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Building confidence and changing mind-sets, the role of psychology in helping to achieve Paralympic success

03 September 2021

As Paralympics GB athletes continue their medal-winning performances in Tokyo, psychologists from the BPS have explained the vital role psychology can play in supporting Paralympians to achieve success.

Dr Jamie Barker, a member of the British Psychological Society’s Division of Sport and Exercise Psychology, has worked with the FA’s disability squads including the 7-a-side Paralympic football team.

He says one of the most important roles of a psychologist is to build confidence and change mind-sets:

“Quite often working with able bodied athletes it is about building confidence for when things don’t go well or to be able to take on board feedback or differing opinions.

For para-athletes I have found that actually they have spent so much of their lives being told they can’t do something, or that something isn’t for them while having encountered multiple life setbacks and challenges, that understanding that they can do something is a challenge.

As psychologists we can help para-athletes understand their journey so we can offer the best psychological support and change their mind-set to one where they believe that they can.

Sometimes it’s just about helping them to understanding how they have overcome obstacles and that some of the same strategies used have direct links to helping well-being and performance in sport. ”

As well as changing mind-sets, another critical area for psychologists is supporting athletes with transitions.

“Often in Paralympic sport athletes come in quickly to the sport perhaps after an accident, but then often they can move out of the sport quickly for a number of reasons, for example due to classification rules.

As psychologists we have to support athletes with this journey and with understanding these different identities, as well as just supporting their performance.

Quite often there are quite major changes in identity for para-athletes and these shifts can be difficult to deal with and have the potential to negatively influence mental health and well-being.

If an athlete struggles to accept their (disability) identity it can lead to frustration and anger and more challenges for their wellbeing.

It’s important then as psychologists we support athletes, as a happy athlete will always perform better than one who is struggling with their mental health and wellbeing.”

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