Sport Psychologist Vanessa Wergin

“You just have to give it a go”

There is no challenge too daunting for TUM Alumna Vanessa Wergin. As a former competitive athlete she has learnt how to deal with victory and defeat. Her research findings help athletes to stay calm in situations of pressure.

Dr. Vanessa Wergin is very competitive – at least that’s how she describes herself. “Probably a trait that was instilled in me during my time as a professional athlete.” Yet, the former artistic roller skater is in no way obsessive. She takes on challenges with curiosity and rarely lets obstacles stop her: “Nothing ventured, nothing gained.”

At the age of 7, Vanessa Wergin started with artistic roller skating and was very successful. High hopes were placed on her and her team at a European Championship, but unfortunately the team finished at the bottom ranks of the competition. The question, how this could have happened is still on Vanessa Wergin’s mind. Shortly after this defeat she decided to study Psychology. She wanted to find out why her entire team had collectively failed.

Breaking New Ground

In 2014 Vanessa Wergin completed her Master’s degree in Psychology at Goethe University in Frankfurt am Main. Since she wanted to further expand the knowledge she had gained by conducting her own research on collective collapse in sports teams, she decided to move to Munich. “In the field of Sports Psychology, TUM has a very good national and international standing and is covering a wide range of topics”, she explains her decision. “Furthermore, the Chair of Sport Psychology has a lot of expertise in the field of performance collapse under pressure.”

In the field of Sports Psychology, TUM ranks extremely well in comparison with other international institutions.

With a doctoral scholarship from the Stiftung der Deutschen Wirtschaft, Vanessa Wergin started her investigations of this largely unresearched phenomenon at the Chair of Sport Psychology in 2015. “At the beginning of my doctoral studies I was quite intimidated and not sure if I could meet the high expectations”, she admits. “Eventually I realised that you just have to give it a go”. Vanessa Wergin made it through. And with flying colours: in 2019 she completed her doctorate with distinction. Thanks to her brilliant research at TUM, she is now able to explain her previous failing and provides athletes with useful tools for coping with situations of pressure in competitions.

Setting the Milestone

Her study is the first to provide a process model that describes various triggers of collective performance collapse in entire sports teams and sheds light on how these triggers are connected and interlinked. Some factors of the process model have already been quantitatively investigated and provide sports teams with a set of actions that can be used to defuse situations of pressure.

“In my time as an athlete, I myself would have benefitted greatly from the knowledge I have today”, Vanessa Wergin says. “Now I would like to help athletes with my research.” The first milestone for the scientific career she is aiming for has been set and the sports psychologist tackles this goal with her characteristic mix of realism and confidence. “Once again in my life I will just try and see how far I get.”

At the Women of TUM Talk, which we will stream live on YouTube on October 7, 2020, Vanessa Wergin will talk about her experiences as a competitive athlete and top researcher. In terms of motivation and assertiveness, her listeners can learn a lot from the young TUM Alumna.