How do you recognize talent and creativity, which psychological factors and circumstances affect enjoyment and performance in sport, and how can the mental aspects of sport and performance be further exploited? These are the key questions that Nico van Yperen, newly appointed Professor of Sport & Performance Psychology at the University of Groningen (UG), will address. Van Yperen is the first professor in the Netherlands whose prime focus is the psychology of sport and performance.
Before taking up the new post, Van Yperen was Professor of Organizational Psychology at the Faculty of Behavioural and Social Sciences at the UG. This post already had a strong focus on motivation, sport and talent development, with the Master’s track in Talent Development & Creativity, for instance. With the new chair, the UG is increasing this focus.
The new chair in Sport & Performance Psychology is closely linked to the Sport Science Institute Groningen (SSIG), a collaboration between the Municipality of Groningen, the UMCG, Hanze University of Applied Sciences and the UG that brings together all the sport research and teaching in Groningen and link this with sporting practice. Nico van Yperen represents the UG on the SSIG management team, and with his Sport and Performance Psychology course unit contributes to the Minor in Sport Science for undergraduate students at the UG.
Of course, things like motivation, concentration and commitment are not as easy to define as things like stamina, pedalling technique and strength. But mental skills such as setting goals, introducing structure, perseverance and letting go, generating positive emotions, making choices and figuring out what motivates you are concrete and can be trained, just like technical and tactical skills’, says Van Yperen. ‘With my research I hope to help people understand that mental factors are pervasive in the world of sport and performance and that they are less mysterious than you might think.’
The role of mental skills in sport is widely recognized, says Van Yperen, but there is less willingness to do anything with them. This is due to a number of reasons. ‘Mental factors are hidden between the ears and can only be measured indirectly. They are also tied up with the personality of the athlete, and an opinion about them can therefore be seen as a threat. Finally, there is an assumption that they are mainly influenced by good physical shape and good results. The trouble is that you are not always in the best physical shape or your results are disappointing. How do you deal with that? What do you have to do to start winning again? In such a situation, mental factors are often decisive.’
Van Yperen regularly writes about the psychology of sport and performance on his weblog
. In his blogs, he links topical events – sporting or otherwise – to scientific insights, discussing, for instance, team spirit in national teams, the role of parents and sporting talent and what motivates Ranomi Kromowidjojo to keep performing. He thus tries to make the theory on mental aspects of sport and performance accessible to a wide audience.
After studying Psychology at the UG (1987), Nico van Yperen did a PhD in Nijmegen (1990). He returned to Groningen in 1994, and in 2004 gave his inaugural lecture entitled Vlammen en Afbranden. Van Yperen delivers English-taught course units such as Sport and Performance Psychology in the third year of the Bachelor’s degree programme in Psychology, and Competence and Motivation in the Master’s degree programme in Psychology. He is closely involved in the international Master’s track Talent Development & Creativity and sits on the management team of the SSIG.
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