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Does grit influence sport-specific engagement and perceptual-cognitive expertise in elite youth soccer?

Larkin, P., O’Connor, D., & Williams, A. M. (2015). Does grit influence sport-specific engagement and perceptual-cognitive expertise in elite youth soccer?. Journal of Applied Sport Psychology, 1-10.


Duckworth, A. L., Peterson, C., Matthews, M. D., & Kelly, D. R. (2007). Grit: Perserverance and passion for long-term goals. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 92, 1087-1101

by Rachel Webb

In sport elite performance there are many variables that come into play when understanding what it takes to have to the skills and abilities to reach this level. Research has supported aspects such as technical ability, physical fitness, personality characteristics, and perceptual-cognitive expertise as being involved to some degree in determining the differences between subelite and elite athletes. An aspect of personality, known as grit, has been given little attention in the equation of elite athletes and this current study undertakes this trait to examine the potential influences it may have, specifically looking at youth elite soccer players. The researches looked at personality psychology to explore the construct of grit. Grit ultimately entails working towards a challenging goal while sustaining the effort and passion for the activity despite any hardships, slumps, or disappointments throughout the experience (Larkin, O’Connor, & Williams, 2015). Athletes can also manage this type of perseverance towards their goals without feedback or immediate recognition with high levels of grit. According to supporting research grit has been recognized for its potential to predict retention within a program, but there has been limited investigation on how grit may influence not just retention but the actual performance (Duckworth, Peterson, Matthews, & Kelly, 2007). From a sporting perspective there has been a clear correlation between perceptual-cognitive skills such as decision-making, situational probability assessment, and pattern recognition, and the hours accumulated for sport-specific activity. Given this relationship, this study proposed that gritter players would have accumulated more sport-specific hours of activity, thus performing better on the perceptual-cognitive skills which is a know factor of successful elite athletes.

This was a novel approach in exploring the personality trait of girt within a sporting realm and was supportive of pervious research, that gritter players are in fact more likely to sustain long periods of engagement to soccer-specific training which allowed them to achieve their performance goals. It also identified that the way in which players obtain indirect involvement with the sport such as watching games or playing video games (Larkin, O’Connor, & Williams, 2015). With the indirect and direct hours that were sport-specific, gritter athletes accumulated approximately 1,000 extra hours of soccer involvement, potentially benefitting their performance with this increase in sport-specific activity. Furthermore, there was a significant main effect for perceptual-cognitive performance. This matched the prediction that the researchers made, that players high in grit outperformed the less gritty players in the perceptual-cognitive activity involving decision-making and situational probability. It is implied that based on this study, gritter players will invest more time within soccer-specific activities, which in turn may positively influence their perceptual-cognitive performance. The initial evidence provided through this study has set the stage for further speculation on the idea that achievement and success are products of talent and effort. When there are two athletes displaying the same level of talent, can it be presumed that the athlete with high levels of grit will put in more effort, set long-term goals, and devote more time and focus to their sport. This latter athlete according to this study has provided us with evidence supporting the differences in the most elite athletes and what it takes in all domains of your skills or personality to achieve this stature.

On May 30, 2016

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