Martin Hagger

Martin Hagger

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Martin Hagger

Originally from the UK, Martin Hagger is now a distinguished professor at Curtin University in Perth, Australia, where he just recently won an award for his outstanding research. His focus lies in studying people’s self-regulation processes and seeing how health professionals can harness these to change patients’ health-related behaviour. Martin is one of the most well-known figures in sport psychology and one of only three current names I kept hearing about when I first started my foray into the field (the other two being Weinberg & Gould). He has a confident, easy presentation style and is as friendly and supportive in the classroom as he is approachable outside of it. Even while he was lecturing, he still found time to both hang out with us as well as train for the triathlons that are now taking up quite a lot of his time.

Statistical significance & correlation coefficients

Martin came to talk to us of two things. First, he gave us what was, for me at least, the very best introduction to statistics I’ve ever received. Lectures on this topic tend to always start with just enough overemphasis on the basics to get you bored, followed by a gigantic quantum leap in difficulty the moment you stop paying attention such that, when you finally do tune in to see if the class has moved beyond calculating means and modes, you’re hit in the face with something like a Pearson correlation. Not so with Martin. Nope, he moved along at a perfect pace and confided in us the secret to reading all those correlation charts we’ve been seeing non-stop since starting our studies. He also told us how to arrive at these numbers ourselves though, admittedly, I still need to work on this. But let me quickly explain coefficient charts so you know what they mean.

When two factors affect each other, a correlation is said to exist between them and it is possible to give this correlation a value, called R2. If directionality is present — that is, if one factor is shown to affect the other — then this relationship is said to be causal. In this case, the R2 value shows what percent of the dependant variable depends on the independent. This is one element of these charts; the second is significance. One factor might be influential and cause the second, but this influence may not be statistically significant; that is to say the chances of this influence actually taking place may just occur five times out of 100. Statisticians call this the p-value, or the chance that the outcome will occur as described on a percentage scale. By convention, a good p-value is 95% and an excellent one is 99%, written as “p < .05″ and “p < .01″, respectively. The example given just a moment ago would have a p-value of p = .95 — meaning it is statistically insignificant because it pretty much never happens.

“But wait,” you ask — “Where are all these significances written on those correlation charts I always see? I’m pretty sure there’s only one number per value on there…”

And you’re right! However, I’m sure you’ve wondered about those asterisks you’ve no doubt also noticed? Well, let me bring it home: they mean statistical significance. One asterisk means p < .05, and two p < .01. So in the example on the right, personal investments have a strong effect (R2 = .631) on enjoyment at least 95% of the time, which in turn has an extremely strong effect (R2 = .959) on tennis commitment again at least 95% of the time. Easy!

Now you know what this means!

For this eureka moment alone it was worth coming to Germany.

A final note on reading your SPSS output: the beta value. This value predicts the impact changing the independent variable will have on the dependent one: for every “1” increase in the first, the second will increase by one beta value.

Social facilitation, home advantage, & jet lag

Martin built on Peter’s previous lecture on social facilitation, focusing on the advantage of playing at home v. away. Home teams win over 60% of their games, with male teams winning closer to 65% of the time. Some of the less obvious reasons for this include away stressors like being unable to quickly replace forgotten items, culture shock and feelings of solitude, disconnection, or homesickness, or even a simple unfamiliarity with the facility. Some reasons propelling the home team forward include increased self-confidence and better tactics due to environmental familiarity, as well as a supportive home crowd.

We spent quite a bit of time talking about the effects of jet lag, which certainly contributes to home advantage, and which is tougher to manage when traveling east. Research has shown that correctly-timed exposure to light is what affects jet lag most, and that traveling westward requires, in days, half the number of time zones crossed for the body to properly stabilize. Traveling eastward, a number of days amounting to two-thirds of the number of time zones crossed is required. Luckily, there exist a few tactics to manage jet lag, including aiming for an evening arrival so you hit the sack immediately and “fooling” your body into preparing for the new time zone through strategically-timed light exposure.

A second interesting point emerging from this discussion was an examination of Zajonc’s 1965 Drive Theory, which hypothesized that the presence of an audience would facilitate performance if the subject perceived the task as easy, but would hamper it if the subject perceived it as difficult. This conscious “decision” to perform well v. poorly led me to thinking that the Pareto principle might be applicable not only to populations but also to individuals, with 80% of performance being the result of 20% of effort or focus. If so, the trick here would be finding out how to maximally turn on that 20%, and perception of task difficulty, as well as audience presence, might both be factors in this process.

Lastly, Martin introduced us to the Pygmalion effect, where an expectation of success is often met with just that. Sheer and Ansorge (1979) examined this in gymnasts and hypothesized one reason for improved performance might be referee bias. They found that gymnasts performing later — believed to be “luckier” in the sport — did, in fact, perform better, even when they weren’t as skilled as those who performed earlier in the rotation. This was because the referees also believed this “best for last” superstition, and judged accordingly.

Hanging out with Martin in Leipzig’s student quarter

Q & A:

  1. What is your biggest career regret? Martin wishes he had started with a psychology degree on the outset — as it was, he felt he was playing catch-up for much of the beginning of his career. He also warned of not waiting for the perfect time to write up a good paper — you will never have a perfect time. Calling to mind the academic “publish or perish” dogma, Martin urges publishing thoughts as soon as possible.
  2. What advice do you have for reeling in further opportunities? Australia offers many scholarships for PhD programs in this field, however, it would help a lot to have something published in a reputable journal first, ideally in the field you’d like to explore. A published master’s thesis would be a good start. He also urges finding a supervisor in the field that interests you sooner than later.
  3. Do you have any advice on developing a self-confidence-building/anxiety-managing psychological training program for judoka? Provide fighters with experiences of success — not necessarily of winning, but rather focusing on demonstrating that yes, they can be successful even in smaller things. Get them to watch videos of famous judoka, tying in the self-efficacy technique of modeling. Develop their imagery because they then become their own models, further building up confidence in their performance. To manage anxiety, look to PNF stretching, verbal cues via self-talk to maintain focus, and use imagery again, this time to rehearse the upcoming performance in their mind. An important point is to keep in mind the nature of judo: the finished program would need to have temporal fluidity built right into it to prepare a fighter for its prolonging or immediate termination it, as the situation demands. When a fighter is on deck, his start time depends on the end of the previous match. This could take seconds, in the case of an immediate victory, or minutes, in the case of an injury. Program fluidity, therefore, needs to be rehearsed in practice.
  4. What is your favourite sport psychology book? That’s got to be Thelma Horn’s Advances in Sport Psychology, definitely.
  5. How do you start work with an athlete/team? First, observation. Talking to the coaches and players to establish rapport, and to see what they’re already using to avoid repetition. Things that immediately work with most athletes include preperformance routine development, anxiety management, and techniques to build motivation, self-esteem, and confidence. More specifically, reframing and slump-busting.
  6. What is a psychological technique you employ often? Imagery, but be sure to work with the athlete to develop custom scripts because each has their own needs and preferences.

More of our Leipzig lecturers: Schneider, Côté, Watt, Smith, Van Raalte (1, 2), Hanrahan (1, 2), Weinberg, Dawson, Wright.


  1. http://scienceofcoachingsquash.wordpress.com/2010/11/07/squash-psychology-helping-your-child-enjoy-squash-sport/

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