We are interested in how psychological principles can support disabled athletes to achieve athletic success. Some of our research questions include: What are the psychological benefits of participating in disability sport? How do disabled people cope with the transition into and out of elite sport? How can we support better mental health in Paralympic sport? How does Para-athlete wellbeing change over time?


Understanding Transitions into Elite Sport

Problem: Despite known increased physical and psychological demands, little is known about how athletes manage the transition into elite disability sport.

Methodology: Interviews with athletes newly recruited to elite development programmes (on entry to the programme, and 9 months later).
Results: Athletes, particularly older ones, described some trepidation about committing wholly to a goal with few guarantees. As such, some found it hard to adopt the “elite” label. Other stressors included managing poor results and reduced social time affecting relationships. Fellow athletes could help manage the transition pressure or, in the case of selection rivals, intensify it.
Conclusion: The transition into elite disability sport may be a “dream come true” for some, but it is not without psychosocial pressures that must be supported. 
For more information please contact Dr Anthony Papathomas

The relationship between disability-related identities and well-being in elite para athletes.

Problem: Recently researchers have outlined the important role personal and social identities have on individual well-being. In the context of Para sport little is know about the relationship between disability identity and well-being

Methodology: The sample consisted of fifty-eight elite para athletes, 28 males and 30 females, with a mean age of 30.93 years (SD = 8.73 years). Forty-three athletes in the sample had competed at a Paralympic Games, across sixteen Paralympic sports and in seven impairment categories.

Results: Results revealed significant relationships between disability identity and well-being with a positive relationship between elite para athletes who are accepting of their disability and well-being and a negative relationship between para athletes who deny their disability and well-being.

Conclusion: Data implied that acceptance of disability is aligned with better well-being, whilst denial of disability is linked with poorer well-being. Elite para athletes struggled to understand and articulate what identity is, what it meant, and the consequences (e.g., reduced well-being). Practitioners should work with elite para athletes to help them become more accepting of themselves and understand their broader self-identity. 

For more information in this area please contact Clare Cunningham (BPA) and Dr Jamie Barker (SSEHS)