What’s trending in the world of sport right now?
Anticipation… For this year’s upcoming Summer Olympic, yes it is almost here, Rio 2016. The smell of competition is in the air. More than 10,500 athletes will be representing 206 National Olympic Committees; 28 sports (some newly added) will be generating about 306 events over the span of the games; AND… prior to the Olympic torch-lighting ceremony, records are already being set.
Take a look:
1. The number of countries participating AND the number of sports represented are the highest of any Olympic games thus far (rugby sevens and golf were just added by the International Olympic Committee in 2009)
2. Kosovo and South Sudan will be first-time Olympic participants
3. Brazil is the first South American country to host an Olympic games
4. As a result of the European migrant crisis, athletes who are unable to represent their home National Olympic Committee will still be allowed to participate as “Independent Olympians” under the Olympic flag.
5. The athletes' village is claimed to become the largest in Olympic history. Fittings will include about 80,000 chairs, 70,000 tables, 29,000 mattresses, 60,000 clothes hangers, 6,000 television sets and 10,000 smartphones.
Records already being set, and more, I’m sure, will be broken. These athletes competing at the 2016 Rio Olympics are among the best in the world… So how is it that the best of the best mentally prepare for, what is arguably, the most important athletic achievement in their career? Does sport psychology play a role in their pursuit of earning gold? We found a simple “question and answer-themed” article from ThePsychReport titled “An Olympic State of Mind: Q&A with US Olympic Team Sports Psychologist Karen Cogan” to help answer some of those questions…. And furthermore, we will introduce some fundamental psychological strategies that help these performers achieve their peak performance-maybe you can relate to a few.
First, for some Q & A:
Q: What are some of the recurring themes as you work with athletes and help them prepare for the Olympic games?
“… one of the biggest things that I work with them and the coaches on is setting up high pressure situations beforehand. Not only do they go to world cups and world championships, and qualifying events and Olympic trials, but in training we try to set up high pressure situations, so that they can see how they react. Then, we can start to develop some coping strategies.”
Q: Athletes seem to face a balancing act between stress-management and self-belief. Their life’s work comes down to a few moments. Can you talk about how you work with athletes to balance these two competing forces?
“We talk about stress and anxiety as being a normal part of the competitive process, and to some degree if they don’t have that, then they don’t have enough adrenaline to do well. So we expect there to be that sense of anxiety, especially in those important competitions. We talk about that as normal. We talk about being able to face that and use it to their advantage, and work through it, rather than avoid it or ignore it. Maybe even reinterpret it as more their excitement and anticipation, as opposed to something that they’re dreading.”
Q: Most people think about athletes preparing mentally for a game, but can you describe in a bit more detail what you do with coaches to help them manage their own stress?
“We did some training in workshops for coaches and I did some “What if” scenarios with them. What if you’re coaching and this happens to your athlete? Or this, this, and this goes on–how are you going to handle that? We did some training like that, which turned out to be beneficial because some of those things actually did happen. So they had a chance to talk through some of that, and then they had a little better knowledge of what to do going in.”
It is, then, of no surprise that The Top 5 Fundamentals of the Olympic Athlete’s psychological strategies are as follows:
1. Confidence building. Letting each athlete recognize their strengths by emphasizing a growth mindset. This does not mean the athlete is praised for the outcome of their performance, but instead, they focus on their achievements throughout the process of their individual development.
2. Positive cognitive re-structural thinking processes (Speaking to ones self positively). Focusing on the mechanics of skill routines, remembering past successful experiences, and mentally preparing every detail of the competition.
3. Mental imagery training. Imaging the exact skill or movement in competition so that the brain can send precise neurological signals to the muscles, which can then perform the coordinated movements.
4. Positive approaches in communication between athlete/athlete and athlete/coach. Assertive communication style, positive feedback, the “shoulds” instead of the “should nots,” performance & skill building>competition and winning.
5. Contingency planning (especially in regards to the athlete’s cultural considerations). Consider the “what-ifs” since they just might actually happen.
301 gold medals at stake for 10,500 athletes… Which ones will make it to the top? We will have to wait and see!