Dr Sarah Williams

Dr Sarah Williams

School of Sport, Exercise and Rehabilitation Sciences
Sports Participation to Performance Deputy Theme Lead
Lecturer in Sport Psychology and Coaching Science

Contact details

School of Sport, Exercise and Rehabilitation Sciences
University of Birmingham
B15 2TT

Sarah is internationally known for her work in imagery to enhance performance and wellbeing. She has published over 30 papers related to imagery ability and imagery use. She has a particular interest and focus in using mental imagery to elicit more facilitative appraisals and responses to stress.


  • PhD in Sport Psychology, University of Birmingham
  • BSc (Hons) in Sport and Exercise Sciences, University of Birmingham


Sarah completed her PhD in 2011 and was awarded the Outstanding PhD Thesis Award by the British Psychological Society’s Division of Sport and Exercise Psychology. She was appointed as a lecturer in Sport Psychology at the University of Birmingham in September 2011.

Sarah’s early research focussed on ways to assess and enhance athlete imagery ability. Over time, Sarah developed an interest in stress and competition, and particularly the idea that stress and anxiety don’t have to have negative consequences for athletes. She has published work investigating how imagery can be used to effectively regulate stress and anxiety. Sarah established how imagery scripts could be used by athletes to experience more positive appraisals and anxiety responses to stress. More recently, Sarah has broadened this work beyond athlete populations. Using sport psychology theories and frameworks, Sarah develops scripts to use in a variety of populations to regulate more positive appraisals and responses to psychological stress. Sarah has also developed interventions to train individuals in how to use imagery to regulate acute and long-term stress.

Sarah’s work has been published widely in leading sport and exercise psychology journals such as Journal of Sport and Exercise Psychology, Psychology of Sport and Exercise, and European Journal of Sport Science, as well as interdisciplinary and health psychology journals such as Psychophysiology, Anxiety, Stress, & Coping, and Journal of Affective Disorders. She is also an Associate Editor for the Journal of Experimental Psychology: Human Perception and Performance.


Sarah is joint module lead for the year 2 Sport and Performance Psychology model. She also teaches on the year 1 Sport, Exercise, and Health Psychology module, and supervises undergraduate and master’s dissertation students in imagery and stress related research projects.

Postgraduate supervision

Sarah’s research lab includes a vibrant group of PhD, MRes, and MSc by research students. She has supervised four PhD students, two MRes students, and one MSc by research student through to completion. Sarah welcomes applications from prospective PhD, MRes, and MSc by research students with interests that align with her research agenda. Specific areas include:

  • Imagery interventions to regulate stress
  • Elucidating the mechanisms through which imagery improves appraisals and responses to stress
  • Techniques to enhance imagery’s effectiveness


Sarah’s research focusses on the use of mental imagery to effectively improve performance, health, and wellbeing.

Sarah has a particular expertise in creating effective imagery scripts to regulate more positive appraisals and responses to acute and long-term psychological stress. She is also interested in understanding the mechanisms through which these imagery scripts operate to influence coping and performance in stressful or pressurized situations. Through this work, Sarah has developed an interest in understanding what factors might influence perceptions of appraisals and psychophysiological responses to stress, as well as imagery’s effectiveness in eliciting more positive responses.

Sarah is also known for her work in the development of techniques to assess imagery, and enhance imagery’s effectiveness.

Sarah uses sport psychology theories and frameworks, to apply her imagery scripts to diverse populations across a variety of environments (e.g., athletes and performance, reducing anxiety in anxious university students, increasing engagement in physical activity in older adults). Sarah’s work also extends beyond interventions where she utilizes a unique interdisciplinary approach to elucidate the mechanisms through which imagery is beneficial. For example, she examines underlying physiological, neural, and behavioral responses to imagery interventions.


Recent publications


Williams, S, Fergus, T & Ginty, A 2024, 'Development and Validation of the Ease of Imagery Questionnaire', Assessment.

