Psychologically Safe Environments

31 Oct 2023
3 min read
Author – Vedika Jogani

A recent graduate from Ithaca College with a Master’s degree in Sports and Exercise Science, specializing in Mental Performance, Vedika is OMP’s Product and Content Manager. During her studies, Vedika worked closely with Ithaca’s Men’s and Women’s Tennis Teams and Women’s Volleyball Team as their Mental Performance Consultant. Vedika is currently completing her Certified Mental Performance Consultant Certification.

A critical aspect in sports that is often overlooked is the importance of creating a psychologically safe team environment.

This goes beyond individual athletes’ physical capabilities and can often make or break a team. Research defines a psychologically safe team environment as one in which individuals in a team feel safe to take interpersonal risks.

In the world of sports, this means creating an environment where athletes and coaches can express themselves, make mistakes, and take risks without the fear of failure. 

Gareth Southgate, manager of the English Men’s soccer team, illustrates that a psychologically safe environment is crucial for developing good performances: “I want the team to make mistakes because if they are making mistakes, then they are trying things. For me, all of our players, if they want to be as good as they can be, have to try things, and we have to accept that it might mean occasional failure. But what you then might get is a moment like they produced tonight, which is ‘wow!’” 

The benefits of psychological safety in sports: 

  1. Performance Improvement: Athletes who feel psychologically safe are more likely to take risks and push their limits without the fear of failure, ultimately leading to better performance. 
  1. Team Cohesion and Well-Being: A safe environment helps athletes support one another more. Trust and open communication allow athletes to be themselves, leading to reduced stress, pressure, and an overall increase in well-being. 
  1. Mental Resilience: A safe environment helps athletes develop mental resilience. This shared sense of “us” and “we” promotes the ability to deal with failure together as a team. 

Creating a Psychologically Safe Environment: 

1. Create a culture of feedback: Encourage athletes to voice their concerns, share thoughts, and ask questions. Promote the ability to learn from one another through constructive feedback. 

2. Avoid the Blame Game: Mistakes are inevitable in sports and occur from time to time. Rather than blaming players, encourage athletes to work together to find solutions. Changing the perspective on failure and promoting camaraderie and teamwork allows athletes to take risks and push their limits. 

3. Promote Calculated Risks: Coaches and leaders should encourage athletes to take risks without fear of the future. Research suggests that achieving great performance inherently requires taking risks and experiencing failure. 

4. As a leader, be Present, Engaged, and Compassionate: Showing your athletes that you care about the team’s welfare goes a long way. Be present and engaged when they voice their opinions. This allows them to be vulnerable and themselves, contributing to their performance. 

Coaches and team leaders have significant responsibilities when it comes to cultivating a safe environment.

It is not just about winning games but nurturing the mental and emotional well-being of athletes.

When athletes feel safe to be themselves, they make mistakes and grow, enabling them to achieve their true potential. 



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