Category Archives: Candice Lingam-Willgoss

Tackling Homophobia in Sport

By Helen Owton

* This article words content that some might find offensive

Homophobia in sport is a hot topic in the media with high profile sports stars, such as Gareth Thomas and Casey Stone speaking openly about their experiences of ‘coming out’ and the implications of the 2018 World Cup being hosted in (anti-gay) Russia. In many sports, it as an arena for promoting heterosexual masculinitywhich can result in the reproduction of homophobia in sport for both women and men. Despite this, 2014 proved a better year for lesbian, gay, bisexual and trans (LGBT) sportspeople in the US with 109 athletes, coaches, officials and administrators ‘coming out’ (Outsports, 2015). In the UK, the picture is slightly quieter, particularly for gay men in sport. Stonewall estimate around 5-7% of the UK population are gay which one would assume would be reflected in sport but active players at a highly competitive level are reluctant to ‘come out’, especially in team sports (such as rugby, football, basketball, cricket). This is hardly surprising when homophobia is still so prevalent in sport.

The recent Out on the Field survey found that 60% of 10 gay men and 50% of lesbians have been subjected to homophobia in sport and there appear to be attempts being made to address this issue now (e.g. http://www.birminghammail.co.uk/sport/football/football-news/west-midlands-police-looking-identify-9293042). Not only are athletes at risk, 85% believed that openly gay spectators would not be safe in the stands at a sporting event in the UK (Out on the Fields survey, 2015) which is hardly surprising in light of the homophobic taunts made by West Brom fans in the West Midlands.

The field is not easy for women either. In 1981, at the peak of her tennis career, Martina Navratilova paved the way for gay female athletes by coming out and has continued her fight for equal rights. Despite Navratilova’s bold move over 30 years ago there are few actively ‘out’ lesbians in the UK. Indeed, Casey Stone (England and Arsenal footballer) thought that ‘coming out’ last year would end her career and it may be fear such as this which prevents others from doing so.

When an individual feels unaccepted and alienated from society, this is when problems can occur. For example, gay athletes may hide their identity and feelings when they play sport and some men may act out extra aggressive behavior so that they will not be seen as gay. As Nigel Owen (Welsh rugby union referee) said, “Once I came out and rugby had accepted me, my performances got better and better. I wouldn’t be able to referee as well as I can now if I was still worried about people finding out about who I am.”

It seems that the negative use of the word ‘gay’ is one of the most hurtful ways of reinforcing homophobia. Marcus Urban (East German International Footballer who retired from football early to live openly as a gay man) told CNN that ‘constantly hearing “gay” used as a curse word like “shit” made me think, “Of course, I’m shit.” This type of bullying often starts in childhood suggesting that this is where we need to re-educate society. For example, Stonewall (2013) report that nine in ten secondary and two in five primary school teachers say young people, regardless of their sexual orientation, experience homophobic bullying, name-calling or harassment. Homophobic bulling impacts on pupil’s school attendance, attainment and future prospects (Stonewall, 2013) which also has an impact on their participation in school sports.

Changes in policy can have positive effects, for example, gay marriage may bring more stability and happiness to gay couples and encourage a change in perceptions to acceptance in society. The most recent policy change was in Ireland who became the first country to legalise gay marriage by public vote last week (22/05/15). The gay vote in Ireland received two-thirds in favour of gay marriage which is reassuring, but the very fact that we had to have a referendum at all is shocking. Credit goes to various sports stars, such as Valerie Mulcahy (Cork footballer), Donal Óg Cusack (Irish hurler and Chairman of the Gaelic Players Association), Nikki Symmons (Irish hockey player) and Shane Horgan (former Irish rugby player) who have gone public on their sexuality to inspire and help others.

So where does this leave us moving forward with various sporting events coming up in 2015 and 2016 (e.g. FIFA Women’s World Cup and Rio Olympics). Sport is still the final closet for active LGBT sportspeople in society which is why it is so important for other sportspeople (e.g. James Haskell) to unite and actively tackle homophobia in sport. Whilst it is also important for athletes to come out, it should not be their sole responsibility either; ‘It’s the people in the stadium who can make the difference.’ (Nigel Owens)

Do it the Way way – its never too late to change your lifestyle

By Candice Lingam-Willgoss

In an age when the benefit of exercise and accessibility to fitness opportunities are at an all time high, UK statistics from the Health and Social Care Information Centre have reported that 25% of the population are reported as being clinically obese. Data related to physical activity doesn’t make any better reading, with the British Heart Foundation’s 2012 review reporting that less than 37% of adults take part in the recommended levels of physical activity. Exercise isn’t just about losing weight its about being healthy, it opens up a whole avenue of new opportunities, friendships and challenges to people, it involves embracing a new lifestyle, something marathon and ultra runner Steve Way knows only too well.

