Understanding the Minds of Champions – or “Pressure is what you feel when you do not know what you are doing”

Understanding the Minds of Champions – or “Pressure is what you feel when you do not know what you are doing”

– How do champions mentally prepare and how do they use psychology to help them?
– The interviewed psychologist worked with the US 2012 Olympics athletics team
– He noted that the pressure was unique (reminders of the Olympics were everywhere – signs, other teams etc.,) and non-stop both in the build-up & during the games
– He also noted “the energy” & the crowd expectations in the Olympic stadium

He notes that athletes have to:
1) Over-prepare
– Preparation occurs before the event (to develop what is known as “learned automaticity”
– Preparation continues to occur while at the event and before the actual event occurs
– he has a quote: Pressure is what you feel when you do not know what you are doing
2) Know how to channel the energy of the timed events

He notes that a lot of elite sports performance is actually physical
– & notes: If it were mainly mental then a lot of sports psychologists would be top athletes

Mental is – however – very important for planning & preparation regarding skills development & strategies for attaining higher-level performance – so you are prepared to perform at your best
– preparation includes the psychology of:
– knowing what is involved with achieving high performance:
– knowing you are going to be judged, evaluated, held to a high standard by others/ourselves & accepting that
– being able to get the performance you want out
– being able to manage distractions: threat from others; threat from officials, crowds & threat to our sense of self-worth & identity

As your career develops, expectations of others & yourself – what you & others put on yourself – changes over time

He notes it is difficult not to internalise external judgments of yourself against others (when it comes to performance) & basing your entire self-worth on performance in a particular area you wish to excel in ( known as compare & despair thinking)
– he notes this applies to children today & all facets of life
– such children need to learn how to manage this
– what is going on – explore it & use techniques to relieve that pressure
– children needs to – he believes – need to understand what is going on psychologically (as do parents)
– management approaches also involve trying to find a sense of balance & perspective, even though this is difficult particularly where people are seeking high-performance, where this performance also sits in the totality of a person’s life
– he notes high-performance expectations can also be linked with giving up an area of interest when high-performance expectations are not met (all or nothing thinking; note also the link with perfectionism)
– it is important for athletes to note what is important when it comes to performing at a high-level – this way the athlete knows where to focus their attention when training (this gives the athlete the basis for developing a specific plan for what they should focus on, as well as when, where & how much – think SMART goals) [notice too how is is more specific & achievable than saying: pay attention &/or stay focused]
– high-performance also involves lots of emotions & these involve huge physical reactions in the body – mind-body connection
– by understanding this,the high performance athlete is able to monitor & note what is important & not important in the physical environment (also known as valence) & have pre-prepared plans/strategies to manage such situations
– he notes many talk about “toughness” & ignoring emotion – this he says is wrong & is an act of suppression which requires ongoing effort (&cogntive resources) – it is much better to acknowledge emotions and respond effectively rather than “pretend” you don’t feel & have your performance suffer because you actually do – like all human beings – have emotions – it is also worth noting some can perform by ignoring/suppressing both this can come at an enormous cost – burnout/exhaustion/energy depletion (&ultimately affect psychological wellbeing)

Source: Speaking of Psychology [American Psychological Association] | Podcast date: 20 June 2017 | #MarkTaylorPsychology


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