Category Archives: Uncategorized

Student Voice and Wellbeing: Making the connection

** This post was originally published on the Ed Studies (Primary) webpage on Friday 4th December**

As a Sport Studies student you are familiar with being asked your opinion, possibly connected to module experience or maybe responding to a survey about a new initiative. This culminates in the final year of under-graduate study when in the Spring the National Student Survey (NSS) consultation is conducted. The NSS collates students view with an aim to improve the overall student experience and its powerful results are openly published.

On a different subject – or is it? – levels of poor mental health and low wellbeing amongst Higher Education students are disproportionately high compared to the remainder of the UK adult population, and are increasing (Thorley, 2017). It is no surprise that higher education attainment can be affected by stress, anxiety, depression, grief, sleeping difficulties and relationship problems. Students experiencing these issues report a lower sense of belonging and engagement with their university which can affect retention and progression. In 2017, the #stepchange agenda was launched by Universities UK to improve mental health and wellbeing in universities. The #stepchange framework comprises eight strands which identify the necessary focus for change:

 

The #stepchange agenda works to increase students sense of belonging and enable students to develop their social identity. This has the potential to improve retention and academic success and ultimately to enhance student experience (Thomas, 2012). In 2020 the #stepchange agenda was developed into a University Mental Health Charter where universities are required to develop a wellbeing strategy (link to OU mental health and wellbeing strategy) and can be nationally recognised for this work.

 

The connectivity between student voice and wellbeing is evident in the way #stepchange is delivered; through co-creation between students and their university. Co-creation is the new buzzword in higher education and requires high levels of student participation, where student voice has the potential to make the most positive impact on student experience. Let’s contextualise our perspective of participation. You might be familiar with Arnstein’s model of participation, where power and control are represented in a hierarchical ladder and students (or citizens in the model) progress to achieve high levels of participation. The highest levels of participation are the hardest to achieve but bear the most fruit in respect of student experience and student success. They cultivate ‘buy in’ from students through authentic collaboration which lower levels of participation such as surveys struggle to achieve.

Arnstein’s Ladder of Participation (1969).

Research with children and young people informs us that a participatory approach to educational relationships produces the best outcomes (Lyndon in Williams-Brown and Mander, 2020). It is the same for higher education students and might be considered more meaningful because study at university is voluntary rather than statutory like school, and we engage in adult: adult relationships where power should be more evenly distributed. In respect of wellbeing, the Universities UK strategy is clear that co-creation opportunities should be available through a whole university approach if student wellbeing is to improve. However, the relinquishing of power can be uncomfortable and impractical. It is best managed as a conscious uncoupling (to use celebrity speak) of the old to introduce the new. It challenges existing, ingrained ways of working within universities, and reshapes the cultural climate which informs our identity as individuals and an institution.

One of the ways in which ECYS are improving student voice and wellbeing is to incorporate a student panel within staff recruitment processes. This happened for the first time in November 2020, with aims for it to be an integral activity in the future. Students who participated said it was a privilege and an honour, planning of activities including a scenario were enjoyable, working as a team was effective, and they felt very well supported and informed about the process. Their wellbeing was enhanced; they reported that being involved was fun and satisfying, it helped to build confidence and they felt valued because their opinion and input mattered. This leaves us wanting more student co-creation opportunities. Can you think of any you would like to be involved in? Let us know, we love to hear about them and promise to respond.

Sarah Mander is a Staff Tutor (line managing Associate Lecturers) and Tutor for E102 module. She is also a serial student, studying for a Doctorate in Education. Sarah leads the ECYS Student Voice and Wellbeing Champions group.

Sarah has researched and written about wellbeing, mental health and the student population for the publication Childhood Well-being and Resilience: influences on educational outcomes (Williams- Brown, Z. and Mander, S.Eds., 2020).

References

 Lyndon, H. (2020) ‘Listening to children the rights of the child’ In, Williams- Brown, Z. and Mander, S.Eds. ‘Childhood Well-being and Resilience: influences on educational outcomes’. Abingdon: Routledge.

Thomas, L. (2012) Building student engagement and belonging in higher education at a time of change[online]. [accessed 7 January 2020].

Thorley, C. (2017) Not by degrees: Improving student mental health in the UK’s universities. London: Institute for Public Policy Research.

