Sport Psychology Research


The Sport Psychology research theme encompasses examination of the behavioural, emotional and cognitive aspects of sport, with a primary focus in the elite domain. We have specialist areas of interest but are flexible enough in our approach to answer a variety of industry-driven high-performance questions that can have immediate performance impact. Our current research areas include:

  • Psychological factors involved in recovery, training adaptation and injury rehabilitation.
  • Team confidence, group dynamics and motivational climates.
  • Imagery and observation interventions for team.
  • Measurement and training of resilience.
  • Outdoor/adventure sport challenges for mental health.
  • Reflective practice.
  • Psychology of extreme sports.
  • Psychology of age-group transitions in elite football.

Our researchers engage extensively with a number of external stakeholders, with Sport Wales, Football Association of Wales, Welsh Rugby Union, Swim Wales among the highest profile.

We also have staff who are members of, or engage with, the Welsh Institute of Performance Science (WIPS). WIPS is a pan-Wales group of applied focus academics who act as the research-arm of Sport Wales Institute. Our philosophy is to produce high-quality research that makes a difference and impact in the real world.

Research projects

Through original, empirical research, designed to explore the impact of critical life events on sport performers’ mental health, well-being, and ability to function and perform, the Human Thriving Project aims to develop appropriate support mechanisms for elite athletes and coaches that account for the unique demands they face and assist their quest to thrive through difficult moments. 

Read more about the Human Thriving Project >>

Research Team

In collaboration with our partner Swim Wales via the KESS programme, the taper period (a training phase prior to competition) was identified as a period of acute stress for the swimmers and the coaches.

This was to such an extent that coaches and support staff from Swim Wales suggested that it had cost them medals at international competitions.

This programme of research has examined the psychological experience of elite swimmers and coaches during this taper period and developed immediately implementable interventions to help alleviate stress during this period. 

Research Team

In partnership with Sport Wales Institute and the Welsh Institute of Performance Science we have been using and testing HRV biofeedback as a tool to develop a range of psychological strengths critical for elite performance.

In particular, we have tested HRV biofeedback with athletes, coaches, and support staff as a tool to develop emotional awareness and control under pressure and have developed a shortened HRV intervention more applicable to the domain of elite sport.

Research Team

We are currently re-examining the measurement of mental toughness in elite level cricketeers. We have re-validated an existing psychometric scale and have tested this scale against specific hypothesised physiological markers of mental toughness.

The implication of this research is that in the future we might be able to map the physiological pattern of mentally tough behaviour accurately, and in doing so develop ways in which to maximise the likelihood of mental toughness in elite performance.

Research Team

This line of research is the longest standing theme in our group. Over the last 12 years we have been examining how interventions traditionally focussed on individuals can be used to enhance team confidence (collective efficacy) and other group related factors.

Specifically, we have tested mental rehearsal and video observation methods as a means to increase team confidence, such that teams can prepare individually away from the training environment. 

With the aim of developing a series of resources to support coaches in their attempts to address the psychological pillar of performance in football, a KESS funded PhD project (USW and FAWT) has been developed to explore and (re)conceptualise mental toughness in football and to develop a framework for identifying mentally tough behaviours.

The project will also explore the developmental pathways of those players considered as high and low in mental toughness to establish if any differences in developmental pathways contribute to the development of mental toughness.

Research Team

To address gaps in the literature concerning the well-being of coaches and wider support staff (e.g., psychologists, physiotherapists) in sport, it was our aim to examine the mental well-being and ill-being of the wider performance sport workforce through two linked studies. 

First, we looked to explore levels of psychological functioning, the prevalence of factors associated with mental well- and ill-being, and predictors of mental well-being in a cross-sectional study (389 participants). 

Second, we longitudinally investigated potential changes in coach and support staff (n = 17) mental well-being across the course of their respective seasons, exploring those factors and time points that may facilitate higher (or lower) levels of psychological functioning. 

The project is currently in the analysis and write-up phases with the hope of it being submitted for peer-review in Spring 2020.

Professor Brendan Cropley

Cropley, Brendan.1, Mellalieu, Stephen 2, Neil, Rich 2, Sellars, Paul 2, Wagstaff, Chris 3, and Wadey, Ross 4

1University of South Wales, UK; 2Cardiff Metropolitan University, UK; 3 University of Portsmouth, UK; 4St. Mary’s University, UK.




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