Developing veterans’ resilience through physical activity

Staff at Loughborough University have developed a programme of physical activity and wellbeing workshops, which is helping veterans to strengthen their social, physical and physiological resilience.

Utilising Loughborough University's world-class staff and facilities, participants take part in a range of activities, led by experts in developing resilience and enhancing health and wellbeing.

Veterans are given advice in areas including nutrition, improving sleep quality, social resilience and physical activity.

At the end of the course participants are provided with a plan of action to help sustain the improvements they have made, including an opportunity to attend a follow-up weekend with other programme participants.

The staff involved have been left humbled and privileged by the way in which the first cohort of 16 veterans have embraced the programme and by the impact which it has had, with some participants not only using the skills taught in their normal lives, but also competing in the 2023 Invictus Games.

To find out more about the programme, visit the Developing Veterans’ Resilience through Physical Activity website.

It is an overused phrase sometimes, but in this case it’s true, the programme has been life changing. I don't want to say I'm my old self because you'll never be the person you were before. I discovered a Japanese tradition – Kintsugi – which is where they'll deliberately break a pot and put it back together using gold so that the cracks show. None of us get through life without some cracks, but the cracks aren't the thing that breaks you. You just need to repair them and carry on and the cracks will then become part of the beauty of your life. And that's what's happened to me in the last year, I have started fixing the cracks, not ignoring them, pretending they aren't cracks. And it started with this programme.

Ben Wilson Military veteran

Research in focus

Physical activity and world-leading academic expertise

Participants have pointed to the welcoming atmosphere, opportunities to share their personal experience, and the social network provided as vital in their experience being so positive.

However, it is the mix of physical activity, backed up by world-leading academic expertise which they credit with setting the programme apart from the support that they have accessed previously.

Developed by Dr Craig White and Dr Jamie Barker, the programme builds on Craig’s military experience and his PhD examining the impact of social identity leadership on resilience within the RAF.

Further research has also explored how perceived group memberships, social and relational identification, and social identity leadership are associated with resilience in Royal Air Force (RAF) personnel. Their findings highlighted the importance of the association between positive group memberships and resilience, and social identification and resilience.

  • White CA, Slater MJ, Turner MJ, Barker JB. (2021). More positive group memberships are associated with greater resilience in Royal Air Force (RAF) personnel. British Journal of Social Psychology, 60: 400-428. DOI: 10.1111/bjso.12385

Lessons from a sporting context

Learnings used to develop the programme have also come from Jamie’s research investigating how group dynamics, leadership and resilience can be used to improve the performance of sport teams and individual athletes.

Specifically, our research demonstrates the importance of leaders facilitating shared social identities, personal disclosure, trust, and shared vision and values to craft togetherness within groups. When these aspects are apparent, groups and teams are likely to invest more effort, be more persistent, feel more valued and be more productive.

  • Evans AL, Coffee P, Barker JB.(2023). The effects of social identity and social identity content on cohesion, efficacy and performance across a competitive rugby league season. International Journal of Sport and Exercise Psychology. DOI: 10.1080/1612197X.2023.2229349
  • Mertens N, Boen F, Steffens NK, Haslam SA, Bruner M, Barker JB, Slater MS, Fransen K. (2021). Harnessing the power of ‘us’: A randomized wait-list controlled trial of the 5R Shared Leadership Development Program (5RS) in basketball teams. Psychology of Sport and Exercise. DOI: 10.1016/j.psychsport.2021.101936
  • Shah E, Slater MS, Fransen K, Barker JB. (2022). The impact of intra-team communication and support relationships on team identification and collective efficacy in elite team sport: A social network analysis. International Journal of Sport and Exercise Psychology. DOI: 10.1080/1612197X.2022.2084761
  • Slater MJ, Barker JB. (2022). “Together, We Can Do This”: The Best Sport Teams Are Greater Than the Sum of Their Parts. Frontiers. Young Minds. 10:703542. DOI: 10.3389/frym.2022.703542
  • Slater MJ, Barker JB. (2019). Doing social identity leadership: Exploring the efficacy of an identity leadership intervention on perceived leadership and mobilization in elite disability soccer. Journal of Applied Sport Psychology, 31, 65 – 86. DOI: 10.1080/10413200.2017.1410255
  • Slater MJ, Coffee P, Barker JB, Haslam SA, Steffens N. (2019). Shared social identity content is the basis for leaders’ mobilization of followers. Psychology of Sport & Exercise, 43, 271-278. DOI: 10.1016/j.psychsport.2019.03.012

Meet the experts

Dr Craig White

Dr Craig White

ESRC Research Fellow

Dr Jamie Barker

Dr Jamie Barker

Senior Lecturer in Sport and Exercise Psychology