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Inside the mind of hockey's sleeping giant, Pakistan

Pakistan's Haseem Abdul Khan
Haseem Abdul Khan (left) fends off Malaysian Muhammad Razie Rahim

By Caroline Heaney
The Open University

The Pakistan hockey team are a team in flux. Pakistan were a dominant force in world hockey, winning three Olympic titles no less, until they reached a nadir this year when they finished last in the World Cup.

Their preparations for the Commonwealth Games have been less than ideal; many Pakistanis were affected by devastating floods at home and their cricketing compatriots have endured allegations of match-fixing.

Pakistan has a strained relationship with India so it's not surprising that the hottest ticket of the Commonwealths is Pakistan versus India on 10 October.

Can Pakistan overcome their old rivals and can they regain their proud tradition of success in international hockey? Indeed, what does it take to overcome adversity in a sporting setting?

Pakistan hockey boss Khawaja Junaid

The humiliation of finishing last at hockey's World Cup was such that several members of the team retired from international competition. But this does not necessarily mean that the team can't rise again.

Sport is littered with examples of sports men and women who have performed well against the odds - that's partly what keeps us watching as spectators.

Confucius said "our greatest glory is not in never falling, but in rising every time we fall". This quote, in part, explains why sports people can recover from adversity and perform well.

Some would argue that failure is a necessary part of the process of success.

The important thing here is not the adversity that is faced but how those affected react to the adversity. One can respond by 'giving in' and allowing the adversity to perpetuate, developing a culture of failure, or by demonstrating a dogged determination to rebuild and rise again.

One of the key factors in overcoming adversity is rebuilding shattered confidence. In order to perform well the Pakistan hockey team will need to develop their confidence levels and genuinely believe that they can be successful again.

Much of what the team can do to rebuild their confidence is underpinned by psychologist Albert Bandura's self-efficacy theory.

Within this theory he demonstrated that confidence is affected by previous performances. Therefore, in order to maximise confidence levels coaches need to encourage players to focus on good performances achieved in training and competition.

Caroline Heaney
The Open University's Caroline Heaney: "Appropriate personalised goal setting is an important strategy."

We are not able to witness first hand what is happening in the Pakistan squad's re-building process but encouraging players to remember good performances by using imagery or video is a strategy commonly used by coaches and sport psychologists.

Performance analysts often produce personal films for each player to view before matches to remind themselves of things they have excelled at in the past.

Identifying good performances in a team that has lost its winning mindset can sometimes be tricky. In this situation players may need to be reminded that elements of good performance can still occur in games that they don't win.

Coaches can also help to develop players' confidence by designing opportunities for players to experience feelings of competence. This may involve considering how practices are structured or carefully selecting the level of opponents so that players can experience how it feels to win again.

Appropriate personalised goal setting is an important strategy - talking to each player about individual targets that are both challenging and achievable will help players feel valued and develop their confidence when these are achieved.

Good coaches know that confidence is more vulnerable when goals related to the end product alone are set - this is because these types of goal are often outside of our control.

Therefore, process goals (goals related to processes within the game) such as types of passing, work-rate and defending should also be set in order to develop a positive and confident team.

Confidence can also be lifted by role models - the Pakistan hockey team may benefit from examining examples of teams that have performed well against the odds.

Within Bandura's model, verbal persuasion is another important factor influencing confidence. So words count - in this case, those of the coach, Michel Van Den Heuvel, who was appointed in June 2010.

Research also suggests that what the players say to themselves is important. This 'self-talk' has a powerful influence on performance and very often 'what you say is what you get'.

Therefore the deliberate repetition of positive statements and affirmations is an effective sport psychology tool that could be used by the players to increase their confidence.

With a positive and confident attitude combined with careful leadership, a sports team can turn around a run of poor performance. So will the Pakistan hockey team prosper on the hockey field once more? Only time will tell.


Caroline Heaney is a lecturer in sport and fitness at the Open University. She is a BASES Accredited and HPC Registered Sport Psychologist and has been providing sport psychology support to performers from a wide range of sports for over 10 years. She is also co-academic consultant on the BBC Olympic Dreams series.



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see also
Behind the scenes as Pakistan hockey beat Scotland
05 Oct 10 |  World Olympic Dreams
Hockey girls turn up the heat
29 Sep 10 |  Commonwealth Games
Coaching GB's women's hockey team
02 Aug 10 |  World Olympic Dreams
Pakistan team quit after cup flop
11 Mar 10 |  Hockey


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