Closing the Gap between Local and Elite

Mind-Body Series: Resilience in sport

By Jaimi Acourt

If you have ever been a part of a team that has finished on the bottom of the ladder, chances are that you know all too well the feeling of losing . . .  and then losing . . .  and then losing some more.

The hard truth is, losing is not a good feeling or entertaining to watch. However, everyone loves an underdog story.

You’ve heard the stories before. The team full of misfits that lose 5 games straight and everyone counts out of the finals. But then suddenly they pull together and start performing. They win 1 game and then 2 and then they are in finals contention.

So, what causes this drastic turn around? What about when you have been a part of a losing team for 3 seasons in a row, or you have been faced with injury after injury and hurdle after hurdle in your personal journey to peak performance?

Answer = Psychological resilience

Resilience research in sports psychology has considered resilience in Olympic champions and elite sporting teams. Here is a summary of what we have found:

Individual resilience in sport:

Individual resilience in sport generally focuses on the stress, resilience and performance relationship. Researchers then try to pinpoint the exact characteristics that determine psychological resilience in the face of challenges. For example, in a study examining the psychological characteristics of Olympic champions, Fletcher & Mustafa (2012) identified a range of psychological factors linked to resilience.

More specifically, they found that champions possessed certain psychological qualities, such as a positive personality, motivation, confidence, perceived social support and focus. These factors subsequently enabled them to manage a variety of different stressors which fell into the following three main categories; competition, organisational and personal.

Team resilience in sport:

Team resilience can be defined as “a dynamic, psychosocial process which protects a group of individuals from the potential negative effect of the stressors they collectively encounter.” (Morgan, Fletcher & Mustafa Sarkar, 2013).

Findings from recent psychological research have revealed four main resilient characteristics of elite sport teams. These include, group structure, mastery approaches, social capital, and collective efficacy. The emphasis was on effectively combining individual skills and resources to ensure that they can collectively face repeated adversity.

In conclusion, it is easy to feel good and contribute when you or your team are performing well but the true test of character, grit, team functionality and resilience is pushing through when you can’t quite see the light at the end. You have to create that light for yourself and your team. So, next time you’re feeling down about an injury or a recent string of losses, consider how you can draw and build upon psychological resilience to get back on top.

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Fletcher, D., & Sarkar, M. (2012). A grounded theory of psychological resilience in Olympic champions. Psychology Of Sport And Exercise13(5), 669-678.

Morgan, P., Fletcher, D., & Sarkar, M. (2013). Defining and characterizing team resilience in elite sport. Psychology Of Sport And Exercise14(4), 549-559.



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