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Studying the Pressure on Young Pro Athletes

Yufeng Li, PhD Studies in Sports Psychology

July 4, 2024 – International graduate student Yufeng Li is exploring the impact that intense competition can have on a person's mental health. Yufeng's research interests were motivated by his own experience as a professional table tennis player in China. With his Master’s in Human Kinetics complete and the end of his PhD in Human Kinetics approaching, Yufeng says that research will continue to be a focus for him throughout his career as a sports psychology scientist-practitioner. 

Originally from Eastern China, Yufeng completed his undergraduate degree at East China Normal University in Sport Training. In 2019, he came to Laurentian University to pursue his master's in Sports Psychology under the supervision of Dr. Robert Schinke. He learned about Dr. Schinke through the International Society of Sports Psychology.

"As a young pro player I learned the psychological effects that competition has on a person. My experience in the sport inspired my interest in this area of academic research," Yufeng says. "During my bachelor's studies, I read about Dr. Schinke's work as the President of the International Society of Sports Psychology. I knew that I wanted to work with him as I continued my exploration of the psychological effects of competition."

Yufeng says that the transition from his home to Sudbury was jarring at first. “When I first got to Laurentian there was some culture shock and language barriers for me but the community was so welcoming,” he recalls. “It’s a small university but the professors and colleagues are so open and supportive. Dr. Schinke has been a wonderful advisor, and such a devoted and exceptional mentor.”

Yufeng’s master’s thesis was largely a self-reflection on his athletic development. Yufeng explored why some of his teammates and opponents were excelling to Olympic-level performance, but he was not able. To do so, he looked at what barriers and challenges he faced, including competition anxiety.

His PhD research expands on that, understanding the ways that pressure of competition and competition anxiety can negatively impact the trajectory of professional table tennis players in China. 

“During their careers, athletes reach different stages and transitions that bring about challenges and barriers to their ability to perform,” Yufeng explains. “If they do not have appropriate resources and support to cope with these barriers, it will not only influence their sport performance but also their holistic development.” 

Discoveries in his research have inspired Yufeng’s career ambitions. “No one was able to provide the kind of support I needed throughout my professional career,” he says. “Table tennis is the national sport of China and that comes with high expectations. There needs to be more understanding of what the young athletes are going through and how to support their needs while they cope with immense physical and psychological pressure.” Yufeng wishes to influence change through his research and future work with table tennis athletes. He hope to see the athletes coached, mentored, and trained in a way that supports every part of them, making them even better, more capable athletes.

When he finishes his PhD this coming winter, Yufeng plans to work as a Sports Psychology Scientist Practitioner. He will continue to conduct research throughout his career and apply that research through evidence-based mental health support for athletes.