have a good perception of what the skill should feel like when it is performed properly. As their performance improves, they will develop a better feel for correct performance and will not require as much feedback.
As athletes practice and progress, the following changes should occur in their performance:
  • Improved accuracy
  • Increased consistency
  • Decreased energy expenditure
  • Increased speed and improved timing
  • Increased anticipation/increased automation
  • Decreased self-talk
  • Increased self-confidence
  • Improved motor programs
  • Increased use of relevant motor abilities (such as eye-hand coordination, balance, or power)
This stage is complete when the athlete can perform the skill accurately and consistently.


Once athletes arrive at this stage, they understand how to perform the skill and are confident about their ability to do so. Further improvement on the skill, though, may be more difficult to achieve. Athletes sometimes lose their motivation to keep trying at this point, partly because they may feel they have already mastered the skill and partly because practice doesn’t yield as much change in performance as it did during the intermediate stage. It becomes more difficult to pinpoint errors and takes more time to make the changes necessary to eliminate those errors.
You can help by motivating athletes to continue trying. Reward players for making a consistent effort, and point out the long-term payoff for improving the skill. 

Till Next Week