USW psychologists helping Commonwealth swimmers manage impact of pre-Games training changes

USW psychologists have been helping Commonwealth swimmers manage impact of pre-Games training changes. Neil Gibson, March 2018

USW psychologists have been working with Commonwealth Games swimmers to help them manage the mental challenges of a slow-down in their training prior to competing in the Gold Coast.


SWIMMERS preparing for competition in April’s Commonwealth Games are helping those who’ll race in the next Games in 2022 to achieve success.

A team from across the country – including specialists from the University of South Wales, (USW), Swim Wales, Sport Wales, Dr Camilla Knight of Swansea University, and Commonwealth Games coaches – are looking at how the competitors cope with the psychological influence of pre-event changes to training schedules.

Ahead of competition, swimmers usually go through what is called a ‘taper’, during which they reduce the amount of training. However, this process can have a negative psychological impact as competitors can feel as though they are not doing enough physical preparation, which can have an impact on their performance. 

To understand the psychological influence this can have on the competitors, researchers are carrying out detailed interviews with the swimmers to understand their mindset during the pre-competition period.

The initial findings have guided the coaches currently leading the swimmers through their taper period, as they prepare to take part in the Commonwealth Games.

Professor David Shearer, sport psychologist at the University of South Wales (USW), explained the reasons for the research.

“Our early findings indicate that the experiences swimmers have during taper are multi-faceted and are considerably wider that just how they expect to perform in the pool,” he said.

“Swimmers go from a period of training that is often their hardest in the yearly cycle, to a period that often feels unnaturally less intensive. The idea is that this period helps the athletes recover physically and become faster, fitter, and stronger through a process known as ‘supercompensation’.

“Unfortunately, it appears it can also be a period of doubt and anxiety as the competition looms. Indeed swimmer often refer to the ‘taper blues’ during this period.”

Maxwell Stone, who is the ESF-funded KESS PhD student conducting the research, added: “We have been travelling round Wales and interviewing the very best swimmers and coaches in the country.

“This process has built a clearer picture of the athletes and coaches experiences during taper.

“We are now in a position to start testing different methods of enhancing the experience of athletes during this period. The real impact of our research will probably be felt in the 2022 Commonwealth Games, so watch this space.”

Ross Nicholas, Performance Director for Swim Wales, said:  “The Welsh Institute of Performance Science (WIPS) has helped Swim Wales develop and deliver key projects that relate to maximising the performance of athletes in the competition environment.

“Specifically, these projects have focused on the development and fine tuning of key race skills and developing a better understanding of the taper period that leads into key competitions.

“These projects have the potential to directly benefit certain individual swimmers and coaches currently operating at the elite level, but will also help Swim Wales to develop a deeper understanding of these important areas which could result in a positive long term impact across the entire system in Wales.”

The USW research on tapering 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 in collaboration with Sport Wales, 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.

The Knowledge Economy Skills Scholarships (KESS) is a pan-Wales higher level skills initiative part-funded by the Welsh Government’s European Social Fund (ESF) convergence programme for West Wales and the Valleys. For more information on the KESS 2 Programme, contact Research & Innovation Services on 01443 482578.


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