Well Being

Article

It was only five months before the 2014 Winter Olympics when Team GB snowboarder Billy Morgan ruptured his anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) and medial collateral ligament (MCL) in his right knee during practice. He was medically advised that the injury required an operation, but with the recovery time for an ACL op lasting a minimum […]

It was only five months before the 2014 Winter Olympics when Team GB snowboarder Billy Morgan ruptured his anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) and medial collateral ligament (MCL) in his right knee during practice. He was medically advised that the injury required an operation, but with the recovery time for an ACL op lasting a minimum of six to nine months this would rule him out of competing in the Sochi Olympics. With the determination of an elite athlete and a positive mindset to rival the most observant Buddhist monk, Billy powered his way through months of intensive physiotherapy to be back on the slopes competing in the Aspen X Games in January; and then placing an incredible 10th overall in the first ever Olympic slopestyle event in Sochi a month later.

What gives athletes the strength of mind to battle through the setbacks caused by a serious injury and stick with a rehabilitation programme?

This has been a question of much debate and fascination among sports professionals, and has been the focus of a growing number of research papers (Duda et al., 1989; Fisher et al., 1992). When an athlete suffers a serious (or even minor) injury, the physical implications are immediately clear and the recovery time can be quickly assessed through medical prognosis. However, what is less clear is the psychological impact of an injury for the athlete both during and post-rehabilitation. An athlete must quickly learn to accept their injury and the temporary limitations, and focus solely on the gradual process of rehabilitation. When this involves a complete lifestyle change from training every day and competing every week (for example) to a painful and more sedentary lifestyle, which could involve learning to walk or run again, it can be extremely hard to adjust. In the first place athletes have to struggle with the loss of ego from feeling weak or feelings of isolation from not being with the team. Secondly they also have to overcome the mental setbacks when returning to their sport after a long hiatus and regain the confidence to compete at a high level again.

Early researchers in this field sought to develop a “stage approach” theory that would define the psychological process experienced by an athlete following a serious injury. Kiibler-Ross (1969) created her “loss of health” or “grief” model, which, although developed as a result of her clinical experience with terminally ill patients, is still widely cited in the current literature. The model suggests that a grieving individual passes through five sequential stages: denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance. While it has not been supported that all injured athletes progress through these emotions in the exact order, Kibler-Ross’ theory has provided a solid framework for sports scientists to further investigate this complex psychological process. Recent research findings include tension, anger, depression, frustration and boredom as typical emotional responses to athletic injury (McDonald and Hardy, 1990); with frustration and boredom being reported as the primary responses when athletes are asked to rank their emotional responses post injury (Pearson and Jones, 1992). The groundbreaking research by Weiss and Troxel (1986) highlighted the psychophysiological effect an injury can have on an athlete, and follows the stress-response model originally developed by Selye (1976). This posits that the cognitive-appraisals of an injury can greatly influence the emotional response of an athlete both positively and negatively. The emotional response in turn can precipitate a host of physical and psychological reactions, ranging from severe anxiety, depression, and anger to increased muscle tension, blood pressure, and heart rate.

Now that sports practitioners understand the consequences of negative appraisals following an injury, it is important to provide the right psychological support for athletes in order for them to accept their situation and adhere to a rehabilitation programme. Gordon et al. (1991) and Pearson and Jones (1992) explain that the physiotherapist is in an ideal position to apply psychological principles because of the close relationship that exists with an athelete under their care during rehabilitation. However, it is still debated as to whether it is within the professional limits of a physiotherapist to help restore the psychological wellbeing of an injured athlete. Brewer et al. (1994) suggest that interventions of a psychological nature should always be incorporated in the physical rehabilitation programme, so that they are not interpreted as separate or extra. Further evidence for the positive impact of emotional support came from Bianco’s (2001) study into elite skiers and their experience of social support from coaches, team mates, friends, and family during the rehabilitation process. The study involved in-depth interviews with athletes who had experienced career-ending injuries and a selection of their close social support network. Given the significance of emotional responses to injury and the short time frame with which to begin effective rehabilitation, it seems almost ineluctable that psychological interventions will be increasingly provided to athletes following a severe injury.

Snowboarding is an extreme sport by its nature, and participation in the sport (much like other extreme sports) carries with it a high risk of injury (Kim et al., 2012). Elite competitors often have a catalogue of previous injuries from their progression from novice to elite level, and these tend towards serious injuries due to the extreme nature of the sport. Therefore, these athletes must learn to expect and to deal with the psychological effects of serious injuries, to ensure a rapid recovery and psychological harmony. However, sometimes it is almost impossible to comprehend the emotional response when faced with the prospect of a career- or even life-threatening injury. In such cases not only must your lifestyle change dramatically, but your whole outlook on life. This can be no better highlighted than in the pure grit and determination of the ex-pro snowboarder Kevin Pierce. Following a severe brain injury during practice for the 2010 Winter Olympics, Kevin showed that through strength of mind it is possible to reinvent yourself (in his case as an inspirational survivor, sports commentator, motivational speaker and advocate for brain injury and Down syndrome) and become a positive force in the world, even for the elite athlete who has only known their sport as their main motivator. The commitment and compassion of his friends and family are a testament to the power of social support and its influence on adherence to rehabilitation.

Article

In many elite sports, it is considered common-place to manipulate one’s body weight and composition prior to a competition or tournament.  This is typically achieved through a combination of acute and chronic practises which involve a state of negative energy balance and dehydration, commonly known as “drying out”.  These strategies are typically employed by sports […]

In many elite sports, it is considered common-place to manipulate one’s body weight and composition prior to a competition or tournament.  This is typically achieved through a combination of acute and chronic practises which involve a state of negative energy balance and dehydration, commonly known as “drying out”.  These strategies are typically employed by sports divided into weight categories such as boxing, wrestling, judo and taekwondo.  Despite the common nature of these methods, weight regulation of these sorts has been found to have deleterious effects on health parameters through increasing cardiovascular and thermoregulatory strain, increasing the risk of infection, and attenuating mood as well as impairing sporting performance (Morton et al. 2010).  For example, the data generated by Smith et al. (2001) provides evidence, albeit without significance, that acute carbohydrate restriction can reduce punch force during boxing.  Their results show that under restricted food and fluid conditions, boxers produced a 4.6% reduced punch force output.

The rationale for undergoing rapid weight loss ensures that the athlete can compete in the lowest possible weight class, thus increasing their chances of success facing a smaller opponent.  It is, therefore, speculated that this is an important component of an elite combat sport athlete’s mental preparation.  However, this advantage is perhaps negated by the adverse physiological consequences associated with weight-making practises, such as dehydration or hypoglycaemia (Pettersson et al. 2012).  Associated with this, mood states such as anger, fatigue, confusion, tension and vigour have been reported.  Pettersson et al. (2012) propound the view that the combat sport athlete’s often experiences a multidimensional ‘fight’ whereby their sports nutritional needs are in direct conflict with their physiological needs and values other than those concurrent with the sport.  That is, the conventional ideals of society and intrinsic demands of the specific sporting culture and body weight/appearance constitutes as a problematic balance.

The central role of nutrition in sport is to optimise sporting performance through the fuelling and enhancing the athlete’s recovery.  However, Fletcher and Hanton’s (2003) findings lend support to the claim that nutrition frequently acts as a stressor to top level athletes as they mentioned “importance placed on diet”, “guilty feelings about food” and “poor provision of food” during their interviews.  Although there has been relatively little research pertaining to weight related issues associated with combat sport athletes, Hall and Lane (2001) reported that boxers stated feeling angrier and suffering from lower vigour when in their final competitional preparation when at a low weight as compared to their natural weight.  Further evidence supporting this claim may lie in the findings of Kristiansen et al. (2008) who stipulated that wrestlers considered weight control as being one of the most stressful aspects of their sport, but with a good routine and right focus then nutritional practises involved in weight loss were less stressful.

However, although extreme weight-making practises may be detrimental to the athlete’s mental and physiological health, Pettersson et al. (2013) have fostered debate that although the physical edge produced through weight regulation was considered important to combat sport athletes, the sense of belonging and other mentally benefiting effects experienced by athletes could offer some explanation of why these practises continue to be used.  Furthermore, some athlete’s perceive the act of reaching their weight category limit to be a successful outcome in itself, lending itself to Nicholls’ (1989) achievement goal theory, whereby individuals demonstrate their competence and incompetence in achievement contexts.  In this situation, the athletes may receive recognition from their teammates, as well as displaying their competence in being able to stick to their weight loss plans

Along similar lines, the concept of athletic identity construct can be used to explain the relationship between the athlete and the role they assume for themselves.  As such, athletes may strive to take part in behaviours indicative to their sport as a means of showcasing superiority, boosting confidence and creating a perception of being a real athlete via their ability to endure extreme challenges and take risks (Coakley and Hughes, 2001).  This idea can transcend into the ability to show superiority against their opponents, for example, an athlete will have physical evidence that they have battled hard to achieve their desired weight loss, and as a result, this is mediated into their surroundings as ‘mental toughness’.  The advantages of this lie in research propounding that mentally tough people possess an augmented ability to focus, renewed determination and self-belief (Clough et al. 2002).

For now, it seems that weight regulation is so far embedded in the system that sport specific demands will continue to overrule the potential dangers.  The only option is to provide quality nutritional education to the athletes and inform them of safer practises so that they might not need to restrict food and fluid intake or undergo dehydration techniques to excessive degrees.  Another avenue worth exploring is to provide thorough psychological training and counselling as a means of finding alternative ways to attain their desired sporting identity (Pettersson et al. 2013).  In addition to this, other investigators in the field have highlighted the advice of others close to the athlete such as family, friends, authority figures and accomplished athletes as playing a key role in influencing the behaviour of young athletes.  However, it is essential for the nutrition counsellor to understand the complexity of weight-making practises, and investigate not only the determinants of the sport in hand but also the non-sport related areas of concern, thus allowing them to minimise possible stressors and make for a better-rounded athlete (Pettersson et al. 2012).

Article

Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT) (Hayes, Strosahl, & Wilson, 1999) is a form of behavior therapy that incorporates the concepts of mindfulness, acceptance of thoughts and emotions and values-driven behavior into traditional behavioral change principles. From an ACT perspective, psychological dysfunction is primarily the result of the tendency to misapply problem solving and language to […]

Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT) (Hayes, Strosahl, & Wilson, 1999) is a form of behavior therapy that incorporates the concepts of mindfulness, acceptance of thoughts and emotions and values-driven behavior into traditional behavioral change principles. From an ACT perspective, psychological dysfunction is primarily the result of the tendency to misapply problem solving and language to “normal instances of psychological pain” (Hayes, Stroshal, & Wilson., 2012, p. 19). These tendencies lead to experiential avoidance, inflexible attentional processes and reduced attempts to pursue valued behaviors which, in turn, results in psychological inflexibility. Based on this idea, the primary focus of ACT is the promotion of psychological flexibility, or the ability to contact the present moment fully, and change or persist in behavior in the service of chosen values based on the situation.

The rationale behind ACT runs contrary to the traditional psychological skills training methods typically used by sport psychologists. Techniques such as arousal control, goal setting, mental rehearsal, self-talk and visualization have been used with the aim of developing the athlete’s ability to control internal processes (Whelen, Mahoney, & Meyers, 1991).  These techniques, often referred to collectively as psychological skills training (PST), have been used to reduce anxiety and negative thoughts, increase self-confidence, and improve sport performance (Gould, Eklund, & Jackson, 1992).

