For many Vancouver Olympics athletes, sports psychology is key
Think what you will, but many Vancouver Olympics athletes now rely heavily on sports psychologists to help them focus and perform at their best.
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"There are only losers who use sports psychologists. My God, when athletes start to scream for psychologists is when we know that they have already lost," wrote columnist Lasse Anrell in the Aftonbladet newspaper, according to a translation on skierpost.com. "The Norwegians have a bit desperately called in an entire army of mumbo-jumbo talk."Skip to next paragraph
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Marcus Hellner, who won Sweden’s first gold in men’s cross-country skiing since 1988 on Saturday – beating Norwegian heavyweight Petter Northug – was quoted on skierpost.com before the race as saying that he didn’t need a psychologist. “I have teammates to support me if times are difficult,” he said.
Comedian Stephen Colbert also poked a bit of fun after being named assistant sports psychologist to the US speedskating team. In a live crash course with a real sports psychologist in which he learned that intimidating other athletes could be an effective tool, he suggested that a good tactic would be to tell the guy next to you that the stitching on the back seam of his speed skating suit had come out just before the race started.
But for most athletes, sports psychology is no joke. They rely on it to build their confidence, their belief in their training and their own capabilities, and to climb out of any ruts.
French biathlete Simon Fourcarde, who came into the Olympics as the overall World Cup leader – the biathlete with the most cumulative points in all the World Cups contested so far this season – credits a psychologist for helping him through a tough autumn.
“My mind was in a hole, so I asked [a psychologist] to help me,” he explains, adding that each mental training session lasts about 20 minutes. “We find a program to do step by step, to find confidence again.”
That includes breathing exercises – like yoga, but not, he says – and sessions both with the psychologist and alone.
“Also some visualizing,” he adds. “I try to visualize every possible situation – with wind, with fog, with people around me. Sometimes it stresses me when people are around me, when they pass me very fast.”
Unfortunately, that has been happening a lot at these Games, with Fourcade yet to medal – although his younger brother, Martin, won silver on Sunday.
But US skier Lindsey Vonn, who explained in a conference call before the Olympics that she usually spends an hour's preparation in visualizing her races, and then uses breathing exercises at the start gate to calm down, has had better success – gold and bronze, with more events to come.