Category Archives: Candice Lingam-Willgoss

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.

Managing a career and motherhood: Is it possible in Elite Netball?

By Jess Pinchbeck and Candice Lingam-Willgoss

With the 2019 Netball word cup upon us our screens are filled with inspirational female athletes and role models showing not only great displays of physical athleticism but also the psychological composure to perform under pressure. However, in addition to their netballing prowess these women are also role models for their inspirational stories off the court. Many of the players in the tournament are not full-time professional athletes and often hold down regular jobs alongside training and playing at elite level, demonstrating an extraordinary commitment and drive to fulfil their playing ambitions. Added to this some of the women combine work and elite sport with motherhood.  This is something of a break from tradition which used to see women end their career in sport to have children but with optimal fertility often falling at the same time as peak performance we see more instances of elite athletes breaking down the myth that combining these two roles is incompatible.

One such inspiration story is that of Samoan international Gerardine Nafanua Solia-Gibb, a 35 year old mother of five boys aged between one and fourteen years. Despite being a mother of five Solia-Gibb is reported to be one of the fittest members of the Samoan camp, however she does explain that taking note of your body after birth is important, particularly the impact of breastfeeding which can soften ligaments and increase the risk of injury. There are also the logistics of training commitments and to overcome this her sons frequently attend training with her after school. Like many of the teams in the World Cup netball is not particularly well-funded in Samoa and so typically players work alongside playing netball. Solia-Gibb runs a fibre cable installation business with her husband, factoring this in alongside everything else. Coming from a sporting family  herself with four older sisters, who have all made appearances for Samoa Netball, and a husband, who played rugby for Samoa, this perhaps gives her the drive and support network required to cope with such demands on her time.     

Another mother to grace the courts at Liverpool this summer is 26 year old Singapore centre court player Shawallah Rashid, who returns to the World Cup squad after giving birth to her second child in February. Rashid admits to being driven to return to fitness following the birth to make the World Cup squad after missing out on previous competitions due to pregnancy.   Similarly, to Solia-Gibb, Rashid also balances work, motherhood and netball successfully working as a secondary school executive. Rashid is the first mother to be part of the Singapore squad, and attributed her ability to return to international netball to the support of her family. Rashid admits that being apart from her children during the World Cup is not easy but feels that being a role model for her children is important. This example illustrates how a strong support network is necessary for an athlete who is considering balancing motherhood with sport and that this tends to be very tangible support (e.g. childcare) provided by both an athletes spouse and other family. 

An example of the conflict between netball and motherhood is evident in Casey Kopua’s return to World Cup Netball for New Zealand following her international retirement in 2017. From a slightly different background in New Zealand, where Silver Ferns players typically earn enough money to be full-time netballers, 34 year old Kopua, is returning to international netball, after the birth of her first child in 2016. The desire to win a World Cup gold medal proving just too much to resist and with her daughter now slightly older, and the support of her family, Kopua feels it is the right time to return.

Although some of the women here have demonstrated that it is possible to combine motherhood and netball, for some this feels unachievable. Many players see international netball and motherhood as incompatible, often deciding to retire from the sport when they wish to start a family.  As alluded to by Rashid the incompatibility of this often stems from the fact that a sport such a netball requires a mother having to be away from her family for extensive periods of time.  However, 34 year old England goalkeeper, Geva Mentor, has chosen a slightly different path and opted to freeze her eggs after the tournament to be able to become a mother once she makes the decision to retire. Mentor hopes this leads the way for other young netballers to give them an option of having a full career before starting a family.

It would appear that with a good support network and the financial stability required managing international netball and a family, often alongside a career, can be achievable and effective, however for some players the prospect of taking the career break required to have a baby is too much to contemplate. With Netball continuously rising in popularity and increasing professional opportunities for elite players there are many issues surrounding netball and motherhood that need to be explored further.

How Team GB cyclists peaked at the Olympics and owned the velodrome

By Candice Lingam-Willgoss

To say that Team GB have dominated the Olympic cycling would be the biggest understatement of the games. British track cyclists seem to have made peaking in line with the Olympic cycle their speciality. They won seven of the ten gold medals on offer at both London 2012 and Beijing 2008, but this year in Rio, they have really surpassed themselves. Every member of the 15-strong squad has come away with a medal, taking the final tally to six golds, four silvers and one bronze.

This remarkable success has baffled their rivals. Michael Gané – the French sprint coach – must have echoed the thoughts of many teams when he remarked; “they don’t exist for four years, then at the Olympics they outclass the whole world”. So, how have Team GB managed, yet again, to peak at the optimum time?