However, a quickly evolving body of literature appears to suggest that attempts to control internal experiences can result in negative outcomes (Hayes, Follette, & Linehan, 2004). In fact, research suggests that efforts at self-regulation of thoughts can paradoxically lead to increases in negative experiences (Clark, Ball, & Pape, 1991). Presumably, this is due to excessive cognitive activity resulting from increased self-monitoring of negative thoughts. Increased attention toward one’s own negative thoughts may lead to excessive attention being placed on those experiences (Wenzlaff & Wegner, 2000).

Performance research appears to document the potential negative impact of internally focused attention. This research indicates that optimal performance requires attention to external stimuli, often referred to as task-focused attention (Gardner & Moore, 2001). Processing Efficiency Theory, suggested by Eysenck and Calvo (1992), suggests that task-irrelevant attention may occur when anxiety is high and attention is drawn toward potential threat relevant cues, thereby leaving less cognitive energy for focusing on the task at hand. Based on this theory, elevated anxiety during an athletic performance task may cause an athlete to shift attention towards anxious cognitions and give less attention towards external stimuli, thereby resulting in suboptimal performance. Gould et al. (1992) found supporting evidence for this theory, with results indicating that task-irrelevant attention was related to poor athletic performance. Crocker, Alderman, and Smith (1988) created a performance enhancement intervention designed to enhance task-focused attention, with results indicating that elite volleyball players demonstrated significant performance improvements. These studies provide support for the idea of what an athlete pays attention to influences athletic performance.

As a primary goal of ACT is to increase psychological flexibility, researchers have hypothesized that ACT may help athletes switch their attention to the relevant athletic task versus internal states, such as anxiety or frustration. With this rationale, ACT interventions have recently been applied to athletes in various sports as a method of sport enhancement, with promising results. Garcia, Villa, Cepeda, Cueto, and Montes (2004) designed an ACT intervention for elite canoeists and compared the effectiveness of the program with a hypnosis intervention on a canoeing performance task. Results indicated that the ACT program led to higher levels of performance on the canoeing task than the hypnosis intervention. A similar study by Bernier, Thienot, Codron, and Fournier (2009) examined the effectiveness of a sport-adapted version of ACT for young, elite golfers. Their results indicated that after one year of competition, all seven golfers who underwent the ACT program improved their national ranking, whereas only two of the six golfers in the control condition increased their ranking.

Gardner and Moore (2001) developed the Mindfulness-Acceptance-Commitment (MAC) approach to sport performance enhancement. The MAC approach is comprised of a combination of mindfulness exercises and ACT techniques, and designed to enhance sport performance and general psychological well-being. Wolanin (2005) randomly assigned 11 collegiate field hockey and volleyball players to complete either the MAC protocol or a control condition. Wolanin found that participants who had completed the MAC intervention demonstrated a significant increase in both self and coach ratings of athletic performance, task focused attention, and practice intensity compared to those who were in a no-intervention control group. Lutkenhouse, Gardner, & Moore (2007) recruited 118 collegiate athletes from the sports of soccer, field hockey, crew and wrestling and randomly assigned them to complete the MAC program or a traditional PST program. Results revealed that the MAC participants exhibited significantly greater increases in coach ratings of performance than the PST participants (Lutkenhouse et al., 2007).

The research behind the application of ACT in applied sport psychology is emerging, and mindfulness and acceptance-based techniques are becoming more and popular amongst athletes. Teams, coaches, and players interested in learning more about ACT should visit www.contextualscience.org/act for more information on ACT theory and exercises. My other articles on mindfulness, acceptance, and committed action may also be a helpful resource, as would Gardner and Moore’s (2007) manual on the MAC approach. ACT is at the forefront of an exciting new field of psychological training, and can provide athletes with the psychological edge they need in order to succeed.

Article

Pain is inevitable in sport. The ability to push through pain can lead to championship titles, whilst persisting pain can be career destroying. As a physiotherapist it is essential to understand the complex phenomenon of pain in order to facilitate rehabilitation. The standard model and diagnostic dilemma The ‘standard model’ of the brain, on which […]

Pain is inevitable in sport. The ability to push through pain can lead to championship titles, whilst persisting pain can be career destroying. As a physiotherapist it is essential to understand the complex phenomenon of pain in order to facilitate rehabilitation.

The standard model and diagnostic dilemma

The ‘standard model’ of the brain, on which the last century of neurology bases its thinking, describes the brain as a large number of highly specialised, autonomous modules that interact little with each other and are hardwired from birth (Ramachandran, 2005).  In alliance with the ‘standard model’ is the direct-line theory of pain, which explains pain as direct transmission from pain receptors in the body to a pain centre in the brain (Melzack, 2005).  For example, a footballer pulls a hamstring resulting in direct transmission of painful stimuli sent to the brain.

One problem with the direct line theory is that MRI studies do not show a direct relationship between tissue damage and experience of pain.  For example, MRI results that demonstrate severe disc degeneration often do not correlate with lower back pain. Furthermore 40 % of patients with ‘normal’ MRI results complain of back pain (Rothstein, 1998). Likewise, the damage shown by ultrasound results of athletes with patella tendinitis (jumper’s knee) does not directly correlate to the degree of pain experienced by the athlete (Cook et al, 2001).

This does not mean that identifying the injured structure is not important or that it is not crucially involved in your pain. But looking to tissue damage alone to explain the relationship between pain and sporting performance is not sufficient.

Multidimensional theory of pain

The neuromatrix model defines pain as a multidimensional experience produced by the integration of various neural networks. In order to make sense of the information the pain neuromatrix has four major components that determine the sensory output of pain. The first is the input of various stimuli from the environment including movement and sensory information. In the second, the input travels up the neural pathway to the brain where stimuli from the environment is integrated with a range of information including the athletes emotions, memories, cognition and attention to form a characteristic pattern, known as the ‘neurosignature’ (Melzack, 2005). The third component is the process of converting the ‘neurosignature’ into self-awareness and the fourth is the output stimulus of pain.

The multidimensional theory of pain can explain why a rugby player can continue to play with a broken thumb in competition and not be hampered by pain. However, once the game is over, attention is drawn to the pain. The ‘neurosignature’ changes pre-post competition, as does the athlete’s perception of pain.

Is pain useful?

Following an acute injury, such as an ankle sprain, the area quickly becomes inflamed. The inflammatory process marks the beginning of the healing process, which is crucial as without inflammation healing does not occur. The chemical changes caused by inflammation can sensitize the peripheral nerves and this sensitization can cause once pain free stimuli such as light touch/pressure to feel painful. The inflammatory process normally lasts between 3 days to 2 weeks, depending on the tissue. Pain perceived during this process can be considered as useful as usually it forces an athlete to rest the injured body part, preventing further damage as the tissue heals. The entire healing process from inflammation to tissue repair and remodelling of fibres will take normally up to 3 months. After this, period pain perception is no longer useful as there is no longer a risk of causing actual damage to the healed tissue.

Sometimes the brain/nervous system can continue to transmit pain beyond the acute, ‘helpful’ period ie when there is no longer any tissue damage. This pain is called persistent or chronic pain. In chronic pain, pain receptors (nocioceptors) in the affected area become sensitised and respond to non-harmful stimulus such as normal movements. If the nerves are very over-sensitive they may even send pain signals in the absence of any stimulus. The spinal cord which transmits the pain to the brain can also become sensitised and the brain continues to perceive there is a real threat of danger to the tissues although they have healed.

How to manage your athlete’s symptoms

To ultimately address the relationship between pain and sport it is necessary to consider all the contributing variables/factors that feed into the athletes ‘neuromatrix’ and if their pain is acute (helpful) or chronic. Particularly important for managing cases of chronic pain, the physiotherapist needs to think about ways to help the athlete desensitise the brain/nervous system. Moving back to the ‘neuromatrix’ model the physiotherapist needs to appreciate various variables such as the athlete’s emotions, cognition and previous experiences in order to understand what variables are contributing to the increased sensitivity of the nervous system. For example, pain can be made worse if you are feeling stressed, worried or have people telling you that you should not be moving as you will cause further injury.  Whilst manual therapy and exercise rehabilitation can help in some ways to desensitise the affected body areas, the physiotherapist should think more widely to include all contributing factors that may be feeding into the athlete’s pain.

Article

According to the American Dietetic Association, Dieticians of Canada and the American College of Sports Medicine (2000), only people who severely restrict their energy intake, use severe weight-loss practices, eliminate one or more food groups from their diet, consume high carbohydrate diets and low micronutrient density should require a form of dietary supplement. In addition […]

According to the American Dietetic Association, Dieticians of Canada and the American College of Sports Medicine (2000), only people who severely restrict their energy intake, use severe weight-loss practices, eliminate one or more food groups from their diet, consume high carbohydrate diets and low micronutrient density should require a form of dietary supplement. In addition to this it has been reported that individuals who maintain a physically active lifestyle do not need additional nutrients besides of what they consume within a balanced diet (Rockwell et al 2001). So how is it, as folk disperse from the gym, they appear to be rehearsing for a cocktail making class? Ranges of Nutritional supplement use have been reported between 13.8% to as high as 88.4% among gym users (Ebrahimi 2009).So many questions linger with regard to this topic. What are the trends regarding the use of supplements among gym users? Do people actually know what they are consuming and their reason for doing so? Is a balanced diet not considered enough despite its efficiency in the name – ‘balanced’? The purpose of this article is to not condemn the use of supplements among gym users, but to merely create an understanding regarding the trends of supplement use among gym users, the source of knowledge in selecting these supplements and to generate some guidelines when selecting supplements for training purposes.

Supplement Use Trends

On a daily basis, supplements are advertised and commercialized as having a wide range of purposes claiming to improve performance, increase muscle mass, decrease body fat, maintain or lose weight, prevent illness and disease, boost immunity, accelerate recovery and overall assist in perceived magical results, often times compensating for inadequate dietary intake (Goston and Correia 2010). Consistently throughout the literature, the consumption of supplements is reported as being more common among males than females (Oliver et al 2011; Schofield and Unruh 2006). Since ancient Greek times, there has been an association between protein intake and strength gains. In accordance with Applegate and Grivetti (1997) and Ciocca (2005), protein may be the most consumed dietary component in the form of an ergogenic aid. In a study from Goston (2010), investigating supplement use among gym users in Brazil, individuals who reported using supplements were young and healthy who rated their eating habits as being good or excellent with a regular exercise regime with the goal of maintaining health and avoiding a sedentary lifestyle. This finding immediately provokes the thought of whether or not individuals actually understand what a balanced diet is and whether or not they are fully aware of what supplements contain along with the real indications for their use. A gap exists in the literature regarding this understanding among gym users specifically.

Who Consumes What?

Being the most popular supplement among males, amino acids and proteins are essential for the synthesis of several body structures and are involved in many metabolic mechanisms. However, consumption of these without an appropriate exercise regimen is not enough to increase body mass and strength. In addition, calorie intake is essential to achieve a positive protein balance in the skeletal muscle of those part-taking in resistance exercise. According to the literature, athletes require extra protein in their diet through food or in supplement form (Tarnopolsky 2006; Kreider et al 2004). Those who regularly use the gym do not require this additional protein. Protein requirements range from 1.0g/kg/bw to 2.0g/kg/bw depending on the individual needs and athletic level. While protein optimizes glycogen storage in the muscle promoting muscle repair and restoration post workout, where consumption is greater than required, the amino acid carbon skeleton may be strayed by energy production or excreted as humans do not have a protein reserve compartment. In addition, where protein is consumed in excess, this can lead to ketosis, gout, overloading of the kidneys, increased body fat, dehydration, urinary excretion of calcium and loss of bone mass (Nemet et al 2003). With that, gym users should review their diet concluding whether or not it fulfils a ‘balanced diet’ and from there, assess their protein needs. Where protein supplementation is required, it must be consumed alongside a precisely structured exercise regime.