Universities UK (2017) #stepchange mental health in higher education [online]. http://www.universitiesuk.ac.uk/policy-and-analysis/stepchange/Pages/default.aspx [accessed 10 January 2020].

 

 

 

The importance of psychological resilience in extreme environments

By Dave Harrison

In extreme environments there are many things that can cause stress for people operating and performing in them. These stressors, such as isolation, danger, and risk (Smith & Barrett, 2019), would be the same for everyone at that given time but it is how an individual perceives and digests these stressors that is important to their overall experience. Indeed, extreme environments are complex, and the array of demands and stressors can give a perceived lack of control to people within them (Leach, 2016).

Resilience can help us to function more effectively under conditions within extreme environments. This short article will examine why understanding resilience is important to those functioning in extreme environments and reflect on what we can learn from emerging research in this area.

Why is it important to study resilience in extreme environments?

Psychological resilience has been described as the ability to use personal qualities to withstand pressure and maintain functioning (Fletcher & Sarkar, 2016), and there are two key components; a stressor (or adversity) and a subsequent positive adaptation (changes of a positive nature). This sounds simple enough, but it is important to remember that people are affected differently in the same environment at varying intensities and for different durations. This means resilience, like extreme environments, is complex, and can be influenced by factors such as your past experiences. For example, the past experiences you have had in the extreme environment as well as the personal qualities you have, such as motivation and confidence can help you to respond positively to the given demands of the situation.

However, if a cluster effect (where many different stressors come together) occurs in a particular order, intensity or timeframe you might struggle regardless of the amount of experience you have or personal qualities at your disposal. For example, you might be able to deal with a rainstorm for a short time but if it persisted, and the sky went dark and you had no shelter you might be less able to function. Resilience is a process that helps individuals deal with this complexity and there are also numerous anecdotal accounts of the importance of resilience within these environments.

Emerging research on resilience in extreme environments

An interest in how people perform in extreme environments led me to pursue my PhD studies in this area, and I have investigated the challenge of an extreme environment and what impact it can have on resilience. For example, the environment plays a significant role on a person’s resilience in relation to the amount of challenge (risk and adversity) and support (from others) present. This makes extreme environments the ideal setting to investigate psychological resilience because there is usually an increased and inherent element of risk and or adversity. For example, during my first piece of research the extreme environment was the mountains of the UK, where team members had to deal with difficult terrain under foot and severe and everchanging weather.

In this research we observed that these demands and stressors can group together in a cluster effect. This is where the grouping of stressors within the environment can potentially have a greater negative effect on performance as opposed to if individuals were exposed to individual stressors (Smith & Barrett, 2019), and there is the potential to for stressors to cascade over time. People operating in an extreme environment have to deal with specific clusters of stressors before moving on to deal with the next set of stressors and this can take time. But time is not always a luxury afforded in these environments. For example, you might be out on the mountain for 15 hours before returning to basecamp tired with wet and dirty kit but you are back out on the mountain in a couple of hours. You would literally have no time to deal with these stressors before facing the next day’s stressors as seen in my research.

Also, people will identify different environments as extreme at different times. This is due to how they perceive their skills, qualities and support needed to perform within them so any environment that pushes an individual outside of their comfort zone can be considered extreme (Galli and Vealey, 2008). A 5km Parkrun might be considered an extreme environment for some but not for an experienced runner.  Therefore, people operating in extreme environments need to get experience of these stressors – to lessen the impact of them individually and within a cluster. These stressors are still present and in certain situations will still have (sometimes a major) effect but experience provides opportunity to learn what skills and qualities are needed first to maintain function and then for positive adaptation to potentially occur.

Adopting a challenge mindset

Increasing the time spent and getting the right experience in an extreme environment allows you to evaluate the risk associated with these stressors and links to something called a challenge mindset. A challenge mindset is the ability to see situations as a challenge and it is important that this is adopted and then maintained within an extreme environment to buffer against the potential negative effect of the cluster effect of stressors and allow individuals to function. This mindset allows individuals to focus on stressors as a challenge and not threatening. This is done by increasing their awareness of specific stressors, their importance and the potential consequences of not attending to them. Increasing your experience allows you to slowly build up exposure to stressors in the extreme environment and works to slowly inoculate you to the potential negative effect of stressors. So, you could consider your current situation is not as ‘bad’ as previously experienced and more of a challenge that needs to be overcome to be successful. For example, this current storm isn’t as bad as previous storms I have experienced, and I made good progress then and I can now.