Training for success

It all comes down to a technique called “periodised training” – a strategy which has long been used to prepare athletes for major events. The training year is divided and organised to ensure that peak performance is achieved at the optimum time – in this case, at the Olympic Games.

A multi-year programme involves a gradual increase in training intensity through the pre-competition period, followed by a reduction or tapering of training, as the competition period draws nearer.

When following a multi-year periodisation plan – such as the four-year Olympic cycle – the final year is the most important one. That’s when the amount of training (the distance covered or time spent) is reduced to prevent injury and fatigue, while the intensity of the workouts is increased to ensure athletes are in top form for the big event.

For Team GB’s cyclists, training will focus on muscular endurance, anaerobic endurance (ability to sustain high intensity exercise) and sprint power. But the real skill is to maintain the subtle balance between periods of work and recovery, which must be tailored to each rider’s individual capabilities.

The British Cycling team has clearly mastered this approach, having set the Olympic Games as their number one priority. This may also explain why the team are less visible on the podium at world championship events in the lead up to the games.

That said, while timing athletes’ training right will unquestionably give them an edge, there are still a few other factors to consider.

The price of gold

The winning streak of Team GB cyclists at successive games has brought about a significant increase in investment from UK Sport – the organisation which allocates public funds to elite-level sports – at the expense of many others. According to sports policy expert Dr Borja Garcia, the “brutal” regime is “as crude as it is effective”. Certainly, with a grant in the region of £30m every four years, lack of funding has not been an issue for Team GB’s cyclists.

GB gold medallist Jason Kenny, looking flash.
Javier Etxezarreta/EPA

And it’s clear that investment pays off: former Olympic gold medalist Chris Boardman said that “the British team have always been at the head of the technology race and we’ve seen that again [at Rio 2016]”. This level of funding has enabling the development of bikes worth in the region of £10,000, and skin suits so aerodynamic that they can produce up to a 5% performance gain, compared to those used at the world championships in London earlier this year.

In post-race interviews, many of the athletes have also praised the extensive sport science support network working behind the scenes; from nutritionists to data analysts.

Success breeds success

The old addage “success breeds success” clearly applies to the whole of Great Britain’s Olympic team. On the track the first cycling gold in the men’s team pursuit at Rio seems to have given the squad a level positivity and confidence which not only motivated them, but also potentially has intimidated their rivals.

This notion was echoed by Max Whitlock, when he reflectedon the huge success that Team GB gymnasts had experienced: “I’m a big believer in success breeding success. The results we’ve had have pushed us to get more, it’s made us all believe that it’s possible”.

British Cycling head coach Iain Dyer openly said that the whole squad have been focusing first and foremost on the Olympics:

While we peak athletically for the Olympics, we also peak in our research and innovation for the Olympics … we’ve got a really great team of people doing a fantastic job, who will go to the ends of the earth looking for that final marginal gain. It’s all about marginal gains, isn’t it?

While this approach has left some competitors scratching their heads, no one can question the success of Dyer’s strategy. It’s clear that British Cycling and Team GB have mastered the art of periodised training. But make no mistake – it takes more than good timing to be an Olympic champion.

The Conversation

Candice Lingam-Willgoss, Lecturer in Sport & Fitness, The Open University

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Under Pressure again: Can the England team bring football home?

By Candice Lingam-Willgoss

Tonight sees England’s first fixture of this year’s UEFA Euro 2016. Roll back 2 years and 2014 saw the country gearing up for the biggest event in the football calendar, the World Cup. The 2014 World Cup saw huge amounts of pressure and expectation placed on Hodgson’s 23 man England squad. This pressure and expectation came from representing their country, the public and their manager who openly stated before the tournament that he felt he had a winning squad. Roll forward to 2016 and exactly 50 years since England’s iconic 1966 World Cup win, could this finally be England’s chance to shine?

