What are you thinking? How Think Aloud Protocol can help us understand ourselves and our athlete’s cognitions.


“Whitehead et al. (2016), found that during higher pressure situations (competition), higher level golfers verbalized more technical related thoughts in competition in comparison to practice.”

Dr Amy Whitehead, Programme Manager in Sports Coaching, Liverpool John Moores University (@a_whitehead1 @ThinkAloudUK)

This blog aims to provide a snap shot of what Think Aloud is, how it has been used in research and how it can be used within an applied sport setting. It is hoped that this blog will give readers a flavor of the work that has currently been done and give researchers and practitioners some ideas of how to adopt this within their own practice.

Think Aloud protocol (Ericsson and Simon, 1993) involves asking a participant to verbalize his or her thoughts aloud whilst performing a task and has traditionally been used within psychology to understand how people process information during problem solving tasks. However, more recently within sport it has been adopted to understand decision making and athlete cognition in a variety of difference sports such as golf (Whitehead, Taylor & Polman, 2015; Whitehead, Taylor & Polman, 2016a), cycling (Whitehead et al., 2017; Whitehead et al., 2018), Tennis (Swettenham, Eubank, Don, & Whitehead, 2018), and Snooker (Welsh et al., 2018). Research within sport using Think Aloud protocol has been able to demonstrate differences between experts and novices. More specifically, how experts and novices will focus on different variables within their environment prior to, during and post completion of a task. In addition, through the use of Think Aloud, differences have been found between cognition occurring in practice in comparison to competition, which could explain why some athletes may perform worse under pressure. For example, Whitehead et al. (2016), found that during higher pressure situations (competition), higher level golfers verbalized more technical related thoughts in competition in comparison to practice. This has the potential to explain why some athletes may ‘choke’ under pressure.

Using this research and applying Think Aloud to the applied world of sport, coaches and sport psychologists have the potential to further their understanding of how athletes may process and attend to certain information at certain points during performance. For example, Think Aloud may be used to identify such situations (but not limited to) where an athlete repeatedly gets angry and in turn becomes distracted from the task in golf following an unsuccessful shot in golf. This may lead to a decrease in performance. However, the coach or sport psychologist, and even the athlete can use Think Aloud to record this behavior and appropriate interventions can be put into place to assist the athlete in emotional management and improved cognitive focus within the task.

Similarly, the process above has been used within a coach education setting. Whitehead et al., (2016b) used Think Aloud with Rugby League coaches. This project aimed to help coaches understand their own thought and coaching processes, with the purpose of improving coaching behavior. Through using Think Aloud whilst coaching and then listening back to their audio recordings, coaches were able to reflect on their own coaching processes, thoughts and behaviors and in turn become better coaches.

More research and applied work is still necessary to develop the use of Think Aloud within a wider range of sports and settings. However, it is hoped that this blog provides a small insight into how Think Aloud has been used and encourages researchers and applied practitioners to adopt this method.

If you want to find out more about Think Aloud check out Dr Amy Whitehead’s publications: https://www.ljmu.ac.uk/about-us/staff-profiles/faculty-of-education-health-and-community/sport-studies-leisure-and-nutrition/amy-whitehead if

References:

Swettenham, L., Eubank, M., Won, D., & Whitehead, A.E. (2018) Investigating stress and coping during practice and competition in tennis using think aloud, International Journal of Sport and Exercise Psychology, DOI: 10.1080/1612197X.2018.1511622

Welsh, J.C., Dewhurst, S.A., & Perry, J.L. (2018). Thinking Aloud: An exploration of cognitions in professional snooker, Psychology of Sport & Exercise, 36, 197-208. doi: 10.1016/ j.psychsport.2018.03.003

Whitehead, A. E., Cropley, B., Miles, A., Huntley, T., Quayle, L., & Knowles, Z. (2016b). ‘Think Aloud’: Towards a framework to facilitate reflective practice amongst rugby league coaches. International Sport Coaching Journal, 3, 269 – 286. 16

 Whitehead, A. E., Jones, H. S., Williams, E. L., Dowling, C., Morley, D., Taylor, J., & Polman, R. C. (2017). Changes in cognition over a 16.1 km cycling time trial using a think aloud protocol: Preliminary evidence. International Journal of Sport and Exercise Psychology, 1–9. 20

 Whitehead, A. E., Jones, H. S., Williams, E. L., Rowley, C., Quayle, L., Marchant, D., & Polman, R. C. (2018). Investigating the relationship between cognitions, pacing strategies and performance in 16.1 km cycling time trials using a think aloud protocol. Psychology of Sport & Exercise, 34, 95 – 109.

Whitehead, A. E., Taylor, J. A., & Polman, R. C. J. (2015). Examination of the suitability of collecting in event cognitive processes using think aloud protocol in golf. Frontiers in Psychology, 6, 1–12. 3

 Whitehead, A. E., Taylor., J. A., & Polman, R. C. J. (2016). Evidence for skill level differences in the thought processes of golfers during high and low pressure situations. Frontiers in Psychology, 6, 1-12

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