Speaking Point: Each athlete requires different levels of psychological support. For some, it’s critical to listen, visualize, and break negative thoughts and beliefs. For others, it’s best to leave them alone. In my years as the doctor for Olympic and professional athletes, I’ve learned how to listen, when to speak and what to say.
Speaking Point: The Bridesmaid: The athlete who comes in second, but never first. Alice always came out of the blocks first, but would finish second or third after 40 meters. She believed she had to get out fast and hold on as long as possible. This is not a first place strategy. When she accepted as fact that she was faster than everyone else and seeing a runner approaching meant she was going too slow, she went on to win multiple gold medals and a world record.
Speaking Point: The Thoroughbred Horse: The athlete who’s distracted by others around her and needs blinders. Before each race, this runner would vomit and fall violently sick. She’d describe the race by telling me all about the runners in the other lanes. She was so focused on the competition; she lost her focus and fell into performance inhibiting anxiety. By training her to see only her lane her performances improved significantly and she too became an Olympian.
Speaking Point: Thought Conversion: Many feelings create similar physical reactions, but some can be destructive while others enhance performance. A common example is fear and excitement. Both of these emotions speed up your heart, increase perspiration, and speed up breathing, but one can increase focus and concentration while the other diminishes it. There are ways to convince the athlete to have the correct emotion and improve their performance.
Speaking Point: The Zone: We’re all different. Some athletes will listen to classical music, while others crank up death metal. Some need team support, others center themselves with isolation. Most athletes follow pre-competition rituals that have worked before and give them a sense of confidence, while nearly all benefit from rehearsing the event, properly, in their mind.
Speaking Point: The Dress Rehearsal: Of course the athlete prepares by practicing every part of the event in the surroundings as close to that in competition as possible. Before the event, the athlete should recite the event, step by step, from the time they wake up through the event itself. The sport’s therapist must listen for performance hiccups and reframe them until the athlete’s beliefs and focus is all directed towards success.