Author Archives: Caroline Heaney

Mind-body connection

By Marina Postlethwaite Bowler

In this article #TeamOUsport Staff Tutor and Associate Lecturer Marina Postlethwaite-Bowler explores three mind-body strategies that can have a positive impact on your mental wellbeing – yoga, mindfulness and journaling.

Yoga

Photo by Sean Stratton on Unsplash

Movement is the medicine we all need to nourish mind, body and spirit. The need in these challenging times to nourish the connections between the mind, body and spirit have never been more prevalent. These connections inextricably link into the varied types of yoga you can practise and their unique abilities to develop both psychological and physiological aspects. We sometimes forget our mind and body are connected. We cannot work the body and expect a healthy mind and vice versa. Yoga is an activity that strongly emphasis the mind-body connection. The word Yoga means ‘union’ or ‘connection’ and in Sanskrit, the word ‘yoga’ is used to signify any form of connection. According to Bhagavad Gita (1996) “Yoga is to maintain equilibrium of the mind in any situation”. There are many varied forms of yoga offering “something for everyone”. Yoga Nidra or yogic sleep is a state of consciousness between waking and sleeping. Hatha yoga is the branch of yoga that typically comes to mind when you think of yoga in general terms. The practice involves breath, body, and mind. Kundalini yoga involves chanting ,singing, breathing exercises and repetitive poses. Its purpose is to activate your Kundalini energy or shakti. In Patanjali’s Yoga Sutra, the eightfold path is called ashtanga, which literally means “eight limbs” (ashta=eight, anga=limb). These eight steps, commonly known as the limbs of yoga, offer guidelines on how to live a meaningful and purposeful life. The most recognised limb of yoga is “Asana” which works the physical body and in theory gives the mind a healthy and peaceful place to reside.

Positive psychology, which simply emphasises how and what in our lives is positive and going right, instead of what goes wrong is an important approach to wellbeing and one that is emphasised in yoga. Various studies have shown that positive psychology-based interventions buffer against stress, improve health and productivity, and enhance social connectedness (Vázquez, 2009). Yoga can prove a useful intervention. Positive psychology does not deny the negative; it simply helps you to focus in equal measure on what does work for you and why. Yoga can help to support you in the process of creating a life filled with meaning, purpose, and joyful celebration. Whether it’s a five-minute gentle stretch or a dedicated sixty-minute practice, sometimes it’s all you need to shift gear and turn your day around.

Mindfulness

Photo by Max van den Oetelaar on Unsplash

Mindfulness is best defined as “paying attention in a particular way on purpose, in the present moment, and non-judgmentally” (Kabat-Zinn, 2004).

You can be mindful in two main ways by:

  • Doing simple practices (meditations)
  • Being completely in the moment enjoying something simple like eating your lunch so you really taste and appreciate it rather than just gulping it down.

Neuroscience is helping us understand how our brains work and the effect mindfulness can have upon it. It can help keep you calm. Feeling some stress and anxiety around exams, for example, is natural and indeed can help boost performance. It’s when it becomes too much that it becomes a problem. Mindfulness helps calm activity in the part of your brain (the amygdala) associated with worry. Mindfulness can also help increase the neural connections in the front of your brain (hippocampus). This is part of the brain is associated with memory, your ability to solve problems and helps to manage distraction. Chiesa et al. (2011) concluded that mindfulness improves well-being, emotional reactivity, and psychological symptoms such as anxiety and depression, as well as cognitive abilities, such as selective and sustained attention.

One of the simplest mindfulness practices is focusing in on your breath. This helps create a sense of calm which is great for reducing worry and helps increase your focus and memory and helps you to make better, more skilful decisions. Mindful breathing is a simple practice available to all. Regularly engaging in it can provide benefits such as a reduction in stress, increased calm and clarity, as well as the promotion of happiness (Catherine, 2010; Kar, Shian-Ling, & Chong, 2014).

Try to practise this (e.g., using the the video below) for 10 minutes every day. Find a regular time that works. Slowly you should start to notice yourself becoming calmer. It can work more quickly for some people and more slowly for others. The most important thing is to give it a go and explore with a sense of openness and curiosity. Life is happening right now! Is it about time we reframed the way we live – instead of working toward an ideal future, work toward an ideal present!

Journaling

Journaling is the process of keeping a record of your personal thoughts, feelings, insights, and more. It can be written, drawn, or typed. It’s a simple, low-cost way of improving your mental health that has been shown to help us shift from a negative mindset to a more positive one, especially about ourselves (Robinson, 2017). Journaling is a great way to channel what’s weighing heavy on your mind and allows you to jot down everything that feels relevant in a safe and non-judgemental space. When you first start journaling it can be hard to know what to write – the fear of the blank page is real! How we overcome this to get us to start writing and break down our barriers is important. Try not to hold back – when we listen to the voice of caution, we deprive ourselves of those exciting and scary experiences and we increase the likelihood of the dreaded ‘what if?’ Keeping a journal can help you fully explore your emotions, release tension, and fully integrate your experiences into your mind (Scott, 2018).

The words of William Wordsworth echo here: “Fill your paper with the breathings of your heart.”

