UFH Sport Psychology Professor gets a well-deserved NRF C-Rating

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Prof Leon van Niekerk, Sport Psychology

Prof Leon van Niekerk, UFH Sport Psychology Professor and a registered Counselling Psychologist who has been providing psychological assistance to national and international athletes for over two decades, has been awarded a National Research Foundation (NRF) C 2 rating.

Prof van Niekerk joined UFH in 2015 and is currently lecturing Sports Psychology and Research Methodology to undergraduate and postgraduate students in the Department of Human Movement Science (HMS). 

He is the 12th UFH researcher to be awarded a rating by the NRF during this academic year.

According to the NRF, a C-Rating is awarded to an established researcher with a sustained recent record of productivity in the field and is recognised by their peers as having produced a body of quality work, the core of which has coherence and attests to ongoing engagement with the field. The recipient has also demonstrated the ability to conceptualise problems and apply research methods to investigate them.

Prof van Niekerk’s research interests are in the psychological well-being of athletes. This includes topics such as sexual abuse in sport, the development of mental toughness, development of sport identity and life roles, burnout, stress and anxiety among athletes, the effectiveness of mindfulness during competition, mental health in sport and the psychological health benefits of exercise.

“The objective of my research is to understand athlete behaviour and the psychological impact the sport environment have on them to plan and implement intervention programmes that can enhance the mental toughness of the athlete to deal with the stress and pressure that comes with competitive environments,” Prof van Niekerk explained.

He has published numerous peer-reviewed articles in national and international journals and has written various chapters in academic books.

Prof van Niekerk completed his PhD in Psychology in 2006 at the University of Johannesburg and a European Masters in Sport and Exercise Psychology in 2007 at the Catholic University in Leuven, Belgium.

Since the year 2000, he has provided psychological assistance to numerous national and international athletes in sports such as golf, squash, football, rugby, Olympic- and Paralympic athletes, swimmers, cricket players and teams such as our national life-saving teams, national acro-tumbling team.

He has also offered his expertise to the SA Proteas netball team, Bafana-Bafana, Lions u/18 team, and sports teams of numerous schools, universities and clubs.

Currently, he is involved in three major research projects which are:

  • A Medical Research Council  project with Prof Maya van Gent that seeks to study the physical and psychological risk factors associated with Non-communicable diseases among adolescents in the Eastern Cape;
  • An Institute for Development Assistance Management (IDAM)  research project with Prof Daniel Ter Goon that looks into the impact of covid-19 on the physical and mental health of farming communities in the Eastern Cape and;
  • A collaborative project with Dr Alberts at the UFH Psychology Department that is titled: The sport identity and life roles of adolescent athletes in the Eastern Cape.

Prof van Niekerk counts his collaborative work with colleagues in India and China on Exercise Psychology and his impact on youth athlete development as two of his greatest career achievements.

Commenting on his newly acquired rating he said: “I feel very honoured and humbled to be recognised by peers as a C2-rated researcher. I was quite surprised to receive the news. I think it is a confirmation of what I did so far as a researcher and it is also an encouragement to continue and build on my current research.”

Congratulations Prof!