Among the female population, it is the supplementation of multivitamins and minerals that are most common (Goston and Correia 2010; Morrison et al 2004; Slater et al 2003).While it is portrayed that such supplements provide energy, prevent illness, assist in weight loss, improve sports performance and promote increased muscle mass (Resenbloom 2002), the scientific evidence behind these statements is lacking. Use of supplements claimed as being ‘natural’ may undermine the bioavailability of other nutrients and the effectiveness of some medications when taken in excess (Millen et al 2004). In addition, these commercial supplements may contain too much or not enough of the vitamin and/or mineral in question as well as the possibility of containing contaminants.

Information Source

Reported by Goston and Correia (2010), 43% of individuals report receiving guidance regarding supplementation from a nutritionist, with the remaining 57% consuming supplements without any professional guidance. Their decisions were influenced by trainers and the media. da Rocha and Pereira (1998) assessed the sources of information used by university students in relation to their supplementation use, finding 78% having never received guidance from a nutritionist and 70% of this group stating that they would have preferred professional guidance. Perhaps this is an area the fitness industry needs to alert their attention to; providing a nutritionist to clients where this is not already available. This will ensure safe practices among gym users along with assisting them with informed choices in reaching and maintaining a balanced diet.

Recommendation Guidelines

In recommending nutritional substances, this should be done on an individual basis. While it seems to be the fashion, supplement use is not required for everyone.

1.)   Know your goal – are you attempting weight loss? Weight gain? Physique maintenance?

2.)   Take a look at your diet; is it balanced? Keep a food diary and note elements that are missing or that you have too much of

3.)   Monitor portion size, frequency of meals and snacking foods

4.)   Take note of your lifestyle – predominantly active or sedentary?

5.)   From there, present this information to a nutritionist and seek advice on whether or not you should add any supplements to your diet and exercise regime

6.)   Otherwise, try and source what you get in a supplement from your foods in a natural way

To conclude, those who are engaged in regular exercise and structured dietary plans will know and are aware of the range of supplements that are available to us at our fingertips. Ironically, it is the people who are not part of this lifestyle that are probably in most need of these supplements due to poor eating habits. For gym users, the trends presented see males being the dominant consumer of protein and amino acid supplements, while females consume multivitamins and minerals mostly. Much of these choices are influenced by the media and those not educated specifically in the field of nutrition. Those conscious of their health and striving to maintain and improve their physique along with preventing disease should assess their diet first before purchasing supplements and where feasible, seek professional advice. Everyone’s needs are individual and so where a supplement is required should be based on one person’s diet and lifestyle and not just because it ‘seems’ a necessity.

Article

Although research into perfectionism has increased exponentially in recent years a lot of controversy still surrounds the topic ( Flett & Hewitt,2005) . The debate continues as to whether perfectionism is an adaptive or maladaptive process in sport. A commonly held belief among athletes and prominent sport psychologists is that perfectionism is a marker of […]

Although research into perfectionism has increased exponentially in recent years a lot of controversy still surrounds the topic ( Flett & Hewitt,2005) . The debate continues as to whether perfectionism is an adaptive or maladaptive process in sport. A commonly held belief among athletes and prominent sport psychologists is that perfectionism is a marker of high performance athletes ( Dunn, Causgrove-Dunn and Syrotuik ,2002). Perfectionism is ultimately the idea than anything less than 100% is unacceptable. Athletes who are perfectionists will set themselves unrealistically high standards and they hold themselves accountable for negative consequences when they do not reach those standards.

In order to distinguish between adaptive and maladaptive forms of perfectionism it is first important to note how researchers measure perfectionism ( Flett & Hewitt,2002). Firstly, Frost et al (1990)  developed the Multidimensional perfectionism scale (MPS). It has 6 subscales; Personal standards, concerns over mistakes, doubts about actions, parental expectations, parental criticism and organization. Secondly, Hewitt and Flett’s (1991)Multidimensional approach  divided perfectionism into  the 3 dimensions ; Self-orientated, other-orientated and socially prescribed perfectionism. Self- orientated perfectionism is what you expect of yourself, other –orientated perfectionism are the demands and expecations you place on others . Socially prescribed perfectionism is what you perceive from others, other people demand perfection from you (this may be real or not). Both scales have been widely used across the literature.

Few studies have investigated the positive relationships associated with Perfectionism. In 2009, Stoeber et al argued that athletes need to have perfectionist tendencies in order to achieve the best possible results. Being a perfectionist gives you not only an emotional boost but also a motivational one and can make the difference between a good and poor performance. Those who can control their negative emotions about imperfection can in fact, experience higher levels of self- confidence. Gould et al (2002) even went as far as to state that perfectionism is a key characteristic of Olympic Champions.Recently, researchers have started to investigate the idea that it is only specific dimensions that are maladaptive to performance i.e. socially prescribed perfectionism and concern over mistakes, other constructs are adaptive.

On the other hand, there is a large body of evidence supporting the idea that having perfectionist tendencies can be debilitative to athletic performance . Being a perfectionist has positive relationships with negative behavioral outcomes such an higher competitive anxiety (Frost & Hendersom,1991) burnout ( Hill, Hall, Appleton and Kozub,2008) and anger ( Dunn,Gotwals & Dunn,2006).  That is, it can lead to having “self-defeating outcomes and can ultimately produce unhealthy behaviour” patterns in athletes, (Flett & Hewitt,2005).

Many famous world-class athletes have struggled with perfectionist tendencies including Olympic cycling champion, Victoria Pendalton, who is a self-confessed perfectionist , she was quoted saying, “I’m an insecure person. I am emotional. I am a self-critical perfectionist… I’m terrible. I beat myself up the whole time because I’m striving for something I’ll basically never achieve.”

Another famous name , Ronnie O’Sullivan, (English professional snooker player-reigning World Snooker Champion) commented on his decision to walk out on a game in 2006 , “Anyone who knows me knows I’m a perfectionist.” He later added ,“Today I got so annoyed with myself that I lost my patience and walked away from a game that, with hindsight, I should have continued.”

Both Pendalton and O’Sullivan compete in predominantly individual events so does this mean perfectionism is more common in individual sports rather than team games like rugby, netball or football ? This is not necessarily the case, as another name who has been associated with perfectionism is former England Rugby Union Player, Jonny Wilkinson, who is known for his ‘perfect’ pre-kick routine.

It is well known that perfection cannot be obtained as everyone has a different definition of what perfection is, but athletes who are perfectionists, will not be satisfied with a performance until they have achieved what they define as perfection. Here lies the idea of the Perfection Paradox, is it unhealthy for athletes to strive to be the best? Ultimately we want to produce the best athletes and performances in the chosen context but does that come at the price of our athletes becoming psychologically unhealthy?

Further Research:

More research is called for in order to investigate perfectionism in team performances , if one athlete is a perfectionist then what is the impact on other team mates?  Do these characteristics transfer to the team and affect performance or is it simply one individual’s performance that is affected.

Little research has also been done into the role perfectionism in coaches themselves. If a coach is expecting unrealistically high standards from his/her players and they cannot deliver or they lose a competition, what affect might this have on the athletes?

Article

Public perceptions of an athlete are usually that they are fit, well-trained machines capable of accomplishing the impossible. When viewed either from a seat in a stadium or on the television, their honed bodies and muscles, which complete intricate and demanding moves are aspirational for many people. These types of physiques are cultivated over years […]

Public perceptions of an athlete are usually that they are fit, well-trained machines capable of accomplishing the impossible. When viewed either from a seat in a stadium or on the television, their honed bodies and muscles, which complete intricate and demanding moves are aspirational for many people. These types of physiques are cultivated over years of intense and specific training, focussed on producing the best outcome for a particular sport.

Disordered eating affects not only the general public, but also some athletes with statistics showing that females participating in aesthetic sports are more likely to be affected by this illness. It has been acknowledged as covering all aspects of abnormal eating patterns which in turn, can lead to clinical eating disorders (Sundgot-Borgen & Torstveit, 2010). Sports such as figure skating or gymnastics and also those where the apparel is revealing, for example, athletics or swimming have a pressured environment to look great when competing.

Sports which have a spotlight on the physical appearance of an athlete alongside the technical attainment are quite often early specialisation sports. This means that young children and adolescents grow-up within a sport environment and changing bodies are noticed. Puberty may also mean that technical aspects of their performance may start to falter (particularly in sports where jumping and rotation is key) which can be mentally difficult to cope with. Often these elements return, but some athletes may not, in the long term, cope psychologically with this, begin comparisons between team mates and start the downward spiral to overly-disciplined eating patterns.

Aspects which can lead an athlete to take such control over their dietary intake are a pressure to “fit in” with expectations within a sport, a need to gain control over an aspect of their life, technical elements which may be perceived to be easier with altered body weight, a perfectionist attitude or personality, negative self-image and low self-esteem. These are just a few issues which can lead to disordered eating patterns but their effects can be devastating both physically and psychologically.

Research has identified four risk factors:

Sport task: fear of being physically assessed, wearing specific uniform for the sport

Sport environment: comments from teammates, coaches, parents or judges

Biological characteristics: individuals metabolism and physical size

Psychological characteristic: self-esteem, body image, anxiety, stress levels

These can all combine to produce anxiety and stress and lead to abnormal eating behaviours. When this occurs it can lead to a lack of focus from the performing athlete and completion of technical elements compromised, thus possibly leading to injury. Recovery times can vary depending on the injury sustained and therefore can heighten anxiety and the need to have control over some aspect leading to further eating issues.

When an participant is experiencing problems with their diet over an extended period of time, it can lead to other issues such as:

  • Reduction in bone strength
  • Reduced cognitive functioning
  • Reduced menstruation in females (NCAA, 2008)
  • Negative self-perception / self-image
  • Emotional issues / mood swings
  • Heightened anxiety and stress levels
  • Secrecy and isolation
  • Reduction in energy intake 
  • Lack of progression in the sport / leaving the sport

There is responsibility to all involved within a sport to be open about this issue and to recognise signs where disordered eating could become a problem. Recommendations to help combat negative perceptions towards food and dietary intakes are:

  • Coaches need to be open regarding this issue and be positive when addressing athletes, never critical (Muscat & Long, 2008). Remove the focus on physical appearances (looking good) and reinforce building strength, power and endurance relevant to the sport. Never criticise a person for their weight or physical appearance as everyone is an individual.
  • Realise that people who experience this are not seeking attention – providing support can help increase confidence
  • Bring in psychological skills training to build confidence, self-esteem and mental toughness which are needed when competing.
  • Support from parents, judges and coaches is invaluable to help build self-esteem, particularly with younger athletes.
  • Introduce education regarding nutrition and the demands that sport places on the body: if there is a lack of energy intake then technical skills will become increasingly difficult to complete leading to a lack of progression.
  • Make the athletes environment positive and an exciting place to be.
  • Ensure that an athlete knows that their wellbeing and happiness are paramount.
  • Older athletes and coaches should be positive role models for younger aspiring sports people.
  • Refer people to the relevant professionals who can assess, diagnose, monitor and treat any athlete with an eating disorder.

