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This Week in Research: Sports Psychology and the Rio Olympics: Robert Schinke

This Week in Research: Sports Psychology and the Rio Olympics: Robert Schinke

The primary goal of this research, led by Laurentian University researchers Dr. Robert Schinke, Dr. Kerry McGannon, Dr. Diana Coholic, has been to develop an understanding of the richness of cultural diversity in two high performance sport teams, the Canadian Male and Female National Boxing Teams. This research takes into consideration the intersecting social locations of each sport participant that contribute to identity (e.g., race, ethnicity, socio-economic status, language, gender, education, and physicality).

When asked about the importance of this research project, Dr. Schinke, Tier 2 Canada Research Chair in Multicultural Sport and Physical Activity, suggests that , “Through the identification and analysis of intersecting social locations, deeper insight is being gained into how and why elite sport participants engage in their teams, where they encounter resistance and silencing in relation to their social locations, which are centralized and marginalized, and the psychological, social, behavioural, performance implications of the foregoing for the athletes.”

 To put this into perspective and practice, a richer understanding of participants’ intersecting locations in sport contexts tends to encourage a better understanding of sport participants’ experiences, more inclusive sport practices, healthier sport experiences, and better performances. From the SSHRC Insight Development Grant (2014-2017) , and also its predecessor SSHRC Insight Grant (2012-2016) focused on Elite athlete acculturation, much of the work throughout the 2015 Pan-American Games was no doubt critical to record results for the Canadian National Boxing Team – the team won 3 Gold and 3 Bronze medals.

A few key points we have gained through this project, is that we unearthed some of the initial barriers to sport participation for these aspiring athletes. For newcomers, these barriers included not knowing how to access a suitable coach and training environment. Then there were challenges during the naturalization process with being overlooked for possible national team spots. Once on the team, the athletes also struggled with developing thicker skins when their peers teased them regarding their accents. Outside of sport, our work extended understandings of critical acculturation by examining the challenges the athletes encountered in their local living environments, such as finding their first friend. Most notable, the athletes struggled with their identities as Canadians, uncertain whether to become career oriented or full time athletes. Though all of the athletes we interviewed persisted in sport, they all spoke of peers who dropped out. The thing most interesting in this decision making is that initially all of the newcomers believed they needed to excel in sport and a career in order to be accepted Canadians. There was an eventual realization that a choice needed to be made, and that excelling in one aspect of their lives was sufficient, and affirming of their value to their new country

As we now move into the final preparatory phase before Rio, three of these athletes are now seeded in advance of the Olympics. The hope is to win Olympic medals for Canada through a better understanding of athletes' needs and gain a deeper understanding of how athletes' identities can augment excellence in the highest profile sporting event on Earth - the Olympics.

With further reference to the Olympics in Rio, Dr. Schinke was recently featured in an Al-Ja-Zeera article commenting on the ground-breaking inclusion of the Refugee Team in this iteration of the Olympics. Dr. Schinke is quoted several times in the article, discussing how both psychological and external factors may affect these athletes, particularly when competing on the world stage:  "Given their circumstances ... some might have been exposed to violence, forms of marginalisation, and limited access to coaches and resources".

The full Al Jazeera article can be found  here.