Applications of Sport Psychology for the Athlete with Cerebral Palsy

By Ogilvie, Bruce C. | Palaestra, Fall 1990 | Go to article overview

Applications of Sport Psychology for the Athlete with Cerebral Palsy


Ogilvie, Bruce C., Palaestra


Applications of Sport Psychology for the Athlete with Cerebral Palsy

What the educator, coach, or sport psychologist continually must confront is a negative stereotype based upon false assumption about psychosocial factors that underlie feelings and behavior of those so afflicted. Sherrill (1986) has addressed the similarities that the disabled share with other minorities in terms of stigmatization, stereotyping, and prejudice. These forms of perceived exclusiveness have deep psychological roots and are difficult to eradicate. Each is a form of defense, often undesirable, by which individuals attempt to separate themselves from those represented within various minority groups. Once individuals structure their negative stereotypes by attributing specific dehumanizing labels, they have provided themselves with the emotional distance they need to feel protected. These distorted beliefs in effect become emotional insulation with which they protect themselves from differences they find threatening.

Psychodynamics of this mental process are best understood in terms of Leon Festinger's (1957) theory of cognitive dissonance. Very briefly, assumptions underlying Festinger's theory include man's striving for order, understanding, and predictability with regard to quest for knowledge about the world in which one lives. New or different experiences are therefore filtered or distorted to fit preconceived notions as the individual attempts to reconcile internal disequilibrium that new or different information may produce. Independent of how invalid the interpretation might be, the individual sacrifices knowledge for maintenance of order and a stable frame of reference.

There is a considerable body of literature that treats the phenomenon of personal threat when one is confronted by individuals who differ in various ways from the expected cultural norm. Any effort to alter the perception of the general public must ultimately confront the issue of eliminating feelings that have given birth to anxieties and fears that cause able-bodied persons to respond aversely in the presence of disabled persons, is true when educators confront false beliefs and distorted attitudes which are supported by deeply felt emotions. Whether distorted beliefs reflect religious, racial, or ethnic attitudes towards disabled persons, the re-education process must first meet the individual at an emotional level. The first step in this process must be to deal with belief systems that give rise to emotional reactions which continue to block psychological awareness. The psychologist must, therefore, develop strategies that impact upon such forms of negative cognitive integration and begin the process of altering cognitive set. False beliefs in the form of prejudices and stereotypes die slowly. Therefore, individuals with such beliefs must be exposed to a body of hard data which presents a more rational view toward those with disabilities. What then constitutes the nature of data that can capture attention and then impact upon preconceived notions which support distorted beliefs with respect to athletes with disabilities?

Data From Sport Participation May Be

Instruments For Change

Making the three quarters of a million individuals with cerebral palsy more visible to the general public is central to the re-education process. If this can be accomplished by accentuating their competence rather than reflecting disability, so much the better. There are fewer opportunities to achieve this goal than those found possible through exposure of their participation in activities that offer visible proof of competence. A case in point is the television presentation of Special Olympics which has changed attitudes of many towards Down syndrome children. Such presentations have had a dramatic affect upon both feelings and beliefs about this form of disability, ultimately lessening aversive effects Down syndrome formerly had upon the general public.

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Applications of Sport Psychology for the Athlete with Cerebral Palsy
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