Here’s a few prompts to get you started…

Daily Journal Prompts

  • Set yourself up to keep writing for two minutes – write anything even if you write the same word over and over until something comes into your mind-a great way to “unblock”
  • Jot down your thoughts – think about the event/experience you want to write about and have a good old vent about life. Ask yourself what is working? Don’t worry about “rambling” or getting a bit off-track; you can also revisit what you’ve written and clarify or organise it later (Hardy, 2018).
  • What isn’t working? What can I change?
  • What is important right now? What can wait? How can I prioritise my happiness today? “Realize deeply that the present moment is all you have. Make the NOW the primary focus of your life” (Tolle,1999).
  • Ask yourself what have I done recently that I am proud of?
  • Take time to recognise your hard work.
  • Make a list of your aspirations for the future and set some goals to get excited about. Setting goals are linked with higher motivation, self-esteem, self-confidence, and autonomy (Locke & Latham, 2006)
  • Observe/ give thanks for the special things in your life that you often overlook or haven’t appreciate in a while.
  • Empty your mind on paper, write what feels relevant.
  • Write a reminder or some kind words in the form of a letter and address it to your future self to read when things get overwhelming

Celebrate any wins, anything you realised, overcame and all the ways in which you showed up for yourself this week.

Everything you need is within you”
Namaste

 

References

Catherine, S. (2010). Focused and fearless: A meditator’s guide to states of deep joy, calm, and clarity. Accessible Publishing Systems.

Chiesa, A. (2014). Are mindfulness-based interventions effective for substance use disorders? A systematic review of the evidence. Substance Use & Misuse, 49, 492–512.

Hardy, B. P. (2017). Why keeping a daily journal could change your life. Medium: The Mission. Retrieved from https://medium.com/the-mission/why-keeping-a-daily-journal-could-change-your-life-9a4c11f1a475

Iyenger B.K.S (1996) Light on Yoga: The Bible of Modern Yoga, Schocken Books.

Kabat-Zinn, J, (2004) Wherever You Go, There You Are: Mindfulness meditation for everyday life, Piaktus

Kar, P. C., Shian-Ling, K., & Chong, C. K. (2014). Mindful-STOP: Mindfulness made easy for stress reduction in medical students. Education in Medicine Journal6(2), 48-56

Latham, G. P., & Locke, E. A. (2007). New developments in and directions for goal-setting research. European Psychologist12(4), 290-300.

NhatHanh,T, (1999) The Miracle of Mindfulness, Beacon press.

Robinson, K. M. (2017). How writing in a journal helps manage depression. WebMD. Retrieved from https://www.webmd.com/depression/features/writing-your-way-out-of-depression

 

Why would British athletes choose winter sports?

By Caroline Heaney

The British terrain and climate are not really designed for winter sports – there are few mountains suitable for skiing and our winters simply aren’t cold enough. Yet Team GB will be taking a 50-strong squad to the 2022 Winter Olympics in Beijing. So how do athletes from a green and pleasant land come to be involved in winter sports on snow and ice?

Paths into winter sports are varied and often quite different to the more conventional routes seen in summer Olympic sports. There is also a large variation between winter sports – bobsleigh, skiing, ice skating and snowboard athletes, for example, will all have come to their sport in different ways.

The majority of athletes have a background of junior participation, often having made their entry into the sport at a young age, but in some Winter Olympic sports this is not the case. It is very common for athletes in these sports to start late, having begun their sporting career elsewhere.

Take bobsleigh and skeleton for example: these are sports that you can only start as an adult – you just can’t do them as a child. This makes career paths into these sports very different. Olympic silver medallist Shelly Rudman didn’t try skeleton until the age of 21, which is very late compared to athletes from other Olympic sports. This contradicts some models of athletic development, which suggest that investment in a sport as a junior is a requirement for success.

Many athletes transfer from other sports and many are “spotted” as potential winter sport athletes through so called “talent transfer programmes”, such as UK Sport’s ‘Girls 4 Gold’ programme which started in 2008. Double Olympic gold medallist Lizzy Yarnold was a graduate from the Girls 4 Gold programme, having transferred into the sport from athletics.

The slide from athletics

Transition from athletics seems to be a common route into sliding sports: bobsleigh, skeleton and luge. Olympic skeleton medallists Alex Coomber (bronze in 2002) Shelly Rudman (silver in 2006), Amy Williams (gold in 2010) and Lizzy Yarnold (gold in 2014 and 2018) all had a background in athletics before switching to skeleton. The speed and power elements of athletics transfer well into the push start required in both skeleton and bobsleigh.

Bobsleigh has a long-established tradition of recruiting high calibre track and field athletes into its fold (e.g., British sprinters Mark Lewis-Francis, Craig Pickering, Joel Fearon, Allyn Condon and Marcus Adam have all been part of the British squad in the past). Current GB squad member and former British 100m record holder Montell Douglas is set to become Britain’s first female summer and winter Olympian in Beijing. She stated: “I’m over the moon to be representing women. There have been many male summer and winter Olympians, so I’m more thrilled about leaving a legacy like that behind than anything else.”

The transition from athletics to bobsleigh is not exclusive to the UK. For example, sprinter Alexandra Burghardt (Germany) who competed in the Tokyo Olympics last year will also be competing in the two-woman bobsleigh in Beijing, and previously track and field Olympic/World medallists Lauryn Williams (USA),  Lolo Jones (USA) and Jana Pittman (Australia) have transitioned to bobsleigh.

Live near a ski slope

Paths into winter sports are often dictated by opportunity. Facilities for winter sports participation are few and far between and so location plays an important part. If you live near an ice rink you are more likely to become involved in speed skating or figure skating.

