Basque engineer develops computer-based psychological tool for sportsperson

Teskal is a computing application designed to relieve 'the loneliness of the sportsperson'. The better a sportsperson is, the more time he or she spends away from home, and few can afford the luxury of travelling with psychologists, coaches, etc. This tool enables them to receive sports and psychological counselling online wherever they may be. Mar-a Palacios has detailed the development and validation of this tool in a thesis submitted at the University of the Basque Country (UPV/EHU) and entitled Aspectos psicosociales aplicados a la formaci-n en j-venes deportistas a trav-s de nuevas tecnolog-as (Psychosocial aspects applied to training in young sportspeople through the new technologies). This validation is due to be echoed by the Revista Internacional de Medicina y Ciencias de la Actividad F-sica y del Deporte.

Palacios' research brings together sports psychology, education, and information and communication technologies (ICTs). It has its origin in the author's working environment: "I work in a sports counselling company (Iceberg). Until I joined, they functioned with Sifolito, a programme for providing sports and psychological counselling. Using some questionnaires on paper they held interviews with sports people, gathered data on their state, etc. We realised that as sportspeople travel a lot, all this needed to be computerised; Sifolito needed to be developed through the new technologies." It was something that apparently had never been done before in sports psychology: "We haven't found anything like this."

From Sifolito to Teskal

Teskal has been developed on the basis of the same aims and methodology as Sifolito, the original programme. In other words, it is about optimising the sportsperson's performance by dealing with aspects linked to psychosocial capacities, like motivation, mood, anxiety, emotional control, decision-making processes, visualisation, self-effectiveness, concentration and psychological tolerance. Palacios wondered what ICTs could offer in this field and has been gradually identifying and covering the needs of sportspeople, trainers and psychologists until coming up with Teskal, the definitive application.

The researcher explains that this web application has been very well accepted, irrespective of the sex of the sportsperson or type of sport he or she is engaged (individual as well as team sports). Part of this success could be due to the fact that it is very user-friendly, since Palacios has used the Usability and Accessibility Engineering Process Model (u+aEPM). "The software developed does not focus on computing in itself, but attaches more importance to the users so that the application is easy to understand and easy to remember," she explains.

Reliable

At the same time, the researcher has validated two of the computerised questionnaires. They are used to study mood and anxiety, respectively; aspects that greatly influence sporting performance. The variables of these two questionnaires have produced sound results throughout the study designed to validate them, and which was carried out on a sample of over 200 sportspeople in each case. So the computerised version (Teskal) of the questionnaires in the original programme (Sifolito) has shown that it is reliable.

This validation phase has, in turn, been of use when confirming that there is a close relationship between mood and anxiety: "We have seen that anxiety variables are correlated positively with the measurements of mood (tension, depression, hostility and fatigue), and negatively with vitality." She is quick to point out, however, that more exhaustive research is needed on this.

In view of the positive results produced by Teskal, Palacios asserts that trainers are being offered a rigorous tool for spotting the strong and weak points in sportspeople, and on the basis of them to suggest personal training plans to them. Personalised monitoring can be conducted, yet at the same time the application lends itself to being applied to large samples of sportspeople, thus overcoming space and time barriers. Teskal is in fact already being applied in practice. "It doesn't end here, it goes on being improved," maintains Palacios.

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