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University academics provide solutions to developing resilience in elite sport teams

With the Ashes Test Match series starting later this week, success and failure could come down to how the two teams manage the pressurised environment.

As such, academics at Loughborough University have completed the first study that defines team resilience in an elite sport context.

The novel study by Paul Morgan, 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 with31 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.’

Mustafa Sarkar, from the Sport Psychology Research Group, further explains:

“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.

“Even if you have a group of individuals who are able to withstand stress, it doesn’t necessarily guarantee that the team is going to be able to manage the pressure. So the collective ability becomes increasingly important.”

The aim of the research is to better understand team resilience in elite sport and to provide a framework for practitioners operating in this ever-changing, complex environment.

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. Mustafa Sarkar adds:

“The majority of the participants in the study talked about learning and saw setbacks as an opportunity for improvement. They also mentioned that encountering adversity was a fundamental aspect of resilience.

“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.”

The team resilience study is part of a wider programme that the Loughborough University research group are conducting. Current papers that have been published in this area include:

Psychological resilience in Olympic Champions
A review of resilience definitions, concepts and theory

Further papers that will be published in the autumn include:

How should we measure psychological resilience in sport performers?
Psychological resilience and thriving in high achievers.

For further information about the research, contact Mustafa Sarkar at

To view the full team resilience article please go to the following link: