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This study aimed to investigate the concept of self-control in association with engagement in daily activities of professional football players, and its relationship with football performance. Findings indicated that self-control scores of male professional football players (N = 639), representing the first squad of every club playing in the (country blinded) Premier and Second League, were associated with their lifestyle and practice time. A small, positive relationship between self-control and football performance was found. In terms of expert performance, a possible explanation of our findings is that self-control helps individuals stay on track on their pathways to excellence.
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Journal of Applied Sport Psychology
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Self-Control in Professional Soccer
Tynke Toeringa & Geir Jordeta
a Norwegian School of Sport Sciences
Accepted author version posted online: 03 Feb 2015.Published
online: 03 Feb 2015.
To cite this article: Tynke Toering & Geir Jordet (2015): Self-Control in Professional Soccer Players,
Journal of Applied Sport Psychology, DOI: 10.1080/10413200.2015.1010047
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Association for Applied Sport Psychology
ISSN: 1041-3200 print / 1533-1571 online
DOI: 10.1080/10413200.2015.1010047
Self-Control in Professional Soccer Players
Norwegian School of Sport Sciences
This study aimed to investigate the concept of self-control in association with engagement in
daily activities of professional soccer players and its relationship with soccer performance.
Findings indicated that self-control scores of male professional soccer players (N=639),
representing the first squad of every club playing in the (Norwegian) Premier and Second
League, were associated with their lifestyle and practice time. A small, positive relationship
between self-control and soccer performance was found. In terms of expert performance, a
possible explanation of our findings is that self-control helps individuals stay on track on their
pathways to excellence.
Current expertise development research implies that it is hard, if not impossible, to identify
future top performers at a very early age (e.g., Abbott & Collins, 2004; Phillips, Davids,
Renshaw, & Pontus, 2010; Seifert, Button, & Davis, 2013; Vaeyens, Lenior, Williams, &
Philippaerts, 2008). This indicates the importance of focusing on expertise development rather
than talent identification. In addition, it has recently been argued that pathways to world-class
performance are rocky and that setbacks or difficulties may actually help performers grow
(Collins & MacNamara, 2012). It was implied that the effectiveness of talent development
programs may be increased by incorporating interventions that focus on how to deal with such
challenges, thereby developing performers’ self-control, mental toughness, and/or resilience
(Collins & MacNamara, 2012). This rationale is in line with findings in the academic domain,
which for instance show that self-control was a stronger predictor of students’ grade point
average than were SAT test or IQ scores (Duckworth & Seligman, 2005; Wolfe & Johnson,
1995). The aim of the current study was to investigate the concept of self-control in professional
soccer players. In addition, the relationship between self-control and professional soccer
players’ performance was examined.
Although there are many definitions of self-control, general agreement exists that it can
be defined as the capacity to alter one’s responses to achieve a desired state or outcome that
otherwise would not arise naturally (e.g., Bauer & Baumeister, 2011; De Ridder, Lensvelt-
Mulders, Finkenauer, Stok, & Baumeister, 2012). Self-control and self-regulation are often
used interchangeably, whereas some researchers define self-control as a deliberate, effortful
form of self-regulation (Baumeister, Vohs, & Tice, 2007). Some concepts typically related to
self-control are grit (the tendency to pursue long-term challenging goals with perseverance
and passion; e.g., Duckworth & Quinn, 2009), delay of gratification (controlling immediate
Received 26 September 2014; accepted 16 January 2015.
Address correspondence to Tynke Toering, Norwegian School of Sport Sciences, Department of
Coaching and Psychology, P.O. Box 4014, Ullev˚
al Stadion 0806, Oslo, Norway. E-mail: tynke.
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impulses and responses in favor of long-term outcomes; e.g., W. Mischel, Shoda, & Peake,
1988), willpower (a form of energy to persist or change behavior; e.g., Baumeister, Vohs,
& Tice, 2007). Research distinguishes between dispositional self-control and the amount of
temporarily available self-control strength (state self-control; e.g., Tangney, Baumeister, &
Boone, 2004) and has repeatedly indicated that good self-control is associated with a healthy
and successful life (e.g., Tangney et al., 2004; Vohs & Baumeister, 2011). Self-control is one of
the central concepts of psychological functioning, as it helps people adapt to their environment,
which is essential for the evolutionary goals of survival and reproduction (Schmeichel &
Baumeister, 2004). Several studies have indeed shown that the capacity for self-control is
related to good adjustment and performance, such as high self-esteem, better grades, better
health, less alcohol abuse, and less pathology (e.g., Hagger, Wood, Stiff, & Chatzisarantis,
2010; Tangney et al., 2004; Vohs & Baumeister, 2011).
One of the most notable studies in self-control research was conducted by W. Mischel et al.
(1988), who found that a greater ability to delay gratification among 4-year-olds was related to
higher academic and social competence, and more effective coping as rated by parents about
10 years later. A follow-up study showed that more specific factors, such as exposure to the
reward, seemed to play a role as well (Shoda, Mischel, & Peake, 1990). These results indicated
that motivational and temporal considerations (planful behavior, metacognition), expectations,
and personality variables in addition to cognitive and attentional strategies (rules to facilitate
delay) were likely to affect the delay of gratification process. It may be more adaptive to delay
or to not delay, depending on individuals’ judgment of the contingencies of their decision (H.
N. Mischel & Mischel, 1983; Shoda et al., 1990), which shows the importance of the context
in addition to the capacity to resist temptation. In summary, these studies seem to indicate that
self-control is related to “life performance” through both strategic behaviors and motivational
Self-control involves both the control and generation of impulses (i.e., inhibition vs. plan-
ning and perseverance; De Ridder, De Boer, Lugtig, Bakker, & Van Hooft, 2011) and has been
implied to primarily include processes related to delay of gratification, (conversely) impulsiv-
ity, and executive functioning. Executive functioning refers to cognitive processes that enable
human beings “to solve novel problems, modify behavior in light of new information, generate
strategies for complex actions, follow through with plans, and override pre-potent behavioral
and emotional responses to engage in goal-directed behavior” (Williams, Suchy, & Rau, 2009,
p. 126). Tasks associated with self-control that involve executive functioning are for instance
the Tower of Londen test and Stroop task, which include different sets of processes related to
working memory, attention, response inhibition, and task switching (see Duckworth & Kern,
2012, for an overview). As a consequence of the many processes involved, the concept of
self-control has not only been defined but also measured in several ways. Duckworth and Kern
(2012) conducted a meta-analysis including 236 studies that measured self-control using delay
of gratification tasks, executive functioning tasks, and self-/informant-report questionnaires to
assess the convergent validity among these measures. They defined self-control as voluntary,
“top-down” self-governance, which inhibits or obviates impulses, to reach personally valued
goals and standards. Results revealed moderate convergence across self-control measures.
