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Moving beyond the buzzword: psychological safety is just as important as physical safety
  1. Ramel L (Kweku Akyirefi) Smith1,
  2. Monna Arvinen-Barrow2,
  3. Alisia Moutry3
  1. 1 Athletics Mental Health and Sport Psychology, University of Wisconsin-Madison, Madison, Wisconsin, USA
  2. 2 Department of Rehabilitation Sciences & Technology College of Health Sciences, University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, Milwaukee, Wisconsin, USA
  3. 3 Wisconsin Minnesota Comprehensive Center (WMCC), University of Wisconsin-Madison, Madison, Wisconsin, USA
  1. Correspondence to Dr Ramel L (Kweku Akyirefi) Smith, Athletics Mental Health and Sport Psychology, University of Wisconsin-Madison, Madison, USA; ramel.blaquesmith{at}

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Psychological safety is a buzzword that has garnered a lot of traction in recent years, especially in high-performance sports. It is defined as ‘a climate in which people are comfortable expressing and being themselves’.1–3 Psychological safety as a conceptual term was popularised by Edgar Schneider and Warren Bennis in 1965 and resurrected in 1990 by William Khan. They believed organisations needed to have a level of psychological safety for its members to feel secure and to increase productivity.4

Clark5 postulated that psychological safety is created in four distinct phases. First, an inclusion safety phase affords individuals to feel genuinely welcomed and included as valuable members of the team. Second, a learner safety phase enables the individuals to actively engage in the learning process and make mistakes that equip them to succeed in their role. Third, the contributor safety phase is where individuals become significant contributors to the success of the organisation. Fourth, the challenger safety phase is where those who successfully contribute to the organisation have the security to take interpersonal risks and ask questions which challenge antiquated or dysfunctional systems without fear of retaliation. These concepts are especially important for a sport organisation.

Why psychological safety is important for organisational health in sport

We must be careful to emphasise that while psychological safety is not a panacea, it is an important component for most organisations, including sports teams and institutions that sponsor sports activities. The evidence of a psychologically safe environment manifests itself in individual wellness that helps …

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  • Contributors The first author was the primary contributor to the article submitted. The second and third author helped to shape the frame of the article through past conversations, presentations and research. All three helped to refine and revise the article going back and forth on Google Drive and word document to make the article one voice and an easy read. There are no competing interests from any of the authors that could bias the contents of the article.

  • Funding The authors have not declared a specific grant for this research from any funding agency in the public, commercial or not-for-profit sectors.

  • Competing interests None declared.

  • Provenance and peer review Commissioned; externally peer reviewed.