This previous experience also allows you to develop the necessary skills and qualities to ‘protect’ yourself from the demands and stressors of the extreme environment which forms an important part of showing resilience. Fletcher and Sarkar (2016) highlight that individuals must positively evaluate the demands of the environment as a challenge and themselves (e.g. their own skills, thoughts and emotions). So, it is more your reaction to the environment (showing resilience) rather than the environment itself that is important. The question is therefore, do you have the experiences, skills and qualities to successfully deal with what the environment can throw at you to complete the task in the required time?

What can we take from this?

Extreme environments are not too dissimilar to other sporting environments. Each is different and individualised with clusters of stressors that are perceived differently by different individuals. There is risk and adversity albeit to a lesser extent than within an extreme environment where there is a potentially a greater risk of injury or death. So, how can ways in which individuals develop and use resilience in these extreme environments be applied to us in everyday life and in our own sporting pursuits?

  • Resilience is a complex and individualised process that changes over time and can be essential to maintaining function in our everyday lives, including our participation in sport and exercise.
  • Sporting environments, and life in general, can produce a cluster effect of stressors that can potentially cascade over time that individuals need to deal with.
  • Gaining experience of the environments/situations in which you will train/work/compete can help ‘protect’ against this cluster effect by developing the challenge mindset.

References

Fletcher, D. & Sarkar, M. (2016) Mental fortitude training: An evidence- based approach to developing psychological resilience for sustained success. Journal of Sport Psychology in Action, 7(3), 135-157.

Galli, N. & Vealey, R.S. (2008) “Bouncing Back” from adversity: Athletes’ experiences of resilience. The Sport Psychologist, 22, 316-335.

Leach, J. (2016) Psychological factors in exceptional, extreme and torturous environments. Extreme Physiology & Medicine5(1), 7–7.

Smith, N. & Barrett, E.C. (2019) Psychology, extreme environments, and counter-terrorism operations. Behavioral Sciences of Terrorism and Political Aggression, 11(1), 48-72.

 

Dave Harrison is an AL on the OU S&F modules E235 and E313. He also works at Sheffield Hallam University as a Lecturer in Sport Coaching and is currently undertaking a part time PhD on Psychological Resilience in Extreme Environments at Nottingham Trent University. You can find him on Twitter: @sheffclaret 

How to have the best experience of studying sport at The Open University

By Simon Rea

Firstly, welcome to The Open University and secondly, thank you for choosing to study on the sport, fitness, and coaching degree. We have a range of fantastic courses for you to study to support you towards achieving a fulfilling career working in sport or fitness. During this turbulent year of 2020 it seems to me that sport has become even more important. Research has shown that fit and healthy people are less affected by Covid-19 and as a result we have   been encouraged to take daily exercise outdoors, and the fitness industry has seen a surge in people engaging with online fitness platforms. During this time I felt lost when there was no live sport for three months and like many others have binged on sport since its return.

As a sport and fitness student it is likely that you feel as passionate about sport and fitness as I do and in this blog I want to encourage you to make the most of your undergraduate studies. I want you to get the best value for the personal and financial investment you have undertaken and the sacrifices you may have to make. While sport and fitness offer a range of exciting careers and the opportunity to work with interesting and inspiring people the job market is highly competitive. Sport science, studies and sports coaching courses are now the most popular degree course in the UK with around 15,000 graduates a year leaving around 138 universities that offer these degrees. Indeed there are almost 1500 students enrolling, along with yourself, on year 1 sport and fitness modules at The Open University.

Therefore, it is advantageous to get ahead of this competition and give yourself as great an advantage for the future as you can. We appreciate that you have busy lives and finding time to study may not always be easy as you juggle work, family, and social commitments. These conflicting priorities can lead to students being tactical in how they study. To encourage you to make the absolute most of your time spent studying with us and to maximise your learning and enjoyment I will offer three pieces of advice for you to consider whilst studying.

 

  1. Engage with all the resources available to you and read as much as you can.

In your module materials you will find a range of resources. There are readings, audio and video clips to watch and listen to, websites to visit and activities to complete. We will also offer additional resources at certain points so that you can find out more. We would encourage you to learn as much as you can about the subjects you are studying by reading widely and visiting websites related to the subject. Social media offers a plethora of opportunities and you can follow experts and influencers that you are interested in. For example, Twitter enables you to follow coaches, personal trainers, and academics in sport.

