Becoming an Olympian doesn’t just take physical training. Team GB’s minds are in tiptop condition too. Sports psychiatrist, Dr Steve Peters has been working with medal winners like Chris Hoy, Victoria Pendleton, Bradley Wiggins and Karina Bryant for years. He says that Olympic success is down to focused minds as well as fit bodies.
Steve told us how gold may not equal happiness and how Karina Bryant became a medal-winning athlete.
Does mental training really make a difference?
Most athletes say that they’re more emotionally prepared. London Judo medalist, Karina Bryant was in tears after not getting a medal in Beijing and asked if I would work with her. She worked very hard on emotional skills and four years on she’s a different person in competition, calm and focused.
So you work very closely with the athletes?
They become friends. I travel with them to events such as World Cups, we stay in the same hotels and eat together.
How have the athletes been preparing for the Olympics mentally?
We work with my ‘Chimp model’, which explains how the mind works. There’s the Chimp – our emotional side, and the Human - our rational side. There are constructive emotions, for example happiness and pleasure and destructive emotions, such as fear and worry. We can learn how to use the rational part of our minds to choose which emotion we want to have.
Why does this improve their performance?
We work on how they respond emotionally to success or failure. We consider how they may react and then decide how they want to react and make sure they have the choice.
How do you prepare for a loss?
If the athletes don’t do as well as they want to they may act emotionally before their rational side kicks in. Each athlete works on an individual plan, but the basis is commonly to gain perspective and to remember that they have done their best.
Do you need to prepare for a win?
The gold medalists may well feel a dip after their win. This is what they’ve been working towards for four years. It’s an amazing moment and they’ll feel great in the media spotlight, but later may feel they have lost purpose and direction.
Click on the icons for full details of the medal winners
By Kate Lloyd