Mind games

Paralympic coach Ross Hall explains the psychological side of wheelchair rugby - known as 'murderball' - to Olga Wojtas

September 18, 2008

The British wheelchair rugby team has this week been competing in the Paralympics in Beijing, watched by an academic who for the past six months has been boosting their bid to become champions.

Ross Hall, senior lecturer in sport psychology at the University of Glamorgan, is the team's psychology coach. The GB wheelchair rugby team of 11 men and one woman have all suffered a broken neck, and are classified according to how restricted their hand and trunk movement is. But the wheelchair version of the sport is no more tame than its traditional counterpart. Dubbed "murderball", it is a full-contact game of skills and tactics.

Mr Hall said the team faces the same psychological issues as any other sports professionals, and his job is to help them cope with any distractions. "Within any major sporting finals, the finalists are generally the same animal physically. What differs is how they prepare psychologically," he said. "Psychological preparation for elite sport is pivotal, ensuring that you are thinking clearly and correctly when under pressure and not making any rash decisions."

When athletes' performance is going well, everything is automatic, Mr Hall said. But when they start thinking about what they are doing, it is crucial that their thoughts are relevant to their task. "We work in training to recreate stressful and provoking situations. An example would be remaining 'in the present' and not thinking about the score. To practise this, the score can be covered up and only shown at critical moments, such as the final two minutes of time when games are tied."

The team, ranked top in Europe and fourth in the world, is supported financially by the charity Great Britain Wheelchair Rugby.

Mr Hall served in the Army as a military engineer for 15 years. After he left, he went to the University of Wales Institute, Cardiff, to study sport and exercise science. "This provided theoretical underpinnings to why certain approaches worked. I became interested in sport psychology and went on to study an MSc."

Mr Hall is carrying out research, linked to the 2012 Olympics, into elite athletes, and praised Glamorgan for allowing him time away from the university to work. "I am able to use my practical work experience to add value to our undergraduate degree in sport psychology. Our students benefit from adding practice to theory," he said.

Glamorgan's degree differs from other sport psychology degrees in giving students practical learning experiences, Mr Hall said, and he predicted that student interest would increase in the run-up to the London Olympics.

olga.wojtas@tsleducation.com.

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