By Catherine Brandon MAPS
Senior psychologist, Genazzano FCJ College

It is not a lack of talent or ability that might prevent a person from attaining his or her goals or potential. Obstacles such as poor motivation, lack of direction, negative thinking, perceived pressure, fear, uncertainty, anxiety or poor self confidence can hinder people. They may be unable to recover after setbacks such as negative comments, a poor performance or an injury. To achieve excellence it is critical for people to develop the mental skills that enable them to set a direction, prepare for the challenge and overcome obstacles they encounter.

Genazzano FCJ College, a Catholic girls’ College in Melbourne, has embraced the opportunity to deliver a Performance Psychology Program based on cognitive skills to enhance the performance of students from Prep to Year 12. Performance psychology in the school setting encompasses a set of skills that assists students to plan, push through barriers and rise above setbacks in order to reach their goals.

In 2007, the College launched its Performance Psychology Centre with the aim of enhancing student wellbeing through the development of skills that promote adaptive thinking and achievement. The Centre provides services including individual
counselling, performance psychology skills training and life skills programs. Research indicating that the teaching of specific techniques assists in reaching peak performance, goal achievement, more adaptive coping and better resilience and self concept has been utilised in the program development. It is evident that today’s youth need skills and strategies that enable them to cope not only with life’s challenges but also to reach their true potential in all areas. Examples at Genazzano are in academia, relationships, sport, philanthropy and the Arts.

The College psychologists have designed and delivered the Performance Psychology Skills Program through workshops and seminars to build the students’ cognitive skills used in performance. Experts in various fields of performance have also contributed to the Program. Competencies covered include positive thinking, confidence, relaxation, self hypnosis for focus, visualisation, sports psychology, team work, oral presentation skills, goal setting, mastering anxiety, and affirmations.

Students are taught that performance is a part of everyday life and that the skills learned are applicable to any life area – within school and beyond. The girls are taught to apply the skills to a wide array of experiences and subjects. In the school setting these include public speaking, studying, musical performances, taking exams, sporting challenges, dramatic performances, interviews, debating, essay writing, science and artistic endeavours.

Preliminary evaluations indicate extremely high levels of student enjoyment and perceived value. Feedback from the participants highlighted the fact that many girls are using the strategies learnt in the workshops to support their performances.

In 2008, Genazzano will pilot a curriculum-based educational course in performance psychology specifically for young people, to promote the skills that assist in achieving excellence. The program will be evaluated through Swinburne University of Technology’s Brain Sciences Institute to ascertain the positive outcomes for students and to provide data for further development. The program that the College is pioneering is both exciting and vital for a 21st Century approach to wellbeing and excellence in education.

Genazzano students' feedback on the school's Performance Psychology Program 

"I used the breathing strategies in my exams and they really helped reduce anxiety. I can control doubts and fears using positive thinking." (Caroline, Year 12)

"I learnt to think about thoughts to make sure they are positive and help me feel good." (Claire, Year 4)

"Using visualisation before the interview really helped. I felt much more relaxed and positive." (Emily, Year 10)

"The sessions were really good. It was easy to apply the ideas to my sport. It was great to hear what other people think and to know they are going through the same experiences as me." (Melissa, Year 11

 

The Performance Psychology Centre and Program at Genazzano FCJ College is the initiative of the author. Its further development and implementation is directed by the author and assisted by psychologist, Clare Ivens. For further information, contact the author on catherine.brandon@genazzano.vic.edu.au