Loughborough University:Developing resilience in sport teams

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Loughborough University:Developing resilience in sport teams

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Loughborough University academics provide solutions to developing resilience in elite sport teams

Academics at Loughborough University have completed the first study that defines team resilience in an elite sport context. Dr David Fletcher, and Mustafa Sarkar from the Sport Psychology Research Group, based in the School of Sport, Exercise and Health Sciences, also provides an insight into the main characteristics underpinning team resilience.

The research involved holding focus groups with 31 athletes from the sports of rowing, field hockey, football, handball, and futsal. The sample included Olympic medallists, world champions, international and professional level athletes. Based on the discussions, team resilience was defined as a ‘dynamic, psychosocial process which protects a group of individuals from the potential negative effect of the stressors they collectively encounter. It comprises of processes whereby team members use their individual and combined resources to positively adapt when experiencing adversity. The research showed us that a team’s collective ability to withstand pressure is critical for optimal sport performance. The pressures that a team may face are undoubtedly going to be different to the pressures that an individual may face in their sport.

In order to enhance resilience the following four characteristics were identified in the research as areas that elite sport teams should look to develop:

• Group structure – this includes formal structures such as centralised team bases and locations, but also informal structures such as the norms and values of the group.
• Mastery approaches - shared attitudes and behaviours within the team that promotes an emphasis on improvement.
• Social capital - the existence of high quality interactions and caring relationships within groups.
• Collective efficacy – shared belief within the group in its ability to perform a task.

The research team discovered two overarching themes from the study. The first one was that the quality of relationships is critical for team resilience. Mustafa Sarkar states: “Relationships are vital when you are working with team mates on a day to day basis. It’s not necessarily about being best friends with people, but it is about having trust and respect, and knowing that your team mates are all pulling together during challenging situations. One of the key issues that came out of the focus groups was a ‘no blame’ culture and everyone being accountable during adversity. Open communication channels, in relation to resilience and setbacks, have to be in place.”

A second theme that emerged from the findings was that learning and team resilience are intertwined. Resilient teams regard setbacks as a natural part of their sporting development and consider learning from disappointments as being vital to optimal performance. Some of the athletes even commented that if they hadn’t encountered adversity in their sporting careers, they probably wouldn’t have ended up in the position that they were in – playing sport at the highest level.
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