Rushall, B. S. (1995). This excerpt is the rationale for: Exercise 8.8 "Intensification Skill" in Rushall, B. S. (1995). Mental Skills Training for Sports (pp. 8.53-8.55). Spring Valley, CA: Sports Science Associates.


One of the principal aims of strategy use is to maintain control throughout a contest. As a performance progresses there is the potential that an athlete's focus and concentration will diminish. There are external factors and internal events that could distract concentration. As an athlete tires, either through physical or psychological fatigue, the symptoms of that fatigue emerge as very strong distractions. The process of psychological intensification needs to be incorporated into a strategy to cope with this problem and maintain concentration control throughout a performance.

A major pain theory suggests that while the mind is kept very busy and totally focused on some task-relevant and positive activity, the brain will not recognize fatigue or pain. This means that if an athlete can keep attention totally involved with mental activity (positive strategy content), then control, despite fatigued states, will be maintained. The implication of this principle is that an athlete should keep his/her mind totally occupied with thought content during a contest. As the pain or distraction potential of fatigue increases, the intensity of contest-relevant thinking also has to increase in order to maintain performance control.

Psychological intensification is used to guard against incurring the detrimental effects of fatigue. It stops complacency, loss of control, and loss of focus by requiring thought content and the intensity of thinking to gradually increase as fatigue develops. In the early stages of a competition when there is no fatigue or the level of effort is in a "steady-state", an athlete does not have to think too intently. The main aim should be to keep in control of the performance and execute strategy content. With most athletes, there is a stage in a contest where it is realized that extra effort is needed to continue. Europeans call that stage the "stopping-wish" point. Before or at that stage is where thought control needs to be intensified otherwise performance could deteriorate.

There are many ways of intensifying one's thoughts. For example, one can: i) think faster; ii) change the nature of the thought content (e.g., increase the amount of task relevant content), iii) think harder by putting more "effort" into the concentration process; iv) increase the sound volume and emotionality of thoughts; v) "picture" what has been written down on strategy worksheets in increasingly larger letters; vi) mutter out loud; and vii) combine a number of these activities.

Some athletes like to introduce a variety of stages of intensification during a competition. At certain times they increase the manner of intensifying their thoughts so that their thinking progressively becomes more intense as the potential for distraction increases. For example, in rowing races some elite rowers go from normal thinking to stage 1 intensification, then to stage 2, stage 3, and finally stage 4. At each stage they introduce more elements and methods for increasing the thought intensity that is required for controlling their sporting efficiency. For very long competitions, stages for recommitment to intensified thinking are useful. In those cases, the intermittent evaluation of the quality of thinking is very helpful for maintaining an effective focus on thought control.

Figure 8.8.1 illustrates a simplified graph of the relationship between thinking, thought content, and fatigue. A stylized fatigue curve is depicted with the intensification development being in concert with the onset of fatigue. There are some noteworthy features about the illustrated relationship between fatigue and the conduct of thinking.

  1. While in a non-fatigued or non-bored state, an athlete does not have to think too intently. The principal aim should be to keep controlled and focused on the task, that is, follow a planned strategy.
  2. Just prior to the recognition of increasing fatigue, the thought processes are changed. At that stage the athlete introduces technique items of concentration which aim to maintain high levels of skill efficiency. The athlete makes a deliberate attempt to concentrate better by attempting to focus more intently on strategy content. The rate of thinking starts to increase, a trend that continues for the remainder of the competition.
  3. Towards the end of the contest, the subjective symptoms of fatigue become more intense. Before that stage occurs, thought intensification should be increased further through an even more deliberate focus on thinking and a major emphasis on controlling the technical efficiency of sporting actions. The ratio of mood words and positive thinking to task-relevant content remains the same. It is the volume and intensity of thinking that increases. That increase blocks the recognition of fatigue. If an athlete was to relax the intensification process during this latter phase, fatigue sensations would be recognized and performance would deteriorate drastically. There is little chance of recovering the level of performance once that interference occurs. Relaxing or losing control in the very final part of a contest accounts for many athletes failing at that very critical stage.

The intensification process relies heavily on the athlete developing various and different methods of thinking. If one was to concentrate too long on one item, it is possible that a rhythmical form of thinking could develop. A lack of continual thought vitality is counter-productive to good competing. Frequently changing content and thought modes is important in the intensification process.

Another feature of intensification, is the timing relationship between changes in thought intensity and changes in fatigue. Thought intensity should increase before fatigue increases. If this is done fatigue is not given a chance to interrupt the conduct of the strategy. If an athlete were to wait until fatigue sensations increased and were recognized, then he/she would have to cope with fatigue instead of executing the primary strategy at critical stages in the competition. By preempting fatigue changes with intensification, the athlete maintains a preferred-action orientation that is most desirable for producing maximum sporting performances.

Psychological intensification maintains concentration control. That control will facilitate maximum levels of sporting performance.

To summarize this section, psychological intensification has the following characteristics.

  1. It is developed so that the volume and intensity of strategy thinking blocks the recognition of physical or psychological fatigue.
  2. The nature, content, and intensity of competition thinking changes as a contest progresses.
  3. The ploys used to intensify differ depending upon the athlete; one should chose those thought actions that are successful and comfortable.
  4. The further one progresses in a contest, the more difficult it is to recapture concentration and control if a disruption occurs.
  5. Intensification uses planned strategies and requires an athlete to concentrate "harder" as a competition progresses.
  6. Changes in the level of intensification should occur prior to predicted increases in fatigue.

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