Autonomy & Perception – Psychological benefits of self-screening

Autonomy & Perception – Psychological benefits of self-screening

Often the process of screening and monitoring weighs heavily on coach resources, the emphasis being on tracking effectiveness and ensuring accountability of training procedures as well as monitoring injury risk factors.

The screening process acts as an essential learning tool for the coach to establish optimal training scheduling and assess player progression. However, the value of engaging in screening processes is often underestimated – the psychological benefits accrued by athletes engaging in self-monitoring procedures are substantial and could be considered as a valuable learning tool to be deployed by coaches.


In elite sports, it is important to know what information is understood by coaches and athletes, in order to help athletes improve their performance. Athletes and their coaches often interpret training situations differently and this can have important implications for the development of an elite athlete’s performance. Unfortunately, athlete information gathering is often negated for fear of subjective bias. Particularly of late, an enhanced focus upon the objectivity of measuring training loads has proliferated with advances in technological resources employed by club (e.g. GPS/heart rate monitoring etc.).

Whilst quantifying strength, power, speed, time may be an advantageous (and obvious) way of demonstrating training effectiveness, the importance of qualitative information from athletes simply cannot be ignored. Particularly, the information athletes can provide about their perceptions of training load/fatigue, mood status and overall stress-coping mechanisms. These parameters can be difficult (if not impossible) to capture and quantify without involving athlete feedback. Perceived physical and psychological status is a pertinent indicator of athletes’ overall well-being as it is influenced by a multitude of factors from the athletes’ life. The process of documenting stress experiences can act to create awareness and educate athletes about their own behavioural tendencies or personal triggers for increasing (or decreasing) stress.

Perceived effort is related to the attention and cognition states that are induced by heavy training or intense competition: Tenenbaum’s effort-related model depicts that as physical workload increases, attention allocation shifts from dissociation to association. Thus as effort increases, athletes’ perceptions change. A combination of training, competition, social, emotional and personal stressors all impact on athletes’ experience of stress. Thus the same stress (e.g. 2089 training hours) will impact a player differently depending on the amount of external stress that is simultaneously present.

Feedback about perceived stressors can aid in monitoring workload, stress adaptation and recovery that varies on a player-to-player basis depending on both cumulative and acute, general and training-specific stressors, as well as athletes’ coping mechanisms. Without considering the extent to which a stressor is tolerated or negotiated by an athlete, the impact or potential future impact of stress can’t be established. Athlete perception (i.e. perceived work load rating/athlete self-monitoring) can provide the vital overall and individual view of the stress experience. In contrast, coach quantitative monitoring processes often simply define the stressor.


Autonomy, in general, is experienced when people act following their own values while exercising control over some aspect of the environment. It has been linked with the satisfaction of basic psychological (Deci & Ryan, 2000) as well as biological needs. In fact, individuals provided with freedom of choice have demonstrated superior results, in several domains. Coaches who exhibit autonomy-supportive behaviours, value the players’ input and allow their athletes to make choices within reasonable limits.

In addition to promoting autonomy and decreasing controlling coach behaviours, research has shown that undertaking self-monitoring can be beneficial for athletes to develop understanding of performance and ultimately develop better awareness in players. If designed strategically, monitoring methods can not only develop individual understanding, but also aid in creating shared mental models (cohesion) within team sports. Cohesiveness ensures that there is congruence between player-coach understanding of the demands of training/competition/culture within a sporting organization. Self-screening processes can be guided by science, lead by coach and carried out by the athletes. Cohesiveness positively predicts the satisfaction of the basic needs in athletes. In turn, psychological needs predicted self-determination in sports ensuring greater sport satisfaction and positive emotions in sports.

Harnessing the value of self-screening for athletes

Self-determination plays a crucial role in the well-being of individuals. According to Ryan and Deci (2001), well-being refers to happiness, pleasure, and positive affect. In the sports domain, well-being is an immediate consequence which is easily reported and identified by athletes. Based on the self-determination theory team-based screening processes appear to meet the three basic psychological needs that are deemed most relevant to success: autonomy, competence, and relatedness (Deci and Ryan, 1985, Deci and Ryan, 1991 and Ryan and Deci, 2002). The need for autonomy refers to self-directed actions as outlined above. The need for competence implies that individuals want to interact effectively with their environment in order to produce desired outcomes and preventing undesired ones (i.e. improved sleep quality, decreased injury). Finally, the need for relatedness pertains to the desire to feel connected with significant others (i.e. coaches, teammates) (Baumeister and Leary, 1995).

To summarize, in one study, 10 sport teams each participated in a single self-profiling session. At the end of their session, athletes (n = 191) believed profiling could be useful in:

  1. raising their self-awareness;
  2. helping them decide what they need to work on;
  3. motivating them to improve;
  4. setting goals for themselves;
  5. monitoring and evaluating their performance; and
  6. taking more responsibility for their development.


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  • Deci, E. L., & Ryan, R. M. (2008). Self-determination theory: A macrotheory of human motivation, development, and health. Canadian Psychology/Psychologie canadienne, 49(3), 182.
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  • Deci, E. L., & Ryan, R. M. (2002). Overview of self-determination theory: An organismic dialectical perspective. Handbook of self-determination research, 3-33.
  • Pelletier, L. G., Fortier, M. S., Vallerand, R. J., & Briere, N. M. (2001). Associations among perceived autonomy support, forms of self-regulation, and persistence: A prospective study. Motivation and Emotion, 25(4), 279-306.
  • Vallerand, R. J., Pelletier, L. G., Blais, M. R., Briere, N. M., Senecal, C., & Vallieres, E. F. (1992). The academic motivation scale: A measure of intrinsic, extrinsic, and amotivation in education.Educational and psychological measurement, 52(4), 1003-1017.
  • Vallerand, R. J. (1997). Toward a hierarchical model of intrinsic and extrinsic motivation.


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