Informant- and self-report questionnaires demonstrated the strongest evidence of convergent
validity. It was concluded that self-control is a coherent but multidimensional construct best
examined using multiple measures.
A meta-analysis investigating the relationship between self-reported self-control and be-
havior showed that self-control is primarily associated with the ability to form and break
habits (De Ridder et al., 2012). It seems that individuals who score high on self-control
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structure their lives in such a way that they minimize the extent to which they get into tempting
situations (Hofmann, Baumeister, F¨
orster, & Vohs, 2012), which may promote decisions that
are beneficial for a healthy and successful life. This could be related to outrageous behaviors
that soccer players may get involved in (Maughan, 2006). The capability to resist situational
temptations and short-term gains makes it more likely that one will attain preferable long-term
goals (Hagger et al., 2010). The capacity for self-control may facilitate elite athletes’ perfor-
mance because, to be successful in a high-performance setting over time, it is essential for
elite athletes to focus on long-term goals and to stay away from possible distractions given the
high demands they face in terms of factors such as practice–rest balance and media exposure
(e.g., Gould, Moffett, & Diefenbach, 2002; MacNamara, Button, & Collins, 2010). Another
way in which self-control could affect elite sport performance is through athletes’ preparation
for practice and competition. Several studies using the strength model of self-regulation have
indicated that athletes performing at a relatively high level can be susceptible to ego deple-
tion, which may have a negative impact on subsequent performance (e.g., Dorris, Power, &
Kenefick, 2012; Englert & Bertrams, 2012).
In addition, dispositional self-control may facilitate elite athletes’ performance through
its effect on practice quality. Research implies that deliberate practice is essential to the
development of sport excellence (e.g., Baker & Young, 2014), and one of the characteristics
of deliberate practice is that it is not always enjoyable (Ericsson, Krampe, & Tesch-R ¨
1993). This means that sustaining large amounts of deliberate practice over time requires
self-control. Research on the relationship between self-control and performance revealed that
self-control was a stronger predictor of academic performance than intellectual ability (e.g.,
Duckworth & Seligman, 2005). It has been implied that the relationship between self-control
and academic results is affected by whether students do their homework (e.g., Hofer, Kuhnle,
Kilian, & Fries, 2012). Students’ level of self-control seems to influence doing homework,
while doing homework may also improve their self-control (Ramdass & Zimmerman, 2011).
Furthermore, lack of self-control as measured by behaviors that could be considered as more or
less irresponsible (smoking, drinking, falling asleep in class, fail to do homework on time) was
found to be negatively related with first-semester grade point average among college students
who used to be high achievers in high school (Honken & Ralston, 2013). The previous findings
are supported by a longitudinal study, which revealed that self-control better predicted changes
in report card grades through teachers’ ratings of homework and classroom conduct than did
IQ, whereas intelligence was a stronger predictor of changes in standardized achievement test
scores than self-control (Duckworth, Quinn, & Tsukayama, 2012). The latter may indicate
that the relationship between self-control and performance is primarily mediated by practice
Based on the results of self-control studies on sport and academic performance, we can
hypothesize that self-control is linked to a professional athletic lifestyle, engagement in the
necessary amount, and quality of practice, and athletic performance. Expertise development
research has proposed these factors to be essential to reach and maintain excellent perfor-
mance levels (e.g., Ericsson et al., 1993). This means that self-control may be related to the
development and performance of elite athletes, although it also has to be acknowledged that
there are many factors that influence expertise development and performance (e.g., Phillips
et al., 2010; Seifert et al., 2013; Vaeyens et al., 2008). The first aim of the present study was to
investigate the concept of self-control in professional soccer players, with specific reference to
their engagement in daily activities, including soccer practice. The second aim was to examine
the association between self-control and soccer performance, both at the individual and team
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Table 1
Means and Standard Deviations of Participant Characteristics, and the Percentage of
Foreign Players at Each League Level
Premier LeagueaSecond Leagueb
Age (years) 23.7 (5.3) 23.5 (4.3)
Height (cm) 182.7 (5.8) 182.3 (6.4)
Weight (kg) 77.8 (7.1) 77.9 (7.1)
Soccer practice/day (hours)2.6 (0.8) 2.5 (0.8)
No. of national team games2.9 (8.8) 0.2 (1.7)
Nationality (% foreign)27.4% 14.0%
an=322. bn=317.
A total number of 639 professional soccer players (all male), who represented the first team
of every single club playing at the Premier (n=322) and Second League level (n=317) in
Norway participated in this study (Mage =23.6, SD =4.8; range =15–38 year). Both the
Norwegian Premier and Second League are professional leagues and both contain 16 clubs
with a first squad consisting of about 20 players. Participant characteristics are presented in
Tabl e 1 .
All clubs represented in the Norwegian Premier and Second League were invited to par-
ticipate in a research survey investigating the psychological and practice characteristics of
professional soccer players. The clubs and their head coaches received an information letter.
All clubs agreed to participate, and representatives of the research group made an appointment
with the head coach as to when his team was available to complete the questionnaire. All
players received an information letter, and the ones who agreed to participate signed a consent
form. The parents of players younger than 18 years of age gave their written consent as well.