 

 

  1. Engage with your tutor and your fellow students as much as possible.

Before you start your module you will be assigned a tutor and a tutor group. Your tutor will tell you how to contact them and you will be given information about the schedule of tutorials. You will also find out about your online tutor group forum where you can meet and interact with other students.

This engagement with other people is crucial to your understanding of the module materials as some of the most valuable learning is described as social learning where you learn from other people. Discussing and debating can give you different perspectives on a subject and hearing other student’s experiences can broaden your own understanding. This kind of learning will happen during tutorials and during collaborative tutor group forum activities. During the learning process it is vital that you do not accept all content without questioning it. Ask yourself – ‘where did this knowledge come from?’ ‘Are there other ways of doing things?’

Discussing, debating, and questioning will improve your understanding of a subject but it will also develop critical skills that are so crucial in higher education and valued by employers.

  1. Always keep in mind the question ‘How does this relate to me?’

While knowledge is exciting to have it is most valuable when you can actually apply it. This may be applying it to your own working practice or to help yourself and other people. So, you must always find opportunities to apply your knowledge. This may be reflecting on past experiences and gaining new perspectives on them or thinking about how you can use the knowledge now or in the future.

I have always found that when people know I am involved in sport science they have questions about their training or their diet. Let people know you are studying sport and fitness and talk to them about it and express your views if the opportunity arises. Sharing your knowledge with other people is a great way to increase your own knowledge and understanding of a subject.

 

Final thoughts

As I said earlier we appreciate that studying is just one factor amongst many competing for your time and it may be difficult to implement all three pieces of advice consistently. However, if you bear them in mind during your studies you will improve your chances of success both during your studies and in the future.

We hope you have a wonderful experience during your time studying sport, fitness, and coaching at The Open University.

 

Simon Rea is a Lecturer on the sport and fitness award at The Open University and the author of the books Careers in Sports Science (2019) and Sports Science – a complete introduction (2015).

Credit transfer to BSc (hons) Sport, Fitness and Coaching

Perhaps you are feeling unsatisfied or demotivated with your current degree study and you need a different way of studying to unlock your academic potential? If so, then it might be time to think about transferring credit to study the BSc (Hons) Sport, Fitness and Coaching degree at The Open University. We have a range of interesting and exciting modules from level 1 to level 3 which make up our degree. Typically, students transferring credit will study level 2 or level 3 modules depending on their circumstances and their available credit. We have two level 2 modules (E235 Sport and Exercise Psychology in Action; E236 Applying sport and exercise sciences to coaching) and two level 3 modules (E313 Exploring psychological aspects of athletic development; E314 Exploring contemporary issues in sport and exercise).

For all our modules, you will learn online in a range of engaging ways to meet your learning needs. This includes learning through interactive activities, academic readings in books and journals, listening to audio and viewing videos such as sport and exercise in action, using exercise science apps, and tutor group forum discussions with other students and your tutor. The online distance study provides you with great flexibility to study from home or on the move and enables you to fit your study around your other commitments such as work and family life. These are just some of the key benefits of studying in this way with the OU. The video below explains more.

Although you will study independently as an online distance student you certainly will not be alone. In fact, you will receive a high level of support from your tutor via tutorials, assessment feedback, forums, emails and telephone contact. We also have a fantastic Student Support Team and a range of other study resources to support your academic progress. There are many other great opportunities and benefits of being a Sport and Fitness student at the OU. The Sport & Fitness team holds a range of conferences and events that you can attend online and in person. You will also be part of the OU Sport and Fitness community and have an identity as part of #TeamOUsport.

If you would like to explore your options for credit transfer and take the next step towards studying the BSc (Hons) Sport, Fitness and Coaching degree at the OU please visit http://www.open.ac.uk/study/credit-transfer/.

Join our team: Lecturer in Sport and Fitness

Salary:  £41,526 – £49,553
Location: Milton Keynes
Reference: 17329
Closing date: 8th June 2020 (midday)

Note: This post is available as a full-time post or two 0.5 part-time posts.

