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Sport psychologists at the University of Stirling explore spectators’ Olympic experience

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A student receives golf coaching at the University

Psychologists from the University of Stirling are in the middle of an exciting project to help spectators at the London 2012 Olympic and Paralympic Games understand the athletes’ experience.

Going for Gold: The Greatest Psychological Show on Earth provides a unique insight into sport psychology through a series of online videos and blogs.

Leading UK and international psychologists study subjects from an Olympic canoeist and a Paralympic horse rider, to crunching the meaning of terms such as ‘burnout’, ‘pressure’ and ‘body language’.

Members of the public can also step directly into the shoes of a judo player preparing for a bout and consider how confident they would be of winning.

The project was launched on 18 April, 100 days before the start of the Olympic Games and will create an online resource for future sporting events, with a different topic featured every day.

Professor David Lavallee, Head of the School of Sport, leads the project, in partnership with staff from the University of Chichester and Staffordshire University, with funding from the British Psychological Society.

He said: “The purpose of the project is really to inform the public about what sport psychology is and what sport psychologists do and the forthcoming Olympic and Paralympic Games is a great way to highlight this.

“It won’t just end once the Games are over and the research is completed as the features and videos can be used as an excellent resource at other events such as the Glasgow 2014 Commonwealth Games and the 2014 Ryder Cup.”

PhD sport psychology students at Stirling have also contributed features for the project on areas such as ‘dealing with pain’ and what ‘hitting the wall’ in a marathon really means.

Another video features a day in the life of a sport psychologist. Dr John Mathers, a chartered psychologist and Senior Teaching Fellow at Scotland’s University for Sporting Excellence works closely with golfers on the University’s International Sports Scholarship Programme and provides mental skills training to elite Scottish FA and Scottish Rugby Union referees.

He said: “It’s not about taking a bad referee and making them a good one or telling a golfer what a good stroke is; a sport psychologist helps them to prepare so they can showcase their skills. The sport or the role may be different externally, but the internal demands are the same.

“Just as a nutritionist can help with diet and a coach can improve technique, a sport psychologist can help an athlete’s mental skills. It is all about trying to make those small differences, which, when two people are evenly matched, is all it takes.”

To take part in the online experiment, visit: www.bps.org.uk/going-for-gold

Further research by Professor Lavallee, into the mental wellbeing of retiring athletes features in a new report: Supporting a UK success story: The impact of university research and sport development.

The report has been released as part of Universities Week 2012 taking an in-depth look at the contribution our universities make – and have always made – to the Olympic and Paralympic Games, the sports industry and society as a whole.

Download the report Supporting a UK success story: The impact of university research and sport

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