Outdoor Sport in Extreme Heat: Capturing the Personal Experiences of Elite Athletes

July 22, 2023

Heat stress from the environment can be detrimental to athletes’ health and performance.

No research, however, has explored how elite athletes conceptualize and experience heatwaves and climate change. Utilizing a qualitative approach, this study examined elite athletes’ perceptions, experiences, and responses to extreme heat in relation to climate change and explored the use of their platforms for climate activism.

Fourteen elite athletes from the United Kingdom, Australia, the United States, Sweden, and Canada, who represented 10 different sports including race walking, netball, and cricket were recruited using snowball sampling. Data were collected using semistructured interviews.

Thematic analysis revealed four broad themes. The first theme reflected uncertainty surrounding the causes of heatwaves and the impact of heat on athlete health and performance. The second theme reflected care and concern for sport and society, including concern for the well-being of athletes and spectators, the impact of heat on facilities and participation at the grassroots level, and how the nature of sport may change in the future.

The third theme referred to the implications of heatwave experience on athlete health and performance, and how experience affected individual and organizational preparedness. The fourth theme referred to enablers and barriers to successful climate change communication.

This study contributes to the sport ecology literature by introducing the subjective heat experiences of elite athletes. Educating athletes and event organizers about the impacts of heat on sport participation is imperative to increase awareness and, it is hoped, to limit illness for those training and competing.

Click here to read the full study

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