The sports psychology secrets of Olympians you can use at uni

By Alana Leabeater
Bachelor of Sport and Exercise Science student, University of Technology Sydney


I once heard a leading Australian sports scientist say that the next frontier in sports science has nothing to do with the body.

“Sports psychology,” he said, “is where most of our future medals will be coming from”.

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Photo: Agberto Guimaraes


The fact is, we have mastered many of the physical determinants of success in sport. We know how to train the athletes’ bodies – but training their minds is a whole new ball game.

The 2016 Summer Olympics in Rio will see an unprecedented number of sports psychologists joining the support team for the Australian delegation.

They will help the athletes overcome the unfamiliar environment of Rio and achieve success in their individual events.

As uni students and non-Olympians, what can we gain from this new field of sports psychology?

VISUALISE WINS AND CHALLENGES

One common technique used by many elite athletes is visualisation.

As well as being the most decorated Olympic athlete of all time, American Michael Phelps is well known for using visualisation techniques before his races.

Phelps mentally goes through a ‘database’ of potential scenarios – for example, his goggles falling off – and thinks about what he would do in each situation.

This way, he is prepared for the scenario should it ever occur, even though he has only practised his response in his head.

Research by the Cleveland Clinic Foundation in Ohio showed that just performing mental rehearsal fired the same electrical impulses and muscle movement patterns as doing the actual movement.

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Photo: Michael Phelps, @aqatxswim Instagram


So come the night before an important exam, consider spending a few minutes on visualisation – mentally rehearsing how you will open the exam booklet, be calm about the questions, answer to the best of your ability and finish in a good mood.

It also works well for those students who may have to participate in practical exams. Even spending a short amount of time visualising how you will take blood pressure, dress a wound or analyse an anatomy model will make you feel calmer and more in control when you actually sit the exam.

MEDITATE YOUR WAY TO SUCCESS

Another sports psychology secret of Olympians is their use of meditation.

The benefits of meditation range from increased serotonin production (the same ‘feel-good’ chemicals you get from eating chocolate, but without the calories!) to increased creativity and emotional stability.

For athletes, it helps them focus before big events and block out any external distractions.

For uni students, setting aside some time to meditate each week will lower your stress levels and decrease any anxiety you may be experiencing, especially around exam time.

If you don’t know how to meditate or what it involves, you can drop into the free mindfulness meditation practice that runs on Tuesdays at 3.10pm in the Multi Faith Room, in UTS Building 3, Level 5, Room 008.

YOU’VE HEARD IT BEFORE – SET REALISTIC GOALS

Finally, successful Olympic athletes excel at setting realistic, specific goals. For many of these athletes, achieving a medal at the Games is just ticking off their long term goal.

In a similar way, as a uni student you should set goals for each subject you are studying – for example, an overall grade you want to achieve.

Or, you could set a goal mark for each assessment in the semester. Make these goals visible so you can see them while you’re studying.

It is important you hold yourself accountable for your progress.

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So, update your goals when you receive results to see how you’re going, and set new goals if you need to.

As you watch the Olympics these next few weeks, take a second to appreciate the mental strength of the athletes, and try and utilise some of their secrets in your everyday life.

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