Seven years ago he weighted 16 stone, had a 20 a day cigarette habit and high blood pressure, role forward to Sunday and Way posted a 2:15:16 time seeing him finish 10th at the age of 40 in the Commonwealth Games Marathon, backing up his 4th at the London Marathon earlier this year. This turnaround for Way came in 2006 when he decided to run the London Marathon “on a whim” and saw him finish in 3 hours 7 minutes.

What is even more impressive about Way’s performance is that he has achieved this at the age of 40 – which also made his time at Sunday’s marathon an over 40’s British record beating the 1979 record held by Ron Hill. Furthermore, as well as reinforcing the findings of much research that has reported that ‘ultra’ and ‘endurance’ runners athletic performance improves with age (Peter, Rust, Knechtle, Rosenmann and Lepers, 2014) Way’s case also illustrates that it is never too late to make a lifestyle change. Seven years ago, Way wasn’t just unfit, he was unhealthy too, “Towards the end of 2007 I could hardly sleep,’ he told The Guardian. ‘I was coughing and waking up because of the smoking and it was impacting on my wife Sarah, too, ‘At that point half our meals were takeaways and I would eat chocolate and sweets all the time. I realised I had to do something radically different to break the cycle.‘ This type of trigger that started Way on his road to running success is not uncommon when people suddenly make a decision to change their lifestyle. When viewed from a theoretical perspective Way’s case seems representative of what is proposed within Rosenstock’s Health Belief Model which was developed in the 1950’s to help explain the likelihood of an individual engaging in preventative health behaviours (such as exercise in Way’s case). This model argues that this likelihood is determined by a persons perception of the severity of the potential illness/risk to them as well as their appraisal of the cost and benefits of taking action. In the case of Way is seems this perception also included the impact his lifestyle was having on his wife. We can only hope that Way becomes an inspiration and a role model – one that shows that people of any age can make a change to their lifestyle something that is clearly desperately needed in the UK. If Way’s story inspires just a few people to make a commitment to change their lifestyle, they will be the lucky ones who discover how much the sport and fitness world has to offer.

Pressure Cooker – Will England Overheat?

By Candice Lingam-Willgoss

Following Saturday’s defeat against Italy, England are now in a position where they have no breathing space and have to win their next two matches.  The Telegraph reported Hodgson himself saying they need the next two wins against Uruguay and Costa Rica, and he went on to say that their “fate is in their own hands” 

If we weight up the odds, things are pretty equal, Uruguay are also coming off a loss to Costa Rica and while the sideline fans will throw criticism at the England squad the reality is that they played a decent game last Saturday, with even possession and more shots on target unfortunately in the world of sport luck can come into play. 

What is interesting about the next match is that we have a country who have football as their national sport, vs a country without such a heritage – however where previously I discussed how the pressure of expectation could adversely affect England will this lack of expectation on Uruguay mean that they go in feeling less pressure than the England starting line up? Both teams are on the back foot but again England have a whole country depending on them to win.

From a psychological perspective there is no question that the team will have heightened levels of anxiety – this concept is something Sport Psychologist Yurin Hanin discussed in the 1980’s, in that all athletes have an optimal zone of functioning – some will have already reached their optimal levels but for others their next game will see them achieve their peak.  This idea of optimal arousal relates closely to interpretation, as it is having a positive interpretation which allows the individual to utilise their arousal in a facilitative manner that results in the best performance. 

With the World Cup stage no longer an unknown to the new players who have never worn the England shirt in such a high profile tournament there is a hope that any pre-tournament nerves have been put to bed, but what can remain though will comes down to how their arousal levels influences them in Thursdays game.  This is something Roy Hodgson needs to have in his mind as he finalises his starting 11.  What the matches so far this tournament have shown is that it isn’t just about player ability it is about mental fortitude and courage and that these will often be the defining factor of whether a team will be successful in their quest for world cup glory.

