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Using Sport Psychology to Win Olympic Gold

Written by Mrs. Fiona Meikle

Mental preparation will be key for any athletes who plans to perform at their peak during the 2014 Winter Olympics. The athletes will have spent at least the last four years physically preparing themselves, but if they are not mentally ready, they are unlikely to be able to cope with the pressures and stress associated with competing at such a major event.

Prior to GB's Lizzie Yarnold's gold medal winning performance in skeleton Amy Williams, Olympic Champion in 2010, commented on the mental toughness that is required to be an elite skeleton athlete:

 "Half of skeleton is what the mental battle is in your head. Everyone says, you can have ten athletes that are physically the same, but it is the one that is mentally stronger that pulls through. She (Lizzie) is so strong mentally, nothing seems to affect her like it does with other athletes."

Lizzie did in fact appear to be mentally tough. She was completely relaxed and looked like she was enjoying herself. She was the fastest in each of the first three heats. Going into the fourth heat, Lizzie was expected to take gold and give a performance of a lifetime. Already holding the track record, could Lizzie further improve on this performance and beat her own record, or would the pressure of going last and being the favourite take its toll?

Whilst being interviewed by BBC's Claire Balding, Amy Williams described what it is like to be the last person to race, knowing that this is the race that you could win Olympic Gold:

"It's a strange feeling because you are there, you are in the changing room, one minute it is really busy and as everyone disappears you are just there on your own with your thoughts and nothing to distract you. For me I just had a really good plan and I actually took myself away in another bit of the changing room where there was no-one. I didn't want to see what other athletes were doing. I put my fingers in my ears when I heard times coming up for the other athletes and I only thought of myself and I have advised Lizzie to do the same, which she does. She (Lizzie) should have a minute to minute plan of what  she needs to do in her warm up, going through her mental preparation. You can shut your eyes and go through the whole track. Visualisation is really important to practice those key corners in your head, the steers in your body and then just go out, almost empty your head, be happy, smile and just go out there."

Lizzie had an incredibly powerful start, she looked focused and determined. Despite an amazing start, Lizzie did make a couple of mistakes in the first half of the run and only started to look comfortable and in control in the final half of the run. However, Lizzie's incredible ability to make such a powerful start was almost all she needed in this race because her mistakes did not impact on her final result and she glided into first place with ease.

- See more at: http://www.fionameikle.com/blog/entry/3720565/using-sport-psychology-to-win-olympic-gold#sthash.ompsQq8n.dpuf

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Qualifications

  • BASES Accredited Sport and Exercise Scientist
  • Science Council Chartered Scientist
  • M.Sc. Applied Sport and Exercise Psychology
  • B.Sc. Sports Medicine

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