So what could make the difference? Perhaps remarkably England still have Hodgson at the helm, although often following a poor tournament result the first person to go is the coach/manager. Just look at Stuart Lancaster’s departure following England’s disastrous Rugby World Cup performance of 2015 and football is often managed in the same unforgiving way. However, despite a contract due to run till after the France based tournament it seems that this isn’t the only reason Hodgson is still in place. He not only has the backing of the FA with Greg Dyke openly saying they would back Hodgson but also he appears respected and supported by his players, ‘we are proud to play for Roy Hodgson. He’s a great Manager.’ Match this with the fact that the team have some phenomenally talented players.  Where the 2014 World Cup squad could have been deemed a young squad, short on tournament experience, four years down the line a stronger team is most definitely evident with some new superstars emerging. Vardy has recently been termed ‘the most electric attacker in England’ with Kane called the ‘unconventional superstar’ and these are two players who were instrumental in stirring a comeback from 2-0 down to win 3-2 against Germany in March . Finally much has been made of new kid on the block Dele Alli, Hodgson himself has been quoted as saying he can do  ‘anything in midfield’. He is a player who in the England vs Germany game played in March was billed  ‘potentially the best young English midfielder for a generation left even the arch-technocrats of Germany envious of his talent’.

So while the team is stable and highly promising this doesn’t take away from the fact that any international football event carries with it huge amounts of pressure which generates an increase in anxiety and stress.  These are terms commonly discussed within all spheres of sport from school level to the global stage.  The competitive environment is designed to elevate the arousal levels of not just the players but the fans as well. Anxiety at its most basic level can lead to co-ordination difficulties, and problems with attention to detail, all of which can prove debilitating to performance. The need for the athletes to control their emotions will be greater than ever as the team will have something to prove following their early 2014 tournament exit.

However, with some solid performances behind the team in recent months and players who have faced some highly pressurized situations within the domestic game there is a hope that the team as a whole will be able to manage their anxiety and cope with the unique pressure that international events generate. Hodgson’s 2016 team is a stronger, more resilient and more experienced squad that the one that lost out in 2014 and one can surmise that such a significant defeat will have made them even more determined to lay to rest the ghosts of the last 50 years.

Becoming a superhero: what are the limits of human Performance?

By Candice Lingam-Willgoss and Karen Howells


Comic book heroes come in all shapes and sizes, but each possesses that one unique ability which makes them ‘super’. As children we are excited by these super beings and dream of one day being like them. As adults, these super abilities stimulate our childhood fantasies and allow us to suspend reality for brief periods of time. Whilst many of us have our favourite superhero, and have an opinion on the best film, it has been widely recognised that every superhero falls into one of Marvel’s five categories: altered humans (e.g.,Spiderman) high tech wonders (e.g. Ironman), mutants (e.g.Wolverine), robots (e.g.Ultron) and aliens (e.g. Superman).

Utilising the latest technology in cinematography combined with breath-taking special effects, the recent superhero movie Deadpool brought to life one of these categories, altered humans. In Deadpool, Wade Wilson is a former Special Forces operative who now works as a mercenary having being transformed into Deadpool by evil scientist Ajax. Demonstrating further that the superhero phenomena is still very prevalent in our interest, the much anticipated Batman vs Superman which is due in cinemas at the end of March 2016 portrays the battle between the high tech wonder (Batman) and alien (Superman). One possesses superior intelligence, high quality training and the best technology that money can buy while the other relies on his innate unattainable superpowers. With the ever developing areas of technology and science could future advancements mean we are not so far away from creating our own superheroes, or do they already exist?  In answering this question, we can look towards the popular and pervasive social institution that is sport. Does this provide us with an environment that has inadvertently created real life super heroes?

Physical Attributes and Physiology

The goal of elite athletes is to bike, swim or row faster, to run further, or to fight for longer, with more precision and more agility. Whilst every generation must wonder about how much more as human beings we can achieve, research by Joyner (1991) found that from a physiological basis there is still more scope for further physical improvements, which can translate into significant improvements in, for example, running times.  In the same way that Roger Bannister broke the 4 minute mile in 1954, it is possible that the athletes of today may be on the verge of attaining the elusive sub 2 hour marathon.  Whilst our imagination may wonder at the potential for the future, it has to be acknowledged that a range of physiological regulators including, VO2max, running economy, threshold running pace and thermoregulation will limit the ultimate potential of human performance. Frequently we hear of athletes challenging these limits through altering what the body would normally be capable of achieving. In the comic book world Peter Parker was a regular human being until he was bitten by a genetically engineered super-spider. Spiderman is the result, part human DNA, part spider.  Frighteningly, we are on the edge of genetic engineering in sport being a practical if completely undesirable possibility. In 2008 Professor Wells warned in the BMJ that “some commentators have raised concerns that genetic modification or “gene doping” will be the next step in the search for enhanced performance”. Although this still exists within the domain of science fiction, the recent doping scandals that have rocked World Athletics and Cycling demonstrate the lengths to which some athletes will go to achieve the physiological changes that will facilitate enhanced and superior performance.