Under pressure: anxiety and a nation’s hope at the World Cup

By Candice Lingam-Willgoss

The expectation placed on Roy Hodgson’s 23-man England squad is immense – each player is representing a country that proudly boasts football as its national sport, and (rightly or wrongly) considers itself the birthplace of the world game. In a recent press conference when asked if he had a winning squad, Hodgson said:

Yes, of course I do. Why take a squad otherwise? But they’re empty words … If they don’t show their talent, all the optimism in the world counts for nothing.

His use of the term optimism is interesting as there has been some discussion on how this could be England’s year to win. However, as football psychologist Geir Jordet has warned, there is a risk that a highly favourable public appraisal of a team could be linked to displays of “escapist self regulation strategy”. What does this mean? From a psychological perspective, self regulation could be to calm yourself down or act in your long-term best interest – but when this is exhibited in an escapist manner, ie avoiding reality, this leads to a breakdown of the usual response and in turn can harm performance. Is this the factor that could stop England players “showing their talent”?

I asked former England U21 player and current Portsmouth Manager Andy Awford what he thought. He said he felt there had been a shift within the country and many have come to accept that England can’t be expected to win every tournament (which is helpful as they haven’t since 1966). “Expectations aren’t as high,” he said.

But football fans do represent a unique subculture of sports supporters. Rarely do you see such passion and emotional connection between fans and the sport they follow. This comes at a price, as players and teams are only seen as being as good as their last performance. There is no better illustration of this than the 1998 David Beckham incident, when England’s star player was vilified nationwide after being sent off for kicking an opponent in a display of extremely poor discipline. It took four years for Beckham to redeem himself, when he scored a match-winning penalty in the 2002 World Cup – again against Argentina. “It took everything that had happened, everything that had been said or written since my red card away,” he wrote in his autobiography, My Side.

This suggestion that public appraisal can influence performance links closely to anxiety and is something Jordet has also investigated. He has looked at the connection between public status and performance in high pressure sport tasks such as penalty shootouts. He found players who had higher public status tended to perform worse and engage more in escapist self-regulatory behaviour. For example, high-status players might perpare faster than usual, due to wanting to get the shot “over with” than players who have yet to win any major awards and are lesser known.

This concept of high public status is particularly relevant to the England squad which contains many players who are akin to Hollywood stars in terms of status and earnings. Could this go some way to explain why a player like Wayne Rooney is yet to score at a World Cup?

Anxiety and stress are terms commonly bandied about within the sporting world, with the competitive environment designed to elevate the arousal levels of not just the players but the fans as well. The need for athletes to control their emotions has led to much work being done on the sources of that anxiety within sport. How important an event is and uncertainty are among the most prevalent – no wonder things get so hard at the World Cup. The England team is a young squad, short on tournament experience – how will the players cope with this pressure?

This is something Awford remembers: “I’ve played for England and there’s a different mentality, its a different set up,“ he said. “The England shirt can be a heavy one to wear.”

But how does anxiety actually influence the performance of professional athletes? Surely they should just be able to interpret their emotions in the optimal way? Sadly the nature of the human mind is not so logical, and while players will endeavor to maintain the best mind set, the importance of the event and the expectations of a nation will result in heightened anxiety levels which can manifest in a number of different ways.

“Anxiety can lead to bad decisions,” Awford told me. It also leads to co-ordination difficulties, and problems with attention to detail, all of which can prove debilitating to performance.

While physical training can largely be controlled, and without doubt the best 11 man team will be on the pitch for England’s opening game, managers cannot determine their players’ reactions to the unique levels of pressure generated by representing your nation at the World Cup.

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

When I grow up I wanna be famous….. Role Models in Winter Sports

By Candice Lingam-Willgoss

“I have dreamed my whole life about being a British Olympian”
(Lizzy Yarnold, 2014)

Introduction

With the Sochi Games almost at a close as with London 2012 we enter a period of reflection, both in terms of markers of success but also in relation to the legacy that will been left. Without doubt this has been one of the most highly viewed Winter Games to date and with an estimated £30billion being spent by the Russian hosts this is not surprising. I have commented in previous postings on how many of the new events introduced at this games have without doubt added another dimension to the demographic who are tuning in to watch Winter sports and my observations of this games have led to me pondering a variety of different areas, from whether the participants at these games are more athletes or performers, my own sporting retirement, the causes of anxiety at altitude and more recently Heaney’s (2014) comments on the area of sporting role models.

