Encouragement improves your game better than criticism, claim scientists

rom The Telegraph website:

The ‘hairdryer’ treatment and criticism may get quick results, but sportsmen respond much better to kinds words of encouragement and support, scientists have found.

By Richard Alleyne, Science Correspondent

Last Updated: 2:35PM BST 01 May 2009

Sportsmen and women could get the edge on their opponents by accepting more emotional support in their personal and professional lives. A study by the University of Exeter, showed the extent to which a sympathetic ear or regular words of encouragement can improve sports performance.

Previous studies have linked ‘social support’ to performance in golf and other sports and psychologists are regularly employed to improve performance. But doubts have still remained over its effectiveness – with many still believing that criticism is the best path to results. Now for the first time, researchers claim they have proved it works – at least for golfers – after showing proper emotional support can improve their handicap by nearly two in less than a month.

Dr Paul Freeman said that a player’s game is definitely affected by their frame of mind and negative feedback could have the opposite effect.

“There are times when the hairdryer treatment works but as a general rule positive support is going to have more long term benefits,” he said.

“Over a longer period I definitely think this support is more affective.”

The study, published in the Journal of Applied Sport Psychology, focused on three male golfers, two amateurs and one professional, who all competed at regional, national and international level. For half of the study the golfers were each given regular one-on-one support by Dr Freeman of the University of Exeter.

 Dr Freeman offered a range of support including listening to the golfers as they talked through their problems, offering encouragement and reassurance before competitions, and helping with practical issues, such as organising accommodation during competitions.

To provide comparative data, the researchers looked up the performance of the three golfers prior to the study.

Over 10 games, all three golfers performed better when they were receiving support from Dr Freeman. The players improved by an average of 1.78 shots per round, which could be significant at high-level golf. Dr Freeman said:

“It is significant that the support I offered, as a relative stranger, had such a marked influence on their results.

“The findings suggest that amateur and professional athletes would benefit from seeking social support, whether this is from a friend or family member or even from a professional.”

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