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“We React Less. We React Differently. We React Better”: A Case Study of a Mindfulness-Based Intervention for Olympic Referee Performance

Mattia Piffaretti and Benjamin Carr

This case study details the experience and results of the first author’s work as a clinical sport psychologist contracted by the International Volleyball Federation to develop and deliver a mindfulness-based intervention to volleyball and beach volleyball referees leading up to the 2016 Summer Olympic Games. Interviews with the referee commission revealed referees’ high levels of pre- and in-game stress, which can inhibit their cognitive decision-making ability needed to perform at a high level. A five-stage (emotional intelligence, stress management skills, concentration, mental imagery, and motivation) mindfulness-based intervention was developed to address referees’ attentional skills, emotional readiness, and mindful awareness. The five stages were delivered over the 4 months preceding the Games, where the clinician was also available on-site for individual preparation. Referees completed pre- and postintervention quantitative (Five-Facet Mindfulness Questionnaire, Competitive State Anxiety Inventory-2, and Concentration Skills Self-Help Test) and qualitative surveys as well as a post-Olympics evaluation of the practical tools introduced during the mindfulness-based intervention. In-game performances were evaluated by referee delegates prior to and at the Olympics. Analysis of the data showed significant positive changes in the mindfulness factors observing and nonreaction, referees’ concentration skills, and the evaluations of in-game performances. Multiple tools were reported to be highly useful and frequently implemented, including during the Olympics.

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“What if I Get Injured?”: An Acceptance and Commitment Therapy Approach for Fear of Injury With a Semielite Youth Snowboarder

David Price, Christopher R.D. Wagstaff, and Richard C. Thelwell

We outline the sport psychology service delivery provided to a 13-year-old male semielite youth Snowboarder, who reported experiencing a fear of injury when performing difficult tricks in training. The trainee practitioner used an approach informed by acceptance and commitment therapy that targeted the six core processes (acceptance, defusion, self-as-context, contact with the present moment, values, and committed action) to increase psychological flexibility. First, the acceptance and commitment therapy matrix was used to conceptualize the client’s “stuckness” and provide a foundation for mindfulness and defusion techniques to be implemented. Subsequently, the case reports how focus circles and “thanking the mind” exercises were introduced to increase the client’s contact with the present moment, and to cognitively defuse from the thought “What if I get injured?” Reflections from the client and their father were obtained to monitor and evaluate the service delivery process. The trainee’s reflections on practice also served to highlight the challenges of using acceptance and commitment therapy with a youth athlete, in particular the dominating “control” agenda, which in performance contexts, can be reinforced by the socially inferred narrative that athletes must control internal states as a prerequisite for optimal performance.

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Working in Esports: Developing Team Cohesion

Laura Swettenham and Amy Whitehead

The team in the current case study is a professional League of Legends team within the United Kingdom. This case study aimed to develop team cohesion through increasing players’ awareness of self and others through mutual sharing of strength profiles. As the split progressed, the case also aimed to support the players to manage uncomfortable thoughts and emotions under pressure utilizing an acceptance and commitment therapy approach. This was done through five workshops over 4 weeks with one-to-one work blended into the program to ensure an individualized approach to enhance learning. This case study will outline the context of League of Legends, the needs analysis, intervention delivery, and feedback from interviews with players and coaches. Finally, this case study will provide reflections from the trainee sport and exercise psychologist working within esports for the first time.

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“A Blank Slate”: Preparing for Tokyo 2021 During COVID-19

Nick Wadsworth and Adam Hargreaves

This article presents a case study of an applied consultancy experience with WL, an Olympic athlete preparing for Tokyo 2021. WL sought psychological support after decreases in performance and well-being forced them to consider their future as an athlete. COVID-19 and the lockdown of the United Kingdom were highly influential to the consultancy process, providing WL with the opportunity to explore their identity in the absence of sport. WL framed their emergence from the lockdown as a “Blank Slate,” which was a critical moment allowing them to “find themselves on and off the mat.” The sport psychologist’s existential philosophy is presented and discussed in detail. Furthermore, reflections are provided by WL’s strength and conditioning coach about the referral process and by WL themself about the efficacy of the interventions. The importance of supporting both the person and the performer when working with aspiring Olympic athletes is also discussed.

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Brazilian Gymnastics in a Crucible: A Media Data Case Study of Serial Sexual Victimization of the Brazilian Men’s Gymnastics Team

Michelle E. Seanor, Cole E. Giffin, Robert J. Schinke, and Diana A. Coholic

Elite gymnastics sport culture is presently under global scrutiny. Largely ignited by the highly publicized case of serial sexual abuses in USA Gymnastics, multiple national gymnastics teams have disclosed stories of athlete abuse. Our author team utilized media data to investigate the serial sexual abuses that occurred on the Brazilian Men’s Gymnastics Team. Using media data to conceptualize athlete maltreatment is novel and facilitated our holistic interpretation of athlete maltreatment across multiple levels of athletes’ developmental systems. The authors traced the media coverage temporally and identified four overarching themes: (a) uncovering the case (subthemes—the Brazilian sport context; the Brazilian men’s gymnastics context; the club context), (b) before abuse was identified (subthemes—the coach–athlete dyad: before disclosure; the athlete: a lost childhood; social connectivity: isolation; the gymnastics system: mechanisms of abuse), (c) when abuse was recognized (subthemes—the coach–athlete dyad: athlete resistance; the athlete: identifying the impact; social connectivity: building connections; the gymnastics system: consequences of abuse), and (d) the legacy of abuse (subthemes—the coach–athlete dyad: ongoing abuses; the athlete: cyclical victimization; social connectivity: expanding connections; the gymnastics system: after abuse). Utilizing media data facilitated our culturally contextualized interpretation of athlete abuse to present tailored recommendations for practitioners.