Talking in 2013 Michael Phelps’ coach, Bob Bowman acknowledged that there is very little in terms of physiology that distinguishes between the good and the very good.  He suggested that what distinguishes the superelite from the rest, is their psychology and how they think, feel and manage the pressures of elite competition.  Maybe this is where elite athletes’ characteristics mirror those of the superheroes of our childhood dreams.  Whilst the unique ability to handle extreme competitive pressure may or may not be innate, the competitive and challenging sporting environment may allow the development of strategic understanding, mental toughness and resilience, all concepts that are vital to these athletes whose physical successes may identify them as being superhuman individuals.  For Batman, genius level intelligence was one of his unique characteristics allowing him to be a master detective. Interestingly, the literature suggests that personal intelligence is a key factor in promoting resilience.

Science and Technology

While many of our comic book superheroes possessed innate qualities and elite champions possess physical attributes well suited to their specific sport, science and technology has the potential to contribute both positively and negatively to the development of the superhero athlete. Within comic books this type of superhero is prevalent, Ironman was created and powered by scientific advancements and Batman was able to buy the most cutting edge technology available, and while these two superheroes remain comic book creations, there are already versions of this form of technology finding its way into the real world.  Take for example the advances in robotics that are being used in military sectors such as the US military utilising swarm robotics as a cornerstone of future drone development or the innovation within exoskeleton technology that has come on to such a degree that the effort can be taken out of walking.  Forms of this technology are regularly seen in a sporting arena, consider the controversy that was created in 2007 over Oscar Pistorius’ use of prosthetic ‘blades’.  This led to the IAAF amending their rules to ban the use of “any technical device that incorporates springs, wheels or any other element that provides a user with an advantage over another athlete not using such a device”. Initially, Pistorius was ruled ineligible for competitions although following a lengthy appeal it was determined that blades did not provide a competitive advantage over able-bodied runners.


The fact remains that while the average human may be able to increase their speed, reaction time, power and mental strength we are still far away from the development of real life superheroes. And perhaps we should be grateful for this.  In the comic book culture, the superhero only exists in contrast to a dark force, each superhero has his or her evil nemesis Superman had Lex Luther, Batman the joker and it begs the question if we create heroes will we also create villains?


The road to ruin: are Ultra-endurance events worth the risk?

By Candice Lingam-Willgoss

Sport, exercise and physical activity hold different significance and meaning to every individual, whether it is a part of your daily life, something you watch from a distance or something all-consuming that defines who you are. Maintaining a regular routine of exercise is frequently cited as being highly effective for prevention and treatment of many chronic diseases and unequivocally improves cardiovascular health (Sharkey and Gaskill, 2007). However, with ever growing participation in ultra-endurance events all over the world research has started to look in more detail at the impact this type of exercise has on the human body (IAU Ultra Marathon, 2013).  Ultra-endurance is the term given to events that last for over 6 hours, with the term ultra-running being applied to distances over a marathon distance of 26.2 miles (Wortley and Islas, 2011).  People seem to seek out these ultra-type events in order to test themselves, with Hinton (2016) a former double ironman competitor reporting ‘Ironman didn’t break me, mentally or physically.  I wanted to know my limits’ and while this form of challenge carries with it a huge sense of achievement and success, is there a downside to it all?

Watching the actor/comedian Eddie Izzard take on yet another ultra-marathon event in the name of Sport Relief is a prime example of the potential downside to endurance competition. Izzard is currently embarking on the challenge of 27 marathons in 27 days, and while he has already earned the title Marathon Man following his 2009 achievement of 47 marathons in 51 days this current challenge (one he failed to complete in 2012) carries with it the additional factor of 30 degree heat (Izzard, 2016).  Izzard doesn’t look well, he was forced to take a rest day on day 5, and now three days later the strain on his body is starting to visibly show (BBC, 2016).  The warning 4 years ago was that if he didn’t stop he would die (Izzard, 2016), but is the challenge worth the potentially permanent damage he could do to his body?

Physical Effects

Many of us have experienced delayed onset of muscle soreness (DOMS) which tends to occur 24 hours after exercise (Sharkey and Gaskill, 2007). Although uncomfortable DOMS will probably be the least of Izzard’s worries. Endurance events put increased stress on the body, in particular on the immune system making a person vulnerable to risk of infection (Walsh, et al, 2011). Specifically, a substantial body of work accumulated over the last 20 years has shown that intense endurance exercise, such as running, swimming, cycling or rowing results in significant changes in white blood cell count (Lancaster and Febbraio, 2016). While exercise is universally shown to have health benefits (up to one hour daily), researchers looking at long distance races have cautioned that as well as inhibiting the immune system this form of exercise may lead to overload of the heart atria and right ventricle which could ultimately make someone more prone to unfavorable heart arrhythmias later in life (O’Keefe, et al, 2012).

