Competing in the Olympics is a common goal of many athletes. Long and rigorous physical and mental training precede the competition, building excitement and anxiety as this massive 4-yearly event approaches.
It’s now accepted that it is not enough to train the body physically for the challenges of the competition. Various psychological skills are also developed for the athlete to cope with the tremendous pressure and unique environment surrounding the Olympic events.
The Australian Olympic athletes to the 2012 London Olympic Games know this well. Their strategy for winning involved training for physical ability and maintaining an athletic mindset with the help of a mind coach.
Why athletes need to develop mental skills for competition
Psychological factors that are present during competition contribute to the athlete’s performance. These include the athlete’s capacity to:
- Focus during competition
- Understand their own emotional responses to stressors
- Identify moments when change is required
- Identify skills to adapt under pressure
- Adapt to the environment
- Regulate cognitions, emotion and behaviour
- Use competition skills to perform
- Recover psychologically and maintain emotional well-being
Importance of psychological recovery
Win or lose, an athlete in a competition experiences a wide range of stressors and distractions that can have a negative impact on their mental health.
Sleep difficulties, illness, minor injuries, transport delays, performance anxiety and disruptions during training are just some of the challenges during competition. Without adequate recovery, an athlete may not be able to achieve or maintain peak performance in subsequent events.
An Olympic athlete must be able to maintain high confidence levels, competition focus and regulated emotions. Recovery to restore confidence, focus and emotions is therefore crucial. In this phase, the athlete needs the support of a sports mind coach who can guide him in taking important steps such as:
- Dealing with thoughts about the competition performance in order to distance the athlete from the experience
- Choosing and following recovery strategies which are designed to address responses to competition stressors
- Orienting the athlete to the present
Debriefing is part of recovery and many sports psychologists use this process to help the athlete understand, process and manage the competition experience. An athlete must be debriefed consistently after an event, whether they win or lose in competition.
This process promotes closure of an event in the mind of the athlete so that recovery can take place. Added benefits of mind coaching during recovery include stress reduction, relaxation, emotional management and better sleep.
Other Olympic mental preparation that a mind coach can provide include:
- Individual consultation
- Mental health assessment
- Team consultation
- Training and competition support