London 2012

Two years ago when Olympics fever was on our back door step much was made of the legacy that would be left to the next generation, in fact one of the 5 key legacy promises that were made was ‘to inspire a generation of young people’ (UK parliament, 2012). The likes of Jessica Ennis-Hill and Chris Hoy were spearheading the enthusiasm of a nation and providing excellent role models to a raft of young people. Their success has directly seen an increase in investment into a range of different sports and predictions are that Rio 2016 will see the British team solidify their dominance on the medals table even more. So what will be the legacy left by the Sochi Winter Games?

Winter Sports

Rea’s opening blog post considered the fact that as a nation we are not a typical big player when it comes to Winter Sports as he said ‘history is not on our side’. As a nation we are without a strong winter sports heritage and role models are not so obvious to spot (2014). In a recent interview with the women’s sport trust Shelley Rudman discussed who her sporting role models were and cites Jane Tomlinson and Clare Lomas, thus illustrating that as a sporting female sometimes you have to step outside of your sport to find those who inspire you. Women have always have been playing catch up in the sports world, from the opportunities available, the media coverage and financial rewards, so it is interesting that three of our four medals to date have been won by women.

The Role of the Family

The concept of a role model within sport having to come from someone in the public eye is put to bed by Pinchbeck (2014) in her article looking at Olympic Parents. Her discussion on the instrumental role that the family plays in the development of a young person’s engagement in sport considers that it is parents who may be the primary role models for their children. So often it’s the case that a young boys memories of sport as a youngster is being taken to his first football match by his dad, and it is dad’s passion for watching the game that sparks the sons desire to play. This influence of family is echoed by Chemmy Alcott’s path into Skiing, she was introduced to the sport by her family from a very young age.

The Future’s Bright

The next generation should have a different experience, with the British women in particular leading the medals charge in Sochi. Jenny Jones secured Britain’s first Olympic medal at the games and for the men James Woods put in an impressive 5th place finish in the same event. Alcott at her 4th Olympics and 6 months after a possible career ending leg break did herself proud with a 19th place finish in the downhill. These athletes are demonstrating that even as a nation without a strong heritage and limited facilities anything is possible. Even more notable was Lizzy Yarnold’s performance – her dream of becoming an Olympian has come true in the most Hollywood fashion, from her integration in the Skeleton set up 5 years ago to her Gold Medal at this year’s Olympic Games. Just as Amy Williams was her role model she is now providing another very positive female role model for young people in winter sports. The Telegraph’s Judith Woods wrote in 2010 about Amy Williams, the 2010 Skeleton Gold Medal winner and how she was everything a female role model should be ‘personable, pretty, a PhD student and an Olympic Gold Medallist’. Williams, like Rudman and Yarnold, is still a very positive role model for young woman today, and in an age when female identity is becoming even more multifaceted they show you can have it all.

The legacy being left by these games isn’t just instilling a desire to become an Olympic athlete, I think they are illustrating, as I have previously mentioned, the positive gains that are to be made when you take up sport of any sort. Seeing the ‘cool’ persona of Slopestyler Woods, the supportive family of Jones, the enthusiastic supporters of Yarnold and the camaraderie of the Curlers is projecting the right image of sport to the next generation. A sentiment perfectly summed up by Rudman ‘I think it is really important that women understand from a young age that taking part in sport is really beneficial from both a health and general well-being perspective’ (2014). Without doubt the Sochi Winter Olympics have raised the profile of a number of minority sports and hopefully will lead to more young people strapping on skis, skating or even learning how to slide stones.

Filling the Void – Retirement from High Risk Sport

By Candice Lingam-Willgoss

We are now well into the Sochi games and alongside the usual commentary focusing on execution, speed and results there has been the expected comments on how this will, for many, be their final shot at an Olympic medal, as they plan to announce their retirement after the games. This led me to think about my retirement from my passion which was ski racing.

The title of Roland Huntford’s 2008 book Two Planks and a Passion sums up skiing for me, it’s a pure sport not given over to too many gimmicks, but also a sport that allows a certain harmony with nature, a sport driven by the environment, in fact the very development of skiing began as a means of survival.   Skiing is my passion and has been for as long as I can remember, I love the juxtaposition of control and vulnerability, something shared with other high risk winter sports –  I love the emotion I feel when I ski, and I miss it almost every day, I miss being a ski racer.