That said there is much contrary evidence to support that those who do participate in ultra-sport in a measured manner are very happy and due to the slower paced and reduced impact compared to elite marathon runners actually get far less overuse injuries (Wortley and Islas, 2011).  Research by Krouse et al, which looked at female ultra-runners also concluded that they tended to have much better mental health, and psychological coping strategies (2011).


An interesting factor that could actually be in Izzard’s favour is his age, research into this area has found that being over 40 can be a huge advantage when it comes to endurance sport. Knechtle et al (2012) found that when looking at results from the 100km ultra-marathon the percent of finishers significantly increased for the 40–49 and the 50–59-year age groups indicating that this is an optimum age to compete in these type of events. This was also echoed by Hoffman and Krishnan, (2014) who found that runners over 40 tended to have a lower occurrence of injury. Another key benefit of age is that it comes with a higher level of resolve, older athletes tend to have more mental strength than younger athletes (Li, 2016 cited in BBC, 2016). So while we see Izzard ‘physically wilting’ his determination is at an all time high, giving him the willpower to push on (BBC, 2016).

What’s clear is that endurance sport is a way of life, and that ultra-athletes are a unique subculture of people who are striving to challenge themselves both mentally, physically and emotionally. I am constantly in awe of many of my friends who take on such extreme and challenging competitions, whether they are competing in 24 hour running races or 250km treks across the desert. Their motives are pure, as Varvel a multiple ultra-competitor sums up, saying there is a sense of ‘self-fulfilment’ and these varied experiences are seen as ‘life-affirming’ (2016). The primal desire to be at one with nature and bond with others in the face of adversity are all needs that are met by the world of ultra-racing.


BBC. (2016). How will 27 marathons affect Eddie Izzard. BBC News. Available at Accessed 28th February 2016.

BBC, (2016). Marathon Man. Available at . Accessed 1st March 2016.

Hinton, L. (2016) Personal Communication. 24th February 2016.

Hoffman, M.D. and Krishnan, E. (2014). Health and Exercise-Related Medical Issues among 1,212 Ultramarathon Runners: Baseline Findings from the Ultrarunners Longitudinal TRAcking (ULTRA) Study. PLOS. 10. Available at Accessed 29th February 2016

IAU Ultra Marathon. (2013), available at accessed 1st March 2016

Izzard, E. (2016). Marathon Man. Available at Accessed 1st March 2016.

Knechtle, B., Rust, C.A., Rosemann, T. and Lepers, R. (2012). Age-related changes in 100-km ultra-marathon running performance. Age. 34 (4), 1033-1045.

Krouse, R.Z., Ransdell, L.B., Lucas, S.M. and Pritchard, M.E. (2011). Motivation, Goal Orientation, Coaching and Training Habits of Women Ultrarunners. Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research. 25 (10), 2835-2842.

Lancaster, G.I. and Febbraio, M.A. (2016). Exercise and the immune system: implications for elite athletes and the general population. Immunology and Cell Biology. 94. 115-116.

O’Keefe, J.H., Patil, H.R., Lavie, C.J. et al. (2012). Potential adverse cardiovascular effects from excessive endurance exercise. Mayo Clinic Proceedings, 87(6), 587-595.

Sharkey, B.J. and Gaskill, S.E. (2007) Fitness and Health. Champaign. Human Kinetics

Varvel, M. (2016). Personal Communication. 24th February 2016.

Walsh, N.P., Gleeson, M., Shepard, R.J. (2011). Position Statement Part One: Immune function and exercise. Exercise Immunology Review, 17, 6-63

Wortley, G. and Islas, A.A. (2011). The problem with ultra-endurance athletes. British Journal of Sports Medicine. 45 (14), 1085.

Will Davis Cup victory spur on a new generation of British tennis stars?

By Candice Lingam-Willgoss

After a 79-year wait, Great Britain’s Davis Cup win was an emotional day for the country’s tennis fans, players and, in particular, Andy Murray. Having won all eight of his singles matches in the tournament – a record that matches the likes of John McEnroe and Mats Wilander – he was instrumental in ensuring victory.

Murray’s Grand Slam and Olympic success has without question raised the profile of British tennis in the last few years. While the former golden boy of Wimbledon Tim Henman was popular, he didn’t have the success of Murray on the court. It would be easy to think that this would have led in turn to higher participation rates in the sport, but that has not been the case.

