Mental health, preparation even more important for 1st-time Olympians in Beijing | CBC Sports

American snowboarder Chloe Kim cradled the gold medal she had won in the women’s snowboard halfpipe event on Thursday and spoke about the pressure she felt to perform.

“Take care of yourself, put yourself first, recognize that what you are doing is not easy and [that] there’s a lot of pressure and people expect a lot from you, that’s not normal at all,” Kim said. “What’s normal is struggling with those kinds of pressures, like I did this morning.”

Kim’s words echo the words of other sports superstars recently, most notably tennis star naomi osaka Y gymnast simone bile — recognize the price that the pursuit of athletic excellence takes on their mental health.

“I think Simon [Biles] and Naomi Osaka, what they did was a really good reminder that we’re all human,” Kim said. “Everyone goes through things, everyone struggles with mental health. Is not [an] easy thing to beat.”

These Olympic Games have come with challenges that have increased the strain on mental health. A global pandemic and calls for boycotts due to alleged human rights violations by their Chinese hosts have added to the struggles athletes face as they mentally prepare for the world’s biggest sporting stage.

For Kim, this is her second Olympics, and her second gold after winning the same event four years ago in Pyeongchang, and she still talks about the pressure an athlete feels at the Games. That is only amplified for someone competing in her first Olympics.

“There’s so much going on outside of the actual racing (at the Olympics),” said first-time Canadian Olympian Emily Dickson, 24, a biathlete from Burns Lake B.C. “I think the most overwhelming part of all of this has been the arrival, the journey, [and] life in the Olympic Village, simply because there is so much more to it than the normal Biathlon World Cup.

For Canadian bobsled runner Dawn Richardson Wilson, it’s been a whirlwind of emotions as she prepares for her two-woman event on February 18.

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“The first time I arrived in the village, apart from the opening ceremonies, I went through adrenaline and tears of happiness and remembered how difficult it was to get here,” said the 22-year-old. “When they finished, I had to refocus and say, ‘yeah, I know why I’m here, but now I really need to perform. I need to have the right mindset for my team and my driver.’

“It’s been good to come in early to let those emotions settle down. They’ll come back up and I think that will help me perform even better.”

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The pressure to perform is one of the main things athletes have to deal with mentally, and the scope of the Olympics only adds to that.

“It’s hard to ignore the fact that this is the biggest sports arena there is,” Dickson said. “There’s definitely a little bit of pressure that every athlete puts on themselves. That’s what working with professionals and trusting your training and focusing on the process is all about. I think those are the best ways to counteract that pressure and give a step forward”. one moment.”

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Working with professionals, importance of resilience

Dickson admits that she struggles with anxiety at times, but finds that talking to a professional, in her case sports psychologist Dr. Karen MacNeill, is a “really key component” to having a good mindset.

MacNeill, who is the lead mental performance consultant for the Canadian Olympic Committee (COC), provides on-site support to Canadian athletes at the Games. He is also a former athlete and has worked with athletes who have competed in the last five Winter Olympics as well as the Tokyo Games.

She said helping athletes have the resilience to endure whatever comes their way is key.

“When we look at mental fitness, resilience skills, you’re giving the athlete a variety of mental skills and mental tools to be able to handle pressure, tolerate stress, navigate through challenges and be able to perform,” he said. “It’s things like trigger management, the ability to optimize focus, [and] how to build trust and confidence

“I think the other piece is the meaning that they give to being in the Olympics and the pressure and expectations that they can feel. To work a lot on what this is about for that individual, what is the meaning, what is the key objective and objective, and helping them become familiar with the emotional reaction they might have once you’re on the ground.”

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As for the difference between working with first-time Olympians and those who are veterans on the big stage, MacNeill said the types of pressure differ, but it all comes down to strategy.

“Really looking at their performance plan in this context, given the differences. Their social media plan, their own media plan, how are they going to respond to reporters,” he said. “There are a few different things in this context that we just want to make sure they have a plan. Having that plan makes them feel a sense of control over their experience.

“For the four-time Olympian, that’s also different. I’ve worked with individuals in the last few Games, they came fourth. And this one, just by being off the podium, they really have something to prove, so there’s more pressure there. So , it’s the same with regard to emotional regulation and meaning and what they’re trying to accomplish here and then what are the skills that they need to be able to regulate and manage those situations.”

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