Performance Psychologist Dr Emma Kavanagh tells us what it’s like to be part of Team GB at the first ever European Games in Azerbaijan.
Dr Emma Kavanagh can usually be found teaching BU’s undergraduate students about applied sports psychology and coaching but for the next few weeks she’ll be at one of the biggest multi-sport events of the season.
Emma is one of a team of staff supporting the GB Men’s Beach Volleyball Team at the Baku 2015 European Games, running from 12-28 June. In her role as team leader and performance psychologist she looks after the mental wellbeing of the athletes.
Working closely with Head Coach and BU graduate Lewie Lett, she makes sure that the players are not just physically prepared to perform but also have the mental strength and motivation to perform in the competitive environment.
She explained : “As a new team on the World and European tour they saw the benefit in psychological support in order to develop their game and enable them to break into the world rankings.
“Baku 2015 is the first major multi-sport event for this team and this Games is really a learning and development opportunity for them. The team have prepared well and are entering the competition in excellent shape.
“At the end of last year the team were concentrating on securing their qualification for the European Games and being in the top 32 teams in Europe. They achieved this and finished 37th in the season world rankings - an excellent achievement in their first year of international competition.
“The team are on the road to Rio 2016 and are still in position to qualify for the [Olympic] Games; in addition, they are targeting Tokyo 2020 and have podium aspirations at that Games.”
This year Team GB has brought together the largest delegation since the Beijing Olympics, with 168 athletes and nearly 300 support staff in Baku. Emma and the rest of Team GB have been in the athletes’ village, acclimatising and preparing for the past five days. She said:
“It’s been an incredible experience so far, we’ve been through the final stages of preparation and our event starts today. As a team we have had a busy orientation and training phase but are heading into the competition ready.”
The Men’s Beach Volleyball competition begins with pool play in the preliminary round, pitting Team GB against Austria, Estonia and Spain in Group G. When asked about Team GB’s chances Emma said: “This question I will be able to answer in a few days time! We have aspirations to progress from the group stages and in a tournament like this anything can happen when you take your opportunities.”
Emma went on to talk about her highlights so far, saying: “With an opening ceremony that sold out to 60,000, walking out in the parade of athletes was certainly a proud moment for me both personally and professionally.”
For the past year and half Emma has been working closely with Great Britain’s men’s beach volleyball team as performance coach. After competing at an international level in hockey for England, Emma returned to study - achieving a MSc in Sports Science and becoming a member of the British Association of Sport and Exercise Sciences. She recently completed her PhD at Bournemouth University exploring athlete wellbeing in elite performers. When she isn’t teaching she works with elite athletes in a performance coaching role through her consultancy, Vector Performance Coaching.