In general terms, sport participation figures have been failing since the London 2012 Olympics, with tennis one of those hit the hardest. This led to a cut of £530,000 for the Lawn Tennis Association (LTA) in 2013.

Trickle-down effect not assured

The LTA, the governing body of tennis in the UK, has been criticised for failing to capitalise on Murray’s Wimbledon victory in 2013. But LTA chief Michael Downey said that victories such as the Davis cup “are very, very special and emotional moments that can drive interest in our sport”. He went on that the sport has “a couple of great weeks of coverage now” which could help increase participation.

Great Britain beat Belgium 3-1 in the Davis Cup final.

But this “trickle down” effect in sport is one which some researchers have dispelled as fundamentally flawed when success and participation rates are investigated more thoroughly.

In the case of tennis, timing may play an issue. Unlike Murray’s 2013 Wimbledon win, December is most certainly not a time of year when tennis is at the forefront of people’s mind, so the LTA already have a challenge on their hands.

A good contrast can be made if we rewind to London 2012 Olympics. One key legacy goal for the games was “to inspire a generation of young people”.

Heptathlete Jessica Ennis-Hill and cyclist Chris Hoy were fundamental in fostering the enthusiasm of a nation and providing excellent role models to a raft of young people – in turn participation rates jumped for both cycling and athletics.

All about access

But tennis may have different drivers. Murray is very much on his own when it comes to raising the profile of British tennis, unlike athletics and cycling which have multiple successful athletes. While the Davis Cup win was a team event the success was in the main down to Murray – and the other players have a much lower profile.

Tennis also carries with it some unique challenges which in part are deep-rooted in the sport’s culture. It is an expensive sport, in which early specialisation is often encouraged. It is also a huge commitment for parents and families both in terms of financial and logistical demands.

It is this combination of commitment, cost and a middle-class image that has led to the current situation within British tennis, with only two British men (Andy Murray and Aljaž Bedene) and two British women (Johanna Konta and Heather Watson) in the current top 100 players in the world. Add to this the funding issues which have impacted on the sport’s facilities, and it becomes a challenge just to find a venue.

As Andy Murray’s mother, Judy, says of her two sons’ access to facilities locally: “If that centre wasn’t there and we’d had to drive 40 or 50 miles to Glasgow or Edinburgh then Andy and Jamie may never have gone down the tennis route.”

Even with the challenges of cost, and facilities, perhaps the bigger issue comes down to the man himself. Andy Murray is unlike Ennis Hill who embraced her role as an ambassador for athletics and identified the impact of role models on athletes.

Murray is at the other end of the curve and has made it clear he thinks his role is on the court. He has attracted some criticism for this from former player and David Cup captain David Lloyd who has accused him of not doing enough to promote the sport – to which Murray responded by posting a video of himself training on Instagram.

Yet while Murray rightly is highly focused on his performance on court, there is an unwritten code that athletes are also role models for the next generation and therefore fundamental to the process of increasing participation rates.

But if the LTA, with Murray’s support, can capitalise on the Davis Cup success there is potential to begin the path towards galvanising a new cohort of future British champions.

The Conversation

Candice Lingam-Willgoss, Lecturer in Sport & Fitness, The Open University

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Kevin the Kiwi

By Candice Lingam-Willgoss

Without doubt Sunday afternoon was the most stressful of my married life……. The All Blacks going into half time a point down to Argentina changed my husband from the usually pretty relaxed Kiwi I married into someone who actually started to shout at the TV.

I guess it started when the Haka singing Kevin the Kiwi arrived from my parents in law last week and all talk and planning of our social life over the next 6 weeks was adapted to ensure that all games could be watched in full.

Kevin the Kiwi  (Picture by Candice Lingam-Willgoss)

Kevin the Kiwi
(Picture by Candice Lingam-Willgoss)


While both from an academic and personal perspective I am aware of the passion and reaction that is often associated with a sporting contest on the international stage, I was still left wondering why it means so much? There is such a strong emotional connection between fans and teams that tears of joy or sadness are common place at many games – Argentina being a great example.

What causes this emotional link between athlete and fan? Even I felt ‘something’ watching New Zealand play (and not just the worry of a potentially grumpy husband for the next few days). Some findings report this connection is developed as early as when children are 9 years old in that “they’re capable of developing an emotional, long-term attachment to a sport, team, or particular athlete”. This level of attachment may also be permeated into adolescents and adulthood by the concept of basking in reflected glory. As human beings we want to be successful and that in turn means being associated with success and as such phrases such as ‘we won’ or ‘they didn’t stand a chance against us’ are common place following your own teams victory.

