What do physiotherapists need to know about sport psychology?

By Caroline Heaney

There’s lots of research out there to suggest that the use of sport psychology strategies during sport injury rehabilitation can lead to positive outcomes for the injured athlete. It therefore follows that educating physiotherapists and other sport injury rehabilitation professionals about sport psychology is likely to be of significant benefit, but what exactly do physiotherapists need to know about sport psychology and how is it best delivered to them?

These were the questions that I attempted to answer in a recently published journal article (Heaney, Walker, Green & Rostron, 2015), which aimed to review the recommendations of previous literature in this area and identify the appropriate content and mode of delivery for a sport psychology education intervention for already qualified physiotherapists. Three broad areas that sport psychology education for physiotherapists should cover emerged: (1) understanding of the psychological impact of injury, (2) interventions and psychological skills/techniques, and (3) referral and professional boundaries. In order for such education to be effective it is important that it is applied in nature and delivered in a short duration, flexible package.

To view a full text version of the article please click on the link below:

Please note that this full text version of the article is only available free of charge until 18 February 2015.

The abstract from the article is reproduced below:
Sport psychology education has been shown to have a positive impact on the practice of sport injury rehabilitation professionals (SIRPs). The purpose of this paper is to review recommendations relating to such education. The paper presents a review of existing literature relating to the content and mode of delivery for a sport psychology education programme for SIRPs. The review seeks to address four questions: (1) What topic areas do researchers suggest should be integrated into the sport psychology education of SIRPs? (2) What topic areas are currently being recommended by professional bodies? (3) What are the findings of research examining the impact of sport psychology education on SIRPs? and (4) What do researchers recommend to be the most appropriate mode of delivery for sport psychology education for SIRPs? The findings of the review suggest that in order to maximise adherence amongst already qualified SIRPs sport psychology education should be delivered in a flexible short duration package. Additionally three broad areas that sport psychology education should cover emerged: (1) understanding of the psychological impact of injury, (2) interventions and psychological skills/techniques, and (3) referral and professional boundaries. This has important implications for the future training of SIRPs.


Sport psychology in the news – December 2014

In the Christmas and New Year rush I forgot to post my latest collection of recent sport psychology related articles/stories in the media for December, so here it is.




Please note that I do not endorse the content of any articles included in this list.

Phillip Hughes death: world of cricket comes to terms with tragic loss

By Caroline Heaney, The Open University

The cricket world has been rocked by the tragic death of 25-year-old Phillip Hughes who lost his life two days after being struck on the back of the head by a cricket ball during a match in Sydney.

In a heart-warming tribute, several Australian cricketers gathered at the Sydney Cricket ground where the incident took place following the news of this death. This act not only showed respect for Hughes, but it also showed great solidarity amongst the cricketers. Such solidarity will be important as Hughes’ teammates and the wider cricketing community come to terms with his death.

Sean Abbott, a friend of Hughes, who bowled the ball that ultimately caused Hughes’ death will particularly need the support of his fellow cricketers. Abbott did nothing wrong – he bowled a perfectly legal ball, but he will still probably experience feelings that could affect his future in the game. Thankfully, the cricketing world has shown united support for Abbott. For example, former Australian captain Mark Taylor stated: “I hope Sean Abbott can forgive himself because the cricket community doesn’t blame him at all” – a sentiment that is shared throughout the world of cricket.

Grieving for teammates

The death of a teammate can be deeply difficult for sports people to deal with. Teammates share a great bond. They spend a lot of time together, have shared goals and aspirations, share challenging times, and often develop strong friendships. The loss of a teammate, particularly in such tragic circumstances, will be hard for Hughes’ fellow cricketers to come to terms with.

Previous research by Keith Henschen and John Heil that examined the impact of the death of a teammate on sports performers found that players experienced feelings of shock and disbelief in the immediate aftermath following a teammate’s death, and experienced continued deep negative emotions such as depression as time progressed. Due to the close bond between teammates the death of a teammate can be more akin to that of a family member than to that of a colleague.

The emotions experienced by the sports people in this research link to grief response models which suggest that people progress through a series of stages as part of the grief process. In Kubler-Ross’ well-known grief model from 1969. These stages are: denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance. Obviously grief is not a simple process and there are individual differences in the way that people experience grief, but this offers a framework of typical responses. To help people cope with the grief of losing a friend or teammate and progress through these stages it is important that they receive support, and it is pleasing to hear that Abbott is receiving that from a counsellor.

Risk of more injuries

Hughes’ death will have an impact not only on his teammates, but on the cricket world as a whole. An incident like this makes players realise that they are not invincible and can cause a reality check that can lead to more cautious play. For example, bowlers the world over might think about the potential consequences of their ball before bowling as a direct consequence of this incident and be in fear of causing harm to another player.