The questionnaire was administered with representatives of the research group present as test
leaders either at the venue of the preseason training camp in which the clubs were engaged
or at the clubs’ own training ground. The project has been approved by the Norwegian Data
Protection Authority. The procedures followed were in accordance with the ethical guidelines
of the Data Protection Authority as well as those prescribed by the American Psychological
Self-control was assessed with the Brief Self-Control Scale (BSCS; Tangney et al., 2004).
This 13-item scale measures dispositional self-control and contains items such as “I have
a hard time breaking bad habits” and “I am able to work effectively on long-term goals.
Participants indicate how much each item reflects how they typically are on a 5-point rating
scale (not at all to very much). Both the BSCS and its longer version, Total Self-Control Scale,
are supposed to cover the same range of content: control over thoughts, emotional control,
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impulse control, performance regulation, and habit breaking. Items from each of these factors
of the Total Self-Control Scale were included in the BSCS (Tangney et al., 2004, p. 283).
Information about the factor structure and internal consistency of the scale is given in the data
analysis chapter.
Engagement in daily activities
The time players spent on daily activities was measured by simply asking the participants
how much time per day, on average, they spent on soccer practice (team and individual),
practice of other sports, traveling to/from soccer practice, school attendance, doing homework,
watching TV, surfing the Internet, gaming, hanging out with friends, reading (nonschool), and
sleeping (at night). Participants filled out the number of hours and minutes of engagement in
each activity per day.
Performance level
Performance level was measured in three different manners because many perspectives can
be taken on how to measure performance level. First, players were grouped into a Premier
League (n=322) and Second League level (n=317), where those in the Premier League
group are at a higher level of performance. Second, the players were divided into a group
that had senior national team game experience (n=82) and a group who had not (n=
539). Eighteen players did not report their national team experience. In general, the best
players of a country are selected for the national team to represent their nation, indicating
that one can assume that these players, on average, have a higher performance level than
others. Third, we created a variable in accordance with the final, end-of-season ranking of
the Norwegian Premier and Second League teams. Both the Premier and Second League
contain 16 teams, making a total of 32 teams. Based on the ranking at the end of the season,
we numbered the teams from 1 to 32, with the team that won the Premier League ranked
highest (number 32), the one winning the Second League as number 17, and the team ending
up last in the Second League as number one. Thus, a higher score means a better end-of-
season ranking. National team experience may be a better performance measure for individual
players than league level or final ranking. However, the latter variables are important too,
because soccer is a team sport and players are also evaluated on the performance of their
Data Analysis
Of the 639 professional soccer players who participated in the present study, 20 players did
not correctly complete the questionnaire. These were excluded from further analysis, leaving
a total sample of 619 participants, of whom 314 were Premier League and 305 were Second
League players, and 79 had senior national team experience, whereas 525 had not (15 of
the remaining players did not report national team experience). Less than 5% of cases were
missing, and Little’s chi-square statistic indicated that the data were missing completely at
random (p> .05). Missing data were imputed using EM estimation.
Given as previous research proposed that self-control involves both the control and gener-
ation of impulses (De Ridder et al., 2011), that it is a multidimensional construct (Duckworth
& Kern, 2012), and that the BSCS may be a two-factor scale instead of a unidimensional one
(Maloney, Grawitch, & Barber, 2012), we decided to test the factor structure of the BSCS. The
data were randomly split into two separate files (approximately 50/50%). The first file (N=
317) was used to conduct an exploratory factor analysis (principal axis factoring with direct
oblimin rotation), which revealed that a two-factor solution fitted the observed data best. The
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Tabl e 2
Factor Loadings and Explained Variance of BSCS Items After Confirmatory Factor
Analysis: Two-Factor Model of Self-Control
Restraint Impulse Control
Factor Explained Factor Explained
loading variance loading variance
1. I am good at resisting temptation. 0.61 0.36 —
2. I have a hard time breaking bad habits. –0.53 0.28 —
3. I am lazy. –0.53 0.28 —
4. I say inappropriate things. 0.55 0.30
5. I do certain things that are bad for me, if they are
——0.60 0.35
6.Irefusethingsthatarebadforme. ————
7. I wish I had more self-discipline. –0.66 0.45 —
8. People would say that I have iron self-discipline. 0.58 0.33 —
9. Pleasure and fun sometimes keep me from getting
work done.
10. I have trouble concentrating. 0.45 0.20
11. I am able to work effectively on long- term goals. 0.45 0.20 —
12. Sometimes I can’t stop myself from doing
something, even if I know it’s wrong.
——0.70 0.49
13. I often act without thinking through all the
——0.83 0.70
Note. Comparative fit index (CFI) =.96, Non-normed fit index (NNFI) =.94, Root mean square error of estimation
(RMSEA) =.072, Standardized root mean residual (SRMR) =.062; Cronbach’s α=0.70 and 0.75.The correlation
between Restraint and Impulse Control was 0.64.
first factor, which explained 31.6% of the variance, included items related to restraint, whereas
factor number two contained items related to impulse control (10.5% explained variance). Two
of the 13 items did not load high enough on any factor and were therefore removed from further
analysis (r<.40; Items 6 and 9 of the original scale). The two-factor solution with 11 items
was then validated using data file number two (N=302) by performing a confirmatory factor
analysis (CFA) in LISREL 8.8 (J¨
oreskog & S¨
orbom, 2007). The CFA provided satisfactory
results for the two-factor solution (i.e., comparative fit index [CFI] =.96, non-normed fit index
[NNFI] =.94, root mean square error of approximation [RMSEA] =.072, standardized root
mean square residual [SRMR] =.062; Cronbach’s α=0.70 and 0.75). Items, factor loadings,
and explained variances are presented in Table 2.
