Phillip Sullivan

Professor, Kinesiology
Faculty of Applied Health Sciences

Professor of Kinesiology Phillip Sullivan is interested in a variety of psycho-social aspects of sport. He is currently researching the mental health of student-athletes and mental health literacy in varsity athletics, and the effect of behavioural synchrony between individuals. His other research topics include coaching and team dynamics.

Please give a brief overview of your research project.

Mental toughness in sport is the natural or developed psychological edge that enables one to, generally, cope better than one’s opponents with the many demands — competition, training and lifestyle — that sport places on a performer. But mental toughness may be related to detrimental behaviours during recovery from injuries and pain tolerance, which is an influential, and not always positive, trait in rehabilitation. This project is focused on the relationship between mental toughness and athletes’ behaviours during injury recovery in a sample of elite youth sport participants in Canada.

What do you expect will be the outcome of your research?

The current level of understanding of potential negative outcomes of mental toughness is incomplete, particularly in the context of elite youth sport. Through this project, we expect to understand more fully the outcomes of mental toughness during athlete rehabilitation from injury. Do athletes high in mental toughness display functional or dysfunctional behaviours? Do they follow medical advice or rush their return to play? This study will provide evidence about the role between elite youth athletes’ mental toughness and their rehabilitation adherence and post-injury coping styles.

How will this contribute to knowledge or understanding of the Canada Summer Games?

This project could benefit the Canada Games community tremendously. Mental toughness is a highly valued athlete trait, but it’s unclear if it is always a positive and functional trait. The research will give a more complete understanding of this trait in a very important situation — injury — for these athletes and will generate specific knowledge on the potential detrimental outcomes for Canada Games-aged athletes.

How did you become interested in this research?

I am a sport psychologist and have always been interested in personality traits. One of my doctoral students, Mishka Blacker, is very interested in mental toughness.  Also, I have some coaching experience with athletes in this age range and context that has helped inform this research question.

How do you plan on sharing your research?

We will share our research outcomes with coaches and sport administrators through workshops and conferences. We will also share it through our social media platforms at the Centre for Healthy Youth Development through Sports.

Do you have any advice or tips on how colleagues in your Faculty can incorporate the Canada Games into their research?

My advice would be to look for common ground in your research and applied experience with the Canada Games and its funding opportunities.