 

Article

Psychosocial stress is a natural response that occurs in the human body when a problem arises that an individual feels they may not be able to resolve or they perceive themselves to be ‘out of their depth’. The body responds to this stressful situation by releasing hormones such as cortisol and epinephrine (also known as […]

Psychosocial stress is a natural response that occurs in the human body when a problem arises that an individual feels they may not be able to resolve or they perceive themselves to be ‘out of their depth’. The body responds to this stressful situation by releasing hormones such as cortisol and epinephrine (also known as adrenaline, causes an increase in heart rate). Cortisol is a hormone produced in the adrenal glands of the body and is the primary hormone responsible for the stress response. The hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal axis (HPA) is a complex set of feedback loops that essentially controls certain hormone release – one of which is cortisol. While well regulated levels of cortisol ensure certain processes such as gluconeogenesis (formation of glucose in the liver) take place, it has been suggested that stress induced cortisol release may result in weight gain [with lean women being possibly more susceptible] (Epel et al. 2000). Furthermore psychosocial stress [and the subsequent cortisol release] have been shown to increase the risk of diseases such as hypertension or depression (Rimmele et al. 2009). Stress is an unavoidable response that the human body delivers but a study conducted by Rimmele et al. (2007) indicated that it was possible to reduce the level of this stress response.

For a lot of people exercise is a habit, for some it’s a hard fought struggle to lose extra weight but for everyone it is one of the best ways to reduce stress in their life. Exercise is known to have a positive impact on depression, anxiety (Salmon. 2001) and as importantly, stress (Rimmele et al. 2009). A study by Rimmele et al. (2007) found that untrained (less than 2 hours of exercise per week) men displayed a greater stress response than elite sportsmen. This was shown by a significantly greater level of cortisol in the untrained men following a stress test. Similarly the lower levels of cortisol found in the elite sportsmen indicates that they had a lesser stress response to the test. While this may be partially due to the elite sportsmen’s familiarity to demanding or worrying situations (media coverage, large crowds of spectators etc.) it was also found that trained (greater than 5 hours of training a week) men exhibited a stress response in between that of untrained and elite sportsmen.

The levels of cortisol released in the trained men following the stress test were not found to be significantly different to that of untrained men, however the heart rate responses were significantly different. So despite the level of cortisol release being no different to that of untrained men, trained men exhibited a reduced heart rate response, indicating a lesser stress response to the test. Rimmele et al. (2007) suggest that the disassociation between the heart rate and the cortisol response found in the trained men may have occurred due to the HPA being less sensitive to the ‘adaptive consequences of physical activity’. This implies that the HPA may take longer to adapt to the benefits of physical activity (hence the decreased levels of cortisol found in elite sportsmen and not the trained men).

The results of the study suggest that varying levels of physical activity will affect the human body’s response to psychosocial stress. So, while it is well known that exercise is an effective method for stress reduction, it should also be recognised the extent to which it can help if the right volume of exercise is completed. A reduction in psychosocial stress may not only improve quality of life through increased happiness [due to a reduction in stress] but also by decreasing susceptibility to diseases such as hypertension or depression.

Article

Have you ever been told that you are a perfectionist? Or have you ever felt that you a perfectionist? When everything needs to be “just right”? There is a difference between striving for excellence and wanting to do well, compared with excessive perfectionism. Perfectionism has been described as a personality trait or a set of […]

Have you ever been told that you are a perfectionist? Or have you ever felt that you a perfectionist? When everything needs to be “just right”? There is a difference between striving for excellence and wanting to do well, compared with excessive perfectionism. Perfectionism has been described as a personality trait or a set of beliefs that you need to be perfect or at least appear to be perfect. Perfectionists strain compulsively and unceasingly toward unobtainable goals, and measure their self-worth by productivity and accomplishment. Perfectionists tend to be harshly critical when they fail to meet their standards and are rarely satisfied due to the high demands and expectations they put on themselves. They may be motivated by fear of failure, and experience self-doubt. On the other hand, people who are striving, want to achieve excellence, but with a desire to improve. This is accompanied with a sense of optimism, satisfaction and pleasure.

Do you work with athletes with perfectionist tendencies? Are you a coach with perfectionist tendencies? Is perfectionism a good or bad thing? Because perfectionists achieve in performance settings, then people may see this as a good thing. “They are so hard working, they never give up”. And of course these are good qualities. Nevertheless, when this is accompanied with criticism when fall short of perfection, then it can be very detrimental to psychological wellbeing. Perfectionism has many negative effects on mental wellbeing such as eating disorders, depression, migraines, anxiety and personality disorders. Always striving for perfection can lead to decreased productivity, stress and relationship issues.

How to spot if you or your athletes are perfectionist

1)      You set very high and unrealistic goals.

2)      You see any mistake as a failure.

3)      If someone does a task better than you, you feel like you have failed.

4)      You try to hide your mistakes from others.

5)      You often work very hard, and either keep redoing things until its “right” or put things off that you don’t feel you are good enough at.

6)      You don’t like taking risks and prefer to stick to the safe option.

7)      You feel that if people see your flaws, they won’t accept you.

8)      You don’t handle criticism and feedback very well.

9)      When critised you take it personally and think about it days later.

10)   You apply unrealistic standards to others around you.

11)   You are intensely competitive and cant stand doing worse than others.

12)   You won’t ask for help if asking can be perceived as a flaw or weakness.

13)   You are a fault finder and must correct people when doing wrong.

How many of these do you identify with? What experience have you had working with perfectionist athletes?

Article

Despite the various benefits associated with competing in elite level sport, playing the game that they love will always remain the primary concern for the majority of athletes. Therefore, an athlete who finds themselves cut off from their sport through severe injury or an inability to reach the elite level may find difficult times upon […]

Despite the various benefits associated with competing in elite level sport, playing the game that they love will always remain the primary concern for the majority of athletes. Therefore, an athlete who finds themselves cut off from their sport through severe injury or an inability to reach the elite level may find difficult times upon them in not only their career, but also their life. In the most extreme circumstances, an athlete may be forced into leaving the sport that they have dedicated their lives to; this could be through career-ending injury or deselection. For example, statistics have revealed that 85% of youth Academy football players in the UK do not attain a professional contract. For the majority of these players, this signifies a huge loss in their life; their entire life has been devoted to reaching the highest playing level at their respective club. Aside from this, serious injury is always a risk for an athlete performing at any level. Each game represents a risk where one mistimed challenge can destroy the career of any athlete. The consequences of leaving sport, for whatever reason, can be detrimental to an athlete and the way that they regard themselves as a person in society.

Athletic identity refers to the extent to which a performer identifies with the role of an athlete. Every single athlete will possess an athletic identity however that individuals’ investment in this role can differ greatly. Research has demonstrated that a strong athletic identity can lead to improved athletic performance. However, it must be considered that athletes’ that hold a very strong athletic identity may be at risk if their career ends prematurely. A very strong athletic identity can often mean that an athlete fails to pursue any other roles in their life. For example, a young athlete may ignore potential success at school or college as they are heavily invested in progressing toward their ultimate goal: becoming an elite athlete in their chosen sport. Similarly, an athlete close to retirement may fail to plan for life after sport as they cannot see themselves as anything other than an athlete. Given this, those that hold a very strong athletic identity are at high risk of enduring tough times once their career inevitably ends. When the career ends because of unforeseen circumstances, these negative feelings can often be intensified.

In this respect, monitoring athletic identity in an athlete must become more of a concern to both coaches and applied sport psychologists alike. Interviews with former Academy football players in the UK demonstrated that they felt that inadequate social support was provided to them once they had been released from their respective club (Brown & Potrac, 2009). The negative feeling experienced by these athletes was due, in part, to the strong athletic identity that they had developed throughout their time at the Academy. As their chances of becoming an elite athlete diminished, it led to disturbances in the athletes’ life. It was even suggested that coaches were not bothered about the athletes’ education and participants mentioned that the college qualifications were viewed as a ‘joke’ to the coaches and players. Drawing upon this, coaches in any organisation should try and equip their young athletes with the skills to encounter major events in their life. For anyone involved in sport, it is known how short a career may be for any athlete. Therefore, ensuring that athletes (both young and old) have the necessary support if their career does come to an abrupt end must be something that is considered for coaches and managers across the board. The coach has a responsibility to encourage life beyond sport whilst also ensuring excellent athletic performance and investment in training and competition.

Article

We’ve reached the end of another successful European Athletics Championships, this year held in a warm and rainy Zurich, Switzerland. Many athletes have competed for Great Britain across a range of events from the 100m to the high jump, with the excitement of the Commonwealth Games still lingering in the air aiding the motivation and […]

We’ve reached the end of another successful European Athletics Championships, this year held in a warm and rainy Zurich, Switzerland. Many athletes have competed for Great Britain across a range of events from the 100m to the high jump, with the excitement of the Commonwealth Games still lingering in the air aiding the motivation and determination of many athletes.

Alongside the vast buzz and conversation regarding the sport of athletics currently, there is also an increased awareness of the controversial topic of drug use. Most recently, the former 400m world champion Amantle Montsho has been provisionally suspended due to failing the A and B sample in a doping test after finishing 4th in the Commonwealth Games 400m final this year. In addition, the Welsh 400m hurdler Rhys Williams and Welsh 800m runner Gareth Warburton have both failed doping tests prior to the Commonwealth Games this year.

Unfortunately this is just a very small amount of athletes who have failed doping tests in the last few years. You only have to go on the internet and you can bring up an alphabetical list of all the athletes who have tested positive and been banned for drug use, a list of which is huge and includes coaches too (see website below).

Of course, not all positive drug tests mean that the athlete has purposely taken drugs to enhance their performance. There are times when an athlete may need to take medication that inhabits a substance on the World Anti-Doping Agency prohibited list. Or due to the intense training programs and lowered immunity that leads to the common cold, with the complicated banned substance list it’s not surprising if you don’t realise that the tiny amount of Phenylephrine in decongestants such as Lemsip is actually banned. If you’re a normal human being though it’s hardly likely that whilst you’re suffering from a cold and knocking back Lemsips you’ll also be breaking world records.

However, the use of performance enhancing drugs to specifically improve physical sporting performance is as old as the history of sport itself and is consistently a feature of human competition (Ehrnborg & Rosén, 2009). Whilst it is easy for individual’s to slate athletes who have purposely taken drugs to improve their performance, it is important to acknowledge any reasons as to why many athletes may partake in this type of behaviour.

Athletes encounter pressure from numerous sources to perform their best in competition and encounter pride and honour associated with successful results. This can tempt the athlete to short-sighted solutions, such as doping, to achieve the expectations of coaches, parents and themselves (Ehrnborg & Rosén, 2009).

Many athletes may find themselves in an environment where there is pressure to distinguish oneself as elite athletes compared to other groups of athletes. In addition, economically motivated reasons including the enormous amounts of money and other benefits involved in elite sport today, may act as a driving force pushing athletes to use drugs in order to have ‘the edge’ over their competitors (Berentsen, 2002; Haugen, 2004).

A relatable theory regarding the driving forces surrounding doping in sport has been described as “the doping dilemma”, stemming from the classical prisoners’ dilemma (Haugen, 2004). Briefly, the prisoners’ dilemma involves the action of one individual having a consequence for another individual. A common, successful goal for both individuals is hard to reach as both individuals do not have the information or trust in each other about their actions. In the context of sport and doping, the dilemma gives reason for using drugs due to the suspicion or conviction that everyone else is doing it and therefore one must use drugs in order to compete under the same conditions, thus creating a level playing field.