In addition, we managed to recruit a new representative sample of 134 elite soccer play-
ers to validate our factor analysis results (about 50% professional and 50% young players
who were part of specific talent groups at their clubs). They filled out the BSCS and other
self-report instruments measuring constructs related to self-control in terms of motivation,
goal-directedness, self-regulated learning, and emotional control; that is, the Achievement
Goal Questionnaire–Sport (Conroy, Elliot, & Hofer, 2003), Grit-S (Duckworth & Quinn,
2009), a short version of the soccer-specific self-regulated learning scale (Toering, Jordet,
& Ripegutu, 2013), and the Sport Anxiety Scale–2 (Smith, Smoll, Cumming, & Grossbard,
2006). A CFA to validate the model found in the research sample reproduced the two-factor
model (i.e., CFI =.95, NNFI =.93, RMSEA =.064, SRMR =.067; factor loadings ranged
from 0.42 to 0.87; r=−.54). In addition, significant correlations were found between re-
straint and grit (r=.53), self-regulated learning (r=.36), and mastery approach achievement
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orientation (r=.33). We also found significant correlations between impulse control and grit
(r=.57); the sport anxiety subscales of worry, somatic anxiety, and concentration disruption
(r=−.28, .28, and .40, respectively); and the achievement orientations of performance
approach, performance avoidance, and mastery avoidance (r=−.28, .24, .24, respec-
tively). These results confirm the validity of the self-control model that was used in the
present study, in that restraint seemed to be related to long-term learning and development
and impulse control seemed to be connected to a focus on long-term goals, emotional con-
trol, and being motivated by focusing on what one can control. All scores of negatively
stated items were reversed in the subsequent analyses, so that a higher score meant more
Self-Control and Daily Activities
Multiple regression analyses were conducted to find out whether professional soccer
players’ scores on restraint and impulse control predicted how much time they spent on
soccer practice (team and individual), practice of other sports, traveling to/from soccer prac-
tice, school attendance, doing homework, watching TV, surfing the Internet, gaming, hang-
ing out with friends, reading (nonschool), and sleeping (at night). Restraint and impulse
control served as the predictors and each daily activity as the dependent variable. The as-
sumptions for multiple regression analysis were met, and a significance level of .05 was
Self-Control and Performance Level
Mean scores for restraint and impulse control were computed for each league level and
national team experience (yes/no). Cohen’s dfor effect size was calculated as well (Cohen,
1992; 0.20 is small, 0.50 is moderate, and 0.80 is large effect size). Two logistic regression
analyses were conducted to examine whether self-control was associated with performance
level. Restraint and impulse control served as predictors in the first analysis and league
level served as the dependent variable (second/premier league). Given that the number of
soccer training hours was associated with league level, this variable was included as possible
confounder. The second logistic regression analysis again had restraint and impulse control as
predictors, but senior national team experience served as the dependent variable (no/yes). A
check of the linearity of the logits indicated that the assumption of linearity was met for all
variables in all analyses. Other assumptions, such as absence of multicollinearity, were also
The logistic regression analyses involved two steps: Possible confounder(s) were included
in the first step and the predictor(s) in the second step. To be considered a confounder, the
relative change of βof the confounders following the first step compared with βafter the
second step had to be at least 25% when βwas larger than 0.40 or 0.40, and the absolute
change had to be at least 0.1 when 0.40 <β<0.40 (Frankena & Graat, 1997). The Hosmer
and Lemeshow Goodness-of-Fit Test was used to assess the accuracy of the model (Hosmer
& Lemeshow, 1989), and a significance level of α=.05 was adopted.
The association between self-control and the final ranking of Premier and Second League
teams was examined by computing the Pearson correlation. Mean restraint and impulse control
scores per team were calculated, which then were correlated with the end-of-season ranking
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Tabl e 3
Mean and Standard Deviation of Number of Hours Spent on Several Daily Activities for
Professional Soccer Players
Hours per daya
Soccer practice 2.56 (0.81)
Other sport practice 0.38 (0.57)
Traveling to practice 0.65 (0.67)
Being at school 3.73 (2.60)
Doing homework 0.89 (0.82)
Watching TV 2.00 (1.26)
Internet 1.65 (1.11)
Gaming 0.72 (0.98)
Being with friends 1.61 (1.23)
Reading 0.41 (0.68)
Sleep 8.10 (0.91)
Note. The groups were smaller for being at school and doing homework (n=321); not all players still go to
school/follow an education.
Daily Activities of Professional Soccer Players
Professional soccer players scored 3.45 (SD =0.66) on restraint and 3.90 (SD =0.70)
on impulse control, on average. The mean number of hours spent on soccer practice (team
and individual), practice of other sports, traveling to/from soccer practice, school attendance,
doing homework, watching TV, surfing the Internet, gaming, hanging out with friends, reading
(nonschool), and sleeping (at night) in professional soccer players is presented in Table 3. The
multiple regression analyses showed that restraint predicted players’ engagement in soccer
practice (β=.12, SE =.06, p<.01), watching TV (β=–.12, SE =.09, p<.02), and
sleep (β=.12, SE =.07, p<.02). Results also showed that impulse control predicted doing
homework (β=.14, SE =.08, p<.03), using the Internet (β=–.10, SE =.07, p<.03),
gaming (β=−.17, SE =.06, p<.001), and being with friends (β=−.11, SE =.08, p<.02).
It seems that restraint primarily is positively related to desired behaviors or daily activities,
whereas impulse control is negatively associated with play and social activities.
Performance Level
League level
The mean scores on restraint and impulse control of premier league players were higher than
those of second league players: 3.52 (0.62) versus 3.38 (0.69), p<.05, and 3.94 (0.66) versus
3.86 (0.73), ns, respectively. Effect sizes were small (d=0.21 and d=0.11, respectively).
The logistic regression analysis with restraint and impulse control as predictors showed that
neither restraint nor impulse control predicted league level, although the restraint variable had
a close-to-significant effect (p<.08; Table 4). Soccer practice hours per day did not influence
the relationship between (a) restraint and impulse control scores and (b) league level. The
nonsignificant Hosmer and Lemeshow Goodness-of-Fit Test showed that our model fitted the
data, χ2(8, n=600) =6.42, p=.60. The Nagelkerke R2indicated that the explained variance
of the model was 2.3%.
