Ask the expertYouth strength and conditioning

Ask the Expert: Dr Emma Mosley (Solent University)

Dr Emma Mosley is a Lecturer in Sport Psychology in the Department of Sport Science and Performance at Solent University. Emma has a PhD in exploring psychophysiological reactions of athletes when performing under pressure. In addition to academic qualifications, Emma is in the final stages of her British Association for Sport and Exercise Science accreditation in order to become a registered sport scientist. Under this process she works as a psychology performance consultant with a range of athletes providing performance psychology support, educational workshops and lifestyle advice.
1)What has led you into youth sport?
I began my career within sport psychology as a student at Bournemouth University, an institution that I would then stay at to continue my studies as a doctoral research in performing under pressure and psychophysiology. During my PhD I also enrolled onto the British Association for Sport and Exercise Sciences supervised experience scheme to become a sport and exercise scientist specialising in sport psychology. I began consulting in 2013 and was very grateful to colleagues who provided me with many opportunities mainly within youth sport. For a long period, I provided psychoeducation schemes to youth sport academies in the local area. These schemes were developed to help educate young athletes about sport psychology including areas such as confidence, motivation, performing under pressure, emotions and mindset. But the biggest learning curve for most youth athletes (and sometimes a challenge for me), was to help them to understand why it is important to spend time training your brain for sport as well as your body!
2) What has been your biggest influence in your practice in youth sport?
My biggest influence within my practice in youth sport would always be the athlete themselves. As a practitioner my philosophy is very much athlete centred and as a result the support I provide will be tailored towards the athlete in question. I also always try to understand the athlete outside of the sporting context in order to really get a picture of their whole life, rather than just the sporting identity. Sometimes they often find hard to tell me what they do in their spare time because it is so filled with sport!
3) What is your particular area of interest?
My own area of interest is how we adapt and regulate ourselves with the pressures of competition on a psychological and physiological level. A lot of my research focusses on using heart rate variability as an index of self regulation, which has been shown to be linked with performing under pressure. As a result of this, I often find my practice becoming more based within psychophysiology and using techniques that both influence the body and mind. My current area of interest is surrounding slow paced breathing, a technique that can increase our heart rate variability, but also helps us to cope better under pressure. This often works well with younger athletes as there are lots of mobile phone apps that you can use to help train slow paced breathing rate! (My particular favourite is called breath pacer, try it for 5 minutes with inhale set to 4.5 seconds and exhale set to 5.5 seconds).
4) How do you think this particular area applies to youth athletes? 
It is so crucial that younger athletes are able to cope with the demand high performance sport throws at them. It is well known that if younger athletes cannot cope and pressure becomes too much this can lead to burnout and dropout from sport. So by educating our athletes on how to cope with the pressures of competition and giving them the tools to do so, it will help them to perform to their best but also enjoy their sport. I am hoping to do some future research on how heart rate variability may be linked to coping mechanisms and interventions using slow paced breathing.
5) What is the best piece of advice you’ve received?
Not that this is particular advice from anyone, or that I know the person who said this quote (in fact it may have come from Pinterest…) – but my all-time favourite quote is “The expert in anything was once a beginner”. It always reminds me that you have to grow from somewhere, even if that means making mistakes and learning about yourself through adversity – you will reach a point where you look back and see how much progress you have made. I think this quote is particularly useful for youth athletes to rationalise their current progress and future goals, particularly if they are aspiring to great things.
6) What advice would you give to coaches working with youth athletes? 
I would always advise the following for coaches working in youth sport:

  1. Try to set realistic goals for athletes – both in training and competition
  2. Make time to relax – could you put on a relaxation session or finish a session with slow paced breathing?
  3. Reframe pressure situations as an opportunity to perform to their best

Communicate using positive language for performance and avoid negative or irrational language such as “must win” and “devastating loss”
7) Can you recommend any particular resources for youth sport coaches?
A good text book is Sport Psychology for Coaches by Burton and Raedeke – most of which is available as a preview on Google Books. In addition I would highly recommend coaches follow Believe Perform on Twitter, a fantastic resource for education based infographics for both coaches and athletes on all areas of psychology.
8) Where can people find out more about you and your work? (Social media links, websites etc.)
I am on twitter @Emma_Mosley and you can also contact me via email
If you are interested in my research then please visit my research gate page:
Thanks to Emma for her time and expertise! You can keep up to date with more content like this by liking us on Facebook!
Are you a grassroots youth sport coach or PE teacher who wants to improve the athleticism of your athletes?? Check out our Fundamental series athletic development programs here.