Elite athletes tend to have an extreme win-orientation where an individual’s attitude may be to ‘win at all costs’ (Ehrnborg & Rosén, 2009). Many athletes will have heard at some point or another during their sporting participation the common phrases “Winning is everything”, “This is what sport is about” and “There are no prizes for second place”. This adds to the external achievement pressures streaming from coaches, parents and friends. This can indicate to an athlete that losing is a failure or a personal shame, giving explanation as to why athletes may be pushed towards extreme behaviours such as that of doping.

Interestingly, a survey including US Olympians or aspiring Olympians who were asked if they would use a banned performance enhancing drug were given two scenarios:

  • You will not be caught and you will win.

98% of the athletes said they would use the banned performance enhancing drug in this case.

  • You will win every competition you enter for the next five years but will then die from the side effects.

50% of athletes said they would use the banned performance enhancing drug in this case (Bamberger, 1997).

The results show just how strong the ‘win at all’ costs attitude is across sporting individuals, only enhanced by the social pressures encountered by every athlete across every sport and level.

The psychology behind doping in sport is very much related to the associated costs and benefits from taking the drugs to enhance performance. Acute side effects are more effective towards the decision to stop taking doping agents than the threat of long term side effects, and a high risk of getting caught also prohibits the use of drugs in sport (Ehrnborg & Rosén, 2009). Relating back to the prisoners’ dilemma, it is easier to motivate oneself to use doping agents as long as there is a great risk that your opponents are using them.

Unfortunately, the consequences for the athlete, the loss of honour, respect, loyalty, and income  following a positive doping test, is never fully understood and acknowledge by the athlete until they are proven guilty of doping, by which time it is too late.

The doping ban will forever be connected to the athlete. Every time they compete at the international level, maybe even appearing on television with an introduction that includes an insightful fact regarding their previous doping ban, people who follow the sport will know they have cheated in the past. And with the famous saying ‘once a cheat, always a cheat’, the athlete will be tarnished with a doping reputation remembered by their competitors and spectators, giving rise to a loss of trust and respect.

It is becoming increasingly difficult to be able to trust any athlete that runs even close to a world record now, with speculation coming from all angles as to whether they have only been able to achieve that because they’re on drugs. Even whilst reading this I imagine most people can come up with more than a few performances that have lead them and many others to question whether the athlete has taken performance enhancing drugs. You don’t have to be master statistician to see when an athlete performs outside of their normal range of performance or progression, such as an endurance athlete replicating a 1500m time that would only be associated with the best 1500m athletes in history, disbelief of their ‘clean’ performance is often justified.

In addition, the amount of money going into the sporting industry to improve an athlete’s performance, physically and mentally, is enormous compared to the amount of money going into drug testing. And unfortunately, drug testing will always be one step behind drug taking. You can’t detect a new drug if it has never been detected before.

As wrong as it may be, it is important to acknowledge the reasons as to why athletes may choose to take performance enhancing drugs. There are many driving forces behind it (Petroczi & Aidman, 2008), and many people will forget that when they see a new headline addressing the most recent athlete being banned.

Finally, ask yourself this: “If you could take a drug that would ensure you were the best in your sport, the best in the world over the distance you run, enable you to achieve the times you have always dreamt of, but you would never get caught, would you take it?”.

Article

Eating disorders and disordered eating behaviour are serious mental conditions “that manifest themselves in a variety of eating and weight-related signs and symptoms” (Thompson & Sherman, 2010, p. 7) and can affect both males and females of all age groups. The spectrum of eating disorders and disordered eating behaviour is broad and extensive; characteristics and […]

Eating disorders and disordered eating behaviour are serious mental conditions “that manifest themselves in a variety of eating and weight-related signs and symptoms” (Thompson & Sherman, 2010, p. 7) and can affect both males and females of all age groups. The spectrum of eating disorders and disordered eating behaviour is broad and extensive; characteristics and behaviours are distinguished as medically recognised disorders should they correlate with criteria stated on the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (APA, 2013). Both terms capture behaviours intended by the individual to lose or control weight (Collins, 2010), the key difference being behaviours of a certain severity which comply with the criteria of the DSM-V are classified as medically recognised disorders. Individuals whose eating characteristics are of a lower severity and do not comply with the DSM-V criteria are termed to be struggling with disordered eating behaviour.

Within a sporting context, not only is an athletes’ health and well-being threatened but also their sporting performance. Of all the conditions along the spectrum of eating disorders and disordered eating, anorexia nervosa has the highest mortality rate (Thompson and Sherman, 2010, p. 10) and cardiovascular problems, which account for around half of the deaths of anorexic patients, are the most common medical complication which is caused by starvation and purging techniques. The most widely known eating disorder associated with sport participation is the female athlete triad. This consists of the interrelated problems of disordered eating and also amenorrhea (the loss of the female’s menstrual cycle) and osteoporosis which are both consequences of an inconsistent diet and calorie intake (Yeager, Agostini, Nativ and Drinkwater, 1993). In addition to the physiological effects of these conditions, the psychological effects are also severe. Depression, decreased concentration and insomnia have been found to be effects of semi-starvation (Thompson and Sherman, 2010).

It has been estimated that the prevalence of disordered eating in athletes ranges from 15-62% (Walsh, Wheat and Freund, 2000) and 14-19% have subclinical symptoms (Greenleaf, Carter, Petrie, and Reel, 2009). There is not one specific cause for the development of eating disorders or disordered eating behaviour but rather a combination of socio-cultural, familial, personality and genetic factors (Thompson and Sherman, 2010). With this being known, who is in the best position to provide help and support to athletes and is there enough education within sport to teach coaches how to manage and treat athletes under their care struggling with these issues?

Studies have shown that sports coaches currently possess poor knowledge regarding eating disorders in athletes (Nattiv, Loucks, Manore, Sanborn, Sundgot-Borgen and Warren, 2007). This is supported by research conducted by Sherman, Thompson, DeHass and Wilfert (2005) that discovered that only 51% of coaches had attended lectures on the subject which is similar to research conducted by Turk et al (1999) which found that less than half of the coaches involved had attended educational programmes on eating disorders. The current state of education for coaches concerning detection and treatment of eating disorders and disordered eating behaviour in athletes was summarised by Currie in 2010 to be a “severe lack of knowledge in this area” and this “could be a serious implication for the welfare of athletes”.

As stated by Currie (2010), potential eating disorder and disordered eating problems should be approached “early, directly, supportively, and confidentially”. It has often been remarked within the literature that coaches are in the best position for early identification of eating disorders and disordered eating issues within their athletes due to their position and ability to observe them on a regular basis (Zimmerman, 1999). Coaches spend a large quantity of time with their athletes during training, competition and even travelling which provides ample opportunities to observe and monitor individuals’ habits. Coaches often also have a special relationship with their athletes consisting of trust and friendship which may also make athletes feel more comfortable disclosing close and personal information, such as if they are struggling with disordered eating issues, to their coaches rather than to parents or a medical professional.

A study conducted by Arthur-Cameselle and Baltzell in 2012 is concerned with what could be learned from athletes who had recovered from eating disorders and gives advice to coaches, parents and other athletes regarding the subject. They reached a very important conclusion; that there was a strong need for further education for coaches in identifying and treating athletes struggling with eating disorders and disordered eating problems. This is supported by a large amount of relevant literature such as Bratland-Sanda and Sundgot-Borgen (2013) who stated that for it to be possible for the appropriate identifications and referrals to be made, coaches required a full and working knowledge of eating disorders and disordered eating behaviour. Research conducted by Currie in 2010 stated that programmes that support athletes struggling with disordered eating issues and also prevent their occurrence should be developed to assist the management and treatment of the matter. Further to this, he also stated that responsibility lies with sporting organisations and individual sports governing bodies to develop and implement relevant preventative practises. As with any other medical conditions, prevention is key and so the sporting environment must acknowledge the risks associated with sport participation and the development of eating disorders and disordered eating problems so that preventative practises become the norm.

Article

Stretching has long been standard practice in sport. Advocates of stretching claim that it helps reduce injury, improve performance, and aid recovery. However, a number of studies have shown that stretching doesn’t actually produce all the positive physiological effects that were once thought to be true. In fact, studies have shown that certain types of […]

Stretching has long been standard practice in sport. Advocates of stretching claim that it helps reduce injury, improve performance, and aid recovery. However, a number of studies have shown that stretching doesn’t actually produce all the positive physiological effects that were once thought to be true. In fact, studies have shown that certain types of stretching are detrimental to performance on certain physical tasks. Although some data provide opposition to the physiology of stretching, other theories contend that stretching may provide psychological benefits. This article will explore the physical and psychological effects of stretching on athletes.

Injury Prevention

There is a common belief in the sports world that stretching prevents injury. However, research indicates that stretching does not significantly reduce the risk of injury (Jamtvedt et al., 2010; Andersen, 2005; Bracko, 2002). The main function of stretching is to increase flexibility, making muscles more extensible. But according to Shrier (2000), greater flexibility isn’t necessarily linked with greater muscle strength, or any mechanism that protects against muscle failure. Furthermore, the majority of sports injuries occur during eccentric contractions, which may occur in normal ranges of motion and is not related to flexibility (Shrier, 2000). While stretching doesn’t prevent against injury, studies indicate that a proper warm up does (Rosenbaum, 1995). According to Safran et al. (1989), “physiological warming is of benefit in preventing muscular injury by increasing length to failure and elasticity of the muscle-tendon unit.” Warming up produces the desired effects of injury prevention that have long been attributed to stretching, but through a different mechanism.

Performance Enhancement

There are several techniques used by individuals and teams to improve performance. One technique is the use of pre-exercise routines to prepare for practice or competition. These routines often include activities to help athletes get in the optimal mind-set to achieve their desired outcomes, and to assist neuromuscular pathways in performing sport-specific skills. Stretching is one common part of the pre-exercise routine often thought to elevate performance. However, studies have found that static stretching before exercise negatively affects performance on tasks like balance, reaction time, and movement time, as well as maximum force (McMillan et al., 2006; Behm et al., 2004; Behm et al, 2001). It is important to note that these studies examine static stretching; a passive form of stretching that doesn’t include movement. Interestingly, a subsequent study showed that the negative effects of static stretching are not due to muscle elasticity and range of motion, but instead due to muscle inactivation (Behm et al., 2006; Behm et al., 2001). A study by Rosenbaum & Henning (1995) adds that muscle activation through a warm-up pre-exercise actually improves force development. Dynamic stretching is a type of active stretching where muscles are elongated by moving joints through the ranges of motion required for a particular sport. While static stretching shows significant deficits in several performance tasks, pre-exercise dynamic stretching has been shown to reveal better performance scores on power and agility tasks relative to static warm up and non warm up conditions (McMillan et al., 2006; Little & Williams, 2006).

Muscle Recovery

Stretching is also said to have post-exercise and long-term benefits, such as aiding in muscle recovery. Several studies have shown, however, that stretching before and after exercise does not have a significant effect on measures of muscle recovery or muscle soreness (Herbert, 2007). Athletes report stretching has less than two points decrease on a 100-point scale of feelings of soreness (Herbert, 2007; Andersen, 2005). Other studies suggest that stretching after exercise does reduce perceived feelings of “bothersome soreness” as well as feelings of “stiffness” (Torres et al., 2013; Jamtvedt et al., 2010). Bothersome soreness is a subjective measure of pain or aching after exercise, and stiffness refers to feelings of muscle extensibility. While these are not exactly physiological measures of muscle recovery, they are nonetheless important in interpreting athletes’ psychological recovery. According to Weerapong (2004),“Stretching activities may benefit athletes mentally through psychological mechanisms; however, there have been no detailed studies on the psychological effects of stretching.” Even if stretching does not influence objective measures of muscle damage, athletes who feel better may gain psychological benefits and be more motivated for future exercise training or competition. More research in this field is required to determine if these effects are significant to athlete performance.

