USW expert helps Commonwealth Games coaches manage stress

Dr David Shearer

Professor David Shearer

A PROCEDURE which puts sports coaches under increasing psychological pressure is being used to help them deal with the intensity of competition at the Commonwealth Games.

Specialists at the University of South Wales (USW) have developed the ‘Breathe to Win’ process, which is designed to help coaches make good decisions when under pressure.

In partnership with the coaches, performance directors, and Sport Wales practitioners, the Heart Rate Variable Biofeedback (HRV) technique has been developed.

Professor David Shearer, who has been supported by researcher and USW sports psychology graduate Mike Gross and Dr Joy Bringer of Sport Wales, explained how it works.

“We start by putting mental pressure on the coaches so that we can get an idea of what their natural reaction to stress would be,” Prof Shearer said.

“We then teach them to breathe correctly - so that they take around six breaths per minute - to increase what is known as their heart rate variability (HRV). Increasing the HRV is vital, as it makes individuals more adaptable when under pressure.

“Once they have mastered the breathing, we then repeat the decision-making task while increasing the psychological pressure on them.”

Prof Shearer added that individuals are seen to be better at decision-making once they have learnt the technique.

“It’s basically managing the natural ‘fight or flight’ reflex that we all have,” Prof Shearer explained.

“The breathing has a calming effect, which improves their cognitive state, so they make good decisions and maintain a positive outlook - they approach the challenge with a smile.

“The biofeedback can also increase our resting state HRV, which means that the heart can become more adaptable in the face of challenge and threats – so it beats faster when it needs to but can work more slowly when there is no threat.”

The USW research is just one of the projects which is being undertaken in universities in Wales as part of the Welsh Institute of Performance Science (WIPS), which is supporting the country’s athletes at the Commonwealth Games, which open in Australia on April 4.

Set up three years ago, WIPS - @WIPSCymru - which includes applied focused academics from USW, Swansea University, Cardiff Metropolitan University, Cardiff University, and Bangor University, is providing Welsh athletes, coaches and sport science practitioners with cutting edge research in the field of elite sporting performance.


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