Practice: delivering life skills interventions with elite athletes

Numerous LS interventions have been developed using the LDI conceptual framework and delivered using the LDI intervention methodology for various populations and individuals across multiple domains (e g., youth sport, elite sport, the performing arts), but only a few with elite athletes (e g.. Hardcastle et al.. 2015; Jones et al.. 2011. Lavallee. 2005). Practitioners who utilise the LDI intervention methodology typically employ a six-step intervention strategy that includes (1) understanding athletes’ biographies and goals: (2) helping athletes devise a goal attainment strategy; (3) promoting appropriate risk-taking behaviours: (4) identifying and preparing for transitions that might occur during athletes’ pursuit for goal attainment; (5) identify ing athletes’ social support networks and relevant knowledge associated with the goal attainment; and (6) promoting LS development and transfer.

Step 1: Understanding athletes' biographies

Consistent with other counselling interventions, successful LS intervention practitioners are able to understand the person or persons receiving the intervention. Practitioners develop a therapeutic relationship to understand elite athletes’ past and present experiences, satisfac-tion/dissatisfaction. and ambitions. Given that LS inters entions have been conducted as both one-to-one (e g.. Lavallee. 2005) and group inters entions (e g.. Jones et al.. 2011). practitioners have utilised various approaches to understand athletes’ biograpliies. Practitioners have employed counselling methods such as asking open-ended questions, paraphrasing, and reflecting feelings to build rapport and display empathy during one-to-one interventions. Effective LS intervention practitioners understand the value of techniques associated

Life skills interventions with elite athletes 155 with active listening, such as reflection of emotions and paraphrasing, that underpin their ability to build rapport, generate alternatives, gain a commitment to action, and counsel for generalisation. Practitioners have been encouraged to gain as much information as needed regarding athletes’ past experiences and future aspirations to promote self-exploration (Danish et al.. 1993). Successful LS intervention practitioners take their time to fully understand an athlete’s experiences before engaging in a collaborative working relationship with the athlete. Effective practitioners also utilise a number of these counselling skills in the initial consultation to formulate a detailed understanding of the athlete’s experiences and to help the athlete formulate her/his goal attainment strategy.

Life skills intervention practitioners have typically gained information regarding athletes’ experiences, goals, and skills using a needs-analysis (e g.. Jones et al.. 2011). Needs-analyses have been conducted using qualitative research designs or by working collaboratively with practitioners from sporting organisations (e g., coaches, high-performance managers, physiotherapists). For example, Jones and Lavallee (2009) conducted a needs-analysis of aspiring elite British atliletes using focus groups and one-to-one interventions prior to developing their LS inters ention. The participants in this needs-analysis highlighted the value of enhancing intrapersonal skills that included self-organisation, self-regulation, and goal setting. This information was then used to develop and deliver a purposefully designed LS intervention to meet the needs of aspiring elite British atliletes. Wliilst the therapeutic relationship in group inters entions is not as prominent as in one-to-one LS interventions, practitioners are still required to build rapport with each member of the group (i.e.. promote relatedness-support). Practitioners develop rapport using counselling skills (e g., active listening, paraphrasing, reflecting emotions) to facilitate a dialogue between themselves and the individual/group members that fosters psychological safety prior to engaging in group-based tasks.

Step 2: Developing a goal attainment strategy

Once the practitioner has gained a detailed histoiy of each athlete’s sporting and personal biographies, each atlilete is encouraged to develop a goal attainment strategy in each of their life domains (e g., in sport, at home, in school/university). A goal attainment strategy comprises a series of systematic, controllable steps to achieve sport-specific goals and goals in other life domains. Each goal should be specific, stated in positive terms, and defined in behavioural terms. When developing each goal, individuals are encouraged to answer the following four questions: (1) What action will be taken? (2) How many times will the action occur? (3) When will the action occur? (4) Under what conditions will the action take place? (Danish et al., 1993).

Goal statements that include words like not, avoid, less than, and limit should be changed into positive statements (e g.. I will), so the goal is something to be achieved and worked towards. Goals that include vague statements such as do better or improve do not allow athletes the satisfaction of knowing whether or not the goal has been attained and are often associated with outcome goals rather than process goals. Once the athlete has established their overall goal for each life domain, they should plan a series of steps to help them attain their goal. The concept of participants developing their own goal attainment strategy is critical (cf. autonomy-satisfaction and competence-satisfaction). If the goal and goal attainment strategy is more important to the practitioner than it is to the athlete, it is unlikely that the athlete s motives for goal attainment will be autonomous and internally regulated and. subsequently, unlikely that they will adhere to their goal attainment strategy and achieve their goal. Life skills intervention practitioners promote autonomy-support by providing a clear structure forgoal setting, yet allowing the athlete to choose the series of steps they take to achieve their goal, how they would like to measure each step, and the timeline associated with each step in the goal attainment strategy.

These steps enable the athletes to display competence as they progress towards their goals and subsequently experience increased life satisfaction and enhanced psychological wellbeing (Ryan et al.. 2011). However, Danish et al. (1993) highlighted that "being willing to take an active role in setting a goal is one tiling: being able to reach or attain the goal is another” (p. 364). Thus, the following steps for delivering a LS intervention minimise the potential of athletes experiencing barriers to goal attainment. Life skills intervention practitioners can enhance adherence by engaging each athlete in a series of steps that promotes appropriate risk-taking behaviour, identifies and prepares the atldete for likely transitions, helps the atlilete to seek social support and gain relevant knowledge associated with their goals, and develops the athlete’s LS to promote goal attainment.

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