Monthly Archive for March, 2024

Rules for educating children to autonomy

Based on the problems that young people show it becomes necessary to offer practical ways for parents to educate their children. In any case, the main goal that parents will have to fulfill concerns the need not to abandon their educational task. Too often we see parents abdicating this role in the hope that satisfying every desire is the best way to raise them. They hide behind the idea that giving everything to them is the way to be heard and to foster trust.

In this way, young people grow up convinced that in life it will be enough to ask to get and that there will always be someone who will solve for them the problems they encounter. This blocks the development of autonomy, which can only occur when given the opportunity to make decisions and test their effects.

In this regard, Jonathan Haidt provides some advice that I fully agree with:

  • Give children far more time playing with other children. This play should ideally be outdoors, in mixed age groups, with little or no adult supervision (which is the way most parents grew up, at least until the 1980s).
  • Look for more ways to embed children in stable real-world communities.  Online networks are not nearly as binding or satisfying.
  • Don’t give a smartphone as the first phone. Give a phone or watch that is specialized for communication, not for internet-based apps.
  • Don’t give a smartphone until high school.  This is easy to do, if many of your child’s friends’ parents are doing the same thing.
  • Delay the opening of accounts on nearly all social media platforms until the beginning of high school (at least). This will become easier to do if we can support legislators who are trying to raise the age of “internet adulthood” from today’s 13 (with no verification) to 16 (with mandatory age verification).

The anxious generation

In the summer of 2022, I was working on a book project — Life After Babel: Adapting to a world we can no longer share — about how smartphones and social media rewired many societies in the 2010s, creating conditions that amplify the long-known weaknesses of democracy. The first chapter was about the impact of social media on kids, who were the “canaries in the coal mine,” revealing early signs that something was going wrong. When adolescents’ social lives moved onto smartphones and social media platforms, anxiety and depression surged among them. The rest of the book was going to focus on what social media had done to liberal democracies.

I quickly realized that the rapid decline of adolescent mental health could not be explained in one chapter—it needed a book of its own. So, The Anxious Generation is Volume 1, in a sense, of the larger Babel project. The book will be published March 26, 2024.

I begin The Anxious Generation by examining adolescent mental health trends. What happened to young people in the early 2010s that triggered the surge of anxiety and depression around 2012?

Percent of U.S. undergraduates with different mental illness, 2008-2019

What happened to young people in the early 2010s? 

The Anxious Generation offers an explanation by telling two stories. The first is about the decline of the play-based childhood, which began in the 1980s and accelerated in the ‘90s. All mammals need free play, and lots of it, to wire up their brains during childhood to prepare them for adulthood. But many parents in Anglo countries began to reduce children’s access to unsupervised outdoor free play out of media-fueled fears for their safety, even though the “real world” was becoming increasingly safe in the 1990s. The loss of free play and the rise of continual adult supervision deprived children of what they needed most to overcome the normal fears and anxieties of childhood: the chance to explore, test and expand their limits, build close friendships through shared adventure, and learn how to judge risks for themselves.

The second story is about the rise of the phone-based childhood, which began in the late 2000s and accelerated in the early 2010s. This was precisely the period during which adolescents traded in their flip phones for smartphones, which were loaded with social media platforms supported by the new high-speed internet and unlimited data plans.

The confluence of these two stories in the years between 2010 and 2015 is what I call the “Great Rewiring of Childhood.” Few of us understood what was happening in children’s virtual worlds and we lacked the knowledge to protect them from tech companies that had designed their products to be addictive.

For this reason, we ended up overprotecting children in the real world while underprotecting them in the virtual world.

Daniel Kanheman died at the age of 90

Daniel Kahneman was a psychologist who paved the way for theories of economic behavior. He won the Nobel Prize in Economics in 2002, along with Vernon Smith, “for having integrated insights from psychological research into economic science, especially concerning human judgment and decision-making under uncertainty.” He passed away at the age of 90.

He demonstrated that violations of economic rationality are not episodic but systematic. In this regard, he stated:

“The classical theory of choice sets a series of conditions of rationality that are perhaps necessary but hardly sufficient: they, in fact, allow us to define as rational many choices that are clearly foolish” (Kahneman 1994, p. 23). “No one has ever seriously believed that all human beings always hold rational beliefs and invariably make rational decisions. The principle of rationality is generally understood as an approximation, based on the belief (or hope) that deviations from rationality become rare when the stakes are high or tend to disappear altogether under the discipline of the market” (Kahneman 2003, p. 87).

