Pressure Cooker

I’m at the Vancouver Olympic Winter Games, covering ski jumping and nordic combined. Earlier, I saw Swiss skier Simon Amman win a gold medal on the normal hill competition, with two spectacular jumps. When you watch him in person, and on the TV slow-motion replays, you see an athlete in a state of total relaxation as he soars through the air, and lands in a telemark position. Eight years ago, as a kid, he did the same at the Games in Salt Lake City. What followed were six years of not handling the pressure of expectations- six years of not finding that state of total relaxation that produces maximum performance. In the 2007-08 World Cup season, he started to turn things around; and today, he showed the world he’d found it again.

Tonight, I watched from the lounge in the hotel as Jennifer Heil won silver in the moguls event. Defending Olympic champ, she carried the weight of her country, so desperately wanting to win the first ever gold medal on home soil (Canada was shut out in 1976 and 1988). I don’t know her sport well enough, nor do I know the details of her physical health, but I sensed hesitation in her decisive second run. Did the pressure cooker play a role? Undoubtedly yes, but who knows to what extent.

How will the Canadian hockey teams handle the pressure cooker when they get to the decisive games. Weigh in with your opinion after reading this guest post from Tim Wharnsby, senior writer with CBCSports.ca and respected ice hockey reporter in Canada. He argues that the NHL players on Canada’s hockey team might be better prepared to handle the pressure than some others competing for the home country.

Tim Wharnsby, senior writer, CBC.CA

GUEST POST:

I’ve always had a passing interest in psychology, especially the psychology of sport. Last year, I picked up a copy of Dr. Saul Miller’s book Why Teams Win: 9 Keys to Success in Business Sport and Beyond. It’s a wonderful book and I recommend it to anyone who has appetite for this area of interest.

Dr. Miller is one of the leaders in the proverbial mental coach business. He is a performance specialist consulting in sport, business, health care and the arts. With a Ph.D. in clinical psychology, his work in the areas of enhancing performance and team building has helped organizations, individuals and teams be successful while dealing effectively with pressure, stress, and change.

Over the past twenty-five years, Dr. Miller’s clients have included sport teams in the NFL, NBA, NHL, CFL, Major League Baseball plus PGA Tour golfers, NCAA athletes, and Olympians in over a dozen different sports.

Over the past few weeks and months, we’ve often heard about the pressure our Canadian athletes will be under performing at home in Vancouver, especially the men’s Canadian hockey team with all its high-priced talent.

Dr. Miller was more than willing to discuss his thoughts on the pressure Canadian athletes will experience at the 2010 Olympics for my recent story on the CBC.CA site.

In the department of outstanding timing – or more likely planned timing – Dr. Miller recently released a new book entitled, Performing Under Pressure: Gaining the Mental Edge in Business and Sport. I don’t need to explain what this book is all about, do I?

It’s interesting to note that Dr. Miller believes that although the expectations for the men’s hockey team is sky high, he doesn’t believe Sidney Crosby and Co. will feel the intense heat as much as other individual athletes because of three reasons: their vast experience from the Stanley Cup playoffs and other international events; the leadership of not only players like Scott Niedermayer and Chris Pronger but from the team’s executive director Steve Yzerman as well as head coach Mike Babcock and his staff; and, finally, because of the way the tournament is set up Canada will have some easier games that should allow them to build up their confidence heading into the medal round.

How does this differ from other Canadian athletes performing in Vancouver or Whistler? Well, this will be the grandest stage for many of these individual athletes. Many of them also don’t have the benefit of easing into the Winter Games like the hockey team. A heat in speed skating or a run in skiing or a single race in cross-country skiing or a short program in figure is so important that these athletes have to be spot on right away.

As Dr. Miller states, “how much success these athletes will have depend on how well they handle the pressure.”

-Tim

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2 responses to “Pressure Cooker

  1. Well, as I said in the last post, I’ve been rooting for the U.S. during these Olympics and Langs got the game-winner vs Canada tonight. Yes it was a shocker, but I was afraid the U.S. would be a more balanced team. I felt like some of the guys chosen for Canada were thrown into a role that they don’t necessarily fit. The last thing I wanted to see was a conservative approach from Canada at these Olympics. I would have much rather seen somebody like Brad Richards as opposed to Patrice Bergeron, for instance, and not pretend that he is one of the top defensive forwards in the nation. If you want a third or fourth line guy, go out and get a third or fourth line guy. Under those circumstances, a name like John Madden comes to mind, but then, “who is John Madden?” would be a question asked by many. That’s why I would have preferred it if they just went with their top offensive guys and didn’t beat around the bush.

  2. I always said a significant portion of sports is psychological. I hate that the host countries get “easier” games, but both the Canadian women and men should win. There are a couple of players that shouldn’t be there for the men, but the team is still pretty strong. Russia will be their toughest test if and when they get out of the preliminary round. To be honest, I kind of like the U.S. team; they’ve got a couple of Devils in Parise and Langenbrunner. In no way am I implying that they’ll win, I just like the team.

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