Kate Summerhayes, who will be representing Team GB in freestyle skiing in her third Winter Olympics in Beijing, learned to ski when she was six at the Sheffield Ski Village, which was only ten minutes away from her home. There are certainly geographic patterns in team membership – for example the GB curling and Nordic skiing teams have traditionally been dominated by Scottish athletes. Is this connected to there being better facilities and infrastructure for these sports in Scotland? A lack of winter sport facilities in the UK could certainly be hindering our prospects and the types of facilities available may limit the range of our participation.

Interestingly, Team GB normally only enter athletes into the short track speed skating event and not the long track events. This could be a consequence of limited long track speed skating facilities.

Money and role models

Finance is also strongly related to opportunity – participation in winter sports often requires overseas travel and expensive equipment. At the upper ends lottery funding and sponsorship is available, but the financial aspects may prevent potential athletes starting a winter sport. Learning to ski as a child, for example, is a privilege largely reserved for children whose parents have the income to afford skiing holidays.

Finally, one of the most important factors influencing why an athlete might move into a winter sport is role models. Medals won in the past four Winter Olympics in skeleton have certainly boosted the profile of the sport and may encourage more athletes to consider taking it up.

Any British athletes gaining medal honours in Beijing will certainly be ambassadors for winter sports and have the potential to inspire a generation to take to the slopes, ice rink or track.

 

This article was first published on OpenLearn.

For more Winter Olympics and Paralympics related articles visit our hub on OpenLearn.

A head for heights: How athletes keep calm at altitude

By Candice Lingam-Willgoss

The nature of competitive sport involves athletes putting themselves in high-pressure situations in which they are being constantly appraised, and Beijing is no different.

Subsequently, it is unsurprising that the areas of stress and anxiety are two of the most popular when looking at sport from an academic perspective. While all athletes experience anxiety to some level when they perform, either at a cognitive (mental worry) or somatic (physiological symptoms) level, it is the interpretation of those emotions that can dictate the influence they will have on their performance.

The physiological symptoms associated with anxiety can range from elevated heart rate or sweaty palms, to the classic butterflies in the stomach. The key for an elite athlete is to get those butterflies to fly in formation. The cause of this anxiety is that athletes are having to perform in “appraisal”-driven environments. Will they be good enough? Will they let the team down? Will they remember the set moves? The list of criteria is extensive.

And when we look at winter sports another variable is thrown into the mix – risk.

The Luge has been described as the fastest sport on ice, skiing sees racers get up to speeds close to 100kph, and the ski jump and snowcross carry their own unique elements of risk. Which raises the question: are the performers in these sports less concerned with the appraisal issue and more concerned about staying alive?

Without doubt the psychology related to overcoming fear is an interesting area to consider, and perhaps no one is a better example of this than four times British Olympian Chemmy Alcott (pictured above). Alcott retired after the Sochi 2014 games but in her career suffered 42 broken bones– including her neck – and without doubt knows the risk involved in her chosen sport. The surgeon responsible for her being able to compete in the Sochi games quite bluntly told her  prior to the surgery that saved her career: “There are two operations which may be necessary. Either you’ll never ski again or there’s a fraction of a chance you’ll make the Olympics.” The miracle is that Alcott made the Sochi Olympics, and finished in the top 20 in the women’s downhill skiing .

It’s true Alcott did experience anxiety or in her case something she terms fear. “I respect fear, fear is me caring about my result,” she has said . The terminology Alcott chose to describe her feelings regarding skiing imply she was fully aware of the risks involved but she chose to channel this to her advantage.

This concept of interpretation is further supported by half-pipe snowboarder Elena Hight who said dealing with fear is more mental than physical . “Fear is a very interesting thing,” she said. “It can be a very good motivator but can also be an inhibitor. It just depends on how you go about dealing with it, and I think in our sport you have to push yourself to be able to progress, you have to walk that fine line of using it as a motivator and not letting it inhibit you.” Hight like Alcott is an example of an athlete who was able to channel her emotions in a positive way becoming the first snowboarder to land a double backside alley-oop rodeo!

Many will ask how Alcott found the courage to step back out onto the competitive scene after such horrendous injuries that left her with a body so scarred that her nephews use it as a track for their toy trains. For these high-risk athletes, it has become something of an occupational hazard. As Cohen, senior sport psychologist for the US Olympic Committee has said : “That return to play after an injury requires confidence when an athlete questions whether they have what it takes to get back there.” This leads us to consider another psychological perspective, something that is a necessity for all athletes to possess – mental toughness.

Sports psychologists Peter Clough, Keith Earle and David Sewell identified four components of “mental toughness “: control, commitment, challenge and confidence. They conclude  that mentally tough athletes have “a high sense of self-belief and unshakable faith that they can control their own destiny and can remain relatively unaffected by adversity”. This is how athletes can come to have such positive interpretations of fear.

While Alcott has retired from ski racing, there is a real hope of success for a British skier at Beijing. Dave Ryding (pictured above) is coming off his first world cup win in Kitzbuhel last month. Ryding has prided himself on his hard work, discipline and determination and his ability to keep focused on the task in hand, he is able to use this focus to control the pressure he faces and control his emotions.

All eyes will be fixed on Ryding on February 16th as he takes on the slalom competition and his years of experience should allow him to cope with any anxiety felt at altitude.

 

This article was first published on OpenLearn.

For more Winter Olympics and Paralympics related articles visit our hub on OpenLearn.

Beijing 2022 Winter Olympics – Welcome to the risk takers and the fearless

By Simon Rea

On 4th February 2022 the opening ceremony for the 24th Winter Olympic Games will take place in the iconic Beijing National Stadium, also known as ‘The Birds Nest’. The Games will be opened by President Xi Jinping and will signal Beijing becoming the first city to host both the summer and winter versions of the Olympic Games. The Games will run until 20th February and there will be 109 events in 15 disciplines covering 7 sports.

