'Your actions affect all our success'

The delayed 2020 Olympics has opened in Tokyo with the Covid-19 pandemic still ongoing. Ella Rhodes spoke to Health Psychologist Professor Angel Chater, who leads the University of Bedfordshire’s Institute for Sport and Physical Activity Research and the Centre for Health, Wellbeing and Behaviour Change about her work with Team GB in helping to keep athletes safe during the games.

Following her work leading the BPS Covid-19 Behavioural Science and Disease Prevention Taskforce, Professor Angel Chater was approached by Team GB for feedback on its Covid-19 safety messaging for athletes before and during the games. ‘The staff leading Performance Services at Team GB were concerned about the fact that athletes would be mixing, and if one of them tests positive for Covid-19, potentially their whole team could be out.’

Some of the draft messaging had a focus on choice and Chater pointed out that behaviours are influenced by much more than that. She said that it was important to be mindful that people do not always have a choice to carry out a behaviour and may be influenced by other factors such as their environment. ‘I went through the draft messaging and picked out the things that were behaviours and the things that weren't. One of the draft messages advised to “maintain your bubble” and I asked what will that mean to them? What will that look like? Was it clear enough for athletes to be able to perform an action? I highlighted where behaviours could be more specific and achievable, for example they had messaging saying “wash your hands” and I highlighted that that action would suggest you need water and soap nearby, and obviously if you're on a field or track that might not be the case, so I recommended for this to be re-worded to “clean your hands” and to also include using hand sanitiser in the messaging. We also talked about promoting planning to be able to adhere to Covid-19 safe behaviours.’

Chater said much of this advice was based on the documents produced through the BPS taskforce she has been leading since March of 2020, and in particular the guidance published in April 2020 which provided a roadmap of key considerations to support disease prevention behaviours. ‘I tried to highlight the importance of focusing on behaviour rather than focusing on messaging that doesn't necessarily have an action attached. We discussed what might influence behaviour, including psychological, biological and social factors, and the importance of minimising the ‘I’ and maximising the ‘we’ to highlight that we [they] are all in this together’.

Among other adaptations to their marketing campaign, this led to a change in their slogan from “your choices affect our chances” to “your actions affect all our success”. Chater concluded, ‘I’m rooting for Team GB and love how these types of sporting events can bring the nations together’.  

A briefing paper produced by the BPS Covid-19 Behavioural Science and Disease Prevention Taskforce, which calls for investment in the behavioural sciences, draws the wider work of the taskforce together. 

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