What is reflecting?
You’d be surprised how often we reflect as athletes. Reflecting is essentially, taking time to try and make sense of what we’ve just experienced. For example, we reflect on our technique and how it may have contributed to our 3 red lights in our squat. We may reflect on the impact of our nutrition and sleep on our performance. But even though we engage in some form of reflection, sometimes we’re not the best at doing it effectively. This is mainly because it’s not done in a systematic way and is at a basic level. So if we partially reflect already, then why not learn how to do it in the best way possible.
The intention of reflection is to help us make sense of an event and identify learning lessons that will allow us to progress. The art of reflection is all about being honest with yourself and trying to think deeply about what you’ve just experienced. Some people may be able to do basic levels of reflections where they simply describe what happened. For example, what they saw, what they did and what other people did. However, the better level of reflection is when the athlete asks why these things happened. These athletes are curious to understand what was the chain of events that led to my experience. For example, how did my emotions and thoughts have an impact on my bench. This is the level of reflection that we want to tap into. This is the level of reflection that will help you learn the most.
What is the point of reflecting then? In a nutshell, a mentally tough athlete is a reflective athlete. There have been many studies that outline the benefits of reflecting. Researchers Chow and Luzzeri in 2019 noted the benefits of reflecting:
Improves self-awareness - When we reflect we start developing the skill of truly understanding ourselves. We allow ourselves to consider what we did, what we felt and what we thought. We start to consider how our interactions with others may play a role in how we act. Ultimately, allowing ourselves to accurately understand who we are as athletes.
Self adjustment and improvement - Ellis and colleagues mentioned that reflecting in a systematic way can help individuals identify the cause of certain outcomes. When we know the causes we can start to identify what we need to do to improve ourselves. This is why reflecting is so important for athletes to master. This saves us a lot of time from guessing what may be impacting our performance, feelings and thoughts. It gives us the power to say “OK, so I notice that when I isolate myself from my training partners my training quality goes down. Let me try to interact with them more to help improve my training quality.” Therefore, giving us the ability to improve ourselves.
Improves sense of control - Through the process of reflection we gain clarity and understanding about ourselves and our performance environment. This clarity gives us the power to start controlling what we can. For me, there’s nothing worse than feeling like I’m just going through the motions without any control over the direction I’m going. Reflecting, helps put you in the driver's seat and regain control of the direction you intended to go to.
How to reflect
There are so many ways you can reflect. There are structured ways, where you follow a specific format of reflection. There are unstructured ways, where you basically freestyle it and do it in a free-flowing way. Since we don’t normally spend time reflecting in a structured way, it’s useful to have some guidance in reflecting to develop our ability to reflect effectively.
I’d recommend using Gibbs’ reflective cycle. This guidance allows you to reflect in a structured way, whilst also not limiting you by allowing you to go in depth. The following structure is what I use with my athletes.
Describe - Think of this like the introduction. All you are trying to do is set the scene for the rest of the reflection. What are you reflecting on? What happened? Who was around? Include any information that helps add context to the experience you’re reflecting on.
What went well and why? - As individuals we have a tendency to focus on the negatives and ignore the positives. This section allows you to think about what went well in that experience. To allow for a better reflection, we then need to consider why that good thing happened. Think about who played a part in it; consider the role of your emotions, thoughts and actions that may have led to that experience.
What didn’t go so well and why? - This is similar to the one above, but obviously this is looking at what didn’t go so well. Please note that it’s not saying something was awful, but it’s highlighting that there’s lessons to be learned in things that didn’t go quite as well as planned. Once again, to go deeper, think about what factors played a role in that happening.
What did you learn? - Essentially, from going through this reflective process, what conclusions can you draw about yourself and the experience you went through. This will be a summary of what’s been understood so far.
What can you do next time? - The cherry on the cake! With the knowledge you’ve now gained and the understanding you’ve gathered from the experience, what are you going to do to help yourself move forward? Think, what would I do similarly and/or differently in this situation?
Do it more. The more you reflect, the better you get at it...just like any other skill.
Try to reflect on experiences where you can identify learning lessons. For example, reflect on something that will get you to think deeply.
Ask yourself, what am I reflecting on and what do I want to get out of this. I normally pose a question to myself to help with my reflection. For instance, Did hyping myself up help my squat performance?