Tuesday, July 24, 2012

London Calling: Performing under pressure

When Olympians line out for their countries next week they will have years, even decades of training and preparation behind them. Despite this, they will be under immense pressure to perform at a world-class level. The ability to handle that pressure - the competitors 'mental toughness' may well provide lessons for those of us in other walks of life and how we deal with pressure.

>>This is the first in the London Calling series of Olympic-themed posts in the run-up to the start of London 2012. <<

Serryth Colbert, himself a Commonwealth gold medalist rower, and colleagues found that members of the Great Britain Olympic Rowing Team were 12% more "mentally tough" than a group of surgeons surveyed.

This "mental toughness" describes the psychological attributes to perform at the highest level and was measured by a number of broad themes. These included "having an insatiable desire and internalised motives to succeed" and "thriving on the pressure of competition". A total of six themes were measured by a survey of the rowers and the surgeons.

The results of the survey, published in the  British Journal of Oral and Maxillofacial Surgery show that the average scoring for positive responses when asked about 'comeback mentality' - the ability to overcome previous failure ranged from 53% for rowers to 40% for surgeons.

When queried about the the ability to thrive under the heat of competition, 74% of rowers responded positively compared to just 58% of surgeons.
Olympic flame at Kew Gardens (Image: LOCOG)

The whole area of sports psychology will have a huge impact on athletes at this years games. Writing for the Association for Applied Sport Psychology, Dr. Daniel Gould, who has conducted a series of research projects for the US Olympic Commission (USOC), has said that a whole range of "behind-the-scenes" factors can influence performance.

"These can range from athletes from less popular sports meeting some of the most visible athletes in the world in the Olympic village dining hall to traffic problems that disrupt an athlete’s normal training time" said Gould.

"Other distractions include having a roommate that snores or having an event scheduled towards the end of the Games but living in a village where most athletes are finished competing and are in celebration mode".

Training at the Olympic rowing venue (Image: LOCOG)
With all eyes now on the spectacular opening ceremony on Friday night, produced and directed by Oscar-winner Danny Boyle, Gould had some advice for athletes making the decision to attend or not.

“Deciding whether to attend Opening Ceremonies can be very a difficult decision for Olympic athletes if they are going to perform within 24 to 48 hours of those ceremonies. Our research revealed that it could be a wonderful, exhilarating experience and worked to motivate some athletes. Others, however, found all the standing around zapped their energy and resulted in lack luster performance. It should be discussed with the athletes, taking care to examine the potential positive versus negative consequences,” said Gould.

As one of the Olympic rowers noted: "Mental toughness is not being affected by anything but what’s going on in the race. It’s being able to block out what’s not important".

Colbert et al., 2012. Performing to a world class standard under pressure—Can we learn lessons from the Olympians? British Journal of Oral and Maxillofacial Surgery 50(4): 291-297. Link.


  © Communicate Science; Blogger template 'Isolation' by Ourblogtemplates.com 2012

Back to TOP