These Winter Olympics are not without controversary. When the games were awarded to Beijing the former IOC President Jacques Rogge stated that staging the winter Games in China would do a lot to help improve human rights and social relations in the country. However, recent events such as the dismantling of democracy in Hong Kong, the persistent persecution of Uighur Muslims, and the troubling case of tennis player, Peng Shuai, have illustrated that this has been far from the case.

Alongside the hosting of the 2022 Football World Cup in Qatar, which also has a questionable human rights record, questions have been asked about the integrity of and motivation behind the awarding processes for major events. Protests have been restricted to diplomatic boycotts but Andy Anson, the chief executive of British Olympic Association (BOA) has confirmed that any British athletes who wanted to protest against human rights issues would be supported by officials.

What is taking place and where?

The Birds Nest will not host any events but will be the site of the opening and closing ceremonies, and is one of several venues from 2008 that will be reused as part of the sustainability agenda of these Games. There are three zones where the events will take place – the Beijing, Yanqing, and Zhangjiakou zones. Beijing will host events at its aquatic centre, including skating, ice hockey and curling. The sliding centre in the Yanqing zone will be home to spectacular speed events such as bobsleigh, luge, and skeleton and also Alpine ski events. The Zhangjiakou zone is where freestyle skiing, cross country skiing, biathlon and ski jumping will take place.

There are seven new events, designed to appeal to female and younger audiences. They include mixed team events in short-track skating, ski jumping and snowboard cross, as well as freestyle big air skiing.

What are the chances of medals for Team GB?

Because the Winter Olympics take place on snow or ice the spectacle of skiers, skaters, bobsleighers taking on the elements offers more uncertainty and excitement than their summer version. However, the UK is not a country that is known for its winter sports. Training and competitions usually take place in venues across Europe – so do we have any chances to improve on the best performance of 5 medals at Sochi (2014) and PyeongChang (2018)?

UK Sport have provided increased funding since 2018 based on the performances at those Games and have set a target of between 3-7 medals from around 50 athletes who will be competing. But where will these medals come from?

Bobsleigh events always attract attention and in these Games Greg Rutherford, the 2012 Olympic Long Jump champion, will be attempting to become the first Team GB athlete to become a medallist at both winter and summer Games. However, any medals are potentially more likely to come from the other British bobsleighs. At the recent World Cup in Latvia, Mica McNeill and Adele Nicholl won a silver medal in the two-person sled as did Brad Hall and Nick Gleeson. At these Games, Brad Hall will also pilot a four-man crew that also includes Nick Gleeson as brakeman. Greg Rutherford will be a pusher in the other crew piloted by Lamin Deen.

There are also high expectations for snowboarders Charlotte Bankes and Katie Ormerod. Charlotte Bankes competed for France in PyeongChang, won two events at the World Cup, while Katie Ormerod was fourth in the slopestyle event.

Will there be more curling success?

For me the Olympic Games are about becoming obsessed with sports that I have not previously watched, or thought I would be interested in. One such sport is Curling, which has its origins in Scotland, and is one where British athletes have enjoyed success. In fact, Great Britain won the men’s event in 1924 and were the holders of that Olympic title until it was reintroduced into the Olympics in 1998.

The most recent gold medal was when Rhona Martin’s team dramatically won gold in 2002 with the last stone of the competition. In 2014 Eve Muirhead was the skip of Team GB’s women’s curling team who won a bronze medal and after a poor performance in 2018 she is back as skip with three new teammates. Bruce Mouat is the skip of an all-new men’s team and also competes in the mixed doubles with Jennifer Dodds.

One to look out for

Finally, one other British born athlete to look out for is Benjamin Alexander who will become the first athlete to represent Jamaica in an Alpine skiing event. He has an interesting background as he is an engineering graduate and a globetrotting DJ. His mother is English, and his father is Jamaica but most importantly he is mentored by Dudley Stokes, who was the pilot of the Jamaican bobsleigh immortalised in the film Cool Runnings. He has only been skiing since 2015 and will be competing in the daunting giant slalom event.

While it may be tough for Team GB to better its medal tally from 2018 there will be plenty of top-class performances to enjoy and we must feel gratitude that these Games are actually going ahead during this global pandemic.

 

This article was first published on OpenLearn.

For more Winter Olympics and Paralympics related articles visit our hub on OpenLearn.

Student Story: Dominic Ball

“Mum and dad trained as teachers, so I was always pushed in school. Even when football opportunities came, I was always pushed academically because the average length of a footballer’s career is seven years.

I’ve been lucky enough to be in it for seven years now. Hopefully, I’ll be able to play until I’m 35, but most players have to work so I always thought I need to plan for my future.”

After completing a BTEC in sport, Dominic’s older brother encouraged him to undertake a degree with the university.

“My brother had actually started his degree with the OU a couple of years before me. He said that the course was easy to understand and worked well around football.

We travel a lot, sometimes twice a week for away games, but even in a hotel room you can do your work. I like the fact that I had the flexibility to get on and do my work on flights or at different clubs but keep up with my workload.

My brother’s degree was partly funded by the Professional Footballers’ Association (PFA). They provide financial support to young players which is brilliant – it pushes players to do something in education. When it came time for me to do my degree, university fees had gone up but the PFA provided a bursary, which made it a lot more affordable as a young player.”