Batters too may be more fearful of getting hurt. Fear of injury and death are not conducive to good performance and in fact caution can actually cause more injury. In Henschen and Heil’s study, an interesting finding was that injury rates were higher in the two weeks following a teammate’s death than at any other point during the season.

Sport psychologists and other professionals are crucial at this time to help players cope not only with the grief of losing a member of their fold, but also with the impact this can have on their play and performance. The loss of such a young and talented player is truly tragic and will have an impact on cricketers everywhere. Let’s hope that the legacy of camaraderie and team spirit he left behind him will help his fellow players deal with the loss.

The Conversation

Caroline Heaney does not work for, consult to, own shares in or receive funding from any company or organisation that would benefit from this article, and has no relevant affiliations.

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

Sport Psychology in the News

From today I will be starting a regular digest of recent sport psychology articles and stories in the media.

Here is the first instalment, featuring a few articles from October and November 2014:









Please note that I do not endorse the content of any articles included in this list.

OUSA Conference, 29th June 2014

Today Jess Pinchbeck and myself led a session at the Open University Student Union Conference on effective goal-setting. We thought it might be useful for those who attended to have a copy of the slides, so here they are:

Goal setting

We really enjoyed the session and would have loved to have a little more time to answer questions. If you enjoyed the session, you may also find the resource below useful.


Finally if you want to find out more about our Degree in Sport, Fitness and Coaching visit:

It’s ok for female athletes not to look pretty!

In an era where we are still trying to have women’s sporting achievements separated from their sexual identity, where accounts of women’s sporting exploits are dominated by their physical appearance, comments recently made by sports minister Helen Grant do very little to develop women’s sport.

Grant suggested that women should be encouraged to take up ‘feminine’ sports where they can look ‘radiant’. That’s hardly going to do anything to increase female participation in traditionally male dominated sports such as football and rugby! It sends a message that these kinds of sports aren’t suitable for women and perpetuates stereotypical perceptions about these sports.

It also tells sportswomen that they need to look pretty whilst training and competing, which isn’t really conducive to hard training. Hard training makes you sweaty, makes your hair messy and makes your make-up run, but hard training is what you need to be successful in sport. So when we tell young girls that they need to look pretty whilst training, we are not encouraging them to push themselves to their limits and become the best athlete that they can be. We are not encouraging them to excel.

I appreciate that Grant’s comments have perhaps been taken out of context and that she was commenting on how to encourage specific groups of women into sport, but I still think her comments are misguided. Successful female sporting role models are the key to encouraging girls and women to take up sport and the Winter Olympics have provided us with some new female stars and yes some of these women might be ‘beautiful’, but that’s not what their role as role models is about – it’s about their physical sporting achievements, not their physical appearance and that’s what we should celebrate.

Sanghani, R. (2014). ‘Get more women into sport through cheerleading – it’s feminine’, says sports minister Helen Grant, The Telegraph, available from: http://www.telegraph.co.uk/women/womens-politics/10652074/Get-more-women-into-sport-through-cheerleading-its-feminine-says-sports-minister-Helen-Grant.html

Injured at the Olympics

By Caroline Heaney

This article appeared on The Open University Winter Olympics Blog on 8th February 2014 http://www.open.ac.uk/blogs/OU-Sport/?p=63

Imagine you have spent the last four years of your life preparing for one special moment, only to have it snatched away from your grasp at the last moment. That scenario can be a reality for the Olympic athlete who sustains an injury before or during the Olympic Games.

Yesterday it was announced that bobsleigh athlete Craig Pickering was returning home from the Winter Olympics without even having stepped on the Sochi bobsleigh track. His exit was the result of a back injury. Pickering stated that he was devestated not to be able to compete in his first Winter Olympics.

Pickering is not alone. Research examining the psychological impact of sports injury shows that the occurence of a sports injury can lead to several negative reactions such as anger, frustration, anxiety and depression.

Some models of psychological reaction to injury even suggest that a sports injury can constitute a form of loss, and for the athlete whose Olympic dream has been crushed by injury this is certainly evident.

A tale of two injuries…

Sport psychology plays an important role in helping the athlete to cope with sports injury. Psychological strategies such as imagery, self talk, goal setting, relaxation and social support have all been shown to aid sports injury rehabilitation. A mentally strong athlete will cope better with injury and grow from the experience.

Pickering’s team mate, bobsleigh driver John Jackson, has certainly shown an ability to grow from the experience of sports injury. Back in July he suffered a serious Achilles’ tendon rupture – an injury that could almost certainly have put an end to his Sochi Olympic dream. Yet thanks to a positive attitude and some pioneering surgery he will be competing in Sochi, and following a some recent good performances at the European championships and World Cup he is a genuine medal prospect. It is claimed that Jackson has returned sronger than ever before. Jackson recently tweeted “To all injured athletes. Never give up faith, never give up on your dream and fight to come back better than you were. Believe in yourself” – inspirational words for any injured athlete.