While these are more psychologically driven explanations of fandom, other scientific explanations reveal that it could be the pleasure seeking side of us that craves success as whenever a fan’s team experiences a win, that individual’s “pleasure centers” will be ignited via a surge in dopamine.

What is clear is that there is unlikely to be one clear reason why people love sport or why individuals feel so connected, this is likely to be different for different people one of the leading sports-fan psychologist in North America, Daniel Wann sums this up nicely – surmising that there are potentially eight different motivations for why people love sport:

“People like sports because they get self-esteem benefits from it. People like sports because they have money on it. People like sports because their boyfriend or girlfriend or family member likes sports. People like sports because it’s exciting. People like sports because it’s aesthetically pleasing. People like sports because, like the theater, it is a venue for emotional expression. People like sports because they need an escape from real-world troubles. People like sports because it provides a sense of belonging, a connection to a wider world.” 

So perhaps for me, my connection was because of my husband, whatever the reason I know that an All Blacks win guarantees a happy home!

Home or Away – can kit colour make a difference at the Rugby World Cup?

By Candice Lingam-Willgoss

With England’s opener tonight against Fiji marking the start of the 2015 tournament, and the rugby gaze of the world firmly focused on the UK somewhat surprisingly England will not walk out in their white home kit. World Cup regulations state every stadium must be treated as a neutral venue and as such a coin toss decides who is given the ‘home’ honour and who the away. Somewhat ironically England find themselves in a pool with Fiji who are the one other side in the tournament whose jersey is also white. While the England team don’t appear too concerned about this, there are a number of psychological factors that can potentially come into play where kit colour is involved. Could this switch to the red – traditionally associated with the Welsh, actually be an advantage to England?

Colour has long been thought to influence human mood, emotion, and aggression as well as being recognised as an element of signalling in competitive interactions in many non-human species (Hill and Barton, 2005).  Colours have been found to contain certain unique psychological properties and can have a strong impact on our emotional feelings. (Hemphill, 1996; Wright n.d).  For example, Red is viewed as a powerful and physical colour, masculine in nature that can stimulate and raise pulse while also carrying with it negative links to defiance and aggression.  Blue on the other hand is viewed as the colour of the mind and with that comes connotations of efficiency, logic, coolness and comfort. Valdez and Mehrabian (1994) also found that individuals were likely to attribute emotional characteristics to colour even at a young age (Zentner, 2001).  These early findings lead us to consider the impact that colour may have in sporting contests.

Research by Hill and Barton (2005) investigated the link between uniform colour and match outcome in a number of different combat sports (boxing, tae kwon do, Greco-Roman wrestling and freestyle wrestling) at the 2004 Olympics, where competitors were randomly assigned either a blue or red uniform. Interestingly their findings revealed that that for all sports there was a consistent and statistically significant pattern that showed a greater frequency of winners wearing red than blue.  Conclusions can subsequently be drawn, based on earlier colour research, that this success is related to the psychological responses that individuals have to colour, in particular the perception that red is associated with dominance in the eyes of the opponent. Hill and Barton (2005) further suggested that this enhanced win rate could be reflective on an innate response to perceive red as a signal of dominance, however they did further surmise that colour would only really determine outcome in relatively even contests.

While there seems to be evidence that colour does impact performance within individual sports, Attrill, Gresty, Hill and Barton (2008) were keen to investigate whether colour also has an impact on performance in team sports. They examined the colour red and its associations with long term team success in English football.  Their investigation revealed that English football teams wearing a red strip had been champions more often than would be expected on the basis of the proportion of clubs that played in red.   This finding was also supported by Greenlees, Leyland, Thelwell and Filby (2008) who focused their investigation on Football penalty takers’ uniform colour.  Their study revealed that penalty takers wearing red were perceived by the Goalkeepers in two key ways: 1. that they would possesses more positive characteristics than those wearing white and 2.  And that their chance of successfully saving penalty kicks from them was lower than those wearing white.

While research in sport has predominantly focused on the colour red, some earlier research by Frank and Gilovich (1988) examined black uniforms and links to aggression.  Black is a colour frequently associated with death in many cultures, and can psychologically be associated with something menacing (Kaya & Epps, 2004).    Findings revealed that when teams (NFL and ice hockey)  were wearing black there was a significant increase in the number of penalties awarded against them, which was attributed to both social perception (biased judgements of referees) and self-perception (increased aggressiveness of players themselves even though they are wearing and not seeing the colour).  What is clear is that whether down to person perception, self-perception or the psychological properties they hold colour does influence the success of team and individual athletes in even contests.  It is clear that this area warrants further research but that it could have implications for regulations that govern sporting attire.

