As the countdown to Sochi reaches the final hours, athletes are entering the crucial period before Olympic competition where they must mentally prepare themselves and shut out the increasing number of distractions they are encountering in Russia, says a leading sports psychologist.
Adjunct Associate Professor Patsy Tremayne, from the University of Western Sydney, is a former Commonwealth Games high board diving bronze medallist and foundation member of the Australian Psychological Society's College of Sport and Exercise Psychologists (CoSEP).
She said the pressure the athletes are facing right now is immense, especially for first time Olympians, and it’s crucial they take care of their mental health.
“All of these athletes have spent their lives preparing themselves for the Olympics, but to succeed at such an elite level requires dealing with immense pressure over the course of the Games,” said Associate Professor Tremayne, from the UWS School of Social Sciences and Psychology.
“It will be even harder for athletes to block out the external noise and focus on their preparation, as this year’s Games seem to have been dogged by controversy for some time, from terrorism concerns to Russia's stance on gay rights.
“Adding to this is the uncertainty over the facilities such as the slopestyle course, which will now be reworked after a gold medal contender was taken to hospital amid claims by athletes, including Australian Torah Bright, that it is dangerous.”
Associate Professor Tremayne said athletes need to have a plan of attack for the day of competition, and avoid distraction while maintaining good communication with their coaches and other teammates.
“These athletes are amazing already just to have made the team, and most of them have already performed successfully in international championships, but sometimes they feel they have to do something extra because it’s an Olympic Games,” she said
“This is the worst thing to do, as it can cause athletes to become just a little less automatic, and adds more pressure and tension to their preparation.
“The extra elements of pressure that can only come with an Olympic Games start to work on athletes, and this can lead very successful athletes to fall apart sometimes.”
Associate Professor Tremayne said the key to success is to keep it simple.
“A good exercise for athletes is to focus on their preparation for the start of their competition, such as the key points for the start of a skating routine or the start of a moguls time trial," she says.
“Keeping yourself in the moment is crucial in sport. Problems occur when athletes start to think ahead of themselves by dwelling on extraneous thoughts such as “what if I get a medal”, or “what do I tell people if I perform badly.”