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Volume 5 (2021): Issue S1 (Jul 2021): CSSEP Special Issue: Working With Aspiring Olympic Athletes

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Case Studies of Olympic Medalist Coach–Athlete Relationships: A Retrospective Analysis Prior to and During the Olympics

Brian Zuleger and Rick McGuire

The Olympics is a unique and challenging performance setting that tests the strength of the coach–athlete relationship. The purpose of this study was to investigate the coach–athlete relationship prior to and during the Olympics with Olympic-medal-winning athletes and their coaches. Qualitative research methods were implemented where three Olympic medalist coach–athlete dyads participated in semistructured interviews. Data collection included three separate interviews (athlete, coach, and coach–athlete) for each dyad. Cross-case analysis identified three lower order themes related to creating an athlete-centered environment: (a) empowering effective decision making, (b) open and honest communication, and (c) mental cue-based instruction and feedback. In addition, three lower order themes related to developing a caring supportive relationship emerged: (a) developed trust, (b) commitment, and (c) gratitude. Results indicated that coaches and athletes perceived that their success at the Olympics Games was influenced by the strength of the coach–athlete relationship that was developed over multiple years prior to the Olympics.

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Embedding Perceptual–Cognitive Training in the Athlete Environment: An Interdisciplinary Case Study Among Elite Female Goalkeepers Preparing for Tokyo 2020

Veronique Richard, Béatrice Lavoie-Léonard, and Thomas Romeas

Goalkeepers play a very specific and crucial role in water polo. They rely on advanced perceptual–cognitive (P–C) skills to make fast and accurate decisions. However, their daily training environment often lacks stimulation and representativeness of game demands. This was exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic, where noncontact practices became the “new normal.” In the Canadian Women’s National Team preparation for the 2020 Olympics, goalkeepers’ P–C training was made a priority. Led by the team’s mental performance consultant and experts from transdisciplinary fields, the initiative began with an evaluation of a broad range of P–C skills in goalkeepers. Leading up to the Olympics, a series of P–C activities (i.e., anticipatory training using video occlusion, eye–hand coordination, and visuomotor drills) were adopted based on ecological dynamics principles. Virtual reality technology and constraints-focused tools were used to enrich and diversify the goalkeepers’ daily trainings environment. This case study reports the evaluation of P–C skills, the context, and the way in which the P–C activities were implemented, as well as their holistic impact on goalkeepers. Reflections and limitations are also shared to encourage interdisciplinary efforts in sport psychology and increase awareness among mental performance consultants about the importance of psycho-perceptual-motor skill training for mental performance.

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Experiencing the Social Environment of a Canoe Kayak Club: A Case Study of a Special Olympics Program

Krystn Orr, M. Blair Evans, Katherine A. Tamminen, and Kelly P. Arbour-Nicitopoulos

For individuals with an intellectual disability, emerging adulthood (18–25 years) may be a disruptive time with an abrupt ending to programming and services after adolescence. This study critically explores the social environment and experiences of individuals involved in a Special Olympics paddling program for emerging adult athletes with an intellectual disability. Using an instrumental case study design, multiple qualitative methods were implemented including photography, videography, observations, and interviews. The participants included four athletes (one female and three male; three with autism spectrum disorder, one with mild intellectual disability), three fathers, a coach, a program coordinator, and an administrator. Analyses were guided by interpretivism and the quality parasport participation framework. The findings highlight how the limited staff training and preparation, the complexity of providing such a program, and parental hidden labor in their adult children’s sport involvement influence the social environment. Implications for coaching practices include the importance of communication strategies and coach education.

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“All or Nothing”: The Road to the National Hockey League for Five Successful Danish Players Born in 1989

Daniel K.S. Bendorff, Anders W. Aggerholm, Simon H. Dalsgaard, Christian M. Wrang, Luc J. Martin, and Niels N. Rossing

The purpose of this case study was to explore the conditions that contributed to the development of five Danish National Hockey League players born in 1989. Informed by the personal assets framework, we conducted nine semistructured interviews with six players, two parents, and a former head coach. The purpose of these interviews was to explore the conditions that surrounded the athlete’s development and facilitated their ascent to the National Hockey League. Generally, we found that the club coaches identified and targeted the National Hockey League players from an early age, were result oriented in their leadership approach, and provided exclusive training opportunities to identified players. During their specializing years, the players were encouraged to undertake an “all or nothing” approach, whereby they were largely expected to sacrifice opportunities to pursue dual careers. In addition, a relocation to the Swedish hockey gymnasium and club, Frölunda, provided an important developmental stepping-stone for nearly all of them. Furthermore, uncontrollable and fortuitous conditions (e.g., prosperous national sport environment, role models) inspired the players’ ambitions and perceptions of capability. The results of this study are discussed in relation to the literature and practical implications, and we highlight limitations and propose future directions.