Stretching for your own good 

Athletes may gain a competitive edge through increased flexibility based on sport-specific tasks. For example, a gymnast may benefit from flexibility in performing certain flips or acrobatic movements. Likewise a baseball or softball player who can stretch out to make a catch or a soccer player who can lift a leg to reach a ball may be able to complete tasks that other athletes in their sport, who are less flexible, may not. Depending on specific demands of each sport and each position within a sport, there may be a benefit to stretching regularly to increase flexibility and suppleness. A study by Behm (2006), “showed no significant relationship between [range of motion] and stretch-induced deficits. There was also no significant effect of flexibility training on the stretch-induced decrements.” In other words, general flexibility does not have the same negative effect that some acute stretching has on performance. While most athletes choose to stretch immediately before or after exercise, others may choose to stretch at home as a daily routine, through yoga classes, or otherwise regularly. Stretching may have benefits and improve performance for athletes that necessitate high degrees of static flexibility (Behm & Chaouachi, 2011).

As mentioned earlier, stretching is often part of athlete routines. Whether the routine is pre-exercise, post-exercise or otherwise regular, stretching may provide psychological benefits to performance. Routines are often most effective when they are consistent. Taking a few moments to stretch before exercising may allow an athlete to focus on the task demands so they are more prepared to perform them. Stretching can also be a way of reducing anxiety and finding optimal states of arousal. Carlson et al. (1990) studied stretching as an alternative relaxation technique, and found that it “lowered subjective and objective states of arousal.” The benefits of having the right psychological mindset might outweigh the force detriments incurred by static stretching. Furthermore, stretching regularly may promote mindfulness by increasing awareness of mental, physiological, and environmental factors. For example, stretching regularly may make an athlete attuned to certain increases in muscles soreness and help the athlete take proper measures to alleviate that soreness before competition. Consistent stretching may enhance also neuromuscular pathways. Such techniques may be key in staying injury free and performing at a high level.

Although little research has been done to support the psychological benefits of regular stretching, many top tier athletes and sports professionals support the idea. Soccer legend Ryan Giggs attributes his impressive athletic longevity to his dedication to yoga and stretching. Perhaps the belief and commitment that stretching has a positive impact may be enough to help the athlete be mindful and maintain good health, allowing them to compete at a high level for longer.

Conclusions

Static stretching has no significant effect on injury prevention or performance enhancement, and may even be counterproductive. However, warming muscles before exercise is a viable alternative to achieve the same desired results. Dynamic stretching as part of the warm up can be beneficial in power and agility tasks. Effective pre-exercise routines should include a gradual warm up of the muscles and dynamic stretching by performing movements similar to that performed during exercise. This allows the athlete to lengthen and loosen muscles without the counterproductive effects of static stretching. Stretching has also been shown to be ineffective in aiding muscle recovery, but it may be beneficial to athlete psychological recovery and perceptions of pain. In addition, regular stretching to improve flexibility may benefit athletes in sport-specific demands, and may have other psychological benefits as well.

Recent, Related NY Times Article

Article

Unfortunately injury is a common threat when it comes to both elite and non-elite sport. How we cope with it may determine our path to either full recovery or re-injury. We often participate in major competition despite ‘having a niggle’ or carrying a larger injury and passing it off as nothing much (Lopez & colleagues, […]

Unfortunately injury is a common threat when it comes to both elite and non-elite sport. How we cope with it may determine our path to either full recovery or re-injury. We often participate in major competition despite ‘having a niggle’ or carrying a larger injury and passing it off as nothing much (Lopez & colleagues, 2012). The extent of the injury and injury situation are less transparent when it comes to our ability to cope psychologically (Walker, Thatcher & Lavalle, 2010).

Our psychological responses to injury comprise of cognitive (thought based), emotional and behavioural reactions (Tripp & colleagues, 2007). It is inevitable that the psychological responses to injury such as negative emotions and a reduction in confidence occur in the face of injury, resulting in the development of re-injury fears (Johnson, 1997; Heil, 1993).

In an attempt to avoid pain athletes may develop inaccurate ideas of their physical ability thus preventing some rehabilitation activities, which they deem unnecessary (Lethem & colleagues, 1983). This may be through hesitation in technique or movements, holding back in training or competition, lack of effort, or a high dependence on equipment such as taping of previously injured areas (Johnston & Carrol, 1998). Therefore anxiety can develop through repetitive and long-term injuries aiding to the fear of re-injury upon resumption of activity (Cassidy, 2006). Various academic models may help to better describe this.

Fear Anxiety Model

The Fear Anxiety Model depicts that those who were previously injured follow a pattern of,

  1. Catastrophising or extreme negative evaluations of the experience
  2. Escape and avoidance behaviours in the anticipation of pain
  3. De-training effect due to fear of exercising the injured area
  4. Inability to remove attention away from pain related fears
  5. Increased mental and physical reactivity when confronted with situations that are appraised as dangerous

(Vlaeyen & Linton, 2000).

According to research by Lethem (1983) the model highlights that fear of pain can lead to two coping mechanisms,

  1. Confrontation – leads to a desensitisation in the face of similar events
  2. Avoidance – leads to an elevation of the fear to a phobia

However the fear avoidance model is not sport specific so the following two models may be more applicable to athletes.

Stress Injury Model

Anderson and Williams’ (1988) stress-injury model highlights that athletes react to personal or situational stress with muscular fatigue, reduced concentration, which may elevate the chance of injury (Podlog and colleagues 2011). As such in the face of a perceived threat athletes’ attention is disrupted with a narrowing of peripheral vision, subsequently increasing distractibility and chance of re-injury (Podlog et al., 2011).

Are you now thinking how exactly might this happen? Research by Heil and the Psychophysioogical Mechanism of Risk might shed some light.

Psychophysioogical Mechanism of Risk (PMR)

This model demonstrates the psychological and physical responses to injury in sport. Fear of re-injury appears as:

  1. Reductions in concentration and self-confidence
  2. Coinciding responses of increased muscle tension, guarding or bracing of injured areas.

(Heil, 1993)

According to Heil, a negative mood state may increase heart rate subsequently elevating an person’s distractibility. As such an awareness of pain is intensified which then initiates a reduction in self-confidence.

These serve to affect performance through the observation of:

  1. Reduced biomechanical ability and skill
  2. Poor use of energy resources,
  3. Decreased attention to performance related cues
  4. Specific fears of re-injury

(Heil, 1993)

Unfortunately this is a poor use of energy resources, which creates a continual cycle of possible re-injury (Heil, 1993).

Identification and Maintenance of Re-Injury Fears

The thoughts and feelings observed in the models above may develop in rehabilitation through

  • Perceived lack of progress
  • Inability to partake in training and competition
  • Reduction in fitness
  • Comparison with uninjured athletes
  • The timing of rehabilitation relative to competition
  • Perceived lack of rehabilitation progression

(Wadey and colleagues, 2012).

As such it is important to consider research which highlights that athletes who have a strong correlation with their athletic identity are more likely to suffer mood disturbance during injury and rehabilitation (Asken, 1999). Key to this is the identification of high-standard athletes who function in a highly structured and controlled emotional environment compared to lower-standard athletes (Woodman & Hardy, 2003). This may exacerbate the athletes’ inability to identify and release re-injury anxieties. Extensive analysis has shown that this presents in the form depression with symptoms in athletes including anger frustration, anxiety, sadness and hopelessness (Woodman & Hardy, 2003).

According to Wadey (2012) the reduction in self-confidence and increase in anxiety elevated levels of negative self-evaluation. In turn this lowered confidence in the injured body part thus inhibiting the return to sport (Wadey et al., 2012). Therefore it is highly important to evaluate any levels of decreased confidence and increased anxiety upon return to competition as observed by Bianco and colleagues (1999).

Furthermore with regard to Self Determination Theory, Podlog (2011) highlights that if the needs of competence (the ability to do a task efficiently), autonomy (freedom from external control) and relatedness (feeling connected with others) are not met in rehabilitation and return to competition, motivation will decrease followed by heightened stress and anxiety.

heightened stress and anxiety.

Therefore with reference to this and other research these steps can aid athletes in returning to competition post injury:

  1. Increase personal reflection and confiding in others to allow more understanding of stressors and enable the creation of solutions.
  2. Establish regular and graduated opportunities to experience success in ability and to increase confidence through positive self-evaluation in rehabilitation (Podlog et al., 2011). This may be achieved through Positive Performance Indicators depicted in http://www.thesportinmind.com/articles/applying-positivity-in-sport/. Simply put this asks athletes and coaches to highlight three good things that they have achieved each day in rehabilitation/training and life as a whole in a diary.
  3. Utilise process goals to build and develop a structured path in which concentration is maintained. As each process goal is achieved there are more opportunities to congratulate oneself. Process goals should be set regularly in association with your physiotherapist/coach. They should increase in difficulty yet be achievable. The use of these goals enables a sentiment of returning to pre-injury levels for athletes in rehabilitation, subsequently increasing their competence and enabling a return to competition (Podlog & Eklund, 2009).As well as building competence this allows for more autonomy as it builds a sense of controllability in the rehabilitation process.
  4. Provision of relatedness through positive feedback from coaches. Social support will increase self-confidence and reduce re-injury anxiety. This will increase athlete self-satisfaction and feelings of competence in rehabilitation/return to competition. 
Article

Motivation can be defined as the factors which direct and energise the behaviours of humans and other organisms- the drive behind the reasons we do things. Researchers have investigated a number of theories in order to understand motivational needs- however it seems that it is only through looking at these theories as a collective motivation […]

Motivation can be defined as the factors which direct and energise the behaviours of humans and other organisms- the drive behind the reasons we do things. Researchers have investigated a number of theories in order to understand motivational needs- however it seems that it is only through looking at these theories as a collective motivation can be fully understood.

Instinct Theory suggests that you are born with your own set of behaviour patterns, and that these patterns are not learned. This suggests that individuals behave in ways which will be necessary to their survival. However, much of human behaviour is learned- for example being able to speak words and construct sentences; therefore instinct theory cannot be the sole explanation for the motivational behaviour of humans.

It is in this instant that an improved theory was introduced to explain motivational behaviours; Drive-Reduction Approach. Drive in itself is described as ‘motivational tension, or arousal energising behaviour to fulfil a need’. These drives can be related to biological needs of the body- for example, thirst and sleep (primary drives) or drives can be completely unrelated to biological needs, for example the need to succeed in competition (Secondary drives). These secondary drives are learned behaviour patterns. In order to satisfy a primary drive, you would reduce it- for example reducing thirst by drinking water. These primary drives are often assisted in operation by homeostasis- maintenance of a constant internal environment. During deviations from this constant internal environment, homeostasis works inside the body in order to return the body to its normal working state. However, drive-reduction approach does not give explanation as to why people decide to increase levels of arousal and excitement, instead of reducing drive for example thrilling activities, such as a bungee jump, or roller-coasters.

This idea of people being motivated to increase their stimulation and arousal levels is something described by researchers as the Arousal approach. Arousal approaches suggest that this motivational behaviour to increase stimulation is similar to drive-approach theory in that if our stimulation levels are too high, we will try to reduce them. However, on the flipside, if our stimulation levels are too low we will increase them by seeking out stimulating activities. We will do this as we feel necessary. This also allows scope for individuals seeking different levels and amounts of stimulation- for example ‘thrill-seekers’ who take part in high-risk activities will be seeking more stimulation than any other individual.

