Author: Lea Zweig, Psy.D.

The Psychology of Performance: Using the Tools of Olympic AthletesAs everyone in the world tuned in to watch the Olympics in Rio, Brazil, many of the athletes exceeded expectations with their performances. To be a part of the Olympic games requires a certain level of confidence, persistence, strength, and drive.  It also helps to have a team of people supporting the athletes to be their best. Most professional athletes work with a psychologist to strengthen their performance. There are many tools that athletes use to cope with the stress of performing in front of millions of people on the world stage.

One tool that Olympic athletes use is practice and repetition. Practice can help a task or activity, such as a challenging sport, become part of an athlete’s procedural memory. The athletes in the Olympics make running, gymnastics, and other sports look easier than they would be for those who have not spent years practicing. This tool can also be applied to everyday life. Practice helps people feel prepared to perform under pressure. For instance, before a job interview it is useful to practice your response to questions that might be asked during the interview, so that you feel more prepared.

Another tool is positive self-talk. Sometimes you can see the athletes speaking to themselves before and during their performance. You can see their mouths saying, “You can do it” or “Stay calm, breathe.” These comments can help build self-confidence and assist the athlete in remaining calm under pressure. Applying positive self-talk in life can provide a useful method for staying focused and managing stress. For example, positive self-talk can be applied before, or during an exam to decrease test anxiety.

A third tool that athlete’s use during the Olympics is visualization. Athletes spend years imagining the perfect performance. As an example, a volleyball player can imagine a game beforehand, so he or she can learn to anticipate a situation in play, analyze and identify solutions or tactics to implement when necessary. In every day life, one can visualize possible outcomes and potential responses to these outcomes to help prepare for a particular situation.

These three tools are useful in both highly competitive competitions, as well as in everyday life. Consult with a psychologist to learn more about the tools used by Olympic athletes, how the tools described here have helped athletes in competition, and how to use their methods in your life. Everyone experiences stress and the anxiety of anticipation as you work towards achieving your goals, whether it is for the Olympics, or some other goal. It is always important to have the proper tools to manage stress, stay focused, and perform at your best.