Great expectations: Olympics put mental health under the ...


Great expectations: Olympics put mental health under the spotlight

Parents, trainers and coaches benefit from a better understanding of how the brain works


The Olympic Games, the event that brings the world together to observe the pinnacle of human endurance, strength and ability, has aroused emotions of awe and wonder from spectators since the inception of the modern Games in 1896.

The world’s elite athletes are not only competing for personal acclaim, but representing the various nations of the world. Expectations are high. And it is exactly this pressure that can take its toll on the mental health of even the most well-prepared and professionally trained athlete. US gymnast and gold medallist Simone Biles’s decision to unexpectedly withdraw from the Tokyo Summer Games to focus on her mental health has reignited the debate about our understanding of the human psyche and performance, and particularly how it relates to the world of sport.

Sport psychologists understand the dynamics of the interface between peak performance and the mental state of athletes. Various techniques are used to assist their clients on a brain level to overcome performance anxiety, to improve focus and concentration and to develop mental endurance. Such techniques may include visualisation exercises, biofeedback protocols and brain-working therapies. These can be incredibly helpful to elicit optimal outcomes, but sometimes internal and external expectations can elicit such pressure that the nervous system responds with the opposite physiological and emotional responses to those that are desired...

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