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What doesn’t kill you DOES make you stronger

Research has found athletes who face set-backs in their lives perform better under pressure. Those who have faced challenges, like death of a loved one, divorce or serious injury could adapt better to a competitive sport situation. Though, experiencing too much hardship could push some over the edge, harming the chances of some competitors.

The study, which was led by the University of Gloucestershire, included researchers from Nottingham Trent, South Wales and Essex. The research has been published in the Scandinavian Journal of Medicine and Science in Sports.

The researchers asked 100 athletes to take part in a high pressure dart throwing challenge. Those who’d been through a moderately high number of ‘adverse life events’ (between 3 and 13) significantly outperformed those who had experienced a lower or much higher number. The researchers believe those athletes possess a greater ability to cope with pressure, as they develop a psychological ‘challenge’ state. This creates better blood flow to the brain and muscles. However those who had been through a lower or higher number of ‘adverse life events’ develop a ‘threat’ state. This constricts blood flow and reduces the hearts activity.

The researchers say coaches should bear this in mind and consider difficult life experiences athletes have faced outside of sport, when identifying those who could succeed in high pressure situations.

Lead researcher Dr Lee Moore, a lecturer in sport and exercise psychology at the University of Gloucestershire says; “Our results suggest athletes should change their mind set towards the adversities they experience outside of sport, viewing them as opportunities for growth that might help them thrive in stressful sporting competition in the future.”