Health psychologist promotes the benefits of mindfulness and self-compassion to boost athletic and academic pursuits

Dr Wong uses a singing bowl in the Mindful Self-Compassion class to aid them in quieting their minds to reach a state of deep relaxation.

Dr Wong teaches the class how to pay attention to the present moment and let go of judgment.

Dr Lobo Louie Hung-tak, second from right, front row, gives a keynote speech at the workshop organised for HKSSEP’s 20th anniversary. After the workshop, Dr Louie takes a group photo with Tai Chi athlete Ms Chen Suijin, far left, and Dr Claudia Wong Ming-yu, second from left, front row, and other students from the Master of Social Sciences in Sports Coaching and Management at HPE.

Sport psychology is the science of studying how psychological factors affect athletic performances, and how sports and physical activity can enhance people’s physical and mental well-being. Although it is a relatively young discipline in psychology, sport psychology draws on knowledge from many related fields for its own rapid development. With a forward-looking vision, the Department of Health and Physical Education (HPE) actively promotes the teaching and research work of sport psychology.

One of our experts in this field is Dr Claudia Wong Ming-yu, an Assistant Professor from HPE who is particularly interested in how mindfulness can help athletes reduce stress and achieve better results. Besides teaching subjects related to sport psychology at EdUHK, Dr Wong also works together with other experts from the Hong Kong Society of Sport and Exercise Psychology (HKSSEP) to raise public awareness about how psychological factors affect physical and mental fitness.

To celebrate its 20th anniversary, HKSSEP organised a workshop on 12 November 2023 where experts and guest speakers were invited to share their views on the science of sport psychology. HKSSEP committee member Dr Wong invited Dr Lobo Louie Hung-tak, Senior Lecturer I from HPE and renowned expert in outdoor sports and wilderness experience, as one of the keynote speakers to talk about the multifaceted relationships between physical exercises and mental health.


Mental skills to improve sport performance

Dr Wong also invited two of her master's students from HPE, who are top Hong Kong athletes, to give panel speeches at the workshop. Mr Liu Hongjin, a veteran long-distance runner and a gold medallist in the 2018 Hong Kong 100km Ultramarathon, and Ms Chen Suijin, bronze medallist of the Women's Tai Chi event in the 2022 Asian Games held in Hangzhou, shared how they apply mental skills like mindfulness, imagery, and positive self-talk to improve their sport performance and training results.

“Through imagery, sportsmen visualise details of the forthcoming competition — their body movements during the competition, the competition venues, sound of the spectators, and so forth. Engaging in this mindfulness activity can effectively help sportsmen manage their anxiety level and improve their concentration. Positive self-talk is the process of talking with oneself in a self-confirmative manner. Through it, athletes can raise their confidence when facing challenging and stressful situations,” said Dr Wong, lecturer of sport psychology and mental preparation at HPE.

Dr Wong brought several students of Master of Social Sciences in Sports Coaching and Management to attend the anniversary workshop. “Experiences of top athletes are very valuable. My students can learn how to integrate mindfulness-based approaches into their athletic pursuits,” she said. Dr Wong added that while mindfulness is the practice of accepting our positive and negative thoughts and feelings in the present moment without evaluating it, mental skills like imagery and positive self-talk align strongly with principles of mindful self-compassion. “Through these mindfulness practices, athletes feel more relaxed and confident, leading to better performances in competition,” Dr Wong, a former Hong Kong elite swimmer, said.


First Mindful Self-Compassion class for EdUHK students

Dr Claudia Wong, centre, pairs up with Dr Yancy Shi, a postdoctoral fellow at HPE, to hold an eight-week Mindful Self-Compassion programme for all EdUHK students.

Participants learnt from the eight-week programme how to become more mindful of the present. In one programme activity, participants draw a broken bowl to express their inner feeling of imperfection and brokenness. Participants are asked to be self-compassionate about their imperfections and contemplate on how to repair the cracks in their bowls in their own unique ways.

Dr Wong recently completed an eight-week Mindful Self-Compassion teacher training programme for teenagers, and became Hong Kong’s first scholar to be qualified as a Mindful Self-Compassion for Teens teacher (MSC-T teacher). Led by the Center for Mindful Self-Compassion under the instruction of celebrated MSC teacher Dr Karen Bluth, the accredited programme is designed to respond to the challenges teenagers face during their critical years with kindness and self-compassion.

Upon completing the training, Dr Wong led the University’s first eight-week Mindful Self-Compassion class for our students. “The training programme I attended is designed for teenagers under the age of eighteen. However, I discovered that with mild modifications, the programme is also suitable for young adults like university students. From the eight-week course, EdUHK students learnt skills and practices such as mindful eating and mindful self-reflection. They became less critical about their own imperfections and learnt to become a person of self-compassion instead of self-criticism. The course enhanced their self-understanding and helped them build a better connection with themselves,” Dr Wong said.