It’s very difficult for champions to agree to retire

To give an explanation for why many champions do not retire come an age when this would seem to be the best decision, and here the thought goes to 37-year-old Novak Djokovic, an article in The Guardian cites the story of Archie Moore (1916-1998), world light heavyweight champion and one of the longest-lived boxers, happily married and father of two daughters. When he was 47 years old and still world championship, he said:

“I’m still the old mongoose in there trying to outwit and outhit the younger guys,” he said. “I’m like the drunk in the bar who wants one more for the road. I want one more knockout to add to my record and then just one more after that. Some people say it’s great when a man retires undefeated. But a champion should fight to the finish and go out with his hands cocked just as he came in. It’s the proper exit and I think it may be mine.”

He fought for three more years and retired at age 50 with 186 wins.

Djokovic is aware of what is happening to him and is trying the coaching change card, perhaps to find new stimulation, what does not detract from the fact that his thinking today is quite clear and his decision will depend on how well he can accept this inevitable decline and the sadness it entails:

“We all know that those moments will come for all of us,” he said. “But when they actually come, and when you actually understand that that’s it – that Roger finished his career, Rafa and I are probably not going to play much more, it’s kind of one era comes to an end and it’s sad.”

Timing is relevant in so many sports

Often one fails because they do the right thing at the wrong time. It means possessing the execution technique but at the same time highlighting the inability to choose the timing of execution. Closed skills (penalties, free throws, serves) rely on having the right timing. For some sports, if one doesn’t possess it, they never achieve a dignified result. Sometimes it’s said, “they never get it right” when they should wait they go, and vice versa, when they should shoot they pass, when they should maintain a certain rhythm they slow down or speed up.

Shooting in flight proposes at least three different types of timing: what to do while waiting between shots, the timing of shot preparation, and finally the shooting time. How many train themselves being aware of these three phases? When they make a mistake, to which of these three factors do they attribute the cause?

Those who engage in sports that require this kind of mental approach should reflect on these themes.

Taiwan mental training workshop

These days I am in Taiwan working with the national shooting and volleyball team in preparation for this summer’s Olympics in Paris. At the same time I also conducted two days of workshops with coaches and sports psychologists. As always in these situations what is appreciated is not so much the explanation of psychological theories but the ability to illustrate how a mental preparation program is organized and conducted. There were many questions about how one works to prepare for major international events and how one handles pressure in the most important moments of a competition, especially finals. Another focal point was also regarding the practice of psychological preparation during each training session and how this should be carried over into competition.

備戰2024巴黎奧運會 射擊運動心理工作坊。國家運動科學中心提供
國家運動科學中心執行長黃啟煌義大利籍運動心理教授Alberto Cei 。國家運動科學中心提供

Experience role in sport

Qualities of a great sports coach

The International Olympic Committee has published this text concerning the identification of the main qualities of a great coach. They are interesting, as beyond individual differences, they describe psychological dimensions very similar to those of any other leader who guides successful groups in other areas.

There is no single correct way to coach an athlete. You have your own unique coaching style that works and that no one else can replicate. Nevertheless, there are some traits that are common to all great coaches, no matter how they are applied.

