Supporting Champions Podcast #6 David Fletcher
In this episode, the host speaks with David Fletcher about his multifaceted journey, transitioning from a swimmer to a renowned expert in adversity research.
David Fletcher reflects on his early ambitions as a swimmer and the struggles he faced both in sports and academia. These setbacks, however, didn’t deter him; instead, they fuelled his success in scholarly pursuits. With his father as a science role model, David was introduced to the world of academic papers at an early age.
His internship in the sporting environment was instrumental, emphasising the value of broad experiences beyond one’s primary focus. David’s main interest is the various stresses athletes face, noting that the growth of high-performance systems brings about changing pressures. He has researched and uncovered negative organisational behaviours that hamper athletic performance, even navigating legal advice due to the provocative nature of his athlete interviews.
David sheds light on the various organisational stresses athletes face, such as differing leadership styles and the pitfalls of excessive pressure training. He passionately argues that athletes must be ethically prepared for top-tier competition pressures and highlights how leadership styles trickle down to even grassroots levels.
Central to the discussion is adversity’s dual role: it can be a challenge but also a catalyst for growth. David believes adversity must be relevant, adaptable, and agreed upon. He delves into the significance of early-life adversity in shaping athletic focus, noting that some athletes view sports as a refuge. However, he stresses that while sport may offer solace, it doesn’t shield athletes from mental health impacts.
David offers insights on supporting individuals facing adversity: allowing them personal space, waiting for them to open up, and helping them rebuild in novel ways after setbacks. He underscores that adversity often pushes individuals towards genuine self-reflection. He touches on the contrasting personality traits needed for sports and life and stresses the need for a robust support system for coaches.
Closing the discussion, David provides invaluable lessons, emphasising the inevitability of challenges when pursuing worthy goals, the need for stress anticipation and preparation, and the vital role of an unwavering support network. He looks ahead, hinting at the evolving directions in adversity research.
07:00 Early aspirations as a swimmer, but experiencing near misses as an athlete and academically
10:00 Transfer of desire from swim background to early success in studies
12:00 Father as a science role-model, searching and sharing academic papers
15:30 Importance of internship in sporting environment
19:00 Importance of breadth of experience beyond own area of specialism
23:30 Interest in the stresses that athletes experiences
25:00 Stresses changing based on growth of high performance system
28:00 Uncovering poor organisational behaviours that adversely influenced sporting performance
29:00 Seeking legal advice due to controversial nature of athlete interviews – sticking to your guns about unearthing and communicating stresses
31:00 Identifying stresses and how some used stressful experiences as fuel for determination
34:00 Organisational stresses – leadership styles, not being listened to, overuse of pressure training and how it spilled over
35:00 How it is unethical not to prepare athletes for the pressure of top competitions
36:00 How leadership behaviours permeated down to grass-root levels
41:00 Adversity as a stimulus for growth – so it needs to be;
– Relevant, e.g. penalty shoot-out
– Progressively adaptable
44:00 Appropriate and inappropriate consequences to contravening agreed behaviours
47:00 Role of early adversity as a fuel for focusing on sporting goals
48:00 Theories emerging – life adversity coinciding with sporting success, and finding sport as a sanctuary
50:00 Caveat that sport doesn’t protect person from mental health response to adversarial events
51:30 How best to support when people experience adversity; 1) give them space; 2) supporting people when they are ready to disclose – provide inspirational opportunities; 3) when a vase breaks consider creating a new mosaic rather than re-building as it was
57:00 Adversity gives you honesty to review deeply
59:00 Different personality traits required to succeed in sport vs life
60:00 Re-emergence of ‘issues’ wen sport is not there
61:00 Are we doing enough to support coaches?
64:00 Lessons for everybody
– Anything worthwhile will have its challenges
– Importance of anticipating stresses and preparing for them
– Importance of support network
– Importance of disclosing and being open to sharing stress response
67:00 Future directions in area of adversity