18 July 2016

More testing, please!

England's performance at this year's European Championships in France was so pitiful we didn't even get far enough to display our total lack of preparedness by being ignominiously defeated on penalties. But being defeated in the twelve-yard roulette is as much a part of our English-ness as cod and chips.

Choking under pressure is a common occurrence in sport. Increased levels of arousal are seen to have deleterious impact on performance across a range of sports (and most other disciplines). The more successful a performer is at managing that stress, the less likely they are to suffer from the negative effects of over-arousal.

Hanton et al.(2008) identified four advanced stress management strategies comprising simulation training, cognitive restructuring, pre-performance routines, and over-learning of skills. I will take the first of these briefly into consideration.

Simulation training consists of exposing an individual to many of the external and internal factors experienced during the competitive environment which are typically not present during the training environment. The object of such is to provide an opportunity to practice in a replicated stressful setting. Doing so provokes the individual to produce both mental and somatic strategies to manage their levels of arousal and stress.

The new NQF Level 2 and 3 BTEC Sport frameworks now contain exams. Our Level 2 student have found these to be extremely stressful. Often our students tell us that one of the main reasons they choose to do a BTEC is the hope of getting through their final years of compulsory education with as few examinations as possible.

But here we all are. How better to prepare students for a Sport exam than to apply these principles of Sport Psychology? My assertion is simply that the somatic, cognitive and behavioural symptoms of stress experienced by my students are generally comparable to those experienced in stressful sporting environments.

At my college, we'll be starting on the new framework (NQF) for Level 3 Sport in September 2017, while we've already begun the Level 2 version. Given the fact that there will be an exam on Anatomy and Physiology at Level 3 - which is a particularly content-heavy unit - I'm planning to increase the amount of in-semester testing I do many-fold. Despite starting the new spec in 2017, I'm going to be instigating this change as of September 2016 - it can hardly hurt the students to be regularly and rigorously tested, and I get a dry run of a scheme of work with a lot more testing incorporated.

Some of that testing will essentially be simulation training. It will...
  • be regular (to allow for students' personal pre-exam routines to become second nature).
  • include content from previous lessons right back to the start of the year (i.e. retrieval practice).
  • crucially, be conducted (wherever practicable) in a comparable environment (to replicate stress likely to be experience on the day of reckoning).

I'll let you know how I get on applying these principles.



Reference

Hanton, S., Wadey, R., & Mellalieu, S. D. (2008). Advanced psychological strategies and anxiety responses in sport. Sport Psychologist, 22(4), 472- 490

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