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Skewed to the right: sport, mental health and vulnerability


With Phoenix Publishing House -
Published May 2021


Amy, once a rower, was exposed to high performance sport at a young age and started to recognise that some culturally acceptable behaviours in sport were concerning and notably something that would be clinically diagnosable in the wider population.

Once qualified as a Clinical Psychologist she was invited back to work with professional sportspeople and olympians to provide mental health intervention across a wide range of sports.

Skewed to the Right is a personal and professional exploration of the complexities in sporting culture. Amy hopes to raise awareness and understanding of sport, mental health and vulnerability.

The demands of the high-performance athlete are huge, with many celebrated for their achievements, and put on a pedestal for admired personality traits such as discipline, sacrifice, commitment, and focus. This book seeks to explore the celebrated traits of the high-performance athlete and, by doing so, to increase awareness of the vulnerability that such traits also present.


Through discussion with professional sports people and presentation of their own personal stories the book explores obsessionality, masochism, and focus, and how these characteristics can enhance performance on the field yet hinder life off it and may even develop into clinically diagnosable mental health difficulties. In psychology, assessments are based on statistical phenomena; the title Skewed to the Right is based on the ‘bell curve’ that is shown through a graph whereby the majority sit in the middle with a few clusters at either on of the extremes. The suggestion is that elite athletes are ‘skewed to the right’ on a number of key traits that put them between the ‘general’ population and those with a clinical diagnosis.

The book opens with an exploration of weight-restricted sport and how making weight is achieved through practices that become culturally acceptable in the sporting world yet would be seen to be classified as clinically diagnosable eating disorders in the medical world. It then moves on to personality traits that help and hinder – those skewed to the right: masochism, obsessionality, and focus. Part 3 looks at one trait skewed to the left – acceptance – that many sportspeople struggle with. The book closes with a section exploring points of vulnerability for all athletes and ends with a look at where we can go from here.

The aim of the book is to increase social awareness of the reality of life for the successful high-performance athlete and the challenging dynamics that exist in sporting culture today. It will be of interest to psychologists, psychotherapists, trainees, and anyone with an interest in sporting culture.



Where it all began

Part I
Weight-restricted sport

1. Rowing with Kieren Emery, GB lightweight rower

2. Horseracing with Mark Enright, jockey

Part II
Skewed to the right: personality traits that help and hinder

3. Masochism with Michelle Bergstrand, British cyclo-cross champion

4. Obsessionality with Luke Stoltman, five-times Scotland’s Strongest Man and World’s Strongest Man competitor

5. Focus with Graeme Fowler, England cricketer

Part III
Skewed to the left?

6. Acceptance with Nigel Owens, Welsh international rugby union referee

Part IV

7. Injury and retirement with Jack Rutter, Paralympian and England cerebral palsy football captain


8. Where do we go from here? with Ruth Walczak, GB lightweight rower, and Baroness Tanni Grey-Thompson, Paralympian






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