Incentive approaches suggest that motivation behaviour surfaces from desire to achieve external goals and awards. Also known as ‘external motivation’, incentives could be money, or a certain ranking within competition. Incentive and drive theories are believed to work together with a push-pull nature, creating a balance in motivational behaviour.

Alongside this, Cognitive approach suggests that motivation is a product of people’s thoughts, expectations and goals- their cognitions.

Another major theory explaining the patterns of motivational behaviour is Maslow’s (1987) Hierarchy, whereby we see how motivation progresses from the most basic of survival needs, to the much higher, personal-achievement fulfilling ones. Hierarchy theory suggests that it is only after meeting the basic, low-order needs such as food and water, that the higher-ordered needs can be reached (such as a feeling of belonging). It is only after fulfilling certain needs, such as love and being a contributing member of society that a person will strive for esteem. Maslow states esteem relates to the need to develop a sense of self-worth by recognising that others are aware of the value of one’s competence. Once these needs are fulfilled, it is now that an individual can reach for the highest order in the pyramid; self-actualisation, whereby an individual is in a state of self-fulfilment, realising their full potential. Achieving self-actualisation can be seen as reducing strive and yearning for greater fulfilment within one’s life, and instead being satisfied with the current state in which they are living. Maslow’s (1987) hierarchy of needs highlights the complexity of human needs, and emphasizes that until low-ranked needs are met, higher-ranked needs cannot be considered.

Through a combination of the approaches to motivational behaviour, it is possible to begin to understand the emerging patterns of complex human needs and behaviour. Motivational behaviour draws on parts of all of the theories explained in this article. These theories have led to much more recent study completed by Deci and Ryan (2008) investigating self-determination theory, whereby it is stated individuals have 3 basic needs- competence (the need to produce desired outcomes), autonomy (perception that an individual is in control of their own lives) and relatedness (the need to be involved in close, loving relationships). These are described as innate and essential as basic biological needs.

Article

Since the birth of Twitter, the social media world has catapulted into something only once imaginable. The impact Twitter has had on the sports industry has been immense, in both positive and negative ways. Twitter has seen to significantly influence sports news and communication, marketing strategies, athlete profile and fan engagement due to its addictive […]

Since the birth of Twitter, the social media world has catapulted into something only once imaginable. The impact Twitter has had on the sports industry has been immense, in both positive and negative ways. Twitter has seen to significantly influence sports news and communication, marketing strategies, athlete profile and fan engagement due to its addictive immediacy and ‘real time’ communication. However, my interest lies more specifically with athletes’ and the psychological impacts it poses. For some athletes, it has allowed their profiles to develop and flourish. For others, it has negatively impacted on their careers and arguably for some, their psychological well-being. Of course you create a Twitter account with complete knowledge that you are entering a public domain whereby scrutiny is part and parcel of the contract. Despite this awareness however, how many athletes’ actually think they will become the next victim? Sky Sports News have recently discovered during their investigation that 44 cases of social media abuse directed at professional footballers alone has been reported to the police within the last year, yet no further steps are taken to help prevent and act upon such cases, with the amount of athlete’s on Twitter continuing to grow without a realistic acceptance of the possible consequences.

For some, these experiences on Twitter have not only resulted in de-activating their accounts but sadly resulted in much greater consequences. Consider for a moment Rebecca Marino; the 22-year-old Canadian tennis player ranked as high as 38th in the world. Her childhood dream of playing professional tennis sadly didn’t last as long as she hoped. Why? Because as quick as she has reached her goal of playing professional tennis, she was retiring due to online abuse from so called “fans” through popular social media sites like Twitter. She admitted to suffering to depression for a number of years prior to her sudden retirement, but it was the ‘twitter trolls’ and the online bullying that pushed her over the edge. Some tweets even targeted her because she failed to reel in money from bets they placed on her performance. Sadly, this is just one example of many.

Tom Daley was a victim of Twitter abuse during the London 2012 Olympic Games. What impact has this potentially caused on his psychological well being? I guess this is something we may never truly know, other than his few words explaining how hurt he felt. But surely it causes emotional discomfort, psychological disruptions and feelings related to decreased self-worth. For him to continue in his individual competition and fight to secure a bronze medal was a pleasure to watch. (Sadly, for Tom, this was not the end of his online bullying. After publically announcing his relationship and sexuality he was once again the target of twitter abuse). For other athletes however, they were perhaps not so strong and found performances were significantly affected as a result of online abuse. This was the case for Australian swimmer Emily Seebohm who believed her performances significantly decreased after being targeted by ‘cyber-bullies’. Most recently, Cameroon footballer, Joseph Marie Minala was the centre of a ‘Twitter frenzy’ targeting and questioning his appearance and age. He soon shut down his social media account as they were progressively filling up with insults and messages questioning the sensitive topic of his true age. How about that for a welcome into the professional world of football? Elise Christie, winter Olympic speed skater was disqualified twice in her Sochi 2014 performances and found Twitter abuse following her crash in the final. The “unpleasant and threatening” abuse as described by Elise resulted in the decision to delete her Twitter account.

Despite organisations, clubs and the like warning their players of the use of social media, apparently it is not enough. Despite such awareness of the possible consequences of social media, Newcastle United were recently still willing to take the risk to engage with Fans on Twitter. Unfortunately, it didn’t quite produce the intended results. Stephen Taylor, deleted his Twitter account after being the centre of the hashtag #AskTayls. The launch of specific guidance and education initiatives are aiming to generate greater effect following the rise of abuse and the consequences that follow. The FA have last month agreed to a media training deal in partnership with Brightness Media. The aim is to provide guidance and media training to FA Personnel, administrators, coaches and players at all levels. As SPC’s it is imperative that we follow suit.

Unfortunately there is not a lot we can do in terms of stopping social media abuse but we can help in other ways. Raising awareness to our athletes about the use of social media, educating them on how best to manage their accounts and communicate with their followers and avoid negative ‘tweeting’ themselves is crucial. Most importantly, we need to support them accordingly if they are targeted by ‘Twitter trolls’ and ensure their well-being and performance are not at risk. Education and building awareness of not only being victims but being caught up in the mishaps themselves, retaliating themselves is also imperative. After all, these athletes are role models are should not be fuelling the situation.

Article

Athletic identity is defined as the degree to which an individual identifies with the athlete role (Brewer, Van Raalte, & Linder, 1993). Athletes are usually rewarded for complete commitment to being an athlete and placing their sport as their highest priority. Unfortunately, there has been evidence that a strong and exclusive athletic identity is potentially […]

Athletic identity is defined as the degree to which an individual identifies with the athlete role (Brewer, Van Raalte, & Linder, 1993). Athletes are usually rewarded for complete commitment to being an athlete and placing their sport as their highest priority. Unfortunately, there has been evidence that a strong and exclusive athletic identity is potentially harmful.
The relationship between the impact of injury and athletic identity has been shown to be one of the potential costs. A strong, exclusive identification with the athlete role is correlated to a depressive reaction to a real or hypothetical injury (Brewer, 1993). This means that athletes with a higher athletic identity are more vulnerable to depression after experiencing an injury than those with a weaker athletic identity. Athletic identity was also shown to be a positive predictor of both rehabilitation overadherence and premature return to sport in high school and collegiate athletes (Podlog, Gao, Kenlow, Kleinert, Granquist, Netwon, & Hannon, 2013). Podlog et al. (2013) concluded that individuals with a strong athletic identity may feel compelled to expedite their rehabilitation and return to sport as quickly as possible in order to resume the activity that defines them.

Another potential cost of having a strong athletic identity is the relationship to stereotype threat. Stereotype threat is defined as “being at risk of confirming as self-characteristic, a negative stereotype about one’s group” (Steele & Aronson, 1995, p. 797) and has been offered as an explanation for some athlete’s underperformance in the academic setting (Feltz, Schneider, Hwang, & Skogsberg, 2013; Yopyk & Prentice, 2005). Yopyk and Prentice (2005) found that when primed with their athletic identity prior to a taking a difficult math test, athletes did significantly worse than those who were primed with their student identity. Feltz, Schneider, Hwang, & Skogsberg (2013) found a significant positive relationship between athletic identity and the “dumb jock” stereotype threat in the academic setting. They also found that the athlete’s perception of how their coach viewed their academic ability was significantly negatively correlated with athletic identity (Feltz, Schneider, Hwang, & Skogsberg, 2013). This means that athletes who strongly identify with the athlete role, perceive greater stereotype threat in the classroom and also perceive their coach to have lower regard for their academic ability.

The relationship between athletic identity and sport retirement is another potential cost and an area of concern. Research shows that not all athletes handle the transition in the same way and indicate that those with a strong and exclusive athletic identity may be worse off and suffer more difficulty with retirement (Webb et al., 1998). An inverse relationship between athletic identity and career maturity has been demonstrated to exist with intercollegiate student-athletes (Murphy, Petitpas, & Brewer, 1996). Therefore, it has been suggested that individuals with a strong and exclusive athletic identity spend less career planning before their retirement and in turn they may have less strong decision-making skills and be may be less prepared for postsport careers (Baillie & Danish, 1992; Pearson & Petitpas, 1990). Warriner and Lavallee (2008) found that when gymnasts who had exclusively adhered to the athlete role during their adolescence retired from their sport they suffered extreme distress, loss and confusion of identity, felt suddenly alone and unsupported, and struggled to adjust to the lack of structure and direction without sport in their lives.

These concerning correlations are important to keep in mind. Yes, athletes should be committed to their sport; but not at the sacrifice of other pieces of their identity. It is potentially damaging to see oneself as one-dimensional: athlete only. All individuals are complex and unique. Athletes should be encouraged to explore and come to understand other roles they hold and other values, needs, and beliefs that they identify with.

Article

Imagine yourself walking up to the tee box on the 18th hole of the PGA Championship. You are leading the field, and simply have to make par to win the trophy. However, you are only up one stroke on your competition, and you must make the perfect tee shot to ensure you set yourself up […]

Imagine yourself walking up to the tee box on the 18th hole of the PGA Championship. You are leading the field, and simply have to make par to win the trophy. However, you are only up one stroke on your competition, and you must make the perfect tee shot to ensure you set yourself up for par on the hole, and the trophy that follows. The wind is fiercely blowing from left to right on the green, and you have a bad habit of slicing your shots when you are tense.  Your heart is racing. You’ve never been in this situation before. Imagine the thoughts that are going through your head at this point. It would be nice if you could focus on the task at hand (hitting a good drive), wouldn’t it?

This situation is a perfect example of where the practice of mindfulness can be helpful. Mindfulness is the act of increasing present-moment awareness of physiological, mental, and environmental events without imposing judgment on the quality or meaning of them (Kabat-Zinn, 1994). In practicing mindful awareness, thoughts are noted as simple passing states in the mind that do not require action. This creates “space” between one’s perception and one’s response and enables a person to respond to situations more objectively, rather than reflexively.

The application of mindfulness to sport performance has recently become a popular research endeavor. By enhancing current moment awareness, a critical component of peak sport performance (Jackson & Csikszentmihalyi, 1999; Ravizza, 2002), some research has suggested that mindfulness exercises can help to generate “flow”, or a state of complete focus on the task or event at hand.  (Aherne, Moran, & Lonsdale, 2011; Kee & Wang, 2008).  Gardner and Moore (2012) hypothesized that mindfulness-based interventions for sports are effective because they help athletes direct their attention to the current athletic task, while minimizing external distractions.