Much of the research that has been conducted into team sports has focused on football, it will be interesting to reflect after this Rugby World Cup whether similar trends are apparent.  In the meantime if you want to keep a check on the success of the teams here is a summary of the home and away kits of the 7 teams with the shortest odds!


Country Home Away Odds
New Zealand Black White 5/4
England White Red 9/2
South Africa Green/gold White 6/11
Australia Gold White 8/1
Ireland Green Black/green 9/1
France Light Blue Burgundy 12/1
Wales Red Blue 25/1

Taken From –


This article is an adapted version of an article that originally appeared on the OpenLearn website. Click here to read the original article. OpenLearn also has a Rugby World Cup Hub containing many more interesting articles.


Records to beat and battles to watch at the World Athletics Championships

By Candice Lingam-Willgoss

This year’s World Athletics Championships kicking off in Beijing couldn’t come at a better time for many athletes. It is a chance for athletic performance to take centre stage, a change in focus from the recent doping controversy that has shrouded the sport.

While we know that three medals will be awarded for each event, what is less known is which records may fall. So far this year, 11 world records have been broken in indoor and outdoor events. But some athletics records have stood for decades, and will take some beating.

So which are the events with the most giant-slaying potential? Here’s a quick guide.

Women’s events

Many of the women’s events have long-standing records. The women’s 100m record of 10.49 seconds, set by Florence Griffith-Joyner, remains unbeaten since 1988. In men’s events, Michael Johnson’s 400m world record of 43:18 set in 1999 still stands today.

Poland’s Anita Wlodarczyk is the hammer to beat.
EPA/Piotr Wittman

Poland’s Anita Wlodarczyk has already posted a world-record throw in the women’s hammer this year, so undoubtedly is the favourite in Beijing. She is tipped to better her 81.08m throw set at the Festival of Throwers meeting in Cetniewo, Poland, a monumental distance and the first time the 80m barrier has been broken by a woman. Such a huge improvement suggests that Wlodarczyk has the potential to throw even further in Beijing.

Giant leaps

Like Johnson’s long-standing 400m record, another that has stood for 20 years is Jonathan Edwards’s triple jump record – currently at 18.28m.

Current Olympic champion Christian Taylor is still 23cm short of this, but this record is what he has his sights on, and has been his goal since entering the sport.

Christian Taylor is the current Olympic champion triple jumper.
EPA/Olivier Anrigo

Taylor will have some competition in the shape of Cuba’s Pedro Pablo Pichardo who recently jumped out to 18.06 at the IAAF Diamond League meeting in Doha. This competition could be the one to see this long-standing record fall.

Bolt v Gatlin

It will take a record-breaking time to win the 4x100m men’s relay. The event which will see Jamaica’s team (featuring the fastest man in the world, Usain Bolt) take on America (featuring Justin Gatlin).

Bolt vs Gatlin: the high-speed duel everyone’s been talking about.
EPA/Thierry Roge

The Bolt/Gatlin showdown is hotly anticipated and the two athletes will first face each other in the men’s 100m. At 33, Gatlin is five years older than Bolt and has twice been found guilty of doping. Much has been made of this contest and many have suggested that Gatlin will not only take Bolt’s 100m title but will also claim his world record, which was set in 2009.

Long walk to stardom

While the 100m is undoubtedly the most hyped, the 20km walk could also see a new record set. Research has frequently cited the benefits of competing at home and this could well be the case for Liu Hong as she attempts to go faster than her 1.24.38 time set at the Premio Cantones de Marcha – the Spanish leg of the 2015 IAAF Race Walking Challenge in La Coruna.

China’s golden walker, Liu Hong.
Denis Balibouse/Reuters

Briton Mo Farah also has the potential to break records in Beijing. He is in the form of his life, having broken the two mile indoor record earlier this year. While Farah has said the wins are the priority he hasn’t ruled out tackling Ethiopian Kenenisa Bekele’s 5,000m (12:37.35) and 10,000m (26:17.53) outdoor records.

What is certain is that the coming nine days of competition guarantee to have their fair share of drama, medals and hopefully some record-breaking performances.

The Conversation

Candice Lingam-Willgoss is Lecturer in Sport & Fitness at The Open University

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.