We are seeking to appoint an enthusiastic Lecturer in Sport and Fitness to join our vibrant team and undertake responsibilities that include:

  • the development and delivery of Sport and Fitness modules and resources
  • writing and updating distance learning modules and resources, including print, audio, video and information/communications technology materials
  • contributing to the Faculty’s programme of research and scholarship and to the academic development of the Faculty of Wellbeing, Education and Language Studies at The Open University.

The successful candidate will have:

  • a higher degree or equivalent professional knowledge in Sport and Fitness or a related field as well
  • proven experience of curriculum development and course design
  • an understanding of different approaches to studying Sport and Fitness
  • evidence of engagement in research and scholarship through a variety of activities such as publications, gaining of external funding and/or widely recognised and disseminated contributions to learning and teaching in Sports and Fitness
  • a strong record of research and/or knowledge exchange that is commensurate to the position.

For more information click on the links below:

Job Description

Information about Sport and Fitness qualifications at The Open University

Information about the Sport and Fitness team at The Open University

Click here for more information and to apply

Join Our Team: Lecturer in Sport, Exercise and Coaching

Salary: £40,792 – £48,677
Location: Milton Keynes
Reference: 15260
Closing date: 27 November 2018 (5pm)

 

We are seeking an enthusiastic Lecturer to join our vibrant team of nine academic staff involved in writing online/print materials, overseeing online teaching and engaging in research that connects with our growing BSc (Hons) in Sport, Fitness and Coaching (around 2,700 students). You will be able to teach a range of sport and exercise related topics and work collaboratively with colleagues to develop high impact text, video and audio resources for students and wider public engagement.

You will join a team which has created an innovative Sport, Exercise and Coaching curriculum. We would welcome applications from specialists in a particular field of sport and exercise, but you will be expected to write some teaching materials outside your subject area. You will contribute to our existing curriculum and potential new curriculum (e.g. new modules and qualifications).

You must have a higher degree in Sport and Exercise Science or a related field, some published research, and a detailed knowledge of teaching this in sport, exercise or coaching. You will have an understanding of distance learning; an ability to write clearly for a diverse student audience and have proven experience of teaching in higher education.

Job Related information (including person specification)

Information about Sport and Fitness qualifications at The Open University

Information about the Sport and Fitness team at The Open University

Click here for more information and to apply

 

Student Story: John Curd (part 2)

Back in 2016 we featured John Curd in one of our ‘student stories’. John has a truly inspirational story and shows how studying with the OU can really turn your life around. John has now completed his BSc (hons) in Sport, Fitness and Coaching and recently attended his graduation ceremony. As you can see from the photographs he had a great day. As one of our older graduates John is proof that’s it’s never to late to achieve your dreams. We are very proud John and all of our sport and fitness graduates. If you have recently graduated and would like to share your graduation photos and/or tell us what your graduation day was like please contact us at WELS-Sports@open.ac.uk

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

To read part 1 of John’s student story click here.

To read all of our student stories click here.

PyeongChang 2018 Part 2: Speed, skill and risk….. The fearless are back!

By Candice Lingam-Willgoss

 

 

Just as the dust has started to settle on the most successful Winter Olympics to date for Great Britain a new team of superstars have landed in PyeongChang.  Today sees the start of the Paralympics which run from 9 to 18 March 2018. With 80 medals up for grabs in six Paralympic sports the next 10 days promise to excite, amaze, and inspire the next generation of Para-athletes.

A reminder: where is Pyeongchang?

Pyeongchang is located in the Taebaek Mountains of South Korea, approximately 180km east of the capital city Seoul. Pyeongchang will be the third Asian city to host the Winter Games; the first two were in Japan, at Sapporo (1972) and Nagano (1998).  Events are taking place at two main locations Alpensia Resort and Gangneug Olympic park with several other standalone venues for the snow based sports.

What events are there?

There are six winter Paralympic sports:

  • Alpine skiing
  • Biathlon
  • Cross-country skiing
  • Ice sledge hockey
  • Snowboarding
  • Wheelchair curling

This is the first time that snowboarding has been added as a separate discipline and will include banked slalom and board cross.

Can Team GB win any medals?

In short yes, Team GB are sending their biggest team since 2006 comprising of 17 athletes across 5 of the 8 disciplines (Alpine skiing, biathlon, cross-country skiing, snowboarding and wheelchair curling).