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Tabl e 4
Results of the Logistic Regression Analyses
β(SE)OR 95% CI of OR p
Premier vs. Second League
Restraint 0.25 (0.14) 1.29 0.97-1.71 .08
Impulse control 0.05 (0.14) 1.05 0.81-1.36 .71
Practice hours per day 0.19 (0.10) 1.21 0.99-1.48 .06
National team experience (yes/no)
Restraint 0.18 (0.22) 1.19 0.78-1.82 .41
Impulse control 0.60 (0.23) 1.83 1.17-2.86 .01
Note. CI =confidence interval; OR =odds ratio.
National team experience
The mean scores of players with and without senior national team experience on restraint
and impulse control differed significantly: 3.62 (0.66) versus 3.42 (0.66), p<.05, and 4.15
(0.52) versus 3.86 (0.71), p<.05. The effect size for restraint was small-to-moderate (d=
0.30) and the one for impulse control was moderate (d=0.47).
Only impulse control significantly predicted whether players had senior national team
experience (OR =1.83, p<.01; Table 4). For each point scored on impulse control, players
were 83% more likely to have national team experience. This means that there was 83%
more chance for a player to have senior national team experience, if he scored 1 point more on
impulse control than another player. The Hosmer and Lemeshow Goodness-of-Fit Test showed
that the model fitted the data, χ2(8, n=604) =3.45, p=.90, and the explained variance was
4.1% (Nagelkerke R2).
Final league ranking team
We found a strong positive correlation between preseason team restraint scores and teams’
final, end-of-season ranking in the Norwegian Premier and Second League (r=0.61; p<
.001). The higher the team’s restraint score at the start of the season, the better the team’s
final league ranking. Teams’ preseason impulse control was moderately associated with their
end-of-season ranking (r=0.44; p<.001).
The current study aimed to investigate the concept of self-control in professional soccer
players and its relationship with their performance of professional soccer players. When
testing the factor structure of the BSCS (Tangney et al., 2004), it turned out that self-control
may be constituted of two factors in our group of professional soccer players: restraint and
impulse control. Both variables were associated with the time soccer players spent on daily
activities; restraint was positively associated with daily soccer practice and sleep at night and
negatively with watching TV. Impulse control was positively related with doing homework
and negatively with using Internet, gaming, and being with friends. Impulse control predicted
soccer performance, in that players with a higher score were more likely to have senior
national team experience (OR =1.83). No relationship with performance was found for
restraint. Last, team restraint scores measured before the start of the season were found to be
strongly associated with the final league ranking of the teams in the following season, whereas
the association between teams’ impulse control and end-of-season ranking was moderate.
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The results show that there seems to be a relationship between self-control variables, daily
activities, and performance in professional soccer players. The findings also seem to indicate
that the concept of self-control may mean something different for elite athletes than for regular
Professional athletes must have a well-structured life given the challenges they face both
inside and outside of the performance arena (e.g., Gould et al., 2002; MacNamara et al., 2010).
Based on the relationship of self-control with the formation of good habits and breaking of
bad habits, and the positive link between the ability to delay gratification and life success,
we expected self-control to be relatively high among professional soccer players. The soccer
players had significantly higher total self-control scores (restraint and impulse control com-
bined; M=3.66) than the ones that have been found in general populations (M=3.26,
p<.05; De Ridder et al., 2012). Self-control appeared to be related to players’ lifestyle, in
that higher scores on restraint and impulse control were associated with spending more time
on soccer practice, sleeping, and homework and less time on social and play activities. This
may indicate that those with lower dispositional self-control have a less professional lifestyle
particularly because social and play activities, particularly when carried out excessively, may
be labeled as less professional. Research has also implied that individuals high on self-control
create structure in their lives so that they minimize the extent to which they end up in tempting
situations and maximize the extent to which they can focus on their long-term goals (e.g.,
Hagger et al., 2010; Hofmann et al., 2012). However, one may be critical to the argument that
spending more time on social and play activities by definition is a bad thing. Narratives from
practice and research evidence emphasize the importance of letting go of one’s sport during
free time to prevent mental exhaustion (e.g., Gould et al., 2002; Gustafsson, Hassm`
en, Kentt¨
& Johansson, 2008). It is therefore well possible that social and play activities serve the goal of
functional and helpful distraction, which is not necessarily linked to unprofessional attitudes.
Results also revealed a positive relationship between restraint and soccer practice hours per
day, which is in accordance with expertise development research that implies that deliberate
practice is essential for excellent performance (e.g., Ericsson et al., 1993). First, deliberate
practice is not always enjoyable and requires effort and concentration (e.g., Baker, Cobley, &
Fraser-Thomas, 2009). Furthermore, elite soccer players accumulate many deliberate practice
hours to improve and maintain performance, trying to make sure that they hold a competitive
advantage over other players (e.g., Haugaasen, Toering, & Jordet, 2014). To elaborate, approx-
imately 265 million people worldwide regularly play soccer, of which 38 million are registered
(about 34 million men; FIFA, 2007). Of the registered male soccer players around 110,000
have a professional status, meaning that only about 0.3% of players attain a professional status
(Haugaasen & Jordet, 2012). In addition, professional soccer players must perform during
matches one to three times per week, soccer has grown into a multimillion dollar business,
and soccer is known to be one of the most profiled and pressure-filled sports due to its high
rewards for success and severe consequences of failure (Forde, 2010). Given these demands,
it seems likely that one needs an appropriate focus in order to be able to perform. Although
we acknowledge that there are multiple factors that affect expertise development and soccer
performance, the willingness to do just a little more than others each day may to some extent
contribute to differences between elite performance levels. Future research should address the
meaning of engagement in different daily activities, as only the number of hours spent on them
does not provide us with sufficient information.