At first Dominic found the course challenging but found his feet in his final year and really excelled.

“Initially, I didn’t engage with my tutors or get involved in the student community, so I struggled for the first half of a six-year course. In one assignment I received 14 out 100 which made me think, I need to understand where I’m going wrong.

I started to engage with my tutors and other students, it made the experience more enjoyable. In my last year, I finally understood how to structure my essays and assignments – the penny dropped. I was averaging 70 per cent in my results.”

Dominic didn’t experience the traditional graduation ceremony as he completed his degree during lockdown, but it was still a special moment for him and his loved ones.

“I organised a small celebration at home. I hired a photographer to take photos of me in my robes. It was a special moment – my girlfriend, my dog, and my mum and dad were there to help me celebrate.

All my hard work has paid off, which was a big moment for not only me but also for my parents. I would have loved to go to graduation, but we’ve all missed out on something this year, and I was just pleased to get my degree.”

Now with a degree under his belt Dominic is hopeful for the future and plans to go into business after football.

“Football is my passion – I still have dreams of playing in the Premiership. But with my degree, I hope that in time I can set up a business, maybe something to do with football, so that I have a career long after my days on the pitch.”

Student Story: Sandy Johnston

When I left school in Scotland back in the early ‘80s I went to university to study science but after a year I decided it wasn’t for me. I was a real disappointment to my folks – the first of my generation to go to university and the first one to drop out!

After doing menial jobs for a couple of years I decided to go back to college and completed an HND in business studies, with a view to improving my prospects. However, unemployment was high back then, jobs were few and far between and it looked like I was going to have to relocate if I wanted to work, but that wasn’t acceptable to me.

Since I was a kid in the scouts, I’d always been into hillwalking, canoeing and kayaking, all these things you can do outdoors. It’s always been my thing. I decided to do some voluntary work at outdoor centres to become qualified as an outdoor instructor, but political changes at that time closed a lot of outdoor education jobs. I didn’t see a future in that area, so a complete change of career plan followed, and I joined the police.

After a couple of years as a cop I decided to improve my higher education and transferred the credit from my HND to the OU, to do a Social Policy Diploma. I wanted to see what the academics made of the social problems I was confronted with on a daily basis, and I felt a degree would help with promotion. I got support from the police with funding, which helped quite a bit, and studied around my shifts.

After achieving the Diploma in Higher Education, I decided to study further courses in sociology and criminology, and went on to achieve a BSc (Hons) Open degree with the OU. Studying those areas helped me in my police career. I gained a wider knowledge and perspective on the things I was dealing with, because social problems and issues around social welfare are the main thing you’re dealing with as a uniformed cop. The studies gave me more confidence, especially when I moved from dealing with people at street level to being a detective sergeant in the economic crime unit. There, I was often investigating lawyers and bankers committing fraud, you might say a more educated form of criminal.

All the time I was in the police force I kept up my interest in the outdoors and I decided that when I retired from the force I was going to work as a freelance outdoor instructor. You retire from the police at a relatively young age with a decent pension, so the freelancing world is good to work in if you don’t need to depend on finding a regular full-time income. During my last few years in the force I spent a lot of my spare time gaining outdoor sports coaching qualifications and when I did retire I picked up work as a freelancer, mainly at outdoor centres. That kept me busy in summer, but I was conscious that during the winter I wasn’t going to get as much work, so I thought I’d go back to study again. That’s what led me to the course I’m studying now, which is the BSc (Hons) Sport, Fitness & Coaching. I wanted to study the theoretical background of sport, fitness and coaching to support me in my day-to-day work, I suppose similar to what I did when I was in the police. I’m funding my studies from what I make as an outdoor instructor.

I really enjoy the Sports degree because it fits in perfectly with what I do in my current occupation as a freelance outdoor instructor. The studies make me think more about my actual, practical coaching. There’s lots of little nuggets of information I’ve learned. Coaching has always fascinated me, so I’ve studied coaching theory before, but this course is filling in some of the blank areas. You get that satisfying kind of, ‘Oh that’s why!’ realisation when you study and discover the reasons why certain approaches or methods work better than others.

One major thing I’ve learned is that there’s a big difference between a coach and an instructor. For example, it’s very important from a coaching point of view that, especially when you’re going to be working with someone over a period of time, you’re not just providing answers to the questions that they are seeking but leading them to find out the answers for themselves. As a coach, you should be helping them to think, rather than saying, ‘This is what you do. Here’s the answer.’ That, according to coaching theory, is what helps your pupil retain what they’ve learned, rather than them just doing what you tell them to do and then forgetting about it.

The biggest challenge of studying comes whenever I have an assignment deadline! That’s when you say to yourself, ‘Why am I doing this?!’ I just try and avoid the procrastination and get on with it but it’s very easy to find other things to distract you.

This is my second Open University degree, so I know I can do it, it’s just a matter of working away at it. But I think the inspiration for my first OU course was my Mum. When I was about 14, my Mum, who left school with no qualifications, decided to go back to college, earning higher education qualifications and ended up working as a college lecturer.

The main difference between the OU back in the ‘90s and the OU today is not having to set your video recorder for 2am to record a programme you need to see to study your module! Everything’s available online now, which is a great improvement, as it’s easier to access, although the quality of the course materials was just as good then as it is now.

I now have my own little business: Sandy Johnston Coaching. I coach people in kayaking, canoeing and watersports, mostly. It’s a nice way to work, working for myself and freelancing with other organisations, such as the scouts or different outdoor centres. It’s really enjoyable and I’m getting paid for something I love doing.