Identity

Retirement from any area of our lives can leave a massive void, whether it is work or sport.  A large reason for this is the identity that we lose when we can no longer categorise ourselves as a teacher, doctor, skier or footballer. We suddenly have to slot ‘retired’ or ‘former’ before our title.   We have often spent so much time developing this positive identity that we are very proud of that it is something we strive to cling onto.  Identity is an area that dominates so many of our personal esteem issues, our confidence and our sense of self.  Loss of identity is frequently cited as a key psychological issue for athletes who both choose to retire or are forced to, and its why I firmly believe we should always view our sporting self as a smaller part of the complete person,  it is not who we are it is part of the bigger picture.

Retirement

Deciding to retire from competitive ski racing at the age of 17 wasn’t a difficult decision at the time – at the time it was the right one for me, and looking back now I believe I made the right choices.  Despite that, I have been left with a void in my life, a gap that only skiing can fill.  This void is somewhat heightened at this “winter” sports time of year.  Sochi for me will be a chance for some vicarious living for a few weeks – my heart still speeds up slightly when I watch the ski racing and I catch myself swaying as the skiers turn around the gates and I must admit to feeling a touch of envy for what I am missing.

Filling the Void

I have tried to fill the void left by skiing, interestingly more so in recent years when I began to crave something to challenge me physically that would tick some of the same boxes as skiing.   As skiing is often termed a High Risk sport and as Pinchbeck (2014) has already mentioned one chosen by a certain personality type, I sought out something I felt could fill the gap. I imagine this is similar for many Winter Sports athletes as many of the sports competed in at Sochi are high risk in nature –   I chose Triathlon, it seemed to tick the boxes!  What I didn’t account for was something quite simple really, I wasn’t ever going to be as good at it as I was at skiing. Skiing to me is like walking, second nature – swimming, biking and running are certainly not!  The other thing I very stupidly missed was that I am in essence a thrill seeking sprint athlete not a safer endurance one, even a shorter distance triathlon is significantly longer than a ski race.  As such this means the feeling I get when I train and compete doesn’t come close to skiing and only very recently did I admit to myself that I don’t really enjoy triathlon very much at all.  It doesn’t excite me and if anything makes me miss skiing even more.  Don’t get me wrong I love the sense of accomplishment after a good training session and that I am maintaining some form of athletic identity, but does it elicit the same emotional response – simply No.

The Gift of Sport

Reflecting on my sporting life, in particular my retirement from skiing, clarifies to me that perspective is very important.  I think with age comes an acceptance that my time as a ski racer was a gift, a time to treasure, but it’s not all of who I am, the gap left will always be there and no other sport will give me that thrill.  In many ways I am very lucky – I still get to ski, albeit at a recreational level, although I can’t deny I still get a buzz from checking my top speed at the end of the day or visualising some gates as I race down a black run.  So even though the thrill seeking racer identity is no more, I still have glimpses of this when it’s just me two planks and my passion.

Reference

Huntford, R. (2008) Two Planks and a Passion. London, Continuum

Slopestyler Sliders – The Coolest of Cultures

By Candice Lingam-Willgoss

Introduction
In my previous posting I questioned the changing face of the Winter Games, and asked whether the competitors at Sochi were becoming closer to performance artists with the inclusion of the new more acrobatic sports such as slopestyle making up some of the Olympic programme. This weekend saw the first Snowboard Slopestyle gold medal go to the United States boarder Sage Kotsenbury, and I was glued to the screen. Firstly, without doubt the slopestyle had all the magic ingredients that would have pulled in the viewers – I actually held my breath towards the later stages of each run as the tricks got more and more extreme. However, there were more things about this sport that stood out to me following the weekends racing.

Athletes or Performance Artists
This is the first time I have actually seen the competitive version of this sport on television, and as such my appraisal that the competitors were more performance artists was based on seeing lesser versions and reading about it. Having now witnessed it first hand, my overriding thoughts on the athletes is that they have guts! and bucket loads of them. There is no doubt that this is a true adrenaline sport, with the risk taken getting greater and greater as the run progresses. They are without doubt athletes, but another thing stood out, they are “cool” they are conforming to a stereotype that sees them “fit” into the X-Games culture where they have traditionally sat. Their dress is less “uniform” more what you would see recreational boarders wearing, they also don’t look like your stereotypical athlete – in an age where sports people are trying to cut seconds off times by shaving legs and wearing the most aerodynamic kit, we see flowing locks and trendy clothing.

