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The Inside Track – London 2012 through a psychologists lens

Insight

05 July 2016

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Reflections from Simon Drane at London 2012 Olympic Games

My involvement in Team GB at the London 2012 Olympic Games was the pinnacle of what had been a 6-year goal for me ever since London won the bid. For this tournament, I acted as the resident sport psychologist working through the English Institute of Sport, teaming up with GB Badminton. As we approach the apex of another Olympic cycle, I can’t help but reflect on how my involvement at a home Olympic Games continues to affect my practice to this day.

My approach to a major tournament is that all of the hard work has already happened by the time the athletes start competing. I feel that I had accomplished my job when the athletes felt as prepared as they possibly could and were able to cope with anything that the Olympic Games decided to throw their way. My active involvement, in theory, should be fairly minimal. Nevertheless, this is the greatest multi-sport event there is, and at London 2012 there were certainly eventualities that we could not have planned for. This leads me to my most pertinent point that still remains extremely valid in all modes of performance – the fact that adversity, in whatever form it might take, is inevitable. When this is accepted an individual’s energy, time and resources immediately change from attempting (and always failing), to avoid every possible eventuality and instead training for how to react to adversity. Doing this is otherwise known as Resilience

 

The GB Badminton Olympic Team consisted of four athletes, two coaches, a team leader, a physiotherapist and a sport Psychologist. Our preparation was designed to equip all members of the team with what they would need, but also to generate a sense of ‘experiencing the games together’. We used the ‘Gollum’ metaphor, in reference to The Lord of The Rings character, to describe how the Olympic rings and an obsession with having to succeed seemed to make some people behave in very unusual ways. Rather than keep it at a metaphorical level, we really drilled down into behaviours that would indicate if someone was feeling the pressure, with the idea being to nip that in the bud and get it sorted.

Without the luxury of time to let this process naturally evolve, we put in place resilience programs to help the athletes and staff to peak at the Games rather than to be burnt out by the time they arrived. Proactive resilience was encouraged from an organisational and lifestyle perspective from time off, to time out and utilising the home advantage by having a ‘Family and Friends programme’. Reactive resilience was fostered by utilising the team’s knowledge of one another to notice when someone was behaving a little like ‘Gollum’ but also generating an environment for ‘Gollum’ to put his/her hand up to notify others that he /she was struggling. This process proved to be invaluable both within the holding camp and also when the timetable was changed literally the day before the tournament started. A few ‘Gollums’ were certainly identified both from others and by themselves and interventions were put into place before they evolved into anything too substantial.

To take the use of metaphors to a whole new high, my role within the Games was one of a barometer, looking for normal practice and stopping any Gollum like behaviour, and a sponge in soaking up any moans, concerns or issues that might be rolling around. As I said at the beginning, this job ended up being minimal due to the preparation and hard work which went in prior to the Games.

 

Below are what I feel are crucial in what you can do to improve your personal resilience in your organisation and prevent any ‘Gollum’ like behaviour:

 

  • Adversity is inevitable. Stop trying to avoid it. Accept and train for it
  • Know what your resilience recipe is and plan to maintain it. E.g. sleep, travel, exercise, nutrition etc
  • Reactive Resilience – in the moment recognise the signs of ‘Your Gollum’ and take some time to calm down
  • Foster a mindset within your team where it is OK to admit feeling under pressure and needing some help and also feeling OK to suggest that someone is behaving a bit ‘Gollum-like’
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