In the golfing scenario described above, being mindfully aware would help you notice any intrusive thoughts, anxiety, physical tension in the body, and environmental conditions like the wind. You could then choose to either respond to the stimuli being presented (noticing the wind, to perhaps change the direction of your shot, or noticing your tension and relaxing the tensed parts of your body) or choose to simply note these sensations and let them pass. In other words, you would recognize your thoughts and anxiety as simple mental events and feelings, and realize that they are temporary states that do not have to affect your performance. Practicing mindfulness allows you to first focus on your body and your environment, and then be able to redirect your attention to what will help you perform optimally.

Becoming skilled at mindful awareness requires practicing mindfulness. Mindfulness training involves exercises such as the body scan exercise, which involves paying attention to specific areas of the body such as the feet, knees, stomach, shoulders, neck, and arms one by one. Another basic mindfulness exercise is the mindfulness of the breath exercise, which involves deep, rhythmic breathing. These mindfulness exercises can easily be found online. Practicing these exercises several times a day will help you develop greater awareness, and eventually you can translate this awareness to specific tasks and activities. For example, after practicing the body scan and mindfulness of the breath exercises, try practicing mindfulness while stretching.  Notice the specific sensations in each muscle as you stretch and notice your breathing patterns.

After practicing mindfulness while doing specific activities like stretching, you can then practice mindful awareness during sport-related events. For instance, try being mindful while shooting layups, or while practicing a tennis serve. Eventually, you can try being mindfully aware during matches.

Remember, mindfulness is a skill, and therefore takes practice to develop. While training for a specific sport, consistent practice is required, with an intensity and focus to get better. This is a similar attitude to have with mindfulness practice. Practice your mindful awareness every day and eventually you will be able to use mindfulness to become fully engaged in the moment during play, being able to give full attention on what is needed to perform despite other sensations that may otherwise cause distraction.

Article

As a physically active population, athletes are typically viewed by the general public as healthy and strong, and so are not considered to be an at risk group for suffering from eating disorders. However this perception is part of the reason that eating disorders can be overlooked in sport. The National Eating Disorders Association (NEDA) […]

As a physically active population, athletes are typically viewed by the general public as healthy and strong, and so are not considered to be an at risk group for suffering from eating disorders. However this perception is part of the reason that eating disorders can be overlooked in sport.

The National Eating Disorders Association (NEDA) has reported that one-third of female athletes present with symptoms and attitudes which place them at risk for anorexia nervosa. Yet the problem is increasing in male athletes who are also presenting with extreme emotions and behaviours concerning weight and food issues. Particularly in sports such as wrestling and running, which have weight requirements or emphasise muscularity, pressure is placed upon the body shapes of athletes.

Although previous research reports no increased risk for athletes in eating disorders, it is beginning to be recognised that such findings may in fact reflect methodology rather than the phenomenon (Martinsen & Sundgot-Borden, 2013).
 Eating disorders may have a different presentation in athletes which diagnostic measures leading to such findings are not sensitive to. Therefore, using the same self-report questionnaires to identify athletes at risk of an eating disorder as nonathletes might breed inaccurate results because the specific psychological concerns at the centre of the disorder can differ.
For example, in nonathletes disturbed behaviours are often associated with an undue importance of body shape in determining self-worth. However among adolescent athletes there is a tendency to remain satisfied with their body image, yet engage in disordered eating as it is viewed as a normal part of their sport (Martinsen & Sundgot-Borden, 2013). So, rather than report the dissatisfaction which typically suggests psychopathology, individuals may not realise they have an eating disorder as their behaviours instead reflect dedication to sport.
Another factor making eating disorders harder to recognise among athletes comes from their strict training regimes. Signs of weight fluctuation indicating bingeing behaviours seen in bulimia nervosa can be difficult to see due to intense training retaining an appearance of normal weight.
Athletes have also been found to underreport and mask their issues with eating to a higher degree than comparable populations when presented with questionnaires (Nattiv et al., 2007). Sport performers face repercussions such as being dropped from their sport or loss of contract upon revealing their disorder. Such threats to their identity can make athletes increasingly deceptive over eating behaviours.

Both difficult detection and underreporting in athletes suggests that the problem of eating disorders is much larger in sport than is currently recognised, and screening instruments should be reviewed to reflect these issues.

So what puts athletes in particular at risk?

The NEDA acknowledges that the pressures and stress presented by athletic competition in addition to the cultural emphasis for thinness poses an increased risk for athletes. With a belief that lower weight will improve performance, athletes may begin to restrict eating and engage in weight-control behaviours to achieve higher rankings in their sport. 
Furthermore, sports performers are judged on appearance, and wearing physique-revealing kits can increase the importance of body image. These factors put athletes at higher risk of eating disorder as they occur in addition to social influences which nonathletes already face.
 Another aspect which may cause food to be the centre of attention may be the lack of control which athletes have over other aspects of their lives. With coaches, managers, athletic trainers, nutritionists, physiotherapists and psychologists all outlining athlete’s schedules, sports performers may feel out of control of life decisions. Facing boundaries in these other areas can manifest into athletes taking charge of what they can – eating behaviours.

Eating disorders seriously compromise the health of the sufferer and so should be taken as a serious issue. Athletes should be educated on the consequences of eating disorders, such as stress fractures occurring from lack of calcium and insufficient nutrition. Raising awareness of the long-term consequences may prevent athletes for developing maladaptive behaviours and enable those suffering to recognise problems.
 There is also a need to promote team cultures where everyone is honest about eating habits, in order to avoid encouraging the deceptive behaviours typical of eating disorders. Such an environment can act as a protective factor where athletes feel supported. Sharing healthy attitudes towards size and shape will also prevent misperceptions of what actually leads to improved performances, and of what other athletes eat.

Article

“With special populations, especially those who are particularly goal-oriented, particularly high achievers and particularly focused, there is still a sense of stigmatization, a sense of shame…One strategy for reaching out to athletes is to frame mental healthcare as a way to improve their performance in their sport.” (T.L. Schwenk, 2013) Student-athletes are often subjected to […]

“With special populations, especially those who are particularly goal-oriented, particularly high achievers and particularly focused, there is still a sense of stigmatization, a sense of shame…One strategy for reaching out to athletes is to frame mental healthcare as a way to improve their performance in their sport.” (T.L. Schwenk, 2013)

Student-athletes are often subjected to a substantial amount of pressure, having to successfully balance their academic studies with their sporting commitments. This greater level of stress experienced by student-athletes may in part be due to the decreased amount of time that they are warranted to complete the increased responsibilities placed upon them.

An American study regarding student-athletes participating in the NCAA sanctioned intercollegiate athletic programs, found that of these student-athletes, between 10 and 15% (2%  higher than their nonathletic counter parts) will experience psychological issues severe enough to warrant counselling (Watson & Kissinger, 2007). Student-athletes are also less likely to seek out professional help than non-athletes (Moulton, Molstad, & Turner, 1997). Reasons for this may include: fear of appearing weak, losing training time, losing the respect of peers and coaches and the fear of being seen as needing psychological assistance (Brooks & Bull, 1999).

It was also highlighted that student-athletes are at a greater risk than their non-athlete counter parts to experience mental health problems such as substance abuse (particularly alcohol) and social anxiety (Maniar, Chamberlain, & Moore, 2005), along with the estimation that between 10 and 20% of student-athletes suffer from depression (Gill, 2008).

In females, eating disorders were found in much higher rates for athletes than non-athletes with 8% of student-athletes suffering from bulimia and 1.5% suffering from anorexia; these rates are all comparatively higher than their non-athlete counterparts (Gill, 2008). These clinical psychological issues have the potential to be damaging to both the athlete’s academic work and their athletic endeavours (Hosick, 2005).

Why are Student-Athletes at risk of Mental Health Problems?

Student-athletes may be at an increased risk for mental health problems for a number of reasons including:

– Pressure to adhere to academic deadlines combined with excessive sporting commitment

– Their age increases risk for certain disorders, including eating and substance-related disorders

– University is a time of transition, where there are significant changes in one’s life, psychological disorders are often found to worsen during periods of transition or change

– Physical difficulties such as sleep problems and fatigue, aches and pains (including headaches), physical tension, and digestive problems

– Their identity may be strongly tied to being an athlete and they may find that their academic workload restricts them from training as much as they would like

– Additional stressors include, the potential of suffering serious injury, getting cut from the team or experiencing conflict with other team members or coaches

Signs that a Student-Athlete may be Experiencing Mental-Health Difficulties

  • Changes in sleep patterns – may be constantly fatigued
  • Not eating well
  • Mood Swings
  • Inexplicable under-performance
  • Long stretches of apathy
  • Decline in academic performance
  • Social Isolation

Injuries

A student-athlete’s mental health can be severely affected by injury. As it states in the NCAA handbook, “an athlete’s self-esteem and identity may be negatively affected by their inability to do the thing that they enjoy and do best”. Student-athletes can also become depressed as a result of “overtraining syndrome”. This can come about after heavy training, with symptoms including a decrease in performance, anxiety, muscle soreness, decreased concentration, fatigue and depression. Overtraining can place a student-athlete at significant risk of serious injury.

How Can Coaches and Sports Staff Help?

Coaches are often the front lines to athletes’ mental health. Therefore, it is helpful for coaches to have an understanding of the resources that are available to allow their athletes to reach their maximum potential in both their sporting and academic commitments.

Coaches/Sports Staff should:

  1. Maintain a strong relationship with the athlete
  2. Help reduce the stigma of mental health by talking about it and normalizing the need to take care of our minds
  3. Make sure mental health information is available when students arrive at university
  4. Add yearly education/prevention activities to your team/athletes season. This may consist of speakers for general as well as specific mental health topics (such as stress, study skills, depression, anxiety, eating concerns, or substance use)

What Can Athletes do?

  • Focus (athletes should focus on one key priority at a time)
    • Stress and depression have been found to be closely linked. With 94% of university students today saying that they are absolutely “overwhelmed”, as opposed to extensive multi-tasking, student-athletes should aim to focus on one goal at a time. They should determine their top priorities and focus on giving each one the time it deserves.
  • Identity (construct an identity outside of sport)
    • University athletes often derive their personal identity from their sport, focusing a lot of time on athletics. This has the potential to be beneficial to the athlete, leading to high performance, yet also the possibility of high levels of stress and depression.
  • Time (help students maximise their time to include margins)
    • One of the greatest sources of stress is the feeling of being out of control and overwhelmed by commitments. Students will often go on an elusive search for a “balanced life,” defined by perfectly inventing time in each priority equally, however, this ideal balance is rarely achieved by anyone and instead help must be available in determining margins in the midst of their commitments.
  • Student-Athlete Benefits
    • Although there are a number of risks for student-athletes to develop mental health issues, there are also many positive emotional benefits. Student-athletes often have positive self-esteem and body image; may have a built-in support network through teammates, coaches/athletic department staff and may feel very connected to the campus community. A student-athlete from an American study was quoted as saying: “I don’t regret being a student-athlete because I am a competitive person, so the satisfaction of being part of a team and working towards a goal outweighs the negatives that come with being a student-athlete.”
    • The culture of sport emphasises being “mentally tough”, “showing no sign of weakness,” and “fighting through the pain”, this may inevitably prevent student-athletes from seeking help from professionals. Mental Health might be viewed as secondary to physical health; however, it is every bit as important for a successful sporting performance as our physical state. University is a time of significant change in the athlete’s life and with the increased demand of balancing academic deadlines with regular training and competition; student-athletes are subjected to a large amount of stress. Hence, mental health problems are an increased risk for this population and sufficient services should be made available if psychological help is warranted.