 

My plans for the future are to expand my own coaching business and to work with long-term students to help them to develop. I’m going to continue my studies in coaching. I’m a performance coach in Whitewater kayaking and I would quite like to do the next step up – British Canoeing Coaching Level 4, which is a postgrad diploma – because I want to improve my standing as a coach. I’ve got another ten to fifteen years of my working life left so it would be nice to work at the very top end of coaching.

My advice to anyone thinking of doing an OU course? Just do it!

JOIN OUR TEAM: VACANCIES FOR PART-TIME TUTORS

We are currently looking for a number of new part-time associate lecturers to join our network of tutors teaching on our BSc (Hons) Sport, Fitness and Coaching programme. We have vacancies on the following modules:

  • E235 Sport and Exercise Psychology in Action
  • E236 Applying Sport and Exercise Sciences to Coaching
  • E312 Athletic Development: A Psychological Perspective
  • E314 Exploring Contemporary Issues in Sport and Exercise

 

To apply for one (or more) of these vacancies please visit the website below and look for the module code (E235, E236, E312 or E314).

CLICK HERE TO FIND OUT MORE AND APPLY

For more information about the BSc (Hons) Sport, Fitness and Coaching programme click here.

 

The closing date for applications is Thursday 26th August 2021.

 

Adam Peaty: the family behind the athlete

By Jessica Pinchbeck

The Games of the Tokyo Olympics have been played in empty stadiums and venues, without fans and family members. Jessica Pinchbeck looks at the importance of Adam Peaty’s family to his success.

In an incredible feat of Olympic history Adam Peaty has claimed gold in Tokyo to become the first GB swimmer to retain an Olympic title, but this year’s Olympics has a very different feel for the competitors with no spectators to provide that extra buzz and to join in the celebrations when success strikes. Perhaps the most noticeable absence of all is that of the athletes’ families and their emotional displays of pride and affection. For many athletes their families form an integral part of their athletic journey and Tokyo gold medallist Adam Peaty has been extremely vocal in his thanks to his parents over the years:

“Parents are the unsung heroes of our sport.”
Adam Peaty, GB Swimmer

Parental influence is fundamental in shaping a child’s sporting journey (Knight, 2019) and this influence is formed by the culmination of many different factors. There exists a considerable body of research to demonstrate that physical activity participation is influenced by factors related to the athletes’ family such as social class, the home environment and economic status (Dagkas and Stathi, 2007).

“You do feel on the back foot if you don’t come from a rich family or a family who are already involved in sport… You’re starting off at a massive disadvantage against those kinds of people.”

“As an amateur you’re up against people with money who can afford physio or therapists, and these kids turn up with all the kit. Not everyone is equal. But if anything, it made me more determined to make the most of what I did have and give 110% in training.”
Adam Peaty, GB Swimmer

Adam Peaty Rio 2016

Peaty’s success demonstrates that although environmental factors such as financial support can be influential other contributing factors are sometimes more important, such as attitudes and beliefs about the value of sport. The majority of young children’s time is spent with family members, especially parents, and this is why the family is a vital social facilitator in sport, influencing the way a child thinks and behaves, and the opportunities they are presented with.

Admittedly, social factors such as cost, local provision and proximity to amenities are relevant but these decisions are informed by the parents’ own attitudes and beliefs. Expectancy Value Model (Eccles et al., 1983; Eccles, 1993) states that if parents perceive sport to be important, they will provide more frequent opportunities for their child to participate in sporting activities based on a range of values.

“We forced him to swim and we have a strong belief that all children should swim because it’s a life-saving skill.”
Caroline Peaty, Mother of Adam Peaty

Peaty’s family clearly valued the importance of swimming and made every effort to ensure he had the opportunities and support to start swimming. Once Adam’s talent and success were evident, at aged 14 he joined City of Derby Swimming Club which involved increased travelling and greater commitment. It was a grueling regime and with his dad unable to drive, it was Peaty’s mum who bore the brunt of the training commitments:

“I’d get up at four in the morning, drive him 40 minutes to Derby, sit and wait two hours while he was training, or go to Tesco, then drive him back again and do a full day’s work as a nursery manager. Then we’d do it again in the evening.”
Caroline Peaty, Mother of Adam Peaty

Without such dedication and support from his parents Peaty’s Olympic journey would likely not have been possible. Throughout the athletic journey, as well as logistical support such as transport and organisation, the emotional support from an athlete’s family is vital in keeping them grounded and ensuring they maintain an identity beyond that of their sport.

Siblings have also been shown to influence a child’s sports participation, though, research shows sibling influence to be multifaceted and varied. Peaty, the youngest of four children, was heavily influenced by his older brothers in a unique way:

“I was scared of the water as a child. I even hated having baths; I’d scream every time […] My older brothers had told me sharks could swim through the plughole.”
Adam Peaty, GB Swimmer

Siblings are sources of both positive and negative sport experiences (Blazo and Smith, 2018) and despite this initial negative influence from his brothers, Peaty’s siblings may also have played a positive role in his development. For example, older siblings have been shown to be positive role models for a work ethic (Côté, 1999) with birth order also associated with athletic differences, including suggestions that later-born children are more likely to perform at a higher level (Hopwood et al., 2015).

