With two weeks to go the the almighty ‘sports day’, what is going on behind the scenes for the biggest show on Earth? This blog and a few others over the next few weeks aims to share a few insights about ‘how it works’, ‘the challenges’, ‘the opportunities’ to ‘Support a Champion’. This content aims to help you beyond what they teach you in your sports science university course and helps you become a psychologist, nutritionist, physiologist, strength and conditioning coach, performance analyst or biomechanist that can perform under pressure.
For a host of sports scientists and medics in the privileged position to work with Olympians and Paralympians, truth be told the bulk of the work is now complete. 99% (+/- a little bit) of the effect of athlete preparation, coaching and applied science has now been had and the main focus should be on executing the plan. However, there is a golden opportunity to get the last percentage points by tapering well, travelling well and generally not over-cooking the recipe. A coach, attending their first Olympics, once asked me 17 hours before the Olympic final, “Shall we change the warm-up for tomorrow?” This was a coach who was under pressure, looking desperately for something to give an athlete, unlikely to perform to their best, an edge. It was too late. We had a discussion and they came to the conclusion that performance was best supported by the warm-up they were comfortable.
Pre-games is a time for calm, keeping things stable and being assured that the plans you have tried and tested are damn good ones. Alternatively, you could get your elbows out, create a hullaballoo and try to get up an in the face of the coach in the attempt to have a last minute effect. However, if you do, then you should know you will ‘spook the horses’ and may find you don’t have a job in a few months’ time. This is not the time for new ideas – just take it easy – there is enough to do anyway. The best support staff are the ones, providing some positivity, carrying bags, putting an arm (metaphorically, unless consent is provided) around someone who is struggling, carrying more bags, telling the coach they are doing a great job, diffusing situations, carrying some more bags, getting the odd beer in, etc.
Reputations are forged in the heat of the games environment and in my experience they are strengthened if you have been a good egg; but they crumble if you have been needy, noisy and negative. Mark Bawden, a legend of sport psychology, likens the best support staff to a Samurai warrior (do not confuse with Inspector Clouseau’s Kato). They are in the background, quiet, equipped and calm – but when they act it is decisive and effective.
Chose to be a good egg or a Samurai – whichever suits you, either way your Olympic colleagues will thank you for it. Support staff, at games time need to be just that – a support!
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