The biggest medal prospect has to be Millie Knight, having lost her sight at aged six she became the youngest person ever to compete for Team GB at the Winter Paralympic games in Sochi at only 15 years old.  Roll forward 4 years and she is coming into the Pyeongchang games having won a gold and two silver’s at the 2017 World Para Alpine Skiing Championships in Italy.  Let’s see if she and her guide Brett Wild can improve on her 5th place she got at Sochi.

With snowboarding featuring for the first time as its own discipline the trio of GB Paralympic snowboarders are a group to watch. Flag bearer Owen Pick lost his leg following an explosion in Afghanistan in 2010 and saw snowboarding on the television during his rehab.  In the 2017 World Championships Pick won silver in the banked slalom and he is hoping for a double at this year’s games where he will also compete in the snowboard cross event.

2 years ago Scott Meenagh hadn’t put on a pair of cross country skis but he surprised the winter sport’s world and has qualified in six events over two disciplines of cross-country and biathlon.

Others to watch

The Canadian cross-country specialist Brian McKeever has 10 Winter Paralympic gold medals to his name already and while he may not be able to surpass the success of Germany’s Gert Schonfelder’s who currently has 16 medals he could get a step closer in Pyeongchang.

French alpine skier Marie Bochet competed in 4 events in Sochi 2014 and won them all, in Pyeongchang she aims to go one better and is competing in five events saying ‘I want to win … all the time’

Home advantage may not be something regularly associated with winter sports but Korea are hoping it helps them in their quest for their first ever winter Paralympic gold. A medal is a possibility potentially from alpine skier Jae Rim Yang.

So for now sit back and watch round 2 of the entertainment on the snow and ice.

 

Olympic Mums: Juggling motherhood with elite sport.

By Candice Lingam-Willgoss

Zoe Gillings-Brier and her daughter Léa

One of the most significant life transitions that females can face are those related to pregnancy and motherhood. This transition can be all the more meaningful for active females due to both the physical implications and challenges related to gender ideology which can lead to conflict positing that women’s true role is to have and care for children (Weedon, 1997).

Traditionally women at elite levels have been expected to retire once they have children and this is factored into their retirement planning both because of expectations that they’ll be taking on childcare and because of the physiological impact of childbirth. However, it is becoming more and more common for elite athletes to decide to pursue their athletic career alongside motherhood and strive for both career and maternal success.  One such athlete is Snowboard Cross athlete Zoe Gillings-Briar who is competing in her 4th Olympics in PyeongChang; but her first as a mother.  She became mother to Léa in August 2016 and has openly discussed how she has taken inspiration from Jess Ennis-Hill “To see how Jess came back after pregnancy was awesome and hugely inspiring” (Gillings-Brier, 2016 cited in BBC Sport, 2016).

Zoe Gillings-Brier

Winning Mums

Ennis-Hill is not the only elite athlete to return to winning form following the birth of her son Reggie. McGannon et al (2012) explored the experiences of Paula Radcliffe following her return to competition after the birth of her first child, she came back and won the 2007 New York marathon 10 months after giving birth to her daughter. Likewise, five time Olympian Jo Pavey also re-wrote the history books at the 2014 European Championships winning the 10,000m gold to become the oldest female European champion in history, and like Radcliffe she did this 10 months after giving birth to her second child. More recently, Serena Williams has begun her comeback following the birth of her first child in September 2017, and while she has suffered some setbacks she is adamant that she aims to regain the top spot in the woman’s game (BBC sport, 2018).

Does type of sport make a difference?

With optimal fertility often falling at the same time as peak performance the decision to have a baby is often a meticulously planned for event in the case of an elite athletes (Cunnama, 2017). While research looking at the area of physical activity during pregnancy suggests that being physically active is beneficial to both mother and foetus not all forms of physical activity or sport will be appropriate (Barakat et al., 2015). It is recommended that higher risk sports such as those with risk of trauma (e.g. hockey), physiological risk (e.g. scuba diving) and collision (e.g. downhill skiing) should be avoided (Barakat et al., 2015). In contrast research exploring low risk sports has indicated that it is possible for competitive athletes to maintain strenuous regimes during their pregnancy and train at high volume (Kardel, 2005).  This can result in a return to high intensity training postpartum and a more rapid return to competition (Erdener and Budgett, 2016).   There are also a number of examples of athletes who have competed while pregnant such as Beach Volleyball player Walsh Jenning who competed at 5 weeks pregnant and rifle shooter Mohammed Taibi who competed at 8 months pregnant.  These two examples from the London 2012 Olympic games illustrate that type of sport has a clear bearing on what an elite athlete is still able to do during pregnancy.