One explanation was that that first born children may focus more on their own development, whereas younger children compare themselves to older siblings, which results in firstborn children being more motivated to learn, whereas later born children possess a greater motivation to win (Carette et al., 2011). Competition and rivalry between siblings have been shown to have positive effects, whereby younger siblings sought to perform as well as, if not better than, an older sibling, though this was not necessarily always linked to sport, rather the creation of a general competitiveness (Lundy et al. 2019). This appears to be evident within the Peaty family:

”Growing up with three older siblings, I’ve always had a competitive edge. The continuous and unforgiving strive to be exceptional in whatever I do derives from my childhood to always try, take part and do even better next time.”
Adam Peaty, GB Swimmer

Therefore, although the physical absence of Peaty’s parents and siblings was most certainly felt in Tokyo this year, their continued support throughout his athletic journey was certainly not absent from the success of his gold medal winning performance.  Since becoming a father himself, Peaty has voiced the importance of being a role model to his own son, passing on his own work ethic to the next generation.

References

Blazo, J. A., & Smith, A. L. (2018). A systematic review of siblings and physical activity experiences. International review of sport and exercise psychology, 11 (1), 122-159.

Carette, B. Anseel, F. and Van Yperen, N.W. (2011) ‘Born to learn or born to win? Birth order effects on achievement goals’, Journal of Research in Personality, 45, pp. 500–503.

Côté, J. (1999) ‘The influence of the family in the development of talent in sport’, The sport psychologist13 (4), pp.395-417.

Dagkas, S. and Stathi, A. (2007) ‘Exploring social and environmental factors affecting adolescents’ participation in physical activity’, European Physical Education Review13 (3), pp.369-384.

Eccles, J. A., Futterman, T., Goff, R., Kaczala, S., Meece, C., & Midgley, J. (1983). Expectations, values, and academic behaviors. Achievement and achievement motivation, 283-331.

Eccles, J. S. (1993). School and family effects on the ontogeny of children’s interests, self-perceptions, and activity choices Nebraska Symposium on Motivation, 1992: Developmental perspectives on motivation

Hopwood, M., Farrow, D., MacMahon, C., & Baker, J. (2015). Sibling dynamics and sport expertise. Scandinavian journal of medicine & science in sports, 25 (5), 724-733.

Knight, C. J. (2019) ‘Revealing findings in youth sport parenting research’, Kinesiology Review(3), pp.252-259.

Lundy, G. I., Allan, V., Cowburn, I., & Cote, J. (2019). Parental Support, Sibling Influences and Family Dynamics across the Development of Canadian Interuniversity Student-Athletes. Journal of Athlete Development and Experience, 1 (2), 4.

This article was originally published on OpenLearn.

Resilience: The magic ingredient for Olympians?

By Nichola Kentzer

Arguably, it has been a longer, and more challenging, road to Tokyo 2020 than any other Olympic Games in recent times. So how were the athletes and their support teams, able to pick up themselves up following the disappointment of the cancelled games last year and prepare for the rescheduled event? In this article, Dr Nichola Kentzer considers resilience as a key factor in supporting this disrupted athletic journey.

What is resilience?

Something of a buzz word in recent years – there have been many definitions of resilience presented but in simple terms resilience is:

“The ability to use personal qualities to withstand pressure.”

(Fletcher & Sarkar, 2016, p. 136).

When discussing resilience in the sporting context the terms ‘stressor’ – referring to the demands placed on the athletes, such as in training and competition, and ‘adversity’ referring to a personal (such as bereavement) or professional (e.g., deselection) difficulty for an athlete, are often used. The ‘personal qualities’ associated with resilience highlighted in the above definition are thought to protect an athlete from the potential negative effects of stressors/adversities that they may face.

Furthermore, when considering the question posed in the first paragraph, research tells us that some athletes can develop positively and learn from adversity experienced. For example, Fletcher and Sarkar (2012), in a study of Olympic champions, reported that most of the athletes interviewed argued that had they not experienced certain stressors, and adversities, they would not have won their gold medals.

Perhaps one Olympic example that illustrates this effectively was Andy Murray’s ability to take the incredible disappointment of losing the Wimbledon final in 2012 and going on, just a few weeks later, to win Olympic gold in London 2012 against the same opponent, Roger Federer.

At the time, Andy reflected:

“I have had a lot of tough losses in my career and this is the best way to come back from the Wimbledon final.”

Andy had been able to pick himself back up, or rebound, from the disappointment of loss to cope with significant stressors during the Olympic competition and withstand the immense pressure of an Olympic final at Wimbledon in front of a home crowd.

The word resilient spelt out in lettersA more recent example, from Day 4 of the rescheduled Tokyo 2020 Olympics Games, offers an illustration of the challenges faced by athletes on their journey to the delayed event. During his preparation for the Games, Team GB swimmer Tom Dean had significant disruptions caused by two bouts of COVID-19 with 6 weeks off from training and, upon return, he had to structure his training to prevent any long-term damage to his heart and lungs. Tom was able to overcome this unprecedented situation, and significant changes to his training programme, to win Olympic Gold in the 200m swimming freestyle.

But what is it about these athletes that allows them to bounce back, be resilient, and take positives from such adversity into future performances?

Personal qualities that support athletes to be resilient

The research on Olympic champions by Fletcher and Sarkar (2012) identified five psychological characteristics that athletes high in resilience possessed and that were integral to the athletes withstanding pressure.  The five characteristics were:

  • Positive personality
  • Motivation
  • Confidence
  • Focus
  • Perceived social support.

Athletes with these characteristics were able to positively evaluate a stressor (and their own thoughts about it) and perceive that they were able to cope with the demands placed on them, enabling optimum performance.