Beevor, H, Ginty, A, Veldhuijzen van Zanten, J & Williams, S 2024, 'Examining the Mediating Role of Challenge and Threat Appraisal Tendencies on the Relationships Between Mastery Imagery Ability, Perceived Stress and Proactive Coping', Imagination, Cognition and Personality, pp. 1-21. https://doi.org/10.1177/02762366241236759

Lin Latt, CM, Alldredge, C, Williams, S, Vinson, M, Seiba Moris, J & Elkins, G 2024, 'Mindful Self-Hypnosis Combined with Resistance Training to Reduce Perceived Stress and Improve Other Psychological Factors in Female College Students', International Journal of Clinical and Experimental Hypnosis. https://doi.org/10.1080/00207144.2024.2346609

Williams, S & Ginty, A 2023, 'A Stress-is-Enhancing Mindset is Associated with Lower Traumatic Stress Symptoms During the COVID-19 Pandemic', Anxiety, Stress and Coping. https://doi.org/10.1080/10615806.2023.2282092

Wright, LJ, Veldhuijzen van Zanten, JJCS & Williams, SE 2023, 'Examining the associations between physical activity, self‐esteem, perceived stress, and internalizing symptoms among older adolescents', Journal of Adolescence, vol. 95, no. 6, pp. 1274-1287. https://doi.org/10.1002/jad.12201

Williams, S & Ginty, A 2023, 'Improving stress mindset through education and imagery', Anxiety, Stress and Coping. https://doi.org/10.1080/10615806.2023.2279663

Beevor, H, Ginty, A, Veldhuijzen van Zanten, J & Williams, S 2023, 'Mastery Imagery Ability Moderates the Relationship Between Heart Rate Reactivity to Acute Psychological Stress and Perceptions of Stress and Physiological Arousal', Psychophysiology. https://doi.org/10.1111/psyp.14486

Ginty, AT, Tyra, A, Young, D, Brindle, R, de Rooij, S & Williams, S 2022, 'Cardiovascular reactions to acute psychological stress and academic achievement', Psychophysiology, vol. 59, no. 10, e14064. https://doi.org/10.1111/psyp.14064

Ginty, AT, Oosterhoff, B, Young, D & Williams, S 2021, 'Effects of arousal reappraisal on the anxiety responses to stress: breaking the cycle of negative arousal intensity and arousal interpretation', British Journal of Psychology. https://doi.org/10.1111/bjop.12528

Williams, SE, Quinton, ML, Veldhuijzen van Zanten, JJCS, Davies, J, Möller, C, Trotman, GP & Ginty, AT 2021, 'Mastery Imagery Ability Is Associated With Positive Anxiety and Performance During Psychological Stress', Frontiers in Psychology, vol. 12, 568580. https://doi.org/10.3389/fpsyg.2021.568580

Wright, L, Williams, S & Veldhuijzen van Zanten, J 2021, 'Physical activity protects against the negative impact of coronavirus fear on adolescent mental health and wellbeing during the COVID-19 pandemic', Frontiers in Psychology, vol. 12, 580511. https://doi.org/10.3389/fpsyg.2021.580511

Turner, M, Jones, M, Whittaker, AC, Laborde, S, Williams, S, Meijen, C & Tamminen, KA 2020, 'Editorial: Adaptation to Psychological Stress in Sport', Frontiers in Psychology.

Ginty, AT, Young, D, Tyra, A, Hurley, P, Brindle, RC & Williams, S 2020, 'Heart Rate Reactivity to Acute Psychological Stress Predicts Higher Levels of Posttraumatic Stress Disorder Symptoms During the COVID-19 Pandemic', Psychosomatic Medicine.

Trotman, G, Veldhuijzen van Zanten, J, Davies, J, Moller, C, Ginty, AT & Williams, S 2019, 'Associations between heart rate, perceived heart rate, and anxiety during acute psychological stress', Anxiety, Stress and Coping, vol. 32, no. 6, pp. 711-727. https://doi.org/10.1080/10615806.2019.1648794

Review article

Wright, L, Williams, S & Veldhuijzen van Zanten, J 2023, 'Associations between physical activity, sedentary behaviour, and stress using ecological momentary assessment: A scoping review', Mental Health and Physical Activity, vol. 24, 100518. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.mhpa.2023.100518

View all publications in research portal


  • Coping with stress
  • Imagery/visualisation
  • Performance under pressure
  • Sport psychology