Summary and Keywords
The Paralympics are the pinnacle of sporting competition for athletes with physical and intellectual impairments. Most Paralympians have intellectual or sensory (e.g., visual) or physical (e.g., amputation, spinal cord injury, cerebral palsy) impairments. The Paralympics have become increasingly competitive and larger over the years as they have grown from two countries and 150 athletes in 1952 to 150 countries and about 4,000 athletes in 2012. In the last 10 to 20 years there has been significant interest and growth in the psychology of Paralympic athletes. Researchers are slowly starting to support the value of psychological skills training. Typically, a humanistic personal developmental model that equally values athletes’ well-being and their athletic performance has been advocated. Understanding the various influences on performance and well-being specifically for Paralympians is particularly important given the stress of the Paralympic experience. Research on Paralympians has focused on foundational qualities, which are psychological factors, such as feelings of control, self-awareness, self-esteem, and personality factors. Often these foundation qualities are framed as having an indirect influence on performance through factors like training quality and lifestyle choices (e.g., alcohol consumption).
In additional to foundational qualities, a second area of research targets the psychological methods that are used to develop mental skills and qualities. For instance, competition plans, positive self-talk, and goal setting are all methods used to enhance positive thoughts (e.g., confidence) and reduce negative affect (e.g., anxiety). A third area of focus has to do with facilitative and debilitative factors that influence Paralympic performance. For instance, many Paralympians have to manage chronic pain and avoid overtraining and injury. Many Paralympians have difficulty training, as sport facilities are not always accessible for training. Travel to competition sites, especially involving air travel (with effects such as jet lag), is particularly challenging and can negatively influence performance. Sleeping in the Paralympic village can also be difficult, with many athletes reporting inferior sleep quality. Finally, a small body of research has examined the challenges Paralympians face when retiring from sport.
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