It could be argued, therefore, that Andy Murray was able to take confidence from his performance in the 2012 Wimbledon final, despite his loss, and saw this as an additional boost to his motivation to focus on the Olympics a few weeks later. It is likely that he perceived he had the support of those around him and that he had the ability to cope with the demands of the Olympic competition. Thus, allowing him to appraise the event positively as a challenge, and not a threat, and was able to withstand the pressure he faced.

Developing resilient athletes

When preparing an athlete such as Andy Murray for an Olympic competition, developing their ability to withstand pressure might seem a logical step. However, it is important to ensure that this is done in an environment that facilitates the development of resilience. When discussing the best environment for the development of resilience, leading resilience researcher Dr Mustafa Sarkar (2019) uses the analogy of a flower. If a flower is not blooming, we do not only look to the flower for a reason but to their environment and examine the volume of water, the quality of the soil, and the amount of sunlight available. This approach was advocated by UK Sport for their athletes and sought to create an environment:

“Providing equal levels of support and challenge while also being extra vigilant in caring about the well-being of athletes.”

(Nicholl, 2017).

In sport, the nature and level of challenges faced will change over time, with events such as the Olympics providing challenge at the highest level. Following UK Sport’s pledge, therefore, Olympic athletes would require a high level of support to ensure both their well-being and performance was facilitated, further developing their resilience.

Olympic Rings in Odaiba, Tokyo, Japan

So, as you watch the Olympic events – remember that this is just one event on the athlete’s journey, as the Wimbledon final in 2012 was to Andy Murray.  You might see an athlete topping a podium as a result of previously experienced adversities, or you might witness a disappointment, an adverse event that could enable an athlete to go on to seek future challenges in a more positive and resilient manner. But as highlighted, it is crucial that the appropriate support is made available to all athletes regardless of their result to enable them to evaluate and reflect positively and take learning forward into their next challenge.

References

Fletcher, D., & Sarkar, M. (2012). A grounded theory of psychological resilience in Olympic champions. Psychology of Sport and Exercise13, 669-678.

Fletcher, D. & Sarkar, M. (2016). Mental fortitude training: An evidence-based approach to developing psychological resilience for sustained success. Journal of Sport Psychology in Action7, 135-157.

Nicholl, L. (2017) Better culture creates a stronger system [online]. UK Coaching. Available at: https://www.uksport.gov.uk/news/2017/10/24/uk-sport-statement-on-culture [Accessed 25th November 2020].

Sarkar, M. (2019) How to create psychological resilience [podcast]. The Athlete Development Project. Available at: https://athletedevelopmentproject.com/2020/01/ep-72-mustafa-sarkar-how-to-create-psychological-resilience/ [Accessed 11th August 2020].

This article was originally posted on OpenLearn.

How to help your child become a future Olympian

By Jane Dorrian

The Olympic and Paralympic games show us that there is a sport for everyone. Dr Jane Dorrian looks at the ways you can inspire your child to be a future star.

From archery to wheelchair basketball, there’s guaranteed to be something that got you watching. For lots of children, the games give them their first taste of less well known sports, or shine a light on the superstars of more popular events and they want to have a go themselves. So if your child hasn’t stopped sprinting around the garden since the 100 metres final, or is skateboarding down the staircase after watching Sky Brown’s tricks, here are some ideas about how you can help them

1. Mix it up

Research shows that doing lots of different sports and activities during childhood is more likely to produce an elite athlete than just doing one. This is because over-practicing one set of skills or actions is more likely to result in injury, and it gets boring! All sports have a whole range of transferable skills that are important in any competitive situation, things like teamwork, resilience, persistence and co-ordination and learning these in different situations keeps children motivated and interested.

2. Do it yourself

Children of active parents are much more likely to be active themselves, so dust off your trainers and get out there too. This doesn’t mean that you need to be working to the Olympics yourself, or even have to try and win the parents’ race on Sports Day, just find something that you like.

Lady and child doing yoga togetherIf you’ve been walking laps of the local park in lockdown take that a step further and join a walking sports team – there’s walking rugby, football, netball and lots more. Have a look at what’s happening in your local leisure centre or sports hall, there is plenty going on. It doesn’t matter what sport you do, it shows your child that you value being active and see it as something worth doing which is a positive message they’ll pick up.

“Becoming an Olympian is the pinnacle of a sporting career and not many athletes will get there, so it is important to ensure that there is fun and enjoyment on the sporting journey up to whatever point your child gets to.”

3. It’s never too early to start

The more opportunities children have to be active and move around right from birth the better their outcomes are. Giving new babies tummy time, limiting the amount of time toddlers are in their pushchairs and getting children outside building rockets out of cardboard boxes might not seem to have much in common with elite sport, but the first 1,000 days of a child’s life are critical to their future development and getting into the habit of being active will help the physical and emotional well-being needed to be a successful sportsperson.

4. Remember – this is fun

Becoming an Olympian is the pinnacle of a sporting career and not many athletes will get there, so it is important to ensure that there is fun and enjoyment on the sporting journey up to whatever point your child gets to. Being a sporting parent can be challenging, supporting your child when they’ve lost, spending hours waiting around during training sessions and having a washing machine constantly on the go are just a few of the downsides but the benefits outweigh these. Sport gives you the chance to celebrate successes, share experiences and spend time together so make sure you make the most of these opportunities.

Active children are happier, healthier and more resilient so take every opportunity to get them involved and who knows, maybe we’ll see them at Paris in 2024!

This article was originally posted on OpenLearn.