CPJ Spotlight: Sport Psychology Allows Team USA Athletes to Achieve Peak Performance


Sport Psychology Allows Team USA Athletes to Achieve Peak Performance
American psychologists work with athletes on the field and in the gym to help bring home medals

Synopsis: Sport psychologists have been working with the United States Olympic Committee (USOC) to provide athletes with a competitive edge. A cadre of psychologists employed by the USOC works with athletes and coaches to help them achieve peak performance. These psychologists employ a host of methods, including mindfulness, competitive simulation, and virtual reality to make sure that the athletes are ready for any possible scenario.

For example, competitive simulation helped the swimming and diving teams to medal at the last Olympics in Rio. The teams prepared for conditions native to the area by practicing in all types of weather: wind, rain, and storm. This plan, devised by a sport psychologist, helped the athletes to relax and welcome the gray and stormy weather that arrived the morning of the competition. They competed well and took home the silver medal. Sport psychology at the Olympics, U.S. Paralympics and other Team USA events can be as intense as competing, as it is the psychologist’s role to help athletes maintain a balanced state of mind amidst the chaos. This requires psychologists to be on their game and in the action right alongside the athletes. Utilizing psychological principles to help push athletes forward is one of the secrets to giving the Team USA a competitive edge.

How Team USA uses Mindfulness: Before the actual competitions begin, mindfulness is practiced in a team setting, often through a guided meditation for the entire team. It is also practiced in one-to-one settings with a sport psychologist, using methods like guided imagery to help athletes imagine themselves in the heat of competition, or breathing training to help athletes control their physiological state. Athletes also use applications, such as headspace, to train on their own. Because of the mindfulness interventions implemented by sport psychologists, many athletes have developed mindfulness routines alongside their normal exercise and nutrition routines. Mindfulness helps athletes maintain a balanced and competitive mindset. During international competitions, so much is at stake that it is possible for athletes to become discouraged, distracted, or downright panicked. Athletes are coached to take a mindful approach to their sport, to be in the present moment, with the motto “one point (or jump, or dive, etc.) at a time”.

Source: Karen Cogan, senior sports psychologist with the USOC, recently wrote an article on coaching elite Team USA athletes published in Consulting Psychology Journal: Practice and Research. This issue focuses on coaching elite performers in a wide range of occupational settings – athletics, performing arts, business, military, and medicine. CPJ is a publication of the Society of Consulting Psychology (SCP), a division of the American Psychological Association. SCP represents over 1,000 psychologists who translate psychological science into practical methods for consulting with individuals, groups and organizations to catalyze growth and change.

Media Contact: Warren Djerf, for SCP; warren@brookcomm.net or (952) 920-3908

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