Many athletes have said that competing at the Olympic and Paralympic Games is like no other experience. Being able to perform at your best in Rio obviously takes meticulous physical as well as mental preparation. Generally, athletes train for many years with the focus of making an Olympic or Paralympic Team. Once that goal is achieved and they have the opportunity to step out on that stage, the feelings and emotions can be overwhelming. It is not hard to imagine that this is challenging for even the most seasoned athlete. Being able to manage your emotions, attention, and desire to perform at your best takes practice and planning. The CSIO Mental Performance Team works directly with athletes and coaches to help develop and implement mental skills and competition preparation plans; working to develop and refine specific strategies for each athlete and team.
Mental Performance staff at CSIO can be found in the lab, in the field, and in the classroom. Educating athletes and coaches on the various mental skills and strategies, developing and managing team dynamics, and problem solving are but a few of the ways in which staff and athletes interact. The Mental Performance staff also works with coaches to help refine their communication and performance feedback to the athletes as well as adjusting practice plans to maximize learning. Most importantly, Mental Performance staff at CSIO work in a highly coordinated fashion with other members of each athlete or sport’s integrated support team (IST), to ensure that the services being delivered are done so in a cohesive, integrated fashion.
Helping athletes with their psychological recovery and regeneration is also an essential component to performance. Athletes and coaches are encouraged to implement effective recovery plans into their daily training to ensure they are ready for the next training session, and are able to avoid such performance detractors as staleness and burnout. To that end, Mental Performance staff at CSIO work with athletes to refine their recovery strategies, in addition to giving them access to the CSIO Recovery Pod, which allows athletes to recharge in a simple and quick manner.
Dr. Judy Goss works with a number of athletes from sports such as sailing, badminton, swimming, and beach volleyball who have qualified for the Rio 2016 Games. Over the past quadrennial, she has also worked with the Men’s Wheelchair Basketball Team in their preparation for Rio 2016. Each athlete has specific individual pre-competition plans, strategies to manage distractions and confidence, along with specific factors that build the team belief and connection. One of the most challenging aspects of working with a team is managing the individual needs of each player and blending them into a team plan.
Dr. Rolf Wagschal is the Game Plan Advisor based out of CSIO. In this role he works with athletes to develop plans to integrate the many aspects of their lives – personal, professional, and social – while still respecting their commitment to sport. His main goal is to help athletes manage and reduce the stress that is often created by conflicts outside of sport, so that athletes can perform at their peak when it matters most.
One of the Mental Performance staffs’ greatest challenges is supporting the athletes who did not qualify for Rio. For every one athlete that makes the team, there are many more that do not. Helping those athletes to re-evaluate their plans, set and work towards new goals, and build the passion to continue can keep us busy for months both leading up to, and immediately following the Games. Some athletes at this point might also be deciding to move on and a key component of a successful transition out of sport is preparation and having a plan.
Another common challenge for athletes after an Olympics, Paralympics or Major Games, is the choice to retire from competitive sport, and our Mental Performance staff are there to help. In keeping with the mandate of Game Plan, Dr. Wagschal is instrumental in working with CSIO athletes in planning for, and ultimately making the transition to, life after competition. Not only does his work with athletes help them in developing their plan for life after sport, it is also proactive in helping them strategize ways to engage with that path while still actively competing. The CSIO Mental Performance Team is there to helps athletes in securing their future, while preparing for and focusing on their present.
Dr. Judy Goss, Mental Performance Consultant
Dr. Rolf Wagschal, Game Plan Advisor
About Canadian Sport Institute Ontario
Canadian Sport Institute Ontario (CSIO) is a non-profit organization committed to the pursuit of excellence by providing world-class programs, services, and leadership to high performance athletes and coaches to enhance their ability to achieve international podium performances. CSIO offers athletes a range of sport science and sport medicine services including nutrition, physiology, biomechanics, strength & conditioning, mental performance, sport therapy and life services. CSIO also delivers programming and services to National and Provincial Sport Organizations and coaches to work towards building a stronger sport system in Ontario and Canada.
CSIO services approximately 700 high performance athletes and 250 coaches, at its main facility at the Toronto Pan Am Sports Centre, its satellite location at the Mattamy National Cycling Centre in Milton, and in daily training environments across Ontario. CSIO is part of a larger network of 4 institutes and 3 multi-sport centres across the country known as the Canadian Olympic and Paralympic Sport Institute Network, working in partnership with the Canadian Olympic Committee and Canadian Paralympic Committee. CSIO is further supported by the Ministry of Tourism, Culture and Sport, Sport Canada, Own the Podium, and the Coaching Association of Canada, along with the National and Provincial Sport Organizations within the sector. www.csiontario.ca