8 Helping athletes feel supported
You may have heard the terms ‘a person-centred approach’ or ‘an athlete-centred approach’ – these terms were developed by humanist psychologist Carl Rogers in 1957 and they often feature in discussions about athlete support. In sport, the person-centred approach suggests that a climate conducive to support is valuable using the concepts of congruence, unconditional positive regard and empathy (Nelson et al., 2014).
You will now explore and apply these concepts to see how you can help athletes feel emotionally supported.
Activity 7 Person-centred support and burnout
This activity has two tasks.
1. Look at Figure 9 and explore your understanding of congruence, unconditional positive regard and empathy by clicking on each heading in turn. Take time to carefully read through the descriptions given.
2. Now consider how you would react in the following situation, applying one or two aspects of the person-centred approach:
Imagine you are a colleague of Kyle, who has always been shy. He reveals that he has begun to induce vomiting the day before athletes are weighed as part of the monitoring of the squad. You are understandably shocked by this.
How would you react to such information in your own sport or fitness environment if an athlete made such a revelation? What might be an appropriate response?
A person-centred non-judgemental response to Kyle may be, ‘OK, so when during the day do you do this?’ or ‘I can only imagine how painful it must be to talk about that, would it be helpful to chat further?’. The second example is non-judgemental but also shows empathy. In contrast, a judgemental response may be, ‘Really, why do you do that?’, accompanied by a shocked facial expression.
To respond to Kyle in a non-judgemental manner is likely to build trust and encourage him to feel that he is supported and able to seek further help. For a strategy of social support to be effective, those listening may need to show empathy in trying to understand and reflect back what is being said in order to make the other person feel understood.
Some of the negative social consequences of burnout can be isolation from team mates and coaches. Therefore, your increased awareness of the different categories of social support and the evidence showing the importance of athletes feeling supported should help you respond appropriately.