Subculture
The development of a sporting subculture is very closely linked to identity formation and construction – this development is illustrated very clearly by the community that makes up the snowboarding slopestylers of this Winter Olympics. Classically the most significant means of conforming and becoming part of a subculture is modeling, individuals begin to deliberately adopt mannerisms, attitudes, and styles of dress, speech, and behaviour that are perceive to be characteristic of the subculture. When snowboarding first started skiers did not accept this new sport on the slopes, the two sports contrasted in several ways including how they spoke, acted, and their fashion.
When snowboarding was introduced to the Nagano Olympics in 1998 it was described as getting the trendy vote as “Its devotees do not fit into the typical image of alpine sports” (BBC Sport, 1998). Originally viewed as a one of the most anarchic sports, many boarders opt for baggy jeans; big sweatshirts; baseball caps turned backward; pierced ears, noses, tongues and even navels, they were representative of the hip-hop culture they fitted in with. Some contrast to the rather staid image of the Olympics and what other winter sports athletes were seen to wear.

Staying True
A second observation I made was the way in which this sport has stayed true to its roots. While we live in a sporting world that is driven by technology, who has the fastest suit, equipment, the freestyle ski disciplines – and perhaps most prominently the snowboard Slopestyle sees athletes remain true to their very unique culture. While it pains me to admit it, boarders are seen as the “cool” kids on snow, from their clothing, to their attitude and this is something that is further magnified on the big screen. While the alpine ski racers wear a traditional ‘catsuit” not something you would expect the recreational skier to wear, the clothing donned by the racers on Saturday in the slopestyle was very much akin to what you see a recreational boarder wear, as Taggart said about boarding at the 1998 Olympics wearing official team uniform for the event is acceptable but she didn’t like the idea of having to fit into an image for the whole time she was in Nagano.
“It’s hard for snowboarders in general to accept the authority deal … I want to be unique and individual, and wear clothes that represent me,” she said. “I’ll fight it as long as I don’t get kicked out” (Taggart, 1998). What we are now seeing may be the top brand and ultra stylish but its baggy – hardly the most aerodynamic, and the long haired cool kid stereotype likened to that of the skateboarding subculture is still clearly illustrated.
What else has stood out watching the games, and this is not unique to slopestyle, but to a lot of the winter sports disciplines is the camaraderie that surrounds each mini subculture. At times it is easy to forget that the athletes are competing against each other, as the display of solidarity and support at the end of the runs and even reflected in the photos coming from the Olympic village are very different to that observed within other sports. This characteristic of many of the Winter Sports disciplines further supports this concept of there being very unique sporting subcultures at this years games.

Role Models
Relating back to my original posting – what is unquestionable is that the inclusion of these more acrobatic and high risk sports will increase interest in winter sports, and have already shown that they are pulling in the viewers. These competitors are also providing very positive role models for children everywhere and are showing that there are a range of “different” sporting opportunities out there for young people to try. Jenny Jones’s medal on Sunday like Williams’ medal in Vancouver 4 years ago, will further raise the profile of Winter Sports within the UK and I hope provide the next generation with a passion for more varied sports that reflect some of the best things about being involved in a sporting subculture – the friendship, support and solidarity you can find.

The fear factor: coping with anxiety 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 Sochi is no different.

So 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 these 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 athelete 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 Chemmy Alcott. Alcott has suffered 42 broken bones thorughout her career – 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 does 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 has chosen to describe her feelings regarding skiing imply she is fully aware of the risks involved but she choses 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.” Like Alcott, Hight has managed to channel her emotions in a positive way.

Many will ask how Alcott found the courage to step back out onto the competitive scene after such horrendous injuries that have 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 this is Chemmy Alcott’s last Olympics and she hasn’t necessarily had the race results of others, she provides an incredibly positive example to athletes everywhere of what can be achieved with a strong mind in the face of high risks and immense pressure.

The Conversation

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

The Development of the Winter Olympics – Athlete Excellence or Performance Art

By Candice Lingam-Willgoss

While the Summer Olympic Games have remained largely true to their roots – the Winter Games have seen a raft of newly created sports being included in the line-up year on year. This Winter Olympics will see 98 events over 15 disciplines in 7 sports –skating, skiing, bobsleigh, biathlon, curling, ice hockey and luge. 12 of these are new events to be contested including:- Women’s Ski Jumping, Ski half-pipe, Team relay luge, Ski and Snowboard Slopestyle, and Snowboard parallel special slalom. The scope for the creation of new winter based sports seems to be something mirrored by what is viewed in ski resorts, with various different approaches to the ‘originals’ being trialled all over the slopes.

