Sports psychologists help athletes prep for Olympic Games
An athlete’s physical training for competition might be more visible to outside observers, but mental preparation is just as important for those competing in the upcoming 2014 Winter Olympic Games in Sochi, Russia. Sport psychologists are an important part of the behind-the-scenes team preparing athletes to compete at the highest level.
“Preparing for each Olympic Games is a custom work of anticipation, planning and active mental challenges to prepare for Olympic pressure, and trust in the plan,” said Sean McCann, a senior sport psychologist with the U.S. Olympic Committee (USOC), in a statement. “Olympic pressure exposes any weaknesses in your mental game, and there are certain aspects of the Olympics that athletes never see during other competitions.”
Dr. Philip Skiba, a sports medicine physician with Advocate Medical Group in Park Ridge, Ill., recognizes how important mental preparation can be, and suggests that there is a connection between physical and mental training for competition.
“There are things that go on in the brain that actually take form in the body,” says Dr. Skiba, “even if you think you are just doing a mental exercise.”
Dr. Skiba has seen his patients, including several world champion triathletes, have success with a process of visualization. “These athletes have very technical parts of their routines,” says Dr. Skiba, such as a triathlete’s transition from the pool to a bike. Mentally visualizing exactly what needs to be done throughout training and practice means that “when it is time to actually do it, it is almost a natural process.”
He also stresses the importance of understanding that not every athlete should be treated with the same approach, as different athletes respond to competition in their own way. From a psychological standpoint, Dr. Skiba often sees two different types of athletes: those who mentally remove themselves from their physical exertion, and those who focus on and thrive off of any physical discomfort as a positive sign they are working hard.
“Everyone is different,” says Dr. Skiba, “and you have to figure out how to deal with someone as an individual.”
McCann added that individuals also evolve over the course of their careers, and “even athletes who are able to go to more than one Games are very different people four years later.”
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