In line with research from the academic domain (e.g., Duckworth, Peterson, Matthews, &
Kelly, 2007; Duckworth & Seligman, 2005; Wolfe & Johnson, 1995), impulse control was
found to be positively related to players’ soccer performance level. The higher the impulse
control scores, the more likely it was that they had senior national team experience. Team
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performance was found to be related to the team’s self-control scores as well: Preseason
team restraint scores were positively and strongly related to the team’s end-of-season ranking,
whereas the association with team impulse control was positive and moderate. These findings
are supported by several studies on expertise development in soccer, in sport in general, and in
other performance domains, which pointed out the importance of individuals’ determination to
succeed and perseverance in the face of failure to reach optimal performance levels (e.g., Baker
e, 2003; Bloom, 1985; Collins & MacNamara, 2012; Ericsson et al., 1993; Gagn´
e, 2004;
Haugaasen & Jordet, 2012; Holt & Dunn, 2004; Holt & Mitchell, 2006; Toering, Elferink-
Gemser, Jordet, & Visscher, 2009). Regarded from an expert performance perspective, self-
control seems to be one of the characteristics that help individuals tolerate difficult periods
throughout their careers, such as performance slumps, injuries, other setbacks, and pressure
(Jordet, in press). As suggested earlier, sustained motivation to engage in not always enjoyable,
deliberate practice is a key process on the pathway to elite performance in sport (e.g., Baker
e, 2003; Ericsson et al., 1993).
The present study did not measure situational self-control strength. However, assuming
that dispositional self-control is to some extent related to situational self-control strength, in
that people higher on self-control may have larger self-control resources, the results of our
study can be linked with findings from field and lab studies on self-control strength, sport
performance, and anxiety. These studies show, for example, that self-regulation failure harms
performance during important soccer penalty shootouts through avoidance behavior (e.g.,
Jordet, 2009a, 2009b), that increasing self-control strength could reduce the negative effects
of state anxiety and improve athletes’ performance under pressure during basketball free
throw and darts throwing tasks (Englert & Bertrams, 2012) and that athletes’ capacity to focus
attention relies on the situational availability of self-control strength (Furley, Bertrams, Englert,
& Delphia, 2013). Self-control seems to contribute to athletes’ ability to be comfortable being
uncomfortable, which is essential for performance. This is particularly relevant in high-pressure
sports such as soccer.
Nevertheless, the effect of impulse control on soccer performance variables overall was
small. A consequence of examining a group with such a high performance level is that the
group is relatively homogeneous, which increases the chance that we find only small effects.
However, as differences become smaller closer to the top, it does not mean that the effects found
are irrelevant (Abernethy, Thomas, & Thomas, 1993). Although small effects may indicate
meaningful performance differences in such a specific group (only 0.3% of players attain
professional status), we can ask ourselves whether self-control means the same for the regular
population as it does for elite athletes. We speculate that self-control in elite athletes may be
more defined by an awareness of what is necessary to reach and maintain excellence in one’s
field rather than general restraint and impulse control, which both may be requirements to even
become a professional soccer player in the first place. In line with early findings on delay of
gratification (e.g., Shoda et al., 1990), we suggest that the context to a large extent defines and
contributes to the outcome of the self-control process. Another question that can be asked in
this regard is how much of learning, development, and performance really is under the control
of players themselves. Some studies, for example, indicated the importance of obeying the
coach to receive a positive evaluation (Holt & Dunn, 2004; Oliver, Hardy, & Markland, 2010).
In addition, many routines related to soccer practice and lifestyle are in control of the player’s
club. Therefore, more research on how to adequately measure self-control in professional
soccer players is needed.
Strengths of the present study are the number of participants and their level of performance.
So far, research on elite soccer has almost only focused on youth players, and the sample sizes
of these studies come nowhere near the magnitude of the current study, meaning that the sample
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of participants in this study is unique. A limitation is the use of self-report data. There may be
discrepancies between what players say and what they actually do (Andersen, McCullagh, &
Wilson, 2007; Baumeister, Vohs, & Funder, 2007). Therefore, we suggest that future research
focuses on using multiple measures of self-control.
Practical Implications
Self-control appears to be related to professional soccer players’ lifestyle and performance,
and the players scored higher than scores obtained from the general population. In addition,
given as our sample consisted of players who had already reached professional status, it
is possible that a certain level of self-control is a necessary requirement to even become
a professional player. Therefore, it seems recommendable for youth academies to develop
young (not yet professional) players’ self-control. This can be done through establishing
good habits, such as eating and sleeping well, and coming early to practice. Furthermore,
research implies it may be possible to develop interventions in one aspect of self-control
(e.g., affect regulation) and benefit from this in another aspect of self-control (e.g., deliberate
practice behavior; Baumeister, Gailliot, DeWall, & Oaten, 2006). In addition, the use of small,
controlled “trauma” in practice programs could help athletes develop more effectively by
increasing their self-control skills and resilience to prepare them for possible setbacks (Collins
& MacNamara, 2012). The latter may, in addition to performance, also have beneficial effects
on athletes’ general psychological health and well-being.
The present study showed a small, positive relationship between self-control and athletic
performance. In addition, self-control was associated with time spent on several daily activ-
ities, including practice time. In terms of expert performance, a possible explanation of our
findings is that self-control helps individuals stay on track on their pathways to excellence.
Self-control may also increase athletes’ perceived competence by helping them overcome chal-
lenges, which makes them more comfortable being uncomfortable. Although small effects may
indicate relevant performance differences in elite soccer players (only 0.3% of players attain
professional status), it remains unclear whether self-control means the same for the regular
population as it does for elite athletes. Therefore, more research on how to measure self-control
in elite athletes is recommended.
We thank Erik Hofseth and Mathias Haugaasen for their contributions. In addition, we
thank our students, the soccer clubs, coaches, and soccer players for their cooperation.
This study has been supported by a grant of the Norwegian Centre of Football Excellence.
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Self-control is considered to link with a wide range of adaptive behavior. This study aims to illustrate whether physical activity, physical fitness, and sports experience have some associations with self-control in individuals with visual impairment, and is there any difference between self-control among visually impaired athletes versus non-athletes. A total of 220 participants including 110 players and 110 non-players participated in the study. Data were collected through a questionnaire consisted of demographic information, sports participation , and experience-related questions (7-items-IPAQ), and a brief self-control scale. The analysis revealed that the score of the self-control scale was significantly higher in participants with playing experience comparative to those no playing experience. Sports experience and physical activity were positively related to self-control scores, whereas body mass index (BMI) and resting heart rate (RHR) of all participants were negatively related to self-control scores. Findings suggest that the ability of self-control can be enhanced through participation in sports and physical activity among visually impaired individuals. Professionals and policymakers should consider strategies to promote physical activity and sports participation in individuals with visual impairment to enhance positive personality traits.