Extreme Sports or Winter Games

In a world which is becoming increasingly more health and safety conscious it is interesting that many of these new sports are ones that can be termed high risk. Are these high risk sports becoming more attractive to both view and participate in as an antidote to the ultra ‘safe‘ world we live in? Take the newly included Slopestyle event which has been introduced for both skiers and boarders, the main goal is to perform difficult tricks while getting the highest amplitude off jumps with emphasis on variety. The Luge programme has now had the Team relay included and while this variation has long been popular among luge aficionados it will be its first outing on such a big stage. In essence this event sees a sport often termed the ‘fastest sport on ice’, that saw the death of a young Republic of Georgia competitor at the Vancover Games being made even more high risk than it was before. Three sleds, four racers (a women’s single, a men’s single and a double, and a touchpad. Rather than the classic baton switch competitors must activate the said touchpad at the end of their run to open the gate for the next sled to go down.

With the inclusion of these types of sports it could be argued that the Winter Olympics is becoming closer to the recently created X Games at every outing, in fact Sean White is a key example of this. White is competing in two snowboarding competitions at Sochi, the halfpipe and the slopestyle and while he is already a two times Olympic Gold medallist he also holds the Winter X-Games record for the total number of gold medals.

The Winter X Games

The Winter X Games were created in 1997 after the 1995 creation of the Summer sport focused X Games and are solely focus on Extreme Winter Sports. The Events of the Winter X games are very much there to entertain and events are driven by spectacle, and the ‘wow factor’ – which begs the question are the Winter Olympics competitors from some of these newer sports a mix of athletes and performers? The tricks that a number of the new winter sports require individuals to carry out, are akin to those performed by entertainers and are as much a display of athleticism as guts and creativity. As Morris of the Telegraph says, ‘the inclusion represents the rise and rise of freestyle skiing and snowboarding, and brings an extra injection of awe to the Games ‘ (2014). This idea that there has been a change to the style of sports included in the games, is something Zimpfer discusses in his blog earlier this month when commenting on how a number of Olympic sports are now becoming “more like a performance than a sport’ (2014).

Need for change

This added ‘awe’ as Morris talks about may be a deliberate ‘marketing’ ploy of the Winter Olympics. The viewing figures for the last Winter Olympics peaked at the opening ceremony with 3.2 million viewers, a figure that dropped to as low as one million for some events. Compare this to the summer Olympics of 2008 in Beijing when figures peaked at 5.4 million and Athens at 8.68 million. While as a nation we may not have as many athletes competing, overall there is less interest in winter sports than summer, which begs the question is the inclusion of these new more exciting sports a necessity in order to entice a new group of viewers. Not just the winter sports fans but also the extreme sports fans and the younger generations?

Recent research has examined the newly termed Generation Y those born between 1980 and 1990. The previous generation X made up of the baby boomers are having to step aside as a new generation are becoming the marketing focus of big business, they are a generation of technology savvy, highly ambitious people who relish creativity, are open minded, and as such open to change – they display a patchwork of traits. One of these key traits is interestingly rule following – as a generation less likely to break the law or go against their parents, is this high profile, controlled, and legal style of sport satisfying the side of the generation that craves creativity and a fresh approach. The full spectrum of characteristics of the Y Generation is probably at this stage unknown, what is clear is that it is this sector that need to be drawn in and this is something that the commercially driven sports world is fully aware of.

Money, Money, Money

No area of sport is immune to the naked truth that all high profile events are a business opportunity and Winter Sports are no different. All sports see the commoditisation of sportsmen – to the extent that at times they are seen as little more than billboards for sponsors. The recent selection of the US ice skater Wagner over Mirai Nagasu – a choice cynics among us may consider was due to a need to satisfy sponsors as it would have been something of an inconvenience for BP to have to take her out of their latest commercials, I guess we will never know how much her marketability influenced her selection. There are of course questions over whether the IOC who ultimately made this decision did so in order to increase the attraction of this games to certain audiences where the corporate money lies.

This need to make all sport enterprise a commodity could be in part the reasoning behind this shift in sports that are now on offer at the games. Television companies need viewers and are striving to appeal to a wider more diverse audience, something these newer sports are clearly aiming to do. With the Winter Games now sitting in their own Olympic year rather than being the follow up to the Summer Games they have sought for many years their own individual identity – what seems clear is that they are very much finding their self.