Media serves double fault

July 5, 2002

Over-zealous and sometimes critical attention from the media could damage the chances of some of Britain's sporting hopes, a leading psychologist has warned.

Media coverage in the run-up to an event or during a tournament, such as that meted out to Tim Henman in his bid to lift the Wimbledon trophy, can raise public expectations to a level where stress and the fear of failure can overshadow performance, according to Joan Duda, professor of sport psychology at the University of Birmingham.

This phenomenon, seen starkly in the "Henmania" whipped up by press and TV coverage of Wimbledon, is more acute in the UK than in the US, where media attention is spread across a wider range of sports and personalities.

Professor Duda, who has acted as a consultant for dancers, musicians and business executives, as well as athletes, said: "The media can put unfair pressure on our sporting stars and contribute to debilitating stress levels or sometimes even unrealistic expectations.

"Over time, such pressure can result in burn out, underachievement, or sports people pushing themselves even when injured."

Professional sporting stars are well supported by their coaches who can help them to stay focused on their goals and to keep media hype in perspective.

But Professor Duda warns that any negative coverage, such as headlines two years ago that proclaimed "Why Henman will never win Wimbledon", can distract and unbalance players that are going through a bad patch in their game or their life.

Only dedicated mental training can produce the gritty determination needed to succeed under such circumstances.

"That is why top sportsmen and women need to work on their psychological as well as physical preparation on a daily basis, so that when something goes wrong they are mentally prepared to deal with it," Professor Duda said.

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