... For example, grit (Duckworth et al., 2007), the growth mindset (Dweck, 2017), resilience (Fletcher & Sarkar, 2016;Seligman, 2011) and self-control (T. Toering & Jordet, 2015) are supported by a growing evidence base as supportive of development across sport. Collins and colleagues (D. ...
Psychological Characteristics of Developing Excellence (PCDEs) are a range of psychological factors that play a key role in the realisation of potential. We examined PCDE profiles across a female national talent development field hockey programme in North America. Two-hundred-and-sixty-seven players completed the Psychological Characteristics of Developing Excellence Questionnaire version 2 (PCDEQ-2) prior to the competitive season. One-hundred-and-fourteen players were classified as juniors (under-18) and 153 as seniors (over-18). Eighty-five players were classified as non-selected (not-selected to their age-group national team), and 182 as selected (selected to their age-group national team). A MANOVA showed multivariate differences based on age, selection status and their interaction, within this already homogenous sample, suggesting that sub-groups within this sample vary depending on their overall PCDE profiles. ANOVA showed differences in imagery and active preparation, perfectionist tendencies and clinical indicators between juniors and seniors. Furthermore, differences in imagery and active preparation, and perfectionist tendencies, were observed between selected and non-selected players. Subsequently, four individual cases were identified for further analysis based on their multivariate distance to the average PCDE profile. The use of the PCDEQ-2 at group- and particularly at individual-levels seems an important tool to support athletes as they navigate their development journey.
... This pattern is consistent with the find-ings of Stork et al. who found that trait self-control could predict how continuously a person would follow a selfdeveloped training plan over a 4-week period (Stork et al., 2016). Toering and Jordet (2015) also report that professional football players with higher trait self-control strength have a more professional lifestyle (e.g., regular bedtimes) and spend more time on the training pitch than football players with lower trait self-control strength. ...
Regular physical activity, healthy nutrition, and even learning sufficiently for a final exam are desirable behaviors that many individuals fail to implement in their lifestyle. In addition to motivation, volition plays a decisive role in the persistent implementation of target intentions. In this context, volition serves as a collective term for self-regulatory functions that enable the initiation and maintenance of a target intention, even when barriers to action arise. In this chapter, three of the central theories of volition will be presented and discussed: the “Rubicon model of action phases” (e.g., Heckhausen, 1989), the “theory of action control” (e.g., Kuhl, 1983; Kuhl and Beckmann, 1994), and the “strength model of self-control” (e.g., Baumeister et al., 1998). In addition, recommendations for action are derived from each theory in order to support the permanent implementation of target intentions.
... These results partially support previous studies that practicing martial arts can improve individuals' hardworking spirit, self-awareness, and responses to problems and eventually enhance selfcontrol (Li, 2019;Milligan et al., 2015). In a previous study, the self-control of soccer players was associated with practice time (Toering & Jordet, 2015). This may be because self-control is an essential psychological factor for athletes' progress in sports (Englert, 2016). ...
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Bullying behaviour is becoming alarmingly common among adolescents, and it significantly affects their physical and mental health. Martial arts emphasizes moral practice and self-control, and it improves emotional management ability. Hence, adolescents who practice martial arts may have better self-regulation and tend to perform fewer bullying behaviours. The purpose of this study was to explore the internal mechanisms between self-control and bullying behaviour among martial arts practicing (MAP) adolescents. The study included 775 adolescents (males = 515, age M = 13.48, SD = 1.11) who responded to questionnaires to assess self-control, negative affect, aggression, and bullying behaviour. The results showed that (1) The self-control level of MAP adolescents was higher than that of non-MAP counterparts while the bullying behaviour level of MAP adolescents was lower than that of non-MAP counterparts; (2) Self-control was negatively associated with bullying behaviour through indirect effects, and negative affect and aggression played key mediatory roles that contributed to most of the indirect effects. Our findings indicate a potential mechanism to understand the role of self-control in reducing bullying behaviour in MAP adolescents. Based on our findings, regular martial arts training is recommended as a physical education curriculum in school.
... Moreover, grit emerged as a significant predictor of sport-specific activities, including training, play, or participating in competitions (Larkin et al., 2016). Toering and Jordet (2015) demonstrated that grit had a positive association with self-restraint and impulse control in elite soccer players. Apart from its direct relationship with athletic practice and performance, recent research reported a significant association between grit and different mental aspects potentially relevant for rock-climbing practice. ...
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Over the past decades, the study of personality gained momentum in the field of sport psychology, a prime example being the increased number of publications relating personality to performance in extreme sports. The aim of the present investigation was twofold: to relate Five-Factor Model (FFM) personality traits with various aspects of climbing performance and to estimate whether grit, as a distinct personality trait, predicts climbing performance over and beyond FFM dimensions. Our sample included adult bouldering and sport climbing practitioners (N = 272 sport climbers, 155 boulderers) with ages between 16 and 69 (M = 32.1, SD = 10.0). We measured personality (Big Five Inventory FFM–2 Short Form, and a 12-item Grit Scale) and multiple indicators of outdoor sport climbing and bouldering performance. Results indicated that climbing performance was predicted by openness and agreeableness. Grit also significantly predicted climbing performance over the FFM traits. Contrary to the commonly held view depicting grit as indistinct from conscientiousness, our findings suggest that this trait has a unique contribution to explaining performance in a relatively novel, high-risk sport.
... At the second level, "personality descriptions invoke personal strivings, life tasks, defense mechanisms, coping strategies, domainspecific skills and values, and a wide assortment of other motivational, developmental, or strategic constructs that are contextualized in time, place, or role" (McAdams, 1996, p. 301). Well-known constructs such as growth mindset (Dweck, 2017), grit (Duckworth et al., 2007), resilience (Fletcher & Sarkar, 2016), or self-regulation (Toering & Jordet, 2015) have been described as attitudes that players bring to sport and that may or may not be applied to other elements in their lives. Whatever their popularity, all models have been criticized on the basis of methodology and psychometric validity (e.g., Credé et al., 2017). ...