  1. UNDERSTANDING THE SPORT  - To be able to teach effectively, you must have in-depth understanding of the sport from the fundamental skills to advanced tactics and strategy. You may even have experience from a career playing the sport. Coaches must plan for the season, know the progressive nature of training adaptation, know the rules, and provide a simple, structured environment for athletes to succeed.
  2. EAGERNESS TO LEARN - While a good coach knows a great deal about a sport, you must continue to learn and develop new training techniques. Staying up-to-date and informed of new research, training and everything which supports the coaching process is a sign of a great coach. Attending classes in a range of subjects such as sport psychology, nutrition and exercise physiology is a great idea and is readily accessible for any coach who wants to grow and improve.
  3. SHARING KNOWLEDGE - Obtaining knowledge is important but having the confidence to share and seek others’ views, especially those outside of your sport, is a key quality. The best coaches clearly understand they are there to educate the athletes. Most athletes spend most of the time training on their own, so the more they really understand what they are doing and why they are doing it the better they will train and practise.
  4. MOTIVATIONAL SKILLS - A successful coach is a motivator with a positive attitude and enthusiasm for the sport and the athletes. A coach who can motivate is able to generate the desire to excel in their athletes. When motivating a player, a good coach stresses trying to reach performance goals, not outcome goals. Enjoyment and fun are the cornerstones to successful coaching.
  5. KNOWING THE ATHLETE - Being aware of individual differences in athletes is an important ingredient in coaching excellence. Emotional displays may work for some athletes but could have a devastating effect on others. Individualising communication and motivation to specific athletes is vital to successful coaching. Paying attention to your athlete’s emotions, strengths and weaknesses is the responsibility of a good coach.
  6. COMMUNICATION - An effective coach communicates well and exudes credibility, competence, respect and authority. You should be able to explain ideas clearly. Clear communication means setting defined goals, giving direct feedback and reinforcing the key messages. Acknowledging success is also essential for good communication. Language is a key part of coaching and keeping everything simple and easily understood can be vital.
  7. LISTENING SKILLS - Part of communicating effectively is listening. You should be compassionate and welcome an athlete’s comments, questions and input. An effective coach will actively seek out information from athletes, and work in an environment where athletes are encouraged to present ideas and thoughts.
  8. DISCIPLINE - Athletes need to adhere to a reasonable set of rules both on and off the field and if these are ignored you are responsible for discipline. Trust between athlete and coach is of paramount importance at all times and essential for successful coaching. An effective coach clearly states a code of conduct up front and adheres to it. Evidence supports that for discipline to effectively change behaviour, it must be mild, prompt and consistent.
  9. LEADING BY EXAMPLE - An effective coach also leads by example. You should adhere to the same rules you expect of athletes. A coach who wants respect should also show respect and a coach who wants athletes to listen should also listen to athletes.
  10. COMMITMENT AND PASSION - The best coaches are in the profession because they love it. Besides being strongly committed to the sports and success, the best coaches display a clear commitment to looking out for the best interest of the individual athletes. Coaching is an around the clock job, as top coaches live and breathe the art of coaching.

The abuse within élite sport

Giffin, C.E., Schinke, R.J., Wagstaff, C., Quartiroli, A., Larivière, M., Coholic, D., Li, Y. (2024). Advancing Safe Sport Through Occupational Health and Safety a Thematic Meta-Synthesis Exploring Abuse within Elite Adult Sport Contexts. International Journal of Sport Psychology, 55(1), 1-31.

Occupational health and safety management systems (OHSMS) promote healthy workplace environments through regulating hazards and health promotion activities. Abuse within elite sports is one hazard that threatens the health and safety of elite adult athletes.

Despite the widespread existence of evidence-informed guidelines to safeguard youth athletes, few safeguards have been developed for elite adult athletes, despite sport being their primary occupation.

Through a critical realist lens, we used a thematic meta-synthesis to search, appraise and synthesize 20 articles conducted with elite adult athletes who have experienced abuse. We present three themes to highlight: (a) how abuse types (sexual, psychology, physical, and financial) are fluid and expand over time, (b) the contextual factors that influence abuse (individual, relational, structural, cultural), and (c) temporal impacts of abuse throughout athletes’ early, late, and post-sport careers.

The present work is discussed in relation to perceived advancement of OHSMS and safe sport through protecting athletes from the hazards present within their occupational environments.

First women alpinist expedition on K2

Seventy years after the Italian ascent of K2, the CAI (Italian Alpine Club) is preparing by going beyond the dimension of pure sports achievement: 9 women – four Italian athletes, four Pakistanis, and one doctor – will depart in June for the second highest peak on Earth, ready to leave a mark on Italian sports, but also an imprint on a social and human level.

Federica Mingolla, Silvia Loreggian, Anna Torretta, Cristina Piolini, Samina Baig, Amina Bano, Nadeema Sahar, Samana Rahim, and Dr. Lorenza Pratali: they were the protagonists of the project presentation day organized by CAI with EvK2CNR, an association dedicated to scientific and technological research at high altitude.

It won’t just be a sports achievement but a shared experience that can create strong bonds, a blend of challenges, joys, and difficulties that will leave a mark on each of them. The objective is to tell the female perspective within the context of a Himalayan expedition that sees mountaineers from different worlds and cultures climbing together. Agostino Da Polenza, a highly experienced professional and profound connoisseur of those mountains, will coordinate the climbers. The project will start with training days on Monte Bianco (March 15-18), where the climbers will prepare to face K2.