What doesn't kill me.: Adversity-related experiences are vital in the development of superior Olympic performance

  • Sarkar M
  • Fletcher D
  • Brown D
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Objectives: Recent research suggests that experiencing some adversity can have beneficial outcomes for human growth and development. The purpose of this paper was to explore the adversities that the world's best athletes encounter and the perceived role that these experiences play in their psychological and performance development. Design: A qualitative design was employed because detailed information of rich quality was required to better understand adversity-related experiences in the world's best athletes. Methods: Semi-structured interviews were conducted with 10 Olympic gold medalists from a variety of sports. Inductive thematic analysis was used to analyze the data. Results: The findings indicate that the participants encountered a range of sport- and non-sport adversities that they considered were essential for winning their gold medals, including repeated non-selection, significant sporting failure, serious injury, political unrest, and the death of a family member. The participants described the role that these experiences played in their psychological and performance development, specifically focusing on their resultant trauma, motivation, and learning. Conclusions: Adversity-related experiences were deemed to be vital in the psychological and performance development of Olympic champions. In the future, researchers should conduct more in-depth comparative studies of Olympic athletes' adversity- and growth-related experiences, and draw on existing and alternative theoretical explanations of the growth-performance relationship. For professional practitioners, adversity-related experiences offer potential developmental opportunities if they are carefully and purposely harnessed.

Author-supplied keywords

  • Elite
  • Excellence
  • Growth
  • Sport
  • Stress inoculation

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  • Mustafa Sarkar

  • David Fletcher

  • Daniel J. Brown

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