This was explored further by McGannon and Schinke (2013) who looked at the different experiences of athletes from different types of sport specifically those that requiring specialist settings and significant travel for competition and training. Both of these factors can take a mother away from her family subsequently making a return to training and competition even more problematic.  This is one such challenge faced by the majority of Winter sports athletes if they don’t live in a location with easy access to snow or ice.  This is particularly pertinent to the return of Zoe Gillings-Brier who’s sport of Snowboard Cross requires not just snow but also a boardcross piste.  One might think this would make it impossible to juggle motherhood and sport but Gillings-Brier credits her supportive family with making this possible and allowing her to take Lea on the circuit with her (BBC Sport, 2018)

Why comeback?

Putting these potential challenges aside Gillings-Brier has made it back and aims to make this her best games yet after placing inside the top 10 in snowboard cross for the past two Games. But what makes an athlete who has already competed at 3 Olympics decide to go for a fourth? This may be related to something Paula Radcliffe (2014) has discussed ‘As an athlete, when you become pregnant, your sport does not just go out of the window because it is a big part of who you are’.

This relates closely to the concept of athletic identity, ’the degree to which an individual identifies with the athlete role’ (Brewer et al, 1993, p. 237).  They suggest that having a high athletic identity might limit an individual from possessing a multi-dimensional self-concept and they will see themselves almost exclusively as an athlete and in that role. This high level of athletic identity can result in more adjustment difficulties when faced with career transitions (for example, motherhood) (Martin et al, 2014).  Therefore the challenge can be both the need to manage multiple identities and balance the selflessness of being a mother with the selfishness required to train and compete at elite level.  However, research suggests that becoming a mother potentially gives the athlete a different perspective on their sport and that motherhood makes them a better athlete as they feel complete in all areas of their life (McGannon et al, 2012).  This is echoed by Gillings-Brier who has said that she has a new motivation and confidence in her performance since becoming a mother as she knows the better she does at the games the better future she can give her daughter (BBC News, 2018).

Other mums to watch

Three times world cup winner US Cross-country skier Kikkan Randall is competing in her fifth Olympics. She gave birth to her son in 2016 and has been instrumental in improving the provision for mothers at elite sporting events. French freestyle half pipe skier Marie Martinod returned to the sport in 2011 having had a family, a silver a Sochi and a win at the 2017 X Games sees her as one of the favourites for gold in her event.  Finally Marit Bjoergen the Norwegian cross-country skiing sensation who became a mother in 2015 is the joint holder of the record for most medals won by a female Winter Olympian (10) a record she is aiming to surpass at Pyeongchang.  So while there is bound to be some trepidation at leaving their children for the three weeks of the Games let’s hope Gillings-Brier and all the Olympic mums can make their children and their country proud.

 

Watch Zoe take on the Snowboard cross course on Friday 16th February 2018

References

Barakat, R., Perales, M., Garatachea, N., Ruiz, J.R. and Lucia, A., 2015. Exercise during pregnancy. A narrative review asking: what do we know? British journal of sports medicine, 49(21), pp.1377-1381.

BBC Sport (2016) ‘Zoe Gillings-Brier inspired by Ennis-Hill for 2018 Winter Olympics’ [online]. Available at http://www.bbc.co.uk/sport/winter-sports/35599601 (Accessed 7th February 2018)

BBC Sport (2017) ‘Serena Williams to make comeback in Abu Dhabi after giving birth’ [online]. Available at http://www.bbc.co.uk/sport/tennis/42472273 (Accessed 6th February 2018)

BBC Sport (2018) ‘Pyeongchang 2018: Manx snowboarder to make GB history’ [online]. Available at http://www.bbc.co.uk/sport/winter-olympics/42820064 (Accessed 8th February, 2018)

Brewer, B, Van Raalte, J, and Linder, D. (1993) ‘Athletic identity: Hercules’ muscles or Achilles heel?’ International Journal of Sport Psychology, 24, 2. 237-254

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