The aim of this study was to examine the relevance of a set of psychological assessment tools for professional practice in talent development psychology. Data collection on 70 talented adolescent soccer players (ages 15–19 years) from a French-speaking part of Switzerland was based on McAdams’ framework. Data were processed to identify main team characteristics and differences between subgroups compared to standard values. Results suggested needs for psychological support in four domains: (a) management of emotional stability to reduce anxiety regarding performance and interactions with coaches; (b) enhancement of involvement in practice, including conscientiousness, quality of practice, and building positive and supportive relationships with coaches; (c) protection against substance abuse and doping; and (d) appropriation of activities that improve performance and increase the likelihood of benefiting from the challenges. The results indicate how these tools can be packaged as a set for overseeing talent development in general. This study suggests that regular multilevel assessment of personality factors is a key method that offers useful information to oversee the psychological development of talented soccer players.
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This paper aims to discuss the future prospects of the myth of the student-athlete in the Japanese new graduate job market according to which “student-athletes get better jobs” through describing its origin and transformation, tracing the social context in which it became embedded, and describing recent statistical trends. The origin of the myth of the student-athlete can be traced back to the late Taisho and the early Showa period, when athletes were considered elites who possessed both intelligence and physical strength, and who were attractive prospects for companies. World War II was followed by a massification of higher education and a gradual loss of its elitist characteristic, but the myth still seemed valid until the 1990s, with the success of alumni recruiters and the prosperity of corporate sports recruiting. In the 2000s, with the universalization of higher education and the dramatic increase in the number of student-athletes, appeared a segmentation between elites characterized by “highly prestigious universities,” “traditional team sports” and “male students,” and other non-elite student-athletes. However, according to a statistical analysis of the employment status of student-athletes graduating in March 2021, the males’ advantage observed in 2014 had disappeared in favor of females. In contrast to males whose affiliation is influential, for females the commitment to activities at the university and the balancing of academics and athletics are more effective to succeed on their first job search. Above all, we state that we should see the change during the Covid-19 crisis from an affiliation-based model to an sustained ability-based model as a positive opportunity for further transformation in higher education, recruitment companies, Japanese society, and among student-athletes themselves.
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The first purpose of this study was to examine psychological aspects of the talent development experiences of adolescent youth players who were on the verge of being released by a third division professional soccer club in England. The second purpose was to compare these findings with Holt and Dunn's (2004) grounded theory of soccer success and other pertinent literature in order to present predictions about the psychological factors that may increase the chances of talented adolescent athletes making it into professional adult soccer. Nine players (M age =18.5 yrs) and three coaches from an English professional third division club were interviewed and data were subjected to an inductive-deductive analysis procedure as part of the process of qualitative theory generation. The findings suggested that players lacked volitional behavior, delaying gratification, determination to succeed, strategic career planning, coping strategies, and tangible support. We interpreted these findings against previous research and concluded that hope theory (Snyder, Rand, & Sigmon, 2002) may be a useful framework for understanding psychological issues that enable some talented adolescent soccer players to make it to professional adult soccer. Accordingly a revised grounded theory of soccer success during adolescence is presented.
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MacNamara, Button, & Collins (under review) proposed that if individuals are to fulfill their potential they must possess and systematically develop a specific set of skills (termed Psychological Characteristics of Developing Excellence or PCDEs) that allow them to interact effectively with the developmental opportunities they are afforded. Given the complexity of the developmental pathway, it may well be that different skills are needed at different stages of development and across different performance domains. Twenty-four elite participants from team sports, individual sports, and music were purposefully sampled from different domains and interviewed on their experiences of their own pathways to excellence. Results suggested that although PCDEs were important throughout development, the manner by which they were deployed depended on stage, domain, and the characteristics of the individual performer. These findings support proposals to systematically incorporate PCDEs into TID practices because these may be the key feature in maintaining progress toward excellence.
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Twenty-one years ago, Ericsson, Krampe and Tesch-Romer published their seminal work expounding the notion of deliberate practice in explaining the development of expertise. This concept has since become extremely influential in the fields of sport psychology and motor learning. This review evaluates current understanding of deliberate practice in sport skill acquisition with an emphasis on the role of deliberate practice in distinguishing expert athletes from non-experts. In particular, we re-examine the original tenets of Ericsson et al.'s framework to (a) evaluate the sport-related research supporting their claims and (b) identify remaining research questions in this area. The review highlights the overall importance of deliberate practice in the development of expert sport performers; however, our understanding is far from complete. Several directions for future research are highlighted, including the need for more rigorous research designs and statistical models that can evaluate changes in developmental and contextual factors across development. Finally, we advocate for a more thorough understanding of the implications of a ‘deliberate practice approach’ for coaching science.
The theoretical framework presented in this article explains expert performance as the end result of individuals' prolonged efforts to improve performance while negotiating motivational and external constraints. In most domains of expertise, individuals begin in their childhood a regimen of effortful activities (deliberate practice) designed to optimize improvement. Individual differences, even among elite performers, are closely related to assessed amounts of deliberate practice. Many characteristics once believed to reflect innate talent are actually the result of intense practice extended for a minimum of 10 years. Analysis of expert performance provides unique evidence on the potential and limits of extreme environmental adaptation and learning.
This study investigated the relationship among lack of self-control, academic ability, and academic performance for a cohort of freshman engineering students who were, with a few exceptions, extremely high achievers in high school. Structural equation modeling analysis led to the conclusion that lack of self-control in high school, as measured by the frequency of illegal and irresponsible behaviors, had an inverse relationship with first semester grade point average (GPA), whereas academic ability, as measured by ACT scores, had a positive relationship with college GPA. The correlation between the residual error for one of the indicators of self-control, homework behaviors in high school, and the residual error for first semester GPA was also significant. Research on the relationships between self-control, homework behaviors in high school, and performance in college should continue; meanwhile, parents and teachers would be advised to emphasize the importance of developing self-control and positive homework behaviors in academically advanced high school students.