People who know their values are often happier; they’re more focused, and live a more meaningful life. This month Lara Mossman met with AHPRA endorsed sports psychologist Michael Inglis to discuss values and the important role they play in youth development. Inglis, who has a Masters in sports and exercise psychology, supports a holistic approach to sports medicine and is an advocate of values in sport.
LM: Can you a tell me a bit about your experience working with athletes?
MI: I work with a range of sportspeople from young athletes through to elite competitors. Aside from football players, I work with athletes from Australian Rules Football, cycling, cricket, swimming, basketball, gymnastics, fencing, cross-country skiing, mountaineering and kite surfing. I work with teams and individuals, and I also coach a youth team.
LM: Can you describe what values are to Player Development Project readers?
MI: In an athletic context, values are our internal sports compass: they’re enduring beliefs and attitudes that shape our behaviour and define what direction we want to go in. Values form our philosophy around how we want to approach our sport; for example, whether we’re playing to reach an elite standard or for fun. Values in sport can be the same or different to life values. Being competitive is different in sport and life, whereas values such as humility are the same.
LM: Can you give an example of values you commonly come across in elite young players?
MI: I ask players to think of five words or phases that describe themselves as an athlete. Common examples are, ‘I never give up’, ‘team orientated’, ‘learning new skills’, ‘getting best out of myself’, ‘hard working’, ‘skillful’, ‘competitive’, and ‘sharing others’ successes’. They also talk about the social side of their sport – friendship and fun are important to many young players.
LM: Why are values important in the day-to-day lives of young athletes?
MI: Values help to give athletes a broader perception of why they do what they do, why they train so hard. So much of sport is about winning and losing, but players can be fulfilled without winning – values remove the sole emphasis on results. If an athlete values being competitive, playing their role well, never giving up and staying focused for 100 percent of the game, then they can reflect how they performed against those criteria. If the player demonstrated those values throughout the game then they can still feel rewarded, even without a winning result.
LM: So can values help through adversity, such as a losing streak or missing out on squad selection?
MI: Yes, they help athletes to focus on the bigger picture. Winning matches or making squads are all just steps on a journey. For the athlete who misses out on selection, once they’ve identified their values the next step is to take committed action. For example, if they value never giving up then the actions that follow would be tenacity, turning up to training on time and being 100 percent focused at training. For the player that misses out on selection, feedback – both positive and negative – can help to shape their values and actions going forward.
LM: What about athletes who are riding a wave of success, how might values help them?
MI: Values keep successful players grounded and focused on how their success came about, as opposed to them getting carried away with their success. They can benefit from recognising what got them to where they are, such as expressing gratitude to their coach, teammates and family. Humility, team orientation, work ethic and leadership come into play for these athletes, too. For example, successful players can demonstrate leadership by telling their teammates when they’re doing well and when they need to lift their game. Leadership is interesting in youth players because few can truly act it in the fullest sense, but they do encourage their teammates. Often, successful youth players are non-verbal leaders.
LM: From a resilience perspective, what other strategies can be useful for ambitious youth players?
MI: Junior athletes can be pretty hard on themselves. Diarising their journey can help to build resilience. I might ask an athlete to journal three things they did well in training or game situations as well as three things they didn’t do well. Young athletes need to be comfortable with imperfections, being human and making mistakes. They can ask themselves what the learning is from that perspective, as well as name their errors and be comfortable with them.
LM: Can you recommend any resources for youth players wanting to learn more about values?
MI: The Values Ink app helps players to explore and clarify their values. It allows them to reflect on what they stand for in life, and who we want to be, both within and outside of a sports context. Values Ink was created by psychologists Jo Mitchell & Anna Box for the AFL Players’ Association.
Values in sport can be worked on in two ways. Either athletes can come up with their own values or they can use resources such as The Mind Room’s values cards. These are particularly helpful in allowing youth players to explore and define their values.
Hungarian Under 19 National Championships in the snow, Kaposvar, Hungary. Photo: © Muzsy | Dreamstime.com